One of the graves we know he disturbed was that of Marie de Negre d’Ables de Blanchefort, of the Hautpoul family. She was the very last noble to rule over Rennes, and had died in 1781. Her gravestone had already been removed from the grave by Sauniere and thrown in a corner of the graveyard in 1905, when the Society of Arts and Sciences in Carcassonne came to make a copy of its bizarre inscription, which they published in their journal the following year. It is only because of this publication that we know what was on the gravestone, because Sauniere had the entire inscription defaced after the society’s visit.

The inscription on Marie de Blanchefort’s tombstone was very peculiar, and significant, for just like the parchments purportedly found beneath the church altar, there was a strange coded message hidden within the text, formed by apparently deliberate mistakes and spacing anomalies. The priest who would have overseen Marie de Blanchefort’s funeral, and had this tombstone erected, was Abbe Antoine Bigou, the man who supposedly left those mysterious coded parchments underneath the altar that Sauniere later found. We do not know specifically what the code on the tombstone was originally intended to be. But we know that it has been incorporated into Philippe de Cherisey’s fake coded parchments. This is very interesting indeed.

To understand how this works, I must tell you about the second Marie de Blanchefort tombstone. In 1965, a document most certainly written by the Priory of Sion was deposited into the Bibliotheque Nationale. It was called The Merovingian Descendants, or the Enigma of the Visigoth Razes, and its authorship was attributed to the pseudonymous Madeleine Blancasall. “Madeleine” is the French way of saying “Magdalen”, while “Blancasall” is a code for “White Castle”, and thus refers to the Blanchefort chateau. The document proclaims itself to be an internal report published by the Masonic Grand Lodge Alpina in Switzerland.

In this work, it is alleged that Marie de Blanchefort had a horizontal slab covering her grave, in addition to the upright headstone already described. A drawing of this second stone is produced in this document, and it is alleged that the stone cannot be found anymore because it has been destroyed in order to protect some terrible secret.

The second stone is very peculiar. On the right side, and then continuing on the left, the words “Et in Arcadia Ego” are written vertically in Greek letters – the same words written on the tombstone in the aforementioned Nicolas Poussin painting The Shepherds of Arcadia, mentioned in one of the fake parchments. In the center, written horizontally, are the Latin words “Reddis Regis Cellis Arcis”, which can be interpreted several ways that will be explored more later on. Bisecting these words there is, down the center of the stone, a vertical arrow, on top of which are the letters P and S, surrounded by a swirl shape. This same motif, with the P, S and swirl, was also used at the end of one of the fake parchments – the first one, with the shorter message about the treasure of King Dagobert II. Presumably, the letters stand for “Prieure” (“Priory”) and “Sion.” At the bottom of the supposed second Blanchefort tombstone, we find the Latin words “Prae Cum”, (“Pray for us”), a phrase commonly used on medieval tombstones. Beneath this is the considerably less common figure of an octopus.

It is almost certain that, like the coded fake parchments of De Cherisey, this second Blanchefort tombstone never existed, and was concocted by the Priory of Sion on the 1960s. But interestingly, if you take the letters of the coded inscription on the first Blanchefort tombstone, which we know did exist, and add in the letters “P”, “S”, and “PRAE CUM”, what you get is a perfect anagram of the message in the second fictitious coded parchment – the one that starts out with the words “Shepherdess, no temptation…” So clearly, the fake De Cherisey parchments were meant to point people to the real coded message on the real Blanchefort tombstone, which so far has not been cracked.

But what could be the significance of this obscure woman’s tomb? The Priory of Sion document by Madeleine Blancasall alleges that the Hautpoul family of Blanchefort was the hereditary preserver of the secret of Sigisbert IV, and the survival of the Merovingian royal line. When she died, Marie de Blanchefort is said to have passed this secret on to her priest, Abbe Antoine Bigou. The way she passed this secret on, supposedly, was by directing him to the four (fictitious) parchments, at that point hidden in the remains of the old St. Peter’s church, which lay beneath the foundation of the current Church of Mary Magdalen. After her death, Abbe Bigou, it is written, decided to hide the parchments in the pillar holding up his altar. He also decided to pass the secret on to any future abbots of Rennes-le-Chateau, again by using a form of code. Thus, he concocted the message that he reportedly etched onto Marie de Blanchefort’s two tombstones.


Chapter 10: Shrine to a Secret

How much of this story about Blanchefort and Bigou is true remains unknown. What is known is that after thoroughly exploring the graves beneath his church, and outside in the graveyard, Sauniere began to get serious about redecorating his church, and he did so in a very strange way.

The first most noticeable addition is of course the holy water stoup, held up by the statue of a grimacing demon in chains. This statue has been said in the Priory of Sion’s own literature to be a representation of Asmodeus, the king of demons. According to Jewish legend, King Solomon called up Asmodeus with sorcery, then enslaved him and his demonic minions, forcing them to build his magnificent temple for him. From then on, Asmodeus was considered to be the guardian of the treasure of the Temple of Solomon, which some people believe was discovered by the Knights Templar, and then hidden by them at Rennes-le-Chateau.

However, it is also possible to interpret this statue as simply representing the Devil, who is often depicted in chains in Catholic iconography, having been conquered by Saint Michael and imprisoned by God in the bowels of the Earth, where he waits to be released by the coming of the Anti-Christ. It is not entirely unheard-of to have a statue of the Devil in a Catholic church, but this one is placed rather prominently, and clearly stands out as the most significant feature of the church’s décor.

Above the water stoup on the demon’s shoulders are representations of two salamanders, the letters “BS” inside of a circle, and the French words “Par ce signet u le vaincras.” The latter phrase is a slightly altered version of the traditional motto of the cross. It normally would translate as “By this sign you shall conquer”, the words that came to Emperor Constantine when he saw his miraculous vision of the cross. In this other version, however, the French words translate literally to “By this sign you will conquer him.” Above this, four angels are shown making the sign of the cross.

What are we supposed to make of this message? Is it saying “By the sign of the cross you will conquer this demon”? Interestingly, the message of one of the parchments faked by De Cherisey states “I destroy this demon guardian at noon”, perhaps meant to refer to this depiction of Asmodeus at Rennes-le-Chateau, guarding the treasure of King Solomon.

It is possible that the hidden message of the holy water stoup relates to the messages that Sauniere had etched above the doorway to the church. The first one is the previously quoted “Terribilis est locus iste”, normally translated in Rennes-le-Chateau literature as “This place is terrible.” If this were a correct translation, it would be a quote from the biblical story in Genesis about Jacob’s vision of the ladder to Heaven. Upon seeing it, Jacob exclaimed, “How dreadful (or terrible) is this place! This is none other but the horse of God, and this is the gate of Heaven!” It was an expression of Jacob’s awe and wonder at his heavenly vision, not a curse.

However, “Terribilis est locus iste” more specifically translates as “Your place is terrible”, which does give it a more negative connotation. Could Sauniere be referring to the demon depicted inside the doorway, whose habitation is in Hell? Or was he somehow alluding to, and cursing, his very own church?

The latter notion is perhaps hinted at with the other biblical quote inscribed above the doorway of the church, “Domus mea domus orationis vocabitur.” This means “My house shall be called a house of prayer.” It is a quote from Matthew 21:13, when Jesus throws the moneychangers out of the temple. What is missing from the doorway of the church is the rest of the quote: “… but ye have made it a den of thieves.” Why include this quote at all in this context, presumably referring to Sauniere’s own church? Was he secretly expressing impiety, or disillusionment with the organization he worked for, indirectly calling it a “den of thieves” by conspicuously leaving out that portion of the quote?

There are some dates written on the doorway as well. To the left is the year 1681. Notably, this is the date that was recorded by Abbe Bigou on Marie de Blanchefort’s tombstone (the real one) as the date of her death, even though she actually died a hundred years later, in 1781. Such a major mistake, like all of the other ones on that tombstone, must have been deliberately put there by Bigou as part of the hidden code.

What does it mean? Nobody really knows. But if you were to turn the numbers “1681” upside-down, you would get “1891.” Remember that when Sauniere mounted the statue of Our Lady of Lourdes outside of his church, atop the Visigothic pillar that had supposedly contained the parchments, he turned the pillar upside-down and had the words “Mission 1891” etched onto it right-side up. It cannot be a coincidence, then, that on the right side of the doorway to Sauniere’s church, directly opposite the number 1681, the date 1892 is etched … upside-down!

The meaning of this is, again, unclear. So too is how to interpret some of the other decorations Sauniere added to the interior of the church. For instance, he had the floor covered with chequerboard tile, just like the floor of a Masonic lodge. But just in front of the confessional, and next to a statue of Jesus being baptized by John the Baptist, are 64 tiles that have been set apart from the rest. The dark squares are darker, and the light squares are lighter, than all of the other tiles. This set of 64 light and dark squares forms a perfect chessboard, aligned in such a way that it appears Jesus and the demon are playing a match together.

Above the confessional, Sauniere had a bas-relief installed depicting Jesus preaching his Sermon on the Mount. But strangely, at the bottom of the relief there is a depiction of a money-bag with a hole it in, and a piece of gold poking through. Was Sauniere here confessing his own discovery of a treasure?

On the walls, Sauniere mounted the traditional Stations of the Cross, but for some reason chose to make them run counter-clockwise, in reverse order from the way that they are usually displayed. It has been suggested by many authors that Sauniere added alterations to these stations to make heretical statements about the story of Christ. Most especially, the last station, where Jesus is shown being placed in the tomb at night, sticks out.

Of course, the gospels state that Jesus was laid to rest before nightfall, and thus before the beginning of Passover, according to Jewish tradition. It was forbidden to handle dead bodies on any holy day, including the weekly Sabbath, and these always began at nightfall on the previous evening. So why is the sky dark in this particular station?

The authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail theorized that Sauniere had the last station altered as a way of expressing his endorsement of the heretical belief that Jesus did not die on the cross, but faked his death, and then fled into hiding. So this Station of the Cross would then depict Jesus’ disciples, who were allegedly in on the ruse, removing his still-live body from the tomb afterwards.

The idea that Jesus faked his death on the cross was part of an extra-biblical text called The Gospel of Barnabus, believed by most scholars to be a medieval forgery. Expanding upon a little-known passage in The Koran, it alleges that Jesus had Judas Iscariot die on the cross in his place, but tricked people into believing that it was actually him. However, in this story he accomplished this by magic, not conspiracy. The theory of an actual plot by Jesus and his disciples to fake his death on the cross was first aired in Dr. Hugh J. Schonfield’s book The Passover Plot in 1965, and would not have been familiar to Berenger Sauniere.

However, another heretical belief about Christ which Sauniere might have been familiar with states that Jesus had a twin brother, Thomas Didymus, and that after Jesus died in the crucifixion, Thomas took his place as the Christ, and went on to preach the gospel in India. A possible allusion to the “dual Christ” idea in Sauniere’s church could be the statues of Mary and Joseph on either side of the altar. Each figure holds a baby Jesus – one with dirty blond hair, the other with dark brown hair. It does seem like this redundant image of the Christ child would have to be deliberate. Clearly, Joseph and Mary are meant to be taken together in this arrangement, and yet each holds a baby. What was Sauniere’s purpose in having these statues erected?

The statues of saints that line the walls in-between the stations of the cross also may be giving us a message. There are six saint statues of the same size and style, depicting St. Germaine, St. Roch, St. Anthony of Padua, St. Anthony the Hermit, St. Luke, and St. Mary Magdalen. Imagine taking the letter “M” to stand for “Mary”, and then connecting the rest of the statues with an imaginary line forming the shape of an “M.” If you took the first letters of the names of the five remaining saints in this order, it would spell the word “GRAAL”, German for “Grail.”

Why would Sauniere have gone to the trouble and expense of embedding these codes into the décor of his church? Nobody knows for sure, and there is certainly much more to be decoded. I have only gone over some of the most well-known examples of Sauniere’s coding. There are dozens more than that, too numerous and complicated to go into. Many researchers assume that the abbot was leaving a message for future generations regarding the nature of a treasure that he found beneath the church – perhaps the Holy Grail, or the treasure of Solomon’s Temple. But maybe the message was never meant to be interpreted by the public at large. As I will explain later on, each of Sauniere’s decorations may have had a purely esoteric meaning known only to initiates of the same secret tradition. I intend to show that Sauniere was turning his Catholic church into an occult ritual chamber.