Chapter Four The Real Sauniere and Rennes-le-Chateau

LATE NINETEENTH CENTURY SOUTHERN FRANCE WAS NOT A PLACE TO MAKE A LOT OF MONEY. NOR WAS IT A PLACE OF GREAT EXCITEMENT. YET IT WAS TO BECOME THE CENTER OF SUCH MYSTERIOUS ACTIVITY AND BAFFLING SUDDEN WEALTH THAT HISTORIANS ARE STILL PUZZLING OVER IT. THE CHIEF PROTAGONIST OF THE EVENTS THAT UNFOLDED THERE WAS BERENGER SAUNlERE AND THIS IS A NAME THAT WILL RESONATE LOUD AND CLEAR WITH READERS OF THE
DA VINCI CODE.

Dan Brown names the curate of the Louvre who is found murdered at the beginning of the novel, “Jacques Sauniere.” No mention is made in the book of any family connection between Jacques and Berenger Sauniere. It is unlikely that Berenger had a son -at least one that bore his name -as he was the Catholic parish priest of Rennes-le-Chateau and therefore forbidden to marry.

Rennes-le-Chateau is a village situated on a mountain peak 25 miles from Carcassonne in southern France. After Dagobert II was assassinated on December 23rd, 679, his son, Sigisbert IV; took refuge at Rennes-le-Chateau where his mother, Giselle de Razes, came from. A few miles away is the imposing mountain Bezu, on which stand the ruins of a former center of the Knights Templar. About a mile east from Rennes-le-Chateau lie the ruins of the castle of the Blanchefort family and the home of Bertrand de Blanchefort, the fourth grandmaster of the Knights Templar. The Knights Templar are the so-called “Warrior Monks” who were proclaimed by Pope Innocent II in a Papal Bull in 1139 to owe allegiance only to the Pope and therefore under no obligation to kings and princes. Effectively they constituted an autonomous international empire.

The Discovery
Berenger Sauniere, the priest of Rennes-le-Chateau, decided to partly renovate the crumbling village church in 1891. It had been consecrated to Mary Magdalene in 1059 and was built on the site of a Visigoth church that dated back to the sixth century.

When the altar stone was removed, Sauniere found that one ofits supporting pillars was hollow. Inside this column were four parchments kept in two sealed wooden tubes. Two of them appeared to be genealogies. One dated from 1244 and the other from 1644.

The latter two had been written in Latin by one of Sauniere’s predecessors, Abbe Antoin Bigou, who had been personal priest to the Blanchefort family -important landowners in the area. These parchments dated from the 1780s, and seemed to be written excerpts from the New Testament in Latin. However, in one of the parchments the words were written without spaces, with extra -and at first sight unnecessary -letters added.

In the second parchment some letters were raised above the others. The following decipherment has appeared in French documents written about Rennes-le-Chateau; the book Holy Blood, Holy Grail by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln; and the BBC films that Henry Lincoln made about the subject:

BERGERE PAS DE TENTATION QUE POUSSIN TENIERS GARDENT LA CLEF PAX DCLXXXI PAR LA CROIX ET CE CHEVAL DE DIEU J’ACHEVE CE DAEMON DE GARDIEN A MIDI POMMES BLEUES.

which translates as:

SHEPHERDESS, NO TEMPTATION THAT POUSSIN, TENIERS, HOLD THE KEY; PEACE 681, BY THE CROSS AND THIS HORSE OF GOD I COMPLETE (OR DESTROY) THIS DAE­MON OF THE GUARDIAN AT NOON, BLUE APPLES.

Rather more obvious in the second parchment is the following, spelled out in raised letters:

A DAGO BERT II ROI ET A SION EST CE TRESOR ET IL EST LA MORT.

which translates as:

TO DAGOBERT II, KING, AND TO SION BELONGS THIS TREASURE AND HE IS THERE DEAD.

Sauniere was at a loss to understand the parchments, but thought that he could have happened upon something important and therefore took them to the Bishop of Carcassonne. Life was not to be the same for him from that point on. Some speculation suggests that he had been directed to the documents by the Priory of Sion, who enlist­ed him to act on their behalf.

He was immediately ordered to go to Paris, at the Bishop’s expense, where he was told to meet various important authorities of the Catholic Church. He spent three weeks there showing the parchments to Abbe Bieil, the Director General of Saint-Sulpice and his nephew, Emile Hoffet. Hoffet was in his twenties, training for the priesthood and a well-respected scholar of linguistics, cryptography and paleography. He was also involved in occult groups which included . the writers Stephane Mallarme and Maurice Maeterlink, as well as the composer Claude Debussy. The famous opera singer, Emma Calve, also mixed in these cir­cles and is reputed to have had an affair with Sauniere, or at least a very close friendship with him. In Rennes-le-Chateau there was once an inscription that read “E. Calve” on a rock near the “Lover’s Fountain,” along with a heart with an arrow running through it.

While in Paris, Sauniere bought reproductions of three paintings from the Louvre. One was Les Bergers d’ Arcadie -The Shepherds of Arcadia by Nicolas Poussin, one of the painters mentioned in the coded parchments. The other two repro­ductions were a painting by David Terriers, the other painter mentioned in the parchments, and a portrait of Pope St. Celestin V (Petro de Morrone) who had reigned in 1294.

When Sauniere returned to Rennes-le-Chateau, he contin­ued renovations on the church, discovering a burial cham­ber in the church that, it is said, contained skeletons. He also turned his attention to the sepulchre of Marie, Marquise d’Hautpol de Blanchefort. This had been designed by Abbe Antoin Bigou and the rearranged letters on the inscription formed an anagram of the code above referring to Poussin and Terriers. Sauniere, for no explained reason, obliterated the inscription, but did not realize that it had been copied elsewhere. He thereafter developed the habit of wandering around the countryside with his housekeeper, Marie Denarnaud, collecting stones and rocks. He was also in cor­respondence with various unknown people all over the world and spent a large amount of money on postage.

Needless to say, this was abnormal behavior for a humble priest in the French countryside. He was extravagant in many other ways too. Nowadays there is a well-paved road leading up the mountain to the village, but in those days a simple dirt track would have been sufficient for the vil­lagers’ needs. Sauniere, however, paid for a road to be built leading to the village. He also paid for a tower -the Tower of Magdaia -to be built on the very edge of the mountain. One of the windows in the Tower is long and slender and the bricks around it form a Cross of Lorraine.

A new mansion was built -Villa Bethania -which Sauniere never occupied. Lazarus and his sister Mary (who some believe to be synonymous with the Magdalene) came from Bethany and this was also the name that the Priory of Sion had given its “arch” at Rennes-le-Chateau.

Sauniere’s most significant changes took place in the church itself, which was decorated in an opulently bizarre way. Over the porch entrance was placed the inscription: “TERRIBILIS EST LOCUS ISTE,” which translates as: “THIS PLACE IS TERRIBLE.” Tracy Twyman explains in Dagobert’s Revenge magazine that:

. .. this is a quote from Genesis, in which Jacob foils asleep on a stone and has a vision of a ladder leading up to heaven, with angels ascending and descending upon it. This, of course, is the same Stone of Destiny brought to Scotland by Joseph of Arimathea, and became the stone upon which British monarchy are crowned, even today. What’s noteworthy is that beneath the words “This Place is Terrible” is etched the rest of Jacob’s statement in Genesis:” …This is none but the House of God and the Gateway to Heaven,” making it not a curse, but a comment upon the dual nature of divinity.

Immediately inside the entrance to the church, Sauniere placed a statue of the demon Asmodeus. This is hardly what you would expect to welcome you when you enter a church. Traditionally, he is in charge of secrets, guardian of hidden treasure and according to Judaic tradition, the builder of the Temple of Solomon. He was known as “the Destroyer” as well as “Rex Mundi,” a Cathar term meaning “Lord of the Earth.”

Inside the church, brightly painted Stations of the Cross were placed on the walls and in some there are inconsisten­cies. For example, Station XIV depicts Jesus’ body being car­ried at night under a full moon in the vicinity of a tomb. It could mean that his body was being carried to the tomb at night, several hours after the Bible would have us believe. It could, however, mean that the body is being carried out of the tomb instead, perhaps because Christ was actually alive.

Elsewhere in the church, two statues of Christ can be found just a few feet apart from each other, one slightly above the other. They are not identical. Both are pointing upwards, and the upper one appears to be pointing up towards a cupola on the wall above him, at the top of which is the rosy cross. The lower one holds the Papal authority in his hand and is surrounded by disciples. The upper Christ is pointing downwards, directly at the lower one. Perhaps this suggests an alternate Christian tradition above that of ortho­dox Christianity.

On either side of the altar are statues of Mary and Joseph, who are each shown carrying a Christ child. Could one of the children be the disciple of Christ, Thomas Didymus, who is thought to be Christ’s twin? The words “Thomas” and “Didymus” both mean “twin.”

Along the wall there are statues of five saints whose initials spell out G.R.A.A.L. (as in Holy Grail) -St. Germain, St. Roch, St. Anthony de Padoue, St. Anthony the Hermit and St. Luke are all placed in the shape of an “M.” This “M” has been supposed to stand for “Magdalene,” the patron saint of the church and matriarch of the Grail family whose legend is so important to the Priory of Sion.

The predominant motif throughout the church is the Rosy Cross. The symbol of the fleur-de-lys, the former royal arms of France, occurs everywhere too. This strengthens the evi­dence of a link between a Grail family and the French royal family. Reference is also made for the first time in Dagobert’s Revenge by Tracy Twyman that “the church wall featured the telltale marking, a yellow stripe embedded in the founda­tion, which was used in those days to indicate that someone of royal blood was buried inside the church.”

Even after completing his renovations, Sauniere continued to spend. He had a magnificent library installed in the Magdala Tower. He built an orangery and a zoological gar­den and accumulated valuable collections of china, fabrics and antiques. His parishioners were treated to huge ban­quets and received visits from various well-connected fig­ures. The most noteworthy of his visitors was Archduke Johann von Habsburg, a cousin of Franz-Josef, emperor of Austria. According to banking records, the Archduke paid Sauniere considerable amounts of money.

The number 22 occurs with more than reasonable coinci­dence in connection with Sauniere’s renovations. It was, in .fact, one of Sauniere’s secret codes. There are 22 steps lead­ing to the roof of the Magdala Tower, which has 22 merlons circling its top. Underneath the “Glass Tower” there are 22 more steps which go down to an inaccessible basement. There are two sets of 11 steps that lead into the garden. The Templar and Masonic symbol of a Skull and Crossbones placed above the gate to the graveyard has 2 2 teeth. There are inscriptions in the church that have been deliberately misspelled so that they will contain 22 letters. No suitable explanation has been given for this, but there are 22 cards in the Major Arcana “‘of the Tarot and 2 2 letters in the mysti­cal Hebrew alphabet.

Although the church turned a blind eye to these goings-on, it reached a point where the Bishop of Carcassonne had to act and he summoned Sauniere to make an account of him­self and his dealings. He accused Sauniere of simony, that is, the selling of masses. Sauniere flatly refused to reveal any­thing and the Bishop therefore suspended him. Sauniere appealed to the Vatican and he was re-instated. Then on January 17, 1917, at the age of 65, Sauniere had a sudden stroke. The date is of interest. It is the same date as the death of Marie, Marquise d’Hautpol de Blanchefort, whose tomb inscription Sauniere had obliterated. It is also the feast day of Saint Sulpice, who crops up again and again in this account and figures prominently in The Da Vinci Code.

It is said that Sauniere acted against the instructions of the Priory of Sion in late 1916. Of particular significance, per­haps, is that ten days before his death, on January 12th, Sauniere appeared to his parishioners to be in good health. But this was the day that his housekeeper, Marie Denarnaud, ordered his coffin. The priest who heard Sauniere’s deathbed confession, according to some, “never smiled again” and he refused to give Sauniere the traditional Roman Catholic last rite of Extreme Unction. Sauniere died on January 22nd. His body was sat upright in an armchair on the terrace of the Magdala Tower. He was dressed in an ornate robe with scarlet tassels attached. Mourners, who have never been identified, walked past his body and took tassels from the robe. No one has ever been able to explain this odd procedure. To the astonishment of everyone when the will was read, Sauniere was discovered to have died pen­niless. Shortly before his death he transferred all of his money to his housekeeper. It is possible that she had been in charge of the money all along.

After the Second World War, the French government intro­duced a new currency and all citizens were obliged to exchange their old francs for the new ones. Large amounts of money had to be accounted for in order to trace “black” money saved by collaborators, tax-evaders and the like. Marie Denarnaud would not reveal the source of her money and was to be seen later burning large amounts of cash in the garden of the Villa Bethania. She eventually sold the house to Monsieur Noel Corbu and lived off the proceeds for the rest of her life. She told him that before she died she would tell him a great “secret” which would make him rich and “powerful.” Unfortunately, much to the chagrin of Monsieur Corbu, on January 2 9, 1953, she, like Sauni ere, suffered a sudden stroke and was rendered speechless and prostate on her deathbed.

The Source of Sauniere’s Wealth
The obvious question that springs to mind is: Where did Sauniere’s money come from?The village and the surround­ing area had been the center of considerable activity from the time that the Celts designated it to be a sacred site to the time when the Cathars were persecuted in the eleventh cen­tury. There had been tales ofhidden treasure throughout this time and the Cathars especially were suspected of being the possessors of the “Holy Grail.” The Knights Templar also were thought to have hidden treasure in the area and Bertrand de Blanchefort organized excavations there. The Merovingian kings ruled much of modern France from the fi fth to the eighth centuries and Dagobert II, who was one of them, married a Visigoth princess. Rennes-le-Chateau was at that time one of the major centers of the Visigoths. The Visigoths themselves had considerable treasure accumu­lated from their pillaging of Europe and in particular most of the wealth of Rome in 410 AD Sauniere could have dis­covered any of these but the nature of his treasure appears co be more that of a secret. This explains certain factors such as the introduction he received to the Parisian intelligentsia from Hoffet and the intense interest that the church took in the matter. It also may explain why the priest refused to give Sauniere the sacrament of Extreme Unction, and why he was visited by, for example, the Archduke Johann Salvator von Habsburg.6 Treasure of mere monetary worth would also not explain the codes in the parchments and on the tomb of Marie, Marquise d’H:i.utpol de Blanchefort. Marie Denarnaud said that the secret she took with her to the grave involved not only money, but “power.” The money that Johann Salvator von Habsburg paid over to Sauniere perhaps came from another source. The Vatican treated Sauniere very carefully in the latter years of his life. Could it be that the money came from the Vatican in order to silence him?