CURIOSITIES OF LOUIS DE COMA AND HIS STATIONS OF THE CROSS
By ANDREW GOUGH
The heroes and villains of Rennes-le-Château legend are well documented. Today, any serious study of the genre includes the usual suspects, especially the priests; Father Bigou, Saunière, Boudet and Gélis. Their individual legacies are familiar to many, and the peculiar detail of their lives has led researchers to conclude that the priests may have shared a great heretical secret. The question is, just what did they know?
There is one priest, however, whose apparent involvement in the whole affair is shrouded in relative obscurity. And when the fog lifts on his unusual tale, a new chapter in the mystery will be unveiled. I speak of Father Louis de Coma, the man who set the standard for priests behaving strangely, three decades before Bérenger Saunière, the priest of considerable renown from Rennes-le-Château. Not surprisingly, the two men have much in common, as we shall see.
Louis de Coma was a fascinating man, priest and some would argue, mystic. He was born in 1822 in the romantic medieval capital of Foix, in South West France. He was one of 9 children. His father was a famous architect in the region, as was his brother, who would later administer his ambitious building projects.
Louis de Coma was committed to the priesthood and was honoured with an invitation to study at Saint Sulpice in Paris. Sadly, he was denied the opportunity due to concerns that he would not return to the local community after his studies. Begrudgingly, he entered the Jesuit Seminary in 1844 at Saint Acheul in Amiens, at a time when the order was not well respected in France. As a Jesuit, de Coma concentrated on helping prepare people for their inevitable mortality; death. His training would soon prove valuable.
Louis’s father passed away on Christmas day 1855, leaving his son a considerable inheritance in property. This included an estate called Le Carol in Baulou; an unassuming Ariège village tucked away along the D1 secondary road in the rolling hills west of Foix.
Father de Coma appears to have been deeply inspired by his Jesuit training, for he expressed his religious devotion in elaborate and expensive building projects. With the assistance and expertise of his brother, the diocesan architect, Louis worked tirelessly to construct an elaborate religious centre on his deceased father’s estate. The building projects were ambitious, and consisted of grandiose structures both above and below ground. The total expenditure of the development exceeded a half million gold francs; in other words, the humble priest had spent the modern equivalency of millions of dollars on the project.
The funding of the work does not seem to have been an issue for Father de Coma. In addition to contributions from his father’s inheritance, and his brother’s business, he was able to draw from the Foundation of Gethsemane, a fund he created with donations from those who had commissioned masses to be performed after their death. Adding to that, Father de Coma received a donation of 4,000 Francs from the Comte de Chambord, the pretender to the throne of France. The Comte would have been aware of de Coma’s pro Monarchist position as well as the fact that he was ordained at Notre Dame de Liesse, an established centre of pilgrimage of the French Royal Family, as detailed in Lynn Picknett’s excellent book, Mary Magdalene.
Remains of Father de Coma’s building works are still visible today, such as the hauntingly beautiful crypt of Mary Magdalene, with a statue of the penitent Magdalene presiding over a pool of water believed by de Coma to possess magical powers.
A short distance from the Magdalene crypt is the burial tomb of the De Coma family. The evocative underground mausoleum is symbolically connected via an alignment that bisects all of the primary religious structures in Carol. But more on that in a moment.
The de Coma family crypt requires permission to enter, and that’s just as well, for it’s difficult to find and somewhat dangerous to navigate. The crypt is guarded by a statue of a menacing water gorgon and is full of tunnels, open tombs and vaults, as well as natural stalagmites acquired from nearby caves and caverns. It also includes a provocative statue of Jesus, which is curiously depicted turning away from the tomb of Louis de Coma, as if portraying the Masonic 3rd Degree Sign.
De Coma built even more elaborate structures above ground. On top of the hill he constructed a chapel with a life size representation of the 12th Station of the Cross; Christ dead on the cross. The other 13 Stations were represented by large metal plates, adorned in individual chapels and carefully positioned on the hill leading from the Magdalene Crypt up to the chapel. Behind the chapel are the remains of two large and apparently ancient underground tombs. The curators of the Carol estate, now a seasonal Bed and Breakfast, believe that the tombs predate everything else on the estate, but are not aware who or what once occupied them.
Father de Coma built a variety of monastic buildings. While some still stand, most have been reduced to rubble. He created a massive garden that he called Gethsemane, named after the location of the Passion of Christ, and built a stylish church in its grounds. He imported vegetation indigenous to the Holy Land, although the French climate proved inhospitable and the plants soon died.
The church bares a striking resemblance to its more famous counterpart in Lourdes. Researcher and author Philip Coppens points out in his insightful study of de Coma that construction on the church in Carol predates that of Lourdes; suggesting that the building works of the humble priest were not only respected and admired throughout the region, but mimicked as well.
De Coma orientated the church to North East, which is unusual. The reason for this is unclear, but what is certain is that the primary religious structures in Carol form what I call the Father de Coma Alignment; a North-Easterly orientation spanning over a kilometer in length.
The alignment starts with the chapel on the hill (12th Station of the Cross) and runs through the Magdalene Crypt, the De Coma Family Crypt, the ruined Church of Gethsemane, and across a field to the Church of Saint Mary Magdalene in Baulou. Curiously, before the alignment arrives at the church of Saint Mary Magdalene’s in Baulou, it bisects an unmarked grave and tombstone in the church parking lot. The tomb is in fact none other than the relocated resting place Father de Coma.
The Father de Coma alignment is the only thing that makes sense of the fact that the priest has been moved from his family crypt to the parking lot of the church of Saint Mary Magdalene in Baulou, where he once preached. If the priest had been laid to rest in church cemetery, his tomb would not fall on the alignment. Needless to say, the priest now rests on unhallowed ground. And most curiously of all, this very pious man, renowned throughout France for his impassioned sermons, is buried in an unmarked grave. Except for a pentagram carved within a Cathar cross on the front of the tomb, there is no form of identification whatsoever. Intriguingly, beneath the tombstone are the remains of a much older grave, but whose?
If we extend the Father de Coma alignment beyond his tombstone and into the Church of Saint Mary Magdalene some 40 meters in the distance, we intersect a statue of Joan of Arc. Is this coincidence or a reference to the Angelic Society? Ultimately, we are left with a puzzle; is the Father de Coma alignment a deliberate attempt to highlight matters of significance, or is it mere coincidence?
Now in his waning years, Father de Coma struggled to find patrons to inhabit his retreat. The Fathers of the Holy Spirit occupied it for a year or so, but abandoned it while de Coma was on pilgrimage to Lourdes, in 1886. The reason for their departure has never been clear.
Not surprisingly, Father de Coma soon became known as the ‘Hermit of Le Carol’, preferring to hold mass in his own church and not in Baulou, where he had preached since 1890. No doubt reflective of his age, de Coma was often observed walking around his estate dressed in his dead mothers clothing. Clearly, his better days had come and gone. By the time of the French separation of Church and State in 1904, Father de Coma was an old man. Three years later he retired from priestly duties, and four years after that, on November 14, 1911, Louis de Coma was found dead in his bed at the tender age of 89.
Anyone familiar with the mystery of Rennes-le-Château will quickly recognise the similarities between Louis de Coma and Bérenger Saunière, the priest who lived 30 years later and some 50 kilometers to the East. If unfamiliar, then a summary of their similarities will illustrate this point:
|Characteristic||Louis de Coma||Bérenger Saunière
|Man of God||Jesuit Priest||Priest|
|Source of Income||Sold Masses. Assisted people in preparation for death||Sold Masses. Possibly involved in La Sanch rituals (Note 1)|
|Political Leaning||Monarchist. Received 4000 French Francs from Comte de Chambord.||Monarchist. Received 3000 French Francs form Countess de Chambord|
|Cost of Building Works||The modern equivalency of over $7,500,000.||The modern equivalency of over $2,500,000|
|Magdalene Worship||Grotto of Mary Magdalene||Tower of Mary Magdalene|
|Theme of Primary
|To recruit and install a monastic order||To create a retirement home for priest|
|Modern- Day Association with Cults||Carol estate dynamited in 1956 due to fear of religious cults taking over||Villa Bethany was pursued by the Order of the Solar Temple in the 1990’s|
|Relocation of Grave||Body removed from family crypt and reburied in an unmarked grave in unhallowed ground in the parking lot of the village church||Body removed from village cemetery and reburied in unhallowed ground in the garden of the priest’s former estate|
|Name of Estate||Gethsemane, named after the location of the passion of Christ||Bethany, named after the location of the passion of Christ|
|Name of Village Church||Saint Mary Magdalene||Saint Mary Magdalene|
|Church of Preference||Preferred to preach at his own church in Carol, not Saint Mary Magdalene in Baulou||Preached in the Villa Bethany, not Saint Mary Magdalene in Rennes-le-Château (albeit because he was forbidden to preach inside the village church)|
|Orientation of Religious Structures||Created shrines and religious monuments along a straight line over 1Km long, encompassing shines to Mary Magdalene and Joan of Arc||Orientated the Tour Magdela at Grotto of Mary over 1KM in the distance, while encoding the number 22, the feast day of Mary Magdalene throughout|
|Unusual Detail Within Church||Difficult to say, as its is now destroyed, yet the Stations of the Cross were very important; they adorned the hillside around Carol, including a chapel of the 12th Station; Christ on the Cross||Statue of Asmodeous. Curious West Wall Fresco symbolism. Altar Painting personally designed by priest. Expensive Stations of the Cross, which have apparently been modified by the priest himself|
Note 1: Isaac ben Jacob is championing a new line of research that reveals that Bérenger Saunière was part of the Perpignan based La Sanch society that existed to ensure that a person’s soul goes to heaven regardless of the quality of life they led. La Sanch priests would perform rituals on the individual’s body after their death to facilitate this, for a rather large fee.
The Stations of the Cross
With respect to Louis de Coma and Bérenger Saunière it is easy to create similarities, even where none exists. This is especially true of two individuals who shared the same vocation (men of God) and lived in the same region at the same time. It’s much like finding similarities between David Beckham and Tiger Woods; each has the same source of wealth (Sports), similar endorsements, houses, life styles, etc. Occam’s Razor would concur that most of these similarities are mere coincidence. But is that fair?
Regretfully, only fragments of Father de Coma’s prized building projects now remain. Sadly, this stems from the fact that the priest died without a will, thus by default he bequeathed his estate to the Bishop, who would have some ominous plans of his own, as we shall see. The absence of a will was not unusual in those days. For instance Father Jean Vié, the priest in Rennes-les-Bains around the same time is said to have died without a will, prompting his family to intervene and adjust the date of his death in order to transfer the land into their name. Some say this is why the 17th of January is etched on his tombstone, when in fact he died prior to that time.
Years later, in 1956, the Bishop did something quite bizarre. He ordered the Carol estate to be destroyed by dynamite. The rational, although not entirely clear, appears to have been based on the belief that unsavory religious cults would inhabit the estate if it were not demolished. Once the dynamiting was completed, only a few structures remained intact, and most of those were underground.
Intriguingly, 1956 was a pivotal year in the creation of the modern day Rennes-le-Château mystery. For a start, it was the year that the story first broke, courtesy of Noel Corbu, the business man who purchased Bérenger Saunière’s estate from Maria Denuraud (the priest’s helper) on the 22nd of July (the feast day of Mary Magdalene), 1946. Corbu’s 1956 interview in the South of France Dispatch newspaper spoke of a priest who had discovered an immense treasure in Rennes-le-Château. Not surprisingly, Corbu had just opened a hotel in the village and his goal is likely to have involved tourism.
In the same year Pierre Plantard was busy creating an organisation called the Priory of Sion, named after the mountain ‘Sion’ in his home town in France. Plantard and the newly created Priory of Sion would go on to produce quite a stir and as they say, the rest is history; pseudo history anyway.
Father de Coma completed his building works in 1885, the same year that Father Saunière began work in Rennes-le-Château. While Father Coma’s building initiatives were highly successful, another local priest was struggling to complete the restorations he had only just started.
Just a few kilometers down the road, in the nondescript Village of Raynaude, Father Antoine Rousse faced a serious problem. In fact, for a Catholic priest, it was a matter of some urgency. His church and presbytery were in such a state of disrepair that he could not conduct mass. As a result, the catholic children of the village were forced to attend a nearby Protestant school. This enraged the young priest, who set out on a quest to renovate and rebuild the entire complex.
The ancient church of Notre Dame de Raynaude dates from the 12th century. Restoration on it and the surrounding monistic structures began in 1862, but the work was quickly derailed when funds were unexpectedly depleted. But then, as legend would have us believe, the dejected priest was the recipient of some amazing good fortune.
In 1892, less than a year after Bérenger Saunière wrote ‘Discovered a tomb. At night it rained’ in his diary in Rennes-le-Château, the famed American oil tycoon, industrialist and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller visited the region. Or so the story goes. As incredible as it sounds, Rockefeller had evidently learned of the plight of Father Rousse and his failed restoration and was sympathetic to the priest’s cause. A significant donation was provided post haste and the restorations were quickly underway.
The work was completed by 1895 and commemorated in an inaugural celebration presided over by one, Monseigneur Rougerie. The church is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph and Sainte Anne; inspired by the 1858 apparitions of the Virgin Mary in Lourdes.
With the restoration now complete, the church had essentially been repositioned lower in the landscape than its ancient predecessor. However the hill behind the church would not stay empty for long. If we turn the clock ahead 50 years, Father Louis de Coma’s Carol estate was about to be dynamited by authority of the Bishop. With forewarning of this event, local clergy managed to save Father Louis de Coma’s beloved Stations of the Cross and relocate them to Notre Dame de Raynaude, on the hill immediately behind the modern day church. The Stations of the Cross, which remain in situ today, are sensational. Each is housed in a protective chapel.
The Stations of the Cross are remarkable. They are constructed using heavy, metal molds, and are approximately three feet long and two feet wide. All but Station 12 (Christ Dead on the Cross) is present, as this Station was represented by a chapel complete with life size replicas on the hill in Carol, where it remains to this day. At Raynaude, Station 12 is represented by a simple, humble cross.
It should be noted that the Stations of the Cross are private property, and that I was able to photograph them outside of their chapels with permission. In doing so, I noticed that most had hand written Roman Numerals on the back, indicating their Station number. Station 13, however, had the number ‘7981’ molded on the back, with 79 and 81 represented differently, from a stylistic perspective. From memory I can’t say for certain if the others had the same engraving. If they did, it was less obvious. Could it simply represent a serial number?
I will now present photographs of Father de Coma’s Stations of the Cross. Following that, I will provide some initial commentary and observations based on the collective analysis of the private Back To The Source Forum, consisting of Rennes-le-Château enthusiasts and cross-disciplinary specialists who have reviewed the pictures in some detail.
But first, the Stations of the Cross of Louis de Coma:
Having reviewed the Stations of the Cross of Louis de Coma we must now ask what, if anything, can we gleam from these provocative images? Clearly Father de Coma was obsessed with detail as the remnants of the Carol estate suggests. The problem is that Stations of the Cross are by nature prone to artistic interpretation. Countless variations exist on a rather basic theme, the Passion of Christ.
We know that Berenger Saunière was especially particular about his Stations of the Cross, having purchased the most expensive version in the series from a Masonic statue manufacturer in Toulouse, the same place where he commissioned his unusual West Wall fresco. He then modified them for reasons unknown, but much speculated. Clearly the two priests have much in common, as we have seen, but what indications are there that Louis de Coma was also fastidious about his Stations of the Cross? Although speculative, some initial observations are in order.
Again, the following observations are the collective insights of the Back To The Source Forum, moderated by Corjan de Raaf.
The Stations of the Cross of Louis de Coma appear to have been purchased from a French manufacturer by the name of Atelier Revillon & Rouillard. This is indicated by the company logo (Revillon) on the bottom of Station 2, Jesus Carries His Cross. Initial research reveals that Revillon manufactured at least one other set of Stations, and records show that they were delivered to the Basilique Notre-Dame-de-Bonne-Garde in Longpont-sur-Orge in 1856. The account is recorded in the French National Archives.
Returning for a moment to the ‘7981’ imprinted on the back of Station 13, it has been suggested that this number may reflect the date, the 7th of September 1881. This seems reasonable, given that the second half of the 19th century was the period when Atelier Revillon & Rouillard were providing this service.
Initial inspection of the two sets of Stations alludes to some discrepancies. For instance, the NDdBG set is signed on Stations 7 and 8 while De Coma’s set appears to be signed on Station 2 only. Further inspection (and cleaning) of the Stations is required before this can be confirmed.
Incidentally, Station 2 displays a shield with the letters SPQR. Albeit intriguing, it simply stands for Senatus Populusque Romanus ("De Senat and the people of Rome"), which is nothing unusual. Also with respect to Station 2 we see what appears to be a club lying beneath the feet of Jesus and the Roman solder who is helping carry his cross. Is this the same club we see a young man yielding in Station 3? If so, who is he attacking, and why?
Station 14, Jesus is Laid in the Tomb, is intriguing. Here we see a man carrying a torch. The gospels indicate that Christ was led to his tomb during daylight. So are we to assume to that the torch was meant to lighten the tomb? This is interesting, because one of Saunière’s most notable modifications involves the same Station 14, only instead of an anomalistic torch; Sauniere appears to have painted over the Sun, rendering it a moon instead. The implication noted by many researchers, including Michael Baigent, is that this may imply that Jesus was not crucified as we were led to believe, given that a burial of this type and period would not have occurred at night. Is de Coma attempting to say the same thing?
Also in Louis de Coma’s Station 14 we see two vases, which according to The Gospel of John (John 19-39), were used for quite specific purposes: ‘Nicodemus, the one who had first come to him at night, also came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes weighing about one hundred pounds’. As many researchers have noted, this is an exceptional amount of medicinal ingredients to have prepared for a dead man. Myrrh and aloes would be of value to a person who was wounded and needed to heal, but what use would they hold for the dead? Also noted on Station 14 is the fact that Jesus is not wearing a crown of thorns on his head, although this could merely be artistic license.
Louis de Coma’s Station 1, Jesus is Condemned to Die, is also reminiscent of Saunière’s Station 1, in that a young black boy is depicted holding the dish of water that Pontius Pilate uses to wash his hands. Many researchers have associated the black boy, or Negro, with Rocco Negro, a mountain feature and fixture in Henry Lincoln’s pentagonal geometry. Others have associated it with the Nobel, Marie de Nègre. Conspicuously, the Gospels don’t mention anything about the nationality of the child, and other conventional depictions of the Station seem to show a Caucasian in the role, as illustrated below. Is this significant, or again is it mere artistic license?
Station 5, Simon Helps Jesus Carry his Cross, shares yet more similarities with Saunière’s restorations, only this time the similarity is with the priests Altar Painting. Curiously, a pyramid appears in both, and in the same location; on the right had side of a featured landscape. Could this be a Gnostic reference to Mary Magdalene and the Holy Family having come from Egypt? Further, a pyramid has 5 points, just like a pentagram, and Venus, the only planet whose orbit in the sky traces the shape of a pentagram every 8 years is the celestial counterpart of Mary Magdalene. Again, is this coincidence, conjecture, or does there appear to be conscious intent?
Keeping with the same images for a moment, additional observations include the fact Saunière’s altar painting portrays a building in the landscape that forms the shape of an ‘M’. Is this symbolic of Mary Magdalene? In de Coma’s Station 5, a monastic building has a domed roof, much like the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, and other Basilica like buildings. Are these details significant?
There are other curiosities that warrant mention, such as the prominent depiction of biblical plants in Stations 3 (Jesus Falls for the First Time) and 13 (Jesus is Taken Down from the Cross). It’s well documented that de Comma imported plants from the Holy Land and replanted them in Carol in the garden of Gethsemane. Not surprisingly, the plants were unable to adjust to the seasonal French climate and quickly died. Could this be why de Coma chose to immortalize them in metal? And again, we ask ourselves why are they given such curiously important positions in the Station?
For instance, in Station 3 a plant is touched by the toes of Christ, with his big toe strangely offset from the others, while in station 13, a hand with an equally curious offset thumb points at a plant that is once again, beneath the feet of Christ.
Also in Station 3 we are shown a device or weapon with 3 X’s on it. At first this appears curious, but is actually quite ordinary in this context. The device is actually a Roman weapon called Fasces, which simply translates as ‘the right to command mans path’. The weapon was commonly borne by attendants or bodyguards before a Consul or High Magistrate, as a symbol of their authority. Arguably, the question is just who was the high Magistrate to be protected here, Pontius Pilate or Christ?
Station 11, Jesus is Nailed to the Cross, is interesting in that it portrays Christ being tied around the waste with a rope. This is not unusual, as the Romans frequently used rope in crucifixions as rope was less expensive than nails and resulted in a slower and more painful death by suffocation. Crucifixion by rope was considered a cruel punishment that could take days, even a week. The question here, and perhaps naively so, is why are the Romans securing the rope around Christ’s waist?
At the end of the day, the Station of the Cross’s appear to contain many anomalies and curiosities. But that’s just par for the course in the life of Louis de Coma. And once again the question is, do the curiosities demonstrate conscious intent and if so, what is their significance?
So many questions remain. Why did de Coma construct his most important religions structures in an apparent alignment and orientation? Why did he depict Station 12 in life size sculptures and the others in metal moulds? Was this to underscore his Gethsemane theme park? Why is a statue of Jesus depicted turning away from Father de Coma in his family crypt? Why was his body removed from his family crypt and buried in an unmarked grave in the unhallowed ground of the church parking lot? Who moved it? Are the similarities between Louis de Coma and Berengier Saunière significant, or merely coincidental?
Many questions remain unanswered. However, that’s better than forced suppositions. After all, in a chapter to a mystery where questions outnumber answers, perhaps it wise to contemplate, before one speculates.
Suggested Reading and References:
Dynamite, Louis de Coma and his abbey
by Philip Coppens
Le Monastere Dynamite:
by Monique Dumas & Jacques-Francois Reglat
Mary Magdalene: Christianity’s Hidden Goddess
By Lynn Picknett
Arcadia would like to thank the members of the Back To The Source Forum for their insights and interpretation of the Louis de Coma Stations of the Cross.