Abbé Saunière's Tombstone
Bérenger Saunière's Grave in the Rennes-le-Chateau cemetery
Although this is the place where Sauniere was originally laid to rest, his body was removed in September 2004 and placed in unconsecrated ground in a new grave situated on the other side of the graveyard wall seen in the above photo. It is now part of the Sauniere museum tour and you have to pay to see it. Read article + images of Sauniere's empty grave
Interior of Sauniere's now empty grave
Saunière's Tombstone bears a relief, it is said that is not of himself but that of his brother Alfred. The two seemed to have got on well together and were good friends but having your face on your brothers tombstone is probably pushing brotherly love a bit too far. The tombstone we can see today has been damaged by vandals, defacing the eyes and mouth. Perhaps it is a message, See no Evil, Speak no Evil, but whoever did it was okay about him hearing Evil as they left the ear untouched.
Saunière's damaged Tombstone
Abbé Alfred Saunière 1855-1905
Abbé François Bérenger Saunière 1852 to 1917
As you can see from the above photographs, they are similar in appearance but dissimilar enough not to mistake them as the same man surely.
When I was lucky enough to be invited into Chateau Hautpoul by its owner Mr Fatin I learned that he had taken a mould of the tombstone many years before to make some copies to exhibit in his small museum. Read full article here. As I walked around the museum I was able to photograph these tombstone replicas.
Saunière or Alfred?
Using photographs of these copies and those of Alfred and Saunière I compared them in Photoshop to see if I could ascertain the true identity of this relief.
Image of Alfred used for the comparison with background removed and turned to match the angle of the head on the tombstone copy photograph shown below.
Tombstone Image to use for comparison
Alfred has been made slightly transparent and laid on top of the tombstone copy image. Apart from decreasing the size of the chin slightly and the back of the head, it is an almost perfect match. (Changes can be seen in the 2 small Alfred photos shown above)
Bérenger Sauniere and Alfred Saunière
As you can see the hairline of Alfred matches the tombstone whereas Saunière's does not.
As it is almost a certainty that the image is of Alfred we have to wonder how this mistake came about. The tombstone would have been copied from a photograph, but who gave it to the stone cutter? Marie would have known the difference between the two so it could not have been her, and presumably everyone else in the village would know what Sauniere looked like.
This photograph of Alfred shown above, that used to stand in the villa Bethania dining room, seems to be the photograph the tombstone bas-relief was carved from.
This would not be the first time Alfred would be mistaken for his brother, newspapers and even Gérard de Sède in his books would label Alfred as his brother Bérenger. As they both had a similar appearance perhaps we can see why those not personally knowing the brothers would have made this mistake. If we too did not have at our disposal today the luxury of all the photographs to compare them to each other and the tombstone we would probably make the same mistake.