There is no doubt that Bérenger Saunière, the priest at Rennes-le-Chateau from 1885 to 1917, found something in his church which led him to become fabulously wealthy. One report suggests that, during restoration of the church in 1887, the altar was replaced. One of the old supports was a a stone pillar with Visigoth carvings on it which now stands in the small garden beside the Villa Bethania carrying a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes (see top photo).
Apparently they found a recess carved into the top of the pillar. This is quite a common occurrence. The carved out void is intended to contain holy relics linked with the dedication of the church. However this hollow was found to contain two documents which have been published and argued over ever since. People have read various codes and other meanings into these documents. I will deal with this subject in a later blog.
The question is, what other larger hiding places were there in the church? The most likely would be an underground crypt below the nave. Such catacombs are common in churches and frequently contain the tombs of important local and national figures, rather than burying them out in the churchyard where they would be more at risk from treasure hunters. However a crypt is usually a large void and can conceal a lot more than a few tombs. And the most secure crypt is one where the entrance is hidden or where it has been built over to prevent access. Did Saunière discover such an entrance?
Prior to this another secret hiding-place had been found. When the old wooden pulpit had been taken down in order to be replaced by the magnificent, painted masonry one which is now there, the timber supporting column was discovered to have a cavity in it which contained a small, rolled-up parchment inside a glass phial. This was handed to Saunière who took it away to study the contents.
The following morning the Abbé led the two local workmen who were helping him to a stone slab in front of the altar and instructed them to lift it. The stone was large (about 4 feet by 2 feet by 6 inches thick) and mortared into place, so it took a lot of effort and time to get it out. When they finally lifted it upright they had a surprise. On the underside of the slab was a carved design of two Romanesque arches. Beneath the left hand arch a knight is depicted watering his horse and under the other arch is a mounted knight (some say carrying a child in his arms). The Knight Stone is now on display in the Rennes-le-Chateau museum (see lower photo).
I will tell you next week about what was found beneath the lifted stone.