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What was the source of Bérenger Saunière´s wealth?

Of course nobody knows the true answer to that question. It is of course more than likely that he found some treasures in the crypt and the other underground chambers adjacent to the church. You should remember that the city of Redhae had been the central citadel of the Visigoths since the start of the fifth century and that subsequent civilisations had built over the top of their predecessors without realising they were perhaps burying valuable remains.

However it is also believed that the priest discovered some sort of documents which might have caused a huge scandal if they had become public. Remember the initial 3000 francs given to Saunière, ostensibly for the restoration of the church, came from Maria-Thérèse of Austria, wife of the pretender to the French crown and a member of the Hapsburg royal family. The Austro-Hungarian king had long enjoyed the title of Holy Roman Emperor bestowed upon them by the Vatican. Was the primary object of the gift to enable the Abbé to discover the location of Hapsburg archives which had been hidden somewhere in the church or its surroundings by the Abbé Bigou in 1792 as the reign of terror raged throughout France.

It is believed that early in 1892 Saunière approached his bishop in Carcassonne to ask for guidance about what he should do regarding a matter which was not made public. Whatever it was, Monseigneur Billard apparently decided it was too important a matter for him to advise the priest and passed him on to Paris. Saunière spent five days in March that year at Saint Sulpice where he met senior church dignitaries and other prominent citizens in the capital. Thereafter these people visited Rennes-le-Chateau from time to time and were entertained by the Abbé in the palatial Villa Bethania which he had built adjacent to the church.

Also starting in about 1895 Saunière paid regular visits, which he took great pains to keep secret, to Budapest, financial capital of the Hapsburg dynasty. There is evidence to suggest he had an account at the Fritz Dörge bank in the city and these visits were timed to take place shortly before he financed expensive works in and

around Rennes-le-Chateau. One assumes from this that it is likely he was receiving large payments from the Hapsburgs, either for their own purposes or on behalf of the Vatican.

Next week I will discuss what might have been in the documents which Sauniére discovered under the church. If you have missed any of the previous instalments in this saga, you can read them in the news section of my website, mikehillier.com.

The attached photo shows the rather bizarre decorations added by Saunière to the porch of the Rennes-le-Chateau church which is dedicated to Saint Mary Magdalen.

Meanwhile I am returning to completion of my historical trilogy – Riversmeet. I have completed the first two volumes and am well advanced on the final. When completed, the Riversmeet trilogy will be the best part of half a million words. Let me know if you would like more by emailing me with the title “Riversmeet” to avoid it being treated as Spam.