THE ROCK OF THE MAGDALENE
By CORJAN DE RAAF & ANDREW GOUGH
The 600 Lb Gorilla
The legend of Rennes-le-Château is fraught with mystery, mistakes and misdirection. The simplest explanation is often the path least chosen, if selected at all. This flies in the face of Occam’s Razor, which stipulates – according to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia – that "one should always choose the simplest explanation of a phenomenon, the one that requires the fewest leaps of logic". In layman’s terms, this translates as always look for the 600 pound gorilla in front of you first before charging into the jungle.
So where is the 600 lb gorilla in the mystery of Rennes-le-Château? Actually there might be several, but for a start, how about a tower designed by a priest; father Saunière, called the Tour Magdala, or the Tower of the Magdalene. This spectacular structure defines the village of Rennes-le-Château and exhibits several 600 lb gorilla like qualities, such as the following:
22 steps lead to a platform that connects the Tour Magdela with the adjoining orangery.
22 steps ascend a spiral stair case to the top of the Tour Magdela.
22 degrees offset from the window in the Tour Magdela, one’s line of sight is fixed
22 is the Feast Day of Saint Mary Magdalene.
The Tour Magdal window points unambiguously at a grotto in the distance whose ancient place name is ‘Grotte du Fournet – dite de la Magdeleine’, which translates as ‘The Burial Site of the Mary Magdalene‘ or the Grotto of Mary as we will call it.
Magdala refers to Magdalene. Magdala near Gallilee, according to the gospels, was the birthplace of Mary Magdalene. Magdala also means tower in Hebrew (Migdal in Aramic). Hence, a triple meaning.
In the Grotto of Mary can be found the remains of what appears to be two ancient burials.
Supporting these gorilla like pillars are other facts and peculiarities, such as:
Fixed on the Grotto of Mary is a very distinctive and curious stone platform. This enigmatic structure will be the foundation of much of our analysis in this paper, as it appears to have been portrayed in various works of classical art.
The village Priest, Berenger Saunière, built his own Grotto, dedicated to Mary Magdalene, from stones collected near the region pointed to by the Tour Magdela. His grotto, before it was vandalized, pointed directly at the Tour Magdela.
Elsewhere, the village church is dedicated to Mary Magdalene.
The Church’s statues are repositioned so that the first letter of each spells ‘GRAAL’, French for Grail, when connected in the shape of an ‘M’.
The hand of Berenger Saunière is observed within the church in several places, including most notably the Altar Painting that he personally designed. It depicts a grotto with Mary Magdalene staring at an ‘X’ or cross (a sign of concealed esoteric knowledge according to Margaret Starbird, and others).
In the Altar Painting Mary Magdalene’s hands are folded in a peculiar, almost swastika like manner. In this instance, they form three X’s; a sign of significant, concealed esoteric knowledge.
The Altar Painting seems to depict buildings present in Rennes-le-Château in the background.
These gorilla like pillars that seem to shout ‘look here! And so we shall, all the while conscious of the fact that their apparent significance may merely be a product of our over active imagination. The purpose of this essay, whose core arguments have been undergone peer review on both public and private Rennes-le-Château Forums, is an attempt to examine a subset of these anomalies in considerable detail and to apply Occams Razor where possible, and to look beyond it where necessary.
In particular, we will explore one strangely overlooked facet of the mystery; the large stone platform that is fixed on the Grotto of Mary. This distinctive, curious and largely ignored stone platform, which we call the Rock of The Magdalene, seems in need of considerable analysis, given its possible significance in the mystery and its apparent representation in classical works of art. Before reviewing each of the classical painters whose works appear to have commemorated this enigmatic structure, let’s take a look at what we call, The Rock of the Magdalene.
Magdalene’s Streaming Tears
We start with a review of the area surrounding the Grotto of Mary and the Rock of The Magdalene, which is called the Vallée des Couleurs. Studying the map below we can see that a small stream crosses the valley called Ruisseau de Couleurs.
Corjan, a keen linguist, had historically translated the streams name as Stream of Colours, but has recently begun to consider other alternative translations. Basically, the French have an expression: un RUISSEAU de larmes COULAIT le long de ses joues, meaning the tears streamed down her cheeks. Couleurs, in that respect, could mean ‘the things that run in the sense of tears down your cheeks’. It doesn’t translate particularly well into English but we hope you get the idea: Ruisseau de Couleurs could perhaps have been intended as Stream of Tears a long time ago!
This is relevant because there is a well-known phrase in the whole enigma that speaks of the Magdalena and her tears that wash away our sins. It was once inscribed below the bas relief of Saunière’s altar and it is displayed at the bottom of what we know as the ‘2nd parchment’. The phrase states: JESU MEDELA VULNERUM SPES UNA POENITENTIUM PER MAGDALENAE LACRYMAS PECCATA NOSTRA DILUAS.
The above phrase is Latin for Jesus, you remedy against our pains and only hope for our repentance, it is thanks to Magdalene’s tears that you wash our sins away. This sentence is pure heresy and must have raised many an eyebrow when it was first put on display. The power to wash away our sins is directly linked to the Magdalene’s tears, rather than to the blood of Jesus or his death on the cross. Peculiar to say the least.
There are more similarities between the bottom of the second parchment and the bas relief. Have a close look at the NOIS sign and the strange scribbling in the middle. When you mirror the image it says SION and displays the cross with a branch below an inversed ‘N’. We believe that the inversed ‘N’ means: attention, there’s a secret here. One of the members on the Back to the Source Forum brought to our attention a similarly inversed ‘N’ in a tree in a famous painting that is often related to Rennes-le-Chateau: Les Bergers d’Arcadie. Over that reversed ‘N’, in the same tree, Poussin painted the same cross, represented with a branch. Would there also be references in art to Mary Magdalene and the big square rock?
The Rock of the Magdalene
It has often been hypothesized that there were artists who possessed the secret of Rennes-le-Chateau and preserved this heretical knowledge in their paintings. However, this has never been satisfactorily proved. This discussion is an attempt to review the regions depicted by these artists and examine the possibilities. For instance, whether or not Nicolas Poussin had Rennes-le-Château in mind when he painted his ‘Bergers d’Arcadie’ is completely up for speculation. Louis XIV apparently went out of his way to find and purchase the original in 1685, when he bought the painting from C.A. Herault, a well-known art dealer. The painting adorned his private quarters for the rest of his life.
When dealing with matters related to Rennes-le-Château, one must pay special attention to the few actual facts in the story, because so much of the mystery is simply hearsay from Les Dossiers Secrets. There is no record whatsoever that Saunière purchased or ever possessed a copy of the painting or any of the other paintings he allegedly bought from the Louvre (which, according to legend included Poussins 2nd version of Les Bergers d’Arcadie, a portrait of Pope Celestine V and one of David Tenier’s painting of St. Anthony). In fact, there is not a shred of evidence that Saunière was ever in Paris. Sure, there was a little glass Eiffel Tower found in Marie Dénarnaud’s (the priests house keeper) possessions after she died but that tourist souvenir could have come from everyone.
So at the end of the day it is difficult to prove that the mystery of Rennes-le-Château has been commemorated in classical art. That said there are remarkable similarities in some of their works; images and landscapes that appear to be related to the enigma. The relationship between the Magdalene and a large square rock platform is one such similarity that we have found featured over and over in the work of a numerous classical painters. So let’s cautiously explore these apparent similarities a little further.
The shape of the Rock of the Magdalene is unmistakable. Its square construction and proximity to the Grotto of Mary could even lead one to believe that the setting may have been communicated and reproduced on canvas, without having viewed it in person. The shape of the rock itself is insignificant; however when combined with its position near the Grotto of Mary, we can’t help but feel we have seen this image before. The great painters were often initiated in religion and esoterica. Many resided in Rome and were supervisor of the Papal art collections in the Belvedere. It can be argued that the Vatican is not the ideal place to uncover heretical secrets. It’s perhaps less implausible than you think when you realize that the church was always an obsessive and immaculate keeper of records and many a Pope, Cardinal or Bishop was more interested in politics than eclectics.
Returning to the issue at hand, in the following section we have identified a number of paintings that appear to have made the link between the Rock and the Magdalene and the Grotto of Mary. Ever so cautiously, let’s have a look at some of those now.
Commemorating the Magdalene: Pietro Perugino (1495 – 1562)
Italian master Perugino began painting at the age of nine. He was one of the first artists in Italy who used oil paint, in the style of Jan van Eyck. For a number of years Pietro was an apprentice in the studio of Andrea del Verrocchio. One of his companion apprentices during that period was Leonardo da Vinci. The two men therefore must have known each other well. In 1480 Pope Sixtus IV called Perugino to Rome to work on the Sistine Chapel. He produced two large frescoes by the names of ‘The Baptism of Christ‘ and ‘The Delivery of the Keys‘. The first was later removed to make room for the work of Michelangelo. After 1506 he worked in Vatican City, summoned there by Pope Julius II. He was later succeeded by his best known pupil, Rafael (who became especially famous for his fresco ‘the School of Athens’ in the Stanza della Segnatura, the private library of the Pope).
Perugino’s work is beautifully detailed and geometric in nature. In his so called Galtzin Triptych, which he produced for the church of San Domenico in San Gimignano, he exercised a startling realism for the landscape. The three panels together depict the ‘V’, perhaps the vessel that bore Christ’s fruit while he was being crucified. Mary Magdalene stands discretely on the right, identified by her anointment jar, but has the same pose as Mary, mother of Christ. The landscape on her top-right looks remarkably like the Rock of the Magdalene. There’s a lot more to say about these three panels, (like for example the hands of Mary that are folded in the three X’s like the Mary Magdalene on the bas relief on the altar in Rennes-le-Château), but we’ll leave that to the side for now.
Commemorating the Magdalene: Jan van Scorel (1495 – 1562)
Jan Van Scorel was a Dutch master who travelled extensively across Europe, and beyond. He worked under Albrecht Dürer in Germany around 1518, and is understood to have made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and Jerusalem. He was an erudite man. In 1521, Van Scorel was called to Rome by the Utrecht born Dutch Pope Adrian VI. The Pope appointed him painter to the Vatican and welcomed him into the Papal apartments. Van Scorel soon succeeded Raphael as the keeper of the Papal Art Collections in the Belvedere. After the death of Adrian VI in 1523 he returned to his home country the Netherlands. There he spent some very productive decades until his death in 1562. Most remarkable was his restoration of the renowned Ghent Altarpiece (by the brothers Jan and Hubert van Eyck) in 1550. Van Scorel allegedly added the Utrecht church tower to this masterpiece, which has become shrouded in mystery and conspiracies. For instance, the Nazis believed it to be a treasure map and linked it to Rennes-le-Château, as described in the excellent book ‘Satan’s Song’ by Karl Hammer.
One of Van Scorel’s most enigmatic works is a portrait of Mary Magdalene from 1528. The dramatic rock on her left is only one of many remarkable features. There’s an old bearded man walking, reminding us of the old bearded man / woman walking across the west wall fresco over the confessional in the church of Rennes-le-Château. A man, woman and child are sitting calmly at the foot of the Rock. Mary Magdalene has Hebrew characters embroidered on the collar of her dress. Jordan Stratford and Avielah Barclay have preformed extensive research into this Hebrew text and suggested that it refers to a secret maternity.
Commemorating the Magdalene: Nicolas Poussin (1594 – 1665)
Allegedly, Nicolas Poussin’s personal motto was ‘tenet confidentiam‘ or ‘keeper of secrets’. In 1862, Historian Anatole de Montaiglon published a series of seven letters concerning Poussin, one of them written by Abbé Louis Fouquet, brother of Louis Fouquet, treasurer to Louis XIV. Louis wrote about an encounter his brother had with Poussin in a most lucid manner:
‘He and I discussed certain things, which I shall with ease be able to explain to you in detail – things which will give you, through Monsieur Poussin, advantages which even kings would have great pains to draw from him, and which, according to him, it is possible that nobody else will ever rediscover in the centuries to come. And what is more, these are things so difficult to discover that nothing now on earth can prove of better fortune nor be their equal’.
What exactly did Poussin know? If he did in fact conceal a secret, what clues did he leave behind in his work?
Poussin died in Rome in 1665 and was buried in the Basilica San Lorenzo in Lucina. Châteaubriand, French Ambassador in Rome, raised a monument to Poussin above the artist’s mausoleum in 1820. It carries a dedication and a bas-relief displaying his most famous painting The Shepherds of Arcadia. Below the plaque there’s an inscription that might well answer our question of weather Poussin preserved esoteric clues in his work. It states:
‘PARCE PIIS LACRIMIS VIVIT PUSSINUS IN URNA VIVERE QUI DEDERAT NESCIUS IPSE MORI HIC TAMEN IPSE SILET SI VIS AUDIRE LOQUENTEM MIRUM EST TABULIS VIVIT ET ELOQUITUR’.
This curious expression speaks about how Poussin has given his life without really dying. He is silent now but when you’re prepared to listen, however, he has spoken volumes in his paintings.
Poussin is linked to the enigma of Rennes-le-Château like no other artist. According to Gérard de Sède in his book ‘le Trésor Maudit de Rennes-le-Château (1967), Bérenger Saunière bought a copy of Poussin’s ‘Les Bergers d’Arcadie’ in Paris some time around March 1892. De Sède however was prompted by Pierre Plantard and ‘Les Dossiers Secrets’, the authenticity of each being potentially rather dubious.
It is not clear if Poussin ever visited the region. If he did, it would have most likely been a diversion from the standard route used by travellers from Paris to Italy. Nevertheless, Poussin did produce several works that appear to be linked to the history of Rennes-le-Château. His work ‘Autumn or Grapes from the Promised Land’ from 1662 paints an odd scene, indeed. In an age before genetically manipulated food, two men carry a bunch of giant grapes (pommes bleues, of blue apples fame?) to a Rock in a landscape that closely resembles the small valley we are examining near the stream of the Ruisseau des Couleurs.
The mountain in the background resembles those painted by Poussin in the Shepherds of Arcadia and the Baptism of Jesus. It is thought by some researchers to be the mountain of Blanchefort, others believe it to be the mountain of Cardou. The scene depicted is from the Old Testament, Book of Numbers 13, 23-24. It speaks of Caleb and Joshua scouting the Promised Land and cutting a branch from the vine to take back to Moses to illustrate the fruitfulness of the land, i.e. “flowing with milk and honey”. We noticed that ‘the Vine’ is pronounced ‘Divine’. Could this scene depict two initiates carrying divine fruits, Pommes Bleues perhaps, from the Promised Land to the Rock of The Magdalene?
Les Bergers d’Arcadie or The Shepherds of Arcadia, more specifically the second version of it, is probably the best known painting by Poussin. It was commissioned as part of two works by Cardinal Camillo Massimi; the twin-tableau being Midas Washing his Face in the River Pactolus. Endless speculations, measurements and interpretations have been made of the second, more classical version of The Shepherds,or Et In Arcadia Ego as it is sometimes called, referring to the inscription on the tomb. The painter, Guercino, is believed to be the source of that phrase, inspired by Virgil’s Eclogues V in which a tomb with an inscription (to Daphnis) is described to be in the ideal landscape of Arcadia in ancient Greece. Today, many believe the inscription to be an anagram due to the fact that the sentence has no verb. The most tantalizing alternative being I Tego Arcana Dei or Begone, or I Conceal the Secrets of God. If you compare the first and the second version of The Shepherds you can see that on the latter one of the men has kneeled as if he or the painter has now realized what the true significance of the phrase on the tomb might be.
Heaps of research has been conducted on the mountainous landscape immediately behind and to the right of the tomb. Although the mountain peaks can be closely mapped to the Rennes-le-Château area, it is next to impossible to say this is Poussin’s landscape with certainty. Poussin however, appears to have used the same mountains on more than one occasion, in work that is traditionally linked to the area. The plot thickens if you see the likeness to the mountains on Van Scorel’s painting, Mary Magdalene.
What the Shepherds said to one another… (Luke 2:15)
Let’s look at the second version of the Poussin painting in some more detail. The woman on the right is standing in the classical pose of a pregnant woman, slightly bended backwards with a hand to support the back of her hip. This tableau could very well be depicting a pregnant woman watching a group of shepherds. The shepherds seem to have discovered a tomb and are struggling to decipher its inscription. They appear to be looking to her for guidance. The kneeled man points at the letters RC from aRCadia, the initials of Rennes-le-Chateau and Ruisseau de Couleurs, the small stream that runs between the Grotto of Mary and the Rock of the Magealene.
The Grotte of Marry is marked by the big square Rock, placed opposite its entrance. Some 20 yards to the right there is a second grotto with a peculiar triangular entrance. In the grotto, enforcing the effect, there’s a pyramid shaped niche.
On Poussin’s painting there is a triangular shape in the tomb that resembles the entrance of this smaller, triangular shaped grotto. Also there is a familiarly shaped rock serving as a foot rest for the shepherd on the right. If you turn the painting 135° (3 * 45°) counter clockwise, the two arms of the men pointing at the tomb form an ‘M’. The stick of the first shepherd has an angle of 45° as if to mark out the triangular hole in the tomb. Are they pointing at a location near Rennes-le-Château marked by the rock and the triangle? The M lies near Rennes-le-Château, opposite the rock, left of the triangle. Et In Arcadia Ego: And in Arcadia I, Mary Magdalene, watch the shepherds discover my Burial Site: Le Grotte du Fournet dite de la Magdeleine (the Grotto of Mary).
Commemorating the Magdalene: Abbé Henri Gasq (attributed to) (1806 – 1882)
In the church of Rennes-les-Bains there’s a painting called Le Christ et le Lièvre or The Christ and the Hare. The painting is named after a hare because in Christ’s right knee, the painter created a trompe d’oeuil of a hare. The Holy Blood and Holy Grail first brought the painting to the attention of the general public some 25 years ago. However, the painting seems to garnish attention for all the wrong reasons. Neither the apparent hare in Christ’s right knee nor the bear like claw in the right hand corner, nor the alleged spider on the ceiling are especially believable. Nevertheless countless articles have been written about each.
What is of particular interest is the fact that Mary is once again in a grotto, staring at an X! This time the ‘X’ is on the ceiling; once again it is symbolising concealed esoteric knowledge. But what knowledge?
Interestingly, there are other, more ancient associations of ‘X’s in the region of Vallée des Couleurs. An ancient megalith, which is now on display near the Mayors office in Rennes-le-Château, was found nearby the Rock of the Magdalene and the Grotto of Mary and contains many, clearly carved ‘X”s. When were they carved? What do they mean? Are they related to the apparent mystery at hand?
Furthermore, outside the grotto is a stone platform that bears more than passing resemblance to the Rock of the Magdalene. As we delve deeper, the circumstances surrounding the painting become even more intriguing. A certain Paul Urbain de Fleury, husband of Gabrielle Hautpoul and Lord of Rennes, is said to have dedicated the painting to the church in Rennes-les-Bains, where it remains to this day. For reasons that are unclear, Paul Urbain de Fleury, who died in 1836, is buried in the cemetery at Rennes-les-Bains in two graves. But there is more.
The painting is a copy of an engraving by Paulus Pontius, who in turn, copied it from La Lamentation by Van Dyck. The copyist that created the painting in Rennes-les-Bains made some adjustments to the scene. There is for example a similarity between the left side of this painting and the Mary Magdalene bas relief on the altar of Saunière’s church. The position of Christ’s right arm implies that he is not dead. In both the Van Dyck original and Paulus Pontius’ version the hand is supported by Mary Magdalene. Where is she in this picture? For the full story about this painting and its origins please refer to the excellent research done by Franck Daffos and Jean-Pierre Garcia.
In the same church there’s also a painting called The Crucifixion which looks as if it was painted by the same artist. The true author of these works has long been disputed. Daffos and Garcia make a good case for it being Abbé Henri Gasq, once the chaplain of the church of Notre Dame de Marceille near Limoux. Henri Gasq gave the painting to his colleague Abbé Jean Vié in 1842 (Vié was Henri Boudet’s predecessor as curé of the church in Rennes-les-Bains). Notre Dame de Marceille and Gasq appear to play a key-role in several mysteries surrounding Rennes-le-Château. During the research of Gasq’s paintings it was noticed that a rock was sitting prominently at the edges of both tableaus. When the crucifixion was superimposed over the Christ and the Hare the two rocks became one; a rock like the Rock of the Magdalene, visible from within the Grotto.
Upon detailed inspection, the gorilla-like pillars of Rennes-le-Château prove to be quite curious in deed. The Rock of the Magdalene in particular, which to our knowledge is yet to receive its just attention, raises a number of interesting possibilities.
Every Rennes-le-Château enthusiasts is aware of the apparent bond between father Boudet in Rennes-le-Bains and father Saunière in Rennes-le-Château. They lived side by side, in adjoining villages. If father Boudet inherited a tradition of knowledge from Paul Urbain de Fleury, who had it commissioned in art, or from others, would he not have passed it on to those he trusted, such as Saunière? This raises the question of whether father Boudet himself was a 600 lb gorilla in the mystery, what with his sizable and rather inexplicable donations to father Saunière (via Marie Dénarnaud) and the peculiar books he authored. But that’s another question for another time.
The fact remains that the landscape of the Vallée des Couleurs is especially curious; the Rock of The Magdalene, The Grotto of Mary, with it’s ancient graves, the nearby grotto whose triangular shape is reminiscent of aspects of Saunières Altar Painting and possibly even the work of Nicolas Poussin; they all seem to be echoed in classical works of art. Is this our collective unconscious playing tricks or is the vicinity of the Grotto of Mary and the Rock of the Magdalene being commemorated by initiates who are aware of its esoteric significance? Just what that esoteric significance may be, well, we shall reserve comment. Perhaps the evidence – the gorilla-like pillars, are suggestive enough.
Not surprisingly, however, when we apply Occams Razor we are left with nothing but coincidence:
The number 22 is insignificant or perhaps an innocent homage to the saint who the villagers have dedicated the church too; Mary Magdalene.
The Rock of the Magdalene is set naturally in its environment and is completely ordinary in shape, hence its apparent likeness to other stone platforms depicted in classical art.
The apparent similarity of the landscape in and around the Grotto of Mary with scenes depicted in classical works of art is again nothing but a passing similarity.
Is this conclusion satisfactory? In our analysis we attempted to employ Occams Razor, yet look beyond it where necessary and interject some lateral thinking to the process, for the evidence seemed to warrant this. We then must ask ourselves, has this produced a more satisfactory result? To that end, what with our affinity for the evidence presented we could not objectively say, and thus we invite you to decide.
Many of the arguments put forward in this article presuppose that the reader is familiar with the reasons why Mary Magdalene is believed to have traveled to the South of France, and why she has become associated with Rennes-le-Château in particular. In Part II of this essay, we will explore new and fascinating evidence that appears to validate these claims, including more evidence for the significance of the number 22, as well as brand new research that confirms that the Alabaster jar of Mary Magdalene was restored in the South of France in a way that for the first time builds a logical bridge between many of the popular hypotheses. So, as they say, the story will be continued . . . by Corjan de Raaf and Andrew Gough
Many thanks to:
Franck Daffos, much more can be read in his book Rennes-le-Château, le secret dérobé