9 August 2013

At Rennes-le-Château: A “Nauseating” Exhibition?

A man of the far right and a dedicated support of Pétain, Pierre Plantard (whose activities inspired Dan Brown) is now the subject of a controversial exhibition.

There are just a few posters, of modest size, barely the size of an A4 sheet indeed, and roughly laminated. They mention a certain Pierre Plantard, well-known in esoteric circles and to enthusiasts for the Rennes-le-Château mystery. At first glance the currently-open exhibition located right at the foot of the Tour Magdala, just a stone's throw from Saunière's old sleeping-quarters, might appear of no consequence. But this is not an exhibition about any old person – quite the opposite in fact.

Born in 1920 and dead in 2000, Pierre Plantard was a controversial individual whose political stances and murky past have aroused both anger and indignation.

From L'Action française to collaboration

If he's the subject today of a small exhibition then that's all down to his esoteric activities in connection with Rennes-le-Château – activities which should certainly be viewed with caution but which nonethless inspired the books by Gérard de Sède and then, indirectly, those of Lincoln, Dan Brown (of The Da Vinci Code fame) and Christian Doumergue, president of the “Terres de Rhedae” association, the people behind the exhibition.

If we look beyond Plantard's weird esoteric researches then we find that he was also a mythomaniac, someone from humble origins, a former sacristan, who claimed descent from the Merovingians and, more specifically, from Dagobert II.

But what really gets the goat of historians and connoisseurs is Plantard's political views. Plantard was politically active from the end of the 1930s, first as a member of Action française and then as a founder of the small group known as Alpha Galates which supported the regime of Marshal Pétain. In the group's newsletter, Plantard signed his articles “Pierre de France”. Some of the articles draw on anti-Semitic ideas and show a taste for the Fascist politics then in vogue. Yves Lignon, a university lecturer and a great champion of parapsychology, is indignant: “By trying to present Plantard as a high-flying intellectual and someone who pricked the public conscience the exhibition tries to pass off someone who was just an imposter with Nazi tendencies as a respectable thinker. You can't use a technique of that kind to rehabilitate a fascist.

But the first of the panels in the exhibition, far from glossing over Plantard's Nazism or extremist ideas, does mention his murky past, although it goes to a lot of trouble to minimise his involvement. The people behind the exhibition refer to his “superficial anti-Semitism” and ask, “Was he really a supporter of Marshal Pétain?”. “An examination of reports from the time in question”, they continue, “suggests that he was actually using these links as a way of making himself look important”. Whatever the case, thirty years after his death Plantard is still setting tongues wagging, whether people are discussing the purely historical controversies or the ideological questions surrounding him.


Mayor supports “freedom of expression”

Alexandre Painco, mayor of Rennes-le-Château, who has made available the room in which the exhibition is being held, thinks that freedom of expression must prevail. “Who Plantard is, who he was, I really couldn't care less. I'm not the fountainhead of truth on the subject. I put myself in the tourists’ shoes and ask myself whether the exhibition has anything to offer them. And the exhibition certainly doesn't apologise for Nazism or anti-Semitism”.

Considering that we're dealing with a war of words between men of letters in which the Mayor has no desire to get involved, he has no plans for the time being to pull the plug on the exhibition.

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