Forgotten secrets of the church of Rennes-le-Château
Part 4: Saunière’s final mission
A play on words
We once again return to the Visigothic pillar. Not only did Saunière save it from destruction while redecorating his church, he placed it in his garden and added an inscription to it: MISSION 1891. Even though this inscription is clearly legible, we note that the pillar itself was placed upside down in its new location! It means that either the stonemason made a terrible mistake, or Saunière told the stonemason to carve the inscription upside down, as he intended to place the stone upside down. Elsewhere, of course, we have spoken about the mania of this priest, who seemed to like inversions, like several other people with a link to Rennes-le-Château, such as Jean Cocteau, equally displaying such mirrors in his cinematographic work.
such inversions, we seem to be close to something Saunière cherished,
for not only is it on display in Rennes-le-Château, in the interplay
between the church and the garden, there is also the model, which was a
negative of the landscape of Perillos. But we need to ask the question whether
there could also be a play on words, for it is MISSION and 1891 that may
need to be played with here. Are we supposed to read it “upside down”?
Indeed, when the pillar is turned the correct way up – as it is in
the museum – 1891 becomes 1681. MISSION because the unintelligible
N (inverted) OISSIW. That does not make much sense, but there are other
plays on word: MISSION: MIS-SION, SION MIS? In French, “Sion à
mis”, or “Sion est mis”, which offers some translations,
along the lines of: “Sion is placed”… how, or what? Should
we read: “Sion has been placed upside down”? Let us note that
there is of course the mythical Priory of Sion, linked with Cocteau, but
when talking about “Sion is placed upside down”, it is also
Saunière’s model that comes to mind. Though only dating from
1916, the model is actually pretending to depict the “primitive state”
of Jerusalem – Sion… but it is placed upside down, as Saunière’s
model is a negative of the real Perillos landscape.
We also note that one of the stained glass windows in the church has written ONIS on it. SION? We note that this window was bought by Saunière, but the date that is on the glass does not correspond to the real date of its placement. Another little enigma, involving a “mission” and a year.
The year 1891
singled out the date 1891 – or 1681? The former was during his lifetime
and corresponds to a period when he was carrying out his work in the church
and when he may have found certain information that made him a wealthy man.
As Saunière singled 1891 out, people have consulted his accounting
books and diaries and have come up with rather enigmatic references to September
21, when he writes that he discovered a tomb, without any further detail.
1891 was the year when he placed that statue of the Virgin Mary in his garden, which would offer an altogether more down to earth interpretation of the date. Indeed, the statue was inaugurated during a procession that occurred on June 21, three months before the discovery of “a” tomb. But we note that it is indeed prophetic, to call this “MISSION 1891”, for it is shortly afterwards that he will make his discovery in the baluster in… September 1891.
If there was talk of a mission in 1891, it seems clear that this had to do with the installation of the garden, in front of his church. It is here that Alain Feral, a good friend and student of Jean Cocteau, identified that this garden acted like a mirror of the church inside. And it was in 1891 that Saunière accomplished the construction of the Calvary, the “grotto” and the library/office of Saunière, to the right of the entrance to the cemetery. Let us also note that 1891 is the year when the family Denarnaud settles into the presbytery; their daughter Marie would of course become the faithful servant and confidante to Saunière… and his heir.
It is also the year when the work to the new entrance to the church is completed, bearing the coat of arms of Pope Leo XIII and Mgr. Billard. It is when work in the cemetery draws to a conclusion. And is it a coincidence that the statue is “inaugurated” with a procession on June 21, the summer solstice, and the discovery of a tomb is made on September 21, the fall equinox? Or were there certain alignments at work, locations where points of the sun could fall and which identified certain locations? Again, these are question which have no answers, which would normally be answered as negative, but which, as a question, need to be asked, in case they may lead to revelations elsewhere.
A good year
Eight days later, Saunière’s infamous notes read: “September 29: Saw the priest of Névian. With Gélis. With Carrière. Saw Cros and secret." Without going on too much about this entry, we do not know whether it was Cros, the vicar-general of the bishopric of Carcassonne or another Cros that he visited. One other Cros could be Charles Cros, a notorious Freemason who held Saunière in high esteem and often visited him.
it are not the entries that are of interest to us, but a montage that Saunière
has done: apparently two images from some review or journal that Saunière
has cut out and has pasted into his notebook. The bottom illustration is
that of the Adoration of the Magi, who bring their gifts to baby Jesus.
The other illustration, above it, is slightly larger and shows a child that
is lifted into the clouds – towards heaven – by three angels.
Above the group flies a dove; the group seems to have been guided by a ray
of light that is coming from the clouds.
Before continuing, it should be noted that Saunière was not known for making such montages. There are two personal notebooks and Antoine Captier, who was owner, knows their contents well. He confirmed that it is the only montage of its kind anywhere in the notes. The only similar composition that comes close is in another notebook, in which, at the end, Saunière had pasted a “series” – a cut out – from a newspaper. But this is totally different in nature and aspect than the montage of these two drawings.
The Three Kings
observation: this notebook served more or less as his diary and was apparently
intended for his sole use. Whatever he did in here, was therefore personal
and for him alone.
The bottom illustration is centred, with on both sides the salutations the Three Magi make to the child:
Melchior : Salut, roi des siècles. (Greetings, king of the centuries)
Gaspard : Salut, roi des cieux.(Greetings, king of the heavens)
Balthazar : Salut, rédempteur des morts. (Greetings, redeemer of the dead)
A small text, in parentheses, links this to the next text. (les mages s’agenouillent. Ils adorent l’enfant et lui offrent successivement leurs présents). (the magi kneel. They adore the child and then present their gifts to him.) Then the rest:
: Reçois, Ô roi, l’or, symbole de la royauté.
(Receive, oh king, the gold, symbol of royalty.)
Gaspard : Reçois la myrrhe, symbole de la sépulture. (Receive the myrrh, symbol of burial.)
Balthazar : Reçois l’encens, ô toi qui est véritablement Dieu. (Receive the incense, oh you who is truly God.)
on the image we do indeed see the Three Magi (without clear identification
of who is supposed to be the black-skinned one) present their offerings.
The Virgin holds baby Jesus, whereas a little cherub, on the bottom left,
is looking over the scene. In the background there is a fruit tree, above
which shines a six-pointed star. That is logical, seeing these three kings
were guided to Jesus by a star.
On first inspection, there is nothing specifically out of the ordinary with this image.
The angels and the cross?
image at the top is framed by a composition of stylised lilies. In a cloth,
a child is taken up to the clouds in a ray of light. The flight is carried
out by three angels, overseen by a bird, no doubt a dove. This foursome
in flight could represent a symbolic cross: Father, Son, the Holy Ghost,
That a man of the cloth would amuse himself in creating such a montage should, in essence, not be deemed special. It’s within the bailiwick of his calling. Furthermore, these images are lifted from printed iconographies and there must have been hundreds if not thousands in circulation at that time. They were not – or extremely unlikely – custom-made for Saunière.
these four celestial creatures, normally linked with the four “stages”
of the cross, don’t these make us think of similar angels, namely
those sitting on top of Asmodeus, at the entrance of the church of Rennes-le-Château?
And perhaps we are reading too much into this, but the angels there sit
on top of the devil, like here they sit on top of the Three Magi. Though
in the church there is no sign of Jesus, we do note that on Asmodeus’
wing, there is an enigmatic inscription which could be synonymous with Jesus.
And for a man who likes inversions, the opposite of the devil is of course
Jesus. Furthermore, to “take someone under your wing” means…
Let us also underline the presence of these angels. Perhaps they are not too bizarre as angels are customary for the Catholic faith, but we once again note that this story of Rennes-le-Château has several “Angelic” undertones, which we have discussed elsewhere and which also involves the likes of Cocteau.
The child Jesus has in its hand what appears to be a small globe, which may be identified as the Earth; in the other, he has a small, lighted candle, often meant to represent the soul, specifically the soul of a dceased. Let us note that the globe may also be an apple – perhaps linked to the fruit tree in the other image… or perhaps linked as such in Saunière’s thinking? Also, though Jesus did not die as a child, we can’t be sure whether the original drawing had anything to do with Jesus or not. But by placing them above the other, is Saunière perhaps drawing an alpha – Jesus’ birth – and the omega – Jesus’ death? Perhaps we should see the “dead baby Jesus” more like his soul, which as, the Son of God, won’t have any real age? A child furthermore represents innocence and purity. And the cloth in which he is carried is it merely a cloth, or a burial cloth?
The Three Kings, according to Saunière
The style in which the Three Kings are depicted is typical for the 19th century. But there are some details which we have so far not yet discussed. At the bottom of the drawing, there is a low wall on top of which are two vases, with roses inside. We not the absence of Joseph and the two animals normally depicted (the ass and the ox), but we do see the – and yet another – angel. The accompanying text is typical if not word for word what the bible tells – and as this is a printed document which Saunière found in some publication, we would not expect anything else. We should not concentrate on trying to find anything out of the ordinary with these depictions – instead try to find out why Saunière was interested in these two images, though, as mentioned, it would be within the bailiwick of a priest to make such a religious montage. Still, even though we should not expect to find the key to the entire mystery of Saunière, even within a “normal” frame of mind, Saunière was somehow impressed with these two images, sufficiently enough to make the collage and work them into his notebooks. In short, they definitely had some importance to him.
Let us note that depicting the Three Magi representing their gifts to Jesus can be very summarily, or quite detailed. Here, there is quite a bit of detail, for we see the words printed of what the Magi say when greeting him and the offers they give. There is hence talk of “redeemer of the dead”, of tombs, of gold, of him being a divine king. And such words should make us think of a “sacred, royal tomb”, identified on the landscape of Perillos by the notary Courtade. Let us note that it is this “sacred, royal tomb” that is found on Saunière’s model… indeed, it is the site that Saunière wanted to identify by making his model. Coincidence? Or perhaps the first hint as to why specifically Saunière cut out these drawings… and not merely these drawings, but also the accompanying text.
The year 1891, taken towards eternity
who has looked at the accompanying illustrations to this article will note
that we have left out one ingredient of the montage. It is the inscription
that is found at the bottom of the top illustration: “L’année
1891 portée dans l’éternité, avec le fruit dont
on parle ci-dessous” (the year 1891 carried in eternity, with the
fruit about which one speaks below.) But wait: this is a montage and what
is “below” is not what was originally below, on the original
printed sheet of paper. What is below on the montage is the depiction of
the Three Magi. There are no clear traces of fruit and by a stretch of the
imagination, we could identify baby Jesus as the “fruit of the womb”.
It was also a gift – a fruit – to Mankind, according to the
Bible. But let us note that this is not what was originally there and it
is here that the montage becomes “personal” to Saunière,
for it is he who draws two independent images together, in an not altogether
clear manner. Furthermore, with the presence of 1891, should we perhaps
focus not on the images of the montage, but the text?
Of course, the most bizarre observation is this: Jesus is NOT born in 1891. In fact, even within a “normal context”, in which the first image must have been printed, what could they be referring to? Something involving the ascension of a child to heaven, by angels, occurring in 1891, with references to a fruit below? It is not altogether straightforward. It is known that the year 1891 was special because there was an important pilgrimage to… Jerusalem.
But let us add that no doubt, Saunière equally used the image because of the presence of the date 1891 in it, which we know that he elsewhere had identified as being linked with a MISSION. The question which therefore needs to be asked is whether both the inscription on the pillar and this montage seem to refer to a “mission” Saunière had, in which 1891 was a key year.
Finally, let us note that the fruit below could be a reference to the fruit tree, which could be apples, grenades or pears… the latter of course not uncommon to Perillos, whose coat of arms has three pears.
Saunière’s knowledge, according to de Sède
did Saunière get this material from? For Antoine Captier, the owner
of this document, it can only come from one journal, “La Croix”
(The Cross), from the months July or August.
Few other researchers have commented on this montage. The only person whom we know of to do so was Gérard de Sède, in "Rennes-le-Château - le dossier, les impostures, les phantasmes, les hypotheses” (Laffont, 1988). He underlines that 1891 was of pivotal importance to Saunière and that he created a message in the form of a rebus, “inspired by the language of puns used by his friend Boudet”. Then he explains that for him, the message corresponds with a geographical allusion. This is of course also what we adhere to, in the knowledge of the “sacred tomb” that this priest was finally able to locate in the countryside outside of Perillos. Better than we could, he explains his hypothesis, stating “whatever the case may be, what is certain, is that this collage does not lead us to the discovery of relatively modest treasures – coins, jewellery or an ancient chalice – discovered by our priest in his church, as these lucky finds do not date from 1891, but from 1886-1887. If for Saunière the year 1891 deserved to be perpetuated, it was because he had made a discovery much more important to him and, most probably, of another kind, justifying this mention in his journal: ‘discovery of a tomb… Secret’.” Though de Sède has clearly altered what Saunière factually wrote, we can only wonder why de Sède changed it. Indeed, de Sède makes the entry read as if Saunière has discovered a secret tomb! And is this not a bit too close to comfort when we know of the existence of the model and the “sacred tomb” of Perillos?
The backside of a page
Let us repeat that this montage was placed inside the notebook. And the page that received it, should also be looked into. We should expect to see that its verso contains notes or some other type of information; in short, a “normal” page of his notebooks. But that is not the case. Indeed, the verso of the page has another montage. This time, it is a cutting of a sheet folded into four and stuck, flat, to the page. It reads:
de la maison d’habitation
de la terrasse, des bassins de l’enclos, etc
Of the dwelling house
Of the terrace, the basins of the enclosure, etc.
note that on the following page, there is not a single entry or text related
to work carried out to the house, a terrace, or the basins. The problem
is that these works only begin in 1901 and that the montage is there to
“lighten up” the year 1891 – a decade earlier!
It therefore appears as if it was in 1901 that this montage was done with elements recuperated from documents that date from 1891. It seems difficult to imagine how, in 1891, the priest could have known with any certainty that his domain would be built a decade later, let alone why he would begin to keep a register of works! It therefore appears that it was about a decade later that Saunière commemorated the year 1891, making it eternal, with the fruits about which one spoke. Of course, it is possible that Saunière as early as 1891 planned to carry out all the works to the Villa, but only was able to physically carry them out a decade later. But the evidence suggests that is not the case. Let us note that if he did this towards 1901, then he did so after his visits to Lyon and his excursions into the Pilat region.
A good year
1891 was an excellent year for Saunière, could it also have been
a good year for others? It was the year that Papus became Grandmaster of
the Martinist order; Jules Bois became member of the new Parisian Lodge
Ahathor of the Golden Dawn. Another person arrives on the stage, in the
front rows, namely Joseph Péladan, who creates, on August 23, the
Catholic Order of the Temple and the Rosy Cross. Anyone adhering to these
lodges must have had a very heavy social agenda!
But there is more. Let us note that de Sède writes about this year: “The coincidence of this date between this ‘awakening’ and the discovery of a tomb by Bérenger Saunière can hardly be attributed to luck, after what we have just said about the Rosicrucian tradition related to the cycles of 108 years.” It is a bizarre reference to make. For de Sède, the cycle of 108 years seems somehow important to this story. Perhaps it is merely de Sède putting an esoteric varnish on this “story”, or perhaps he is indeed letting onto something, which he has no other way of presenting, as he does not possess hard evidence for something he suspects or may even know to be true.
The cycles of 108 years have to do with the resurgences of the Rosy Cross and its mythical founder Christian Rosenkreutz and the Fama Fraternitatis. Like him, we explain this principle that from the time when Bigou inscribes the tombstone of the Lady of Hautpoul, in 1783, we can add 108 years, to obtain 1891… the date of Saunière’s mission. De Sède then adds that another 108 years takes one to 1999, which is of course a year riddled with apocalyptic speculation, including the Rosy Cross – but almost everything else too. As we now know, nothing specific seems to have happened in 1999. Of course… if it was 1901, instead of 1891, then the cycle would end in 2009… but we won’t go there. Let us however note that 1681 – the inverse of 1891 - plus 108 gives us 1789… 1789 was the year of the French Revolution, and we know that for the likes of Saunière, a monarchist, this was indeed an apocalyptic year. Before getting too excited, this cycle would have continued with 1897 and 2005, years without too much significance.
1891: Mission accomplished
Was 1891 the start of a mission, or the accomplishment of a mission? When we look at the list of work carried out, it is clear that by 1891, most of the work to the church was carried out. Balusters and pillars had long surrendered their secrets. He had uncovered accesses to crypts where no-one had set foot in the last century – if not 108 years! Saunière had broken “the code” of the church, if not the code of the cemetery. He had laid his hands on that which he had begun in 1886. He had decoded the church and it seems that he used the various elements he had required to decode it, he “re-encoded”, perhaps merely as enjoyment and to make sure that these pieces of the puzzle would be preserved for the future – in which case, they did. According to some researchers, he recreated a new code for those to come after him in his church; we do not know; frankly we do not care too much; but we do know that he “remembered fondly” the baluster in the fresco at the back of the church, so at least, we do agree that the illustrations he chose may not necessarily have been clues for any future researcher, but may have been clues as to how he became the person he became… very rich.
But whereas 1891 may have been the end of an era, it is also clear that it was the beginning of another era… one which not necessarily was supposed to end in 1999, but one in which one part of his mission was accomplished, and part two was begun. If so, phase two was an era in which Gelis would be assassinated, an era in which the bishop would come down hard on him, an era in which his brother would wage everything to get at certain records that belonged to the Chefdebien family. The stakes seemed to have been raised… His attention was no longer on Rennes-le-Château; he began to make trips. For Saunière, any second phase merely lasted until 1917, 26 years after the “eternal” 1891.
We would like to thank Antoine Captier for his friendship and confidence and for allowing us the scoop of discussing this page from Saunière’s notebooks, which before had not been presented.