THE LEGEND OF RENNES LE CHATEAU
Towards the end of the 19th Century Bérenger Saunière, the parish priest of Rennes le Chateau, started spending money. A lot of money. More money than anyone in his position could have even dreamed of possessing. It was true that he was a rather unconventional priest. He’d had several scandalous affairs with younger women (the most recent being his housekeeper, Marie Dénarnaud, 16 years his junior), was known for ‘selling’ masses for a steady profit, and it only took him 3 months to receive his first suspension from the Church. Nevertheless, he was loved by the local people and had been granted a significant sum to begin renovating the church in the area. It was soon after the renovations that ol’ Sauni started spending cash. Records of his expenditure show that he had somehow become one of the richest men in the country.
Contemporary anecdotes reveal that when asked about his sudden wealth, Sauni would say he had found ‘treasure’. Sauni never revealed the source of his treasure, though many tried to squeeze it out of him. The only one privy to his secret was little Marie the housekeeper, who vowed to him never to share his discovery until her deathbed.
Unfortunately Marie died unexpectedly of a stroke, and never got the chance of a deathbed confession - cue a hundred years of wild speculation, treasure hunting, and a whole range of fun theories. Some say he left clues to the treasure in his church renovation (eg. the statues of Mary and Joseph who are both holding babies, suggesting Jesus had a twin brother. Or the ‘incorrect’ stations of the cross that have a little guy wearing a Scottish kilt, suggesting the source of the treasure lies in Scottish territory), while others swear that the answer lies in a document he is said to have found in a hollowed plinth during the renovations (a document that we now know is buried in the Vatican archives).
Regardless, one thing is for sure: the whole mystery has been excellent fodder for imagination, and spawned a range of literature such as a little novel called The Da Vinci Code.
There are endless theories about the secret revealed on the document which you can read more about here, but these are 5 of our favourites (make sure you read the last one):
1. Actual Treasure - the vicinity had been home to the Romans, the Visigoths, Royals, Templars, and Cathars. Jewels and artefacts from all these people have been found at Rennes Le Chateau, so it’s possible that the document pointed Sauni in the direction of a particularly juicy stash of gold. Indeed, he and Marie were seen often out digging in the cemetery. So often in fact they received numerous complaints for displacing graves and disturbing the dead.
2. Jesus’s Twin Bro - Sauni discovered that Jesus didn’t actually die on the cross, but was substituted with his twin brother, and he and Mary Magdalene fled to the vicinity to raise their family. Supposedly Sauni blackmailed the Vatican and they paid him handsomely for his silence.
3. Mary Magdalene’s Tomb - there is a widely accepted theory that Mary Magdalene came to the region following the crucifixion. Some say Sauni discovered that she was pregnant and raised Jesus’s children in the Languedoc and, as with the previous theory, was paid for his silence.
4. The Holy Grail - The story goes that the Knights Templar gave the Holy Grail to the Cathars for safekeeping, and the Cathars hid it beneath the church in Rennes Le Chateau before the last of their kind fell to the royal troops.
5. Aliens - Yep. Sauni discovered a UFO hanger and space aliens in a nearby mountain. The aliens helped him out financially. Of course.