Discovery of the Knights Stone
After dismantling the old altar, where he aledgedly found some old parchments, l'abbe Sauniere directs the workman to lift the uneven flagstones that made up the floor of his church. After a large heavy stone slab is lifted, a carving is revealed on its reverse side.
The Knights Stone (Dalle du Chevalier)
Antoine Verdier, now an elderly villager, who was one of two altar boys that had helped Saunière during the restoration of the church when he was only nine or ten, the other boy was Rousset, aged ten years old, testified in 1966 that something strange had happened shortly after the altar had been dismantled:
"Our work was already well advanced and we were proceeding with the clearing of the altar, when the priest asked us to stop the work. 'You can come back tomorrow,' he told us. At that moment we were in the presence of a stone on which was engraved a 'knight'. The next day, we noticed that the stone had been worked loose. M. Saunière had us place it in the adjacent garden and refilled the cavity in which the skeletons were found. It was only later, seeing the importance of the immense works that were undertaken, that we made a connection with the incident of the knight's stone."
From Verdier's statement we can see that the two young helpers had not even finished clearing away the old altar when Saunière tells them to leave. Verdier makes no mention of any parchments but then maybe he was not present when the Altar was being removed only being called to assist with the clear up.
According to Pierre Jarnac in his book "Histoire du Trésor de Rennes-le-Château" printed by Bélisane in1998, he writes about two children who helped the priest. Two boys, Rousset, aged ten years old, and Antoine Verdier, who was about the same age, nine or ten, who were told by Saunière to meet him in the church the following Thursday after Catechism. The day duly arrived and after the two boys entered the church Saunière closed it from inside. On the floor of the central isle iron bars lay close to a large plain flagstone on the floor. With much effort the slab was lifted and after shifting it to one side, steps were seen leading down. Saunière thanked the boys for their help and told them they could leave.
It is plain to see that there are differences between the two accounts. The second account makes no mention of the carving. I think a reasonable explanation as to what may have happened is this:
The two boys, Verdier and Rousset meet Saunière in the church and start clearing away the rubble caused when the altar was removed. While there they notice the stone with the carving on, later named the Knights Stone. It is under this stone that the skeletons are found. This stone must have already been lifted as the boys clearly noticed the carving of a knight. The following day the boys return to the church and see some iron bars laid on the floor besides a large plain flagstone. It is under this 'large plain stone' that the steps are seen leading down, not the knights stone.
Re-enactment of Sauniere discovering the Knight's Stone as portrayed in the 1961 Rennes-le-Chateau film staring Noel Corbu as l'abbe Saunière, called La Rue Tourne.
Workman begin digging in front of the altar
Workman discover the Knights Stone
Perhaps Saunière did find something under the knights stone that indicated the entrance down to the crypt, or maybe after finding something under the knights stone he checked the rest of the floor. Maybe he tapped the stones and noticed a hollow sound from this one and decided to investigate. Perhaps we will never know for certain what really happened now. But the fact remains the stone is real and was discovered by Sauniere in his church.
Sauniere, who seems to attach little importance to its historic value, in 1905, has the knights stone taken outside and placed face up at the top of the steps leading to his calvary cross in the church garden. It would suffer badly from weather corrosion and become worn by the many feet scuffing its surface. Many of its once sharply defined features would be worn away during the half a century it would remain there before being rescued and moved to the Rennes-le-Chateau museum.
Calvary Cross in the Rennes-le-Chateau Church Garden
The knights stone was placed on the platform at the top of the three steps seen in the old photograph above.
Photograph of the Knights Stone positioned on the Calvary Cross steps
Rennes-le-Chateau Church Crypt
An interesting snippet that may or may not collaborate the story of steps leading down in the church floor, is from a GPR scan carried out recently in the Rennes-le-Chateau church. The scan seems to have picked up steps under the church floor. (Rennes-le-Chateau Crypt Article)
An impression on how the steps leading down to the crypt might look in relation to the GPR scan.
What is interesting that in the parish register 1725 to 1781: Death Certificate of Anne Delsol:
"... she has been buried ... in the church of this place in the Tomb of the Seigneurs which is beside the baluster." (See Saunière's Secret by Jean-Luc Robin, page 36 for full transcript.)
This then could be evidence that a crypt does exist - all be it a small one from the size of the scan, and so the steps Saunière found beneath the church floor were in all likelihood an entrance to the Tomb of the Seigneurs as mentioned in the parish register.
Discovery of a Small Treasure
Another interesting snippet, also from Pierre Jarnac, in the area of the old altar and after the knights stone had already been discovered, Elie Bot and his workmen and some others, which included one of Marie Dénarnaud's foster sisters, witness another discovery that may help to put the record straight. While working, the men found some bricks in the wall that were loose. The removed them to discover a cavity and inside a "pot filled with shining coins" As it was nearing midday, Saunière told his helpers to go and have some lunch. When he was alone Saunière no doubt emptied the newly discovered cavity of all its treasures. I wonder what else it was he found hidden there?
If this incident actually happened, perhaps it has gotten mixed up with the discovery of the knights stone as where the pot of coins were discovered. Saunière certainly seems to have the knack of finding things, no wonder he included a statue of St Anthony of Padua in his church who is the patron Saint of lost and stolen objects and who is often called upon to find things that have been lost, "Saint Anthony, Saint Anthony, please come around. Something is lost that can't be found."
Saunière has been stated as saying when asked about the coins something like:
"They are nothing but medals from Lourdes, they are of no value."
Although it seems Saunière had not found a great treasure during this early excavation work it seems he found something of enough value, along with other contributions, to continue with his renovations of the church. As well as installing the new altar he also orders new stain glass windows in 1887, purchased from the Bordeaux workshop of Pierre Henri Feur, 1837 to 1925. Saunière would pay for this work in four installments with the initial payment being made on 30th September 1887, 2nd payment:12th April 1897, third payment: 26th April 1899 and the final balance paid on 7th January 1900.
He also carries out minor building and repair work to the church.
But it is early days yet, Saunière still has more discoveries ahead of him.
The Knights Templar
There has, like everything Saunière did and found, been much speculation over these carvings, though it is possibly nothing more than a hunting scene, some connect them to the Knights Templar because they see two men riding one horse, similar to the depiction on their seal. Although there were many seals used by the Templars throughout their two centuries of existence, there is one more commonly thought of as their 'traditional seal,' and it depicts two knights riding on one horse and was used by several Grand Masters over the Templars' 200 year history.
Knight Templar Seal designs
Geoffroy De Vichier - Gilbert Erail - Bertrant de Blancquefort - Pierre de Montaigu
Others link the knights stone carvings to the flight of Sigebert IV to Rennes-le-Château in 681, and this date would match the date on the altar pillar when turned the right way up if the 1 is ignored. However, the speculation continues.
Les pierres gravées du Languedoc
This mysterious knights stone appears in the book Les pierres gravées du Languedoc (The engraved stones in Languedoc) which was published in1884 under the name of Eugène Stublein who was born in Alet in 1832 and died in 1899 in Les Sauzils.
The author informs the reader, the knights stone was the princes Sigebert IV, Sigebert V and Bera III ‘s tombstone and it was carved in 771. The carvins depict Sigebert IV’s arrival when he was saved by his uncle Levis Bellisen on January 17th 681. A drawing of the alleged inscription engraved on Marchionness Hautpoul’s alleged tombstone.
However, their is a problem with this book and the information it contains, because according to Stublein’s bibliography, there is no record of him ever publishing Les pierres gravées du Languedoc. This means that the information it contains cannot be trusted.
René Descadeillas and the Knights Stone
The Knights Stone (Dalle du Chevalier)
This tombstone has now returned to Rennes-le-Château, where the Abbé Saunière originally discovered it in the church in 1886. For publicity purposes the village has put it in a glass outdoor display-cabinet. There it is to be seen resting on a forged-iron support, lit by a red light, close to a hole dug to illustrate the legend of the Abbé's treasure. It is not the only item on display in the cabinet, but it is certainly the most important one.
In 1955 this flagstone was sent by Pierre Embry, the curator of classified objects for the Department of the Aude, to the county town's historic stonework depository (then in its infancy). When the museum was established in 1959 it was put on display in the main gallery, an honour it certainly deserved. It was there that Georges Fouet, head of research at the CNRS, photographed it in 1971. A short while ago, on 19 November 1973, the photos were studied jointly by Georges Fouet and Monsieur Mesplé, the honorary curator at the Musée des Augustins in Toulouse, who is one of the leading experts on the mediaeval sculpture of the Midi region of France.
Originally this flagstone was used to block up a funerary vault in the church of Rennes-le-Château. It could subsequently have been laid flat and used as, for example, flooring for the church. Finally Saunière incorporate it into the base of a mission-cross which he had erected in front of the church in Rennes-le-Château in 1905, where it suffered the vagaries of the local climate for half a century. That helps explain the wearing-away of the relief which had, until then, been perfectly preserved (when Saunière opened up the tomb that it was covering the sculpture was lying in the grave-ditch, and so had not had to endure any damage caused either by the weather or by human beings).
It measures 1.31 metres in length, 0.72 m in width and 0.08 m in depth.
Beneath two arches composed of cabochons [stones cut with a smooth, rounded surface] or billets [rectangles on an escutcheon] – it is difficult to say which because of the degree of wear on the surface – and held up by spiral columns are shown a man and a woman, both on horseback, ready to leave for the chase. Undoubtedly these are members of a lordly household in their customary regalia.
We note that the woman, on the left, is elegantly coiffured. She is clad in a dress the vertical folds of which can still be discerned as being held at the waist by a girdle. She is riding side-saddle. She is blowing upon a hunting-horn which she holds in her right hand. Her left arm has completely disappeared, but her left hand seems to be holding some sort of object, a damaged fragment of which can be seen just below her waist. The image of the horse has suffered very greatly from the effects of weathering. We see it at rest, turned to the left, perhaps ready to take a drink, its head inclined towards a sort of trough laid on the ground.
On the right-hand side we can see a knight, probably a lord, also preparing to leave for the hunt. In his right hand he is brandishing a spear. In his left hand he is lifting up an ornament to place on the horse's head; the outlines of the ornament are too difficult to make out to be able to tell precisely what it is. He is pushing upwards an indistinct object, square in shape; if we examine it closely through a magnifying glass we can see that it was originally finely decorated. A strap connects it to the horse's neck and a pompom surmounts it. From the horse's neck hangs a halter which is still clearly visible. The horse is turned to the right, ready to depart.
Above the arches we can see a hunting scene, a common motif during the Middle Ages. Outside this we see a vegetable decoration which is also found below; fragments of it can also be seen in the central part.
The design has been finely traced by the sculptor. The aesthetic qualities of the tombstone are undeniable.
It is very difficult to assign a date to this sculpture, which has suffered too much erosion to be studied in detail. We therefore content ourselves with an approximate dating of 12th-13th centuries, thus assigning it to the Southern Romano-Gothic period. Read original posted article here.