I mentioned in an earlier news item that the Abbé Bigou, who was the priest at Rennes-le-Chateau at the time of the French Revolution, had left a written report with his uncle which included the words “a chamber containing . . . documents which must not fall into unintended hands” and “I have had access to this crypt sealed”. Bigou fled to Spain in 1792 as a result of becoming a recalcitrant priest, because he would not confirm his Oath to the new Republic. The documents he mentioned would have included those which were bequeathed to him eleven years earlier by the Marquise d´Hautpoul de Blanchefort. I will tell you more about this in a later news article.
Bérenger Saunière collapsed in the porch of the Tour Magdala on 17th January 1917. Marie, with help from the village, was able to get him back to his home in the presbytery. He regained consciousness but realised he hadn´t long to live. So four days later the Abbé Rivière, the priest of Espéraza, a nearby village, was sent for to hear his confession. Apparently it took most of the afternoon and Rivière emerged visibly shaken, to the extent that he failed to administer the Last Rites. His niece later claimed that the man, who until then had been of jovial disposition, became totally withdrawn after that until his death. Saunière died the following day.
Of course nobody knows what the priest actually found in 1891 except his housekeeper(?) Marie Denarnaud, who outlived him by thirty-six years, dying in 1953 at the age of eighty-five. She had been referred to by the villagers as “La Madone” because she often dressed in Paris fashions of the day and wore antique jewellery. She is said to have told her neighbours “you are walking on gold”. She had promised to disclose before she died “a secret that will make you rich”. However five days before her death she suffered a massive stroke which paralysed her whole body and left her unable to speak. She was buried alongside her “dear departed” and the secret died with her.
So whatever Saunière found in the area, most likely in the crypt under the church, would seem to have been of earth-shattering importance and to have endowed great wealth on the priest, either as a consequence or coincidentally. In my novel “The Treasure of the Visigoths” which will be published in the next few weeks, I suggest what it might have been.
The attached photo shows the Tour Magdala, built by Bérenger Saunière to house his library, and where his body was found when he collapsed on that cold January evening.