Rennes le Château

Rennes le Château (France)

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Rennes le Château is a very small town in southern France whose former parish priest Berenger Saunière (1852–1917) has become the subject of a number of rumors in the twentieth century. Reputedly, in 1897 he discovered a hidden treasure that made him a wealthy man. Later tales would suggest that his treasure was not gold or some other material valuables, but a set of secret documents that led Saunière to various people in the Esoteric communitty who became the source of his wealth.

The story of Saunière is in fact much more mundane. It appears that he began trafficking in masses; that is, he advertised himself as a poor priest who would say masses for a fee. At the height of his career, he was receiving income from across Europe for saying some 5,000 to 6,000masses. Many of these were never said, and eventually he was the subject of action against him by the local bishop. Though never wealthy, he did acquire property and subsequently erected some buildings in Rennes le Château.

The story of a treasure was initially floated by Saunière as his defense in the face of accusations against him. The story was later embellished and overheard by Pierre Plantard (1920–2000), a minor figure in France’s Esoteric community, who claimed that he was the last surviving descendant of the Merovingians, the family that had ruled France for several centuries until it was replaced by the Carolingians in 751 CE. Plantard was also the founder of a small Esoteric society, the Priory of Sion, through which he asserted his claim to be a Merovingian descendant and thus the rightful claimant to the French throne.

In constructing this modern myth, Plantard claimed that the treasure found by Saunière in 1897 was in fact a set of documents that revealed the truth concerning the Priory of Sion and the Merovingians. Saunière supposedly used the information in the documents to confront the Bourbon royal family of France, the pretenders to the French throne. His money was thus the result of this blackmail.

The story of Rennes le Château was included in the 1982 Esoteric bestselling volume Holy Blood/Holy Grail, which expanded upon Plantard’s story of the Merovingians by further asserting that Mary Magdalene had been pregnant with Jesus’ child at the time of Jesus’ execution and that she subsequently traveled to France, where a daughter was born. The descendents of her child later married into the Merovingian family. Thus the Merovingians are not only the rightful rulers of France but also the physical descendants of Jesus.

The publicizing of Rennes le Château in Holy Blood/Holy Grail made the town and the church the subject of interest of a number of amateur researchers, all in hopes of verifying the various claims about it. During the last two decades of the twentieth century, speculation on Rennes le Château became a veritable cottage industry with more than two-dozen books being produced in French and English. These books expanded upon the basic story, though adding little substance. Interest peaked again after novelist Dan Brown included an account of Rennes le Château in his 2003 international best-selling thriller,The Da Vinci Code.

Sources:

Baigent, Michael, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln.Holy Blood/Holy Grail. London: Jonathan Cape, 1982.
Brown, Dan. The Da Vinci Code. New York: Doubleday& Company, 2003.
Fanthrope, Lionel, and Patricia Fanthrope. Secrets of Rennes le Château. York Beach, ME: Samuel Weiser, 1992.
Introvigne, Massimo. “Beyond The Da Vinci Code: History and Myth of the Priory of Sion.” Posted at http://www.cesnur.org/2005/pa_introvigne.htm. Accessed April 1, 2007.