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Presbytery and the Gelis Murder Scene

Coustaussa Church & Presbytery & the Murder Scene of Abbé Antoine Gélis

Coustaussa Church 1

Coustaussa Church interior looking towards the altar

The reason I wanted to visit the church again was to try and see what lay in the sacristy accessed by the two doors seen to the left and right of the altar in the above photo.  I had been told that some of Gélis' personal and church related possessions, had been stored in this room after his death.

Coustaussa Church Exterior

Coustaussa Church

The curved building at the rear of the church houses the sacristy. The old door on the left accessed by the old stone steps allowed entry to the sacristy without going through the church.

Having discovered the location of the key holder on a previous visit I headed towards the recently constructed chalet type house located on the road that runs past the old graveyard. The new graveyard lies further along this road. Luckily the man we wanted to see was standing in the driveway and he was only too willing to open the church. I expect it is a lonely existence in the village so any company is welcome, even if it is only tourists. After he had unlocked the church door I entered and after taking a couple of photos inside the church I headed towards the left hand door to the Sacristy but it would not open. I had better luck with the door on the right and it opened with a loud scraping noise as the old warped and sagging door scraped on the stone floor. As the key holder did not stop me I stepped into the Sacristy.

Coustaussa Church sacristy-1

My first glimpse of the room from the doorway

The window seen here is the high window seen in the photo of the church exterior shown on this page.

The room was cluttered with old church paraphernalia, including some old black and white Stations of the Cross pictures that probably hung in the church when Gélis was the priest. These have since been replaced with coloured versions. See examples HERE

Station of the Cross 14

The room showed obvious signs of neglect and decay. Dust and cobwebs were everywhere. A few pigeons have also made their home here.

Coustaussa Church sacristy-2  

The roof and some of the stored objects. The door seen here is the one accessed by the stone steps outside.

Coustaussa Church sacristy-3  Coustaussa Church sacristy-3

An opening in the floor situated in the square building beside the curved room I was in, revealed some old wooden steps leading to a lower level. As the steps were unsafe I was unable to explore this lower room, but leaning over the edge I could see little of interest. Some wooden steps also led up but were in worst condition than the ones leading down, so again I was unable to explore further. After a quick rummage through the room's contents, and a look inside the old wooden sideboard, I found no documents dating back to Gélis, or other items of interest.

Coustaussa Church sacristy-5

Coustaussa Church sacristy-6

Two cupboards situated in the stairwell. One empty and the other containing some old candlesticks and a statue that I take to be the Virgin Mary.

Coustaussa Church sacristy-8

Something for all you geometry buffs out there

The square construction houses the staircase I could not climb or descend but the window hints that a room is situated at the top and may contain something related to Gélis

Before I left the church I asked the key holder about Gélis' possessions. He informed me that yes they had been stored here but in 1904 the church was broken into and some of the possessions stolen. He also added that other churches in the area were broken into, but could not remember what ones. Gélis was brutally murdered on October 31 - 1897, seven years before this alleged burglary. If this happened what was the thief after? Sauniere was still alive at this time, dying in 1917.

The view of Rennes-le-Chateau from outside the Coustaussa presbytery

The upper windows of the presbytery have an uncluttered view of Rennes-le-Chateau

View of Rennes-le-Chateau village across the valley from the Presbytery - Sauniere's church and domain is to the right

With the good line of sight between the two, the two priests could have signaled to each other if they so wished.

The Presbytery and the Murder Scene

Abbé Antoine Gélis

What is interesting is that during the murder investigation, a drop of blood was found on the window sill of the presbytery top floor window. Gélis was murdered downstairs so the blood must have come from someone responsible for his death, if Sauniere had been responsible for putting in place the steps that led to the priest's death, then maybe a signal was sent from this upper window to Sauniere, informing the priest that the deed had been accomplished.

Gelis Murder Bedroom plan

Bedroom plan showing the drops of blood at the window (7) - image taken from the police autopsy report with my red blood highlights

An english translation of the report has been included in Lost Tomb of the Knights Templar by Ben Hammott

Though the presbytery has been pulled down, another house now stands in its place. The window was open and a woman was inside. After a brief chat she kindly allowed us inside to have a look around and to take some photos. The layout of the rooms are similar to the original presbytery plans so though we were not in the actual room where the murder took place, it was the correct location.

Interior photographs of the house that has replaced the presbytery


(left) This is the area where the murder took place  -  (right) There used to be a fireplace on this wall (16)


(left) Kitchen window (5)   -  (right) Staircase situated just inside the front door which follows the same design as the original. The blood was found on the first step. (26)

Murder Scene

Gelis Coustaussa  Presbytery Murder Plan

Plan of the Murder scene taken from the police autopsy report with my red blood highlights

To this day no one has ever been identified or charged with the muder of Abbé Gélis.

100 year old picture

While walking through the village we met a kindly old villager who asked if we wanted to taste his grapes, we assumed he was trying to sell us some of his homemade wine.

The friendly villager - look him up next time you are in the village he will enjoy the company

We told him we were just going to get the key for the church, realising we were interested in the church he said he had a hundred year old picture of the church and presbytery, excited at this news we asked if we could see it and he readily agreed. Entering his house we were shown a drawing of the church and the street where the presbytery was situated. Image shown below.

Coustaussa church drawing (print)

Unfortunately the presbytery was not shown on this picture being just out of frame. The picture does show how the houses and thus how the presbytery probably would have looked when Gélis was alive and living there.

Notice the roughness of the ground and the ruins of the chateau behind the church.

The date on the picture is 1914 - 17 years after Gélis had died

Coustaussa Church & Presbytery

The street view as it looks today

Close-up of the old buildings

We were also shown a plan of Coustaussa chateau as it once looked

Coustaussa Chateau Plan

Coustaussa Chateau ruins today, with Rennes-le-Chateau across the valley

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Montpellier Archives contact information

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Related Article Publications

Lost Tomb of the Knights Templar by Ben Hammott

Available in printed and digital formats

Ben Hammott's Illustrated Guide to Rennes-le-Chateau 2

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