The present church at Rennes-le-Chateau which is dedicated to Saint Mary Magdalene was built on a site which had been occupied by an earlier chapel. That had been constructed by the Visigoths when they constructed the adjacent chateau, the remains of which still remain on the edge of the village overlooking the sheer drop to the valley of the River Sals below. (see photo)
There are indications of a funerary band still to be seen around the church which indicate that a royal personage is buried there. No royal tombs are visible in the church so it is reasonable to assume they are in the crypt below the church. But which royalty are we talking about? There are several possibilities.
In the fifth and sixth centuries AD the Visigoths made Rennes (which was then called Rhedae) one of their capitals. The Visigoth empire was large. It covered the whole of Spain and nearly half of present-day France, from the Atlantic coast to the Rhone and north as far as the River Loire. Their administrative capitals were at Toledo and Toulouse. However early in the fifth century they were attacked and slowly driven out of France by the Franks who were invading from the north. The Visigoths retreated to their stronghold at Rhedae.
At that time Rennes (which is now just a little village) had a population of 30,000 and was bigger than Paris. The city spread over a large area south of the present village and was well fortified, making it easy to defend. The Visigoth king, Alaric II, was defeated and killed by the Frankish leader Clovis in 508 AD near Carcassonne. His son and heir, Amalaric and his wife Clothilde, made Rhedae their capital and built the castle and chapel. Amalaric was killed at Narbonne in 531 AD and it is probable that he was brought back to his home town for burial.
I have mentioned in a previous blog about the fabulous treasure of Jerusalem which was believed to include the Ark of the Covenant and the Menorah, the beautiful seven-branched candlestick of pure gold which stood on the altar in the Holy of Holies in Solomon’s temple. The Franks were hoping to find this when they over-ran Narbonne but they were unsuccessful. It is likely that it had been moved to the Visigoths’ defensive capital of Rhedae and it is possible that it was secreted with Amalaric in his mausoleum beneath Rennes church.
Next week I will tell you about another king who may be buried in the crypt beneath Rennes church.