AN INTERVIEW WITH JEAN-LUC ROBIN
Jean-Luc Robin is one of Rennes-le-Château’s most respected researchers. His work has been well received in France, and his first book, Rennes-le-Château: The Secret of Saunière, was recently translated into English by friend and colleague Henry Lincoln, who also contributed the forward.
Jean Luc’s books include:
Part of what makes Jean-Luc’s research so special is that it stems from first-hand experience of Rennes-le-Château people, places and history. Jean-Luc has lived in the village of Rennes-le-Château for many years, and was curator of Saunière’s house, the Villa Bethany, during the 1990’s. This unique exposure, and access, has enabled Jean-Luc to gain considerable insight into the mystery; including new and intriguing theories such as the possibility that the Habsburgs were an integral part of the whole Rennes-le-Château affair.
In addition to writing books and researching, Jean-Luc manages restaurants in and around Rennes-le-Château. He also sponsored the creation of an organisation called APARC, whose charter is to provide a system of checks and balances to the management of Rennes-le-Château and its heritage.
Jean-Luc has been commissioned to write more books, and that comes as no surprise as his insights are truly enlightening, and refreshingly un-sensational.
The following interview took place in August 2006, in the garden of the Villa Bethany, Jean-Luc’s restaurant at the time. Arcadia would like to thank Jean-Luc for conducting the interview in English, which is not his primary language.
Jean-Luc welcome, and thank you for appearing on Arcadia’s 17 Questions. Let’s begin.
1. Firstly, let me say congratulations on the success of your first book, Rennes-le-Château: The Secret of Saunière. When can we expect the English translation and what will it be called?
Well the translation is done actually. Henry Lincoln worked through the winter on it. He’s done a wonderful job. Henry has a perfect command of the French language, and we share the same sense of humour, so he managed to remain very close to my original text.
2. How did you first meet Henry Lincoln?
I met him here in Rennes-le-Château about ten years ago, he was doing a film, and I was living in the property of Saunière, and as you know I had a guest house in there. People could sleep in the rooms, in the bedrooms of Bérenger Saunière, and that’s why I met Henry. He came over, and the funny thing is we got on straight away. I must say he is a very easy going person, very nice, very open. We have remained very close friends ever since.
3. How has your book been received in France, in Rennes-le-Château, and by the villagers in particular?
It has been received very well. I’m amazed. If you knew the letters I get and the mails I get, people are totally ecstatic about it. They love it. And I must admit it was an old dream of mine; I always wanted to write a book and be published. And you know, like many people I got the chance, thanks to Rennes-le-Château, and the book was published. Had I sold five hundred copies I would have been happy. But after a year it is nearly reaching ten thousand copies, which by French standards is very good. The reaction is excellent; many people say they read it at once you know, which is a very good sign. They like it because it has lots of photographs, very nice pictures. They like it because it’s easy to read, it’s comfortable to read. It’s unpretentious through, and I think they like that. They also like the distance I keep with the story and the facts.
4. Has the book changed your relationship with the villagers in any way, and if so have they subsequently revealed more about the mystery?
The book has been well received in the village. You know why? Because I have spoken about the villagers: I have interviewed them. I used material which belonged to their fathers. For example, I think of Germain Blanc Delmas, whose father was Mayor of Rennes-le-Château for thirty years. I dedicated three pages on his father while he was Mayor of the village, at the time when the treasure hunters started coming over and digging up the hill. They like that. They like the fact that they were recognised. So many people come over here, write books, make the TV series, whatever, and pass the villagers by, ignoring them, and they’ve got things to tell. Their grandparents were the protagonist of the story.
5. Would you be so kind as to recall the story about the village elder who attended Sunday school taught by Marie, Saunière’s helper?
Yes, that’s right, that’s one of the funny things that comes out from time to time, that Marie, of course yes, after the death of Bérenger, used to teach Catholicism in Sunday school, and once after an hour of class, once she had finished, she closed the book, looked at them and said, ‘my poor kids, if you only knew’ . What did she mean? We’ll never know but it’s quite incredible!
6. So what was it like living in Saunière’s home?
Not very pleasant to be honest. I never felt at ease in this house. I liked the park. I liked the part of the property where I am now (the garden of Saunière’s Villa Bethany). The house itself, I always felt it like, very hostile. Let me tell you something, I had while I was living in this house, I had the worst nightmares I ever had in my life, and they were always related with the devil and possessions and things like this, and I used to wake up shaking, sweating, and relieved to realise that it was only a dream, amazing.
Have they stopped now that you have moved?
And you live nearby?
I live nearby, down the hill, you know, ten minutes away from here. No, I never liked the house very much. I liked the fact of being there and having the privilege of being there. I could feel sometime the presence of the priest very close, but I never enjoyed it as a house and especially as a family house, it has never been designed for that.
7. Do you feel that Rennes-le-Château has an energy all its own, for lack of a better word, and if so, how would you describe it?
Yes, it certainly has. It’s a place which is very special, it has a lot, you can feel a lot of energy there, and I had the feeling that it’s a kind of booster, this place. If you come over here with something bad in you, it will increase it. If you come in the country with good intentions it also increases them. That place has been immensely beneficial to me, on the other hand I have come through a very hard time, and I really had to fight to be able to remain here. Sometimes it’s like this place wants me, that’s the thing I have, this place wants me, but some people don’t want me to be here, and they have been trying everything to get me out, and it’s been going on and on, and it’s still at this moment going on.
Would you like to elaborate on that further, or is that something left for another day?
We better leave it for another day. It’s difficult to explain, you know. They would like to take that place. They don’t want me here. It’s as simple as that.
8. Many people have come to Rennes-le-Château looking for many different things, can you comment on the Order of the Solar Temple and their interest in Rennes-le-Château and the Saunière’s estate in particular.
Well, it’s true, you know, when the second murder happened – the so called suicide, which was actually a murder. There were many reports on TV and one programme I remember on France Deux in particular, which was very well made, showed a film by the Solar Temple, a propaganda film, which they used to show to people they wanted to attract while they were giving lectures or whatever. At the time I was living in the domain of Bérenger Saunière, and the last picture of the film, the very last frame of the film, there were two kids, a little boy and a little girl playing in a field, dressed in white, and the last part of the film was a view of the Tour Magdala. The film finished on that view of the Tour Magdala. When I saw that on TV, after what happened two weeks before, I was quite shocked and in a way, frightened.
So yes, they did have an interest in Rennes-le-Château. They came over here, and it seems that over a period of time they tried to purchase the property. This is why, when I decided to leave the property of Bérenger Saunière, which I was supposed to buy at that time, and I then decided not to do it, I convinced the village mayor to buy the property so at least it will remain public.
I don’t often agree with the way the place is run. I find it sad that it’s not better looked after, and the public doesn’t have more things to see, but on the other hand at least it is public and it will remain public, and one day maybe someone will run it properly, otherwise there was a danger that a sect like the Solar Temple might have taken over.
9. So what keeps you here to this day, have you ever felt that maybe you’ve had enough and you should leave?
The main thing that keeps me here is somebody, some people, want me out. So that, you know, that convinced me that I have to stay. And also the favour of the public. It’s a handful of people who would like to see me leaving, but there’s a huge majority of people who like what we do over here, who like the atmosphere we brought to the place, who like it as a place to meet, who like the lectures we give throughout the summer. People like the way I tell that story you know, they find it comfortable, it’s not a crazy way. I don’t say that there is nothing to see and it’s all a bunch of rubbish, they like that. So when you feel you have the favour of the public, it helps you.
10. Tell us about your theories on Rennes-le-Château and the Hapsburgs. How do you think the Hapsburgs could have been involved in the mystery?
Well I explained all that in my first book; it’s only a theory. Let’s be present, I don’t pretend I know the truth, and this is a definite truth etc, etc, which is where most of books on Rennes-le-Château start. Most of books even now, whoever writes a book on Rennes-le-Château, not everybody, but most of the time they say that all of the other books are rubbish and this is the truth. You know, the definite truth, they think it’s a good commercial attitude and it’s totally wrong, because most of the books at the start don’t sell very well, that’s a point.
But I worked out a theory which, let’s be honest, I don’t believe it more than anything else really, but at least it makes sense. It makes sense, and once people read that book and I have explained my theory to them, there are things, well, yes, it might have happened like that, IT MIGHT HAVE HAPPENED like that, ok. But again, I don’t pretend it has happened like that, let’s be very, very prudent.
My theory is that Bérenger Saunière’s fortune doesn’t come from a treasure that he found. He found a treasure, but quite a reasonable one. Not anything like the treasure of the Temple of Solomon, or something like this, or a treasure of the Templars or whatever, treasure he could have found, no that I don‘t believe.
I think most of his money came from funds, from money which he has been paid to find something; has been asked to find something which has been hidden here for centuries. He found it, he handed it to those who asked him to find it, and they paid him back. All along his life he was paid, and I think, by the Hapsburg family. Because every time I search, every time I find them again round the corner. He had a bank account in Budapest, the capital of the Hapsburgs. When he needed money, he used to travel, go away for a week and come back with the cash, and he ran out of money when the First World War starts, of course if his money’s in Budapest it’s behind enemy lines; he can’t go and get it.
All that always take us back to the Hapsburgs. Now, if I’m right, what was it that the Hapsburgs wanted to find from here? What was hidden? Documents? Probably documents. So what were there? That’s the main question, and I can’t really answer that question. All I can suggest is that because the Hapsburg were the protectors of Rome and the protectors of the Catholic religion, it might have been something which represented a danger for the Catholic religion. But I don’t go as far as explaining that it was the marriage certificate of Christ and Mary Magdalene or whatever, you know, people like Dan Brown, and with much more style, Henry Lincoln before him, explained all that and explained that theory. I don’t go that far. It could be that. It could be something else.
But definitely it must have been something of the highest importance, because the Emperor of Austria represented the highest power in the world at the time. If he was interested in something which was hidden over here it certainly was something very important. So that’s yes. I’m absolutely convinced that Bérenger Saunière has been paid to find something. Now how did they know, I explain all that in my book, it takes quite a while to explain, but within the French royal family, and within the Imperial family of Austria, they knew that something had been hidden here, simply because the preceptor, the tutor of the Count de Chambord, the pretender to the throne of France was the nephew of the Marquis de Poul de Blanchfort, the last heiress of the castle of Rennes-le-Château, and we know that she handled the document to the archives of the family through the priest of the village at that time, and it’s through the archives which are still hiding here which they tried to find. That’s all they knew.
11. Do you believe that Saunière was part of a tradition of priest who knew a secret? Or was he the only one?
I think so, I think so, and I think some paid it by their lives. We know that Abbe Gelis was a very close friend of Saunière and we know that he was murdered. Abbe Boudet was his other friend, three other priests shared the secret, and Boudet, the death of Boudet is very suspect. It looks like he has been poisoned. Other priests after them, like Father de Coma, forty years before Saunière might have known something, why could we think of that, because all these people, the Coma’s, Saunière always leave evidences behind them. They had something to hide, they had a secret, but at the same time they leave traces, and those traces and those evidences always bring us back to the same track. They always bring us back to the Dualism which was a fundamentalism of the Cathar religion and they bring us back to Mary Magdalene. Whatever Saunière left in his church and his property always brings us back to those two points, so obviously he’s trying to tell us something around that.
The thing is that people interpret, and there are so many interpretations, there are people interested in that story, which also explains the success of this place. But yes, definitely there were other priests, and there might have been. I think there might have been a secret shared between some priests from a long time over here. When you look carefully you find funny things in the churches of the area.
A lot of money was spent, millions, millions of gold were spent on the churches of this part of France in the seventeenth century; suddenly. We wonder why? Evidence that Saunière leaves; there are others, in other churches. Just to give you an example, if you go to the church in Mirepoix, one of the stained glass windows which shows the famous scene of Mary Magdalene drying the feet of Christ with her hair, it’s not Mary Magdalene drying the feet of Christ but his son John. And she is standing behind Christ, as if she’s haunting him on his head, and that dates back to the 14th century.
Since I’ve been interested in that story, I’ve been looking at things with a different eye, more closely. And I’ve realised that many representations of Mary Magdalene, principally statues, show her pregnant. It’s kind of one out of five you know, it’s amazing. I never noticed that before. I only notice it now because of becoming closer, so yes I think there has been a parallel story known from some priests going through centuries, which has been kept, and maybe Bérenger Saunière took off the lid and uncovered the secret, he definitely knew about it.
You know something, after he found whatever he was asked to find, he wasn’t the same person. He changed dramatically from one day to another. He was rich, that for sure, but he didn’t enjoy his fortune. He was frightened. He used to live in a closed house. We know that two of his close friends were murdered. He started to drink. He didn’t mix anymore with the people in the village. He was a different man. It really gives the impression, and I cannot work that out, because I’ve been really following him, day after day, and I could see his writing changing, his attitude changing. He’s not the same person and he’s wearing a secret which is far too heavy for a single man. That’s for sure.
I’ve tried, in that book, I‘ve tried to follow and tried to transcript the psychology of Bérenger Saunière, more than anything, and honestly, sometimes I feel I’ve been very, very close to that man. Maybe the fact of living in his house helped a bit, and having his papers and all his belongings around me did help. Many things I wrote in that book were pure speculation, and it was only once that book was written, that some readers brought me the proof, that what I only wrote, was just like this you see.
12. Do you think there’s anything suspicious about Saunière’s death?
Not at all.
The fact that he had a stroke on the 17th and died on the 22nd of January, two days that occur with regularity in the legend of Rennes-le-Château, is that not suspicious? Or is it just coincidence?
It is suspicious, if he had been murdered, but if you murder somebody, you murder him a on certain day. You don’t murder him in order for him to die five days later, that’s completely impossible, to start with. If he had chosen the day of his death, if he had committed suicide, then we could say yes, but his death was purely natural. He suffered a stroke and he died five days later, and it is a legend that Marie bought an order of the coffin a month before. That is not true. She paid it. I found a receipt that had been stolen and I bought it back, and the receipt is dated June 1917, and he died in January, so no, that is a legend.
An easy error in translation?
Well I would think so, on the receipt in French it says Juin and Juin with that kind of old writing from the man who did it, reads like Jan – January. But the local carpenter didn’t write his dates in English, that’s all.
13. Noel Corbu, the business man who bought Saunière’s estate from Marie, some years after Saunière death, he died in a car accident on a roundabout west of Carcassonne. Do you think there’s anything suspicious about his death, given the fact that he bought Saunière’s estate on the 22nd of July from Marie (the feast day of Mary Magdalene), and died very near to a Monasatery where Saunière once went on retreat?
Coincidence, coincidence! They do exist, coincidences, you know. I know this story is full of them, and when you have too many on one theme, or subject, then you can then say it’s not coincidence anymore. But in that case it’s purely an accident. That crossroad was very dangerous. They have since transformed it into roundabout, but it used to have accidents every year, and lots of people died on that roundabout. It just happened to be next, very close, right in front of the Monastery of Prouilhe , which is the holy place of the Benedictine, you know, which is where Saunière spent some time. But no, I think it is a coincidence. There have been disappearances, there have people dying, but deaths in that story, apart from Gelis and Boudet, I don’t really think so.
14. Abbe’s Gelis and Boudet both worked in Durban, and near there is an emerging mystery associated with the village of Perillos. What are your thought about Perillos and how does it fit into the mystery of Rennes-le-Château?
The story of Perillos is a complete con; I don’t believe it. I don’t believe it! I don’t believe it because I know the man at the beginning of that story. He can be quite convincing and some people follow him. He could quite easily transform himself into a kind of guru one day.
When he was living in Lyons he was trying to bring the story of Bérenger Saunière to Lyons, like somebody in a bed who is trying to pull the blanket on his side, you know. So at that time he was trying to convince us that everything started and was in Lyons, because he was living there, then he moved on and he bought a house near Perillos, and suddenly the story of Bérenger Saunière has to be transported to Perillos. It’s amazing, that man, like a snail is carrying the story of Bérenger Saunière on his shoulders, and wherever he lives, the story of Bérenger takes place.
15. At the end of the day what percentage of the Rennes-le-Château legend do you believe is factually grounded, 20%, 40%, 60% percent…more?
[Laughs] To be honest, and I think that is an awful lot already, I would say 20%. Once you clean out all the mess which has been adding, yes, 20%. 20% of the stories that we cannot explain and which brought such extraordinary adventure; it’s already quite a lot.
16. What is your view on the pentagonal geometry that Henry Lincoln has discovered and promoted over the years?
I have no personal explanation; I’m just fascinated because you just can’t deny it. I mean the man takes his map and draws his geometric figures and circles or whatever, and you can check it, and there it is. Now why is it? Why? Some people say you could do the same thing everywhere. It’s not quite true, by chance sometimes you can work, ok, you can always work geometry-geometrical figures, but when all the points relate to churches or standing stones, and when the common measure in between them is the imperial mile, then you have something really special.
I think Henry has uncovered something enormous, something enormous the official world, the scientist who don’t want to accept at the moment, because they have not found it. It’s the usual thing, he’s probably wrong to be right too early.
Sometimes you know, especially for the last couple of years Henry can be very kind of, very bitter, very sad. He’s a man looking back on his life, he feels a huge and enormous responsibility because he set up the fire, and he can’t control it, he never tried to control it, but nobody can control it now. It’s enormous. What is happening over here is enormous. It’s a world-wide story and he feels terribly, terribly responsible, and at the same time I have the feeling that he knows that the time is short, and will he have the time to prove he was right and to explain exactly what it was. I have the feeling that he might be a bit bitter because he thinks he’s going to leave without even finishing his work.
17. So finally, what’s next for Jean-Luc, what are you working on at the moment?
I’ve got three books ordered which will be published; two by a small publisher called Les Des Francs, one of them is going to be a fun book. It’s going to be a very fun time. I’m going to write the diary of Marie Denarnaud. I will never pretend that I found the diary, but I am going to write the diary as if she could have written it. So it will be the story of Rennes-le-Château through the keyhole kind of thing you know, so it’s going to be the diary of the priest-maid, and also she was a very good cook, and I’m a chef myself, it will have cooking recipes and things like this. It’s going to be a simple book from a peasant girl who’s living an incredible adventure, so that’s one thing.
The other one is going to be a kind of coffee table book of the best pictures we can get of Rennes-le-Château and I will just write the legends, so those two books. The other one will take a little bit longer, it has been ordered to me by my actual publishers, Editions Sud Ouest, and they would like me to write a book on the mysteries of the city of Carcassonne . Also, I would like to re-write the story of the life of Bérenger Saunière, but like a novel, taking a lot of liberty with the reality. These are the projects.
Well Jean-Luc, we look forward to all of this very much. You keep the faith and thank you for your fantastic contribution to the study of Rennes-le-Château.
Thank you, it’s a pleasure.
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