La Dépêche du Midi
Article dated 02 November 2006


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 curé’s 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 their inheritance.

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 Saunière.

The second thing is that, in 1939, certain people were paying significant sums of money to Marie Dénarnaud. Why? The mystery remains.

But the abbé and Marie, didn't they have any money of their own?

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.

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