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The Rennes-le-Chateau Mystery Timeline
Part 1 - 1719 - 1909
As anyone will know who has tried to put together a timeline of the events involved with the Rennes-le-Chateau affair, it is not an easy task, even more so if you cannot read French. It involves much cross referencing, translating, book reading and the consulting of any source materials that exist, Saunière's notebooks for example. What follows is many months of my research into this matter.
This timeline is an ongoing work and will be updated or details changed to reflect new research or evidence that I come across.
If anyone has any information that I may have missed or that could expand on the accuracy of this timeline, or any errors you think I may have made, I would be glad to hear from you. Please email me here.
Rennes-le-Château - a small hilltop village in the Languedoc area of south-west France
Abbé Bigou 1719 - 1794
Abbé Antoine Bigou was born in France in 1719.
In 1774, he arrived in Rennes-le-Château to replace his uncle, Abbé Jean Bigou - 1702 to 1776, as the parish priest. Antoine continued his uncle's close relationship with the village nobility, the Hautpouls. The large Château, which was rebuilt by the Hautpoul family in the 16th century is still standing today, though it is badly rundown and partly in ruins.
Old photograph of Chateau Hautpoul
Chateau Hautpoul in 2007
Click this link to see photographs of the Chateau interior
During the time Antoine Bigou was priest of the village, Marie de Nègre d' Ables was living in the chateau until she died in 1781. She had married Francois d`Hautpoul who was the first Marquis de Blanchefort and who's ancestors took part in the crusades. It was he who had informed Marie of the secret. Part of the secret seems to have included certain important documents of which their whereabouts today is unknown. With the family connection with the crusades it is possible the 'secret' may have originated from the Holy Land.
Bigou is relevant to the mystery as he seems to have been the one that hid something in the Mary Magdalene church that Saunière later discovered during his renovations.
The church was re-dedicated to Mary Magdalene after the 14th century, previously being dedicated to Saint Marie. Originally it was never the main church of the village but a private chapel of the chateau, the main village church being St Pierre aux Liens or Saint Peters, until it became a ruin in 1380 when the village was attacked.
Location of the old Saint Peters Church in Rennes-le-Chateau
It is thought that Marie entrusted the Abbé Bigou with a secret before she died, adding a stipulation that the secret was so important it must be preserved at all costs, and the priest was to pass it on to someone else he could trust before his death.
Marie Blanchefort died on that reoccurring date of January 17th - 1781 and is thought to have been buried in the crypt or, which is more likely, the Rennes-le-Chateau graveyard. The legend goes that Bigou had inscribed a tombstone with a strange inscription that some say was a coded clue to the 'secret' or its whereabouts, and that Saunière eventually decoded, or at least made a copy, before erasing the inscription. A stone that bears no markings still exists and is thought by some to be the actual Blanchefort tombstone.
The Perillos website has an interesting article about this called:
Enigmas of the cemetery of Rennes-le-Château
Others believe that the Abbé Bigou passed on the secret via Parchments he concealed in the church which the Abbé Saunière discovered during his renovations. There are two locations said to be the hiding place used by Bigou, the first was in an ancient pillar, one of two supporting the heavy stone altar top. The second is in a secret compartment of a wooden baluster, once part of the pulpit stairs.
Bigou had to flee France because in 1789 the French Revolution had began and in the following years it swept across the country, looting, pillaging and murdering anyone they believed to be potential enemies, of whatever sex, age, or condition. The French Revolution was the death knell for the old system of monarchy in Europe. It began in ernest in September of 1793 and lasted until the fall of Robespierre on July 27, 1794. During the last six weeks of the Terror alone (the period known as the "Red Terror") nearly fourteen hundred people were guillotined in Paris alone.
French Revolution - Collection of original documents and web links
Holy places of worship and priests were not excluded from their murderous rampaging if the priests did not adhere to the new order passed in August 1792, dictating that the clergy were to be made employees of the state. They would now be elected by their parish or bishopric. But that was not all, the law also dictates the all priests and bishops had to swear an oath of allegiance to the new order. The consequences for anyone who declined would be dismissal, deportation or death. Bigou, who had no wish to become part of this new republic, knew if he stayed he would not remain unscathed, had no option but to flee the country. In 1792, aged 73, he fled to Sabadell, in Spain, where he died aged 75 on the 21st March 1794 having never returned to Rennes-le-Chateau.
Quoting from Jean Luc's book Saunière's Secret' - Under the chapter heading: As related by Marie Constant Amand d'Hautpoul, tutor to the Come de Chambord.
"For Bigou had a secret. He held documents which he could not – under any circumstances – dare risk having found in his possession. Eleven years before, in 1781, my great-aunt, Marie de Négri d’Able, chatelaine of Rennes-le- Château, marquise d’Hautpoul de Blanchefort, had passed away. When she felt that her end was near, she had sent for Antoine Bigou, to hear her final confession. She was no longer on good terms with her children. In fact, her daughters, my cousins, had taken her to court for squandering the family fortune. There was nothing left for them to inherit. All her remaining goods and chattels were bequeathed to Bigou. And – most particularly – she entrusted to him her ancestors’ entire family archive.
Our family, the Hautpouls de Blanchefort, is one of the oldest in the Languedoc. We’d survived the period of the Cathares and we’d been linked with the Templars. My ancestor, Bertrand de Blanchefort, was third Grand Master of the Order. It seems that the family held some sort of secret in the form of documents – and these were among the archive which my great-aunt left to Bigou. They had been handed down from generation to generation, their origin always shrouded in the deepest secrecy.
... He’d (Bigou) succeeded his own uncle as priest of Rennes-le-Château and so he knew perfectly well that there were secrets hidden here. When the Revolution broke out in 1789, some of the local families opted for exile – and left their fortunes in the care of the Abbé Bigou, whom they knew to be totally trustworthy. Certainly, they were hoping to return when the danger was past. No-one imagined, for a moment, that priests would be troubled. And so, in 1792, when Bigou was forced, in his turn, to take flight, he was in possession of immense resources."
Saunière's Secret by Jean-Luc Robin - a highly recommended read
Available to purchase at Rennes-le-Chateau or online HERE
The chateau was acquired by the Fatin family from their descendants in 1947 and they are still the owners today. (2007)
The fire that ravaged it in 1915 has caused an advanced state of decay, which has been worsening ever since, leaving much of it in ruin.
Relevant Links for more information about the Chateau, Bigou and the Blancheforts
NOTICE ON HISTORIC CASTLES OF THE BOROUGH OF LIMOUX: (French)
Abbé Antoine Bigou (1719-1794)
Inside Chateau Hautpoul by Ben Hammott
Enigmas of the Rennes-le-Chateau cemetery
Interesting article about the Hautpouls
French Revolution - Collection of original documents and web links
Abbé Jean Antoine Camp is pastor of RLC
Abbé Marsan is priest of RLC
Abbé Rouger is priest of RLC
From a report of 1806 about the cemetery that adjoins the parish church:
"already in 1806 it left much to be desired, for every day you see animals grazing there, due to the collapsed wall and because there is no gate."
Parish Report on the bell tower:
"part of the tower collapsed and a sum of 200 francs was hardly enough for the repairs."
Abbé Sabarthes is priest of RLC
Abbé Sadourny is priest of RLC
A report from the paris register:
The cemetery "will be enclosed by four walls with a lockable door and with a stone cross on a plinth and two steps in the middle of the cemetery, but there are no paths."
It could be this cross that was later placed on Saunière's grave in 1917.
Abbé Pagès is priest of RLC
Abbé Blanc is priest of RLC
Abbé Pons is priest of RLC
During the occasion of the celebration of the king's feast, in 1st may, the church bell broke.
A report on the bell tower:
"a tower, 2.78 meters square, is used for the bell tower, there are two bells, one of 350 kg, the other 100 kg, also a clock."
The bell that broke in 1838 is replaced at a cost of 200 francs.
1st July 2 Jean Vie priest of Rennes-les-Bains dies.
Henri Boudet is appointed parish priest of Rennes - les - Bains
Alfred Saunière, Saunière's brother, is ordained a priest.
He is appointed assistant priest of Alzonne.
Abbé Cezac is priest of RLC
Alfred Saunière joins the Jesuits. As jesuits were forbidden to teach, Alfred returned to to his diocese and was appointed teacher at the secondary school in Narbonne.
Saunière was ordained as a priest in June 1879 and was assistant priest at Alet from July 16th 1879 to June 1882.
Abbé Mocquin is priest of RLC
Bishop Felix Arsène Billiard is appointed the Bishop of Carcassonne on the 17th February.
Billard was born on October 23rd 1829.
On October 4th 1853 he was ordained a priest.
His first appointment was priest of Saint Remy de Dieppe, then at Saint Patrice de Rouen, and finally to the cathedral of Rouen. He became bishop of Narbonne, canon holder and vicar general, before he was appointed Bishop of Carcassonne. He succeeded Bishop Leuillieux.
From June 1882 to 1885 Saunière was the priest in the village of Le Clat.
Antoine Croc is appointed as priest of Rennes le Château
The bell tower had to be repaired as it was "...cracked on its four sides."
Abbé François Bérenger Saunière
Abbé François Bérenger Saunière 1852 to 1917
He rarely used his first name.
In 1885 Abbé Saunière is appointed parish priest of Rennes-le-Château.
Bérenger Saunière was born on April 11th 1852 in Montazels.
He was the eldest of 7 children: 3 sons, Alfred, Martial, Joseph, and 3 daughters Mathilde, Adeline, Marie-Louise.
He was the son of Marguerite Hugues and Joseph Saunière 1823 to 1906. Saunière's father managed the local flour mill and had also been the mayor of Montazels, as well as being the the steward of the Marquis de Cazermajou's castle.
Saunière's Family home in Montazels
Alfred became a priest and Joseph wanted to be a doctor but he died aged 25.
Saunière was educated in the school at Saint Louis in Limoux, the petit Seminary Secondary School in Carcassonne and then in 1874 the grand Seminary, (priests training school) also in Carcassonne.
He was ordained as a priest in June 1879 and was assistant priest at Alet from July 16th 1879 to June 1882.
From June 1882 to 1885 he was a priest in the village of Clat.
He was appointed to Rennes le Château on June 1st 1885, replacing the previous priest Antoine Croc who had only been in that position for three years.
The political debate in France at this time was whether the country should continue as a Republic or once again return to a Monarchy. The monarchists, who were pro-Catholic, supported the Church, whereas the Republicans wanted the separation of Church and state.
In the elections of October 1885 the public were set to vote on this issue. In one of his sermons, in an attempt to sway the local voters, Saunière delivers a strongly anti-Republican speech, urging his flock to vote against the Republic, declaring 'all our forces must be employed against our adversaries.' Obviously this did not sit well with the local authorities, they wanted him dismissed, but the Bishop of Carcassonne compromised by sending him to a seminary at Narbonne for some months 1886.
1886 - 1887
Due to the before mentioned anti-republican speech during the elections, Saunière was forced to leave the village and was appointed invigilator at the Petit Seminary of Narbonne in January 1886.
Three other priests, who seemed to have shared Saunière's anti-republic views, and may have made speeches of their own, along with Saunière, were deprived of their allowances from the 1st December 1885. The names of these three rebel priests were:
Tailhan, priest of Roullens
Jean, priest of Bourriège
Delmas, priest of Alet
A notice informing people of this was published in the Weekly Religious Carcassonne of December 12th 1885. Read the full letter here (French)
Picture of old Narbonne
Saunière was re-appointed priest in charge of Rennes-le-Chateau in July 1887 and so he returns to the village.
Saunière begins to organise the work he wants to carry out on his church.
An estimate for 2400 francs from Georges Castex, a contractor from Limoux, lists some of the early work:
- Set up (or form) the vault and arches almost completely with hollow tubular bricks coater with plaster. (a later Invoice mentions 550 of these bricks)
- Construct four arches between the interior buttresses forming a front body on the side walls.
- decorative paintings on the walls and vaults
Church interior photo showing some of the arches and vaulted ceiling
The purpose of this brickwork was to even up the arches and to stabilise the side walls. The hollow bricks laid in front of the existing stone works, actually form a dividing wall between the original walls and the church interior. Any decoration that may have existed on the original walls do doubt still remain behind the new brickwork.
It is said that Saunière's first discovery happened towards the end of 1886 to the beginning of 1897 while carrying out essential repairs to the tiny church dedicated to Mary Magdalene. The story is that he discovered a parchment or parchments, their content, like their alleged hiding place, varies.
A problem with the dates
Before I continue with the Timeline there is something that needs to be decided first. There is a discrepancy in the date the Knights Stone was discovered and as it is important to be as certain as possible I will deal with this matter first.
1886 - 1887
In late 1886 to early 1887 Saunière starts making essential repairs to the church. The roof is repaired and the altar is dismantled to make way for the new one Saunière has ordered.
It was first reported that parchment/s was found inside one of the two pillars that supported the altar. However, it is not difficult to realise after examining this pillar, which is now on display in the Saunière museum, that this could not be so. However, something may have been found that gave rise to the story and has since been exaggerated with the telling as the years went by. It was Catholic tradition to hide in the altar a document commemorating the consecration of the church. Sometimes 'relics' were also added, a small piece of a bone thought to belong to a saint for instance. Many old altars have such a cavity for this reason. Perhaps when the altar top was removed a small piece of parchment was found in the small cavity and it was this that led to the story of parchments being found. The square cavity is not very big and so could not have contained anything large.
The original Altar pillar showing the small cavity in the top. (Placed right way up)
The original pillar now resides in the village museum, a copy now replaces it in the garden.
An invoice from the workshop of Monna in Toulouse reveals that the new altar cost 700 francs, and is dated July 27th 1887.
We know that after dismantling the ancient altar, the priest seems to have found something to direct him to a large stone slab on the floor. If it was not parchments what could it have been? We know the stone slab that formed the altar top was heavy as it took two men to lift it, and I presume they must have chipped away the cement where the edge of the slab was embedded into the wall first. The two pillars would not have supported it securely on their own.
(From 1908 timeline section)
On 16 August 1908, members of the Societe d'Etudes Scientifiques de l'Aude make a second visit to Rennes-le-Chateau, having traveled through Rennes-les-Bains and Esperaza, they climb the hill to arrive at the village. Antoine Fagès, author of 'De Campagne les Bains a Rennes-le-Chateau' reports that he spoke with saunière about the pillar on which stood the statue of the Lady of Lourdes, and Saunière told him the pillar was once part of the church altar. Saunière told Antione that the old altar was formed by a large stone slab recessed into the wall with its front supported by two stone pillars, one plain and the other decorated with carvings.
It seems unlikely that Bigou, looking for a hiding place for some object before fleeing to Spain, would have gone to this much trouble, especially if he was working in secret and alone.
Whatever the reason, shortly after dismantling the old altar a stone slab set in the floor is lifted. Turning it over a carving is revealed on its reverse side.
The Knights Stone (Dalle du Chevalier)
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 the '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.
Antoine Verdier, 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. Seeing this 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.
Perhaps Saunière did find something under the knights stone that indicated the steps 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.
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 Royal Crypt does exist and so the steps Saunière found beneath the church floor was in all likelihood an entrance to the Royal Crypt as mentioned in the parish register.
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 that were loose. Removing them a cavity was revealed and inside was 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 it seems to have got 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.
Nothing much of merit seems to have happened during this year.
Ten pews were added to the existing ten at a cost of 800 francs.
I know this has nothing to do with the Rennes-le-Chateau mystery, but to help put this era in a time frame it is in the year of 1888 that a murderer reeks havoc in London.
In Whitechaple five prostitutes are found viscously murdered and internal organs are taken. Although the murderer would be given the nick name of Jack the Ripper, his true identity would remain a secret and he was never caught.
Here is a link for anyone interested
THE WHITECHAPEL MURDERS
"the pulpit, no longer in use, has been removed.'
But it would not be until 1891 that Saunière could purchase a new one.
We are not sure how much of the pulpit was removed at this time. We know from later eye witness accounts, that the wooden baluster was still in the church, but what is unknown is if it still remained in place or was it being used as a decorative ornament, perhaps with a vase of flowers on top.
The glass vial and parchment found by Antoine Captier may have been discovered and given to Saunière this year or in 1891. (See 1891 date timeline for details)
1st July 1889 - The Bishop of Carcassonne, Monsignor Billard, who visits the parish of Rennes to celebrate the rite of Confirmation for the children in the country. In attendance were many pastors from the surrounding area: Fourrier Couiza, Lasserre of Alet-les-Bains, Boudet of Rennes-les-Bans, Lacroix of Montazels, Tesseyre of Luc-sur-Aude, Pons of Pomas and Viscayé of Saint Ferréol.
Billard is accompanied by the vicar general of the diocese, G. Cros.
Saunière is congratulated for the improvements he has made to the church.
May 4th - Bérenger Saunière is given a second parish to look after, the nearby village of Antugnac.
The village of Antugnac is five kilometres from Rennes-le-Chateau, and every Sunday Saunière had no choice but to walk there to celebrate mass.
If these type of entries in his diary are to go by he did not seem to always enjoy the experience.
"Taking the road under the summer sun is not always pleasant."
"Returned to Rennes on foot, I am all sweaty."
Gaudissard is appointed parish priest at Antugnac from 1st June.
Saunière's commitment to carry out the priestly duties of Antugnac come to an end on June 12th. He is no doubt relieved at this development.
This certainly seems to be an important year for our Mysterious priest as it is from this date a change comes about and all be it slowly at first, from this year onwards Saunière would start spending and the church we see today will slowly begin to take shape.
But before that can happen it is time for fate to play its hand.
The bell ringer at the time was, Antoine Captier 1833 to 1903, he was walking back through the church when he noticed something glinting by the wooden baluster which had been discarded by the workman and lay on the floor. Walking over to investigate Antoine discovered a small glass vial had fallen from, what up until then, had been a secret compartment. The section of wood that acted as a cover had become dislodged when the baluster had been thrown to the ground. Inside the broken glass vial Antoine could see a small piece of rolled up parchment. He immediately went to find the Abbé Saunière to show him his find. Saunière took the vial and the parchment and that was the last Antoine saw of it.
It is thought that whatever information was contained on this parchment it eventually led Saunière to a treasure or a secret that would make him a wealthy man as Antoine, the bell-ringer, used to recount this story to his grandson, also named Antoine Captier, ending with,
“and it is thanks to me that the priest became rich!”
Perhaps fittingly, the present day Antoine now has ownership of the wooden baluster. I was lucky enough to meet with Antoine and his wife Clair, who kindly let me view and photograph the Baluster, and for this I am grateful.
The wooden Baluster and a close up of the top showing the secret compartment, now glued in place by its current owner Antoine Captier.
Saunière seems to have included this baluster, well its top, which is the important bit after all, in the right-hand-side of the large Fleury Tableau.
The Baluster top Saunière included in the right-hand side Fleury Painting.
It would make sense for Saunière to have included this if it was in the secret compartment that he found something that changed his life. When the Tour Magdala is built he would place this baluster inside so we can only assume it held some special importance to him.
Close-up of the baluster top to compare with the painting
As you can see by comparing the two there is a good similarity between them. The painting image even looks wooden. Read full article here
During my research I was led to the discovery of a chest and inside was a small glass vial, broken in two pieces, containing a small piece of rolled up vellum with a message I believe to have been written by Bigou. I believe this is the very same glass vial found by the bell ringer and given to Saunière, who then used the information contained on the message inside to point him in the direction of a greater discovery that he was then able to profit from, whether it was a treasure or a secret of some kind. Read full article.
The Glass Vial from the chest
What is also interesting that in the parish register 1725/1781: 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.
The 'baluster' mentioned here is also important to the mystery as it is the second candidate for the hiding place of the parchment/s. It is now commonly excepted by many Rennes enthusiasts, who believe parchments were discovered by Saunière, that this was were they were once hidden.
So, we have eyewitness accounts that shortly after Saunière had the altar dismantled he lifted a 'large plain stone' in the floor and found some steps leading down into the Royal crypt. But if Saunière entered the crypt in 1897, it could not be the 'tomb' mentioned in his diary in 1891, as he had already been inside in 1896/7 and so had already found it. He may have even searched the bodies and found something of value he later sold to finance his restoration, maybe some jewellery.
It is this year that Saunière orders a new pulpit and the triangular bas-relief to top off the porch above the church entrance. So far there has been no sign of his excessive spending, it is all still to come. Even the grotto has still not been built yet, that won't be started until 1892 when Saunière would also reorganise the cemetery and construct a small building next to the cemetery entrance to be used as a Reposoir.
What is interesting is that almost everything associated with the mystery that is commonly thought to contain clues to Saunière's source of wealth or some mystery, is only installed after 1891 and after he wrote in his diary, "...found a tomb..." This includes the large Fleury tableau, Stations of the Cross, the Holy Water stoop (Demon and Angle statue), the saint statues, etc.
Maybe Saunière was being cautious at first, spending his money slowly, not wishing to attract attention but later threw caution to the wind and began to spend, spend, spend. Or if Saunière had found a 'treasure' maybe it took a while for him to fence the items. He could hardly turn up with a cart load of treasure and expect someone to hand over a wad of cash with no questions asked.
From his notebooks that have survived it is obvious that Saunière was doing a good trade in selling masses, and though this did bring in a large amount of cash, it was not enough to pay for all the work Saunière carried out.
Saunière also received many donations, many researchers have included these donations in with the masses total but they are a separate source of income. It is strange why so many people would send the priest of an unknown church of an equally unknown and secluded village, sums of money. There must have been a good reason and I doubt very much that Saunière's home for retired priests was it.
If it was a secret of some kind Saunière found, then perhaps it took him a while to act upon it before he could profit from it in some way. Maybe the donations were linked to this secret and so the reason they were sent.
We can assume then that the discovery of the 'tomb' this year, may have played an important part in Saunière's new found wealth. The entry in the diary for this day was, "Letter from Granès, discovery of a tomb, rain in the evening."
Henry Lincoln adds in a footnote in Saunière's Secret' (page 54) that the the word pluie (rain) may have been added later, so it would read:
'...Discovered a tomb in the evening. Rain.'
This is interesting as it may give us an insight into what Saunière was up to. If he found the 'Tomb' in the evening, had he already started his night time excavations in the churchyard as early as 1891? It was not until March of 1895 that Saunière was caught doing this.
Saunière now also turns his attention to the dilapidated presbytery which is in urgent need of repair. Work would continue until 1897.
Saunière orders the new pulpit at a cost of 750Fr, and he paid for it on 20th October 1891.
Saunière orders the new triangular Bas-Relief for above the doorway porch of the church. The bill of 150Fr is also paid on 20th October 1891.
During this work Saunière also installs in the doorway the shields of Monsignor Billard, Bishop of Carcassonne, and Pope Leo XIII.
Saunière places the carved 'Visigothic' Pillar in the church garden but places it upside down. The cross is now upside down! A statue of the Virgin is mounted on the pillar. The ceremony takes place on June 21 1891.
Altar Pillar in the church garden
Much speculation has been made about the September 29th entry made by Saunière in his notebook:
"Vu curé of Névian chez Gélis. Chez Carrière: Vu Cros et Secret."
or in English:
"Saw the priest of Névian. With Gélis. With Carrière. Saw Cros and secret."
Many have interpreted the word "Secret" as alluding to a Secret of some kind. Others say it is nothing more than an abbreviation of "Secretary". As ever the speculations continues.
This could be a reference to something that happened in a previous meeting that took place around the same time in September that is mentioned in Jean-Luc Robin's book, Saunière's Secret.
The meeting took place in the home of Gélis in Coustaussa. Those present were, Gélis, Saunière, Boudet, and Cros, the previous secretary of the Bishop Billard, who the new bishop Beauséjour had continued to employ. Billard had sent Cros to meet with the priests to hand over a sealed package. Gélis took the package and instead of opening it he took it upstairs before returning to the table. No mention was made of the package during the sumptuous meal, which seemed to be a bundle of documents, but Saunière did ask Cros to thank Billard for returning them and to say they would be well looked after.
So the priests knew what was in the package, and it seems they were once in their care, as they were now 'returned' to them.
So maybe the ' secret ' of 'Saw Cros and secret' is not an abbreviation for secretary after all. The priest would have known Cros was the Bishop's secretary so why make a note of it? Perhaps Saunière and Gélis were informing the others at the September 29th meeting something 'secret' about the information in the documents that had been returned to them.
Six years later Gélis would be brutally murdered. Was there any connection to the documents handed over at this meeting and his death?
It seems that Saunière may have started searching the graveyard this year?
23rd October -
Saunière makes an entry in his diary "nettoyage du cimitière" (cleaning of the graveyard).
29th October -
Saunière again writes in his diary "nettoyage du cimitière" (cleaning of the graveyard).
It could though just be innocent tidying up of the graveyard which had been neglected for many years.
The mayor of Rennes-le-Chateau dies and is buried on the 23rd December.
Monsignor Billard, the bishop of Carcassonne, is personally bequeathed 1,200,000 francs in the will of Rose Denise Marguerite Victorine Sabatier from Coursan. Although the family contested the validity of the will they were unsuccessful.
Marie Dénarnaud arrives in Rennes-le-Château
Marie Dénarnaud 1868 to 1953 aged about 30 wearing a fashionable dress from Paris
Marie would leave her job in a hat factory at nearby Esperaza to become Saunière's housekeeper and close confidante. She was 18 years his junior and no doubt was the subject of much gossip it the tiny village of Rennes-le-Chateau.
She was born on August 12th 1868 in Esperaza. Her parents were Guillaume 1840 to 1930 and Alexandrine Marre 1844 to 1928.
She had 3 brothers :
Barthélémy 1872 to 1944
Antoine Dieudonné 1878 to 1878
Jean 1881 to 1881
She also had a foster sister Julie Fons.
Marie was a hatter in Esperaza until she left to become Saunière’s faithful housekeeper in 1891/2. It is believed that she knew Saunière's secret and it would be Marie who would end up owning the domain after Saunière's death in 1917.
She died aged 85 on January 29th 1953 and she never revealed anything about the priest’s secret. because of the fancy expensive paris dresses she wore, the villagers called her "the priest’s madonna".
Turning his attention to the church garden Saunière begins to build a grotto from stones said to be from the area around the Colouers river and that he carried them up the steep hill in a wicker basket hung on his back. It is easy to realise when the rocks are examined that many of them are too large and heavy to carry up the hill by one man, let alone place them in a wicker basket which would not support them. I imagine that these stones, which could very well be from a local source, were delivered to the village, probably on a donkey and cart. Maybe the priest carried up the smaller rocks in a basket but had the larger ones transported by donkey and cart.
Saunière's Grotto 2007
The grotto we see today is not the original built by Saunière but it is in the original position when compared to an old photograph.
When the grotto is finished Saunière places a statue of Mary Magdalene inside. It is this statue, according to a villager, he then moves some years later into the Villa Bethnia conservatory to utilise it as part of his temporary altar when he is stopped from holding services in the church. After Saunière's death, like so many of his personal belongings and nick-knacks, it disappeared.
The temporary Altar Saunière set up in the conservatory of the Villa Bethnia
It has been said that Saunière re-used some of the old altar to construct this one, but it is clear to see that this is of a more recent design than would have been removed from the church. The stone top of the altar was never used here as can be seen in the image above. The altar top here is wooden and not a stone slab.
A likely location for the old altar top is the inscribed stone slab in front of the Altar pillar in the church garden.
Saunière constructs a building above a large square cistern in the corner of the church garden next to the cemetery entrance, to be used as a Reposoir, which is a viewing room where the deceased were laid out to rest in a coffin before the burial took place. Saunière would use this as his temporary library and office until the Tour Magdala is built some years later.
Unconfirmed reports have Saunière starting his nighttime excavations in this year.
The bishop of Carcassonne, Monsignor Billard, purchases the church of Notre Dame de Marceille, outside Limoux.
Saunière begins to record his Masses in his notebook
The wrought iron gates are installed in the entrance to the cemetery by Charles Dénarnaud. The gates weighed 214 kilos and cost 220.80Fr. At the same time wrought iron railings were made to surround the gardens at a total cost of 937.38Fr.
Saunière also makes additions to the cemetery and the church, adding a sacristy and a secret room.
Secret room seen from the church garden
It seems the gates installed the previous year may have been installed for a reason, so people could not see what Saunière was getting up to in the graveyard. But even with this precaution, during the month of March, Saunière and Marie are seen digging up graves in the churchyard. The villagers, upset by this, complain to mayor on the 12th and 14th of March, demanding that the priest should stop this macabre act. No doubt many of them had relatives buried in the graveyard.
Although Saunière may have been digging in the graveyard previously he is only caught doing it this year.
Saunière is ordered to stop his nocturnal diggings. His explanation for why he was doing this was that the graveyard was becoming full and he was moving the bones to an ossuary to make way for new graves to accommodate the villages who were dying at a rate of about two a year.
It is also during this year in July that Saunière files a complaint with the local Gendarmerie against the violation of his property which occurred when a fire starts in a barn near to the church. The fireman are called but when they arrive they are told that there is water in an underground cistern beneath the building by the graveyard entrance. As Saunière is absent the firemen have no option to break down the door to gain access. The water pipe can still be seen in this room, or at least what remains of it. The cistern in 2007 is now bone dry. The villagers are, to say the least, unable to comprehend Saunière's strange reaction. However Saunière soon withdrew his complaint, probably when he had calmed down.
Another story has Saunière present but refusing the firemen entry, forcing them to break their way in through the door.
Between May and June of this year the decoration of the presbytery takes place. Georges Castex is in charge of the seven workers employed for the task. The cost is a total of 976.40 francs. It took 104 days to complete, with the workers receiving an hourly pay ranging from 2 to 3.5 francs. As well as paint and dyes, several meters of wallpaper are used to carry out the decorating of the presbytery.
As a finishing touch Saunière purchases a picture of Christ by Hippolyte Lazerges, 1817 to 1887.
Saunière would also purchase a lithograph signed by the famous poster artist, Mucha. It would be hung in the stairwell of the Villa Bethnia. it is now one of the museum exhibits.
Poster by Mucha
Giscard travels to Rennes-le-Chateau to meet with Saunière in the presbytery where they discuss the church decorations. With the details sorted Saunière makes a contract with Giscard for the manufacture and supply of the statuary and some of the bas-relief's for his church. Although Saunière arranges for a long term payment plan for Giscards bill, he does not opt for the cheaper plaster versions but the more expensive terra cota and all painted in the more expensive oils. Perhaps Saunière knew he had money coming. Even when Saunière had the funds, he had the habit of leaving it as long as possible before paying certain bills, even choosing to pay in installments rather than in one lump sum.
The H. Giscard company was founded in 1885 in Toulouse where several Giscard family members worked. The firm supplied religious statues, etc, to many parishes
This is a brief account of the contract:
In this year 1896 on the 20th of November, a contract between Mr. Giscard statuary painter residing in Toulouse, on the one hand, and Mr Abbé Saunière, the priest of Rennes-le-Chateau, near Couiza, Aude, on the other hand, is agreed as follows:
For the sum of two thousand five hundred francs, payable in annual installments of five hundred francs from the end of December 1897, Mr Giscard, residing in Toulouse, committed within the period of four months to provide the abbé Saunière, Curé of Rennes-le-Chateau, and to deliver free of shipping and packing, to the station of Couiza Montazels the following articles:
The Fleury Tableau - A low relief, big bumps, clay unalterable, execution quite artistic and flawless, rich full colour, stones, enamel eyes. Diameter: three meters. Venez à moi etc. ( "Come to me, etc.")" Eleven or twelve characters.
A Way of the Cross in clay. (14 separate designs) scene in high relief; character painted natural, costume of the time, background scenery, flawless executions consistent with the model sent, height of 1 meter 26 inches and width of 60 centimetres: Rich polychrome everywhere.
St. John the Baptist in clay, art, rich in copper, golden door, flawless execution, polychrome as above; stones, enamel eyes. Height of about two meters, 90 centimetres Width: 0 meters 80 centimetres While conforming to the model.
Seven statues, all in clay and 1 meter 30 centimetres high, each decoration extra-riche, paintings Middle Ages and in the open, Pierreries, enamelled eyes. Name of Saints - Virgin mother with baby Jesus, Saint Joseph with baby Jesus, in accordance both with the model designated. Saint Anthony of Padua with baby Jesus standing on the book. Saint Marie Madeleine patron of the Parish. Hermit St. Anthony second boss. Sainte Germaine with two lambs and St Roch. All these statues to conform to models and be of excellent quality.
Six bases to match the dimensions of the statues. Four with two heads of angels in the eyes enamelled, two bases with a single head angel in the eyes as tarnishing And A Seventh base, shaped column with four angels standing. Décor extra-riche and painting Middle Ages; Pierreries, eyes tarnishing, in conformity with the model.The height of the pedestal will be given later.
Two pinnacles, Romanesque style, and indeed for all other articles for the two statues of the Virgin and St. Joseph, the same subject matter, even execution and artistic richness of decoration.
Three other small statues of each of 70 centimetres, neither more nor less high, decoration extra rich Pierreries, enamelled eyes. These three statues are a Virgin Romance a Saint Joseph and the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
With all these items to be painted in oil, so they can withstand repeated washings, Mr Giscard undertakes, furthermore, to come, if not in person, at least to send at his expense a worker for the installation of the low relief (Fleury Tableau) "Come to me, and so on." and for the rest if the stay of the workers is necessary, I will do.
For his part, Mr Abbot Saunière, Curé de Rennes Castle, engages in his turn to Mr Giscard, painter statuary in Toulouse, the sum of two thousand five hundred francs as has been stated above, annuity five hundred francs, from the end of December to the year September 1890.
Yo pledge in addition, to pay for the costs of transport from Couiza to Rennes all sections which was spoken and to feed and house the workman sent.
Finally, in the event of death, Mr Abbé Saunière authorizes Mr Giscard to remove from the church of Rennes-le Chateau any objects that have not been paid for, unless the municipality pay the outstanding amount.
Done in duplicate at the Presbytery of Rennes-le-Chateau, this same day, month and year.
(Signature of Saunière and Giscard.)
Above extract from 'The Abbé Saunière from 1885 to 1909' by Francois Grassaud.
Interesting Points gleaned from the contract.
There is no mention of the Demon Statue in this contract.
The Stations were supplied ready painted at the factory. There is no mention of any special painting instructions in the contract, so unless Saunière contacted Giscard at a later date, or the details were omitted from the contract, the Stations were supplied with a normal paint job as would be supplied to any customer.
Saunière chose the Stations of the Cross from models, probably from a catalogue. We now know that this design is not unique, although exact copies have only been found in one church, but the date they were installed is unknown, before or after Saunière's, but they appear in the church in Jean d'Alcas.
These stations were the cheaper versions made in plaster, which probably explains why some have deteriorated so badly, plaster acting like a sponge for moisture.
In the case of Station 14, we know that Saunière has changed some of the details. Read full article here.
There is a rumour that some details of the RlC Stations have been repainted over the years so we may never know exactly how they originally looked during Saunière's time.
Saunière re-starts his renovations of the church and most of the major items and decorations would be installed this year.
On the 8th February 6 wrought iron poor boxes are fabricated by Charles Dénarnaud. This seems an excessive amount for such a small church.
An invoice from Faraco, dated 21st May informs us that Saunière took delivery of two Chalices at a cost of 317Fr.
Chalices and Objects from the Saunière museum
Saunière receives an invoice dated 25th May from Castex for the painting, decorating and embellishment of the church walls and ceilings for a cost of 905.70Fr.
An invoice dated the 31st May for 147Fr was for the cost of the installation of the wrought iron grill for the baptismal fonts.
Saunière receives an invoice for 2929Fr dated 31st June. This is for the Fleury Tableau, (the centre section.) The Stations of the Cross. The Saint Statues. The Holy Water Stoop, (The Demon Statue with the four angels above. This was an addition to the objects mentioned in the contract) The original contract price was 25000Fr, so unless there were other expenses added, the Holy Water Stoop cost 429Fr.
Miscellaneous objects: 14 brackets for fixing the stations of the cross to the walls plus other brackets.
A wrought iron decorative barrier in the church. I assume this is the one that divides off the altar area from the seating area.
Additional works. Supply of the doors to the aviary, made by Marechal-ferrand, household objects, installation of 4 brackets with scrolls on the cross, etc.
With the work on the presbytery continuing, 5 openings are made. I assume these are for windows.
Window frames are installed in the church
The total cost for these miscellaneous items was 425.56Fr.
The refurbishment of the vestry is completed with the addition of oak furniture and some cupboards. It is through this cupboard that a secret door leads into the secret room. The invoice for this work is dated 31st october and was at a cost of 1050Fr.
An invoice from Oscar Villa and dated 6th december was for the 60Fr cost of the baptismal font cover.
Saunière orders various accessories for the altar as well as clothing for his religious duties. These are ordered from Daban, and the invoice is dated 31st December for a total of 359.50Fr.
On June 6th 1897, the church and gardens were officially opened in the presence of the Bishop of Carcassonne, Monseigneur Monsignor Felix Arsène Billard 1829 to 1901.
April 12th -
Saunière pays the second installment to Feur of Bordeaux for the stain glass windows installed in September.
June 6th -
The bishop of Carcassonne, Monsignor Billard, visits the village on the occasion of the feast of Pentecost. To mark this event, Saunière writes an inscription on the pedestal that holds the Cross of Calvary.
By this time the church must be nearing the finished look of the church we can see today.
The Abbé Gélis of Coustaussa is found brutally murdered.
Abbé Antoine Gélis 1827 to 1897
Gélis was the priest of Coustaussa, a small village across the valley and within line of sight of Rennes-le-Chateau. He had been the priest for thirty years prior to his death. Saunière knew Gélis and we know from Saunière's diary that the two often met.
The horrific murder took place in the Coustaussa presbytery on the night of 31st October or the early hours of 1st November. No one was ever charged with the murder. Coustaussa Church, Presbytery and the Murder Scene.
1898 - 1900
April 26th 1898 Saunière pays the invoice of Feur of Bordeaux as the third installment for the windows installed in September 1887.
Monsignor Felix Arsène Billard, bishop of Carcassonne since 1881, suffered from paralysis in early 1898, presumably due to a stroke. He spent his final years impotent and in the care of the Sisters of Mercy in the Monastery of Prouille, where he had played an important role in its restoration, laying the first stone of its basilica. The Monastery had been destroyed during the French revolution had lain abandoned for 100 years from 1792 to 1880.
Saunière purchases various plots of land around the church and presbytery, all in the name of Marie Dénarnaud. It is on this land he would eventually build his estate.
22nd October 1898 -
Acquisition of the first plot of land, registration number 576. Price: 200 francs.
1898 - Acquisition of the second plot of land, registration number 581. Price: 300 francs.
July 20th 1898 -
Acquisition of the third plot of land, registration number 582. Price: 200 francs.
August 16th 1898 -
Acquisition of the fourth plot of land, registration number 583. Price: 110 francs.
June 5 1900 -
Acquisition of the fifth plot of land, registration number 593. Price: 100 francs.
Having brought the land, It seems Saunière spends the next couple of years making plans and working on the design of his Domain but eventually everything is ready and work could begin that would take eight years to complete.
January 7th 1900, Saunière pays the fourth and final installment to Feur of Bordeaux for the Stain glass windows installed in September 1887, which totals 1,350 francs
Obviously pleased with the way his church has turned out, Saunière presents a fine wooden statue to Tiburce Caminade, the architect who advised him on the restoration of the church. The statue cost 245Fr. Caminade would also draw up the plans for the Villa Bethnia and the domain.
From 1897 to 1899 Saunière often went away to unknown places. He also spent time walking in the countryside around Rennes-le-Château.
There is a story that some of the villagers, wondering what it was their priest was up to and where he went, followed him one day to try and find out.
"He walked towards Rennes-les-Bains, walked through the forest of "l'Homme Mort" (the Dead Man), then jumped across the small stream of "La Blanque" and climbed up the hillside of "Serbaïrou" towards "la Pierre du Pain" (the Stone of Bread or the Breadstone) on which it was said the Devil had left his finger prints."
Whatever it was Saunière was doing in his time away from the village, it seems to have been fruitful as he would soon start to spend lots of money.
Construction of the Villa Bethnia begins.
The architect for this grand building scheme would once again be the architect Tiburce Caminade. He would also sometimes act as intermediary between saunière and suppliers. Between 1901 and 1904 Caminade would receive a total sum of 2800 francs, paid in 14 installments.
Elie Bot would be the building contractor, he employed 17 workers and all of them were fed by Saunière.
The stones were quarried in St Sauveur and had to be transported back to the village using donkeys.
The first construction was the villa "Bethania". It is said Saunière wanted it to become a retirement house for the priests of the diocese after his death, but this never happened.
Saunière Bishop and friend, Monsignor Felix Arsène Billard died on December 3rd in the monastery of Prouille, the victim of a prolonged illness.
Monastery of Prouille info
Monsignor Paul-Félix Beuvain de Beauséjour becomes Bishop of Carcassonne, replacing the late Monsignor Billard.
May 20th 1902 -
Acquisition of the sixth plot of land in Rennes-le-Chateau., registration number 613. Price: 600 francs
July 8th 1902 -
Saunière receives an invoice from Joseph Fabre, Dourgne, for 412.50 francs, it is in the name of Marie Dénarnaud and is for the construction of the Villa Béthanie roof.
According to Octonovo, a Rennes-le-Chateau researcher who has found some of the Abbé Bérenger Saunière's account books covering some of the period 1897 to 1915, and his correspondence records for 1896 to 1915, the Villa Béthanie was burned down in 1903 while the works were under way, and that Bérenger Saunière called the gendarmes? It was not known if it was arson or simply an accident. Original French Article or an English translation.
1902 to 1905
The construction of the Villa Bethnia continues and would finally be completed in 1905. It is the grandest building in the village.
With all of the major building work completed on the Villa in 1902, work begins on the Tour Magdala, belvedere, gardens, etc, while the painting and decorating is carried out in the Villa Bethnia.
No expense has been spared. The walls are adorned in hand painted wallpaper with the finest fixtures and fitting available at the time.
Many luxurious parties would be held here for the many guests that would be invited to partake of Saunière's excellent food and fine wines, spirits and lacquers.
Monsignor Paul-Félix Beuvain de Beauséjour, the new Bishop of Carcassonne, hears about Saunière's spending and lifestyle and immediately begins to investigate.
M. Elie Tisseyre visits the village and it is said, makes a record of the tombstone of Marie Dables.
Saunière's brother Alfred, having fallen ill, returns to the place of his birth and dies in Montazels on the 9th September.
12 September - An invoice from Gélis (nothing to do with the now deceased priest of Coustaussa) for landscaping the area in front of the Villa Bethania, transforming the bare wasteland into a beautiful garden with many flowers, shrubs and trees, that included some palms.
October 2nd - invoice for 500 francs from Matthieu Mestre, Limoux, for the purchase of furniture for the villa Bethania.
Jean Rivière becomes priest of Esperaza.
It is said that this is the year that an article by M. Elie Tisseyre was published in issue 17 of the Bulletin de la Societe d'Etudes Scientifiques de l'Aude (SESA) about his visit to the Rennes-le-Chateau graveyard on 25th June 1905 where he made a copy of the fabled tombstone of Marie Dables. It is this tombstone that Saunière is said to have defaced to remove the inscription.
15th April - Saunière signs a five-year lease with the mayor Victor Rivière for the presbytery. Saunière is to pay an annual rent of 20 francs to the commune in the first 15 days of May. Saunière will also be responsible for paying for any repair work that may be necessary.
Saunière and Marie Dénarnaud, each make a will leaving everything they own to each other, which means that who ever dies first, the other’s future is safeguarded.
Saunière starts to collect with ever greater intensity magazines, postcards and stamps.
To increase his collection Saunière procures some metal tins from grocery stores that he then sends to some acquaintances, with a request to send stamps and postcards. The tins would be used to protect wear during shipment. This seemed to have worked as some parcels he received weighed 5 kilos.
A Noubel, Carcassonne is entrusted to organise the carpentry work in the Tour Magdala. It took 24 days to complete. It is on the shelves of these glass fronted cupboards that Saunière would display some of his collection of magazines, postcards, books and stamps.
In the room under his office, Saunière had constructed two large sets of pigeon holes to house and organise his vast collection of postcards and his old stamps which he estimated to number over one hundred thousand. (maybe this would explain the large amount of post he received from all over the world, people were sending him stamps. perhaps even some of the adverts he placed were asking people to send him stamps and postcards.)
There is a long list from Nouble covering a large number of expenses and supplies that cover the period from October 1907 to december 1911. It details the list of items Saunière purchased during these 5 years, each are individually priced and total 12632.55 francs. These include a matching desk, an office armchair in red cloth, and four chairs, also in red cloth, for the sum of 305 francs.
Saunière enlists the professional expertise of Henri Barret a librarian/bookbinder from Castelnaudary, to organise and bind some of his collection. Henri stayed with Saunière for three months at a cost in excess of 1000 francs.
February 16th - Saunière spends 186 francs on food from Defretin-Séverin in Lille.
April 9th - 625.45 francs is spent at the bakery, J. Camredon of Couiza.
Members of the Societe d'Etudes Scientifiques de l'Aude, visit Rennes-le-Chateau and Antoine Fagès writes up a report in his book, ' Un Ossuaire prehistorique a Rennes-le-Chateau.'
On 16 August 1908, members of the Societe d'Etudes Scientifiques de l'Aude make a second visit to Rennes-le-Chateau, having traveled through Rennes-les-Bains and Esperaza, they climb the hill to arrive at the village. Antoine Fagès, author of 'De Campagne les Bains a Rennes-le-Chateau' reports that he spoke with saunière about the pillar on which stood the statue of the Lady of Lourdes, and Saunière told him the pillar was once part of the church altar. Saunière told Antione that the old altar was formed by a large stone slab recessed into the wall with its front supported by two stone pillars, one plain and the other decorated with carvings. he also reports that there was once a 'damp room behind the altar that served as a sacristy, having simply a commode and a corner cupboard.'
Having visited the church of Coustaussa, I have seen the sacristy there and I imagine this would have been a similar layout to the old sacristy that once existed in Saunière's church. Coustaussa Sacristy
In the church garden members of the expedition come upon the 'knights stone' positioned at the foot of the Cross. They comment that the beauty of the carvings, which they thought depicted, 'two riders with spear in hand within a frame ogival, perhaps playing a tournament.' would be ruined over time.
The rift between Bishop de Beausejour and Saunière escalates and Saunière is replaced by a new priest, the Abbé Marty on the 22nd January, 1909.
With Saunière occupying the presbytery the abbé Marty has to seek accommodation in a nearby village. When he arrived at the church, after the long walk up the hill, he finds it empty. The villagers, having shunned the new priest, instead were in the temporary chapel Saunière had set up in the conservatory of the Villa Bethania. It was here Saunière would say mass to the villages leaving the Abbé Marty with an empty church. I cannot imagine it took him long to realise that the long walk up the hill each Sunday was a complete waste of time and stopped coming.
Struck down by a strange and unexpected illness, the Abbé Gaudissard dies on the 9th January. Is this another mysterious death of a priest in the area? Probably not as there is no evidence to suggest this, but who can say?
Part 2 will be posted when it is completed
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Please feel free to use the above book photo on your website, etc.
Chapter 1 is available to read here in low-res PDF (616kb)
Ben Hammott's Illustrated Guide to Rennes-le-Chateau No1 and No2
33 Cartes Postale l’Abbé Saunière
Images, Details and Ordering Information
Rennes-le-Chateau Landscape Views
Château de Cazemajou in Montazels Interior photographs
'Sauniere Messages' The Radiocarbon Test Results
Small Chest Details
33 Cartes Postale l’Abbé Saunière
DRAC meetings to report the Tomb
Body in the Tomb - Male or Female?
Devil's Armchair and Source du Circle
Body in the Tomb - Male or Female?
Saunière's Angels and the German Newspapers
Fontaine de l'Amour near Rennes-les-Bains