On his website, the researcher Laurent Buchholtzer, alias " Octonovo", once shared one of his many finds... in this case it was an extract from the report of the municipal council of Rennes le Château, in dated July 30, 1836, relating to existing roads in the town.
The passage, quoted “in extenso”, indicated: “Saturday July 30, 1836. Following the circular of the prefect, a general table of the existing paths in the town is established. There are 5 paths: Couiza, Espéraza, Caudiès, Bugarach, Quillan. They are between 1 m and 2 m wide.
It is precisely the path linking the village of Couiza to that of Rennes-le-Château that will be the subject of this study because, at the turn of a conversation on a completely different subject, information concerning a curious discovery archaeological site made during its renovation, at the beginning of the twentieth century, were given to me by an early witness… an old lady who was very close to Marie Dénarnaud.
The “new” road
The "beautiful story" told to visitors to Abbé Saunière's estate, and propagated for ages through literature repeating in a loop information that is unreliable but so evocative, bears credit to Bérenger Saunière for the current development of the road linking Couiza in Rennes-le-Château.
One only lends to the rich, it is said, and in fact the priest was often cited as a benefactor having contributed, through his fortune, to the improvement of the living conditions of his fellow citizens and to their well-being. Hadn't he considered installing electricity in Rennes-le-Château? Did he not intend Villa Bethania to become a retirement home for elderly priests? Don't we owe him the water supply to the village?
If some of these developments and notable improvements in the living environment of the inhabitants of Rennes were, in fact, due to the generosity of Abbé Saunière, it is nevertheless necessary to put his work and his action into perspective with regard to the modernization of the village and, to this end, attributing the construction of the departmental road linking Couiza to Rennes is, in my opinion, a fable.
But, before getting to the heart of the matter, let's try to establish a serious dating as to the development of this road.
Once again it is Antoine Fagès, the archaeologist member of the SESA, who will providentially come to our aid since, in the article he devoted to an excursion of the learned society in August 1908 and entitled: "De Campagne les Bains à Rennes-le-Château" (Bulletin SESA - Volume XX - Year 1909), he indicates : "... The steep slopes that we climbed (in 1904), the sudden, even disappear thanks to a new path being built ".
The excursion dating from August 1908… we can imagine that the work did not go back before 1907. So here is an established chronological benchmark… it is an important point with regard to what will follow.
Page 133 of the SESA bulletin 1909 (Volume XX)
The discovery of a tomb
A few months ago, when I was having a telephone discussion with one of the last people, still in this world, having known Marie Dénarnaud very well, and when I was blandly mentioning the generosity of the priest in the context of the construction of the RD 52, my interlocutor burst out laughing to tell me that once again, I had taken the legends of the hill at face value and that, in this case, Bérenger Saunière had never taken responsibility for the development of the Couiza-Rennes road.
In reality it was her own uncle, François Fabre, a native of Axat but established in Rivesaltes (or Perpignan), who, as a public works contractor, had carried out the construction of the road.
The information was interesting… but what followed was even more so.
This lady, the last witness to the "Rennes of yesteryear", who had spent her youth walking around the priest's estate and rummaging in the Magdala tower, explained to me that during the road works, the workers incidentally discovered, at a junction of paths, the remains of a "Gallo-Roman burial". They brought to light pottery with sigillata, numerous coins, fragments of marble as well as… a chariot wheel.
Of course, the discovery was reported to the person in charge of the site, François Fabre, as well as to the priest. The various pieces of archaeological furniture were collected, assembled and… shared with a friend of François Fabre who was none other than the castellan of Montazels.
Construction work resumed... and the secret of this discovery never left the family.
The case therefore ended there... and we can only deplore it because the discovery of a Gallo-Roman burial in the jurisdiction of the commune of Rennes-le-Château was never made public and even less reported to the competent archaeological authorities or to the representatives of the Society for Scientific Studies of the Aude, of which, however, several members were from the village.
A small arrangement between friends... as there must have been hundreds of of them at this time when archeology was in its infancy and where the "antique dealers" bought, for a few cents, the treasures of history, fortuitously unearthed according to the works or ploughing.
The epitaph of Montazels
The information that had been provided to me incidentally deserved further investigation and it was, once again, the indefatigable and insightful researcher Andrée Pottié who put me on the path by communicating to me the references of a study of Raymond Lizop, historian and regionalist writer, published in volume IV of the "Bulletin de la Société Archéologique du Midi de la France" in 1942.
The article entitled: “Two fragments of unpublished inscriptions from Narbonnaise” reported the discovery, by the author, of a fragment of Roman inscription found at the castle of Montazels, near Couiza. According to Raymond Lizop, the epigraphic monument was embedded in the wall of an outbuilding of the estate “inside a sundial painted on the surface of this wall”.
The white marble fragment supported the entire left half of a funerary inscription engraved in “beautiful characters 4 to 5 cm high, very well preserved”. The historian specified that this inscription “could not be later than the second century”.
Excerpt from the article – Page 372
The conclusions of Raymond Lizop revealed that the funerary inscription was that of a character named Quintus Valerius, probably belonging to the Voltinia tribe which was that of most of the Roman citizens of Narbonnaise.
But, the explanations of the historian became even more interesting when he specified: “Was our inscription found on the spot? It is impossible to affirm it. Perhaps it comes from the oppidum of Rennes-le-Château (Redae), neighboring Couiza, a pre-Roman fortress, a small Gallo-Roman and, later, Visigothic center which gave its name to the country of Razès ( pagus Redensis). … /… The beautiful bronze Roman chariot wheels , kept at the Saint-Raymond Museum in Toulouse, were discovered, according to certain testimonies , in Rennes-le-Château and not in Fa (Fanum in Gallo-Roman times), another locality in the same region, as is generally accepted.
A point of clarification is necessary with regard to the declarations of Raymond Lizop. First of all, he confuses the chariot, of which several pieces were discovered in 1740 at a place called “les Carrières” in Fa, with the wheel of a Roman chariot possibly discovered on the road to Rennes.
The cult chariot of Fa, of which two wheels were exhumed, would date from the end of the Bronze Age according to the latest serious studies dedicated to this major archaeological discovery.
Wheel of Fa's chariot - Photo: D. Martin
If Raymond Lizop insinuates in his study that these wheels were part of a Roman coupling ... it is because he certainly has good reason to believe it... even if he is wrong because, in 1942, all the elements relating to the discovery of Fa's chariot were not known.
Let's go back to his article and study all the terms precisely; what does he say about his sources? : “The beautiful bronze Roman chariot wheels would have been discovered… according to certain testimonies, at Rennes-le-Château”.
The indication: “according to certain testimonies” seems to me quite eloquent and sufficiently clear. Raymond Lizop having obtained information on the origin of the Roman epitaph appearing on the wall of the castle of Montazels by the owner of the domain... it can only be this person who indicated to him that a Roman chariot wheel had been discovered at the same time in Rennes-le-Château during the construction of the road.
In 1942, it could not have been the "châtelain" who had benefited from the discovery of the burial and who had shared the fruit with François Fabre, the public works engineer, and the priest Saunière therefore, in any event , the story of the epitaph and the tomb had been told to subsequent owners.
The amalgamation with the Fa Bronze Age chariot was naturally made afterwards since the two chariots, from different periods (about 800 years apart), had been discovered in the same area.
It is important to note on this subject that around 1804, a peasant discovered “near Rennes” an antique chariot drawbar; the man sold the piece to a traveling merchant from Limoux who, in turn, sold it to the Saint-Raymond museum in Toulouse. The archaeologist Jean Guilaine, a specialist in protohistory who studied the "chariot of Fa", determined that the drawbar in question did not date from the Bronze Age. In fact, this coupling part did not come from the "chariot of Fa" but from another, Jean Guilaine adding: "Its discovery on the same territory of Fa, if it is not doubtful, is a curious coincidence".
The mention of a Roman epitaph associated with that of a Roman chariot from Rennes-le-Château, in the same scientific study, cannot be a coincidence... there is no doubt that Raymond Lizop was well informed about the origin of these archaeological pieces by someone who was "in the know", someone who knew the place of discovery of the archaeological pieces consisting of the marble epitaph and the chariot wheel. We will try to determine who was the owner of the castle in 1908… when the tomb was discovered and therefore who "benefited from the crime".
But first, let's try to provide some details about this Gallo-Roman burial because this seems important to me. The information relating to Roman or Gallo-Roman discoveries on the territory of Rennes-le-Château is not so numerous for us to ignore this kind of information.
Jean Fourié, in his remarkable work: “The history of Rennes-le-Château prior to 1789” , indicates: “We know little about the organization of the Gallo-Roman habitat in Rennes-le-Château. No doubt it was limited to a few watchtowers surrounded by huts on the strategic points of the hill: the western spur, the eastern entrance where the edged tiles, fragments of terracotta pipes and coins from the High Empire have been reported. The Archaeological Map of Roman Gaul is eloquent on this point. Subsequent redevelopments removed all traces of Gallo-Roman constructions”.
Few traces and vestiges of the Gallo-Roman period therefore... the information concerning this possible Rennes burial and the epitaph of Montazels therefore deserves to be "dug".
What does the study of the marble slab fragments discovered and studied by Raymond Lizop reveal to us? We have seen previously that the historian indicates, in his 1942 study, that the tomb was probably that of a character named Quintus Valerius, a Roman citizen belonging to the Voltinia tribe of Narbonnaise, of course, but who was part of the "Civitas Carcasso" and not the city of Narbonne.
The historian specifies that in the fourth line of the epitaph appears the proper name “Vossatic..” whose end is amputated by the break in the marble; the full name of "Vossaticcius" having, according to him, "all the appearance of a Gallic name or at least a derivative of a Gallic name".
A “pure” Gallo-Roman than this Quintus Valerius… most certainly, this fact being confirmed by François Bérard who indicates, in his “Latin Epigraphy of the Roman World”:
“In Narbonnaise, the only one of the Gallic provinces which offers fairly numerous mentions, the cities of Latin law are characterized by the preponderance of a single tribe, the Voltinia , of which we have studied some recent attestations: the great majority, if not all new citizens were registered in this tribe, in accordance with the customs developed in Italy after the social war, when entire regions were registered in the same tribe”.
This is clear… Quintus Valerius was therefore a Roman citizen of Gallic origin and it was certainly his burial that was discovered in 1908, during the construction of the new Couiza / Rennes-le-Château road.
In the fall of 1959, Raymond Lizop returned to the Château de Montazels in order to "verify his first reading with a new examination". The new verifications confirmed him in his first theories and he also had the chance to study a second piece of the epitaph which had recently been brought to light by the owner of the castle.
This discovery led to a second article published in the journal “Gallia” in 1961 and entitled: “Epitaph discovered at Montazels near Couiza (Aude)”.
What happened to the marble fragments supporting this Roman epitaph? And the chariot wheel?
The various searches and checks carried out by the obstinate and talented researcher Léa Rosi have made it possible to establish that in 1908, the Château de Montazels was the property of a certain Vernet … it was undoubtedly he who recovered all or part of the furniture from the Roman tomb of Rennes-le-Château.
Mr Vernet had inherited, it seems, the Montazels estate on the death of the Marquis de Cazemajou, whose father Bérenger Saunière had been the manager.
The links between the owner of the castle in 1908 and the abbot of Rennes-le-Château may have come from this period.
The list of subsequent owners is more difficult to establish… a certain “Clothes” would have inherited from Mr Vernet, then the estate would have passed into the hands of Raymond Gibert, now deceased.
The castle is falling into ruin... and the current owner doesn't seem willing to respond to offers to buy made by wealthy lovers of old stones wishing to restore it... to be honest, she doesn't even answer the phone.
Montazels castle – Wikipedia photo
As for the fragments of the epitaph of the “Great Roman” Quintus Valerius, if they did not make the happiness of a marauding archaeologist… they must probably rest under a pile of rubble to the great displeasure of the history of Pagus Redensis.
The chariot wheel has disappeared, too... I can't help but think that it was, perhaps, to be linked to another wheel, also discovered in a tomb... near the source of the Madeleine .
Raymond Lizop: " Two unpublished fragments of inscription from the Narbonnaise" - Bulletin of the Archaeological Society of the South of France - Volume IV - 1942.
“Epitaph discovered at Montazels near Couiza (Aude)” - Revue Gallia – 1961.
Antoine Fagès: " From Campagne les Bains to Rennes-le-Château" - Bulletin SESA - Volume XX - Year 1909
Jean Fourié: "The history of Rennes-le-Château prior to 1789" - Editions Jean Bardou 1984.
François Bérard , “Latin epigraphy of the Roman world”, Yearbook of the Practical School for Advanced Studies (EPHE), Section of Historical and Philological Sciences, 142 | 2011, 97-102.
Germain Belpech: "An ancient chariot at Rennes-le-Château" - Revue Trésors de l'histoire, N°144 of September 1997.
Sincere thanks to Mrs Josette Barthe, Andrée Pottié and Léa Rosi for their help in writing this article and their sense of sharing.
Thanks also to “Grominet”, the feline scholar of the forum… always providential in his communications.
Translated from the following website: http://www.renne-le-chateau.com/chercheu/chercheu.html
Written by Aronnax – Finis Terrae, March 2018
With thanks to the above website.