Rennes-le-Château, a small medieval village in southwestern France, is internationally known for being in the middle of the Conspiracy Theory of the 20th Century. A local restaurant owner wanted to increase business and spread some rumours of a lost treasure… And this was the origin for the non-fiction bestseller The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail or Dan Brown’s historical faction thriller The Da Vinci Code.
Father Saunière arrived in Rennes-le-Château in 1885. He soon was spending large sums of money, funding several building projects, such as the Church of Mary Magdalene. According to the rumours spread by Noël Corbu, who had opened in the fifties a restaurant in L’Hotel de la Tour, the former estate of Saunière, the source of his wealth was a treasure, hidden inside a pillar in his church.
His story attracted Pierre Plantard, who wanted to play a vital role in the history of France and concocted an elaborate hoax, planting fake documents in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, that implied Plantard was a descendant of a royal dynasty. In 1967, Gérard de Sède published a book about his friend’s claim to fame. They chose the area and history of Rennes-le-Château as their setting.
The next step was The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, in 1982 published by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln. They said Saunière found documents implying that the descendents of Jesus and Mary Magdalene were connected to the French royalty. Saunière found them in his church, in a Visigothic pillar, in 1891.
Saunière had been a teacher in the seminary of Narbonne, but being undisciplined, he was appointed in 1885 to Rennes-le-Château. He renovated his church, built a grand estate for himself (the Villa Bethania) and a personal library which resembled the Tower of Daved in Jerusalem (the Tour Magdala). In 1896, the bishop of Carcassone investigated how Saunière had been able to fund these building projects. The bishop relocated him to a different parish, but Saunière refused and resigned. In 1910 he was tried for fraud; he had been selling masses he never performed. In 1917, Saunière died in proverty.
Some theories developing around Rennes-le-Château and Bérenger Saunière, said that Catholic Church was paying him vast sums to buy his silence, because he knew all about The Holy Blood – also known as The Holy Grail (Sang Royal, San Greal, Saint Grail) -, being “the bloodline of Christ”. He might even have discovered also the grave in which Christ had been buried. Arch-heretics such as the Templars and the Cathars once were the safekeepers of the Secret. It was also the reason why Saunière lost his belief and got involved with trendy occultist and probably even satanist circles in Paris, featuring the Belgian symbolist playwright Maurice Maeterlinck or that other “decadent” writer, Joris-Karl Huysmans. He also knew Emma Calvé, the Maria Callas of her age, who was a high priestess of a Parisian esoteric sub-culture.
The Mystery of Rennes-le-Château is probably a hoax, made of facts and fiction, and inspired by hard facts that had nothing to do with southern France, but with the Dutch speaking part of Belgium, Flanders. I even strongly believe that the hoax was made up to turn the attention of the public away from the real secret that was kept in Bruges.