La Dépêche du Midi
Article dated 02 November 2006
AFTER SIX YEARS' RESEARCH THE MAYOR POURS
ON ALL THE WILD THEORIES THAT SURROUND IT
New documents explain the 'mystery'
After six years researching in archives and libraries,
Jean-François Lhuillier - Mayor of Rennes-le-Château - has
added some new documents to the 'Saunière file': a letter from
Marie Dénarnaud to the taxman, her holograph will, a court
document from Limoux and the details of her income in 1939. He
also tells for the first time what he found in the curés
tomb while it was being relocated.
Why did you undertake these researches?
There were two reasons. Quite apart from my responsibilities as
the Mayor I'm also very fond of this place. Also, all these
theories, charging off in all sorts of directions, seemed to me
to be detrimental to the spirit and atmosphere of Rennes.
What do the documents you've discovered tell us?
A document registered before the clerk of the court in Limoux on
21 April 1917 tells us that the descendants, brothers and sisters
of Abbé François Bérenger Saunière, curé of the parish of
Rennes-le-Château, who had died on 17 January 1917, refused
So the estate reverted to Marie Dénarnaud?
No one laid claim to the estate where the Dénarnaud family
lived. Note that I say the 'Dénarnaud family'. The father and
mother looked after the estate, and paid the necessary taxes. As
a result of the so-called 'trentenaire' (30 year) principle of
French law, the property should, thirty years after its
renunciation by the heirs, have fallen automatically to Marie
Dénarnaud, the sole survivor of the family.
And the documents you've found confirm this?
The holograph will of Marie Dénarnaud, signed in 1946, and valid
for one year, does not respect the 'trentenaire' principle. It is
therefore null and void. It should nonetheless be noted that,
during this period, Marie paid the Public Treasury property taxes
on both the buildings and the undeveloped land. In 1939 that
amounted to some 2,000 francs (of the day).
What else do these documents tell us?
They tell us two things. The first is that Marie Dénarnaud was
almost illiterate. That pours cold water on this supposedly
impassioned correspondence she is alleged to have had with
The second thing is that, in 1939, certain people were paying
significant sums of money to Marie Dénarnaud. Why? The mystery
But the abbé and Marie, didn't they have any money of their
The abbé died owing money to the greengrocer we have
evidence of that. Saunière was a man of the church, someone who
was simultaneously deeply spiritual and caught up in a spiral of
expenditure on his building works. The money he spent on the
building works had nothing to do with the commune, because he had
no money of his own. He was given money by outsiders, just as
Marie Dénarnaud was.
Do you have any theories to explain this?
During the years 1880-1890 there was a royalist movement that
wanted to merge the Languedoc and Roussillon with the county of
Barcelona. Saunière was actively involved in this movement. The
people that the abbé helped also helped him financially with the
cost of his building works.
Let's return to the subject of the moving of the abbé's
body. What have you found out about that?
I would remind you that the relocation of the tomb was requested
by his descendants. The transfer of his remains took place in the
presence of a lawyer, a bailiff and a police officer. While the
tomb was being opened various things went through my mind. What
would they find? Was the body intact?
But everything was absolutely as it should be. The priest had
been buried alone. His skeleton was perfectly normal. They found
a missal on his chest, which he was clutching between his hands.
The bailiff took all the necessary photographs. At a stroke all
the crazy ideas published about Saunière between 1960 and 1995
just fell apart. They were just exploded.
You are aware, of course, that this new evidence deprives
Rennes of some of its mystery?
This village, set in wonderful countryside, has been a fortified
village without interruption since
protohistoric times. That such a treasure could lie within its
slopes is not at all unlikely. And that is why I encourage bona
fide researchers to continue with sensible researches.
Now we've established that the huge number of books and other
publications more than 300 to date that have been
written on this subject are based on data that have now been
shown to be simply untrue I'm wondering when some real
writers are going to come forward to write a comprehensive but
truthful account of this place, in which the mysterious is
inevitably bound up with the miraculous. I have all the relevant
documents at the Mairie if anyone wants to consult them.
Interview by E.D.
© La Dépêche du Midi.