Last week I told you about the Visigoth king Amalaric who may be buried in the crypt below the church at Rennes-le-Chateau. This week I will tell you about the last of the Merovingians who is also linked with Rennes.
The Merovingians were the Frankish kings who became the rulers of most of what we now know as France. Their name comes from their first known generation – a monarch called Merovée. There are legends that the dynasty are descended from Mary Magdalene who is supposed to have landed in France when she was fleeing from the Holy Land bearing the child of Christ.
Merovée’s grandson, Clovis, who ruled from AD 466 to 511, firmly established the Merovingians as the leading power in France when he drove the Visigoths back into the Pyrenees and made an alliance with the Burgundians.
A century and a half later his descendant, Dagobert II, married a Visigoth princess from Rhedae (ancient Rennes-le-Chateau) where the wedding took place in AD 675. A year later Dagobert was proclaimed king of what was then called Austrasia (one of the three Frankish kingdoms which covered the whole of France except Burgundy and also included modern Belgium, Holland and a part of Germany). However his reign didn’t last long. Just before Christmas 679 he was assassinated while out hunting in the Ardennes.
His three-year-old son Sigisbert IV succeeded him but never ruled. The official history books say he was killed with his father. However there is a persistent belief that he was rescued by one of his father’s knights and carried to Rennes-le-Chateau. I told you about the Knight’s stone which is alleged to depict the event in an earlier blog.
It is recorded locally that Sigisbert lived until AD758 (82 years – a ripe old age for those days) before he died and was buried in the crypt of Rennes church. He never regained the throne but his descendents became the Dukes of Aquitaine and (through Eleanor, who married Henry II of England) their bloodline passed into the Plantagenet royal dynasty.
Interestingly, when Saunière started his exploration/renovation of the church at Rennes, the first thing he did was dismantle the altar. When he did so he discovered the right hand support, which was a carved Visigoth pillar, was hollowed out in the top. It is now fixed upside down to the end of the Villa Bethania and supports the statue of Saint Mary of Lourdes (see the photo). The hollow contained two parchments. It is claimed that the writing on these included various codes, one of which stated “To Dagobert II, king. and to Sion belongs this treasure and he is there dead”.
Next week I will discuss the part the Blanchefort family played in this mystery and possible links to a third royal dynasty.