The 'baluster' mentioned here is important to the mystery as it is the second candidate for the hiding place of the parchment/s said to be associated with the Rennes-le-Château mystery. The other is the Visigoth Altar Pillar. But it is now commonly accepted by many Rennes enthusiasts and researchers, who believe parchments were discovered by Saunière, that this was were they were once hidden.
The Baluster, once part of the stairs leading up to the pulpit, was discarded by the workman during Saunière's renovations to his run down Mary Magdalene church.
1889 - Saunière writes:
"the pulpit, no longer in use, has been removed.'
But it would not be until 1891 that Saunière would 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, which is unlikely given Sauniere's 1889 statement above, or was it being used as a decorative ornament, perhaps with a vase of flowers on top. But what is certain is that it was un discarded at this time.
It is not know for certain if the glass vial and parchment found by Antoine Captier and given to Saunière was 1889 or 1891, although 1891 seems more likely. (See 1891 date timeline for details)
1891 - 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 his well documented spending spree, and the church we see today would 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, Antoine Captier, (1833-1903) was walking back through the church after a session of bell-ringing when he noticed something glinting by the wooden baluster. Going over to investigate he discovered a small glass vial had fallen from, what up until then, had been a secret compartment in the baluster. The section of wood that acted as a cover had become dislodged when the baluster had been placed on the ground.
The Bell ringer spies the glass vial and picks it up
He realises it has fallen from a secret space in the baluster
Inside the 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.
Antoine gives the glass vial to l'abbe Sauniere
Saunière took the vial and that was the last Antoine saw of it. It was after this event that Sauniere started his clandestine digging in the church graveyard and seems to be a pivotal point in the mystery. Whatever the information contained on the parchment it led Saunière to a treasure or a secret that would for a time, make him a wealthy man. Check out my Rennes-le-Chateau Timeline for a more detailed information on this and other timeline events. The above images were taken from the Rennes-le-Chateau film, La Rue Tourne. Noel Corbu played the part of Berenger Sauniere. Read La Rue Tourne article
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!”
Even after the renovation of his church and domain, Sauniere did not discard the baluster but placed it in his Tour Magdala library come study. Saunière even thought it important enough to include an image of it in his church decorations. The Baluster comes apart in sections, but it the top we are interested in.
Right-hand Fleury painting probably depict an image of the baluster top
Fleury Image and Baluster top comparison
Perhaps fittingly, the present day Antoine Captier now has ownership of the wooden baluster and I was lucky enough to meet with Antoine and his wife Claire, who kindly let me view and photograph the Baluster, and for this I am grateful.
Antoine Captier, holding the door of the Baluster's secret Compartment, and his wife Claire
The complete Baluster showing the secret compartment on its top section.
It is fact that the wooden post has a secret compartment, but the space to hide anything is very small. It would not be big enough to hold the 3 or more parchments Sauniere is said to have discovered in one of the stone altar supports. The glass vial would therefore also have to be small and hold perhaps one piece of small parchment.
Glass Vial I purchased, laid on top of the closed secret compartment for size comparison
The glass vial seen in the above image is about the maximum size to be able to fit in the small space in the secret compartment. I wanted to see if the glass vial would fit into the secret compartment discovered by Antoine's grandfather. After showing Antoine and Claire the glass vial, they were as keen as we were to see if it fit into the small, secret compartment. Unfortunately Antoine had glued it in place some years earlier, as it kept falling out when anyone passed by, and even some heavy hits with a hammer and chisel would not free it. However, when held alongside the baluster, the vial certainly appears to be the correct size, and Antoine and Claire, who know the size of the compartment better than anyone, were confident that it would fit the space and probably very similar to the vial his grandfather discovered.
So in my opinion, the bell ringer found the glass vial fallen from the secret compartment in the baluster, which he then gave to his priest Sauniere. After he received the vial and read its contents, it led him and Marie to begin digging clandestinely in the graveyard at night. I believe this led Sauniere to discover a small chest. Perhaps in the chest were more parchments and perhaps a small amount of treasure, gold coins or jewelary perhaps. Maybe the parchments were those said to be handed to Antoine Bigou, a former priest of the village, by Marie d'Hautpoul. L'abbe Bigou, who fled to Spain to escape the wrath of the French Revolution sweeping across France, placed the parchments in a chest and buried them in the graveyard. He then writes directions to find it on a small piece of parchment and slips it inside a small glass vial which he then hides in the pulpit support post. No doubt hoping a future priest will discover it and act on its contents wisely.
Perhaps the parchments then led Sauniere to discover a treasure cache secreted nearby in the surrounding landscape. This would be one explanation for his sudden wealth after receiving the glass vial.
Maybe, to preserve the secret, and perhaps any treasure that may remain, Sauniere embeds clues to the location in the decorations of his church. Sometimes using off the shelf items and changing them slightly, or positioning them to point to something. He also commissions unique items, such as the demon supporting the Holy water stoup, the wall murals either side of the Fleury Tableau and his altar bas-relief. If Sauniere's demon is Asmodeus as some suggest, it was this creature who was ordered to guard the Treasure of the Temple, or Solomon's treasure. Is this what Sauniere found, or part of it?
The only way to discover if Sauniere did find a treasure, or secret, and then hid clues in his church leading to its location, is to solve those clues and find it! Good Luck.
The Baluster, in the early days of the Rennes-le-Chateau museum, used to be on show for all to see and touch.
The Wooden Baluster and Mary Magdalene Statue
It is said by one of the locals, that the Mary magdalene statue seen in the above photograph, was once placed by Sauniere in the church garden grotto. She holds a similar pose to the Mary in Sauniere's altar. It was for a time moved to the private chapel he set up in the villa Bethania conservatory, after he was forbidden to preach in his church. Just as many objects from the time of Sauniere, this statue how now also gone missing. No doubt adorning someone's home or garden somewhere.
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