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 It is a bit out of date now but lately I have had a few emails regarding this matter and it is still interesting seeing that this is, as far as I know, the only official excavation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. "
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.
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.