Rennes-le-Château

Rennes-le-Château

French commune|nomcommune=Rennes-le-Château


caption=View of the Tour Magdala
longitude=02.263333333
latitude=42.9280555556
région=Languedoc-Roussillon|département=Aude
arrondissement=Limoux|canton=Couiza
insee=11309
cp=11190
maire=Alexandre Painco
mandat=2008-2014
intercomm=
alt moy=435 m
alt mini=272
alt maxi=568 m
hectares=1468
km²=14.68
sans=111
date-sans=1999
dens= 8
date-dens=1999

Rennes-le-Château (Rènnas del Castèl in Occitan) is a small medieval castle village and a "commune" in the Aude "département" in Languedoc in southwestern France. It is known internationally, and receives tens of thousands of visitors per year, for being at the center of various conspiracy theories.

Starting in the 1950s, a local restaurant owner, in order to increase business, had spread rumors of a hidden treasure found by a 19th century priest.Fact|date=March 2008 The story achieved national fame in France, and was then enhanced and expanded by various hoaxsters, who claimed that the priest, Father Bérenger Saunière, had found proof of a secret society known as the Priory of Sion. The story and society were later proven to be a hoax, but became the origin for hypotheses in documentaries and bestselling books such as "Holy Blood Holy Grail" and the fiction thriller "The Da Vinci Code".

The village is still considered by tourists to be packed with clues to an alternate view of religious history which has long existed in the area.

History

Mountains frame both ends of the region — the Cevennes to the northeast and the Pyrenees to the south. The area is known for beautiful scenery, with jagged ridges, deep river canyons and rocky limestone plateaus, with large caves underneath. Like many European villages, it has a complex history.

It is the site of a prehistoric encampment, and later a Roman colony (possibly an oppida, but no traces have been found of ramparts, and it is thought more likely to have been a Roman villa or even a wayside temple, such as is confirmed to have been built at Fa, no more than 5 km west of Couiza).

Rennes-le-Château was a Visigoth site during the 6th and 7th centuries, during the trying period when the Visigoths had been defeated by the Frankish King Clovis I and had been reduced to Septimania. However, the claim that Rennes-le-Château was the capital of the Visigoths is an exaggeration: it was Narbonne that held that position. This claim can be traced back to an anonymous document - actually written by Nöel Corbu - entitled "L'histoire de Rennes-le-Château", which was deposited at the Departmental Archives at Carcassonne, on 14th June 1962. The assertion of Visigothic importance of Rennes-le-Château is drawn from one source: A monograph by Louis Fédié, entitled "Rhedae", La Cité des Chariots", which was published in 1876. Monsieur Fédié's assertions concerning the population and importance of Rennes-le-Château have been contradicted by archaeology and the work of more recent historians. [Bill Putnam & John Edwin Wood, "The Treasure of Rennes-le-Château, a Mystery Solved", page 88, new revised paperback edition 2005 ISBN 0 7509 4216 9] [Jean Fourié, "Rennes-le-Château: L’Histoire de Rennes-le-Château antérieure à 1789, Notes Historiques", Editions Jean Bardou, Esperaza, 1984.]

It was the site of a medieval castle which was definitely in existence by 1002. [Abbé Sabarthès, "Dictionnaire topographique du Département de l'Aude, comprenant les noms de lieux anciens et modernes" (1912).] (Nothing remains above ground of this medieval structure - the present ruin is from the 17th or 18th century.) Some authorsWho|date=March 2008 maintain that Rennes was an important site during the era of Charlemagne, but historiansWho|date=March 2008 disagree as there is no basis in primary sources to confirm this. Archaeological results suggest that this site was a small settlement of no more than 300 inhabitants at most.Fact|date=March 2008

Several castles situated in the surrounding region in the Languedoc were central to the battle between the Catholic church and the Cathars at the beginning of the 13th century. Other castles guarded the volatile border with Spain. Whole communities were wiped out during the campaigns of the Catholic authorities to rid the area of the Cathar heretics during the Albigensian Crusades and again when Protestants fought for religious freedom against the French monarchy during the French Revolution.

Church of Mary Magdalene

The earliest church of which there is any evidence on the site of the present church may be as old as the eighth century. However, this original church was almost certainly in ruins during the 10th or 11th century, when another church was built upon the site - remnants of which can be seen in Romanesque pillared arcades on the north side of the apse.

It is this 10th or 11th century church which had survived in poor repair. (An architectural report of 1845 reporting that it required extensive repairs.) This second church was renovated in the late 1800s by the local priest, Bérenger Saunière, though the source of his funds at the time was controversial (see below) and some of the additions to the church appear unusual to modern eyes.

One of the new features added to the church was an inscription above the front door: "Terribilis est locus iste". Inside the church, one of the added figures was of a devil holding up the holy water stoup (rare, but other examples exist in other churches around France). The decorations chosen by Saunière were selected from a catalogue published by Giscard, sculptor and painter in Toulouse who - among other things - offered statues and sculptural features for church refurbishment. Pages from the Catalogue of Giscard and Co were reproduced in a book by Marie de Saint-Gély first published in 1989. [Marie de Saint-Gély, "Bérenger Saunière, prêtre Rennes-le-Château 1885-1917" (Bélisane, 1989; 2005), p. XLII, XLIV and XLV.] The figures and statues chosen by Saunière were not specially made. [Bill Putnam & John Edwin Wood, "The Treasure of Rennes-le-Château, a Mystery Solved", page 167, new revised paperback edition 2005 ISBN 0 7509 4216 9]

Saunière also funded the construction of another structure dedicated to Mary Magdalene, named after his church, a tower on the side of a nearby mountain which he used as his library, with a promenade linking it to the Villa Bethanie, which was not actually used by the priest. He stated during his trial that it was intended for retired priests. [Jacques Rivière, "Le Fabuleux trésor de Rennes-le-Château", Editions Belisane (1983)]

The inscription above the entrance is taken from the Common Dedication of a Church, [http://www.ballyroanparish.ie/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=16 Ballyroan Parish History, reference to the Entrance Antiphon from the Common of a Dedication of a Church] which in full reads [Entrance Antiphon Cf. Gen 28:17] : "This is a place of awe; this is God's house, the gate of heaven, and it shall be called the royal court of God." The first part of the passage is situated in the entrance of the church - the rest of the passage is actually inscribed over the arches on the two doors of the church. Sauniere's church was re-dedicated in 1897 by his bishop, Monsigor Billard, following Sauniere's renovations and redecorations. [Jacques Rivière, Le Fabuleux trésor de Rennes-le-Château, Editions Belisane (1983)] ["Les Cahiers de Rennes-le-Château" N°11, Abbé Bruno De Monts, "Le Vrai Trésor" (Editions Bélisane, 1996 ISBN 2-910730-12-3), p. 14; 45-46.]

Modern fame

Until recently a tiny and obscure village, as of 2006 the area received 100,000 tourists each year. Much of the modern reputation of Rennes-le-Château rises from rumours dating from the mid-1950s concerning a local 19th-century priest. Father Bérenger Saunière had arrived in the village in 1885, and had acquired and spent large sums of money during his tenure from selling masses and receiving donations, funding several building projects, including the Church of Mary Magdalene. [René Descadeillas, "Mythologie du Trésor de Rennes: Histoire Veritable de L'Abbé Saunière, Curé de Rennes-Le-Château" (Mémoires de la Société des Arts et des Sciences de Carcassonne, Annees 1971-1972, 4me série, Tome VII, 2me partie; 1974). [Reprinted in 1991 by Editions Collot, Carcassonne.] ] [Jean-Jacques Bedu, "Rennes-Le-Château: Autopsie d'un mythe" (Ed. Loubatières; 31120 Portet-sur-Garonne; 1990 — recently reprinted in 2003.)] [Bill Putnam, John Edwin Wood. "The Treasure of Rennes-le-Chateau, A Mystery Solved" (Sutton Publishing Limited, Gloucestershire GL5 2BU, England, 2003.)] The source of the wealth had long been a topic of conversation, and rumours within the village ranged from the priest finding a treasure to spying for the Germans during World War I. During the 1950s, these rumours were given wide local circulation by Noël Corbu, a local man who had opened a restaurant in Saunière's former estate ("L'Hotel de la Tour"), and hoped to use the stories to attract business. [Albert Salamon, "La Fabuleuse Découverte du Curé aux Milliards de Rennes-le-Château" ("La Dépêche de Midi" 12, 13 and 14 January 1956)]

From that point on Rennes-le-Château became the centre of conspiracy theories claiming that Saunière uncovered hidden treasure and/or secrets about the history of the Church, which could potentially threaten the foundations of Catholicism. The area has become the focus of increasingly sensational claims involving the Knights Templar, the Priory of Sion, the Rex Deus, the Holy Grail, the treasures of the Temple of Solomon, the Ark of the Covenant, ley lines, and sacred geometry alignments.

The Saunière story

The story began when Noël Corbu wanted to attract visitors to his local hotel in Rennes-le-Château, by spreading the claim that Bérenger Saunière had become rich by finding a royal treasure inside one of the pillars in his church in the late 1800s. The first newspapers started printing Corbu's story in 1956. This ignited a flame: visitors with shovels flooded the town, and Corbu got what he wanted.

However, this also attracted a number of persons such as Pierre Plantard. His childhood dream was to play a vital role in the history of France, so he and some friends concocted an elaborate hoax. It involved planting fabricated documents in France's Bibliothèque nationale de France, to imply that Plantard was a descendant of a French royal dynasty, which would somehow mean that he was supposed to be declared King of France. The fabricated documents also mention the ancient Priory of Sion, which was supposedly a thousand years old, but was in fact the name of an organisation that Plantard founded himself in 1956 with three of his friends. [Bill Putnam, John Edwin Wood. "The Treasure of Rennes-le-Chateau, A Mystery Solved" (Sutton Publishing Limited, Gloucestershire GL5 2BU, England, 2003.)]

No serious journalists who investigated the story found it plausible enough to write about, so Plantard asked his friend, Gérard de Sède, to write a book to give more credence to the story. [Jean-Luc Chaumeil, "Rennes-le-Château – Gisors – Le Testament du Prieuré de Sion (Le Crépuscule d’une Ténébreuse Affaire)", Editions Pégase, 2006] They chose the already rumour-rich area of Rennes-le-Chateau as their setting, and "L’Or de Rennes" ("The Gold of Rennes", later published as "Le Trésor Maudit de Rennes-le-Château") came out in 1967 and was an instant success. The book presented Latin documents forged by Plantard's group, alleging that these were medieval documents that had been found by Saunière in the 19th century. One of the documents had multiple encrypted references to the Priory of Sion, thereby attempting to prove that the society was older than its actual creation date of 1956.

In 1969, a British actor and science-fiction writer by the name of Henry Lincoln read the book, dug deeper, and wrote his own books on the subject, pointing out his discovery of hidden codes in the parchments. One of the codes involved a series of raised letters in the Latin message, which when read off separately, spelled out in French: "a dagobert ii roi et a sion est ce tresor et il est la mort." (translation: "This treasure belongs to King Dagobert II and to Sion, and it is death.").

Lincoln created a series of BBC Two documentaries about his theories in the 1970s, and then in 1982, co-wrote "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail" with Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh. Their book expanded upon the Rennes-le-Château story to further imply that the descendents of Jesus and Mary Magdelane were connected to the French royalty as perpetuated through a secret society named the Priory of Sion. This torch was then picked up and carried further in 2003 in Dan Brown's bestselling novel "The Da Vinci Code", though Brown's book never mentioned Rennes-le-Château by name.

The extraordinary popularity of "The Da Vinci Code" has reignited the interest of tourists, who come to the village to see sites associated with Saunière and Rennes-le-Château. The "Visigothic pillar" where Sauniere was said to have found the documents is on display in the village's "Saunière Museum". The pillar was set up by Saunière in 1891 as part of his shrine to Our Lady of Lourdes. René Descadeillas doubted the allegation that the pillar originated from Saunière's church, since a Church report drawn up by the diocesan architect Guiraud Cals in 1853 failed to mention the existence of any altar pillar. [René Descadeillas, "Mythologie du Trésor de Rennes: Histoire Veritable de L'Abbé Saunière, Curé de Rennes-Le-Château" (Mémoires de la Société des Arts et des Sciences de Carcassonne, Annees 1971-1972, 4me série, Tome VII, 2me partie; 1974).]

The source of Saunière's wealth

Archaeologist Dr Paul Bahn [http://www.artandmind.org/pages/Biog/BahnPaul.htm Biography of Paul Bahn.] considered the various allegations surrounding the village of Rennes-le-Château as pure myth "so beloved of occultists and 'aficionados' of the "Unexplained" – is ranked with the Bermuda Triangle, Atlantis and ancient astronauts as a source of ill-informed and lunatic books". [Dr Paul G Bahn, "The ruins of a mystery" ("Times Literary Supplement", 29 March 1991).] Likewise another archaeologist Bill Putnam, co-author with John Edwin Wood of "The Treasure of Rennes-le-Château, A Mystery Solved" (2003, 2005) has dismissed all of the popular allegations as pseudo-history.

Laura Miller, contributor to the "New York Times" books section commented how the village of Rennes-le-Château had become "a town that had become the French equivalent of Roswell or Loch Ness as a result of popular books by Gérard de Sède." [Laura Miller, "The Last Word: The Da Vinci Con" ("New York Times", 22 February 2004).]

The stories of Saunière's mysteries were based on little more than a minor scandal involving the sale of masses, which eventually led to the disgrace of both Saunière and his bishop. His wealth was short-lived, and he died relatively poor. Official records of a trial against Saunière's on August 23rd of 1910 revealed his fortune at the time to have been 193,150 francs, which he claimed to be spending on parish works. Yet,in order to have gained this wealth through the selling of masses, the priest would have had to sell over 20 masses per day for the 25 years prior to the trial, more than he could have performed. Sauniere claimed that he performed masses for which he was paid and that other funds came from local donations. [Jean-Jacques Bedu, "Rennes-Le-Château: Autopsie d'un mythe" (Ed. Loubatières, 2000.)] [Bill Putnam, John Edwin Wood. "The Treasure of Rennes-le-Chateau, A Mystery Solved" (Sutton Publishing Limited, 2003).] [Abbé Bruno de Monts, "Bérenger Sauniére curé à Rennes-le-Château 1885-1909", Editions Belisane (2000; Collection les amis de Bérenger Sauniére).] [René Descadeillas, "Mythologie du Trésor de Rennes: Histoire Veritable de L'Abbé Saunière, Curé de Rennes-Le-Château" (Mémoires de la Société des Arts et des Sciences de Carcassonne, Annees 1971-1972, 4me série, Tome VII, 2me partie; 1974).]

This evidence was published by French "Editions Belisane" from the early 1980s onwards, with evidence from the archives in the possession of Antoine Captier, including Saunière's correspondence and notebooks. The minutes of the ecumenical trial between Saunière and his bishop between 1910–1911 are located in the Carcassonne Bishopric. Or as Ed Bradley said on a 2006 episode of the American news program "60 Minutes": "The source of the wealth of the priest of Rennes-le-Chateau was not some ancient mysterious treasure, but good old fashioned fraud." ["Priory of Sion", "60 Minutes", April 30, 2006, produced by Jeanne Langley, hosted by Ed Bradley]

As for the relationship with the fictional Priory of Sion and Plantard's hoax, multiple factors disproved those theories as well. Philippe de Chérisey – who helped Plantard with his fraud – admitted having fabricated the historical documents. The forged documents were shown to have been written in modern French. Gérard de Sède, another of the conspirators who had written the book "Le Tresor Maudit", also wrote a book denouncing the fraud, and this was further confirmed by his son. ["The Real Da Vinci Code", Channel 4 Television, presented by Tony Robinson, transmitted on 3 February 2005]

See also

* Villa Bethania

Notes

References

* Gérard de Sède, "Le Trésor maudit de Rennes-le-Château", 1967
* René Descadeillas, "Mythologie du Trésor de Rennes: Histoire Veritable de L'Abbé Saunière, Curé de Rennes-Le-Château" (Mémoires de la Société des Arts et des Sciences de Carcassonne, Annees 1971-1972, 4me série, Tome VII, 2me partie; 1974). [Reprinted in 1991 by Editions Collot, Carcassonne.]
* Bill Putnam, John Edwin Wood. "The Treasure of Rennes-le-Chateau, A Mystery Solved" (Sutton Publishing Limited, Gloucestershire GL5 2BU, England, 2003.)
* Jean-Jacques Bedu, "Rennes-Le-Château: Autopsie d'un mythe" (Ed. Loubatières; 31120 Portet-sur-Garonne; 1990 — recently reprinted in 2003.)
* [http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2006/04/27/60minutes/main1552009.shtml "The Secret of the Priory of Sion", CBS News '60 Minutes' (CBS Worldwide Inc.), 30 April 2006, presented by CBS correspondent Ed Bradley, produced by Jeanne Langley]
* Abbé Bruno de Monts, "Bérenger Sauniére curé à Rennes-le-Château 1885-1909", Editions Belisane (2000; Collection les amis de Bérenger Sauniére)
* Jacques Rivière, "Le Fabuleux trésor de Rennes-le-Château", Editions Belisane (1983). Reproduces Saunière's receipts and the Carcassonne Trial correspondence/reports 1910-1911. Not translated into English.
* Christian Doumergue, "L'Affaire de Rennes-le-Château", Ed. Arqa, 2006. A lot of a new documents about Saunière's life. And a surprising analyzes about the writing of Pierre Plantard. This book is not translated into English.

External links

* [http://www.rennes-le-chateau.fr/ Village's official website]
* [http://www.aude-aude.com/content/view/50/48/ Photos of Rennes-Le-Chateau]


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