Of course, this is a lot of speculation to build upon the unproven claims of a secret society purporting to protect an obscure royal bloodline long thought extinct. It would have been a great theory if it had held together, but unfortunately, without the Priory documents, the authenticity of which is highly in doubt, much of this theory falls apart.
Truthfully, I have found from my research that the Grail does appear to be a metaphor for a sacred, royal bloodline, and there does appear to be an occult tradition regarding the covert continuation of this bloodline throughout history. I do think that this is what the Priory of Sion was alluding to in their coded documents regarding the Merovingians. However, I do not think that they believe this bloodline to ultimately derive from, or to necessarily have anything to do with, Jesus Christ. Indeed, the “Grail family” seems to have a much darker origin, according to the legend. It is “sacred” yes. But the Latin word “sacrum”, from which we get our word “sacred”, can be translated not only as “holy”, but also, in a given context, “accursed.”
Chapter 8: This Place is Terrible
The truly infernal and occult nature of the mystery we seek is most evident in the story of Rennes-le-Chateau, the village in France that was once so heavily associated with the Merovingian kings. It is here that some apparently peculiar happenings occurred in the late 1800s which seem to significantly tie in with the phenomena of the Priory of Sion.
The people responsible for assembling the earliest known form of this story are mainly Noel Corbu, who owned the village’s only hotel, along with Pierre Plantard, his Priory of Sion cohorts, and Gerard de Sede. Because of the non-reliability of these sources, it is unfortunate that their account of this story has become so well-established, it is now almost impossible to tell which elements they added to the story and which ones were already there. I will attempt to distinguish between the two wherever possible in my account below. However, it would behoove the reader to keep in mind that what follows is much derived from hearsay, where truth and fable are sometimes inextricably entwined.
The mountaintop village of Rennes-le-Chateau is small – fewer than 100 people, last I heard. Most of them own farms, and a few of them tend to the village’s now-exploding tourist trade. When I was there in 2000, there was one hotel, one restaurant, one occult bookstore, one souvenir shop, and one museum, the latter of which was attached to the domains of the village’s star attraction: the tiny Church of St. Mary Magdalen.
In the 1950s, before all the books were published which have made this place famous, you would have experienced a case of psychic shock upon seeing what stands there just beyond the front door of the church: a statue of a demon in chains, holding the holy water stoup upon his back, his face ensnarled in agony and rage. Etched above the doorway are the words “Terribilis est locus iste”: usually translated as “This place is terrible.” Inside the church, the décor seems odd and inappropriate, even somewhat disturbing. But when you begin to understand the events that have unfolded there, and in the surrounding area, some of it starts to make sense.
The region of Southern France in which Rennes-le-Chateau is situated, called the Languedoc, has a long and fascinating history. During medieval times, it had been an important headquarters for the Knights Templar, the battleground for the Catholic Church’s crusade against the heretical Christian sect known as the Cathars, and at one point the site of the capitol of the Merovingian kingdom. It was also once, according to the Priory documents, the place of refuge for the exiled Merovingian prince who would have been King Sigisbert IV.
In the late 1800s, the Church of St. Mary Magdalen was about the village’s only feature, and it looked a lot different than it does today. It had none of the bizarre decorations that have by now been written about so extensively. The church was in a state of extreme disrepair. The diocese, based in the medieval walled city of Carcassonne, had already determined that they would not fund repairs because it would cost more than total demolition and rebuilding.
In 1885, the diocese assigned 33-year-old Berenger Sauniere from nearby Montazels to be the abbot of the church at Rennes-le-Chateau.The presbytery was completely uninhabitable, so when he first arrived Sauniere had to stay with a villager instead. He was paid a salary of 75 francs a year.
Sauniere turned out to be a bit of a trouble-maker. He arrived in June, but by October he had already been transferred to a seminary in Narbonne because he had been using his pulpit to rally people against the Republic, and for a return to the Orleanist monarchy. But he was back to his post in Rennes-le-Chateau by the following July. However, this would not be Sauniere’s last act of rebellion against the rules of his employer.
At this point he tried to scrape together some money to repair his church. He managed to get a small amount from the village authorities to fulfill the most desperate needs, along with 600 francs left over from the parish’s previous priest, and 1000 francs donated by Marie-Therese, Comtesse de Chambord, right before she died. (She was a Habsburg-Bourbon widow, formerly married to the chief claimant to the throne of France, Henri de Bourbon, Comte de Chambord.) Sauniere began the first repairs on his church in 1887. His first act – replacing the altar – was made possible by a donation from a sick woman from Narbonne who had promised to buy the church a new altar if her prayers for recovery were met.
The old altar had been a slab held up by a medieval pillar on one end, with the other end affixed to the wall. This item, now called the “Visigothic pillar” in Rennes-le-Chateau literature, actually dates from the Carolingian period, at about 800 A.D., rather than the Visigothic era of 300 years previous. At any rate, when the altar was lifted off of the pillar, Sauniere reportedly found some documents inside.
The story most often told, enshrined forever in Rennes-le-Chateau lore thanks to the writings of Gerard de Sede, is that there were four parchments, sealed inside wooden tubes, apparently written and deposited there by the parish’s former abbot, Antoine Bigou, about a hundred years earlier. Two of these parchments allegedly contained genealogies detailing the lineage of Merovingian King Dagobert II. The other two parchments consisted of passages from the New Testament. But these were not mere pieces of scripture. They contained hidden codes.
At this point, the story states that after alerting his superiors to the find, Sauniere was sent by Monsignor Felix Billard, the Bishop of nearby Carcassonne, to have the parchments interpreted by Father Bieil, Director of Saint Sulpice in Paris. He showed them to the priest’s nephew, Emile Hoffet – an ecclesiastic scholar, closet occultist, and expert in cryptography. Purportedly, Hoffet was able to decipher the codes, and supposedly this is what the message of the first parchment was:
“To Dagobert II, King and to Sion belong this treasure and he is there dead.”
The message from the second parchment was even more bizarre. It purportedly said:
“Shepherdess – No temptation that Poussin and Teniers hold the key; Peace 681 by the cross and this horse of God I destroy this demon guardian at midday blue apples.”
It is alleged that after the parchments had been deciphered, Father Bieil gave Berenger Sauniere copies of two paintings: one, an unspecified work by David Teniers, and the other, a work by the prolific Nicolas Poussin. Researchers have not determined which David Teniers painting the second message is supposed to refer to. But the Nicolas Poussin work in question is undoubtedly The Shepherds of Arcadia.
This painting depicts three shepherds and a shepherdess surrounding a tomb. They are inspecting the tomb’s inscription, which says “Et in Arcadia Ego” (“And I am in Arcadia”). The significance of this imagery will be explained later on. But it is interesting to note here that author Henry Lincoln at one point submitted the theory that the image in the Poussin painting matched the landscape surrounding a tomb that once existed near the village of Arques, six miles from Rennes-le-Chateau.
However, there is much more to this story. The first time the content of these alleged parchments was ever published was in one of Gerard de Sede’s books, and he had been given access to them by the members of the Priory of Sion, whom he had interviewed extensively. No decodings of the mysterious messages on these parchments were proffered until Henry Lincoln solved the first one and submitted it to Gerard de Sede. Afterwards, Priory of Sion representative Philippe de Cherisey offered a decoding of the second message, claiming he had sent it to an “expert” for analysis. No proof for the actual existence of these parchments was ever offered, and De Cherisey later admitted that he had concocted them himself, although he still purported that they were somehow “based on the originals” that Sauniere actually did find. De Sede later sadly accepted that they were entirely fake, and that he had been fooled.
The truth is that nobody knows what sort of documents Berenger Sauniere discovered inside the Visigothic pillar. Author Rene Decadeillas actually interviewed some of the workmen who had been laboring in the church that day. They claim that the priest found some documents written in another language, had them translated by someone, and then gave the translation to the mayor. The text supposedly referred to something pertaining to the construction of the altar. However, both the documents and the translation have disappeared, so we have no proof for this version of events either.
Chapter 9: Tombs and Treasures
Following the discovery within the altar pillar, Sauniere had his workmen lift up the flag stones that made up the floor, presumably to replace them with new flooring. Underneath one of them, he reportedly found a tomb of some sort, containing a pot of gold and jewels that had been buried with the deceased. Reportedly, it was only a minor treasure, not enough to make someone rich. But Sauniere may have found something else down there as well, for after opening the hole, he immediately dismissed his workmen for the day, and seemed more interested in the grave itself than he was in the gems that he had already found inside. But it is unknown whether or not he actually did explore it further.
The stone underneath which this find was discovered is now on display in the Rennes-le-Chateau museum adjacent to the church. It is called, in Rennes-le-Chateau lore, the “Knights Flagstone”, because it appears to depict two men riding the same horse, a motif that was used in the official seal of the Knights Templar. Others have said that this flagstone depicts the young Merovingian king-in-exile, Sigisbert IV, and his protector, riding on horseback into Rennes-le-Chateau. But all of this is conjecture. Looking at the images on the stone slab, it is very hard to distinguish any features other than a horse and two vaguely humanoid figures.
In addition to these discoveries, Antoine Captier, Sauniere’s bellringer, is recorded as having said that Sauniere also discovered a vial with a parchment rolled up in it, which had been hidden inside of an old wooden baluster. What this parchment supposedly said has never been revealed.
In 1887, Sauniere moved in with a family named Deneraud from nearby Esperanza, who were just moving to Rennes-le-Chateau. The family matriarch became Sauniere’s housekeeper, but shortly after this arrangement started, she had her daughter Marie (then in her early 20s) take over for her. Marie Deneraud eventually became Sauniere’s closest and most trusted companion.
By August 1890, Sauniere had begun another round of repairs, costing 2661 francs, which he raised with donations and payments for masses. But the renovation of the church was just getting started, and Sauniere was soon to be acting very weird. For instance, in June of 1891, he erected a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes. He placed it on top of the Visigothic pillar which had once held up the old altar, and inside of which he had purportedly found hidden parchments. But strangely, he decided to turn the pillar upside-down before placing the statue upon it. He then had the words “MISSION 1891” carved into it, right side up.
On September 21, 1891, he recorded in his diary that he had “discovered a tomb.” Where specifically he found it was not specified. At this point he immediately ceased the restoration work inside the church. He then went on a retreat to Carcassone, and to Luc-sur-Aude. He recorded that he met several other clergy members on these trips, but he did not say what for. He returned on October 2 and resumed the restoration work two weeks later, but this time hired new workmen.
The discovery of the tomb on September 21 was apparently a significant event in Sauniere’s life, and may be related to his subsequent activities. Researchers think that he may have discovered an entrance to the crypt for the nobles of the village, called the “tomb of the Lords.” We know that this crypt was once open, because it was recorded in the parish register from 1694 to 1726. They appear to have stopped burying people in the vault sometime between 1753 and 1783.
The last noble family to rule Rennes-le-Chateau were the Hautpouls. They owned the nearby Chateau Blanchefort, which is the chateau referred to in the place-name “Rennes-le-Chateau.” The last lord from this line was the Marquis d’Hautpoul. His heir was his nephew Armand de Hautpoul-Felines, who had been the tutor of the Comte de Chambord’s tutor. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Comte de Chambord was the husband of Marie-Therese, Comtesse de Chambord, the lady who made a significant donation to Sauniere’s church when he first arrived there.
What Sauniere found in the tomb of the Lords, if indeed he did stumble upon it, may have been the spark for his later interest in the grave of another member of the Hautpoul family, which I will soon describe. But if he did discover something there, it did not make him rich overnight, because he still borrowed some money from a woman in November for more repairs.
Sauniere’s diary entries stop abruptly on April 12, 1892. By the end of that year, he was traveling extensively without permission from his superiors. Rumors recorded in various books about Rennes-le-Chateau place him in Paris, Spain, and England. They say that while he was in Paris, he mingled with a fashionable occult group, to be described later, which included the opera singer Emma Calve. Sauniere reportedly struck up a sexual relationship with her.
When he returned from these alleged wanderings, Sauniere’s strange behavior was compounded. He was seen walking the countryside at night, digging up stones in various places, then bringing them back to the church in his knapsack, for reasons unknown. In March 1895, the villagers of Rennes-le-Chateau complained thrice to the local subprefecture that Sauniere was disturbing their relatives’ graves in the church graveyard. He moved the gravestones around the yard. He even took the bones out, and piled them up in a communal ossuary. He dug holes in the graveyard that were up to ten feet deep. He never explained why he was doing this, and as far as the records attest, was never disciplined for it in any way, nor did the villagers ever exact any form of revenge.