Philippe de Chérisey, the French writer suspected of having created the Rennes-le-Château parchments, is an enigma, in that he remains a source of continued speculation, even after his death. Over time, new evidence has surfaced, mainly through the work of researchers who appear more credible than ambitious. This is fortunate, as these pieces of information have enabled us to have a more realistic image of the late de Chérisey, including insights into his personality and moods, as well as his true intentions. It is no longer unrealistic to attempt to get to the roots of the myth of Rennes-le-Château and, incidentally, to gain a better understanding of the motivations of one of its fiercest proponents, his ‘lordship’ de Chérisey. In fact, recently released documents make such an undertaking much easier and, when re-examined in the light of our work, provide new perspectives on the genesis of the Rennes-le-Château affair.
A few years ago, Jean-Luc Chaumeil, a well-known author on the scene, brought out a book, published by Pegasus, called Rennes-le-Château - Gisors - Le Testament du Prieuré de Sion (The Twilight of a Shady Affair). This beautifully crafted book, printed on fine paper, brings together several articles by the author, which sometimes seem separate and unconnected; all apparently having no other purpose than to serve as a setting for the famous Pierre et Papier (Stone and Paper), the final testament of de Chérisey, published 20 years after his death. This much-awaited testament was supposed to shed conclusive light on the intentions of the Marquis de Chérisey and on the ‘amusing pleasantry’ which seems to have been the two so-called ‘parchments of Bérenger Saunière’.
Announced as the scoop of the decade, the publication of this testament was intended to have finally clarified things and to have put an end, once and for all, to many outlandish assumptions. Yet, it did nothing of the sort and, much to our surprise, we find that de Chérisey did not clarify the situation at all. For a last-minute confession one would have expected a few more significant revelations; at least enough to keep the reader glued to the page. In fact, what happened was the opposite and de Chérisey seems uncomfortable in his role as a repentant liar, and unable to detach himself from his reputation as the perfect hoaxer that he had portrayed himself as previously.
Philippe de Chérisey
Unfortunately, on reading this testament, we cannot rule out the nagging doubt that either de Chérisey is not, in fact, the real author of the parchments, or ‘his’ testament comes from the hand of another; a compilation work, perhaps edited by several others. Finally, we believe that the more sincere de Chérisey sounds, the more the reader assumes he had a malicious intent, particularly concerning his authorship claim regarding the parchments. Did de Chérisey have prior knowledge of the Codex Bezae, which served as the basis for the drafting of the two parchments? Was the Marquis, to quote the words of Jean Cocteau, simply a ‘mischievous youngster’; a hoaxer on a small scale? The general view is that Pierre et Papier actually constitutes de Chérisey's ultimate masquerade; a swan song that tripped up the research world; a poisoned funeral wake, which all his friends had been invited to attend.
In our opinion, however, this is not the case, for collectively the testament of the late de Chérisey, the extracts from his letters produced by Valérien Ariés and the comments of Chaumeil all seem to indicate a measure of truth. Indeed, they show us the complex personality of de Chérisey and afford us a singular insight into his knowledge.
Underpinning the contents of these documents there are, thus, two major ideas which invariably make up the basis of the Marquis' thoughts. We speak of his two obsessions: Mary Magdalene and the words ‘Secundo-Primo’, or ‘Second First’, which he later transformed into P-S or S-P to form the initials of the famous Priory of Sion.
All that is needed is to patiently examine de Chérisey's letter (partially published by Valérien Ariés on the website of Johan Netchacovitch, Gazette et Portail de Rennes-le-Château) for us to note that Dan Brown, the well-known author of the Da Vinci Code, has not come up with anything new. A sort of strange continuity exists between our three jokers: Plantard; de Chérisey and de Sède; and the infernal trio, Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln, whose fantasies about Mary Magdalene serve to support the Da Vinci Code.
For example, we cite one of the letters signed by de Chérisey, dated 6 November 1964, in which one can clearly see, outlined in his thoughts from this period onwards, the association of Mary Magdalene with Rennes-le-Château:
"PS Sainte Magdalene was brought to France in very ancient times. Ancient traditions, more or less legendary, talk about a pilgrimage to her tomb... which no-one has ever found. [...] There can be no confusion about the person, because only two saints have ever borne the name of Magdalene. (The second one is out of the question, since she lived in the seventeenth century and took the religious name of Sister Catherine.) It must be she who poured perfume of amber on the Christ, crying at Calvary. [...] What do you believe I am going to look for at Rennes-le-Château? Pray for me. If I succeed, I would not have the right to talk about it." (6 November 1964)
On reading this letter, we note with regret that de Chérisey merely suggests and hints upon the subject, without ever really delving into it. This is one way in which he cleverly preserves the mystery. Furthermore, at first glance he does not want to elaborate on the deeper meaning of the quest that he pursues in Rennes-le-Château. What is his goal? Is he merely looking for a relic of Mary Magdalene; perhaps her tomb or something else entirely? Is the name Magdalene only a pretext to illustrate another truth, since de Chérisey later identified this saint as ISIS, or should we actually take the text at face value?
What is certain is that back then de Chérisey did not hold the same opinion that he would later outline in Pierre et Papier, nor in his apocryphal Le Serpent Rouge. In his letter dated 1964, he obviously did not possess the knowledge that he demonstrated a few years later in his other literary works. In 1964, he seemed to seek the tomb of a saint in the region of Rennes-le-Château. But with Le Serpent Rouge in 1967 his research took an opposite turn and became more refined. Consequently, we must admit that de Chérisey must have been aware that the legends relating to the presence of Mary Magdalene in southern France are recent (from the 10th century at the earliest) and, like the tomb of St Jacques at Compostela, there has never been the least bit of historical evidence to support such a pilgrimage.
We know also that many heretical Cathars prided themselves on taking the names of evangelists. Thus, a ‘Mark’ of Lombardy, Italy, was for a long time mistaken for a disciple of St Mark the Evangelist, or sometimes even for the Evangelist himself. It was only discovered later that he was, in fact, a heretic, whose memory was substituted in the people's beliefs by that of the biblical figure. It was probably the same with Mary Magdalene. De Chérisey could do nothing other than push to one side the hypothesis of a secret hiding place, lost in the Razès, containing invaluable relics of the holy saint.
We must ask, what was de Chérisey looking for and why was he so interested in this saint? This question might have remained unanswered if the Marquis had not suggested to us in his letter the genesis of a solution. He underlines, in effect, that "it must have been she who poured a perfume of amber on the Christ” (in view of his burial, according to the scriptures). For him, Mary Magdalene is, strictly speaking, neither a biblical person, nor the Saint of the scriptures, but rather the falsely Christianised ISIS, the goddess of the Egyptian Cult of the Dead, presiding over mortuary anointing and embalming rituals. Indeed, it is precisely this idea that de Chérisey develops with greater clarity a few years later in Le Serpent Rouge. He thus declared, somewhat mysteriously, that "from her whom he wished to liberate, there wafted up to him the effluvia of the perfume which had permeated the sepulchre".
Close up of a golden ‘Crista’ symbol (along with a vase of mortuary ointment?), Church of St Mary Magdalene, Rennes-le-Château
© Isaac Ben Jacob
He then added that in the past they had once called Mary Magdalene “ISIS, Queen of the beneficial sources…, while others called her MADELEINE, of the famous vase full of healing balm. [Note that in this case we are talking about a mortuary balm.]" A little later on, still in the same manuscript, we read the following, which complements the preceding passage: "Here is the sign that DELACROIX had given in one of three paintings of the chapel of the angels. [...] Twice IS [note that here ISIS is associated with the initials IHS, or with the secret seal of ‘Le Serpent Rouge’: SIS], embalmer and embalmed, miraculous vase of the eternal White Lady of Legends."
The wording is convoluted, but in themselves the words contain sufficient clarity, so that we can conclude that the mention of Mary Magdalene by de Chérisey refers, in essence, not to the Saint, but to ISIS and a non-Christian tradition; the Cult of the Dead. This undoubtedly explains the rather revealing conclusion that de Chérisey added at the end of his letter: "What do you believe I am going to look for at Rennes-le-Château? Pray for me. If I succeed, I would not have the right to talk about it."
Jean-Luc Chaumeil was not mistaken when he affirmed in an interview given on Sud Radio that "there were two Priories of Sion”, the first consisting of Plantard, his friend and author de Sède, and their unofficial decision-maker, de Chérisey. The second Priory of Sion, he states, was comprised of Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln, the famous trio of authors of the bestselling The Holy Blood & the Holy Grail.
It is true that two ‘Priories of Sion’ have evolved in parallel and a sort of osmosis of ideas moved between de Chérisey, Baigent and, later on, Dan Brown. But we can say that, overall, Mary Magdalene is their common fixation; an obsession which clearly betrays a desire for mystification, because the outcome of the movement, far from shedding new light on the Bible, serves no further purpose than to distort Christianity, in order to substitute a ‘revelation’ about the Cult of the Dead. There is ‘continuity’ between the trios of authors. For example, we cite a passage from The Holy Blood & the Holy Grail, first published in France under the title L’Enigme Sacrée (The Sacred Enigma) by Editions Pygmalion. The content of this extract illuminates and pursues the reasoning already held by de Chérisey in Pierre et Papier:
"In 1958, for example, Professor Morton Smith of Columbia University discovered, in a monastery near Jerusalem, a letter which contained a missing fragment of the Gospel of Mark…
Clement, it seems had received a letter from one Theodore, who complained of a Gnostic sect, the Carpocratians….
‘…when Peter died as a martyr, Mark came over to Alexandria, bringing both his own notes and those of Peter, from which he transferred to his former book the things suitable to whatever makes for progress towards knowledge [gnosis]. [Thus] he composed a more spiritual Gospel for the use of those who were being perfected. Nevertheless, he yet did not divulge the things not to be uttered… and, dying, he left his composition to the church in Alexandria, where it even yet is most carefully guarded, being read only to those who are being initiated into the great mysteries.
‘But since the foul demons are always devising destruction for the race of men, Carpocrates, instructed by them and using deceitful arts, so enslaved a certain presbyter of the church in Alexandria that he got from him a copy of the secret Gospel, which he both interpreted according to his blasphemous and carnal doctrine and, moreover, polluted, mixing with the spotless and holy words utterly shameless lies….
‘To them [the Carpocratians], therefore, as I said above, one must never give way, nor, when they put forward their falsifications, should one concede that the secret Gospel is by Mark, but should even deny it on oath. For ‘not all true [things] are to be said to all men…’
Clement [includes] a word-for-word transcription of the [Gospel] in his letter:
‘And they come into Bethany, and a certain woman [obviously this is Mary Magdalene], whose brother had died, was there. And, coming, she prostrated herself before Jesus and says to him, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me’. But the disciples rebuked her. And Jesus, being angered, went off with her into the garden where the tomb was, and straightway a great cry was heard from the tomb. And going near, Jesus rolled away the stone from the door of the tomb. And straightway, going in where the youth was, he stretched forth his hand and raised him…’
This episode appears in no existing version of the Gospel of Mark. In its general outlines, however, it is familiar enough. It is, of course, the raising of Lazarus…, But, as Professor Smith argues, it is in fact much more likely that the whole episode refers to a… ritualised and symbolic death and rebirth of the sort so prevalent in the Middle East at the time.”
This passage about the resurrection of Lazarus, hijacked by the Carpocratians, gelled admirably with the views held by de Chérisey. He incorporated, in effect, almost all the elements present at Rennes-le-Château. He essentially included all the elements that he could manage to point out: the Villa Bethania, Mary Magdalene and the tomb, etc. The interpretation of this altered passage from the Bible is nothing more than the re-writing, albeit in a slightly different form, of the ideas held by de Chérisey in his letter. In a rather amazing way, it shows that the endless developments of these authors on the subject of Mary Magdalene have no other purpose than to use the biblical character and her symbols to highlight a series of components from the Cult of the Dead and the mythology and legends that are traditionally associated with her. To be certain, we need only compare the text of The Holy Blood & the Holy Grail cited above, full of its dark insinuations, with the testament Pierre et Papier written by de Chérisey, where we read the famous story about the sinner Magdalene pouring a vase of very expensive perfume over Jesus:
"This generous gesture angered the apostles, saying the perfume, worth 300 deniers, could have been sold and the proceeds of the sale distributed to the poor. Judas, in his capacity as treasurer, receiving 10% of revenues, felt particularly frustrated, but recovered his losses by selling Christ for 30 deniers. [...] The Abbé Saunière learned to his detriment what it cost to exceed the fees of a bad apostle, having died on 22 January 1917, several days after a session of over-indulgence. It is still a matter of accustoming the ‘discoverer’ to the prospect of plundering a necropolis where the dead have rested for many centuries, naturally mummified and still remaining in a fairly well conserved state. From this perspective, we need to consider Magdalene the Sinner as patroness of embalming, who did very well in stating that Christ had paid the perfume for his burial."
It would be a shame not to reveal in this extract that de Chérisey did not intend to give a literal interpretation of his remarks about Mary Magdalene, but that it came more from a broadly allegorical transposition between certain traditions artificially grafted on to the Saint and the legends surrounding what Saunière had discovered in 1891.
One of the essential points of the mystery of Rennes-le-Château revolves around just what Saunière discovered in the secret necropolis. This mortuary chamber is briefly described at the end of de Chérisey's testament, as we have seen. The entrance was unveiled to the priest when, having upturned the Visigoth pillar of the main altar of his church, he recovered hidden parchments. They consisted of secret handwritten testaments and not the parchments presently in the public domain.
It seems that de Chérisey had a pretty good idea of what was hidden there. Nonetheless, he seems able to draw up a description of this secret chamber in 1967, which was the date of the publication of the manuscript, Le Serpent Rouge. Disillusioned, he writes:
"How many have ransacked the house [the mortuary chamber; the ancient Temple of Isis], leaving only embalmed corpses and numerous metals which they had not been able to carry away with them. What strange mystery does the new temple of Solomon, built by the children of St Vincent conceal [the place where the inscription ‘terribilis est locus iste’ figures]?
The cover of Le Serpent Rouge
When we read the theories of de Chérisey, it seems that the expedition he proposed back in 1964 (and of which he had spoken in these terms, "What do you believe I am going to look for at Rennes-le-Château? Pray for me. If I succeed, I would not have the right to talk about it.") has borne fruit, and that he would not leave Rennes-le-Château without examining the contents of the necropolis, or at least taken away some of the wonderful secret. But let us continue…
In this passage from Le Serpent Rouge, de Chérisey points the finger at a certain ‘St Vincent’, whose ‘children’, the successors, would be the master architects of a new temple of Solomon (understood here to be the church of Saunière). For many years experts on this subject have imagined that the ‘St Vincent’ who is being discussed is related to the history of St Sulpice. At first glance, it could only be ‘St Vincent de Paul’. They forget, however, that Le Serpent Rouge is subtitled Notes on St-Germain-des-Prés and St Sulpice in Paris. It is, therefore, not ruled out that the ‘St Vincent’ mentioned here is more likely to be that of St-Germain-des-Prés. The difference is immense and not without consequences; and, as is his wont, de Chérisey seems to use transpositions of places and characters. This is in order to cover the tracks and to dilute the information. It seems that St Sulpice is an allegory and that the real content of Le Serpent Rouge probably relates more to St-Germain-des-Prés. (De Chérisey, in his testament, seemed to indicate that the church of Rennes-le-Château was only the receptacle of something which had been preserved in the ancient former village church, St Pierre aux Liens; the same as it would have been between St Sulpice and St Germain-des-Prés.)
When we follow the trail it leads us unambiguously to Spain and the lands of the Visigoths and Merovingians. Around 543 AD the Merovingian King, Childebert I, after having brought the war to Spain and having quarrelled with the Visigoths, returned to France, bringing with him two very strange relics from Saragossa. In Paris, not far from Sèvres, he built a church, which soon became an abbey; that of St-Germain-des-Prés. It is this Saint Vincent of Saragossa, whose life is recounted by the poet Prudentius and Jacques de Voragine, who was, in a manner of speaking, the catalyst for St. Vincent Ferrer becoming the founder of La Sanch in Valencia!
St Vincent of Saragossa
The story we have just recounted is not significantly different from de Chérisey’s. He had added at the end of his manuscript, Le Serpent Rouge, a few pages composed of somewhat crude collages. Not normally studied by the different researchers, these sheets actually tell us something quite important:
"The small area of which I must depict the successive aspects and recount the history, is situated on the banks of the Seine between the Rue Bonaparte and Rue Guénégaud; the church of St-Germain-des-Prés, lying under the shadow of its old Carolingian tower, which serves as its southern boundary.
Eighteen hundred years ago, at the time of the Roman domination, we could see very little on the left bank of the Seine, other than meadows, gardens, where stood a temple of ISIS. [...] Under the first Merovingian kings, the appearance of this area remained roughly the same. [...] St Germain, Bishop of Paris, decided that Childebert and his wife should split off a part of the territory and, in about 550 AD, the basilica of St Vincent and Ste Croix, founded by Childebert, arose [...] on the site that had been occupied by the temple of ISIS.
[Here de Chérisey establishes a connection with Rennes-le-Château and its church.] [...] Gregory of Tours says that the people of Saragossa, besieged in 542 AD by Childebert [...], clothed themselves in sackcloth and made several circuits of the city [here we have the penitents] [...] and bearing before them the tunic of the blessed St Vincent. Childebert, struck with wonder and astonishment, [...] obtained the precious tunic [...] and went on to devastate another part of Spain.
[The temple of St-Germain-des-Prés] was destined to house the sacred relic and was dedicated to St Vincent. It also received the name of Holy Cross in memory, they say, of a gold cross that the King, Childebert, had also brought back, which was reputed to have belonged to Solomon.”
The church of St-Germain-des-Prés
The reforms of Primo de Rivera, while not inconsequential, did not alleviate the difficulties facing the country. After political instability came a social and economic crisis, which meant that there was no going back to life as it had been before. Furthermore, only two days after the municipal elections, which appeared to be a disaster for Alfonso XIII, King of Spain, he would renounce the throne and become exiled under the title, ‘Duke of Toledo’. The Second Republic had just been proclaimed and the monarch, forced to flee, reluctantly renounced his homeland while all the time thinking about the throne of France, to which he would aspire to succeed.
Alphonso Leon Antonio de Bourbon was born in 1886, the son of Alfonso XII of Spain (who had died a few months before his son’s birth) and the Archduchess Maria Christina of Teschen, née Habsburg-Lorraine, who was his second wife. Formerly the abbess of a chapter for noble ladies, Marie-Christine Teschen had, in her youth, a conduct just as edifying as the Kaiser's sister, another Habsburg, who would be appointed in 1914 as Mother Superior to the Monastery at Prouilhe; a traditional family obligation.
While being a Capetian, but from a Spanish branch, Alfonso XIII could never have claimed the throne of France if he had not posed himself as the heir to the Comte de Chambord, who died in 1883, leaving no descendants. Fleeing Spain, Alfonso XIII then settled in the Paris region and paid several visits to his cousin, Jaime de Bourbon, ‘Duke of Anjou and Madrid’, who lived in the capital. At this moment Jaime de Bourbon, who was none other than the senior Capetian, already elderly, felt his strength declining and could no longer doubt his impending death. As the result of a reunion, he decided to return the collar of the Order of the Holy Spirit, inherited from the Comtesse de Chambord, and died a few weeks later in 1931. When his other cousin, the Duke of San Jaime, expired in Vienna in 1936, Alfonso XIII, now the sole successor of the Comte de Chambord, became the eldest Capetian and the only legitimate pretender to the throne of France under the name ‘Alfonso I’. He would also be recognised as King of France and Navarre by the French legitimists.
Some researchers still question the motive of the Comtesse de Chambord, Marie-Thérèse of Modena, who, around 1885, sent a gift of more than 1,000 gold francs to Saunière. Certainly, this was not an ordinary occurrence, but what is most surprising is that the family of Chambord, which represented the royalist hopes of France, had maintained a trusting relationship with Saunière! After all, particularly in 1885, Saunière was not known for any significant deeds and had the serious handicap of living in a remote village deep in the Razès. His bishop, Mgr Billard, had the habit of saying, with a somewhat caustic sense of humour, that the priest of Rennes-le-Château lived in the back of beyond, “lost in his Pampas".
The Abbé had only just been installed in his parish, having been appointed on 1 June 1885 and, in the process, had preached from his pulpit anti-Republican sermons, tinged with royalism. In those days this was evidently deemed reactionary and, as a result, the Préfecture suspended his salary and Saunière did not return to Rennes-le-Château until July 1886, in order to begin repairs to his church. It is this episode which leads some authors to surmise that the Comtesse de Chambord had simply recompensed the action of this courageous shepherd of souls. On the contrary, in our opinion, we must rule out this hypothesis, since such suspensions of salary were not considered unusual at the time.
The Comte de Chambord
For example, in 1889, during roughly the same period, dozens of priests of the diocese of Bayonne were suspended for similar reasons. Even the Bishop was not spared, and was left without his title. On the other hand, as Laurent Buchholtzer has pointed out, 1885 was a year of legislative elections. Furthermore, Saunière's anti-Republican sermons did not seem any worse than those of his colleagues, the Abbé Tailhan of Roullens, a certain Jean of Bouriège, and the Abbé Delmas, vicar of Alet, since they were all sanctioned in equal proportions and for the same reasons.
We have no doubt, however, that had the Comtesse de Chambord favoured the case of our Abbé merely because of his political views; she would have spread her generosity fairly among the others, who were equally deserving. But there were an awful lot of them, and they were not as fortunate as Saunière. We must therefore assume a different reason for this gift.
On this subject, we think there was more or less a close connection, not with the Comte de Chambord (who died in 1883), nor with his lineage, which was otherwise non-existent, but rather with the notion of a ‘Royal Legitimacy’. Essentially, when a race dies out and the last hopes of a lineage are tricked by destiny, tongues start to wag and certain dynastic secrets, the memory of which had been stamped out, begin to rise to the surface.
In dying, the Comte de Chambord effectively took with him the last hopes of a return of the French Monarchy. There was in this event a lot more at stake than just the ruin of a family or a failed system. With this man the sacred, but falsely divine, character inherent in the royal office disappeared forever. Stripped of the founding mythology which had presided over its birth and reduced to the rank of human institutions and fallibilities, this notion would now appear as an archaic remnant of primitive hierarchy; unintelligible to the Judeo-Christian way of thinking. Along with the Comte de Chambord, the medieval superstitions, upon which the French Monarchy was based, disappeared, together with the memory of obscure, but very real, contributions which had come from the barbarian invasions. The Merovingian mirage was about to come to an end; but for how long?
It is undoubtedly from this viewpoint of the distant prospect of a revival, or from listening to the prophecies of the Abbé Boullan (who announced the coming of a ‘Grand Monarque’), that the Comtesse de Chambord relieved her conscience of a heavy family secret, before following her husband to the grave in 1886. But did she do so for political reasons only or was it to benefit from the interceding power (for the salvation of her soul) and the wonderful properties that the Merovingian tradition lent to the primitive attributes of the dynastyand to one very special ‘object’ in particular? Nobody knows.
Comtesse de Chambord
Whatever it turns out to be, it seems clear that the 1,000 gold francs granted to Saunière served as much to restore the dilapidated church as it did to fund the clandestine excavations aimed at identifying a secret crypt. Madame de Chambord does not seem to have had in her possession any specific information about the necropolis, nor how to enter it. At most, she did have a vague notion of the area and the time and conditions under which the object was hidden in the crypt. Besides, when you think about it, Saunière, in all likelihood, had some difficulties in identifying the crypt’s two entrances. In fact, it was almost six years between the gift of 1,000 gold francs and the repairs to the church, and the infamous evening of 21 September 1891: «lettre de Granes, découverte d’un tombeau, le soir pluie» (letter from Granes, discovery of a tomb, rain in the evening), when the Abbé's research appears to have paid off.
As Laurent Buchholtzer confirmed to us in one of his interviews, if we are now certain that Saunière did not make his fortune by tapping into a vast treasure, paradoxically, we cannot exclude the hypothesis that he was able to claim, on behalf of his clients, the intercession, as part of the ritual, of the famous Talisman, which he had discovered in the crypt. ['Intercession' meaning, theoretically, that the object would 'intercede' in the ritual, making the ritual that much more powerful.]
Confirming this scenario, Jacques Cholet's report indicates that at the time of the systematic excavation of the church floor the tops of two flights of stairs were identified, the steps of which plunged downwards towards a certain point in the basement. The first was located at less than one metre from the actual pulpit, on the site of an ancient altar (destroyed for obscure reasons), certain elements of which were later incorporated into the high altar. It was there, under a slab that was intended to activate a mechanism, that a staircase led to the cemetery. The second exit emerged into the famous ‘secret room’, a kind of small, cramped, gloomy room with the ceiling too low for anyone to stand upright in. Located in the extension of the sacristy, this small room, which had no known use, had been arranged by Saunière directly above the very ancient stairway, which was composed of roughly hewn blocks of rock. According to our late friend, de Chérisey, it is here that the priest engaged in secret practices known only to himself, the pricing of which was related to the ‘fee of Judas’; an enigmatic phrase, but not meaningless, as it was de Cherisey's contention that “a high fee was being paid to Sauniere” in exchange for ritual sacrifice. It is true that Saunière was responsible for building this secret room, for which he provided access to the staircase of the crypt. The great advantage of this passage was that it was protected from prying eyes.
Saunière’s ‘Secret Room’
After September 1891, Saunière led on apace and his once fairly miserable lifestyle suddenly found itself much improved. But the priest of Rennes, despite being "lost in his Pampas”, recorded in his accounts a considerable sum of donations from friends and relatives, the religious of the diocese and, from 1899, the whole of France (and even Brazil, etc). This was not without personal merit, because these were his years of patient research and searches coming to fruition. Obviously, the Abbé had benefited from a particularly favourable set of circumstances. He had been appointed to Rennes-le-Château at the appropriate time, had managed to attract the benevolence of the Comtesse de Chambord and, endowed with a perspicacity and unique insight ahead of his time, he had not simply been content with retrieving what he had been commissioned to find, but had also discovered a means for making a substantial income from it.
However, it should be stressed that while the last wishes of the Comtesse de Chambord were respected, there is no indication to the contrary that she had ever envisioned what Saunière would actually do with his find. He probably should have contented himself with keeping quiet about his discovery and not spoken about it to anyone, other than the sole indirect inheritors, no matter how distant in the family they were from the Comte de Chambord. He did not care, however, and the priest, endowed with an innate sense of independence, and ignoring everything other than his own interests, began to play the sorcerer's apprentice. We should add that even if this sequence of events is known to us, we know considerably less about certain other episodes in the life of Saunière.
Indeed, it seems that the ‘object’ brought to light by the parish priest had aroused some interest, as much among the legitimists as the heirs to the Holy German Empire. In this regard, it is not inconceivable that the Habsburgs had got wind of the affair through the Comtesse de Chambord, who happened to be one of their relatives. But this is only a tentative hypothesis, because it is not a documented fact and is based only onhearsay. However, let us suppose for a moment that Saunière may have made a pact with the enemy and sold the ‘object’ to a Habsburg. That is what René Descadeillas reported in his Notice Delmas, one of the oldest documents written on the affair. World War I was declared in 1914, and the villagers were constantly watching his every move.
Saunière had earned a rather bad reputation, stemming from Doctor Espezel of Couiza, who had endeavoured to warn the inhabitants of the village and the neighbourhood that their Abbé "was a spy in the pay of Germany”. Some evil-minded people even went as far as to say that "the terraces built by Saunière were destined for the emplacement of artillery!" But this was clearly only a nasty rumour. It should nevertheless be recognized that, albeit absurd, these rumours were rooted in a very strange event. Was it René Espeut in a newspaper article of 1973 or René Descadeillas in his Notice Delmas who made the original statement? We may never know, but these two authors supported, on the faith of a great many witnesses, the speculation that an "Austro-Hungarian aristocrat, a subject of Franz-Josef," had met with Saunière on several occasions.
Without calling into question the merits of this evidence, it is still worth noting that it may be subject to multiple interpretations. Thus, the more or less close relations, which the locals claim to remember between Saunière and an unspecified Habsburg, seemed above all to leave some suspicions about Saunière's patriotism (at least as far as the Republic was concerned). Conversely, they also suggested that the Abbé could have been subject to pressure from this high-ranking personage. However, if, as we believe, the Abbé had rediscovered an object of royal legitimacy, to which was attached a religious power, there would have been serious grounds for a Habsburg, on the eve of considerable geo-political issues, to have exerted pressure on this priest in order to appropriate it for themselves.
In around 1930, a long time after this episode and the death of Saunière, a similar event occurred, but in a completely different set of circumstances. The case was exposed in an article in the review, L’Intermédiaire des Chercheurs et Curieux, a copy of which was very kindly given to us by the researcher, Patrick Mensior. The author, a certain A M F Guy, tells us the following:
"Here is something that I was told about recently and that I offer up for what it is worth. It seems that the case of Saunière has, following his death, raised the curiosity of some highly placed people in Spanish administrative circles. Being unable to openly make enquiries in our country, they had to proceed carefully in carrying out their investigations, by using intermediaries who would not be compromised. These preliminary enquiries were shrouded in absolute secrecy. They go back forty years. All that remains is to explain how the story of the treasure of Rennes le Château - because that is evidently what we are once again discussing - could have been of any interest to a foreign country over half a century ago, the Abbé Saunière having died, I believe, in around 1920.” A M F Guy
This article is valuable in several respects. Firstly, its content reflects a newspaper clipping from L’Indépendant, dated 22 March 1980, where we learn that "around 1930, the Spanish government had sent investigators to the country of Rennes to determine the source of funds, or a portion of the funds, spent [by Bérenger Saunière]”. The same article goes on to summarise the information and the trails that have until now only filtered down to researchers. We read: "These people [the investigators], staying in a foreign country and carrying out a secret mission, were therefore worried about attracting the attention of official authorities and could only act with extreme caution”. This is why, according to the journalist, we have never been able to establish the slightest evidence of their passage; because the strangest aspect of the story concerned the more or less ‘incredible’ destiny of the famous report that these investigators had written:
"Delivered at about the time of the fall of the Spanish monarchy in 1931, this report would have been stifled. It was brought to France thereafter by refugees during the Spanish civil war and it was in vain that, during the occupation of the French territory, the Germans would have tried to seize it. Ultimately, those who held it, or who have held it, would have perished in the concentration camps of Central Europe, so that no-one is able to know today what happened to the sheets of paper that might have revealed the famous ‘secret’ of the Abbé Saunière."
In short, we do not know what the real conclusions of these agencies were; but some claim, without evidence however, that the dossier concluded with the charge of ‘gold trafficking’. This claim appears to us even more suspect, because the leaders of these investigations, high-ranking Spaniards, would surely have had better things to do in 1930 than to pick up the trail, dating back several decades, of gold trafficking. As we stated earlier, Spain was at that time plunged into deep difficulties and Primo de Rivera, Captain General of Valencia, Madrid and Barcelona, spent all his energy trying to curb the social crisis that was threatening power. From 1930 Alfonso XIII, King of Spain, was no longer under any illusions about his future and that of his country. He undoubtedly anticipated his renouncement of the throne and was thinking about transferring these hopes to France. That was precisely what he did the following year, by aspiring to the succession of the Comte de Chambord. It must have been that, whilst his legitimacy was not in question, he had to recover the ‘object’ which the Comtesse of Chambord had, in all probability, had the indelicacy to hand over to a certain Saunière. It seems he had been over-zealous in hiding the ‘object’ that was so coveted by the powerful; too well, in fact, because Alphonse XIII died in Rome on 28 February 1941, without galvanising royalist hopes of reclaiming the nation.
The Tomb of King Alfonso XII, Rome
Translated from French into English by Sheila Hendry.
Read Part II of Was Bérenger Saunière A Spy In The Pay Of The ‘Central Powers’?