The Church at Rennes-le-Chateau

Although the devil supporting the holy water stoup is the most bizarre of the statues in this little church there are many other colourful works. Around the walls inside the church are no fewer than eight individual and group statues, most of then on plinths more than five feet high.

The altar front has a full-colour bas-relief of the Mary Magdalene kneeling in tears in a rocky landscape. By her knees is a human skull. Behind the altar are statues of the Virgin and Joseph, both holding the Christ child. Above them is deep blue half-domed vault covered in stars and punctuated by the only window in the main church – a small, circular stained-glass depiction of the Magdalene anointing the feet of Jesus. Thus very little natural light enters the building. To the left of the altar is the magnificent pulpit (far grander than most cathedrals) which is reached by a stairway hidden in the outside wall. (See top photo.)

At the west end of the nave is the confessional surmounted by the magnificent semi-circular bas-relief of Christ on the mount summoning his flock – “Come unto me all ye that travail and are heavily laden”. (See middle photo.) Altogether, although it is small, the interior of this plain little village church is one of the most colourfully-decorated in the Roman Catholic world.

One of the most interesting and most prominent statues in the church is that of Saint Antony of Padua which stands on a tall plinth carried by four angels. Saint Antony is the exalted being to whom the faithful pray for the recovery of lost objects. When the Bishop of Carcassonne attended the inauguration of this statue he is supposed to have said to Saunière words to the effect of, “I like your sense of gratitude”, presumably meaning that he was thanking the Saint for something he had found – perhaps in this very church.

Behind this statue is the door to the sacristy which is locked and to which the public are not allowed access. Various reports say the left hand wall of this room has a range of cupboards fixed to it. It is alleged that in the back of one of these cupboards is a door that leads in to a secret room which Saunière had built on to the side of the Sacristy against the outside wall of the church. I have been unable to find a report from anyone who has entered this quadrant-shaped room or who is able to describe what is in the room. Could it be a staircase leading down into the crypt which is believed to lie beneath the church but to which nobody has been able to find an entrance since Saunière’s time? I will go into this in more detail in a future blog.

The other decorative object around the otherwise very plain exterior to the church is the porch. The lower photo shows the details. The fascia to the tympanum is decorated with carved roses and a cross. The bas-relief panel dedicating the church to Saint Mary Magdalene carries the Latin inscription “…domus terribilis est…” which has often been wrongly translated as “this place is terrible”.


In the next few weeks I will tell you about more strange things connected with the church at Rennes-le-Chateau.



Leave a Reply