Rennes-le-Château and Lazarus

Paul Smith

17 November 2014

Like the depiction of the Penitent Magdalene found on the altar of Sauniere's church in Rennes-le-Château – and the depiction of the Paschal Full Moon on Station XIV – and the Statue of the Devil holding-up the Holy Water Stoup – other examples are found within Sauniere's church that are not controversial but instead represent common everyday standard Roman Catholic imagery.

Euphronius, Bishop of Autun began the construction of the cathedral of Autun during the fifth century over the grave of the martyr St Symphorian (originally dedicated to Saints Celse and Nazaire). The original cathedral held the remains of Saint Lazarus of Aix – but later – probably due to confusion arising from the name – the cathedral was believed to hold the remains of Saint Lazarus himself.

Allusions to the Cathedral of Autun

Autun's 12th-century bishop, Étienne de Bâgé, began work on the present day Cathédrale Saint-Lazare d'Autun in around 1120 and it was consecrated in 1132. The relics of Lazarus were translated from the old cathedral to the new cathedral by the time construction was finally finished in 1146. The Tomb of Lazarus that once shrined the relics was constructed in the choir between 1170-1180. The cathedral became the chapel of the Dukes of Burgundy.

It has been suggested by historians that Étienne de Bâgé probably built the cathedral in response to the construction of Sainte Madeleine at nearby Vézelay, home to the French cult of Mary Magdalene.

The stained-glass window of the Crucifixion with Mary Magdalene in the sacristy of the church of Rennes-le-Château is the same as that found in the cathedral of Autun. Saunière's church depicts the miracle of the raising of Lazarus in another one of its stained glass windows. These are credible allusions to the cathedral of Autun, that once held the remains of St Lazarus (the remains of the Tomb of Lazarus are now held in the Musée Rolin in Autun).

Cathedral of Autun

The depiction of Mary Magdalene on Saunière's altar bears a resemblance to the depiction of Mary Magdalene found in Sainte-Baume where her alleged relics were shrined. This medieval legend has nothing to do with any “Jesus bloodline”, Jacobus de Voraigne referred to the marriage of Mary Magdalene to the Apostle St John the Evangelist, in relation to her coming to France.

It can be discerned from Sauniere's sermons that he was a devout traditionalist Roman Catholic priest and would have venerated these non-Biblical traditions relating to Lazarus with deep respect – and – here is yet another example of typical Roman Catholic symbolism found in the church of Rennes-le-Château.

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