In 1891, a few years after his arrival in Rennes-le-Château. Bérenger Saunière, the village priest, began restoration of the little church which was in a dilapidated state. He was able to do this because of the gift he had received from Johann von Habsburg. In the course of this restoration he removed the altar which consisted of a large slab of dressed stone supported on two ancient pillars with Visigoth carvings on them. One of these stones was found to have a hollowed out space in it and in this void were sealed tubes containing parchments, one dating from AD 1244 – the year of the destruction of the Cathars at Montségur.
Much discussion has taken place about the deciphering of the writing on these documents with various authorities giving different views of the purpose and information which they give. There are coded references to an ancient Merovingian King Dagobert II who ruled from AD 656 to 679 (who was murdered and later canonised) and a treasure which belonged to him. There is also mention of Sion, thought by some to be referring to the Order of Our Lady of Sion, believed to be the original Order which founded the Templars. In addition there were references to works by famous painters Poussin and Teniers which are supposed to hold the key to a secret. I will come back to this in later blogs.
Soon after this Saunière noted in his diary that he had discovered a tomb under an unmarked slab of stone in the church floor. No further information was written in his journal but it is believed that this ‘tomb’ was in fact found to be the entrance to a flight of steps leading to the crypt under the church which had previously been unknown. The crypt (if it was such a place) has never since been rediscovered but it was soon after the priest’s discoveries that he seemed to become inordinately wealthy. Later his house-keeper apparently told people in the village that they were ‘walking on gold’ without realising it. Why is this underground room still a secret?
The photo shows a view of the little church at Rennes-le-Château. Next week I will tell you what Bérenger Saunière did with some of the wealth which he had discovered.