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Conspiracy Theories, Lost Treasure and the Da Vinci Code

The village received up to 100,000 tourists each year at the height of popularity of Dan Brown's bestselling novel The Da Vinci Code... receives tens of thousands of visitors per year, drawn by conspiracy theories surrounding a putative buried treasure discovered by its 19th-century priest Bérenger Saunière, the precise nature of which is disputed among those who credit its existence... In the 1950s and 1960s, the entire area around Rennes-le-Château became the focus of sensational claims involving Blanche of Castile, the Merovingians, the Knights Templar, the Cathars, and the treasures of the Temple of Solomon (booty of the Visigoths) that included the Ark of the Covenant and the Menorah (the Jerusalem Temple's seven-branched candelabrum). Since the 1970s, the area's associations have extended to the Prieuré de Sion, the Rex Deus, the Holy Grail, ley lines, sacred geometry, the remains of Jesus Christ, including references to Mary Magdalene settling in the south of France, and even flying saucers. Well-known French authors like Jules Verne and Maurice Leblanc are suspected of leaving clues in their novels about their knowledge of the mystery of Rennes-le-Château.
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Rennes-le-Château (Occitan: Rènnas del Castèl) is a small commune approximately 5km (3 miles) south of Couiza, in the Aude department in Languedoc in southern France.

This hilltop village is known internationally, and receives tens of thousands of visitors per year,[citation needed] drawn by conspiracy theories surrounding a putative buried treasure discovered by its 19th-century priest Bérenger Saunière, the precise nature of which is disputed among those[who?] who credit its existence.

Mountains frame both ends of the region—the Cevennes to the northeast and the Pyrenees to the south. The area is known for its scenery, with jagged ridges, deep river canyons and rocky limestone plateaus, with large caves underneath.[citation needed]

Rennes-le-Château was the site of a prehistoric encampment, and later a Roman colony, or at least Roman villa or temple, such as is confirmed to have been built at Fa, 5km (3.1mi) west of Couiza, part of the Roman province of Gallia Narbonensis, the wealthiest part of Roman Gaul.

Rennes-le-Château was part of Septimania in the 6th and 7th centuries. It has been suggested that it was once an important Visigothic town, with some 30,000 people living in the city around 500-600AD. Until 1659-1745 the area was not considered French territory, being part of the Catalan Country since 988. However, British archaeologist Bill Putnam and British physicist John Edwin Wood argued that while there may have been a Visigothic town on the site of the present village, it would have had 'a population closer to 300 than 30,000'.

By 1050 the Counts of Toulouse held control over the area, building a castle in Rennes-le-Château around 1002, though nothing remains above ground of this medieval structure—the present ruin is from the 17th or 18th century.

Several castles in the surrounding Languedoc region were central to the battle between the Catholic Church and the Cathars at the beginning of the 13th century. Other castles guarded the volatile border with Spain. Whole communities were wiped out in the campaigns of the Catholic authorities to rid the area of the Cathar heretics, the Albigensian Crusades, and again when French Protestants fought against the French monarchy two centuries before the French Revolution.

The village church dedicated to Saint Mary Magdalene has been rebuilt several times. The earliest church of which there is any evidence on the site may date to the 8th century. However, this original church was almost certainly in ruins by the 10th or 11th century, when another church was built upon the site—remnants of which can be seen in Romanesque pillared arcades on the north side of the apse. This survived in poor repair until the 19th century, when it was renovated by the local priest, Bérenger Saunière. Surviving receipts and existing account books belonging to Saunière reveal that the renovation of the church, including works on the presbytery and cemetery, cost 11,605 Francs over a ten-year period between 1887 and 1897. With inflation that figure is equivalent to approximately 30 million Francs as of 2019, or 4.5 million Euros.

Among Saunière's external embellishments was the Latin inscription Terribilis est locus iste displayed prominently on the lintel of the main entrance; its literal and most obvious translation is 'This place is terrible'; the rest of the dedication, over the doors' arch, reads 'this is God's house, the gate of heaven, and it shall be called the royal court of God.'

Inside the church, one of the figures installed by Saunière was of the demon Asmodeus holding up the holy water stoup. Its original head was stolen in 1996 and has never been recovered. A devil-like figure holding up the holy water stoup is a rare and unusual choice for the interior decoration of a Church but not exclusive to the Church of Saint Mary Magdalene; a similar subject can be seen in the Saint Vincent Collegiate church in Montréal, a short distance from Rennes-le-Château.[citation needed]

The new figures and statues were not made especially for this church, but were chosen by Saunière from a catalogue published by Giscard, sculptor and painter in Toulouse who, among other things, offered statues and sculptures for church refurbishment.

Saunière also funded the construction of the Tour Magdala, a tower-like structure originally named the Tour de L'horloge and later renamed after Saint Mary Magdalene. Saunière used it as his library. The structure includes a circular turret with twelve crenellations, on a belvedere that connected it to an orangery. The tower has a promenade linking it to the Villa Bethania, which was not actually used by the priest. He stated at his trial that it was intended as a home for retired priests. Surviving receipts and existing account books belonging to Saunière reveal that the construction of his estate (including the purchases of land) between 1898 and 1905 cost 26,417 Francs.

Following Sauniere's renovations and redecoratations, the church was re-dedicated in 1897 by his bishop, Monsignor Billard.

In 1910–1911, Bérenger Saunière was summoned by the bishopric to appear before an ecclesiastical trial to face charges of trafficking in masses. He was found guilty and suspended of the priesthood. When asked to produce his account books, he refused to attend his trial.

Supporters[who?] of the hypothesis that Rennes and its environs enshrine unsolved enigmas have suggested that Saunière's estate was set up on a large-scale checkerboard, while others[who?] have suggested that Saunière produced a Mirror image of selected architectural features of his property. They[who?] also claim that Maurice Barrès's novels Roman à clef and The Sacred Hill are largely based on the Rennes-le-Château story involving Bérenger Saunière (while novels by Jules Verne are cited to show that the enigma predates Abbé Saunière).

The village received up to 100,000 tourists each year at the height of popularity of Dan Brown's bestselling novel The Da Vinci Code The modern reputation of Rennes-le-Château rests mainly in claims and stories, dating from the mid-1950s, concerning the 19th-century parish priest Bérenger Saunière, leading researchers Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln to write The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, which became a bestseller in 1982; their work in turn fuelled the premise of Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, published in 2003.

The first known popular article about Saunière was written by Roger Crouquet in the Belgian magazine Le Soir illustré, published in 1948. The author was visiting the Aude to meet his friend Jean Mauhin, a Belgian who had moved to Quillan to open a bell and hat factory, and at his suggestion visited Rennes-le-Château. There Crouquet collected testimonies from villagers about Saunière. One person[who?] told how the priest 'preferred wine and women to practising the priesthood. At the end of the last century he had a rather original idea. He placed in foreign newspapers, especially in the United States, an advertisement announcing that the poor priest of Rennes-le-Château lived among heretics and had only the most meagre of resources. He moved the Christians of the whole world to such pity by announcing that the old church, an architectural gem, was heading for unavoidable ruin if urgent restoration work was not undertaken as soon as possible.'[citation needed] Crouquet added: 'The stoup which decorates the entrance to the chapel is carried by a horned devil with cloven hooves. An old woman remarked to us: 'It's the old priest, changed into a devil'.'

Crouquet's article faded into obscurity and it was left to Noël Corbu, a local man who had opened a restaurant in Saunière's former estate (called L'Hotel de la Tour) in the mid-1950s, to turn the village into a household name. Corbu began circulating stories that, whil...

Wikipedia Article
  • Tour Magdala
  • The château in the village, once in the possession of the Hautpoul family. The present building dates from the 17th or 18th century.[3]
  • Visit of Socialist candidate François Mitterrand to Rennes-le-Château in the 1981 French Presidential campaign
  • Church of Saint Mary Magdalene
  • A Pediment decorated with a Memento mori Skull and crossbones figure above the entrance to the churchyard
  • Altar of Saint Mary Magdalene, it features a bas-relief of Mary Magdalene. At the bottom of the altar a Latin inscription (once lost, now restored), reads: Jesu medela vulnerum Spes una poenitentium Per Magdalenae lacrymas Peccata nostra diluas, that translates as "Jesus, remedy against all our pains, The only hope for the penitent, Through the tears of Magdalen Thou washest away our sins"
  • Tympanum of Saint Mary Magdalene
  • Latin inscription Terribilis est locus iste ("This place is terrible") above the church entrance
  • The Holy Water Stoup, surmounted by four Angels and featuring the inscription By that sign you shall overcome him and below, two Basilisks topped by the BS monogram
  • The figure of the demon Asmodeus supporting the Holy Water Stoup.
  • A Relief Fresco of the Sermon on the Mount
  • The Statue of Saint Roch set up between the tenth and the eleventh Stations of the Cross
  • The Statue of Saint Germaine set up between the fourth and the fifth Stations of the Cross
  • The Da Vinci Code


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