The million dollar priest
Defrocked – and reinstated
the installation of de Beauséjour as bishop of Carcassonne in 1905,
perilous times lay ahead for Saunière. It signalled a decade that
was in stark contrast with the previous one – though he continued
to wine and dine excellently, the pressure was on, and the money well had
In July 1915, the diocese of Carcassonne announced that Saunière had been defrocked: he was no longer allowed to say masses. The Church had put a full stop to a ten year saga. Still, the bishop’s sentence was only valid for six months and an appeal to Rome resulted in a judgment in October 1915: though the bishop now lifted his suspension, Saunière was never reinstated – and it seems that it wasn’t Saunière’s top concern either. His mind was elsewhere – he was largely retired from the church, to a much larger extent than most priests did – and definitely for the time he lived in.
Money, money, money
From ca. 1905 to 1915, Saunière seems to have had no access to funds. His bank account was overdrawn. It is even stated that he tried to sell the Villa Bethania, but could not find a buyer. Though in the 21st century we would immediately suspect that his lawyer was so expensive that he ran into financial problems, this was not the situation at that time. Some have argued that Saunière’s problems arose because of the ill-health and then death of his brother Alfred, who had, in the past, been a major channel through which “charitable donations” arrived at Saunière’s doorstep. However, the most likely explanation is the most obvious one: the presence of de Beauséjour. From the commencement of the enquiry and ensuing trial, Saunière was not only carefully monitored, he had also promised to stop any trafficking in masses that was going on. Even though the masses did not – and could not – explain the total origin of his wealth, the eyes of Big Bishop watching him must have scared him. This mixture of loss of income (trial & the death of Alfred) plus the technology that prying eyes were – or could be – watching his every move seemed to spell ill tidings for the Saunière household.
Villa Bethania’s building works ended in 1907 and in the following
years, Saunière, for the first time in his life, did not have anything
built – confirmation that he had to carefully manage his money –
and seemed to have lost part of his income. It introduced a novel episode
into the life of a man who seemed to have constantly builders on the premises.
Then, in 1915, as soon as the trial was over, he made new plans: he wanted to build a road from Couiza because he wanted to buy a car; he wanted to have running water in the village; he also wanted to build a chapel in the churchyard; a wall around the village; a 50m high tower so he could see who entered the village; a new library and he wanted to raise the first tower, the Tour Magdala, and the glasshouse. Others argue he also wanted an outside baptismal pool. According to Noel Corbu, the whole project of works would have cost 8 million franc, or an astonishing 120 million Euros/dollars (ca. 80 million pounds). Still according to Corbu, Saunière placed the order on January 5, 1917 – 17 days before his death on the 22nd.
money required to do even parts of this building work is staggering –
and the most stupendous question of all is how Saunière even thought
he would see it all accomplished.
But what is clear is that from 1915-6 onwards, Saunière suddenly seems to have money available again. How? His brother Alfred was obviously still dead and it is unlikely that his benefactors, a decade later, would recommence their donations after a ten year hiatus. Though Saunière was no longer a member of the clergy, and thus de Beauséjour could no longer touch him, at the same time, that meant that Saunière could no longer say any masses either – at least not “valid” ones. And such solicitation for masses (via e.g. advertisements) would bring him into trouble too. So where did the promise of money come from?
Furthermore, Saunière was practically an invalid: the toll of his unhealthy lifestyle, mainly due to excessive consumption of alcohol. There were large periods of times when he was confined to bed, sometimes up to a week. So any digging or exploration or even descending in subterranean passages underneath his estate must be excluded. He could no longer travel, except one trip to Lourdes, made in 1916, which is not an arduous journey – and which, unlike his previous secret trips, he may have done with some company to help him along.
In short, Saunière’s new source of income must have been “easy money”: a donation from a new sponsor, though with apparently no services in return rendered, is possible, as he knew many rich and influential people – but it seems unlikely. And 120 million Euro? There’s a difference between helping a friend out and …
The missing income
nebulous, we have some indications where at least part of the money came
from during the 1885-1905 period: masses, donations, etc (see his trial).
We know that no money came in between 1905 and 1915. So what reignited Saunière’s
purse? And what was it that seemingly guaranteed he would have income in
early 1917, when he placed the orders for the works?
It remained a mystery – so major that few have addressed it. For those who believed that Saunière’s wealth was related to trafficking in masses, this new episode in his life did not fit. For them and any other sceptic, the promise of 8 million francs is seen as a “dream” and a “fantasy” on his behalf. Yet, that logic should also apply to his previous building works, which were accomplished: how could a village priest build the Villa, the Tour, buy this and that, live so excessively, have so much money, etc. Logic and his known sources of income say it is impossible and if he had not done it, no-one would have believed he could have done it. So calling his new project a fantasy, when we know he signed the orders in early January simply does not wash.
A model answer
clue – and in our opinion the answer – what it was that would
make him so wealthy was thrown in André Douzet’s lap in the
1990s: a landscape executed in plaster, to be executed
in bronze, found in a foundry, an order placed by Saunière in 1916,
but never finalised as after what appears to have been a final round of
modifications, the foundry learned that Saunière had died; the plaster
model was placed on a shelf – from where it eventually got sold, and
then sold again to Douzet.
The model meets all of the requirements to answer in this enigma. First, the timeframe: the model was practically finished at a time when Saunière signed the order for the works to be carried out. It suggests that the model would be handed to someone or some group, in return for hard cash. We will return to this later. Also, the “hope of new money” and the start of the realisation of the model, roughly a year before, coincide.
Second, the manner: for the creation of the model, Saunière corresponded with the foundry. This can hardly be described as intense work. It involved sending references to maps, what type of inscriptions were required, how this, how that. Even if immobilised in bed, he could still write such letters – and we know he did. The hard work was done by the foundry.
anyone pay 100 million for this model? André Douzet knows that certain
people are willing to pay a lot for it – but not 100 million for sure.
But the model itself is not “self-explanatory” and if he would
have merely had the model, the landscape of the model could possibly still
not have been identified.
Without any supporting evidence, we do speculate that the model was just part of a certain amount of items and knowledge that Saunière was willing to part with in return for money. It is our opinion that Saunière was selling his knowledge, in return for money. He knew that he would never discover the true secret of Perillos, if only because his physical condition would never allow him to get there again – even though perhaps the car did feature in his plans to perhaps at least come close to the village itself.
Would anyone pay 100 million for the secret of Perillos – and perhaps some related mysteries? The answer seems to be yes. Based solely on the evidence of Saunière’s last few years, the evidence suggests nothing but that: the presence of a model which he will give to someone, and the apparent income of millions at the same time. The evidence dictates that this the most likely explanation – and any other explanation is less scientific by default, unless new evidence is produced that challenges or restructures the above premise.
Several questions remain, but these will be addressed elsewhere, as they do not form part of this problem. Some questions are relevant: who was it that wanted to pay for this knowledge? More intriguingly, who had so much money available and who was willing to pay so much to learn something about Perillos – or rather: something important that just “happens” to be in Perillos? What is hidden in Perillos that not only intrigued Saunière, but that convinced him and his “clients” to pay through their nose? It is something that is apparently worth at least 120 million Euros. To put this in perspective: it would have made Saunière one of the wealthiest men in France, with an amount of money that is equivalent to the annual turnover of or contract by medium to large firms. Saunière, lest we forget, was a village priest. No wonder that sceptics shrug the problem off and explain it away and enthusiasts and even researchers and authors tend not to focus on this gigantic enigma. 120 million Euros is far – very far – removed from believing that Saunière’s secret was some landscape geography involving circles and pentagrams we can draw on a map. In short, it is so important that it could only have been a state secret – provided the state was of course aware of it. And let us note that when we talk about an invaluable secret that would be of great importance to the state, we are also talking about a letter from Louis to Nicolas Fouquet, sent in the 17th century – which since decades is believed to be part of the mystery of “Rennes-le-Château”.
A theoretical framework
trial had delayed Saunière and his material indulgences had taken
their toll. In 1915, he was ill; he knew the location of something of tremendous
value and/or importance, but would never get there. He had no heirs. What
He had wined and dined with important and rich people – intriguing people. Some were members of esoteric societies. Were some people willing to pay? And what price to put on it?
Above all: how to make sure that these people would find the locations? For this, he prepared a series of documentary proof. But something “physical” was required, so that anyone, without being guided physically by Saunière, would be able to arrive at the goal. For this, he created the model, which formed a 3D visual rendering of the landscape, which led from a viewpoint and starting point through the landscape of the model to the two places.
This total sum of material would be sufficient for anyone to know what he knew… and to do with it whatever he was pleased to do with it. He himself would never be able to return to the site… he had waited too long.
Coppens & André Douzet