The Treasure of Rennes-le-Château

The Treasure of Rennes-le-Château

In 1885, 33 year old priest Berenger Sauniere was assigned by the Catholic church to the parish at the remote mountain village of Rennes-le-Chateau, France. Six years later, Sauniere began renovating the church and discovered four scrolls (some say three, with one being double sided) hidden within a hollow Visigothic pillar on the altar. There were two genealogies of Dagobert II, dating from 1244 and 1644, and two more recent documents written in Latin (containing parts of Luke VI, 1-5, Matthew XII, 1-8, Mark II, 23-28, and the story in which Jesus visits Lazarus in Bethania from the Gospel of John) created by a former parish priest, Abbe Antoine Bigou, and hidden there in 1788 or 1789.

The Biblical texts concealed codes - one very simple, the other exceptionally complex. The Bishop of Carcassonne, at his own expense, dispatched Sauniere to Paris for five days to meet with Abbe Bieil, director of St. Sulpice church, and his nephew, Emile Hoffet, a well known linguist and cryptographer.

The Luke/Matthew/Mark document contained certain letters raised in print above the surrounding text. If these letters were taken separately, they spelled out :


With spaces and punctuation inserted:

A Dagobert II, Roi, et a Sion est ce tresor et il est la, mort.

Translated from Latin to English, we get :

To Dagobert II, King, and to Sion belong this treasure and it lies there, dead.

The text from the Gospel of John contained a more sophisticated code. The message retried from that text read:


Translated into English :

Shepherdess, no temptation, that Poussin, Teniers guard the key, peace 681 by the cross and this horse of God I achieve this demon of the guardian at mid day, blue apples.

the Parchments

The first document is signed PS. The second is signed NIOS. If you draw a line across the first document, going through the "+" symbols on the 4th and 10th lines, the line passes right through the letters SION. Also in the second document, several letters are written noticably smaller than the surrounding text. These letters appear in lines 2-4 (spelling "REX") and lines 16-20 (spelling "MUNDI"). Rex Mundi translates to "King of the World". To the Cathars (pagan Christians) who once controlled Rennes le Chateau centuries before, Rex Mundi was the evil being who controlled the Earth.

Sauniere ended up staying in Paris for three weeks while Hoffet worked on decoding the scrolls. In that time, Sauniere was introduced to opera singer Emma Calve and composer Claude Debussy. Sauniere and Calve struck up a close friendship and contemporary gossip circulated that they were lovers. Sauniere also purchased three reproductions of paintings while in Paris :

A portrait of Pope Celestine V

"The Shepherds of Arcadia" by Nicolas Poussin

A work by David Teniers, believed to be "St. Anthony's Temptation"

Nicolas Poussin, Les Bergers D'Arcadie

Two of the reproductions were based on paintings done by the two artists mentioned in the second code, above. "The Shepherds of Arcadia", painted circa 1641, shows three shepherds and one shepherdess examining an ancient tomb with the inscription "ET IN ARCADIA EGO", which when translated, reads : "...and in Arcadia, I..." (or, alternately, according to one translator : "Even in Earthly paradise, I [death ?] exist"), implying that some text may be missing. In fact, "Et In Arcadia Ego" was the name of another similar painting by Poussin done around 1630. The first painting with that name, however, was done circa 1618 by an artist known as Guercino. The tomb and landscape visable in "The Shepherds..." actually existed - it was just outside of Rennes-le-Chateau - although history never recorded Poussin ever visiting the area.

As for the work by Teniers, the temptation of St. Anthony was a favorite subject. In fact, the only St. Anthony painting by Teniers that does not show St. Anthony being tempted is "St. Anthony and St. Paul in the Desert", which shows a shepherdess with a flock of sheep in the background. This painting is sometimes misidentified as "Elijah and Elisha being fed by the Ravens", which is obviously erroneous as there is a crucifix in the center of the painting.

When he left Paris, Sauniere took the paintings and Biblical manuscripts with him, but left the genealogies in Paris with Bieil and Hoffet.

Once back in Rennes-le-Chateau, Sauniere's behavior became strange. He frequently wandered the countryside searching for rocks. He began collecting postage stamps and postcards which depicted members of European royalty. He initiated volumes of correspondence with persons unkown. In fact, Sauniere was spending more in postage annually than his income would allow. He even defaced the headstone and flatstone on the grave of Marie, Marquise d'Hautpoul de Blanchefort (25 Nov 1742 - 17 Jan 1801), eradicating an inscription which read "Et In Arcadia Ego" (a Latin phrase) in Greek lettering, and her headstone inscription, which was a perfect anagram for the "Shepherdess..." message on one of Sauniere's scrolls. Marie was an associate of Abbe Bigou, who had planted the parchments Sauniere discovered, and was a relative of Pope Clement V, the Pope responsible for the destruction of the Knights Templar.

In 1896, Sauniere began spending money on an unprecedented scale. He had the road to the village repaved, provided facilities for running water to the village, had a tower, named Tour Magdala, constructed, and had an extravagant country house, the Villa Bethania, built - although Sauniere himself never occupied it. He also received interesting guests on many occasions, including Emma Calve (whom Sauniere had met in Paris) and Archduke Johann von Hapsburg, the cousin of Austrian Emperor Franz Josef. Bank statements reveal that Sauniere and the archduke opened bank accounts on the same day and that the Hapsburg noble transferred a large sum of money to Sauniere's account.

When the Bishop of Carcassonne died, his replacement called on Sauniere to explain the origin of his wealth. Sauniere refused. He was ordered transferred and again refused. Finally, he was accused of simony, the selling of Masses, and suspended. He appealed directly to the Vatican, which exonerated him and reinstated him.

On January 12, 1917, Sauniere's parishers stated that he seemed to be in enviable heath for a man his age. That same day, his housekeeper, Marie Denarnaud, ordered a coffin for Sauniere. He suffered a stroke five days later on January 17th. January 17th was also the day Marie de Blanchefort, the woman whose grave Sauniere defaced, died. It was also the feast day of St. Sulpice. It was at St. Sulpice seminary that Sauniere confided his parchments to the Abbe Bieil and Emile Hoffet.

As Sauniere lay on his deathbed, a priest was called from a neighboring parish to administer last rights. After Sauniere's final confession, the priest emerged visably shaken and refused to administer Extreme Unction. He fell into an acute depression that lasted months and according to one source : "never smiled again".

Sauniere died on January 22nd. The following day, his body was placed unright in an armchair on the terrace of the Tour Magdala. One by one, unknown mourners filed past the corpse, each one plucking a scarlet tassel of remembrance from his ornate robe. The meaning of this ceremony, as well as the identity of the mourners remains a mystery.

When Sauniere's will was read, it declared him penniless. Aparently, he had transferred his wealth to Marie Danarnaud, the housekeeper who had shared his life and secrets for 32 years, before he died. Marie continued to live a comfortable life in the Villa Bethania until 1946, when as a result of World War II the new French government issued a new currency. As a method of apprehending tax evaders and war profiteers, citizens had to account for their wealth when exchanging old francs for new ones. Rather than reveal any secrets, she chose poverty. She was seen burning stacks of old franc notes in the garden of Villa Bethania.

For the next seven years, she supported himself on money she made through the sale of the villa. She promised the buyer, Noel Corbu, that before she died she would tell him a secret that would make him rich and powerful. On January 29, 1953, Marie, like Sauniere before her, suffered a stroke. She lost the ability to speak and died shortly thereafter, taking her secret with her.