Association RLC.doc April 8, 2001.
Written interview with Jean Fourié
conducted by Patrick Mensior during the first quarter of 2011.
For several years, I regularly have had the pleasure to correspond with Jean Fourié
and to meet him during my audois stays. I am very honoured that he was kind enough to
accept to answer some questions about the history of Rennes-le-Château that he knows well since he comes from this region and has worked with
pioneers who attached themselves to the " business of the priest with the billions " at the end of the last fifty years
and during the next decade.
Hello Jean Fourie.
Enthusiasts of the history of the treasure of Abbe Saunière know you in particular by your Historical Notes on the municipality of Rennes-le-Château before the Revolution that was published in 1979. Can you tell us how you came to your particular interest for this village and its history?
As you know, I am a native of Espéraza, just a few kilometers from Rennes-le-Chateau. This proximity contained in me a germ of inescapable interest for someone of the past of his country who leaves a mark. Moreover, I think I told you that having come from a family of artisan bakers, my paternal grandfather and aunt [?] had told me several times about the visits of Mr. Baron, former mayor of
Montazels and borough councilor, who came to the store to stock up on bread, not only for himself but also for other people including Mary
Dénarnaud. He paid by the month or the week. When the sum proved to be too important, exhibited some napoleons that my great-aunt hastily put aside in a metallic box/cartons. This was happening during the war until the beginning of the years of the fifties!
[There was] nothing like it to ignite the imagination of a hypersensitive child! Rennes-le-Château came back from time to time in conversations and comments more diverse [and which] did not fail to take shape. At that time, many people still alive had known Father Saunière and Marie. The words treasure and mystery had
already been in progress but remained in an indefinable kind of limbo. Noel Corbu was starting to [take an interest] in the affair and we were a long way from Gérard de Sède. Becoming an adult, under the combined auspices of many people and diverse circumstances, my interest in regional history, latent since my adolescences, had
found an active phase and I was immediately surprised by the lack of elements and especially credible summaries of the past of the town of Rennes-le-Château. The case monopolized attentions and energies. We were forgetting that the village did not have
the more or less whimsical story distilled by Corbu and some other sycophantic ones. René Descadeillas had begun to seriously study the subject. He had encouraged me in the way of a more amplified study. Not being a historian by training, I am limited to a sort of commented compilation that became in 1979 the book that you
know and I was trying to strengthen a little later with the help of a true historian, my fellow citizen Christian Raynaud.
Here, dear friend, in a few lines, are the reasons that led me to interest myself in the history of Rennes-le-Château. This is very little but it has the merit to exist. That said, I remain convinced that a true historical monograph on the village should be completed. It would of course be necessary to sort the wheat from the chaff and to resume
complete inventory sources and to verifying them. It would be a long haul! Who would want today to embark on such a challenge? Personally I am not the candidate. It would require a harnessed historian or a chartist. I recently met the mayor of Rennes. He told me he was considering the realisation of a second DVD, the first having achieved notable success and many recordings have not been exploited. Some 130,000 visitors climbed the hill in 2010. This is a
source of revenue that the village budget could not do without. The treasure is deferred ...
At the beginning of the year 1975, you joined the Society of Arts and Sciences of Carcassonne which counted among its members names each having marked the history of Rennes-le-Château. The most famous, which still remain in everyone's memories as researchers into Rennes, are Mgr. Boyer, Robert Debant, René Descadeillas, René Nelli, abbots Bruno de Monts and Maurice-René Mazières; not forgetting Messieurs Brunon, Malacan and Rivals which, under the direction of René Descadeillas, undertook, in 1956, excavations in
the church and the domain of the Abbé Saunière. The history of Rennes-le-Château was without any doubt to be regularly discussed during meetings of the Company?
I started attending sessions of the Society of Arts and Sciences (the Academy is not coming after) - which were held in the evenings after dinner - during my holidays in Espéraza from 1973. I am now one of the oldest members. My Cicero (or rather my godfather) was a retired teacher, Fernand Razouls, who lived at Avenue de Berriac in Carcassonne and who I contacted when I was preparing my
Nomenclature of the famous Audois. This brave man was a confirmed bibliophile who collected and meticulously kept everything that concerned the department of Aude. He had been introduced to the local history and bibliography by Canon A. Sabarthès of the time
where the latter (before 1914) was serving the parish of Leucate, where Mr. Razouls was a native. Working in Paris, I could only attend the April or May sessions corresponding to the Spring Break. My other introducer was Urbain Gibert, also a retired teacher who lived in Lauraguel, a man of extreme urbanity whom [had] many
students or those just curious [about] the local history. I usually supped at my friend's house Raymond Gougaud who sometimes accompanied me to meetings of the Society where I found
a common friend in Pezens's.
Needless to say, I was [feeling?] small at these meetings next to
"Celebrities" like Bishop Boyer, Abbe's Mazières and de Monts, René Nelli, René Descadeillas, the archivist Robert Debant, Joseph Maffre the mayor of Rouffiac and some others. By cons, I do not remember having seen at these meetings sieurs Brunon, Malacan
and Rivals. I quickly established friendly relations with Bishop Boyer, who received me in his room of the Villa Bethany, and with René Descadeillas whom I visited in his office of the municipal library & museum. The big discussions around the Rennes-le-Château affair had taken place before my arrival to the Society. Then came the book by R. Descadeillas and I remember comments that accompanied this issue. On one side, around R.Nelli, were those who, more or less, were fascinated by the enigma of Saunière, highlighting its unusal aspect and its imaginative catalyst. On the other side, around Descadeillas, those who tried to demystify the affair and reduce the case to a simple traffic in masses. Around Bishop Boyer, the "priests" were cautious and reserved, confining themselves to the revelations of the diocesan archives and struggling to protect the audois clergy from any contagion or hazardous position. It did not prevent, sometimes, beautiful oratory turning into wrangling between one and the other; but these discussions remained cloistered in the sittings and were obviously not on official reports. As far as I can remember, Bishop Boyer was the one with the wisest and most consensual view, not throwing the stones at abbe Saunière, recognizing, however, his "faults" as a priest but not condemning him. It must not be forgotten that Bishop Boyer had been an intimate friend of Mgr de Beauséjour and that this explains the sulpician prudence that he put in his remarks when it was about B. Saunière. With Descadeillas, things were done more smoothly but I'll talk about that in more detail
during a next question.
Whether in their individual or collective writings, the abbe's Mazières and de Monts often invested directly in the history of Rennes-le-Château. If the Abbot de Monts most often reframed things in the light, as you specify, of diocese archival documents, on the other hand, witnesses who have been with him for many years say that
Abbé Mazières was very interested in finding the treasure and even
discovered a few. As can be seen in his study of the Knights Templar at Bezu - a study that continues to elicit contradictory opinions - was he not more inclined to believe in the existence of Abbé Saunière's treasure?
Abbé Mazières, as far as I can detect his personality through my memories and the conversations with those who knew him, was a particularly receptive form of occultism. On this point, he was practically in communion with the ideas of René Nelli, also very fond of mysteries and hidden things that he apprehended with one eye as an ethnologist and poet. I do not know who, at the time, had told me (probably Descadeillas) [but there was] an evening devoted to the spirits in a bourgeois residence around Carcassonne, to which Mazières and Nelli were not the last ones to want to turn the
table. Abbé Mazières was captivated by Rennes-le-Château when he was vicar at Quillan during the war, where he attended the engineer Frataxi and, of course, Ernest Cros. Bézu was not far and, because of his Peruvian origins, Father Mazières became passionate about Mas Deù and the establishment of this commandery in the upper valley of
Aude. All this follows from a certain logic. In addition, Father Mazières attended and knew many lovers of "treasures" and, as he had a remarkable memory - as well as an abundant imagination - he delighted in narrations and anecdotes that he told in his own way. Which explains, very often, the absence or the imprecision of his sources. The Abbé de Monts was a character much more down to earth and less inclined to excesses of his imagination. Enough of his origins and his person (General Laperrine was one of his parents) as a former military chaplain, he wanted to appear as a "specialist" of the case of Rennes when, in the 70s, he spent his summers in Rennes-les-Bains where he replaced the priest of Couiza, reveling in conferences and meetings with curists. He then lived in the presbytery and tended to take himself for the sole holder of the truth
with the blessing of Bishop Boyer. The Abbé de Monts had no training as a historian, and he also occasionally gave free course to an imagination, certainly more Cartesian than that of Abbé Mazières, but well often a little too cavalier. They formed, moreover, a rather disparate couple. Sheltered at Bethany's nursing home in Carcassonne, they had daily vehement conversations that often came to the surface during meetings of the Society of Arts and Sciences where the Abbé de Monts came later. If Abbé Mazières, in his heart, had to believe [in] the existence of a treasure in Rennes-le-
Castle (where else), I'm not sure that Abbé de Monts was on the same wave length because he was married too much to the theses of the diocese. A last element, do not forget - before being a priest, Father Mazières had studied philosophy and was destined for Higher Education. He was an intellectual with a keen interest in dialectics and open to all knowledge of the human mind. The Abbé de Monts did not have the same provisions and less inclined to extrapolate and yield to the temptation of some adventure.
Since the story of the supposed treasure of Rennes-le-Château has been unveiled, researchers are convinced of its existence, others doubt and the latter, more undecided, sway according to their readings or discoveries between these two ideas. Which one do you feel the closest to?
I have no hesitation in answering your question. I am not one of those who believe in the existence of a treasure and stumbling to Rennes-le-Château. Multiple searches and writings on the case have amply demonstrated that much of the money spent by Saunière came from known sources ("treasure"of Abbé Bigou hidden in the church, mass trafficking, donations, sale of stamps and postcards, etc.). For the rest, no tangible and credible evidence has, so far, been able to bring materiality to any of the treasure, whether fiduciary, spiritual, commercial orother. I went to the Descadeillas school and his demonstrations convinced me a lot. I still remain an inexcusable skeptic. And my skepticism grows and grows day by day
and from year to year when I see the fauna that turns on Rennes, the rantings ... and the sometimes nauseating climate that sets in on the site. The merchants of the temple are everywhere, the madmen abound there, the pseudo historians indulge, the dilettantes
delight and the public, often, does not find this account. All this starts
to seriously feel that the adulterated, the intensive exploitation and the most complacent stupidity. I apologize for this short and severe diatribe.
It has often been written that the days preceding the death of Father Saunière, which took place on January 22, 1917, that Abbé Rivière, who was in charge as cure of Espéraza that of Rennes-le-Château, had left theconfession of his 'brother' very troubled. For some, it's
a facet of the legend, for others an authentic fact. What do you know
of this episode?
The origin of the information concerning Father Rivière, who had administered the last sacraments to his colleague Saunière, seems to me to have come from Marie Dénarnaud who, no doubt, had told Noel Corbu, who was quick to enlarge the episode as far as he
could serve to his purposes. Anyway, it is obviously not the Abbé Rivière himself who peddled this anecdote. He was a man of great piety, very much loved by the local population. As you probably know, Father Jean Rivière was a native of Quillan and he was pastor of Espéraza from 1905 to 1920. His role of comforter during the slaughter of the Great War earned him unanimous recognition ...... Named Canon by Bishop Beauséjour, he died prematurely at Coursan, of which he was the pastor, and where, once again, he had won unanimous esteem. It's obviously not such a man who would have disclosed secrets of confession or intimate impressions. His confusion on the occasion of the death of Saunière was the subject of various
comments and, personally, I have always heard about it. It is even said that his death would be partly due to the sorrow and disappointment he would have experienced on this occasion.
But what exactly is it? A fact is certain, according to those who knew him, the abbe Rivière was not the same after the death of his colleague from Rennes-le-Château. It is true that Rivière had been very much affected by the avalanche of deaths that had to be deplored in Espéraza during the war of 14. Like the mayor Alphonse Alard, he would comfort the families and had to celebrate many mortuary ceremonies which seriously undermined his morale. When
he left Espéraza for Coursan, he was already a tired man (he was only 53 years old in 1920!) and with a serious morale.
Although he always defended himself from having participated directly in the excavations undertaken in 1956 in the Saunière domaine - excavations that led to the discovery of three skeletons - it is often said that it was René Descadeillas who organised these digs at the request of the Society of Arts and Sciences of Carcassonne, and [that he] supervised them in the field. Is it correct?
As you are certainly aware, R. Descadeillas was a member of the Société des arts and sciences since 1938. In 1956, the president was A. Fages-Bonnery. Few people, within this learned assembly, were then interested in the mysteries that could be attached to Rennes-le-Château where Noël Corbu tried attract customers to his
inn of the villa Bethany. Descadeillas had been correspondent for Carcassonne and its region of the Toulouse newspaper
La Dépêche du Midi. He had a journalistic soul, but also a talent and curiosity inherent to the profession. He listened to everything that was said in the department (Descadeillas was a friend of the Sarraut brothers) and I think he ends up one day coming to Rennes-le-Château where the reputation of Corbu and his stories were flourishing. No mention in the Memoires of the Society of Arts and Sciences allow us to accredit the thesis that the latter ordered the famous excavations. Descadeillas with his friends and accomplices who supervised them, provoking in the press the local echoes that we know. That Descadeillas has availed himself of any assent to the authorities, this does not seem impossible to me because the man had the desire to lead to a discovery but certainly did not want to reveal that his only curiosity and his thirst for discovery were the root causes.
Today, there is no archaeological evidence to attest to the certain location of the old Visigothic capital where the current village of Rennes-le-Château is located as Louis Fédié believed. There are even local historians who, skeptical about this point, advance the hypothesis of a place close to Limoux more likely to have
hosted such a city. There is actually near this city a place called Redda. What is your opinion?
For two centuries, the many archaeological finds updated on the site of Rennes-le-Château proves that this place has been inhabited for a long time and that it is not an ephemeral or restricted occupation. Moreover, the multiple mentions that are made in the General History of Languedoc are further proof that we find there in the presence, beyond a simple medieval habitat, a chief town of the county
having played a significant role in local history throughout the High Middle Ages. The Rennes-le-Château area is undoubtedly this place and nowhere else. The more or less fanciful hypotheses having run on a localization towards Limoux or elsewhere do not seem to me to be well-founded because the material evidence is practically
nonexistent. It is true that one must know how to distance oneself from Fédié's assertions. But well before him, the site of Rennes-le-Château was recognized as the former capital of the
Razès and never has this role had been questioned in terms of its location. The only unknown remains obviously the organization of this habitat in the field. But this is another story…
To your knowledge, will there ever be an organized archaeological research project by specialized bodies to try to shed a definitive light on this question?
As you know, the services of the Ministry of Culture (DRAC and Preventive Archeology), as well as the city hall of Rennes, have always been very reserved about an official campaign of archaeological excavations. Not only are their financing and
their material organization issues, but also their management by approved and reliable professionals. Where to search and how to find what? Too many writings, too many fantasies, too many delusions,
too much greed, too many passions, too many words and unspoken things, too many follies too, for about sixty years, it has been blurring the cards and creating a myth which, certainly, today proves an important economic asset for the municipality, but blocks
any serious research. With the Bugarach affair that is taking shape around the so-called end of the world in December 2012 and which worries the public authorities, it is of course that official excavations on the Rennes site are not for tomorrow. When exploring other sites, such as Limoux, this is a local initiative but seem to have attracted many followers.
Similarly, for Rennes-le-Château, it is known, by archival documents of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, that a tomb exists under the church. Tombs in which notables were buried - some the lords of Rennes. Certainly, since 1994, the religious building is
protected by the Historical Monuments, but do not you think that one day it would be necessary, historically speaking, that these same authorities carry out excavations or delegate a team of archaeologists to do this?
The same reluctance as before apply to any excavations under the church of Rennes-le-Château. It is, as we say today, a highly sensitive subject that could be done with the political will of the mayor and the agreement of the Monuments and the Bishopric. The necessary funds should be found and, again, authentic and duly accredited specialists. Personally, I find that it would be a excellent thing because these excavations would certainly allow to affirm or deny a
number of assertions and assumptions. At the historical level they would bring interesting elements that could lead to other excavation needs. In the current context, I doubt that this will be realized.
In June 2007, in an intervention at the Limoux conference, Gérard Jean, today President of the Academy, confirmed the proven existence of the stele of Marie de Negre Dables. This information was, of course, in disagreement with some research for a long time, which suggests the reality of the excursion of June 1905, organized by Sesa, and, de facto, the gravestone would not have existed in the report drafted by Elie Tisseyre, and published in the Bulletin of 1906 of the learned society audoise, that for the coding needs of the large manuscript published in 1967 by Gérard de Sède. According to you, the stele of the Marquise will reappear one day?
One thing is certain, the members of SESA who, in June 1905, made the excursion to Rennes-le-Château, were not imaginary characters, nor acolytes of Bringer Saunière already won by the fever of some treasure, neither inveterate "decoders" nor magicians or magi who predicted that their writings would be one of the keys to a certain mystery some 60 years later. At that time, just like today, SÉSA
organized, once or twice a year, field trips led by members of the region concerned. Elie Tisseyre, who was from Espéraza, had just joined SÉSA in 1904 and we understand that he wanted to get involved in this excursion. As far as we know, Elie Tisseyre was a serious man from a respectable family and I do not think not that the SESA Bulletin Board would have accepted to insert the reproduction
of a stele that did not exist. Shortly after this excursion, Saunière began to discuss with his bishop to explain his important income and the character, if it aroused curiosity and various comments - mainly in the Espéraza-Couiza-Rennes-les-Bains - was far from having the esoteric-fantasy dimension of which it is for several decades on a scale that can be measured in terms of the international.
That this stele has aroused subsequent lusts, this is not surprising. I am persuaded that it will end up one day out of hiding. It reminds me of the famous Eugène Stüblein's book that no one has ever seen and whose descendants even ignored until existence. But what would not be invented to make a mystery and sell copy!
Until the publication of L'Or de Rennes, in November 1967, Bérenger Saunière held the first role in the history of the treasure of Rennes. But as time has passed, for a majority of researchers, his colleague from Rennes-les-Bains, Father Henri Boudet, and his enigmatic work on The True Celtic Language has come to the fore. How do you explain the enthusiasm aroused by this book, which in its time provoked
several comments questioning the author and his theories?
My friend Cathary, from Axat, who had a career as a TV technician and Boudet was one of his great grand-uncles, always told me, during the many discussions that I had with him when he took part in our weekly hikes around Quillan, that the priest of Rennes-les-Bains was imaginative but his knowledge was serious. Good Latinist, knowing English and, of course, the language of oc, he became hooked on comparative linguistics and archeology. What were the motivations that led him to write about his Cromleck and, above all, to have it printed at the author's expense. Boudet was not rich and I
suppose he sacrificed much of his ecclesiastical treatment to pay Pomies in 1886. A note in passing, it is between 1877 and 1886 that appeared, in high valley of the Aude, the four basic works that are the history of the diocese of Alet (abbot Lasserre), the history of the upper valley (Roquelaure), the history of Razès (Fédié) and the Cromlech by Boudet. This concomitance, over a period of less than ten years, at a time when local history books were few, well before the arrival of Saunière to Rennes, is it the result of pure chance where the consequence of a kind of emulation (especially between ecclesiastics) or a favorable research climate in this decade? A something is certain about Boudet. The dates are proof of this. The Cromlech book appeared in bookstores a year after the arrival of Saunière in Rennes and the latter hardly had time to influence his colleague from the Bains to write this book. Boudet acted alone, wanting to expose and share his linguistic theories and his tumorous interpretations. You know the welcome that scholarly and scientific circles reserved for this book. You know that linguists today would think of such a study (you had in his time a response from the friend Jacques Taupiac). Why did the Cromleck come out of its ashes a few months after the release of G. de Sède's book? All this seems to me pure acrobatics to revive the Rennes affair at a time when it seemed to be falling asleep. This revival has exceeded all expectations of is parents, ensuring this brave Boudet a posterity to which he had certainly never thought. But there would still be a lot to say on the priest of Rennes-les-Bains who is actually an interesting character to good respect, even at the level of his deductive audacities.
In recent months, your role in the Academy of Arts and Sciences has changed since you did not wish to renew your mandate as President. Will that leave you more time for writing projects? And if so, does any of them relate to history from Rennes-le-Château?
I had always said, I did not wish, the presidency of the Academy of Arts and Sciences Carcassonne, a mandate of more than 10 years. It was initially a period that seemed to me needed to re-float this learned society which, in the 1990s, had begun a slow decline due to multiple reasons that I do not have to explain. This end of the term became for me absolutely imperative for personal and private reasons. My investment, in the municipality of Espéraza and various local associations, was also a factor compelling me to reduce my activities. That said, I stay in direct contact with regional news. For the moment, I do not have a writing project on any subject that this is. My few writings are reserved for the review of Félibrige and deal with Occitan literature. But do not swear anything and I hope, as soon as the opportunity arises, resume my pen to deal with a local history theme.
Thank you Jean Fourié for this very pleasant time spent in your company
Many thanks to Patrick for permission to translate this interview in to English.