trepanned skull of Dagobert II

 

Just what the matter is with Rennes-le-Chateau is hard to finger. It's sun drenched alleyways are as quiet as any other Meridianal backwater, but that odd sensation of being watched never quite leaves you and there is perhaps something a little too furtive in the manner of the locals to entirely set the casual visitor's mind at ease. The malaise seems to have set in with the arrival of the parish priest François Bérenger Saunière who was appointed to the diocese on June 1, 1885. He was anti-republican, wore a glass eye, played the lottery and lived wildly beyond his apparent means, launching a series of building projects that transformed the village. He flamboyantly renovated the local church and constructed a baronial mansion for himself named the Villa Bethania. The Villa's grounds were enclosed by a lavish belvedere surmounted by a mock gothic tower dubbed the 'Tour Magdala' which Sauniere designed to house his burgeoning private library and to entertain guests said to include Jules Verne, Maurice leBlanc, the diva Emma Calve and various stray members of the Hapsburg dynasty whom the rogue priest was said to have plied with expensive rum imported from Martinique.

In 1896 an investigation was launched by the bishopric of Carcassonne into how the clergyman was able to fund his spending spree. Sauniere resigned his position and was tried for trafficking in written masses in 1910, living out the rest of his life in virtual penury, selling religious medals and rosaries to wounded soldiers stationed in Campagne les Bains. Worn out by the ongoing investigation into his affairs he suffered a heart attack on January 17, 1917, and passed on January 22 at which point it was found that the deeds to the Villa Bethanie had been signed over to his loyal housekeeper Marie Dénarnaud around whose personage a series of bizarre rumours began to inevtably acrue.


Noel Corbu

In 1946 a young businessman named Noel Corbu purchased the dillapidated estate from the aging Dénarnaud and decided to play up the tales of the dead priest's mysterious fortune in order to attract customers to the restaurant that he opened on the premises deliberately planting a series of articles in the local press with such attention-grabbing headlines as : "Fabuleuse découverte du curé aux milliards de Rennes le Château" ( "The Billionaire Priest of Rennes-le-Château's Fabulous Discovery"). The so-called 'Rennes mystery' didn't really take off however until the following year when Corbu's story was picked up by the national press and came to the attention of a certain Pierre Plantard, a right wing fantasist sympathetic to the former Vichy regime who saw a ingenious way of using the fast developing myth complex surrrounding Saunière to promote his own association, the 'Priory of Sion', a self created 'synarchist' movement registered in 1956 and apparently dedicated to the creation of a united Europe. Plantard set about writing a manuscript to bolster his claims and produced several parchments that he insisted had been found by Saunière while renovating his church but which had in fact been forged by his friend and fellow conspirator, Philippe de Cherisey.


Document One `To Dagobert II And To Zion Belongs This Treasure And He Is There Dead.'


Document Two 'Shepardess No Temptation To Which Poussin And Teniers Keep The Key Piece 681 With The Cross And This Horse Of God I Complete Or Destroy This Demon Guardian At Midday Blue Apples'

These documents purportedly showed the survival of the Merovingian line of Frankish kings and suggested that Plantard was the rightful heir to the throne of France. Whether Plantard had genuine delusions of grandeur or whether the hoax was simply an obscure surrealist joke that got out of hand is hard to tell but something in the iconoclasm of the conceit seemed to strike a chord with the public.


Pierre Althanese Marie Plantard

The forged documents were initially reproduced in Gerard de Sede's 1967 book Le Trésor Maudit de Rennes-le-Château, ( 'The Cursed Treasure of Rennes-le Chateau' ) which claimed that they were actually hundreds of years old, and contained, hidden coded messages. In 1969, the English actor and screenwriter Henry Lincoln read Le Trésor Maudit, and between 1970-1979 successfully pitched three hit documentaries based on the material to Britain's BBC Two before teaming up with fellow researchers, Michael Baigent and Richard Lee to co-author the 1982 bestseller 'Holy Blood an the Holy Grail'. Realizing that Plantard's spurious claims to the crown would be of little interest to the British and American public the trio instead unpacked a bizarre and highly unlikely conspiracy theory based on the notion that the 'Priory of Sion' not only existed but had been founded at the time of the crusades in order to protect the 'Sang Real' or 'royal blood' that the 'Sangraal' or 'Holy Grail' was said to represent, literally the bloodline of Christ Himself who was supposed to have not only married Mary Magdalene but to have had issue, a lineage that survived into modern times and allegedly included such luminaries as Leonardo da Vinci and the filmmaker and artist Jean Cocteau. The book argued that Saunier uncovered proof of this bloodline and was apparently paid to keep his silence by the Priory and its cohorts. Despite having been exhaustively debunked by journalists and historians 'The holy Blood and the Holy Grail' continued to find an avid readership on both sides of the Atlantic, inspiring Dan Brown's 2003 novel 'The Da Vinci Code' which further confused the hapless public by cannily claiming to be based on 'fact' and spawning in the process a slew of sequels and spin-offs that teased the slender premise out to ever more ludicrous extremes. Latterday entries in the growing mythos included Lincoln, Baigent and Lee's official follow-up, 'The Messianic Legacy' and 'The Tomb of God' by Richard Andrews and Paul Schellenberger which by now argued that Sauniere had not only uncovered proof of Christ's divine lineage but that the increasingly crowded vault beneath the church concealed the literal body of the messiah and the virgin Mary, presumably alongside the Ark of the Covenant, the Holy Grail and any number of other lesser known albeit equally mythical treasures of the Temple of Solomon.


wreck in Rennes

By the end of the 20th century, years of speculation had left the natives riven, brother divided against brother, any fragile sense of community that might have existed overwhelmed by an influx of treasure hunters, occultists, cranks and conspirators. As the various 'revelations' and increasingly far-fetched theories as to what lay beneath the church tend to be mutually exclusive, it follows that Rennes itself remains something of a black spot in consensus reality, where no two people seem to agree as to what the hell is really happening...

As Above So Below... The newspaper articles planted by Noel Corbu that first broke the story.