The Treasure of Rennes-le-Chateau
Rennes-le-Château is a medieval castle village and a commune in the Aude département, in the Languedoc area in southern France, an area known for its towering mountains, deep gorges, forests, caves, wild remote plateaus and access to the Mediterranean.
History of the Village
This predominantly rural area has a very rich history, as evidenced by its castles, cathedrals, vineyards and museums. Mountains frame both ends of the region - the Cevennes to the northeast and the Pyrenees to the south. Jagged ridges, deep river canyons and rocky limestone plateaus, with vast caves beneath, make it one of the most scenic spots on earth.
Over the centuries religious and political conflicts have caused much havoc in the area. The ruined castles which cling precariously to hilltops played a leading role in the struggles between the Catholic church and the Cathars at the beginning of the 13th century. Others guarded the volatile border with Spain. Whole communities were wiped out during the campaigns of the Catholic authorities to rid the area of the Cathar heretics during the Albigensian Crusades and later, when Protestants fought for religious freedom against the French monarchy.
The modern reputation of Rennes-le-Château rises from rumours dating from the mid-1950s and not from the lifetime of a local nineteenth century priest Bérenger Saunière, who was alleged to have mysteriously acquired and spent large sums of money (despite the existence of much evidence proving the contrary). Published by French Editions Belisane from the early 1980s onwards, the evidence ranged from the archives in the possession of Antoine Captier, which includes Saunière's correspondence and notebooks, and the minutes of the ecumenical Trial between Saunière and his bishop between 1910-1911 which are located in the Carcassonne Bishopric. All of the evidence demonstrates that Saunière's source of wealth lay in the trafficking of masses: this is not 'opinion', but historical fact, emphasised by French authors like Rene Descadeillas and Jean-Jacques Bedu. He was even said to have visited several heads of state, though there is no evidence for this whatsoever. These rumours were given wide local circulation in the 1950s by Noel Corbu, a local man who had opened a restaurant in Saunière's former estate who probably hoped to attract business. They moved from local to national importance when they were incorporated by Pierre Plantard into his mythology of the Priory of Sion, which influenced the authors of the popular 1982 book Holy Blood, Holy Grail.
From this point on Rennes-le-Château became the centre of conspiracy theories claiming that Saunière uncovered hidden treasure and/or secrets about the history of the Church that threatened the foundations of Catholicism. Since the mid-1950s, the area has become the focus of increasingly sensational claims involving the Knights Templar, the Priory of Sion, the Rex Deus, the Holy Grail, the treasures of the Temple of Solomon, the Ark of the Covenant, ley lines, geometric alignments, and others. Elements of these ideas were later incorporated into Umberto Eco's 1989 novel Foucault's Pendulum, Michael Baigent's, Henry Lincoln's and Richard Leigh's bestselling The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, Dan Brown's bestselling 2003 novel The Da Vinci Code (which borrows heavily from the Holy Blood, Holy Grail above), and the computer game Gabriel Knight III.
The village now attracts visitors who look for hidden treasures and evidence of conspiracy, much to the displeasure of the locals.
Almost all historians reject these conspiracies as nothing more than fantasy. According to writers such as Paul Smith, Monsignor George Boyer in 1967 (Vicar General of the parish of Carcassonne), Rene Descadeillas, Jacques Rivière, Jean-Luc Chaumeil, Jean-Jacques Bedu, Vincianne Denis, Bill Putnam, John Edwin Wood, and Marie Francine Etchegoin - the stories of Saunière's 'mysteries' were based on nothing more than a minor scandal involving the sale of masses, which eventually led to the disgrace of both Saunière and his bishop. His 'wealth' was short-lived and he died relatively poor. Other aspects of the Rennes-le-Château legend derive from forgeries created on behalf of Pierre Plantard.
- Paul Smith's Priory of Sion web site - essential reading for anybody researching the treasure of Rennes-le-Chateau, and should also be read by everyone who has read Holy Blood and the Holy Grail or the nauseating Da Vinci Code