QUESTING IN GIRONA
By ANDREW GOUGH
I landed in Costa Brava around midday, eager to have a look around. ‘It seems strange to be here,’ I thought. But there I was. As I waited for my luggage I recounted the events that led me there in the first place.
I flashed back to London and the May Bank Holiday three weeks prior. There were two things I needed to accomplish that weekend; read Patrice Chaplin’s new book, City of Secrets, and arrange my annual spring trip to Rennes-le-Château. The yearly excursion had become a ritual of sorts, some would say an obsession.
By Monday I had finished the book – sailed through it, and began preparing for the interview; an exclusive made possible by my friend Lynn Picknett, who read an advance copy of City of Secrets and recommended my web site to the publishers. That’s how the whole thing started.
The weekend was hectic and I had been unable to book my trip. I was running out of time and feeling anxious. I interviewed Patrice in Primrose Hill a few days later. The conversation was provocative and exciting, despite the fact that I talked too much. We got on quite well, and much to my surprise, a friendship had been seeded. Within a few days I booked my trip, only now I was headed to Girona, Spain, not Rennes-le-Château. The ritual had been broken!
Over the ensuing weeks I reflected on City of Secrets and its extraordinary revelations. I was feeling somewhat sceptical, not a lot, but unconvinced nevertheless. Don’t get me wrong, I never questioned Patrice’s integrity for a second. I just couldn’t shake the feeling that she may have been misled.
The letters, the story, the pictures; they were all being scrutinized in the Rennes-le-Château discussion forums. I wondered if the scepticism was due to the fact that Patrice’s primary source was the love of her life, José Tarres, the alleged custodian of a private Society.
‘‘When lovers and private Societies mix, any number of agendas could be at play,’ I mused.
‘Could City of Secrets be the invisible hand of the Priory of Sion, an organisation I had dismissed as a modern day hoax?’ I wondered. I concluded that travelling to Girona was the only way to sort it all out. So there I was, waiting for my luggage.
Driving through the modern town of Girona can be quite shocking. No secrets there. I arrived at my hotel, tossed my bag, grabbed my camera and headed out. A nearby bridge transported me across the River Onyar and back in time to the Rambla de la Llibersat; a bustling street in the heart of the Old Town, not far from the ancient Jewish Quarter known as the Call.
Old Town Girona is as romantic as it is mysterious. Its austere cathedral dominates the landscape and juts in and out of view from the most unlikely of vantage points. I was surprised at how tourist-friendly the place is. The museums are impressive, not to mention inexpensive, and their exhibits are displayed with considerable style, flare and even the occasional swagger.
I visited the Jewish History Museum first, due to its cultural significance and my desire to locate Tarres, a figure I envisaged in a similar vein to Pierre Plantard; only more authentic. I reasoned this was as good a place as any to ascertain his whereabouts; after all, he founded the centre all those years ago.
‘Do you know where I can find José Tarres?’ I asked the museums Director of Jewish Studies.
‘Who? No, never heard of him!’
‘Really?’ I retorted, refusing to believe her glib response.
The peculiar thing was that Tarres had just finished working the annual Girona Flower Show a few days earlier. Certainly people must know who he is? Was he simply being protected, or was my Spanish that bad?
The City History Museum was a short walk down the cobblestone alleyway so I headed there next. I walked in, smiled and repeated the drill, ‘Sorry to trouble, but do you know where I might find José Tarres?’
I showed them a picture. It didn’t help. They shook their heads defiantly, ‘no’.
Frustrated, but not defeated, I tried a different approach.
‘Do you have any old pictures of the Torre Magdala, the medieval looking tower built in 1851, behind the cathedral – next to the French woman’s house?’
Again, they shook their heads ‘no,’ only this time they looked at each other as if I were mad. I was beginning to think they may be right when the eldest stood up and informed me that the man down the road sells old postcards and photographs. ‘Try him!’ she said abruptly, meaning stop harassing us. And so I did.
Juan Cortez is an amiable man of a certain age. He knew Patrice well and took great pride in showing me a poster of Patrice and her then husband Michael. Cortez recounted stories from past times with zeal. Those were the days! That’s what he was telling me.
‘So do you know where I can find Tarres?’ I asked, head down, as I rummaged through endless racks of mildewed old books and faded, torn photographs, trying not to sound desperate or even worse, devious. The question had become my mantra, clearly – sadly!
‘No, but he does,’ Cortez said, pointing at a man about 85 years of age. I was thrilled.
The old boy not only knew where José lived – a village on the outskirts of Girona, but recalled his street address as well!
‘Could he be part of the Society?’ I wondered.
In any case I couldn’t believe my luck. ‘Must not tell Patrice,’ I thought. I knew she was not keen on my meeting Tarres without a proper introduction. Fair enough. But could I resist?
‘That’s great. Thank you,’ I said. I was on a roll.
‘Do you have any old pictures of the Torre Magdala, you know, the medieval looking tower built in 1851 behind the cathedral – next to the old French woman’s house?’ Cortez’s eyes lit up.
‘Why sure,’ he said, and over the course of the next 45 minutes my new best friend waded through stacks of musty old paper folders before producing no less than eight different photographs of the Torre Magdala – from several different angles, including one of the French woman’s house.
‘I’ll take them all,’ I said. ‘Yes, the duplicates too please. Pack em up!’
‘Now you have all that I have seen, except for one,’ he said, with an irritating grin on his face.
‘Which one is that then?’ I asked, incredulous that he may own a picture of the Torre Magdala I didn’t.
‘It’s the one in the book you showed me (City of Secrets),’ he said.
‘The one with Roger Matthieu standing next to the Torre Magdala. I have the original at home on my wall. It’s not a small photo you know.’
‘Fantastic,’ I thought. ‘I’ll take that one too!’
Sadly, although understandably, the photo was not for sale.
I left Cortez’s shop feeling quite chuffed. I sauntered up the cathedral’s 90 steps with minimal panting, passing the spot where Patrice and José were photographed over 50 years ago.
The cathedral is amazing. Its nave is the second widest in the world and its paintings and sculptures amongst the most exquisite in Spain. Perversely, the one image I could not get out of my head was a painting of the Last Supper by Perris de la Roca– circa 1560. Not only did the painting portray the figure seated next to Christ as a woman, but it depicted her in an alarmingly suggestive sexual context. Either that or she’s dropped her fork.
I headed for the cloisters in need of fresh air. My mind was now fixated on the French woman’s garden. The site once boasted the Torre Magdala, the tower that inspired Bérenger Saunière to build the Tour Magdala in Rennes-le-Château, or so Patrice argues. This is where I was headed next, after the cloisters.
However as I walked across the nave my eye caught the image of two towers embedded in the darkness of a chapel dedicated to Saint Michael. ‘Now that’s interesting,’ I whispered under my breath.
With my mind completely absorbed by the twin towers and their significance in Patrice’s story, I entered the cloisters and stumbled upon a tomb depicting four towers!
Clearly it was time to visit the French woman’s garden and put my overactive imagination to rest. I walked to the back of the cathedral. From there I could see the House of the Canons, written in Latin above an arched entrance to the garden. I followed the winding stone track past the entrance and up the hill to the door of the French woman’s house and walked inside.
At once my phone rang – it was Patrice. ‘How’s that for serendipity?’ I thought. We discussed pleasantries before focusing on the finer points of French woman’s garden.
The Torre Magdala had been in the far left corner of the garden (pictured above). To its right, along the ruined wall was the French woman’s house that Patrice had visited in her youth. The barren gravel landing on the lower level is where a large palm tree once stood. This is where José dug up the Sun Stone; an artefact of considerable importance to the Society’s Grail rituals.
The Sun Stone, which Patrice has seen on multiple occasions, has since been moved to Perpignan, France. I had my theories about what it was doing there, but more work was required before I could say with any certainty.
Separating the upper and lower level of the garden is a Well with a tormented-looking sculpture designed by Tarres’s wife, Pia Crozet. Patrice would have me believe that Cozet was equally tormented. ‘Was it a self-portrait?’ I thought. This is the Well the Society used for Grail rituals. Accomplished initiates were able to enter the well and view the stars above – during the day…
‘Can you see where the tower was – the vertical masonry on the wall, near the corner?’ Patrice alerted me to the remains of the Torre Magdala, as identified by an archaeologist. The ruined buttress on the stone wall is all that remains.
I walked to the back of the garden and up the steps. I was eager to have a closer look at the platform that led to the Torre Magdala. Much to my surprise, the stone walkway was largely intact.
I measured the former tower’s orientation using the photos I had just purchased and the surviving masonry as a guide. Having previously measured the tower in Rennes-le-Château, I was astounded to discover that the angle of the Torre Magdala matched exactly, as if one was a copy of the other. But then again why was this surprising? Allegedly, they were!
Much cynicism has been levied at the alleged similarities between the Torre Magdala in Girona and the Tour Magdala in Rennes-le-Château. ‘There are towers like those all across in Europe,’ the sceptics argued. Personally I was not so sure, given the evidence:
- The towers had the same name.
- Their design is virtually identical.
- Patrice has produced letters linking Bérenger Saunière to each, and the signatures have been certified by experts.
- The towers have the same orientation.
- Initiates in both cities fanatically measured each tower: Jean Cocteau in Girona and Alain Féral in Rennes-le-Château.
But nevertheless, sceptics dismissed any similarity out of hand, highlighting other towers, such as one in Italy, as examples of how common these structures were. ‘Is that the best they can do?’ I thought.
Rennes-le-Château scepticism had just eclipsed Rennes-le-Château gullibility. And both frustrated the hell out of me.
Patrice continued, ‘You’re standing on the Black Cemetery now. This is where the priests of Girona were buried for hundreds of years. That’s why the Society chose the spot. It’s charged.’
‘Where?’ I asked, ineptly.
‘All around you, on either side of the wall you’re standing on!’
‘And to your right, off in the distance is the old Jewish cemetery of Montjuïc. This is where José hid the ritual artefacts until he became worried that treasure hunters or archaeologist would dig them up by mistake.’
Today, the once-sacred Jewish cemetery is an affluent Girona housing development.
I decided to call it a day and walked back to the hotel. Although my mind was buzzing I collapsed on the bed, too tired to unpack. I fell asleep as my head hit the pillow and began to dream. Then the phone rang. ‘Had I dreamt that?’ I thought, groggy and disorientated. It was Patrice; she said, ‘There’s somebody you need to meet.’
The Wolf is a character from Patrice’s 1979 book, The Siesta. He’s also featured in City of Secrets as Lluís, Patrice’s friend and bar owner. We agreed to meet in the establishment he’s owned for decades. Patrice suggested I ask him about Umberto Eco, just to get him started, warmed up as it were. The famous Italian author was Wolf’s good friend, once upon a time, before it all went horribly wrong.
It seems Wolf showed Eco some of the more esoteric aspects of the cathedral, and then some, which Eco in turn used in his book, without Wolf’s full consent. But Wolf will have none of it tonight, simply saying that: ‘Eco is over now. Finished!’ Presumably he meant their relationship.
We ordered another beer and talked politics. Before long the discussion turned to Patrice and José. And why not, they were part of the Girona Rat Pack of the 50’s and 60’s and Wolf knew them well.
The old stories came fast and furious and Wolf spoke of a beautiful woman who the men in Girona had once adored. She was known as the ‘The Divine’. I assumed he was talking about Patrice or Beryl, a character in Patrice’s book. I was wrong, but still the woman sounded strangely familiar. I opened City of Secrets and pointed to the picture of Lucia Stillman, a mysterious insider who died on Mt. Canigou, after having returned the Society’s ritual artefacts to their hiding place on its summit.
Much to my surprise, Wolf recognised the woman in the picture and called her by her real name.
‘After her husband died she joined a convent for a few years. Today she lives in Barcelona,’ he said dryly.
‘What! She’s still alive?’
‘Of course! She’s one of my wife’s good friends.’
‘Incredible. But you see in Patrice’s book, she, she – well never mind,’ I muttered. ‘Could I have her details? I’d like to speak to her.’
‘Sure, I’ll bring them tomorrow!’ Wolf said, with no shortage of bravado.
‘City of Secrets, indeed,’ I thought, as I walked back to the hotel. All of a sudden the cathedral was looking more sinister than austere. I fell asleep instantly and rejoined the dream I had interrupted only a few hours before.
The Saturday morning market in Girona is vibrant and full of everyday life. This of course can be quite refreshing when one is preoccupied with esoteric pursuits. I ordered a pastry that resembled a twinkie and suffered a black coffee; the sugar and cream were nowhere to be found. Before long I became anxious to return to the Old Town and continue exploring.
I had been intrigued by the church of Saint Feliu since I first arrived in Girona. Its prominent location created awareness and demanded respect. Upon entering I stumbled upon yet another tower; this one carved on a floor tomb. The city of Girona was once full of towers, and in ancient times a tower such as this secured the four cardinal points of the Old Town. I wondered if the preponderance of towers depicted in Girona churches was significant, or merely an ode to the grandeur of the city’s Golden Age, or both? I wasn’t sure, but I had my suspicions.
Towers clouded my head and deferred my pain as I trekked up the exhausting cathedral steps yet again. I continued past the French woman’s house and up the hill to the shrine commemorating the 1975 apparition of Jesus and the Virgin Mary. The midday sun was steamy and the uphill hike made feel spent. I broke into a sweat.
The apparition had been reported by a local woman named Maria Mesa. Countless others are said to have witnessed it that night, too. Some merely sensed it. Others smelled its perfume.
The shrine is located on a hill of medieval ruins called the Torre Gironella. The apparition occurred on the 4th of February 1975, and reappeared on the same day, each month for a year, only to reappear on Good Friday, 1982.
The significance of the apparition lies in its proximity to the French woman’s house, where Grail rituals were allegedly conducted with some regularity. Apparitions are quite common in Catalan and have been recorded in and around Girona for hundreds of years. Could they be related to Grail rituals conducted by the Society all across Catalan? The place had an unsettling feel to it, it must be said.
Girona is brimming with museums and I must have visited them all that day. I was shattered! I showered and prepared for my evening rendezvous with Wolf, but even that required some motivation.
I spoke with Patrice before heading out and she insisted that Stillman was truly dead. She’d heard the rumour before, adding, ‘If she’s alive then why has nobody been able to find her?’
I arrived at the bar and found Wolf holding court with some old acquaintances. One glance and I knew he had bad news. His wife, a good friend of Stillman’s, or so he said, no longer possessed Stillman’s current contact details. Sensing my disappointment he quickly added, ‘But she is very much alive. That I do know!’
With the assistance of the hotel staff I would later consult directory assistance in Barcelona, as well as the internet, but we simply could not track her down. If the real Stillman was alive and living in Barcelona, then she was incognito.
As the night progressed, Wolf’s attention turned to politics and General Franco in particular; just for something different. We must have discussed Franco’s oppressive regime for hours. Mercifully, Wolf eventually changed subjects and spoke about his good friend Salvador Dali, which was fascinating, not to mention refreshing. Dali had been a close friend of Patrice and José too, prompting Wolf to dig deep into his memory for tales of adventure and mystique. More than anything, Wolf recounted how incredibly kind and intelligent Dali was; ‘the perfect Catalan!’ he called him.
He also praised Dali’s wife Gala, explaining how she was the true mastermind behind her husband’s adoption of Surrealism. I departed entertained, yet disappointed. As I headed for my hotel I passed the cathedral and the nearby nightclubs for the umpteenth time that day. It seemed as if all the people had left, or were hiding. Where had everybody gone?
I woke rested and eager to drive to Besalú, a medieval village northwest of Girona. I’m keen to visit the curious churches in the woods north of town, especially Saint Maria de Palera and Saint Sepulcre de Palera. The latter, according to Patrice, is where Antoine Bigou, the Rennes-le-Château priest who encoded clues on the tombstone of a noble before fleeing to Spain just prior to the French Revolution, was hidden by the Society. It’s also where he is said to have conducted Grail rituals.
I was starting to obsess about Bigou having lived in Besalú. After all, so little is known of the priest’s movements after he left Rennes-le-Château. High on my list of objectives for the trip, arguably fantasies all of them, was to find the tomb of Abbe Bigou. It was right up there, next to ‘Meet José Tarres’.
To discover Bigou’s tomb would be to solve one of the most elusive pieces of the puzzle. Far greater researchers than I had tried and failed, but I had a theory. If Bigou had discovered the Grail in Besalú, why wouldn’t he be buried there, perhaps in the simplest of graves? It was worth a look. I bypassed town and drove north on the GIV 5234. After a couple of miles I turned onto a dirt road and headed into the woods. I had a hunch.
Saint Maria de Palera was interesting, serene and unassuming. I was greeted by an old man who unlocked the church and let me have a look around. I remember Patrice saying that Grail rituals had been performed here for a time; ‘It wasn’t the Society’s first choice, but they did conduct rituals there on occasion,’ she said.
I departed Saint Maria de Palera pleased that I had gained entry but eager to explore Saint Sepulcre de Palera. A 5-minute drive down a narrow gravel road and I was there. I approached the disturbing crucifix tree that stands guard over the churchyard with some trepidation. It gave me the creeps.
Despite several valiant attempts to locate the key holder, I failed to gain access to the church I needed to investigate most. I was gutted. According to legend, the church contained a ritual stone that illuminated the Grail on the 23rd of June – Saint John the Baptists Eve.
I was beaten, but not defeated. Who am I kidding? I was defeated.
As a consolation I managed to gain entrance to the ruined house adjoining the church; the former residence of Abbé Bigou, according to Patrice. Inside were a number of peculiar artefacts, including a carved stone, a Well in the same room as a fireplace, and a peculiar garden decoration, just outside.
I searched the grounds for some time, but there was not a tomb in sight, let alone Bigou’s. All I saw was a snake, which curiously slithered around the base of the crucifix tree.
‘If Bigou was in fact in Spain, undercover as it were, performing Grail rituals in the care of a private Society, then he certainly would not have a very public tomb, if he had one at all.’
I continued to reason; ‘If Bigou had activated the Grail in this very church, why he would not have been buried there, commemorated in something as simple as, well, the crucifix tree?’
I returned to Besalu, this time in search of lunch. The place was heaving with Sunday day trippers, so I grabbed a quick bite at a lesser restaurant and headed east, to Figuerers. It was time to explore the Dali Museum.
The Dali Museum was sensational, but unfruitful. I had been looking for drawings of José, Lucia or Patrice – perhaps even a tower, but saw nothing that seemed related to Girona, the Grail or my quest.
Before returning to Girona I consulted my Catalan road map and made an executive decision. I decided to drive to Tarres’s village, unsure what to expect or what I would do when I got there. Patrice would be none pleased if she knew, but I couldn’t resist.
‘Actually, it’s not that far out of the way,’ I rationalised, trying desperately to justify my devious behaviour. ‘It’ll be dark soon,’ I thought, so I jumped on the N11 dual carriageway and drove like hell.
I had just pulled into the village when my phone went off. Patrice had left a message on my voicemail: ‘Hi Andrew. I’ve not heard form you. Have you fallen into a portal? Give me a call, and promise me you wouldn’t go see José – ok?’
‘Why does that not surprise me?’ I thought, ‘The woman’s psychic. I mustn’t forget that!’
I parked near Tarres’s house and considered what I would say when we met. I devised a plan. I walked a short distance to the village church, which was locked, and asked a local if he knew who held the key. As suspected they replied: ‘José Tarres. He lives over there,’ the man said, pointing to the large but somewhat dilapidated house I had parked across from. I thanked him for his help and tried not to stare at his Dali inspired moustache.
I walked to Tarres’s house as nonchalantly as possible and rang the door bell. Once, twice – five times, then waited. No answer. Sadly, or perhaps fortunately, Tarres was not home. I photographed the surroundings and headed for Girona; an anti-climax if there ever was one.
That night I visited Wolf for the last time. He was finally starting to open up about Eco, but I couldn’t focus. In fact I couldn’t keep my head off the bar. I was deathly sick.
I invented a lame excuse about needing to get some rest before embarking on what I had anticipated to be the highlight of my journey; an early morning trek to Mt. Canigou.
Ascending the sacred mountain and exploring the summit where the Society hid their Grail artefacts was arguably the main quest of my trip. Ok, it was right up there with ‘Meet José Tarres’ and ‘Find Bigou’s Tomb, anyway. Only it would never happen. I would be confined to my hotel room until the following afternoon.
I spent the night studying the design of the Spanish toilet in my bath room. I seldom left its side. By 5am we had become quite close.
With my energy depleted and the day half gone, I dragged myself across town and into the Girona archives. I estimated I had 30 minutes – no more, before I had to abort and return to the hotel. As I queued for assistance I retraced my steps of the day before. I concluded that the cheap and cheerful lunch in Besalú was to blame. A bug, perhaps even food poisoning, I reckoned. Whatever it was I had been throwing up every half hour since!
I was fortunate to find an English-speaking librarian who directed me to the property transfer documents for the sale of French woman’s house and tower to Girona city. This was one of the documents I wanted to secure, even if I couldn’t read a word of Catalan.
‘At least I did something today,’ I comforted myself, as I hurried back to the hotel, where I threw up and went to bed.
Patrice was insistent I gain entrance to Saint Luke’s church, near the main cathedral, just outside the Old Town ramparts. She maintained it was an important part of the story, but would not say why. I had attempted to gain entry for days on end, but failed each time. The place looked foreboding as hell and was always locked.
While in Girona I was in daily contact with my friends, the Rennes-le-Château researchers, Philip Coppens and Corjan de Raaf. We were preparing to launch a new website and had been discussing the relationship between Girona, Rennes-le-Château and Perillos. Patrice had drawn our attention to the importance of the North / South alignment, the Isis and Nephted as she called it, and how the Grail rituals were designed to open a portal between the two towers and make way for what she called the ‘unmanifest messiah’. It was all a bit overwhelming.
Corjan put together a map of the three cities using Google Earth and we discussed it over email.
We’d also been discussing the work of Isaac Ben Jacob, a researcher whose investigation into a French death cult, or society known as La Sanch (La Sang in Spanish) was proving to be a key element of the developing link between Girona and Rennes-le-Château.
The Perpignan-based society is famous for its Easter processions, elaborate dress, and mysterious rituals on the dead; rituals for a fee, designed to ensure that a person’s soul goes to heaven regardless of the quality of life they led.
Jacob’s analysis of Bérenger Saunière’s letters and regalia indicate that the priest may have been part of the society. I reflected on this, adding that the church in Durban, near Perillos / Perpignan, contains La Sanch symbolism. This is the church where Saunière’s mentors, Abbés Gelis and Boudet, received their first assignment as priests.
‘So Saunière’s involvement in La Sanch is really not that far-fetched,’ I thought. I then realised that Saunière’s West Wall fresco in the church of Saint Mary Magdalene in Rennes-le-Château contained one of the core La Sanch symbols; a bag of gold. Was this the proof I had been looking for that Saunière was part of La Sanch?
Now that Patrice has revealed that the Sun Stone has been moved from Girona to Perpignan, we’re keen to understand if there’s a La Sanch presence in Girona. By process of elimination, we suspect it might be based at Saint Luke’s, but I was struggling to gain entry to confirm.
I decide to give Patrice a call.
‘I’m feeling a bit weak from yesterday Patrice, but fancy a road trip as it’s my last full day; still too drained for Canigou I’m afraid. I was thinking of Ripoll. Didn’t you mention that José used to go there on retreat?’
‘Good choice! Yes, he used to go there, or thereabouts. He went to the area a lot, but refused to talk about it.’
‘Ok, well that’s good enough for me. Ripoll it is then!’
‘Just remember to be careful, and encircle yourself with protection if you find yourself in any danger. I’m serious!’
‘Right, thanks Patrice. Will do. I’ll let you know how I get on. Oh, and I keep forgetting to ask. Any luck with your contact who knows the key holder for Saint Luke’s?’
‘No, but I’ll keep trying.’
The medieval Benedictine monastery of Santa Maria de Ripoll is sensational. It’s Roman – some would argue pagan – carvings are among the best preserved in all of Spain. It’s also the resting place of the Counts of Barcelona.
I stubbornly continued to search for Bigou’s tomb, this time in and around the monastery grounds. The only thing I discovered was an English-speaking guide. Fortuitously, she was able to direct me to three other churches in the area that conducted Easter Parades: ‘Sounds like La Sanch to me,’ I thought. ‘Could any of these be the one that Tarres visited on his retreats?’ I had to find out.
The first church was interesting, but un-sensational. They had just reinstated their ritual for the first time in 42 years and there were no signs of anything unusual, so I moved on to Saint Joan de les Abadesses. Now this was more like it. The church and its adjoining museum contained fascinating artefacts, including a Chapel of Pain, a curious eagle and yet more towers!
I drove north to Camprodon, and the last of the Easter Parade churches I needed to investigate. As I approached, a thunderstorm erupted and hail the size of marbles blurred my vision. Clearly spring storms in the Pyrenees could be quite unpredictable, and violent. I parked in front of an unmarked church across from the village square, tucked the camera securely under my shirt and ran inside. ‘Amazing’, I thought, as I studied what was clearly a La Sanch church of some significance. ‘La Processo Dels Sants Misteris A Camprondon,’ the sign read.
And there in the corner of the showcase, near a golden chalice was a bag of nuggets; similar to bags I had seen in other La Sanch churches, including Saunière’s.
I ran back to the car and drove to the other side of town. Saint Maria beckoned. It was bucketing down and the thunder created an atmosphere reminiscent of a Belo Lugosi film. I was reminded of a local legend from nearby Mt. Canigó, where Catalan witches called bruixes created a hailstorm by urinating into a hole and beating the liquid with vines. I wondered…
The instant I entered Saint Maria I was overcome with fear. I mean I was literally gripped by terror. This too was a La Sanch church, which struck me as odd. ‘Why would any town need more than one?’ I questioned.
I remembered what Patrice had said about seeking protection if ever I felt endangered. It felt like I needed protection all right – and fast. As I walked around the pitch dark nave I fretted that the statues would leap off the wall and steal my soul – maybe even suck the blood from my veins.
I departed Saint Maria fearfully watching my back; thankful that my soul was still intact, or so it seemed.
I searched the old cemeteries in the area in the pouring rain; no sign of Bigou’s tomb anywhere. I returned to Girona somewhat disappointed, yet more determined than ever to gain access to Saint Luke’s. If it too was La Sanch, then maybe the Girona link with Perpignan, Rennes-le-Château and Saunière could be strengthened.
It was my last morning in Girona and I was not feeling optimistic. But then Patrice called. ‘I found the phone number of my guy! It wasn’t easy, trust me. Call him now,’ she said.
‘If anyone can get you into Saint Luke’s, he can! He has connections, you know.’
I promptly called Patrice’s ‘guy’, who in turn made a few calls of his own, and within 90 minutes I had connected with the key holder. We entered the church through the side door, near the ancient Arab baths. ‘Incredible’, I thought, ‘this is not so much a church as a warehouse of processional equipment!’ And there in the back, in a side room, was a cross on the wall containing the now-familiar La Sanch symbols. So Saint Luke’s was a La Sanch centre after all. ‘Is that why Patrice said it was important?’ I wondered.
As I walked back to retrieve my rucksack I noticed yet another tower amongst all the kit. ‘Why does that not surprise me?’ I thought.
I thanked my guide, who was in fact the 2003 Grand Master of the Manaies of Girona, and headed for the archives one last time. Philip and Corjan were keen for me to track down an obscure article called La Sanch in Girona. I photographed the article and headed for the airport.
The Girona trip had exceeded my expectations, despite the food poisoning and the disappointment of not climbing Mt. Canigou – or finding Bigou’s tomb or meeting Tarres!
Back in London I met Patrice for lunch. I was feeling guilty about visiting Tarres’s home as this was so clearly against her wishes.
She said, ‘Hun, I’m a medium. I knew the second you went there. I saw it! It was Sunday, just before dusk. Right?’
‘Unbelievable,’ I thought. She was right. I mean she was spot on!
‘Err, yes, it was,’ I said.
‘I knew it,’ Patrice exclaimed. ‘I knew you had gone.’
‘Listen, I’m really sorry I lied to you Patrice,’ I said, awkwardly.
‘I’m not worried about that Andrew. I know what you’re like. Just be careful when questing in Girona, ok? Promise me that. Its serious business you know.’
I couldn’t have agreed more.
Rare Photos of the Torre Magdala