Things to See in the Languedoc: Historic Villages and Bastides: Rennes-le-ChâteauRennes-le-Château is a small village perched on a hilltop near Couiza in the Aude département. It has become world famous in the last few years following the publication of a series of books dealing with a mystery concerning a nineteenth century priest who lived in the village. It is not far away from a spa town called Rennes-les-Bains
At the heart of the mystery is the fact that the priest (abbé Bérenger Saunière) suddenly become immensely rich during the 1880s.
There are a few interesting aspects of the mystery, such as where his money came from, but improbable theories have been built on a few known facts and shorn up by mass of demonstrable falsehoods. Over the last twenty years a series of best-selling books have been published, each proposing a more fantastic theory than its predecessors.
Saunier probably made his money by robbing ancient graves or selling masses, or both. One of the few reliable facts about Rennes-le-Château is that it was once a large Visigothic city with a population of 20,000 or even 30,000, so it is is not impossible that he found a trove of treasure, perhaps while restoring his Church. (At the start of the Crusade against the Cathars the Trencavels were viscounts not only of Carcassonne and and Béziers, but also of a vast area called the Razès, the capital of which was Rennes-le-Château - then called Raedae)
Attractive as the simple "treasure" theory is, there are much more interesting elaborations, namely that Saunier:
- discovered a cache of treasure from Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem, including the Menorah or the Ark of the Covenant, or both, taken from Jerusalem by the Romans (true - see right) and later from the Romans by the Visigoths (not as absurd as it sounds - the Visigoths did sack Rome in 410 and bring their loot back to Toulouse).
- discovered a cache of treasure hidden by the Cathars who escaped from the Château of Montségur ( Montsegùr) in 1244.
- discovered treasure buried by the Knights Templar when the Order was attacked by the French King in 1309.
- discovered treasure of the Lords of Rennes-le-Château (who are said to have used the crypt as grave tomb). The priest supposedly found documents and valuables hidden there since the time of the Saracen occupation.
- discovered treasure of the Kingdom of Majorca.
- discovered some hidden item of inestimable value (such as the Holy Grail or Charlemagne's sword).
- discovered documents so damaging to the Roman Church that the Vatican paid a fortune to suppress them.
- was financially assisted by space aliens.
If you are interested in the mystery, Click one of the links below or read The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, the first book in English to discuss the mystery. Be warned that one of the principal sources (Pierre Plantard) turned out to be a fantasist.
On the other hand many of its improbably assertions turn out to be true. For example, there really is an ancient tradition that the family of Jesus Christ came to live in the Languedoc, and that Mary Magdelene was the wife or concubine of Jesus. (For the first see the page on Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. For the second see a page of original accusations against the Cathars)
Gérard de Sède was the French historian who originally popularised the mystery of Rennes-le-Château (well before the Holy Blood and the Holy Grail). For his obituary from the Independent, 24 June 2004, by Marcus Williamson, click here
Richard Leigh was one of the co-authors of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail. For his obituary from the Independent, 29 November 2007, by Marcus Williamson, click here
Click on the following link to read an article about Rennes-le-Château
Click on the following link for recommended Books on the mystery of Rennes-le-Château