Abbé Sauniere's Tomb in the Rennes-le-Chateau Graveyard
When the news broke that Abbé Sauniere's body was to be moved from the Rennes-le-Chateau graveyard in 2004, there was much controversy as to whether it was true. Many assumed, at first, that only the gravestone and not the bones of Sauniere would be disturbed and relocated outside the graveyard, as the priest is buried in "sacred ground" and if his remains were moved to the Villa garden, he would no longer be interred in 'sacred ground'.
Here is an eyewitness account of the story of the event that was carried out in utmost secrecy to prevent those opposed to the relocation of Sauniere's body, from rallying against it and attempt to prevent it from taking place. Please note: I write what was recounted to me and though some of the events I write here I have managed to verify, others I have not, but I believe the person who witnessed the event to be trustworthy.
It was a cold morning on the 14th September 2004, about 7am when the deed was undertaken. A significant presence of the local French police force had sealed off the village to prevent the public from witnessing the event and taking photographs. All gathered in the graveyard must have known that relocating the remains of a priest to unconsecrated ground was an erroneous act. Not one of the nine known descendants were present. Is this evidence Sauniere produced offspring? If yes, then with whom?
The first task was to open the tomb that Sauniere, having received permission from the local council in 1900 to build a tomb at the far end of the graveyard below the west wall, constructed in 1901. Its below ground construction, consisted of two separate burial chambers, large enough to contain 12 coffins - 6 in each. This was because Sauniere originally planned the graves to house not just his own corpse, but also those of the retired priest's he planned to have live out there days in the villa and perhaps even the presbytery. Above the arched entrance to the presbytery courtyard is a French inscription, it's English translation is "The Pastor's house is the house of all"
Inscription above the arched entrance to the presbytery courtyard
This, as we know, never came to fruition and no retired priest's came to live in Sauniere's domain.
Sauniere was buried in the right-hand grave chamber when he died on the 22nd January 1917, and Marie Dénarnaud was interred in the left-hand chamber when she passed away on January 29th 1953. Each chamber had been constructed with a small stepped entrance, large enough to enable coffins to be carried inside. It would be by this entrance to Sauniere's grave that his remains would be removed. Two workman, employed for the task, dug in the earth to uncover the entrance. They then removed the bricks blocking access. When this was done, some of the gathered group, including the mayor, L'Huillier, and the lawyer representing Sauniere's descendant/s, poked their heads inside the musty space to peer at Sauniere's coffin, that though showing signs of decay, was still in reasonably good shape. As soon as the coffin was brought out and the lid removed, to the surprise of everyone, allegedly, Jean-François Huilier, stepped forward quickly, peered into the coffin, and then snatched the Missal, from Sauniere's dead hands and quickly flicked through its pages. He was eventually made to hand it over and it is passed from hand to hand. A pious image of the time acted as a bookmark. Also in the coffin were Sauniere's bones, scraps of clothing and his shoes. All were then placed in the new tomb. A missal is a liturgical book containing all instructions and texts necessary for the celebration of Mass throughout the year.
Two Photographs of Sauniere holding a book
It is probably the book, or missal, held by l'abbe Sauniere in the two photographs above, that was buried with him.
But why would the Mayor show such an interest in Sauniere's Missal? He has at times, openly said that he believes there is nothing to the mystery many people come to Rennes-le-Chateau to try and solve. Perhaps this is a bluff and he believed that Sauniere's personal book, might be the key to solving the mystery of Rennes-le-Château if one exists. The missal, if one could examine it, might be a fruitful line of research. (But that is not the end of the Missal saga. See links at bottom of page.)
l'abbe Sauniere's new grave - He is not inside the marble coffin but below under tons of concrete
But why was Bérenger Saunière's remains relocated to a new tomb where he was laid to rest below 5 tons of concrete in unconsecrated ground? Many villagers, and others, believed there was no need to move the priest's body.
Here are some newspaper reports that try to explain the reason.
"The mayor of a French village besieged by obsessive fans of bestseller The Da Vinci Code has been forced to dig up the body of a mysterious priest and encase it in a mausoleum to deter treasure hunters. The cemetery has also been closed because tens of thousands of tourists swamped Rennes-le-Chateau, in south-eastern France, where a 2000-year-old mystery inspired the religious thriller."
Even though many were against it, the final decision was taken by Major Jean-François Huilier of Rennes-le-Château and Saunière's descendants. Reported in a French article in regional newspaper La Depêche du Midi. "It's remarkable, L'Huillier talks about descendants. It is well known the Abbé didn't live like a saint, but this is the first indirect evidence that he actually produced, offspring with someone."
As a reason for moving his grave, the mayor said, 'The family and myself could no longer allow the hordes of treasure seekers and tourists to swarm the small village cemetery and violate the graves."
There cemetery gate now remains firmly locked all year except for the month of November, when it is left open for the public. The remains of Marie Dénarnaud still remain buried in the cemetery.
Mr L'Huillier added, "He's lying at peace at last under a 3.5-tonne sarcophagus surrounded by five cubic metres of concrete. It'll take one hell of a lot of explosive to get through that," he joked.
After it was reported that Sauniere's remains had been moved outside the cemetery, many believed that though a new grave had been constructed, his corpse stilled remained buried in his grave in the cemetery. Unfortunately, the images of the interior of Sauniere's grave below, prove this is not true.
RE: TRANSFER OF MORTAL REMAINS OF THE ABBE SAUNIERE
Right of the family of Father Saunière wanted the transfer of mortal remains. This transfer took place on 14 September 2004 between 7:00 and 10:00 in the greatest respect for the rights and laws. The priest now rests in peace in the area. I wish all the dead, our parents are buried in the cemetery, the same peace.
J.-F. LHUILLIER Mayor
Interior Images of Sauniere's Grave
Sauniere's empty Burial Chamber
The wall at the far end is direction of Sauniere's garden. Notice the hole in the wall on the left which separates Sauniere's chamber from Marie Dénarnaud's burial chamber.
Closer image of the hole
A gap near the top of the hole reveals what seems to be a glimpse into Marie Dénarnaud's burial chamber. As she still resided there, no attempt was made to explore the hole further.
Image showing the right-hand wall and vaulted red brick roof of the chamber
The burial chamber entrance
It would have been through the blocked entrance in the image above, that Sauniere's coffin would have been placed inside his burial chamber in 1917. It is the same entrance through which his remains were removed in 2004.
Similar entrance to the one from Sauniere's grave, which can be seen on the right.
Sadly, it is unlikely, now buried under tons of concrete, that Sauniere's remains will ever return to his original resting place.
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