RENNES-LE-CHATEAU has its origins in the garrison town of Rhedae, which was home to approximately 30,000 people and which was founded in the 5th century by the Visigoths on the plateau extending south-eastwards which lies at the foot of the present-day village. It was the capital of the huge territory known as Rhedez, which was destroyed in 1170 by the army of the King of Aragon.
In the 14th century it was refortified by Pierre II des Voisins, the Sénéchal of Carcassonne. The town became prosperous once more, but then the Spaniards seized it again and left standing only the ancient church dedicated to Mary Magdalene, the old manor-house and a few other houses.
And so the once fine town of Rhedae ended up by becoming, in 1362, the humble village of Rennes-le-Château.
After these disasters occurred, this unassuming village was, it seems, largely forgotten by the outside world.
Even so, some years ago, in the environs of the old manor-house, which was still standing, there began something of a regeneration of the bustling activity of yesteryear: the Church, which had gone to rack and ruin, was completely restored and magnificently decorated.
The approaches to this sanctuary, which were formerly full of rubbish, have been decorated with a beautiful Calvary, half-hidden by shrubs and flowers The Villa Béthanie, a superb house built in a delightfully pure style, with a huge garden in front of it, surmounted by a beautiful statue of Our Saviour with his arms outstretched, has just been completed. A broad winding-path, constructed on the mountain-top, has replaced the ancient ramparts. An elegant Veranda has taken the place of the old watch-tower. And at the other end the Tour Magdala, completely crenelated, a marvel of civilian and military architecture, now serves as a library.
These works of art have taken the place of the old warlike structures. The battlements and turrets now provide a raised platform for contemplating the wonderful horizon that stretches out on all sides as far as the eye can see.
Nowadays, crowds of peace-loving people have replaced the crowds of warriors. They go up there to admire, surrounded by incomparable scenery, the fabulous works of art of a priest with the soul of an artist, a priest who loved his church and his parish.