O MARY CONCEIVED WITHOUT SIN
The answer that is generally given is that it is a hollow Visigothic pillar that supported the old altar in the church of Saint Mary Magdalene. As soon as he arrived at Rennes-le-Château Abbé Saunière replaced the old altar, while retaining the pillars that supported the altar stone. Five years later he placed one of the pillars near the portico of the church, up against the wall of the villa, to accommodate a statue of the Virgin (21 June 1891). The pillar was restored and placed upside down. Today a copy replaces the original, which is now in the museum.
We can imagine what this altar must have been like by going to Saint Polycarpe or Saint Eulalie – Saint Julie d'Elne, where the side altars have this same workmanship. In the Lamourguier monument museum in Narbonne there's a Visigothic bas-relief with Christian symbols that is very similar to the one in Rennes: the same cross studded with precious stones, the same alpha and omega.
At the foot of the monument is a stone slab embedded in the ground, bearing the inscription:
PRAY FOR US
WHO HAVE TURNED TO YOU
This invocation is drawn from the vision of Catherine Laboure in Rue de Bac in Paris in 1830 (the first of the great Marian apparitions). The blazing heart, clasped by a crown of thorns, in the stained glass windows of Bethania have the same origin.
refers to the Virgin of Lourdes, to the apparition of 1858, the 3rd of the great Marian apparitions after La Salette. But it is also perhaps a subtle allusion to the penitent Saint Mary Magdalene.
It is a well-known fact that the pillar that was on display does not have any relevance to the ‘Saunière affair’. Its interest is of quite a different kind. This object, approximately 1.5 metres in height and 0.50 metres in cross-section has never been described in its original condition. In the book by Monsieur Descadeillas entitled Mythologie du Trésor de Rennes (‘Mythology of the Treasure of Rennes’) there is a reference to a report drawn up by the diocesan architect, Monsieur Cals. In 1853 Cals wrote a description of the church in Rennes, but he did not mention the altar pillar in it.
The fact that the altar stone which is presumed to be that from the church and which is at the foot of the pillar is only of modest size suggests that only one stone was needed to support it. We therefore have no proof of the existence of two pillars; moreover, there is no evidence that the pillar you can see in the yard actually came from the church and that it supported an altar stone.
In fact the pillar has an uncarved face that faces the wall, which leads us to doubt that it would have been placed in a central position if it had only three carved faces out of four. The retouches that it underwent before 1905 gave it this 'new' appearance. According to Monsieur Descadeillas the description of it as an‘altar pillar’ is based solely on rumour.
The inscription ‘1891’ is engraved on the same level as the rest of the decoration. It was necessary to remove a certain thickness of stone in order to obtain this smooth surface. At this place the stone has a significant level of relief, in contrast to the decoration on the other faces.