The Treasure of Rennes-le-Château and Sauniere's Discovery

Saunière's Discovery

In 1885 "the Catholic church assigned Saunière, thirty-three years old, handsome, well-educated--if provincial--to the parish at Rennes-le-Château. [Bérenger] Saunière set about restoring the town's tiny church, which sat atop a sacred site dating back to the sixth-century Visigoths."

The village parish church had been dedicated to the Magdalene in 1059; during the restoration, he found the mysterious parchment (supposedly) in a hollow Visigothic pillar underneath the altar stone.
~Steve Mizrach, "The Mysteries of Rennes-le-Château and the Prieure du Sion"

The find, which occurred in 1886 or 1887, consisted of either a single paper or four parchments according to differing accounts of the event. After reading the document(s), Saunière immediately set about excavating the aisle, nave and transcript. He then moved his attention to the graveyard outside and found an encrypted inscription on a tombstone, reputedly that of Marie de Nègre d'Ablès, Lady of Blanchfort, who had died on 17 January 1781. After deciphering the inscription, traveled to Carcassonne and talked to the deputy of the Bishop who resided there. After his visit Saunière experienced a remarkable turn-around in his fortunes.

Saunière received vast sums of money [an estimated 200,000 gold francs] to refurbish the local church and also to build many structures in the area, such as his Tower of the Magdalene (Tour Magdala). (Saunière was originally so poor that he relied on the generosity of parishioners to survive in 1885.) He also built many structures in the area, such as his Tower of the Magdalene (Tour Magdala).

~Steve Mizrach, "The Mysteries of Rennes-le-Château and the Prieuredu Sion"

Saunière decorated the village parish church in the ornate almost garish style that was popular in the late ninteenth century.

Over the porch lintel is a bizarre inscription, 'THIS PLACE IS TERRIBLE'. A statue of the demon Asmodeus 'guards' near the door. The plaques depicting the Stations of the Cross contain bizarre inconsistencies. One shows a child swathed in Scottish plaid. Another has Pontius Pilate wearing a veil. Sts. Joseph and Mary are each depicted holding a Christ child, as if to allude to the old legend that Christ had a twin. Other statues are of rather esoteric saints in unusual postures: St. Roch displays his wounded thigh (like the Grail King Anfortas), St. Anthony the Hermit holds a closed book, St. Germaine releases a bevy of roses from her apron, and the Magdalene is shown holding a vase.
~Steve Mizrach, "The Mysteries of Rennes-le-Château and the Prieuredu Sion"

Saunière "spent a fortune refurbishing the town and developed extravagant tastes for rare china, antiques, and other pricey artifacts. Yet how Saunièreacquired this apparent windfall remained a mystery--he stubbornly refused to explain the secret of his success to the church authorities."

Saunière died in 1917, leaving the 'secret' of where he got his fabulous wealth to his housekeeper, Marie Dernaud, who promised to reveal it on her deathbed - but sadly she had a stroke which left her paralyzed and unable to speak before her death in 1953. Speculation was rife on the source of the parish priest's money. Was it the lost treasure of the Templars or the Cathars in the area? Might it have been buried Visigothic gold? Was he being paid by the Hapsburgs or some other government for his services? Did he know the lost goldmaking secrets of alchemy? Or was he blackmailing the Church with some terrible secret? The evidence that points to the last possibility is that Saunière's confession before his death was so shocking that the priest who heard it denied him absolution and last rites. 

~Steve Mizrach, "The Mysteries of Rennes-le-Château and the Prieuredu Sion"

The Secret Codes

A mysterious set of transcripts and photographs entitled Dossiers Secrets was deposited in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris (although the little book was never authenticated by the library). The Dossiers Secrets contained two genealogies dating from 1244 C.E. and 1644 C.E., a quasi-Masonic charter and a sketch of the inscription on the tomb of the Countess of Blanchfort. Of even greater interest were two documents which were purported to be of the parchments found in the pillar at the church at Rennes-le-Château

They were apparently written by his predecessor, Abbé Antoine Bigou, confessor to Marie d'Hautpoul [Lady of Blanchfort], in 1781. (The same cypher appears on her tombstone.)

~Steve Mizrach, "The Mysteries of Rennes-le-Château and the Prieure du Sion"

According to Henry Lincoln and historians Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh ('The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail') "these more recent papers contained a series of ciphers and codes, some of them 'fantastically complex, defying even a computer' to unlock their secrets.

Saunière took his discovery to the bishop in nearby Carcassonne, who dispatched the priest to Paris, where clerical scholars studied the parchments. One of the simpler ciphers, when translated, read: TO DAGOBERT II KING AND TO SION BELONGS THIS TREASURE AND HE IS THERE DEAD.

(The person to whom "HE IS THERE DEAD" was not identified.)

The parchments were, on the face of it, Latin transcriptions of passages from the Gospels; but they contained deeper mysteries.

~Steve Mizrach, "The Mysteries of Rennes-le-Château and the Prieure du Sion"

The first code was easily broken when letters higher than the rest of the text were identified by Henry Lincoln and arranged in order. The code in the second parchment was more complex and yielded an even stranger message.

The code in the parchment is only decipherable through the use of the knight's tour - a logic puzzle wherein one 'jumps' a knight to every square on a chess board, once and only once. It is a puzzle which has only one solution - as does the code, clearly.

~Steve Mizrach, "The Mysteries of Rennes-le-Château and the Prieure du Sion"


(in English)


Richard Andrews and Paul Schellenberger, authors of the The Tomb of God, write that many of the words are keys to landmarks in the Rennes-le-Château area and claim that they have been able to identify the location of these landmarks. For example LA CROIX is a cross by the railway line north of Alet-les-Bains. When a person visits these sites in the order given on the parchment that person will have traversed a complete square

Saunière also appears to have left certain other 'clues' in the highly unusual redesign of his church and of the other structures in the area.

A third cypher that appears, not in the documents, but at Shugborough Hall's Shepherd Monument, is the curious 'D.O.U.O.S.V.A.V.V.M' which has never been translated.

~Steve Mizrach, "The Mysteries of Rennes-le-Château and the Prieure du Sion"

Poussin's Enigmatic Painting

According to Gerard de Sede, L'Or de Rennes-le-Château, the enigmatic reference to "shepherdess no temptation that Poussin Teniers hold the key" in the second parchment refers to the the works of Nicolas Poussin (1593-1665) and David Teniers the Younger (1610-1694), who had painted The Temptation of St Antony.

Poussin reportedly travelled to Paris to verify his discovery and while there visited the Louvre to obtain copies of Poussin's Les Bergers D'Arcadie, Tenier's The Temptation of St Antony and a third painting, a portrait of Pope Celestine V, artist unknown. .

"There is a famous painting by Poussin entitled Les Bergers D'Arcadie (the Arcadian shepherds) which shows them around a tomb containing the mysterious inscription 'Et in Arcadia Ego.'

This tomb appears to be a virtual replica of one not too dissimilar to it right outside of Rennes-le-Château. Saunière 's church indeed contains a 'daemon guardian' which is a representation of the Biblical Asmodeus, who helped Solomon build his Temple; and some say the rays of the sun at midday passing through the glass create an optical effect they call 'blue apples'.
~Steve Mizrach, "The Mysteries of Rennes-le-Château and the Prieure du Sion"

The phrase "Et in Arcadia Ego" translated into English has been interpreted to mean "Even in earthly paradise, I (Death) exist."

The theme of 'Arcadia' was prominent in Elizabethan literature, and it appears in the works of writers such as Edmund Spenser, Sir Phillip Sidney, and even Shakespeare, for whom the word was synonymous with the Golden Age."

The word Arcadia comes from Arkas, patron god of that area of Greece, the son of the nymph Callisto, sister of the huntress Artemis....In legend, the Merovingians were said to be descended from the Trojans; and Homer reports that Troy was founded by a colony of Arcadians.

The 'Prieure documents' claim that the Arcadians were descended from Benjamites driven out of Palestine by their fellow Israelites for idolatry. 'Arcadia' was also known to as the source of the River Alphaeus, the 'underground stream' which figures so prominently in Coleridge's poetry and in esoteric literature. The Merovingians were 'sacred kings' who reigned but did not rule, leaving the secular governing function to chancellors known as the Mayors of the Palace. It was the one of the Mayors, Pepin the Fat, who founded the dynasty that came to supplant them - the Carolingians.

~Steve Mizrach, "The Mysteries of Rennes-le-Château and the Prieure du Sion"

Art expert Prof. Christopher Cornford, of the Royal College of Art, analyzed the painting and found a complex underlying geometry based on the pentagon. Andrews and Schellenberger (The Tomb of God) were able to draw an equilateral triangle between a symbol and key characters on Parchment. In addition, they constructed a square tilted at 75 degrees on Parchment 2 which contained the triangle on the first parchment. These two shapes can be superimposed on a map of the Rennes-le-Château area using the Paris Zero Meridian, appear to make a remarkable alignment with key chateaux and churches and towns. Andrews and Paul Schellenbergere were also able to discern the same geometric shapes in the three paintings above as well as several related paintings. If the secret that Saunière had stumbled onto was indeed a map, what was its significance?

An Amazing Geometry

The castles of Templar Château of Bezu, the Château of Blanchefort and Rennes-le-Château are each located on a mountain top. Together, with the high spots of two other peaks, the locations form a perfect pentagon (five equal sides) some fifteen miles in circumference.. "At night, a fire lit upon each peak would easily be seen." Like Rennes-le-Château "the village church dates back to at least the time of the Visigoths, some thirteen centuries ago. The church is dedicated to Saint Magdalene..."

The early astronomers saw the earth as the center of the universe, around which the Sun, the stars and the planets revolved. Each planet forms its own pattern of movement around the Sun as seen from the Earth. For the ancient watchers of the heavens, those differing patterns of movement allowed them to draw geometric shapes based on the positions of each planet when it was aligned with the Sun.

Only one planet describes a precise and regular geometric pattern in the sky - and that planet is Venus, the heavenly counterpart of the earthly Mary Magdalene - and the pattern that she draws as regular as clockwork every eight years is a pentacle.

There can be no doubt that churches, calvaires, castles and obscure ruins - almost every structure of note upon the map - form an intricate web of alignments which intersect with perfect regularity on the zero [Paris] meridian...The distance covered by three of those division is the circle radius measure. Each point is separated from the next by exactly one third of 933.586 poles!

The accepted definition of a pole [also known as the Rod or Perch] is now 5.5 yards - one 320th part of a mile, i.e., 198 inches...The kilometer - one thousand meters or one then-thousandth of a quadrant of the earth's surface - when translated into English measure is 39,370 inches, and the square toot of 39,370 is 198.41874!

There is an ancient Chinese measure called the Kung (or official) Ch'ih, the length of which is given as 14.14 inches - or, to within about one twentieth of an inch, the square toot of 198.41874!

The suggested origin of Professor Thom's Megalithic yard is the ancient Sumerian Shusi, given as 2.75 feet. This is 33 inches, or exactly the one sixth division of a Pole.


the SHUSI times 6 equals the POLE;
the KUNG CH'IH equals the square root of the POLE
and the POLE is the square root of the KILOMETER....a measure apparently not established until the late 18th century!

~ Henry Lincoln, "The Holy Place"

The Royal Seed?

The Warrior Kings

Near Rennes-le-Château, above the village of Coustaussa, are the 'Capitelles' and 'Camp Grand'. "We were not prepared for the astonishing sight which we found on the hillside. Not just a few, but hundreds - perhaps thousands - of bee-hive shaped stone structures were scattered across the countryside as far as the eye could see....Some were in remarkably good repair, perhaps built and re-built over centuries. Others were little more than collapsed heaps of stones. Most, however, were clearly and easily identifiable as solid buildings, erected to last, each containing one small room with a doorway and, invariably, a narrow window. Some were square, some rectangular, some curricular, some ovoid. Each had a beautifully and skillfully constructed dry-stone roof. A very few of the structures seemed to be completely solid, with no interior chamber, which makes it difficult to relate them to the idea of 'shelters'. An historian who has examined my photographs described them as reminiscent of Neolithic bee-hive burial chambers."

Many "are in such fine condition that it is difficult to assign them a very great age in their present state. Indeed, it has been suggested that such structures were still being erected (or re-erected) as late as the 18th century."

At a higher elevation "we found a great stretch of double wall with traces of buttressing, giving the appearance of nothing so much as defensive ramparts...most reminiscent of Ancient Mycenae in Greece.

Could this 'city' Reddis/Aereda, the ancient and legendary city of the Visigoths, of which Rennes-le-Château is supposed to be the sole remaining trace. Certainly, Rennes-le-Château is little more than a mile and a half away and, equally certainly, no other trace of Aereda has so far come to light.

~Henry Lincoln, "The Holy Place"

The Visigoths were adherents of the Aryan heresy which denied the divinity of Jesus. Their descendants founded the Merovingian dynasty which ruled Gaul until the death of Dagobert II.

~Steve Mizrach, "The Mysteries of Rennes-le-Château and the Prieure du Sion"

The Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris contains a facsimile (produced by the monk Lucerius) of the highly reputed Fredegar's Chronicle - an exhaustive 7th-century historical work of which the original took 35 years to compile. A special edition of Fredegar's manuscript was presented to the illustrious Nebelungen court and was recognized by the state authorities as a comprehensive, official history. Fredegar (who died in 660) was a Burgundian scribe, and his Chronicle covered the period from the earliest days of the Hebrew patriarchs to the era of the Merovingian kings. It cited numerous sources of information of cross-reference, including the writings of St Jerome (translator of the Old Testament into Latin), Archbishop Isidore of Seville (author of the Encyclopedia of Knowledge), and Bishop Gregory of Tours (author of The History of the Franks).

~Laurence Gardner, "Bloodline of the Holy Grail"

Lincoln and his co-authors fashioned a theory that Christ had descendents who "legged it to the south of France where they intermarried with the royal Franks to found what eventually became the mystical Merovingian Dynasty. Ergo, the real mission of the Templars and Priory of Zion: to safeguard not just the treasure of the Crusades, but to preserve the Grail, which appeared in medieval texts as 'Sangraal' or 'Sang réal', and which Lincoln et al. translated to mean sang réal, or 'royal blood'. In other words: the dynastic legacy of Christ, literally.

~Jonathan Vankin and John Whalen, "Descendants of Jesus? Or Scam Artistes Extraordinaire?"

'Sang réal' has been traditionally interpreted as the 'holy grail' which, according to legend, Mary Magdalene carried to the Jewish kingdom of southern Gaul (including Rennes-le-Château. It may have been believed by adherents of a secret tradition that Mary Magdalene was the wife of Jesus and that what she brought was not a vessel but the royal seed of David in her womb.

~Steve Mizrach, "The Mysteries of Rennes-le-Château and the Prieure du Sion"

The Merovingians were considered in their day to be quasi-mystical warrior-kings vested with supernatural powers.

 ~Jonathan Vankin and John Whalen, "Descendants of Jesus? Or Scam Artistes Extraordinaire?"

Up until recently, little was known about these long-haired kings, as they inhabited that historical epoch derided as the 'Dark Ages'. The founder of the royal line, Merovech, was said to be of two fathers - his mother, already pregnant by King Chlodio, was seduced while swimming in the ocean by a 'Quinotaur,' whatever that was, and Merovech was formed somehow by the commingling of Frankish blood and that of the mysterious aquatic creature. Like the Nazoreans of old, the Merovingian monarchs never cut their hair, and bore a distinctive birthmark - said to be a red cross over the shoulder blades. Their robes were fringed with tassels which were said to carry magical curative powers. They were known as occult adepts, and in one Merovingian tomb was found such items as a golden bull's head, a crystal ball, and several golden miniature bees. And strangely, many skulls of these monarchs appear to have been ritually incised - i.e. trephanned.

The Merovingians were 'sacred kings' who reigned but did not rule, leaving the secular governing function to chancellors known as the Mayors of the Palace. It was the one of the Mayors, Pepin the Fat, who founded the dynasty that came to supplant them - the Carolingians.

~Steve Mizrach, "The Mysteries of Rennes-le-Château and the Prieure du Sion"

The Merovingians traced their ancestry back to the Benjamites who, according to legend, has fled from Israel to Arcadia in Greece.

One of the more mysterious footnotes in history is the story of the Principality of Septimania. Granted by Peppin III to the large Jewish population in the south of France, its first king, Theodoric, claimed descent not only from the Merovingian Kings, but lineal descent from King David himself. Both the king and the Pope acknowledged this pedigree. His son, Guillem de Gellone, was a great, almost legendary hero about whom no less than six medieval epics were written, including Wilehalm by Wolfram von Eschenbach. He is closely linked with the Grail family. .His descendant, 17 generations later, was Godfroi de Bouillon, leader of the First Crusade who was, by the Pope, made King of Jerusalem.

~J.J. Collins, "Sangraal, The Mystery of the Holy Grail"

An Ancient Secret Society?

Pierre Plantard de Saint-Clair [was] apparently the source behind much of the recent literature devoted to the hilltown and its enigmatic priest. Shepherded to Paris's Bibliotheque Nationale, our trio of historical investigators [Baigent, Leigh & Lincoln] discovered there a provocative genealogy purporting to link Pierre Plantard to King Dagobert II and the Merovingian dynasty.

Throughout these Dossiers Secrets at Paris's national library were tantalizing historical references to a mysterious and ancient secret society called Prieure de Sion, or Priory of Zion.

Lincoln and company checked with the French authorities and discovered that there was indeed a contemporary organization calling itself Priory of Zion. And who do you think was registered as the group's secretary-general but Pierre Plantard."

~Jonathan Vankin and John Whalen, "Descendants of Jesus? Or Scam Artistes Extraordinaire?'

According to Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln, the Order of Sion was founded in the 1090s by Godfroide Bouillon, one of the leaders of the First Crusade who had recaptured Jerusalem. They claim that it was this Order that lay behind Hugues of Champagne and the founding of the Templars.

~Lynn Picknett & Clive Prince, "Turin Shroud - In Whose Image? The Shocking Truth Unveiled"

The earliest roots of the Prieure de Sion are in some sort of Hermetic or Gnostic society led by a man named Ormus. This individual is said to have reconciled paganism and Christianity. The story of Sion only comes into focus in the Middle Ages. In 1070, a group of monks from Calabria, Italy, led by one Prince Ursus, founded the Abbey of Orval in France near Stenay, in the Ardennes. These monks are said to have formed the basis for the the Order de Sion, into which they were 'folded' in 1099 by Godfroi de Bouillion.

~Jonathan Vankin and John Whalen, "Descendants of Jesus? Or Scam Artistes Extraordinaire?"

The avowed and declared objective of the Prieure de Sion is the restoration of the Merovingian dynasty and bloodline - to the throne not only of France, but to the thrones of other European nations as well.

By dint of dynastic alliances and intermarriages, this line came to include Godfroi de Bouillion, who captured Jerusalem in 1099, and various other noble and royal families, past and present.

~Baigent, Leigh & Lincoln, "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail"

Godfroi was, by legend, a member of the Grail Family, and by lineage a Merovingian and apparently, rightful King of Jerusalem by his descent from David. It is clear that he was aware of this. When he left for the first crusade, he sold all of his property. He intended to stay in Jerusalem. Godfroi was close to de Payen and the count of Champagne, and Baudoin [his brother] was integral to the founding of the Templars.

~J.J. Collins, "Sangraal, The Mystery of the Holy Grail"

One might therefore term Godfroi de Bouillon as a sort of 'king of kings', or at least a maker of kings, since he founded the Order of Sion that could crown Kings of Jerusalem.

~Michael Bradley, "Holy Grail Across the Atlantic"

To the south of Jerusalem looms the 'high hill' of Mount Sion." By 1099 an abbey had been built on the ruins of an old Byzantine basilica at the express command of Godfroi de Buoillon.

According to one chronicler, writing in 1172, it was extremely well fortified, with its own walls, towers and battlements. And this structure was called the Abbey of Notre Dame du Mont de Sion.

~Baigent, Leigh & Lincoln, }The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail

In 1979, M. Plantard had said to us, quite categorically, that the Prieure was in possession of the treasure of the Temple of Jerusalem, plundered by the Romans during the revolt of A.D. 66 and subsequently carried to the south of France, in the vicinity of Rennes-le-Château. The treasure, M. Plantard stated, would be returned to Israel 'when the time is right.'

~Baigent, Leigh & Lincoln, "The Messianic Legacy"

At some point, according to Lincoln et al., the treasure had passed from the Merovingians to the Priory of Zion, whose Templar operatives later hustled the precious hoard from the Holy Land to the French Cathars, who, on the eve of their destruction by the church, squirreled the lucre away in the Pyrenees.

But what if the "treasure" was something other than gold? After all, legend had it that the Cathar heretics possessed a valuable, even sacred relic, 'which according to a number of legends, was the Holy Grail, itself.

     ~Jonathan Vankin and John Whalen, "Descendants of Jesus? Or Scam Artistes Extraordinaire?"

By 19 July 1116, the name of the Ordre de Sion was already appearing on official charters and documents. We found another charter, dated 1152 and bearing the seal of King Louis VII of France, which conferred upon the Order it first major seat in Europe, at Orleans. We found a later charter, dated 1178 and bearing the seal of Pope Alexander III, which confirmed certain land holdings of the Order not only in the Holy Land, but in France, Spain and throughout the Italian peninsula - in Sicily, in Naples, in Calabria, In Lombardy.

~- Baigent, Leigh & Lincoln, The Messianic Legacy

For about one hundred years, the Order of the Temple (Knights Templar) and Sion were apparently unified under one leadership, though they are said to have separated at the 'cutting of the elm' at Gisors in 1188.

~Steve Mizrach, "The Mysteries of Rennes-le-Château and the Prieure du Sion"

Near the end of the thirteenth Century a separate detachment of Templars was sent from the Aragonese province of Rossillon to the Rennes-le-Château area in southern France [the old Cathar stronghold]." This fresh detachment established itself on the summit of the mountain of Bezu, erecting a lookout post and a chapel.

Alone of all the Templars in France, they were left unmolested by Philippe le Bel's seneschals on October 13, 1307. On that fateful day the commander of the Templar contingent at Bezu was a Seigneur de Goth. And before taking the name of Pope Clement V, the archbishop of Bordeaux - King Philippe's vacillating pawn - was Bertrand de Goth. Moreover, the new pontiff's mother was Ida de Blanchefort, of the same family as Bertrand de Blanchefort [the fourth Grand Master of the Order of the Temple]. Was the pope then privy to some secret entrusted to the custody of his family?

~Baigent, Leigh & Lincoln, The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail"

In The Tomb of God, authors Richard Andrews and Paul Schellenberger have drawn their own controversial conclusion as to what the secret might have been: The bearings of the site, based on the parchments, paintings and drawings of the de Negre gravestones (that reportedly had been found by Saunière), intersect on one point - a rocky outcropping on Mount Cardou, five kilometers from Rennes-le-Château.

Whether is was the intrigues and the Wars of Religion in the sixteenth century, the insurrection known as the Fronde in the seventeenth century or the Masonic conspiracies of the eighteenth century, successive generations of precisely the same families were implicated, operating in accordance with a single consistent pattern.

~Baigent, Leigh & Lincoln, "The Messianic Legacy"

Sources and Documents Exposed

Royal Blood?

The confusion of "Holy Grail" le saint graal as Sang réal or "royal blood" originated with Sir Thomas Malory's misspelling in his Le Morte D'Arthur (15th C). There is no valid etymological basis for Baigent, Leigh & Lincoln's contention that "holy grail" means "holy blood".

Confusion Over the Parchments

According to Antoine Captier, a resident of Rennes-le-Château, his great-grandfather, who been Saunière's bell ringer, made the original find in a stone alter pillar where the top had come off. What the bell ringer discovered protruding from the pillar was not four parchments, however, but a glass vial with a scrap of paper rolled up inside. Now on display in the Saunière museum at Rennes-le-Château, the stone pillar does have a small recess set into it, but it is much too small to have held the parchments. There is a secret cavity with a sliding panel in a second column in the museum, but this is a baluster made of solid oak not of stone. It is in this column, according to the museum, that the glass vial was actually found. The actual contents of the paper inside the vial were never disclosed by Saunière.

Saunière's Trip to Paris

Saunière supposedly visited Paris for five days in March, 1892 to follow-up his discovery. While there, he was said to have celebrated Mass at St. Sulpice. It was also on this trip that the authors of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail allege that Saunière acquired a reproduction of Poussin's painting (along with the two others). The Louvre, however, records that no copies were made of "Les Bergers D'Arcadie" before 1901.

In fact there is no evidence that Saunière ever visited St. Sulpice or celebrated Mass there, according to a letter from the seminary's archivist....What's more, most art historians [like Martin Kemp, Professor of Art History, Oxford University] reject the whole idea of occult geometry in Poussin's paintings.

~"The History of a Mystery", TimeWatch, BBC (1996)

Saunière's Wealth

But Saunière did have his own secret: he traded in saying private Masses, advertising his services throughout France and abroad, far beyond the official limit of three per day. His fees amounted to thousands of francs, representing so many Masses that he never caught up with a huge backlog. He was called to account by the Bishop of Carcassonne and suspended, but by that time his church had been restored and his presbytery and tower had been built out of his illicit earnings.

Saunière's presbytery, library, "an unusual circular tower of dressed stone, with a spectacular view over the surrounding countryside...and the now very overgrown garden between them indicated a man of fairly solid means rather than fabulous wealth."

According to Abbé Quatrefages, a well-known church archaeologist, Saunière quite unwittingly "discovered two or three tombs underneath his church while the altar was being renewed. They contained a few jewels [a Visigoth necklace and bracelet and some old coins], a gold chalice of no great antiquity [14th C?]. He gave most away, to his housekeeper and colleagues, whose descendants still have them. No coded parchments. The hollow pillar in which the legend-merchants claim he found them is rock-solid. No secrets about the decoration of his church. Most of the items came from church suppliers' catalogues and can be found throughout France.

~Christopher Campbell-Howes, "Rennes le Château Revisited"

The Mystery of the Tomb

Many years after his discovery, Saunière reportedly destroyed the tomb (which consisted of a headstone and horizontal grave marker) bearing the mysterious inscription so that others would not follow the same lead. Although the tomb was identified in Gerard de Sede's L'Or de Rennes-le-Château as belonging to the Lady of Blanchfort, Saunière himself never revealed whose tomb it was.

The headstone is quite well documented; a drawing of it was made by the Society for Scientific Studies of the Ande during a field trip to the area in 1905 and printed, with a report on the trip, in the Society's journal.

~Richard Andrews and Paul Schellenberger, "The Tomb of God" (1996)

L'Or de Rennes-le-Château (which Gerard de Sede produced in collaboration with Plantard) cited Eugene Stublein's Engraved Stones of the Languedoc as the source of the two drawings of the grave. Stublein was noted for an illustrated travel guide to thermal baths in the region, called Établissements Thermal. The signatures on the drawings in Engraved Stones of the Languedoc do not match those in the travel guide, however, and the drawings of the tomb have been declared forgeries. Andrews and Schellenberger dismiss this criticism by stating that the drawings are not central to their thesis since there also the proofs in the paintings and parchments. Besides, they add, the forgers themselves could have been members of the Prieure de Sion and privy to real secrets.

Origins of the Prieure du Sion

Plantard previously had established a pro-Vichy organization called Alpha Galantes, dedicated to renewing France through the principles of chivalry, and had appointed himself Grand Master. The Prieure de Sion was an association with a similar eccentric agenda.

This mysterious secret society brought itself to light in 1956, and is listed with the French directory of organizations under the subtitle 'Chivalry of Catholic Rules and Institutions of the Independent and Traditionalist Union', which in French abbreviates to CIRCUIT - the name of the magazine distributed internally among members.

~Steve Mizrach, "The Mysteries of Rennes-le-Château and the Prieure du Sion"

Although an Order of Sion did exist in the Middle Ages, there is no historical evidence that Plantard's association is descended from it.

In fact the orders and the charters record an abbey of Sion, but never a priory.

~"The History of a Mystery", TimeWatch, BBC (1996)

In documents dating from 1619, it [the Order of Sion] was stated to have incurred the displeasure of King Louis XIII of France, who evicted them from their seat at Orleans and turned the premises over to the Jesuits. After that, the Prieure de Sion [the Order of Sion] seemed to vanish from the historical record, at least under that name, until 1956, when it appeared again, registered in the French Journal officiel.

~Baigent, Leigh & Lincoln, "The Messianic Legacy"

Plantard registered the Prieure de Sion in St. Julien. There he drew the name for his order from nearby Mont Sion, not the ancient abbey. Andrews and Schellenberger write that the original Order de Sion apparently had a secondary title "The Order of the Rose Cross Veritas" and linked it with the Rosicrucian movement in the seventeenth century. The original Order of Sion, however, had disappeared from history.

~"The History of a Mystery", TimeWatch, BBC (1996)

Plantard's Genealogy

Plantard presented a genealogy which showed that the Merovingian king, Dagobert, was a direct ancestor of his, convincing both de Sede and Henry Lincoln.

In fact Plantard's royal lineage rests on another forgery. His name was inserted into a genealogy copied word for word from a popular history magazine. His real ancestor was a 16th century peasant who grew walnuts.

~"The History of a Mystery", TimeWatch, BBC (1996)

Although Plantard cannot legitimately claim to be the heir to the throne of France, he was assisted in his endeavors by a real, although dissolute, aristocrat the Marquis Phillipe de Cherissy. It was he, along with Plantard, who deposited the Dossiers Secrets into the Bibliotheque Nationale according to library records. Eventually Plantard, de Cherissy and Gerard de Sede had a falling out over money.

The Secret Behind the Codes

After their quarrel Plantard made it known that the parchments in de Sede's book were fakes. In 1971 I received a letter from Phillipe de Cherissy implying that he was the author of the two parchments published by Gerard de Sede.

Plantard trusted me because I was writing a book about him and he gave me the original documents.

~Pierre Jarnac, author of "The Archives of the Treasure of Rennes-le-Château"

Jarnac produced the documents for the BBC camera. A note on Parchment 1 in Plantard's handwriting stated

This is the original document faked by Phillipe de Cherissy which Gerard de Sede reproduced in his book L'Or de Rennes-le-Château.

In a forty-four page unpublished paper called "Stone and Paper" de Cherissy "describes how the documents were fabricated, how the ciphers were set and how they can be decoded.

~Pierre Jarnac, author of "The Archives of the Treasure of Rennes-le-Château"

According to the "Stone and Paper" the solution for the ciphers in Parchment 2 is as follows:

681 The year King Dagbert was killed

SHEPHERDESS From a local legend about a shepherd who falls down a hole and finds a pot of gold

POUSSIN A play on words: poussin - "chicken" in French and "Hautpoul" - "big chicken"

(Referring to the Hautpoul-Blancheforts of Rennes-le-Château.)

LA CROIX The cross by the railway line north of Alet-les-Bains

(the only agreement with Andrews and Schellenberger)

CHEVAL DE DIEU Not "horse of God" but a reference to the "cabal" of de Cherissy

BLUE APPLES Masonic in-joke - from "a rambling document full of puns and anagrams by a man who calls himself the Prankster"

Raiders of the lost faith

The Cathar religion was suppressed 750 years ago, but it has inspired ever-wilder new cults, treasure-seekers, fascists and new age fantasists across the world


Saturday October 7, 2000

The Cathar heretics of Languedoc in France, and their terrible fate, have fascinated people for centuries. The Cathars were dissident, pacifist Christians who believed that an evil deity had created the material world and a good god all the invisible rest.

As if to prove Cathar beliefs, the armed might of Rome and Paris exterminated them with such glee that the name given to the Cathars' torment - the Albigensian crusade - still evokes a shiver. In the mid-12th century, the Cathar Perfect, who were hard-working preachers leading lives of poverty, won a threateningly large following in Languedoc, which was then an independent region of traders impatient with the strictures of the Church. Popes vainly pleaded with the nobles of Languedoc to extirpate the heresy, and St Dominic set out on a preaching tour in the 13th century, but it fell on deaf ears.

Only when a hated papal legate, Peter of Castelnau, was felled by assassins in the region did the most powerful of medieval popes, Innocent III, find a pretext to enrol northern Europe in a campaign of terror in Languedoc. The crusade began at Béziers in 1209, when 20,000 people were slaughtered ("Kill them all, God will know his own!" was the order) and lasted 20 bloody years. The greatest Cathar figures - Raymond Roger Trencavel of Carcassonne, Esclarmonde of Foix and Raymond VI of Toulouse - were either killed, or forced into hiding or surrender.

The crusade was followed by the birth of the Inquisition, expressly formed to hunt down and burn the remaining Cathars. As inquisitors fanned out over the countryside of Albi, Toulouse and Carcassonne, anyone resisting them was imprisoned, tortured or killed. On March 16, 1244, some 200 Cathars who had withstood a 10-month siege atop their summit hideout of Montségur were marched into a field and burned alive. Although the faith survived fitfully for a few generations, Montségur marked the end of all hope for Catharism.

In the 19th century, the subject drew writers - many of them cranks - attracted to the story of the faith's demise. Foremost was Napoléon Peyrat, an anticlerical bourgeois liberal and talented fabulist, who concocted in the 1870s an account of the Cathars, which, though largely made up, still passes as truth in esoteric circles.

His Cathars were heroic, the forefathers of progress in the darkness of Catholic totalitarianism. His heretics hoarded an immense treasure - spiritual and material - at Montségur, and managed, before their incineration, to hide it in the foothills of the Pyrenees. And Esclarmonde of Foix, a high-born Cathar Perfect who may have debated with St Dominic, was transformed, in Peyrat's narrative, into an Occitan Joan of Arc, a virginal high priestess.

Thanks to Peyrat, the faith of the Cathars, further bowdlerised by enthusiasts, went on to enliven turn-of-the-century seances, jazz age Orientalist fantasies, Nazi musings, Languedoc separatist diatribes, hippie literature, treasure-hunter tall tales and other alternative writings. "Esclarmonde of Foix" began showing up in Paris as a disembodied voice at seances frequented by intellectuals and socialites disgusted, at least for an evening, by 19th-century materialism. The Cathar Perfect were ideal interlocutors for such groups.

Fin-de-siècle France also saw an explosion of theosophy - a rediscovery of the religions of the east. Among the occult salons and secret societies, Peyrat's Cathars prospered. They went from being proto-liberals to inheritors of a line of eastern wisdom. A neo-Gnostic Church was founded by a man who declared himself the gnostic patriarch of Paris - and, significantly, of Montségur.

Peyrat's treasure of Montségur became a cache of ancient knowledge in a theory advanced by an influential occultist, Joséphin Péladan. His friends - Charles Baudelaire, Joris-Karl Huysmans and others - called him Sr, as befitted his self-proclaimed status as descendant of the monarchs of ancient Assyria. Péladan-Sr pointed out that Montsalvat, the holy mountain of Wagner's Parsifal and Lohengrin, had to be Montségur. This led to the myth of the Pyrenean Holy Grail, the elusive secret behind western civilisation hidden in the mountains between France and Spain.

After the calamity of the First World War, which led to a continent-wide interest in the paranormal, the call of the Cathars was heard beyond France. British spiritualists descended on Montségur, where occultists were busily embroidering Peyrat's narrative, among them Déodat Roché, a notary from a town near Carcassonne. Roché was a disciple of Rudolf Steiner, the founder of anthroposophy, which promised its followers direct immediate contact with the spirit world. Roché's Cathar-tainted anthroposophy was open to all influences - Hinduism, druidism, gnosis.

He made much of cave scratchings near Montségur, claiming they were pentagrams traced by Cathar fugitives to transmit a message to posterity. Any cave graffito not obviously modern was immediately Catharized by Roché (who died in 1978, at the age of 101).

Around him was a group of young spiritual seekers, including, for a time, the philosopher Simone Weil. She used an anagrammatic pen-name, Emile Novis, for her articles about medieval Languedoc as a moral utopia. But one of the best distorters and exporters of the legacy of Peyrat was Maurice Magre, a writer of con siderable talent now almost forgotten. In the 20s and 30s, this prolific novelist and essayist (and prodigious consumer of opium) brought the energy of Montparnasse to Catharism. He wrote two Cathar novels, The Blood Of Toulouse and The Treasure Of The Albigensians. In the first he recast the fabulations of Peyrat and caricatured the enemies of the Cathars: the wife of the crusade leader, Simon de Montfort, is described as having rotting teeth, skin the colour of Sicilian lemons, and a big nose. His second, less successful novel presented the Perfect as Buddhists.

In 1930 Magre met a young German graduate student in Paris, Otto Rahn. Magre directed Rahn to his friends in the Pyrenees, and the result, in 1933, was a book, Crusade Against The Grail. Rahn assembled all the Pyrenean Grail stories and compared them to the medieval Parzifal, by Wolfram von Eschenbach. Montsalvat became Montségur, Parsifal (or Perceval) became Trencavel, and the guardian of the Grail was the feminised Esclarmonde of Foix.

She was guarding a sacred stone, dropped when the angels had fallen from heaven, and hid it in the mountain before the storming of Montségur. This was the true Grail, mistakenly placed (in the 14th-century cycle written by Chrétien de Troyes) in the north of France and wrongly appropriated by Christian mythology.

Rahn's Cathars were pagans; they were also - and this was new - troubadours. His book successfully placed the Cathars at the centre of esoteric Grail studies. Rahn then cast the darkest shadow ever across Cathar country; in 1937, he published The Court Of Lucifer, another Grail book. By this time, he had moved back to Germany and joined the SS.

Who were the Cathars, in Rahn's view? "We do not need the god of Rome, we have our own. We do not need the commandments of Moses, we carry in our hearts the legacy of our ancestors. It is Moses who is imperfect and impure... We, Westerners of nordic blood, we call ourselves Cathars just as Easterners of nordic blood are called Parsees, the Pure. Our heaven is open only to those who are not creatures of an inferior race, or bastards, or slaves. It is open to Aryas. Their name means that they are nobles and lords."

Rahn's benign Grail speculations and his later Hitlerian take combined. After the Second World War, well into the 1970s, a cottage industry of former Vichy collaborators produced innumerable rumours connecting the Nazis to the Cathars. One held that on March 16 1944, the 700th anniversary of Montségur, Alfred Rosenberg, the Nazi theorist, overflew the peak in homage.

Hitler and his closest advisors were said to have been part of a neo-Cathar pagan secret society. German engineers were said to have excavated Montségur during the Occupation and come away with the Holy Grail. In this last tale (suggesting the films Raiders Of The Lost Ark and its sequel Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade), Esclarmonde's Cathar stone - or, according to extreme right-wingers, a non-Jewish tablet of commandments - was buried in a glacier in the Bavarian Alps just before the fall of Germany. These rumours had stubborn staying power. In 1978 there was a minor diplomatic incident when rowdy German boy scouts were accused by locals of trying to steal blocks of stone from Montségur. The alleged prank was taken as proof that the boys had neo-Nazi leanings.

The legacy of Peyrat did not degenerate wholly into nostalgia for the Third Reich. In fact, Rahn's competition overwhelmed him. There was an obvious comparison to be made between Cathars and members of the French Resistance, fighting an invading force. This came up again and again in works published in the 50s. The Cathars - bourgeois liberals, Buddhists, gnostics, Nazis etc - had now joined the maquis.

The propaganda of Roché and Magre also led to a serious archeological search of Montségur for signs of hidden chambers and tunnels. Nothing was found. This did not stop Fernand Niel from publishing a study showing Montségur to have been constructed as a solar temple, and including one of his diagrams in a volume he wrote about the Cathars for a French collection of handbooks destined for schools and reference libraries.

His explanation of the solar nuances of Cathar construction has since been vitiated by the scientific conclusion that the ruined castle atop Montségur was built long after the Cathar crusade. (The original castle was demolished in the 13th or 14th century, then replaced). The same conclusion about other ruined castles in the Corbières and the Pyrenees has not prevented them becoming "Cathar castles" - evocative remnants visited by eco-hikers convinced that they are looking at solar temples destroyed by Catholicism.

The 60s updated the lore surrounding Cathars to suit the counter-culture. The babas-cool , French back-to-the-land hippies, made the Pyrenees a prime target for returning to nature and making goat's cheese. When they began arriving in the late 60s, they were met by Dutch Rosicrucians, neo-gnostics from Belgium and other groups who had already moved to Cathar country summer camps. The babas-cool found the idea of the Cathars appealing: they were vegetarians; they were said to disapprove of marriage - therefore they were pro-free love; women could be Perfect - therefore the Cathars were feminists; and they partook of the troubadour love culture of Occita nia. Rock groups serenaded crowds at the foot of Montségur, where the billows of smoke came now only from reefers.

British psychiatrist Arthur Guirdham gained notoriety in the 70s through occult books that inspired many Britons to explore south-western France. He described several of his patients who independently exhibited signs of being reincarnated Cathar Perfect. He, himself, is/was Guilhabert de Castres, the greatest of the heretical holy men. Why so many of these Cathar spirits congregated in Bath, the home of Guirdham's practice, is not answered, but his new age updating of Parisian salon seances has proved enduring.

By the late 70s, people measured the cosmic vibrations at Cathar castles. Occitan nationalists gathered for ceremonies at Montségur. Weekend archeologists turned up what they always claimed were Cathar crosses, pendants and stone doves. Replicas of these became the staples at craft fairs through Languedoc. Stonehengers and other neo-pagans took an interest. French television did specials on the enigmas of the Cathar story, all more or less inherited from the work of Roché in the 30s.

Shortly after Roché's death, Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln published the most successful book ever about Cathar country: The Holy Blood And The Holy Grail, now past its 35th printing in English. The trio made Catharism a mass phenomenon and turned the international Glastonbury Arthurian followers on to a new medieval romance. The writers took the legacy of Magre, Roché and others and wrote a thoroughly entertaining occult detective story, marketed, however, as non-fiction.

The mystery goes like this: at the turn of the 20th century, Bérenger Saunière, a country priest in the remote parish of Rennes-le-Chteau, near Carcassonne, suddenly took to living very well and constructing additions to his church and residence, spending millions of francs. Where did he get them? The short and true answer is that he master-minded a system of mail-order fund-raising and conned local notables into leaving him money in their wills. The long answer is in the 500-plus pages of The Holy Blood And The Holy Grail wherein the priest found the treasure that the Cathars smuggled out of Montségur during the siege. He sold off parts of it, and blackmailed the Vatican.

In the book, the Cathar treasure, besides containing an incalculable hoard of Visigothic gold, contained proof that Jesus was not God, but a king who had married Mary Magdalene. Their son founded the line of Merovingian kings, who were, incidentally, Jewish. This secret, along with others debunking the divinity of Jesus, had been found below the Temple of Jerusalem during the Crusades. It had been transmitted to both the Cathars and Knights Templar.

The story continues that, after the treasure's narrow escape at Montségur, an occult society had kept the secret to themselves until the priestly discovery at Rennes-le-Chteau. In the past, the secret society was supposed to have been headed by, among others, Leonardo da Vinci, Nicolas Poussin, Isaac Newton, Victor Hugo and Claude Debussy. There are hints that not all of the treasure has been found. Since the book's publication, the land around Rennes-le-Chteau has become pockmarked with the spadework of treasure-hunters. A landing pad for UFOs has been constructed and tours are now conducted through what is a very ordinary country church.

The imaginary landscape first outlined by Napoléon Peyrat has become progressively weirder. The Cathars are now a protean bunch, ready to transform into just about anything that a questing soul could desire. Religious cults of the 80s and 90s used them in lethal delirium: the Order of the Solar Temple - the Franco-Québécois-Swiss suicide cult - based some of its arcane calculations on the nonsense written about the Cathar castles.

The website of Marshall Applewhite's Heaven's Gate cult teemed with references to the asceticism of the Cathars and "the god hidden behind the god". He eventually persuaded his followers to commit suicide, in order to go to the "level beyond human" - a state similar to that attributed to the Cathar Perfects - and have their souls ascend and speed away in the wake of the real, celestial Hale-Bopp Comet.

The Cathar industry continues to expand: wineries, websites, restaurants, estate agents, tinned duck packagers, and many other businesses in modern Languedoc have appropriated the label Cathar. There is also a movie in preparation, a French film, The Hand of God, directed by Yves Lombard, to be released this or next year. The film will deal with the great unsolved mystery of the Cathar drama: who killed Peter of Castelnau?

The Cathars are also likely to have a bright future on the Iinternet, a matter-free medium perfect to serve as an echo chamber of esoteric thought. (At least 5,500 websites have already co-opted the Cathar name, if not the original belief). The medieval heresy, which the Catholic church thought it had so successfully quelled, has, thanks to fabulists, cranks, wishful thinkers and romantics, proved remarkably enduring.

© Stephen O'Shea 2000.

• Excerpt adapted by the author from The Perfect Heresy, published by Profile Books