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Rennes-le-Chateau Research - Esperaza Church and its priest Jean Rivière and the statue of Jesus with his eyes open!


Esperaza Church

When Bérenger Saunière was the priest of the church dedicated to Mary Magdalene in the village of Rennes-le-Chateau, Jean Rivière was the priest of the Esperaza church dedicated to Saint-Michel.

Esperaza Church

Esperaza Church Entrance

The church was built during the 13th century.

During the early part of the 20th century, Esperaza was known all over the world for it’s hat making industry, this feature of the town's past is preserved in the Hat Making Museum. Esperaza also has a second museum showing off the collection of fossil bones and eggs discovered in the area during the end of the 19th century, it also includes life size reconstructions of some dinosaurs.

La Maison du Chapelier chambres d'hotes, where I have stayed many times, was built for the wealthy owner of one of the hat factories and the house bears similarities in decoration details with some of the building work Sauniere had carried out on his domain.

La Maison du Chapelier

Marie Dénarnaud was born in Esperaza on August 12th 1868. Like her brother and father she also worked as a hat maker in the factory in Esperaza.

Rivière makes his mark in the Rennes-le-Chateau mystery at the end of Sauniere's life. On the 17th January 1917, Sauniere suffered a stroke. A few days later, realising his time on this earth was nearly over he asked for his old friend the priest of Esperaza to come and hear his confession and to administer the last rites.

Rivière rushed to his friend's side and began to perform his duty. Whilst hearing his confession, which lasted a long time, Rivière, for some reason still unexplained, rushed from the room. Some have said it was as if he had been in the presence of the devil himself such was the look of terror etched on his face. Though the two were close friends, the Abbé Rivière had left with out administering the Last Sacraments, only after Saunière's death would Rivière return to administer them. Bérenger Saunière died on the 22nd January 1917.

It is said he never smiled as much again and became a recluse.

The story above is probably just that, a story to spice up the mystery. I imagine becoming a recluse would be somewhat difficult for a priest. I imagine Rivière would have been upset seeing his friend dying, but an expression of terror is probably an exaggeration.

The story appeared in the book by Gérard de Sède -L’Or de Rennes – primary addition to the myth-making process – the impact of which was to last for decades, despite its rebuttal by Monsignor George Boyer, the Vicar-General of the Bishopric of Carcasonne, who also wrote: "That the Abbé Saunière could have received the last sacraments two days after his death is absolutely incredible. And that dear old Abbé Rivière, the curé of Espéraza, who died in 1929, and who was the Dean of Coursan (where I got to know him well) never smiled again after the death of the Abbé Saunière, to whom he had administered extreme unction, is another puzzling statement, as I myself saw him roar with laughter."

Like many aspects of this mystery there is no hard evidence to support or discount the story entirely but it seems unlikely it is true and it has little or no bearing on the Rennes-le-Chateau Mystery except for an interesting snippet. What is fact is that Rivière did here Saunieres confession and shortly after this event the priest made some changes to his church, the most striking being the figure of Jesus lying in a grotto. This grotto or cave is built with similar looking rocks to those that Sauniere constructed his grotto in the church garden from. To have a statue of Jesus laid out this way is, to say the least, very unusual as the Bible tells us the body of Jesus ascended to heaven. This means there should be no body of Jesus to place in a cave like Rivière has in his Esperaza church. Did Sauniere's confession reveal something to Rivière that went against the Bible's account of the ascension of Jesus's body, that it is buried somewhere in the surrounding landscape, in an underground cave perhaps?

The Jesus Grotto in Esperaza Church


The Jesus Grotto


Jesus Grotto


Jesus Grotto

Whether the report on the priest's reaction to Sauniere's confession is true or not, something did seem to alter his perspective on his beliefs after hearing it. Why else would he suddenly construct this strange grotto in his church. What is even more surprising is that the statue of Jesus placed in this cave has his eyes open! Just what is Rivière implying here?

Jesus - Eyes Open

Close-up showing the open eyes of Jesus.

Memorial to Jean Rivière who became priest of Coursan in 1920 and died in 1929.


St. Roch Esperaza        St. Roch Rennes-le-Chateau Church

St. Roch in Esperaza and Rennes-le-Chateau.

St Roch also appears in Couiza church so its significance may be unimportant.

Other statues that appear in the Esperaza church and Sauniere's include, St Germaine, St Joseph and the Virgin Mary, again just like in Sauniere's church, Joseph and Mary are each holding a baby.

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La Fontaine des Amour near Rennes-les-Bains

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Rennes-le-Chateau research into Esperaza Church and the statue of Jesus with his eyes open!

St. Roch was added to the Esperaza Church by the Abbé Rivière just as a statue of St. Roch was added by Sauniere to his Rennes-le-Chateau church.