The Rennes Affair is the title given to the mysteries and enigmas associated with two particular villages of the Aude in France. Those villages are Rennes-le-Château and Rennes-les-Bains.
Rennes-le-Château is the more famous of the two because of the conspiracy theory regarding an alleged buried treasure discovered by its 19th-century priest Bérenger Saunière. Local gossip was rife among the villagers who before the Second World War continually referred to this treasure discovery. Its sister village, Rennes-les-Bains, also seemed to harbour a treasure 'secret' in the form of the activities of the strange priest, Henri Boudet, a contemporary and some time friend of Saunière. Boudet's mystery, however, revolves around a book he published - superficially about a 'true celtic language' but really said to enshrine and encode a map to a mysterious treasure or tomb in the vicinity of Rennes-les-Bains.
Rennes-le-Château is just the other side of the ancient spa town of Rennes-les-Bains and its many hot water springs. Both are overshadowed in the landscape by the majestic mountain of Pech Cardou and both have given up bones, skeletons and artefacts from antiquity. The general area was once home to the medieval Cathars and the wandering Troubadours. Some of the Cathars who were ruthlessly burned at the stake in 1244 for refusing to renounce their beliefs reputedly sang that they would return 700 years after their demise. Taken at word this would mean the return was to be in 1944.
The area was in antiquity called Septimania by the Visigoths. Speculation that the villages and the whole area were built on the site of an ancient Visigothic city remains strong. Even earlier than this the Romans lived here with a famous Roman legion taking up residence in the area.
Rennes-le-Château has around 250 souls and is built on top of a mountainous hill that is approached by climbing a narrow winding road. From the top of this hill the panorama is splendid. The village, according to Bérenger Saunière, is indeed built on the site of an ancient Visigothic city. He himself arrived at the village at the age of 33 years. Of an independent nature and overtly rebellious, he seems to have been named priest here by the Catholic hierarchy to rid themselves of such an upstart hopefully to be lost in the backwaters of France. What was Saunière rebellious about? He firmly believed that there should be no separation of state and religion in his lifetime which made him a Monarchist.
When Saunière arrived at Rennes-le-Château he found the village isolated, the church dilapidated and the presbytery in a deplorable state. What does it matter he thought! Saunière settled there and, in order to finance his first repairs of the church, he tried to gather some money. In 1886, a year after he arrived, Saunière received an important gift from the Countess of Chambord, wife of the Legitimist pretender to the throne of France. That same year, he offers to Father Grassaud, a priest of Amelie-les-Bains, a chalice in vermeil but does not say anything about its provenance.
It is also this year that Boudet's book is published.
Saunière embarked on a series of spectacular repairs to the church, which he embellished with ostentatious oddities. He inscribed biblical Latin sentences on the pediment of the building and places a devil under the church's holy water font! He decides to replace the old altar, made of stone which was partially embedded in the back wall of the church and supported on the front by two Carolingian pillars. In July 1887, the workers upturned the top of the two ancient pillars, and in one of them discovered rolls of wood sealed with wax. Inside them the priest discovered parchments. The town Mayor hears of the find and asks for copies and their alleged reproductions figure in the majority of works relating to Rennes-le-Château.
Shortly after, Saunière decides to remove the slabs of stone tiling the choir area of the church. One such slab has on one of its faces a superb bas-relief representing perhaps two knights on their mounts. Under this slab Marie Denarnaud later tells a visitor [Henry Rouzard] that bones from a skeleton had been found as well as a skull. Another surprise, behind the altar, still under the slabs, someone discovers a cache filled with money. Even later Saunière discovers a tomb, important enough to mark in his diary. At this time he stops work, sends the workmen away - and goes on a 4 or 5 day retreat after visiting 4 specific colleagues. One included the later murdered priest Antoine Gelis.
Saunière returns, employs new workmen and begins digging again ... !
In the following years Bérenger Saunière buys the grounds around the church: he will build a house, the "Villa Bethany" [the house of Bethany] and also a tower, the "Magdala Tower" whose building works begin in 1906.
This is where the story begins - with rumours of a discovery of valuable objects or scrolls [or both] by Saunière [or his workers] during the renovations they were carrying out. The church itself was, as we saw above, in a very poor condition and the initial discoveries were associated particularly with the main altar. The first finds took place in 1886/1887 when moving that altar. To perform this work Saunière had asked the contractor Elijah Bot - assisted by his apprentice Pibouleau - to help. They lifted the stone altar and noticed one of the supporting pillars was hollow and filled with ferns, and inside there was 2 or 3 wooden rolls containing scrolls. Elijah Bot later declared that "these documents were pretty much [il]legible and in any case they do not relate to money". It has reasonably been assumed that the documents related to the construction of the church or the altar as was customary in the holy places of the time. It is also possible that they were related to the relics of the saint to whom the church was dedicated. Something may have been found that gave rise to the story of a treasure and this has since been exaggerated with the retelling of the event in progressive village gossip.
The church at Rennes through its history has been dedicated to TWO different holy Mary's. In his Topographical Department of the Aude dictionary, Canon Antoine Sabarthès gives the extract of a document of 1185 from the archives of the Haute-Garonne indicating that the Church was consecrated to the Blessed Virgin: territorium Beate Marie de Reddis. The following century, this term is renewed in other forms: in 1246 Beata Maria de Reddas, and in 1255 Sancta Maria de Reddis. However, documents dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries show that the dedication to the Virgin Mary was [changed] to that of Sainte Mary Magdalene [my emphasis]. The exact period where this substitution took place is probably much older than the documents indicate..."
French researcher Mensior discussed the name change, writing that;
"In the extracts from the minutes of the pastoral visit of 1808 it is written;￼ one does not know the reason for this change but Andrée Pottie, tireless reader, discovered in a study of 1936 published in the annals of Burgundy under the pen of Mr. Chaume [a section] which deals specifically with this topic: It says; "No doubt, during their history - documents are there to show - that some of these buildings have seen changes [in] the word/s they received originally: but it is in fact, quite rare [for this to happen], and the ecclesiastical canons usually try to make it impossible" and "It was during the period that extends from the 5th to the 8th century that the saint [i.e the Blessed Virgin?] became the dedication of this Church - and after the dedication it can [and should] no longer be deprived of [this name] without risk. The canonical laws also specify (and in this they will be punished) that no word must be replaced with a more ancient word, and that if a church is destroyed, it must be built with another, as much as possible in the same place, and dedicated to the same Saint. In the case of a new consecration, it is true, one sees sometimes introduced alongside the original saint, a second one which will little by little take the place of the first."
He adds that the change in name might have been due to the movement of relics, or the giving of 'hospitality' [?] to a Holy Body in the 'life' of the building".
Patrick Mensior said: "Since it is known that in the 12th century, the Church was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin and later this term is lost in favour of that of Mary Magdalene, should we consider that this change was explained by the conditions Mr. Chaume mentioned?"
That is - did the church at Rennes at one time harbour the relics or even the 'holy body' of Mary Magdalene?
It is Catholic tradition to hide in the altar a document commemorating the consecration and dedication to churches. Sometimes 'relics' were also added, perhaps a small piece of a bone thought to belong to a saint for instance. Many old altars have such a cavity for this reason. Perhaps when the altar top in the church at Rennes was removed a small piece of parchment was found in the small cavity and it was this that led to the story of parchments being found. The square cavity is not very big and so could not have contained anything large. This small cavity also has another reason to have been conflated with a mysterious find. Some have speculated that the famous entry in Saunière’s diary which records the ‘discovery of a tombeau' might refer to, in ecclesiastical terms, to the sepulchrum of the altar stone. Sepulchrum is a Latin word deriving from sepelio which means to ("bury") with the suffix -crum or perhaps from sepultum, supine of sepeliō (“I inter”). However there is another meaning apart from a burial vault and that is a receptacle for sacred relics, especially in an altar. In ecclesiastical terms 'sepulchre/sepulchrum' refers to: a small square or oblong chamber in the body of the altar, in which are placed, according to the "Pontificale Romanum" (De Eccles. Consecratione) the relics of two canonized martyrs although the Cong. Sac. Rit. (16 February, 1906) decided that if the relic of only one martyr is placed in it the consecration is valid, to these may be properly added the relics of other saints, especially of those in whose honour the church of the altar is consecrated. These relics must be actual portions of the saints' bodies, not simply of their garments or of other objects which they may have used or touched; the relics must, moreover be authenticated.
Anyway it was after these early discoveries that Saunière seemed to have access to limitless amounts of money. Saunière died in 1917 leaving behind the secret of his fabulous wealth. Only his housekeeper, Marie Denarnaud, knew the secret & she promised later to reveal it to Noël Corbu. She said she would tell him a 'secret' that would make him very powerful. Sadly she died in 1953 without divulging it.
On 16 August 1908, members of the Societe d'Etudes Scientifiques de l'Aude made a visit to Rennes-le-Chateau, having travelled through Rennes-les-Bains and Esperaza. They climbed the hill to arrive at the village. Antoine Fagès, author of 'De Campagne les Bains a Rennes-le-Chateau' reports that he spoke with Saunière about the pillar on which stood the statue of Our Lady of Lourdes, and Saunière told him that the pillar had once been part of the church altar. Saunière also told Antoine that the old altar was formed by a large stone slab recessed into the wall with its front supported by two stone pillars, one plain and the other decorated with carvings. Antoine Verdier, an elderly villager who was one of two altar boys that had helped Saunière during the restoration of the church when he was only nine or ten, with another boy - Rousset - aged ten years old, testified in 1966 that something strange had happened shortly after the altar had been dismantled:
'Our work was already well advanced and we were proceeding with the clearing of the altar, when the priest asked us to stop the work. 'You can come back tomorrow,' he told us. At that moment we were in the presence of a stone on which was engraved a 'knight'. The next day, we noticed that the stone had been worked loose. M. Saunière had us place it in the adjacent garden and refilled the cavity in which ..... skeletons were found. It was only later, seeing the importance of the immense works that were undertaken, that we made a connection with the incident of the knight's stone'.
According to Pierre Jarnac there were indeed two children who helped the priest. He also identified them as Rousset, aged ten years old, and Antoine Verdier, who was about the same age, nine or ten. They were told by Saunière to meet him in the church the following Thursday after Catechism. The day duly arrived and after the two boys entered the church Saunière closed it from inside. They reported that on the floor of the central isle iron bars lay close to a large plain flagstone on the floor. With much effort the slab was lifted and after shifting it to one side steps were seen leading down. Once he saw this Saunière thanked the boys for their help and told them they could leave.
Hyppolite Chaluleu - who also worked for Saunière - provided another interesting account; "we proceeded to free the main altar - when a flagstone appeared - [then] the priest asked us to stop work and come back tomorrow. The next day we noticed the flagstone had been unsealed. This flagstone was engraved with a knight. Saunière made us carry the flagstone into the garden and reseal the cavity in which were found skeletons”.
The young Rousset at the age of 10 has remembered this adventure and has very specific memories; they levered the slab with iron bars and managed to lift the slab. "There appeared," he said, "a few stairs and Father [dismissed?] us claiming a [?pretext] of .......'
Again Antoine Fages - who had known Saunière very well, said that he recalled seeing Saunière open/lift the pavement of the nave and find the entrance to a crypt [going?] up to the pulpit. It is interesting to note that this pulpit was supported by a baluster and during the repairs of the Church was smashed up. All of the pieces of old wood which made up this furniture had been thrown to the ground unceremoniously ...... it was the bell ringer Antoine Captier who saw something shining in the darkness, which he investigated later and realised that a small glass vial was housed in the balusters side - it contained a piece of paper.
So it is quite clear that Saunière found something.
Saunière went on to spend large sums of money - the amount, exact nature and origin of the money being virtually unknown, except for analysis of his account books - which suggested that he may have had in place a system of trafficking in masses.
Trafficking in masses - taking money to say mass - was allowed in Saunière's time but was open to abuse. Priests, according to Canon Law, were allowed to say 3 Masses per day, but a scurrilous priest could accept money for many more but not perform the masses. Saunière was charged with this Church crime and was sent to the ecclesiastical courts for prosecution. As priests were not paid alot for their 'job' they often used requests for masses to supplement their income.
There is first hand testimony of Saunière complaining about abuses by others who were already trafficking in masses when he first arrived at Rennes-le-Chateau. In fact he complains that those in the hierarchy of the local church, and much higher up in the pecking order than Saunière, distributed collected masses obtained from all churches in the region in a very unfair way. This led to Saunière and his poorer compatriots receiving no extra 'masses' - and so they were destined always to be poor parish priests while others were not.
A questionnaire that Saunière sent to his lawyer in 1910 shows that when he arrived at Rennes there was a great deal of shortage of mass requests and he addressed the bishopric secretary together with other parish priests of the area about this issue. Saunière wrote - "These gentlemen, having met our requests two or three times, began to kindly leave us, telling us that they did not have them anymore [i.e Masses]. Even after a few subsequent requests we did not get anything. The secretariat had no longer collected masses for us. Actually, we knew it .... the honours of those orders were not destined for us, the poorly cared for in the countryside. Tired of insisting, we began to turn to some religious communities and fees for masses were not too late and arrived in large numbers"
An advertisement in the local newspaper during the trial of Saunière supports this scenario.
Above is the Bishopric Announcements - "Notice concerning Mr Abbé Saunière, former parish priest of Rennes-le Château". However Saunière claimed that the 'advert' was referring to was fake. A journalist commenting on the issue added a Notice. It was entitled « Save the tillbox !».
"Abbé Saunière is spoiling the trade by underselling masses, and now - for unlawful trade practices – he sees himself boycotted by the prayer merchants’ union of his département. Evangelical times are long gone!"
This suggests that Abbé Saunière saw the unfair practices in the Bishops office via his Secretary and decided that if he [along with other priests] were going to be summarily ignored for mass request and were destined to be poor then this is the reason why Saunière began to traffic.
Abbé Saunière was playing them [his heirarchy of employers] at their own game! So Saunière was 'underselling masses'. This means nothing more or less that he was doing a better job of selling masses than the racket going on higher up in his ecclesiastical pecking order! Underselling means to sell something at a lower price than (a competitor). And what is more, everyone knew it! The last comment - "Evangelical times are long gone", suggests that when Saunière became overzealous in his 'cause' he then found himself as some kind of scapegoat. There is no doubt Saunière trafficked in masses. However, the question is whether this traffic in masses can explain all the actions Saunière took and why.
If there was any kind of mysterious activity of the priest that the Church hierarchy wanted to access - this traffic in masses charge is an easy crime to accuse Saunière of. In itself this traffic in masses does not preclude something else going on around Saunière. There is evidence of this from personal correspondence to Saunière from other priests' as well as comments from a member of the powerful local ANIORT family that this was indeed the case.
If some of the money Saunière spent was not from trafficking in masses, what is the evidence of any treasure being found, as village gossip claimed?
Some evidence is from the oral testimony of villagers and an interesting statement by Saunière himself which comes from a letter he wrote to the Bishopric during his legal battles at Carcassonne, where the main trial for his 'traffic in masses' was held. He had been accused of criminal activity and fraud. In his letter, which he wrote for his defence on 25th November 1911 to the Court Officials, he explained where his wealth came from. He wrote;
The old furniture, earthenware and fabrics are the result of my excavations in the country. The sale [of these items] compensate me for my research and my trekking/climbing
Saunière is admitting he went searching for 'things' in the countryside [old furniture etc]. He attests to it being hard work and arduous to find this 'furniture' and for this he expected compensation! One commentator, with whom i discussed this enigmatic entry said that it simply referred to Saunière looking for easy ways to make cash and he was probably getting old furniture from villagers and in modern parlance, upcycling them to sell on! But the villagers were poor themselves. Who did Saunière think would buy this old worthless bric-a-brac? Why did buying furniture from the villagers entail trekking & climbing in the countryside? How would you make lots of money selling these old bits of furniture, enough for him to build Villa Bethania and the Tour Magdala?
Oral testimonies from the villagers say Saunière did indeed go poking around the country-side especially after he found the documents in the church altar, and when he returned he was always carrying a rucksack on his back bulging with who knows what! None of the villagers knew what he was doing and none vouched for seeing him carrying old bric-a-brac furniture.
In his endeavours he seemed to be mimicking his fellow priest Henri Boudet. Boudet, while serving at Rennes-les-Bains, had offered to Mr Rouzaud, Member of the Archaeological Commission of Narbonne, Roman objects that he had uncovered on excavations in Rennes-les-Bains. They were: 1st, An ornate vase of terre sigillé, (1st or 2nd century of our era); 2nd, Various black pottery utensils; and 3rd, A gourd from the 5th or 6th century, with a possible Christian cross stamped on it. This gourd was labelled Visigothic by some and photographic evidence of it was reproduced by Dr Courrent.
Where had Boudet dug these artefacts up?
Dr Courrent [Boudet's personal physician] also attested to a famous statue of Venus being dug up at Rennes-les-Bains by Boudet. Courrent reports:
"Paul Urbain de Fleury and his son Henri had created a small local museum with the discoveries found at Rennes at different times but especially at the beginning of the eighteenth century, & they have long been kept in the cabinet of the Fleury's. They include: fragments of brick and tile edges which are Gallo-Roman;
a beautiful white cornice fragment of marble - an ornament plate 45 mm. There are also remains of statues, artistically made including i) a complete arm with a hand holding an egg, white Marble, 0.60 centimetres ii) an arm holding a snake wrapped in a patôre, white marble, iii) a hand gripping a cloth/linen, marble. The latter should be compared to an ornate hand with rings also holding a piece of cloth, of which other examples have been found in the ruins of a temple on the Seine. Marius CATHALA the learned archaeologist and paleontologist, former president of the Society for Scientific Studies of the Aude, personally believed in the existence of the statue to which the hand with the egg belonged.... There was even found evidence for this statue in the furnished hotel CHALULEAÛ at Rennes-les-Bains, in the middle of an exterior courtyard, where soundings carried out by himself, have brought up marble dust which he believes to come from this statue. The hotel is also built on very old substructures. Repairs carried out to a house in 1928, showed "large block foundations" that Mr. ROUZAUD, former president of the Archaeological Survey of Narbonne, attributed to ancient Roman buildings, temples and palaces".
Boudet even discusses these findings with Rouzaud. Rouzaud wrote in his notebooks: "...in the morning at Bain Fort Mr. Bories showed me the arms of 2 large marble statues found formerly where it is believed that there was a temple from the Roman period (blacksmith's house at the exit of the crossing which leads to Rennes-le-Château and almost on the current road, which goes from Bains to Sougraigne). The parish priest of Rennes, who has been there for many years, and who is called M. Bousquet (word crossed out and replaced by) Boudet, told us he has seen almost all the houses which go from that of the blacksmith upstream, along the road and he says he has seen the foundations and the large base stones of this temple..." [courtesy Lea Rosi].
Urbain Gibert had reported in his “Notes Historiques sur les Bains de Montferrand devenues les Bains de Rennes, Actuellement Rennes-les-Bains” (Bulletin de la Société d’Ètudes Scientifiques de l’Aude, Tome LXXIII, 1973, pages 213-226) on page 221 that there was a discovery of a statue of Venus by Abbé Henri Boudet in the maison Chaluleau in Rennes-les-Bains. The statue was claimed to have been sold in America at the beginning of the century. Gibert writes;
"Boudet, at the beginning of the century ..... found a very beautiful statue of Venus, but he found this statue "demonic" and did not want to preserve it - an archaeologist from Beziers took it. It was later sold in America. (Information collected by the painter, Mrs. Martin-Duclos, of Rennes-les-Bains). M. Certain (Mémoires de la Société des Arts et des Sciences, Carcassonne,3rd series, t. VII) also reported: 40 years ago, the cure of Rennes-les-Bains, M. Boudet, found in the excavations made at (maison Chaluleau) a statue of Venus."
Pierre Jarnac - seasoned Rennes researcher also reported; "Now a detail provided by the erudite Urbain Gilbert, who wrote about the Baths of Montferrand which became Rennes-les-Bains in a bulletin of the Societé d’Études Scientifiques de l’Aude 1973 volume LXXIII, reveals a very characteristic psychological peculiarity of the Abbé Boudet. At the beginning of the century, during excavations at La Maison Chaleleau, a very beautiful staute of Venus was discovered. Seeing this goddess in her perfect nudity, the Abbé Boudet was horrified and would not touch it. An archaeologist from Béziers had to bend down to scoop it up and keep it as his own property'.
Boudet was not alone in carrying out these amateur excavations. The area of the two Rennes had wannabe archaeologists swarming all over it's land. Is it really absurd to suggest that some of Saunière's notebooks concealed not his trafficking in masses, but for trafficking in artifacts? We are presented with the imagery of local priests deliberately searching and excavating for archaeological treasures, either taking antiquities for their personal museum or else selling them on to buyers. It is well attested that persons from local archaeological societies near and far [Toulouse & Paris!] were arriving in the area to search for the same.
Alleged Priory of Sion spokesperson Jean Luc Chaumeil has said, in fact, that this is what Saunière was really doing. He said; " ... The Tisseyre document is an invention. Or, more precisely, Tisseyre invented a so-called summary, which was written in 1905, and which he published in the Bulletin of SESA. Thanks to this article he is able to give credence to the existence of the tombstone at this period in the cemetery of Rennes-le-Château and to cover up a trafficking in relics and archaeological finds which he had launched with Bérenger Saunière. Obviously they could not be accused of stealing a stone that had been catalogued in 1905".
But would Tisseyre - a well respected local individual conduct himself in this way or even allow a spurious document to be published under his name?
Regarding 'treasure', other oral testimony is more specific. Several pieces of 'treasure' have remained, according to the French researcher Mensior, in the families of the people who were given them at the time of Saunière or Marie Dénarnaud. One of the best locally known of these testimonies is that of an old butcher of Quillan who had a very old bracelet offered to him by Saunière. One of the foster sisters of Marie Dénarnaud said they also owned more jewellery donated by Marie. Another lady had received from the priest and his maid, for her communion, a jewel in gold encrusted with rubies and emeralds. Another researcher has talked of his relative in Campagne-sur-Aude who showed him one day a Gallic torque in gold as well as small gold ingots from the treasury of Abbé Saunière. The Captier's, descendants of the original Captier who found the glass vial when Saunière directed the renovation works in the church, also say that: "in the time of the Abbe, Marie Dénarnaud wore very old and beautiful jewels - she stopped wearing them when Saunière began to get in to trouble with the bishopric."
Speculation certainly continued after the death of Marie Dénarnaud.
A wild theory was that as he was a priest Saunière had been blackmailing the Church with some knowledge of a terrible secret. Evidence that points to this possibility is Saunière's confession on his deathbed - reported as so shocking that the fellow priest who heard it denied him absolution and last rites. Abbé Rivière was that priest and according to local lore after seeing Saunière on his death bed, Rivière was no longer the same man after the death of his colleague. Abbé Rivière then made changes to the church at Esperaza after this confession from Saunière and one of these changes included building a life-sized replica of Christ in his tomb with his eyes open - suggesting that Christ was alive or at least perhaps not quite dead when he was placed inside his burial tomb.
Another indirect witness to this theory is a statement from a local village 'elder', who confirmed that, when young, he had attended Sunday school where Marie Denarnaud had given religious Bible lessons. He said that at the end of one particular Bible lesson, when she had finished, she had closed her book, looked at the children and said, ‘My poor kids, if you only knew’. Whatever did she mean?
Other theories continue to be put forward. Some say that Saunière made his money by robbing ancient graves or selling masses, or both. It is not impossible that he found a trove of treasure, perhaps while restoring his Church or during those nights in which Saunière & Marie dug up the cemetery in the dead of night. What were they doing there? And taking into account the words of Saunière himself - we know he dug around the countryside looking for 'items'.
Much later, in January 1956, a journalist, Albert Salamon published a series of articles entitled ‘The Fabulous Discovery of The Millionaire Priest of Rennes-le-Château’. In this regional paper, La Dépêche du Midi, Salamon had interviewed Noel Corbu and he reported that, while the old Church altar was being dismantled “one of the old pillars of the altar providentially revealed a hole, from where slipped some tubes of hollow wood containing parchments written in Latin”. Noël Corbu also claimed to Salamon (14th January) that Bérenger Saunière had “thanks to the parchments falling into his hands … discovered the famous treasure of Blanche of Castile, a royal treasure equivalent now to a minimum of 50 billion francs, since it comprises in part 18,500,000 francs in gold pieces, which at the very least is worth at the present time, in view of its historic and archaeological value, more than 400 million francs”.
These articles reported various other details regarding the story such as it was in 1956 and provides a valuable snapshot of the time. They were as follows:
1] After the parchments in Latin had been found, the works [i.e. the redecoration and renovation of the church] were immediately stopped, only to be re-started some time later by Saunière himself.
2] The articles imply that the parchments found gave the location of the 'treasure'.
3] Corbu thought that the mysterious travels Saunière undertook in Belgium, Spain and Switzerland were to 'dispose of the coins that he had melted down!'
4] Corbu confirmed that at the time of the articles being published in the paper, the hotel at Rennes was full of people who were actively already looking for the treasure. He said that Rennes had already yielded 'besides treasure, some little bits of incalculable archaeological riches ....such as, from the Visigothic period, an engagement ring of a princess'! One has to ask how these people already in Rennes found out about Rennes-le-Chateau if it wasn't via these articles in the paper, as the articles had not yet been published? Some suggest the source is from a local family of the nobility with access to family archives and perhaps those of Marie de Negre [see below] as well as local archaeological societies.
5] Salamon wrote that he had 'heard from reliable sources that excavations connected with archaeology have been made at Rennes-le-Chateau and have already led to the discovery of certain pointers promising good results. Rennes, having been a large Visigothic fortress with buried treasure, there is a strong chance that the Cathar treasure, including the famous Holy Grail, was taken there!"
What or who were these 'reliable sources' in 1956 that Salamon claimed had already undertaken [when?] excavations? And why was it now linked to the Holy Grail?
Conceivably it may be the excavations completed by Jacques Cholet being referred to. He apparently came by some information relating to the little church at Rennes-le-Château. This information led him to undertake excavations in [and around] the church. Cholet had studied the archives of the last surviving line of the Monfort-l'Amaury's - and he mentions in a report that "he found some papers in another castle (Montfort-Amaury - heirs of Simon de Montfort). These papers showed maps and some hiding [places] within the church of RLC". Nowhere is it explained why this family would have maps about the church of RLC and its hiding places! Montfort-l'Amaury is a commune in the Yvelines department in the Île-de-France region, north central France. The name comes from Amaury I de Montfort, the first seigneur (lord) of Montfort.
The source of this information originates in research carried out by Pierre Jarnac. It may be the same information reported by Paul Saussez in his 'Tomb of the Lords' CD. Be that as it may Cholet requested permission from the Mayor at Rennes-le-Chateau to excavate & wrote that "... the principal purpose of these investigations is to find the treasures hidden several centuries ago by various persons who lived in Rennes-le-Château". It was he who put forward many ideas for the treasure, especially that it was associated with the Cathars. He wrote - "... we know that the Crusaders, when they penetrated Montségur, found nothing. We also know that, on the morning of the surrender, three men, on the orders of their chief, were let down from the ramparts by ropes. Were they given the task of taking the treasure somewhere else, or of being the sole survivors who would pass their beliefs on to future generations?"
For me it is very interesting that Cholet at this early stage thought the 'treasure' was associated with the Cathars. At the time of Sauniere there was a very significant Cathar revival. Stanislas de Guaita, a French occultist and poet, was co-founder with Papus and Joséphin Péladan of the curious Society known as the Kabbalistic Order of the Rose-Cross. In 1891 however, Péladan left to found the Order of the Catholic and Rose-Cross of the Temple and the Grail. It was these circles of occultist's who believed in the presence of a burial of Christ in the South of France and they even searched for it!
They were all close to the Gnostic Church and one Dr Fugairon. Dr Fugairon showed a marked interest in the hidden life of Jesus. He also converted Déodat Roche who was the Cathar expert in the Aude. [Interestingly it was the father of Déodat Roché who, in his function as a notary, secured the land later assigned as a burial plot at a place called Les Pontils. This Les Pontils tomb, situated close to Arques, bares a striking resemblance to the tomb in the second version of Les Bergers d’Arcadie by Nicolas Poussin - made famous in the Rennes Affair by Plantard and Cherisey. The tomb was apparently built during Saunière’s lifetime - in 1903 to be exact - by a mason from Rennes-les-Bains by the name of M. Bourrel for one Mr Galibert, the grandson of American industrialist Louis Galibert, who had settled on the plot of land 20 years earlier. [The Mason Bourrel or perhaps Bourriel is alleged to be a key player in the story of the Rennes Affair. His family are allegedly linked to the story of the Maison Chaluleau at Rennes-les-Bains, which does have links to the story of the 'White queen'. Bourrel/Bourriel is linked to a supposed 'cover up' or diversion created at the Moulin in Pontils. You can see more about these aspects HERE].
In an interview Antoine Captier said [in reference to the early visitors to Rennes-le-Chateau] that; 'The restaurant of Noel Corbu coped fine then, but was incommensurate with what followed. The customer's then, were those such as the brother of Déodat ROCHE, who was interested in Bérenger Saunière and also his other brother who was the notary of the priest. There were plenty of neo-Cathar's who came here on pilgrimage at the time. Déodat ROCHE became interested in Rennes-le-Chateau but we do not know why'.
If Fugairon 'converted' Déodat Roche maybe it was central to what was going on at the Two Rennes? What did Fugairon indeed 'convert' him to? Fugairon had wondered about the whereabouts of the historical Jesus after the Crucifixion. And this is where Fugairon is brought to play in a fundamental way in "The Rennes Affair" [according to French researcher Christian Doumergue]. In June 1897, Fugairon published in L'Initiation, an article where he defends the idea that Mary Magdalene, when she went to Provence, brought back with her the body of the historical Christ - and that it is therefore in the South of France that the body still rests, even during the time when he writes. Nothing to do with a bloodline, or marriage but specifically the body of Christ. The members of the Gnostic Church even tried to find this tomb. In the letters of Fugairon specifically, there are several correspondences and cross-checks that attest to some members of this Gnostic church (Déodat Roché, Jules Doinel and Doctor Fugairon ...) carrying out real research in the Rennes region. For example in a letter to Dr. Fugairon on August 20, 1899, Déodat Roché informs his correspondent that Fabre des Essart, bishop of the Gnostic Church since Jules Doinel left, was asking him to communicate to him any and all discoveries ... nothing is said in this missive as to the exact object of the research being conducted. But another letter, addressed by Roché to Fabre des Essart on 7 May 1899, suggests the nature of Roché's investigations.
"As for the body of J.-C. why would it not have been "stolen"...? Catholicism uses a little too much of its magic to convert or hold under its yoke the faithful ... ", writes the 'Cathar of Arque “.
Déodat Roché had also met Prosper Estieu, a poet and teacher in Rennes-le-Château in June 1900. Estieu was ardent an defender of the Cathars and was the founder of the review called Montségur [a magazine about the Cathars] which he published from the village of Rennes-le-Chateau when he lived there. There was a known conflict between Estieu and Saunière at Rennes. It was probably because Estieu was such a champion of the Cathars and of what Saunière may have seen as the 'occult' [see below]. In 1903 the Mayor of Rennes-le-Château sent a letter to the Prefect complaining that Prosper Estieu was “a very bad teacher”. Later there was another letter from the Prefect to the Sub-Prefect of Limoux wondering if the Mayor’s letter dated 8 February, which was not in his handwriting, had actually been written by Bérenger Saunière!
Fabre des Essarts was an occultist, symbolist poet, politician and a theorist of gnosis and esoteric Christianity. He was Victor Hugo's friend and was crowned in a ceremony at the Toulouse Floral Games. Under the name of Tau Synesius, Bishop of Bordeaux, he was one of the first consecrated bishops of the Gnostic Church of France of Jules Doinel. After the latter broke with his church, he was elected patriarch in 1896 and collaborated with Dr Fugairon [already referred to above], to develop the Gnostic Church. In 1900, he agreed to readmit Doinel into the Gnostic Church and to consecrate him again under the name of Tau Jules, Bishop of Alet and Mirepoix. He also hosted a synarchic Masonic lodge and collaborated on the occult review L'Initiation which as we saw above is where Dr Fugairon wrote about his views on the last resting place of the body of Jesus. As Christian Doumergue wrote; "Jules Doinel, the founder of the Gnostic Church, after his conversion to Catholicism - allowed him to approach Bishop Billard, with the purpose of conducting research in the region, and he stands out, among other things, for his publication of a life of ... Blanche de Castille! It makes you think that Noël Corbu, in one way or another, had inherited archives from the Gnostic Church, which later found themselves in the hands Pierre Plantard, who had arrived already well informed at Rennes."
For me it seems probable that something occurred around the time of Saunière within a group connected with the so called occult revival of the 19th century. It all seems to stem from Jules Doinel. It was he who initiated the Gnostic Church of France as a French neo-Gnostic Christian occultist organization in 1890 and declared it as a religious association in 1906. It was Doinel, as an esoteric Freemason influenced by Cathar documents and by the theology of ancient Gnostics such as Simon the Magician and Valentin, and as the archivist of the Aude who founded the Gnostic Church in 1890, a date that opens, for him and his followers, "the Year I of the Restoration of Gnosis”. Doinel was the self-proclaimed Bishop of Montségur [a priesthood he claims to have received from Jesus], and as patriarch of this new Church, Doinel took the mystical name of Valentin II and appointed eleven titular bishops, including a woman bishop, as well as deacons and deaconesses.
In 1956 then, the most popular ideas regarding the treasure of Saunière was that it was related to the Visigoths and/or the Cathars. Salamon spectacularly asserts that because the treasure was Visigothic it was therefore related to the Cathar's and the Holy Grail! And this is even as Corbu was reporting that he thought the treasure was that of Blanche of Castille, no doubt this idea being pilched from Saunière's own published postcards suggesting the same information. These postcards, written by Bérenger Saunière himself, refer to the Voisin family - a family that later married into the Hautpoul clan. Both families were prominent in the Albigensian Crusade and Blanche of Castille herself had some bearing on this Crusade. So was that the link? Why were the Cathars and even the Visigoths associated with the Holy Grail?
Other historical assertions of a possible treasure could help unravel why these associations were made between Saunière, the Voisins family, the Cathars, the Visigoths & the Holy Grail. They are as follows:
1] the discovery of a cache of treasure originally from Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem, including the Menorah or the Ark of the Covenant, or both, taken from Jerusalem by the Romans and later from the Romans by the Visigoths. The Visigoths sacked Rome in 410 and brought their loot back to Toulouse, a town about two hours from the two Rennes. Mercenaries in the Visigothic armies included the Sarmation Alan's - who are known to have stolen parts of the Jewish treasure. These Alans later created several villages in France and their descendants can be traced in a direct line up to Philip of Alsace, and it was this Philip who was the patron of Chrétien de Troyes while he was writing his last romance, Perceval, the Story of the Grail. In the opening lines, Chrétien honours Philip with "excessive praise" for providing him with the book he adapted into the "best tale ever told in a royal court". Philip of Alsace and his lineage go back to Ethicho, son of Leudesius and his wife Berswinda, who was a sister of Chimnechilde, the wife of Siegbert III [father of Dagobert II]. Berswinda was therefore the sister-in-law of King Childeric. Childeric is the youngest son of King Clovis and Queen Bathilde. He acceded to the throne of Austrasia at the age of 8. The regency of power is exercised by the then mayor of the Palace Wulfoald. Wulfoald was very close to the Dukes of Alsace where he owned a large number of lands under the reign of Ethicho, who was also the father of Saint Odile whose clan was hostile to the Pepinides. It was Wulfoald in fact who organized the return to Gaul of Dagobert II and Dagobert maintained him as mayor of the Palace. This all figures in the Priory 'mythology' to some degree.
There is an anonymous text written shortly before 950 that tells the story of Odile's life, but it is a hagiography, and partly legendary. She is said here to be the daughter of Eticho the "Duke of Alsace" and his wife Berswinde (or Bereswinde) who, according to the Chronicon Ebersheimense is the daughter of a sister of Léger d'Autun [Saint Léger] bishop of Autun and the sister of Frankish Queen Chimnechilde [King Dagobert the Seconds wife].
2] a discovery of a cache of treasure hidden by the Cathars who escaped from the Château of Montségur in 1244.
3] a discovery of treasure buried by the Knights Templar when the Order was attacked by the French King in 1309.
4] a discovery of the treasure of the Lords of Rennes-le-Château (who are said to have used the crypt at Rennes as a family vault). Our priest supposedly found documents and valuables hidden there from since the time of the Saracen occupation.
5] a discovery of the treasure of the Kingdom of Majorca.
6] a discovery of some hidden item of inestimable value (such as the Holy Grail).
7] a discovery of documents so damaging to the Roman Church that the Vatican paid a fortune to suppress the information In them.
From all this then, the crux of the whole enigma is split between two scenarios - whether Bérenger Saunière and his confidante knew something that could be turned to profit [whether it be knowledge of, or location of, a material treasure or a secret and valuable piece of information] or whether it all amounted to nothing more than Saunière being a common criminal, illegally selling and trafficking in masses and committing fraud, for which the Roman Catholic church finally punished him by stripping him of his priesthood. In good old sleuthing style elements of both scenarios are probably true in this extraordinary story. Even if Saunière was trafficking in masses, is this enough to explain his behaviour and other actions? Or was this 'trafficking' a cover for something else? Or even was the 'trafficking' part of the 'mystery' [because of who were sending him continual fees for masses. That is, many other priests, local and country-wide, and also many religious institutions who would have known Saunière was acting criminally by selling masses but still continued to send him money and were therefore condoning it!] Most of those who sent fees should have known Saunière was indeed breaking Canon Law.
The persecutor of Saunière, responsible for the accusation of mass-trafficking and arbiter of his final downfall was Monseigneur Beauséjour. Beauséjour, through his close associations with a noble family of the Aude, the Fondi de Niort, monitored closely the activities of the priest. This Fondi de Niort family may even have had direct links in the affair. This was because François Dominique FONS, at the end of the XVIIIth century, bought the seigniory of Niort directly from Marie de Nègre. His descendants may have realised that it was from Marie that the modern mystery of Rennes really began, particularly with her alleged tombstone. For it is her epitaph that is said to have carried a secret code which Saunière later tried to erase. Luckily the stone had been reproduced by members of a local scientific society [SESA - the Society for the Scientific Studies of the Aude] who visited the Rennes cemetery on June 25th (or 24th) 1905 and reported their findings in the 1906 issue of their annual bulletin.
All of the securities and documents of the family of Marie de Nègre (which had remained for many centuries in the family chateau of Niort) were moved to the castle of Rennes, in 1732, upon the wedding of Marie. Twenty-four years later in 1756, when François Dominique Fonds bought the seigniory of Aniort, the archives of the Nègre family and those of the Anoirts [whether in whole or in part] may have fallen into the hands of François who of course then added his own archives. Since 1910, these archives were to be found in the hands of the Maraval family, to be specific Yves Maraval, himself a descendant of François Dominique Fondi de Niort by marriage. These archives may well be of significant importance. Why? Because the former and earlier family of Niort who may be at the origin of the Nègre family [or Aniorti, Aniort - who have no relationship whatsoever with the Fons family] are thought to have their origins within the Carolingian family and much later related to the royal houses of León, Castile, Navarre and Aragon, Razès, Foix & Toulouse.
The Nègre clan and all of their historical documents attest to the presence of their royal seigniory of Nègre being - at the beginning of the 14th century [1301 - 1350] - in the Pays de Sault, where it somehow "succeeds" in importance and notoriety to the feudal lordship of ANIORT. This is important in the context of an alleged 10th century document [see below] that has a bearing on the hypothesis put forward here regarding the mystery at Rennes. The Nègre family themselves claim that they are originally from Spain and were certainly settled in Catalonia, where they took part in the fighting to drive out the Moors [the Reconquista]. In some scenarios, the Nègre clan claim that they descend from the original Count of Urgell. This was Borrell I - the count of Cerdanya between 797 and 799 till his death in 820. He was a Visigothic nobleman and onomastics suggest he is a descendant of Sunifred I and his son Guifred I the Hairy. This supports the hypothesis that Borrell I was the ancestor of the dynasty of the Counts of Barcelona. Sunifred I of Barcelona, born in 805 and died in 848, was a powerful Catalan lord of the Bellonides family of the 9th century. In 840, he married Ermisenda de Carcassonne (811-860), daughter of Bello de Carcassonne. In the final years of the eighth century, the Franks under Charlemagne and his son Louis the Pious, king of Aquitaine, subdued the Marca Hispanica and expanded southwards into Moorish territory. When Urgell and Cerdanya were subdued around 798, Borrell was appointed count by Louis.
This is fascinating in relation to a 7th century Septimanian document referring to a grotto built for Christ in France [see elsewhere on thsi site!]
The Yves Maraval i mentioned above was the son of Joseph Maraval [this Joseph had married a daughter of Marcian Fondi de Niort] and he turns up several years later as an early researcher at Rennes-le-Chateau along with Abbé Mazières, Rene Chesa, Descadeillas, Malacan, Bruno de Monts, Busques, Rival, Despeyronnat, Cholet, Pellet, Buthion, Dutriat, Domergue, Spiriton, Sorieul, Leconfield, Charroux & Chatillon. Claire Corbu-Captier [a member, by marriage, of the family of the worker of Saunière present when the documents were found in the hollow altar pillar mentioned above] said that her father, Noel Corbu, along with Yves Maraval often went together around the "Pla de Las Brugos" .... [and that they] went to the "Cap-de-l'Homme" and spent whole days conduct[ing] their research". Yves Maraval was using family archives in his search, conceivably directly from Marie de Negre's archives. And rather intriguingly they were not looking too much in the area of Rennes-le-Chateau but Rennes-les-Bains!
Monseigneur Beauséjour and Marcian Fondi de Niort were close friends. They spent every summer together in the home of Fondi de Niort at his large chateau in Niort. It was Beauséjour who married Fondi de Niort's daughter, Antoinette Fondi de Niort to Joseph Maraval in 1907. Beauséjour & Niort discussed many things, including what was happening on the hill of Rennes-le-Château. Years later Yves Maraval suggested that Beauséjour went after Saunière to find out his 'secret'. Beauséjour - confronted with the luxurious lifestyle of the priest of Rennes, demanded accounts and explanations as to the source of his income. Bérenger Saunière categorically refused to provide the slightest detail as to how he supported his lifestyle and this annoyed the bishop of Carcassonne. Because of this insolent attitude of Saunière, he was brought to trial for mass trafficking which Maraval affirmed was only a pretext to find out what was going on. Bishop Beauséjour was said to have even confided to Marcian Fondi de Niort that "this accusation of mass trafficking is illusory". The remark is very clear. Bishop de Beauséjour suspected something else and used the mass trafficking accusation as a smoke screen to hide his true motives.
Marcian Fondi de Niort was a royalist and indeed he was for some time general counsellor of the Aude. Magistrate by profession, he devoted his life to the defense of the noblest causes. This would put him on a par with other local nobles in the Aude area and other well to do families who supported the royalist cause. In theory, Fondi de Niort would have had much in common with the Saunière family. And in fact, the parish priest of Rennes regularly paid Mr. Fondi money to subsidise l'Action française [the royalist committee of Aude]. We can see here Saunière was certainly a man of the church but also a convinced royalist who used the principles and means of the world to support the royalist cause.
During his election campaign to become Councillor of the Aude, Fondi held two meetings in a row, one in Espéraza and the other in Rennes-les-Bains as shown in the Courrier de l'Aude of September 12th, 1889. At Rennes-les-Bains, the meeting took place at the grand cafe of the Hotel de la Reine. For this public meeting, 400 voters had made the trip to hear Fondi. On that occasion, Mr Teisseyre was appointed President and MM.Raynaud of Couiza and Coll of Limoux were made Vice-presidents ... Mr. Coll was one of the 3 partners who acquired the property (baths, land and house) of Rennes-les-Bains from the daughters of Henri de Fleury [at Rennes-les-Bains] when they were auctioned via the court of Limoux. The other partners were Mr. Armand Bories (the person who advised Mr. Henri Rouzaud to meet Abbé Boudet in 1910) and Mr. Satgé. During the rally at Rennes-les-Bains, Mr. Fondi de Niort attacked his opponent physically: this was Mr. Beaumetz-Dujardin, who was a definite intimate of Saunière and had certainly visited him at Rennes-le-Chateau. We have seen that all these figures were digging up the land of the two Rennes in search of treasure!
A contemporary player in the mystery of Rennes, the abbé Mazières, a historian of the Aude, confirmed that he had received information from the archives held by Yves Maraval, mainly a document dating from the tenth century, which said that "la pierre levee de Pontils regarde des attics et aux caves du roi". This phrase has links to the enigma of the two Rennes and the tombstone of Marie de Nègre. Could it be some direct information from Marie de Nègre held by the Maraval family as detailed in the archives they obtained was used to construct an idea about the tombstone of Marie de Nègre ? It certainly would appear so, especially as it ties in with further information from the private Fleury files, the descendants of Marie de Negre! There is a case to suggest that the Et in Arcadia stone of the Priory mythology is in fact just a stone version of this 10th century document [ see HERE].
Through these testimonies then, there was posited certainly a link between Marie de Nègre, her family, the Fondi de Niort family and the nobility and royalist causes, local priests and church leaders and activities of Saunière. They were all associated with the local archaeology and historical societies of the area. In fact Yves Maraval's father, Joseph Maraval, was a member of the SESA as early as 1924 and rubbed shoulders via this learned society with both Dr Paul Courrent and Jean Girou. Both Courrent and Girou are intimately linked with the reporting of 'treasures' associated with the two Rennes and at least one was present when archaeological finds were made, especially at Rennes-les-Bains. Furthermore, in 1936, it was Jean Girou, a local who lived in the Aude region, who published a book called "L'itenéraire en terre d'Aude" in which he mentioned, for the very first time in history, the local gossip about 'a treasure' at Rennes. Girou had visited the village before the Second World War and wrote a brief statement about it, saying;
A la sortie de Couiza, un route monte vivement à gauche, c'est le chemin de Rennes-le-Château, sur l'arête du plateau, découpe a décor singulier: des maisons en ruine, a château féodal délabré, surplombent et confondent avec la falaise calcaire, puis des villas, des tours à véranda, neuves et modernes contrastent étrangement avec ces ruines: c'est la maison d'un curé qui aurait bâti cette demeure somptueuse avec l'argent d'un trésor trouvé, disent les paysans
Girou himself was a member of several local Aude societies including the Académie des Jeux Floraux, the Toulouse Academy of Arts and, for our purposes here, he was also a member of the Society for Arts and Sciences of Carcassonne as well as the Society for the Scientific Studies of the Aude; it is highly probable that he heard the talk about the priest of Rennes-le-Château originally from his membership of these last two societies, as both had first-hand experience and knowledge of the priest's activities. In the case of the Society for Arts and Sciences of Carcassonne they even carried out research into the 'treasure' possibility. He surely also heard gossip from Yves Maraval regarding a mysterious cache in the region!
The next mention concerning Bérenger Saunière comes from a Belgian journalist called Roger Croquet. He published in a magazine called Le Soir Illustré, an article about Rennes-le-Château in 1948. Croquet described the village as 'dead' because it had, by this time, been devastated by the Second World War and most of the locals had gone to war or moved away to start a new life and to find work. Along with this was lost those original people who knew and talked of treasure associated with Saunière, or even knew him. The village now resembled a 'ghost town'. These demographics meant that the old villagers Girou had met, and who had talked of a 'treasure' find, had long gone by the time of Croquet's visit. Croquet did find someone to talk to, and from him, the 'treasure' story had now turned into the 'fact' that the priest received considerable sums of money from America after he had inserted 'ad's' in American newspapers. Croquet offers no reason as to who sent the money and why and does not offer information about how the person he was interviewing had such a different view compared to the original locals that Girou had spoken with.
In our modern age of communications with the internet and social media, it is difficult for us to comprehend Second World War communications which of course were not as easy as they are today. Croquet saw none of the alleged evidence for communications by the rural priest with American 'donors' - despite reports later [i.e in our modern times] that hundreds of newspaper 'ads' were lying around the domain for years after Saunière's death. And yet, today only one or two ad's can be produced.
By now two new people had arrived on the scene. One was a member of the Society for Arts and Sciences of Carcassonne, the Abbé Maurice-René Mazières and the other was Noël Corbu. Noël Corbu was essentially an entrepreneur and businessman. His daughter Claire and her husband Antoine Captier, in their book L'Héritage De L’Abbé Saunière [Editions Bélisane, 1985] reported that Noël Corbu;
'...through the intermediary of his children's school teacher (who was Marie Dénarnaud's lodger), found out that Marie Dénarnaud was selling her estate in Rennes-le-Château'.
Of course Marie Dénarnaud had been Saunière's lifelong companion and confidante. It was she who was by his side when he made his 'discoveries', it was she by his side when he was digging in the cemetery and upturning graves into the night, it was she who covered for him by sending out pre-prepared fake letters in reply to communications for Saunière while he was away from the village. It was she who told local historians that bones were found during excavations made in the church at Rennes-le-Chateau. She is alleged to have said in later life that she knew a secret pertaining to religion. She had promised Corbu that one day she would tell him about an incredible secret that would make him very powerful.
It is possible that the Corbu childrens' school teacher heard information about the priest and a treasure directly from Denarnaud herself while lodging with her. The Corbu's arrived in Rennes-le-Château in 1944. Two years after this Marie Dénarnaud agreed to sell her property to them by Holographic will. On 22nd July [Saint Mary Magdalene's feast day!] 1946 she named Corbu and his wife as her sole legatees. Marie Dénarnaud died in 1953 and Corbu inherited all of the archives relating to Bérenger Saunière.
Corbu also had a certain amount of access to the archives of the ancient Aniort family, via Yves Maraval - archives which contained the documents and information pertaining to Marie de Nègre. And the terminology of the above cited 10th-century document bears some resemblance to the terminology on the alleged Marie de Nègre tombstone. Two years after inheriting all of the archives of Saunière - Corbu turned the Villa Bethania into a Hotel (calling it the Hôtel de la Tour) and opened a restaurant underneath the belvedere that connects the Tour Magdala to the Orangery on the domain of Saunière.
The other important person on the Rennes stage was Abbé Maurice-René Mazières. He made a reference to Saunière when he wrote an article about the medieval Knights Templar in the region of the Aude entitled 'La venue et le séjour des Templiers du Roussillon à la fin du XIIIè siècle et au début du XIVè siècle dans la vallée de Bézu (Aude)'. This article was published in 1962, as part of a large Tome, which was numbered III. This Tome seems to cover articles dated between 1957 - 1959, suggesting that Mazière's article may have been written earlier than it's publication date of 1962, perhaps as early as 1957 but at the latest 1959. [“Mémoires de la Société des Arts et des Sciences de Carcassonne”, 1962, 1957-1959, série 4, tome III, pp.229-254].
As is well known in January 1956 the local newspaper La Dépêche du Midi serialised an interview with Corbu [at Corbu's express invitation] who claimed that Saunière had discovered the treasure of Blanche of Castille [mentioned above]. Corbu provided a tape - recording of this 'story' for his guests, a transcript of which was deposited in the Archives de l'Aude, at Carcassonne on 14 June 1962 in the name of Maurice Tous of Alet-les-Bains [this transcript is thought to have been typed up on the same type-writer used by Corbu and indeed written by Noël Corbu under a pseudonym. This does not really make sense when he had been trying to publicise his new restaurant and hotel]. The eventually published press articles which led to the likes of Robert Charroux turning up at the village wanting to excavate.
Robert Charroux developed an active interest in the treasure of Rennes-le-Château, following up the claims made by Corbu in the newspaper interviews. In 1958, with his wife Yvette and their friend Denise Carvenne [a film actress who had made 5 films with Philippe de Chérisey] and other members of The Treasure Seekers' Club (Charroux founded this group in 1951 with Henri Montfried), he scanned the village and its church for treasure using a metal detector. Charroux also distributed a leaflet about this entitled L’ébouriffante histoire du "curé aux milliards" and this is referred to in French newspapers of the period. Charroux described his activities at Rennes in his 1962 book Trésors du Monde enterrées, emmurés, engloutis. And in fact, we know Charroux had strong links with Henri de Montfried and that Henri's father was George Montfried - a friend of Ernest CROS. This could suggest a much deeper interest in their activities at Rennes ... because a famous document purportedly written by CROS turn up in the Rennes Affair!
It is also entirely possible that Philippe de Chérisey, from his links with Denise Carvenne, heard about Rennes-le-Chateau and became interested in the goings on there. He may also have heard about Ernest Cros from Charroux and Montfried! Chérisey probably knew Pierre Plantard by then - Plantard has said in interviews that he met Chérisey at University - especially as they were visiting the area of the two Rennes by the late 50's. We of course know about the later involvement of Chérisey and the elaborations, corrections and pointers added by Plantard in all the documents associated with their creation, the Priory of Sion. Their foray into the affair at Rennes added a whole new dimension to the 'mystery'.
In our modern times other new evidence suggests that Saunière was 'up to something'. After his various discoveries, Saunière carries out activities at Rennes which most certainly were suggestive of him searching for something in a purposeful planned way.
• Beginning in 1891 Saunière approaches the town council to close off the square in front of the church and cemetery. He wants to build religious furniture and lay flower-beds here (however he doesn’t do this til 1894 -1897).
• Council agrees to his request after public consultation.
• Saunière then appropriates 500m2 of space in front of the church and cemetery. He controls access to this area for 300 days of the year. Why? To excavate? Saunière certainly excavates here and in the cemetery.
• Saunière moves the worship of the Virgin Mary to outside the church. Originally however this was inside the church, there was an altar to the Virgin not far from the place of the original pulpit. This was referred to by Leuillieux in 1876.
• There are concealed recesses here (Saunière built these). The staircase built here matches the exact size of the original altar of the Virgin (58cm x 200cm)
• The accounts of the lifting of this altar architect and researcher Saussez thinks is the root of the eyewitness descriptions (‘I saw a pot with shiny glinty objects ..’) of the workers with Saunière when they raised the slab. The workers saw the glinting objects under the the stone slab when it was removed. Saunière says to his workers these 'are worthless medallions from Lourdes', cementing the connection with the Virgin altar.
• The stone slab raised at this altar marked an entrance passage. Saunière puts temporary floorboards down here. At the opposite end of the church he builds the Secret Room. Steps down from this second entry passage are later found by Cholet. [courtesy Paul Saussez]
• There was already an entrance on the south side of the Church wall. It was the private entrance used by the Lords of Rennes. It was called the ‘Gate of the Lords’
• Eyewitness accounts of a phial seen in an old baluster had an old parchment in it. This baluster was an architectural feature holding up two arches at the side of the church.
• This paper/parchment most certainly the work of Bigou. Revealed the Tomb of the Lords?
• Parish register found among the papers of the late Saunière which referred to this tomb of the Lords.
• Discovery of a tomb on 21/9/1891 - does it relate to this tomb of the Lords? [The discovery seems to culminate at the end of all the actions of controlling access to the church and cemetery and after he had been digging around in the cemetery and church etc]. Saunière then leaves for a retreat, sees various other priests, returns from retreat and after a visit from 4 unknown colleagues begins new work with new Masons [as mentioned above]. One of those Saunière consulted was Carriere (a doctor from Limoux) who’s cousin was Abbe Lassere of Alet, and who was personal doctor of Count Chambord. The donation of 3000 gold francs from Chambord went through Carriere. Others he consulted were Gelis and Cros. [courtesy Paul Saussez].
And finally, how perhaps were the mysteries perpetuated?
An important player appears to be Dr Paul Courrent - who was with Boudet when several archaeological discoveries were made at Rennes-les-Bains. He was a rich person and had great activity in the region and especially in Rennes-les-Bains at the time of Abbe Saunière & Boudet. They all knew each other well, since Dr Courrent was Saunière's doctor and wrote numerous medical certificates of convenience [for Saunière]. He was also Boudet's doctor.
Dr COURRENT was an eminent member of the Society of Scientific Studies of Aude and of the Society of Arts and Sciences of Carcassonne. He published many scholarly works through these Societies. He reported various foundations of Roman Temples etc found under village houses at Rennes-les-Bains. He attests to the huge interest in Rennes-les-Bains going back centuries. And it is within the corridors of these Societies that the treasure hypotheses took hold!
You can read about the whole affair via various component parts HERE.