IT COULD JUST BE SOMEONE'S IDEA OF A JOKE BUT…
Thanks to a strange alchemy and people's gullibility, the 'gold of Rennes'
really can be turned into a lot of money.
We're not going to retell here the history – or, rather, the fairy-tale – of the treasure of Rennes, which has been resurrected a hundred times by the local press. What's more, everything that can be checked against the actual historical record has been, and has already been reported on long ago. However, a book has recently been published in which the author seems to want once more to muddy waters that have already been shown to be quite clear, counting no doubt on everyone's inner need for mystery and fantasy.
A cordon-bleu chef and a TV actor to boot –
This inner need also explains the success of various articles, books and films which mix history with legend, and science with science fiction. This current trend, which aims merely at spicing up a few dreary facts, certainly cannot be considered dishonest when its aim, after all, is not to deceive but merely to entertain.
Such is not the case however with the book to which I have just referred, which is published under the tempting title of L'or de Rennes, ou la vie insolite de Bérenger Saunière, curé de Rennes-le-Château. If we're to believe the testimony of experts on the subject, the author of this book has been neither able or willing to produce a romanticised history of the subject, which is actually a great shame, because he does seem to have some talent: he has in fact attempted a much more difficult task in a country where people are actually quite well informed – he's tried to impart some consistency to a collection of wild and inconsistent legends.
The testimony of 'Monsieur They' – a very convenient witness
I have read through L'or de Rennes out of a sense of professional duty, and in the process have gleaned a few details which are certainly important from the perspective of the author's desire to achieve commercial success. So we find for example conversations which allegedly took place 70 years ago, which by their very nature must have been entirely confidential, which 'They' have communicated to the author, word for word, and which he has had no hesitation in including, without any other details or background, despite the poor light in which they show various personages who are no longer in a position to fight back.
The author's rather cavalier approach to the facts prompted us to carry out a few checks. Here's what Monsignor Boyer, the diocesan Vicar-General, told us after a quick read-through of the incredible testimony which 'They' have attributed to a Bishop of Carcassonne:
“I permit you to place on record that I am profoundly indignant about such statements, which I regard as absolute falsehoods.”
Once again it is 'They' who entrusted to Gérard de Sède copies of two enciphered manuscripts relating to the alleged treasure. It was the photocopy of these copies (!) which was sent to Monsieur Descadeillas, Town Librarian of Carcassonne, which he subsequently passed on to Monsieur Deban, a graduate of the École des Chartes and director of the departmental archives, for him to examine.
De Sède's book reports the conclusions of this examination in the form of four key-points. From the conversation I had with Monsieur Deban it emerges that, if the first three of these points are quite accurately reproduced in De Sède's book, the fourth is quite different to (and, indeed, quite at odds with) what the eminent archivist actually said.
But what do the locals – the people who actually knew Saunière or Marie Denarnaud – think about this book? Here's what 74-year-old Lucien Gibert, a retired employee of the Banque de France and co-owner of the Château de Montazels (Saunière's home territory), has to say:
“I knew the curé of Rennes by sight, but I knew his maid much better. One day around 1923-24 she offered me an enormous box of postage-stamps – some French, some foreign. There must have been thousands of them! I was a bit nervous about accepting them on the spur of the moment, but when I saw her again she'd already given them all away. Later she asked me to sell the château, which she asked me to come and see. In the library I saw, much to my surprise, a bound collection of 'La vie parisienne'. She wanted 100,000 francs for the building and promised me a rather nice ivory crucifix if I found a buyer for her.”
“Whatever the precise facts of the matter, I don't think the curé of Rennes ever found a fabulous treasure. I think you need to look elsewhere to explain his sudden wealth. He probably placed an advertisement in the numerous parish magazines, both in France and abroad, asking the faithful to help out with the cost of renovating his church. Whatever the case, the money came from everywhere and from far afield.”
– Had he read Monsieur de Sède's book about the gold of Rennes?
–“No, I don't think he had any gold – only postal-orders.”
or how to rustle something up using left-overs
René Delpech is also from Montazels, but currently lives in Quillan where he works in insurance and is also active in the local chamber of commerce. He's also an avid reader of Midi Libre. He too has read the book by De Sède:
“I don't believe in the treasure. The facts have often been embroidered to make them more newsworthy.”
“During the time that Saunière was curé of Rennes a relative of mine, Édouard Saunière, who was not related to the curé by the way, was working as the teacher there. He told me that often, when the curé came down to Couiza, he would give him fistfuls of postal-orders to cash at the post-office.”
“The individual sums involved were very small – 25 centimes, 50 centimes, or 1 franc. But the curé was sent a very great many of them. He'd probably launched an extensive appeal for funds for the restoration of the church, and had advertised not just in France but outside it as well. If the legend of a treasure has persisted then that's because people have gone to a lot of trouble to keep it going. I'm thinking, for example, of the hotelier of the village who even dressed up as the curé for a Television show.”
“On 21 July 1960 Midi Libre reported a rather funny 'find': a document in the angle formed by two stones which was found by a dowser and the woman who was helping him as a medium. These people had been lodged and fed at the hotel for long periods. In 1959, when they left for Paris, they told the press: “We're definitely on the right track. We'll come back in the spring to put the finishing touches to our search for the treasure.” I think that was excellent publicity for the hotelier, who certainly knew how to rustle something up from the left-overs.”
– And what does he think of De Sède's book?
– “A work of complete fantasy, but it's certainly readable.”
We don't think it would be very useful or even particularly moral to give wider publicity to this book, which could well mislead not just those who want to know the truth of the matter but even those readers who are looking for something amusing to curl up on the sofa with.