Excavation at Rennes-le-Chateau

A Buried Chest

I had this article ready to post ages ago but forgot all about it. It is a bit out of date now but lately I have had a few emails regarding this matter and it is still interesting seeing that this is, as far as I know, the only official excavation taken place in Saunière's domain, so I have decided to post it.


Jean Lhuilier, the mayor of Rennes-le-Chateau, receives a letter from Jean-Louis Génibrel

"At the beginning of the construction of the tower Magdala, Rennes - le-Château [...] the grandfather of my uncle, who was the foreman, helped Father Saunière to bury at least one box and" other items under the the tower. "

Tour Magdala

Tour Magdala

The mayor has admitted that he has, and no doubt still does, receive many letters from people saying they know where 'Sauniere's treasure' or 'secrets' are buried, but for some reason he took this information more seriously. Perhaps it was because it came from a relative of one of the actual builders of Saunière's domain that persuaded him. Whatever the reason on 17 April 2001, a team of Canadian archaeologists and scientists arrived in Rennes - le-Château, with $500,000 of equipment!

The team was supervised by Robert Eisenmann, who Génibrel had previously contacted at the University of Long Beach. Eisenmann is best known as the scholar who, in the 1980s, finally broke the academic embargo on the release of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Eisenmann must have also taken Génibrel seriously because he had contacted the Merril Foundation, a private foundation that funds archaeological work, especially in the Holy Land. They agreed to finance a ground scan in Rennes-le-Château.

Among others, Serena Tajé, doctor of theology, was also present.

When the ultrasound had been completed and the results studied, the scientists discovered an anomaly beneath the tower. It seemed to be a wooden object as no metal was detected, so no gold here then. This object, which was described as a chest or a trunk measuring approx 90cm x 120cm, was buried 4 m deep below the tower. (4m must be a misprint or mistake as the scans clearly show the anomaly little more than half a meter below the surface - maybe the measurement got confused with the church scan.)

The church was also scanned and there seems to be evidence of a crypt but that does not concern us here as it has not been excavated and probably never will be.

Tour Magdala ground Scan

The tower floor ground scans - a good excuse to excavate

Serena Tajé has been reported of saying, "the trunk could contain documents that could shed light on the founding myth of the church." Which seems a strange thing to say.

More controversy was caused by some of the other statements that she was reported as having made. Newspaper reports quoted her as saying, 'It could be a question of a document that will challenge the history of the Catholic Church!… Unless it is a tangible sign of the presence in this place (a presence attested to by the holy texts) of Jesus's judge, of that same Herod Antipas who stopped here, at Rennes-le-Château, on the path of exile, in the company of a certain Mary the Madgalenian.'

But one of Dr Tajé's reported comments eclipsed even these statements when she jokingly stated during dinner that, 'The Church has given me the mission of destroying any compromising documents that we might find'. Although it seems only to have been said in jest many people took it as a serious remark, including Leopold Sanchez, who reported these remarks in Le Figaro Magazine on July 7, "Serena Tajé is also the Special Envoy of the Vatican!"

Although Serena does do work for the Vatican she also works for many other organizations.

The results of the Tower and church scans caused a great stir in the French press - along with much speculation, and the lack of information being released by the team did nothing to help matters. Much of this speculation centered on the presence of three Italians from a public relations company called Robadoba, which was said to be owned by the Vatican. (However, this has since been denied.)

If John Merril Foundation confirms its investment of $100,000, an excavation could begin in September. "Everything will be done in agreement with the authorities concerned," says Jean Lhuilier. (No doubt rubbing his hands together with greedy excitement at the figure of $100,000 dollars mentioned. I am sure many of us would have done it for half that amount.)

Although the dig was originally announced for September 2001, the Rennes-le-Château Consortium changed it to February 2002, giving bureaucratic delays as the reason. However, the dig did not happen then either.


August 20th 2003 - The excavation of the Tour Magdala

The digging was started in the early hours of the morning before the tourists arrived in the village to hinder the work.

The excavation begins



The Mayor is never far away and constantly watches the men digging



Wood chips are found

The wood chips

Were these small pieces of wood part of a decaying box hidden by Saunière? Very doubtful. They are probably nothing more than bits of discarded wood left there when the concrete floor was laid.



The Mayor moves in closer as a hollow sound is heard that sounds like wood when tapped with a metal bar

The mayor pushes to the front, no doubt ready to claim anything of worth

But it is not a box, nothing more than a small rock.

The rock is lifted out and discarded

The digging continues


The Mayor steps in to spoil the fun


Suddenly Lhuilier calls a halt to the digging, pointing out that they have reached the depth of the anomaly on the scan

Everyone is confused at this sudden turn of events as the Mayor orders a measurement to be taken

Just over 0.5 meters, that's it orders the mayor, no more digging.

The guilty face of Lhuilier

The Mayor refuses to change his mind and the excavation ends. Surprised and no doubt disappointed, the team do a last bit of filming and then have no choice to pack up their equipment.

The filled in hole


Contact with Jean Génibrel

I have been in contact by email with Jean over the years and I asked him for his reaction to the excavation and why he thought they did not find the chest, trunk or box. This is part of his reply.

"There have been some explorations here and there but it cannot be said that the domain was THOROUGHLY explored. As you have found Ben, it is easy to hide a small object. When I said that my great uncle had hidden the box under the tower many people said the same thing and they even showed me where in the south west corner of the wall they had dug. From time immemorial "time capsules" or other things were placed under the foundations or near the (info removed) of significant buildings. Free Masons and Templars had their own place to hide things and where to place the... (info removed). I wanted to scan those areas when I organised the trip, but Eisenman and the mayor had made their deal before I arrived and they wanted the church scanned, when it is already known where the entrance to the crypt is (and there are other possible ones). When I saw that they had their own agenda and they were taking me out of the picture I let them do what they wanted and kept my ideas to myself. On the second day I arrived early and got the floor of the tower scanned, but knowing (thinking) that this was not where the trunk was.
The scans were cut into 3D images and when they were shown in the museum to the employees and the hoards that Eisenman had invited, someone said "it is a trunk". I let them go with it to send them on their own wild goose chase."


Scan depth

The rock placed on the scan at the approximate depth it was discovered

The rock is hardly square or 90cm x 120cm in size as mentioned earlier

by the team. Neither is it at the four meter depth mentioned in the web reports. It is also nowhere near where Génibrel mentioned to me as the location where Saunière had hidden a box of some kind.

Why was the mayor so keen to halt the dig? There could be something buried underneath the rock and it would have made sense to dig down further to find out while all the equipment and manpower was there.

Apparently, if the story one of the Rennes-le-Chateau villagers told me is true, Lhuilier went back to the tower after everyone had gone to do some digging of his own, but it is doubtful he found anything.

This whole episode seems to have been a complete waste of time and money as in the book 'Rennes-le-Chateau - Saunière's Secret' by Jean-luc Robin, which has been translated into English by Henry Lincoln, he recounts an amusing story while he had been running Saunière's domain, having leased it in 1994. The story concerns two men who had apparently pinpointed the exact location of a buried chest beneath the tower floor, Jean-Luc, who had heard it all before, reluctantly gave them two hours to make their small hole to find this 'chest.' Being busy in the restaurant, Jean-Luc completely forgot about the 'treasure hunters' and it was only seven hours later that he remembered. Rushing back to the tower he was dismayed to see that the men, although only one was still there by now, had dug up the entire floor of the tower, and they had still not found anything.

So the floor smashed up by the Americans was new, it had not been laid down by Saunière's workman and this location had already been searched. The possibility of finding anything a little more than half a meter below the surface here was nil. But if something had been buried in the location where Jean Génibrel had first said, which later seemed to have been ignored for some reason, and if this location has not been excavated previously, a box of some kind may still be there. But it seems a strange place to bury something, somewhere that would require a lot of heavy work to gain access to it. If Saunière did bury a box here it must contain something that he knew he would not need in a hurry or even in his lifetime, but something he wanted preserved. It could only be documents of some kind. Documents who's information had to be dangerous, if not to him then the church. Maybe the priest had hidden it in such a difficult to access location so no one could get at it easily. If it contained some kind of secret that he was using to blackmail a certain someone or organization, then it makes sense to hide it where they would not be able to get there hands on it. But of course this is all speculation maybe there is no chest of secrets buried under the tower, or is there?

An old excavation tunnel Jean-Luc left open for visitors to see - It is in the area under the belvedere or terrace to the right of the Magdala tower and obviously has nothing to do with the 2003 excavation

This whole costly and time consuming exercise seems to have been nothing more than a front for scanning the church floor in an attempt to find the crypt below. And though the scans did reveal something interesting that may be crypts and objects inside them, unlike the tower which is privately owned, the church belongs to the state and for the foreseeable future it looks as if the DRAC will not be granting permission for an excavation to find out.

Here is the report from the GPR scans:


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