The Archaeological Body of France, Direction Régionale des Affaires
Culturelles (or DRAC) has never taken the subject matter seriously
The subject matter is dismissed by the French Ministry of Culture
The myth was originally created through the mass media of journalism
22 December 2014
Updated 1 November 2015
Work in Progress
The real story of Rennes-le-Château is about a priest who was dismissed for fraud – for accepting more money than he was able to say masses for – and who died in extreme poverty owing money to his grocer
“Saunière selling masses is just another explanation for his source of wealth and is no different to any other explanation”
Those wishing to believe that a “mystery” exists in Rennes-le-Château and that Bérenger Saunière's activites represent an “enigma” refuse to acknowledge the evidence of the priest's Carnets. These Carnets must have been extremely important to Saunière during his ecclesiastical trial by the Carcassonne Bishopric 1910-1911 when he was charged with trafficking in masses because he refused to produce them, stating on 11 April 1911: “You are aware of Rome’s first decision. Does it refer anywhere to the keeping of accounts? Not at all”. Saunière claimed to have destroyed his Carnets during his trial – but he did no such thing and these Carnets still exist today.
Saunière's Carnets comprise of literally thousands of pages giving precise details of his trafficking in masses activities – and the information in these pages reveal that the priest was living in poverty and relying on borrowed money, on donations and on selling masses when he allegedly discovered a treasure and “suddenly became extremely rich” in 1891-1892
However, even when presented with this evidence, believers in the “mystery” tenaciously cling to the belief that Saunière's source of wealth in selling masses is no different a “theory” to any other – like The Jesus Blood Line – Landscape Geometry – An unspecified nebulous Treasure – An Earth Shattering Secret – or “whatever the imagination wants” – thus grossly neglecting what exists in Bérenger Saunière's own handwriting on literally thousands of pages of evidence.
Below, 820 pages of correspondence record of letters sent and received by the curé of
Rennes-le-Château 1896-1915, existing on microfilm in Archives de l'Aude, Carcassonne (File numbers 1Mi8l/l and IMi8l/2).
Photo © Mariano Tomatis
Jean Girou's story from 1936
A recently-discovered story that the villagers of Rennes-le-Château during the 1930s believed Bérenger Saunière discovered a treasure was found in Jean Girou's book L’Itinéraire en Terre d’Aude (1936, page 169). Describing a visit to Rennes-le-Château, he wrote: “... we see villas and towers with verandahs, which are new and modern and which form a strange contrast with the ruins. This is the house of a priest who built these sumptuous living-quarters with the money from a discovered treasure – or so the locals say anyway!”
Girou's story was unknown to Noël Corbu and dates from after Bérenger Saunière's death. It's a forgotten account. Roger Crouquet's later 1948 magazine article gives the testimony of the villagers of Rennes-le-Château that Saunière trafficked in masses in order to save his church from ruin because he lived among heretics.
The evidence of Saunière's Carnets showing his source of wealth originating from trafficking in masses contradicts the claim he got his wealth from a treasure discovery – thus Girou's story is an early example of an Urban Folk Tale.
Jean Girou himself did not believe the story as shown by his reaction to it. But it is nevertheless an extremely interesting account because it shows how quickly a mystique began developing around Saunière's activities after his death. It is disappointing that Girou did not provide a more concise and informative account, clarifying who the villagers were and why they believed Saunière discovered a treasure.
“Saunière Made A Discovery”, or “Saunière Was Looking For Something”
These popular claims are still forced upon the public today, that Bérenger Saunière's wealth originated from a discovery when he first began renovating his church, which in turn caused him to look for other things and that this was the ultimate source of his wealth.
In actual fact there is no evidence at all that Saunière's source of wealth originated from any discovery. The testimony of his archives – his Carnets – bears out the fact that his source of wealth originated from trafficking in masses.
For example, the bill for the Stained-Glass Windows when Saunière began renovating his church in 1887 came to 1,350 Francs – an amount the priest could not afford to pay at once – it had to be paid in four instalments and was only finally settled in 1900.
In the earliest article by Roger Crouquet dating from 1948 about the story of Bérenger Saunière in the Belgian magazine Le Soir illustré it is openly stated that Saunière's wealth originated from trafficking in masses. This was the testimony of the villagers to Roger Crouquet at the time. The claims that Saunière discovered something that made him vastly wealthy – including the story of the discovery of the parchments in the hollow pillars of his church altar in 1891 – were all first made by Noël Corbu during the mid-1950s and following the death of Saunière's housekeeper Marie Denarnaud in 1953. Furthermore, Marie Denarnaud did not leave behind any written memoires and it cannot be verified if any of the quotes attributed to her by various people are really genuine.
Lucien Gibert, a retired employee of the Banque de France from Montazels, who knew both Bérenger Saunière and Marie Denarnaud, said in a 1967 newspaper article he did not believe that Saunière discovered any treasure, adding: “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.” René Delpech, also from Montazels, said in the same newspaper article that one of his relatives, who worked as a teacher in Rennes-le-Château, told him often about how the curé went to Couiza with fistfuls of postal-orders to cash at the post-office, adding: “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.”
Another popular bogus claim involving Saunière is that he went around the countryside with a basket on his back looking for rocks, that believers in the treasure story claim is a cover for looking for treasure. This is a story that originated with Pierre Plantard and Philippe de Chèrisey, not mentioned by Noël Corbu. Its original form existed in the Priory of Sion document entitled Les Descendants Mérovingiens ou l’énigme du Razès wisigoth and attributed to “Madeleine Blancasall”, deposited in the Bibliotheque Nationale on 26 August 1965, and was later revised by Gérard de Sède in his 1967 book L'Or de Rennes, that was co-written by Pierre Plantard (page 32).
In the earlier 1965 document attributed to “Madeleine Blancassall”, the original form of the story involved looking for clues to treasure and how “Saunière travelled the countryside of the Patiaces and the Pla de la Coste by himself. After several days he found signs pointing in the right direction: the famous standing stone called the horse of God and the cross on the ridge 681 toises (4086 feet) from the bergère of the church at Rennes-les-Bains”. The story was revised and adapted in 1967 in L'Or de Rennes to claim Saunière went around the countryside to look for rocks that he used to build his grotto.
The testimonies attributed to “stonemasons” (said to be “witnesses”) to a “discovery” cannot be trusted because they only date from after the mid-1950s when Noël Corbu's stories and allegations were in full swing (according to one account that does not date from 1891, “We had dismantled the altar that day ...the bell ringer removed an old piece of wood which stuck out from the rubble. It was a sort of box from whence small bones were and a small piece of paper fell out”).
The recent claims by a French Forum contributer using the pseudonym “Hermes” only demonstrate wishful thinking in relation to the 1891 “Saunière discoveries” in his church and are not based upon any reliable primary contemporary sources.
“Sauniere replaced his main altar in 1891 or 1892”
Bérenger Saunière replaced his main altar in 1887 – not in 1891 as is commonly alleged. This 1891 allegation – originally dating from the account given by Noël Corbu during the 1950s – and which continues to be repeated in 2015 – is wrong.
Saunière replaced his main altar in July 1887. It was donated by Mme Marie Cavailhé, fulfilling a vow she made during a serious illness when she was living in Rennes-le-Château.
This fact, together with the evidence from Saunière's Carnets showing that during the years 1891-1892 he trafficked in masses, relied on borrowed money and on donations, makes the treasure story even more untenable.
This flatly contradicts Noël Corbu's account given in his 1950s tape-recording where he claimed that “since the main altar of the village-church of the time was falling apart, he (Saunière) successfully applied to the village council for a grant to restore it. In one of the pillars of the altar the workmen charged with taking it apart found wooden cylinders containing parchments” (le maître autel de l'église actuelle tombant en ruines, il (Saunière) avait demandé une aide au CONSEIL MUNICIPAL qui la lui avait accordée pour le remettre en état. Les ouvriers le' démontant trouvèrent dans un des piliers des rouleaux de bois contenant des parchemins).
Below, the grave of Antoine Verdier 1887-1979 whose “testimony” as a “witness” was frequently used in relation to Saunière's “discovery”. Verdier was only just born when Saunière replaced his main altar and would have been 4 years old in 1891
Photo © Jean-Jacques Bedu
“Saunière erased inscriptions from tombstones”
This claim originated during the mid-1950s in Noël Corbu's tape-recording made for guests to his restaurant in Rennes-le-Château, specifically referring to the tombstone of Marie de Negri d'Ables, Countess Hautpoul-Blanchefort (“Il démolit même la tombe de la comtesse d'Hautpoul-Blanchefort et rasa, lui-même, les inscriptions qui étaient sur cette dalle”).
The claim does not stand up to much scrutiny, since the inscription on the said tombstone was copied by one of the members of the regional Society for Scientific Study of the Aude during a short trip to the village in 1905 – and a sketch of it was published in their bulletin in the following year (Saunière allegedly erased the inscription shortly after returning from Paris in 1892, according to Corbu's story). Nobody knows what happened to this tombstone – or even if it existed – during Corbu's period at Rennes-le-Château. Much is made of the errors contained on the inscription, but this is nothing strange, since similar errors can be found on other tombstones found in the region.
In March 1895 the municipal council of Rennes-le-Château submitted two letters of complaint to the Préfet de l’Aude about Saunière's activities in the cemetery that was not to their liking – but these complaints did not refer to desecrations or to the erasing of inscriptions.
The first complaint dated 12 March, stated “The cure has no right to remove, raise or relocate any ornaments, crosses or crowns from where we have placed them”
The second complaint dated 14 March, stated that: “Crosses are removed, as are tombstones, and this said work has nothing to do with repairs nor is there a good reason for it.”
This was a case of reorganising the cemetery without notifying the villagers or the municipal council beforehand.
Saunière's non-existent Sermon
In his 1983 book, Le Fabuleux Trésor de Rennes-Le-Château! Le Secret de L’Abbé Saunière, Jacques Rivière claimed that Saunière delivered a Sermon during the 1885 elections that contained the following words:
“The Republicans are the Devil, who must be vanquished and forced to bend the knee before the faith and its adherents…”(Les Republicains, voilà le Diable à vaincre et qui doit plier le genou sous les poids de la Religion et des baptisés. Le signe de la croix est victorieux et avec nous…)
It was Jacques Rivière who first made this claim in 1983. Various researchers over the decades have looked for this political sermon, but in vain.
When reading the relevant passage in Rivière's book, an extract from a genuine political sermon is given from La Semaine Religieuse de Carcassonne in quotation marks, and the “Les Republicains, voilà le Diable à vaincre” text is given in the next paragraph, but in italics. It looks like Rivière's source was the statuary of the Devil, Holy Water Stoup and Angels within the church of Rennes-le-Château, and Rivière configured that into an imaginary Saunière political sermon.
Éditions Bélisane and Abbé Bruno de Monts researched Saunière's early 1885-1887 activities and published their findings in the magazine Les Cahiers de Rennes-le-Château between 1984 and 1996. They managed to trace the political sermons that were published in La Semaine Religieuse de Carcassonne that Saunière could have read from his pulpit during the elections, but they never made any reference to any sermon that contained the words “Les Republicains, voilà le Diable à vaincre”.
Paintings by Nicolas Poussin and David Teniers
The popular story claims that Bérenger Saunière obtained copies of paintings by Nicolas Poussin and David Teniers from the Louvre. It was also later reported he obtained a copy of a painting by an unknown artist of Pope Celestine V.
According to the initial accounts given by Noël Corbu during the 1950s, Bérenger Saunière discovered “parchments” in the hollow pillars of his church altar and travelled to Paris in 1892 to get them translated. But Noël Corbu never mentioned anything at all about Saunière obtaining copies of paintings – not in the tape recording of the story he made for the guests to his restaurant – not in the 5-page essay he deposited in the Archives de l'Aude (File Nº 2J248) – not in the essay attributed to him entitled “La Puissance et la Mort” (Power and Death).
Noël Corbu's story was also reported by Robert Charroux in his 1962 book Trésors du monde (through first hand conversations) – but here again there were no references to paintings.
Using Noël Corbu's initial story as its foundation, the Priory of Sion document entitled Les Descendants Mérovingiens ou l’énigme du Razès wisigoth and attributed to “Madeleine Blancasall”, deposited in the Bibliotheque Nationale on 26 August 1965, introduced numerous new claims about Bérenger Saunière, including how...
“On the advice of abbé Hoffet, the priest of Rennes went to the Louvre Museum to look at the works of Poussin and Teniers for, after decoding [the parchments], the text clearly delivered the following message:
BERGERE PAS DE TENTATION, QUE POUSSIN ET TENIERS GARDENT LA CLEF – PAX DCLXXXI – PAR LA CROIX ET CE CHEVAL DE DIEU – J'ACHEVE CE DAEMON DE GARDIEN A MIDI – POMMES BLEUES.”
The claim that Saunière was interested in paintings by Nicolas Poussin and David Teniers originated from Pierre Plantard and Philippe de Chèrisey as part of their Priory of Sion deception. The claim is directly linked to the Large Parchment that was created by Philippe de Chèrisey during the early 1960s as a result of Corbu's initial claims about Saunière, and that the decoded text (in 20th century French) mentioned “Poussin, Teniers Hold The Key”
The additional claim that Saunière was interested in a painting of Celestine V by an unknown artist was later given in Gérard de Sède's 1967 book L'Or de Rennes (co-authored with Pierre Plantard, page 28).
Gérard de Sède's L'Or de Rennes also introduced how Bérenger Saunière visited the seminary of St Sulpice in Paris to get the parchments examined by Émile Hoffet (page 27).
The 1996 BBC Timewatch documentary The History of A Mystery provided more information about this story:
“The Louvre does keep records of reproductions of paintings that it has sold – and these records show that the Museum sold no copies of the Poussin until 1901. Ten years too late.”
“There's no evidence that Saunière ever visited St Sulpice or celebrated Mass there, according to a letter from the Seminary's archivist. Yet Saunière's trip to Paris is what ties him to the all-important painting by Poussin.”
Pierre Plantard and Philippe de Chèrisey had previously linked Bérenger Saunière with Nicolas Poussin's painting in the Priory of Sion document entitled Généalogie des Rois Mérovingiens et Origine des diverses Familles Françaises et Etrangères de Souche Mérovingienne attributed to “Henri Lobineau”, deposited in the Bibliotheque Nationale on 18 January 1964, without mentioning the trip to Paris or St Sulpice (“Généalogie de Mérovée à Dagobert I, Planche Nº 1, de 400 à 600”; later integrated into the 1967 Dossiers Secrets d'Henri Lobineau). Nicolas Poussin was important to Pierre Plantard when he first began engaging in the myth of Gisors in 1962 (also with Gérard de Sède).
“When Bèrenger Saunière died he was seated on an armchair covered in a blanket that had red pompoms. The villagers each took a pompom as a memento of the curé”
This story does not date from Marie Denarnaud's lifetime, but originates from the mid-1950s in Noël Corbu's tape-recording made for guests to his restaurant in Rennes-le-Château: “On 22nd January ... he caught a chill on the terrace and suffered a heart attack which, exacerbated by cirrhosis of the liver, was enough to finish him off. He died later that day. He was left sitting in an armchair in the living-room, his face uncovered, and the rest of him covered by a throw fringed with red pompoms. Those who came to pay him their last respects each cut off one of the pompoms in veneration” (Mais le 22 janvier ... il prend froid sur la terrasse, a une crise cardiaque, qui, compliqué d'une cyrrhose du foie, ne lui pardonne pas. Bref, il meurt dans la journée. Mis dans un fauteuil du salon il y reste exposé tout un jour couvert d'une couverture avec des pompons rouges. En vénération, ceux qui venaient coupaient un pompon et l'emportaient).
Without any reliable evidence, it must be regarded with suspicion as another one of Noël Corbu's fabrications.
The claim that Saunère suffered a stroke on 17 January, on the feast day of St Anthony the Hermit, was first made in the Priory of Sion document entitled Les Descendants Mérovingiens ou l’énigme du Razès wisigoth and attributed to “Madeleine Blancasall”, deposited in the Bibliotheque Nationale on 26 August 1965.