T H E   R E N N E S – L E  - C H Â T E A U  

T H E M E   P A R K



Summing Up: The Battle of the Books





PAGES (Just click on the page you wish to go to):

Page 1—Abandon All Hope: Introduction to a Hermeneutical Hell

Page 2—“The Saunière Episode”   Who Wrote It?  

Page 3—The Plantard Subplot  

Page 4—The Lincoln Story & Its Aftermath

Page 5— Puzzling Pieces of the Story 

Page 6—Summing Up: The Battle of the Books

Page 7—Links & Sources




            The fascination in all of this for me personally is in how it illustrates the postmodernist case for our being at the mercy of language, ironically invented as a liberating device but ending more as an imprisoner of man, whose "manacles," said William Blake, are "mind-forged."   My only hope is that greater awareness of this fact will somehow eventually lead to some measure of release from the manacles, for otherwise we seem fated to play out the self-destructive destinies we've programmed in to our controlling myths. 

          The RLC caper is magnificently illustrative of the imprisonment.   All of its ultimate references are to ancient days and the origins of the imprisonment.  With a priest at the center of the story, its most obvious reference is to the centuries in which a "primitive" and more democratic Christianity mutated into an hierarchical and imperial Church (and which did the priest Saunière truly represent, as a consequence of his supposed digging up of the past?), but also to antecedents in Egyptian, Sumerian, and other ancient cultures, with the most probing analyses even drilling back into prehistory, mostly imagined.   At all levels of history and prehistory we find men binding themselves with the myths they create to explain the world, the repercussions of which are never-ending, as reflected by the incredible variety of historical subject matter to be found in all that's been written about Rennes-le-Château as all the past seems to have come to bear on this little village.  In earlier pages I've alluded to as much of this historical analysis as possible, mostly by sending you to the books that expound it, “pagan” included, but here I'll narrow the focus to just the Christian "battle of the books."  

          From the beginning of the Christian world, it seems, there was a "battle of the books," which at all times in all cultures is always a battle between a relatively few creative and strong-minded individuals, the principal myth-makers, who interpret the events of history in a way that shapes a certain political agenda for their time.   This battle is always primarily about power, though it is often disguised as a battle about "truth" or the well-being of “the people,” and power is always about who gets to do what to whom, with economics always at its root. 

Now the battles among the myth-makers of the early Christian centuries had many sides, so any reduction of this complexity to just two sides—orthodox and not orthodox--is an oversimplification, but it is in the nature of summaries to oversimplify, by virtue of their brevity, and so all I can do is urge you to be mindful of that as you read my dramatization of the relevant great conflicts of the past.

          The principal battle in the first four or five centuries of the Christian Era was between Pauline Christianity and various non-Pauline versions, some of which preceded the Pauline version, some of which were reactions against it.   Laudable as it may have been to extend the franchise of “salvation” to the Gentile world (however nonsensical the notion of “salvation”), Paul's motives for doing that were more political than not.  There were simply a lot more Gentiles than Jews, as Saul of Tarsus well knew, and the Gentiles had more power, as they proved when the Romans harassed and persecuted the Jews in Palestine for decades and then, in 70 A.D., evicted the Jews from Palestine.   Saul/Paul was no fool.  His disappointment and anger at being kicked out of the original Jewish Christian church by James (the brother of Jesus) was soon replaced by a determination to build a stronger church that would replace the establishment church.  With Paul you never go wrong in reading everything he does in terms of seeking strength and eschewing weakness.  And his great revelation on the road to Damascus was in his sudden realization of how he could make weakness into strength, as he became the principal exponent of "spiritual power" (which he probably learned much about from the inefficacy of his persecution of the original Christians).   James & Co. then did him a favor in giving him the boot, for Paul learned from that where the votes are.  Not in championing a Jewish Messiah but a "catholic" (i.e., “universal”) Messiah.  And so from almost day one the religion that was supposed to bind people together (the roots of the word "religion" refer to "that which binds"), Pauline Christianity became a religion that divides--the sheep from the goats, to use its traditional pastoral language, or the "saved" from the "damned."   The "damned" were those who did not see things Paul's way or do them Paul's way.   The popes are the true inheritors of Paul, whether they are the true inheritors of Christ or not, for they have all agreed with Paul: "My way or the highway."   Benedict XVI will frequently remind us of that.  

          But the chief battle in the long run was not between Pauline Christianity and Jamesian Christianity, for the latter did not last long, and indeed both had more in common than not in their emphasis upon ritual and sacramental salvation.  The principal battle was between a Pauline vision of Christianity that inevitably led to a bureaucratic, priest-oriented organization that "saved" (promised immortality in Heaven) principally through belief in "Christ Crucified" and observation of the attendant sacraments and a "Gnostic" version that put the emphasis upon the individual's ability to achieve union with God through knowing how to live, no crucifixion or priest necessary.  Buttressing the latter was a notion that the best way to proceed in life was to live as Jesus did, according to the principle of "brotherly love," never mind any sacraments.  Now it's probably the case that the revolutionary "ethics" of Jesus were given lip-service by all sides, but that seems to have been truer of the Church that didn't hesitate to militarize whenever it needed to.  So, never mind the ethic of "brotherly love," it was "magic" the Church primarily wanted from Jesus, a miraculous reversal of the laws of nature, most particularly the law of death.  Paul thought Jesus obliged by transubstantiating on the altars of his churches into the elixir of everlasting life.  The Gnostics didn't buy all that and got away with their theological disagreement until Constantine, desperate for political unity in a shaky Empire, forced a theological unity that favored the Paulines, and then, with the Empire's backing, came the Christian persecutions, murders, and book-burnings of people who suddenly found themselves declared "heretics." Many more “pagans” and “heretics” were henceforth persecuted and killed by Christians than Christians by “pagans” and “heretics” in previous years.   But the lesson of all suppressions, never learned by the suppressors, it seems, is that the blood of martyrs is the best fertilizing agent for recurrent rebellion.   The history of the Roman Catholic Church is the history of a body that had constantly to kill and burn to maintain itself, until finally the Protestant resistance grew too large to conquer.   And now this is all being played out again around little old Rennes-le-Château in a new "battle of the books," although the spotlight has temporarily been stolen by The Da Vinci Code, which has inspired its own battle of the books.    Amusingly, the attackers of this work of fiction imagine that they are countering falsehood with truth, but it's really a battle of the fictions.   Which narrative shall prevail?

          In case I have obscured my point in dealing with all the detail of the Rennes battle of the books, it is that this battle is not really over "truth," it is about power.   The claims of the Catholic Church for owning the one true faith are completely unsubstantiated by anything one could call scientific fact, and so too are the claims of those of rival persuasions.   In the microcosm of the battle over Rennes or The Da Vinci Code, we are watching rival myths battle for control of the Western World, at a rather crucial time, it turns out, as once again the Saracen is challenging all Christian myths.   The myths of all parties imagine settling the matter once and for all in an "Armageddon."   And now that we have the weaponry to realize that myth, be careful what you wish for.  For the universe does not care if the Earth becomes just another cinder rolling through space or not. 

            I'll conclude now by going over the principal arguments and issues being debated in the battle of the books of the RLC caper, to make it as clear as I can how hot the Hermeneutical Hell is in which they have landed us:

            Let’s begin by summing up the debunkers’ case.   The debunkers, Paul Smith being chief amongst them until Putnam & Wood put together a more coherent and credible case, want to believe that it is “all myth,” by which they mean that everything has been made up, and therefore we should all leave Rennes-le-Château alone because there’s nothing of value here to investigate.   Go home, all you mystery-mongers!  


There are many problems with this view, starting with the fact that all of our ruling myths have been “made up.” And that “might makes right” is the profoundest, unacknowledged belief of all such rules.  


But a principal problem specific to this case is that the debunkers can’t make up their minds as to who the central myth-maker was, who perpetrated what they perceive as a hoax.   Sometimes they want Saunière to be the principal hoaxer, sometimes Marie Dénarnaud, sometimes Corbu, sometimes Plantard and the Priory (with variations on how that came about), and sometimes all of the above.  It doesn’t seem to matter to the debunkers who the hoaxer is, really, only that everybody understands that it is all a hoax and so we should stop looking into it.  Go home, all you mystery-mongers! 


Unfortunately, the debunkers can’t make a case of the sort that would stand up in a court of law or that would pass the empirical test in a science lab (despite Putnam & Woods’ use of computers to test the probabilities of the proposed geometries in the Rennes area, for probabilities are not certainties, and one wonders about the software programs that produced these results – “garbage in, garbage out,” is an old truism of computer programming).  As is often the case with the True Believers as well, the debunkers’ evidence is mostly of the hearsay and circumstantial sort, very incomplete and full of gaps (which they try to paper over with assurances that the gaps don’t matter), and often based on dubious documents and questionable testimony, and although at times their case seems well-argued, at other times it seems as gullible in its approach and attitudes as that of those they accuse of being “mystery-mongers.”  Most importantly, they cite “history” without realizing that it’s precisely the biased history of the past that is being called into question, and they don’t seem to be aware of how much of history that they take for granted has undergone considerable revision in recent years as previous academic “authorities” have been shown to have been wrong or at least distorting in their accounts of history.   Further, they seem unwilling to consider the possibility that in a case where they themselves insist that doctoring and planting of documents is commonplace, the documents they rely on may just as easily have been doctored or planted.  And, strangely, they don’t seem to notice that much of the testimony they rely on comes from the same people they declare to be charlatans and frauds, most notably De Chérisey and Chaumeil.  They call the True Believers “dupes,” but how is anyone who these days relies upon “official” documents (easily forged) and unsubstantiated testimony or testimony from unreliable witnesses less of a dupe?   

If the intent of the debunkers is to get Rennes-le-Château removed from the conspiracy buff list, then those of the Paul Smith variety have chosen the wrong strategy.   Their zeal and at times bullying methods make one suspect ulterior motives.   What is up with all this vigorous debunking, which has sometimes degenerated into name-calling?   Why do they want the mystery-mongers to go away?  Isn’t this the sort of tactic one hears is used by Opus Dei?  Or name your favorite right-wing conspiracy group.

Another issue is signaled by Paul Smith’s tendency to dismiss all the interest in RLC as inspired by “New Age Christianity” (see http://priory-of-sion.com/dvc/newage.html), the attempt by people disillusioned with orthodox, patriarchal Christianity to change Christianity to something he thinks is just faddishly feminist and historically bogus, with its attempt to restore Mary Magdalene to what they believe is her rightful primacy in a True Church.   While I have no particular enthusiasm for the “New Age” and agree that even if there is a bloodline from Jesus and Mary Magdalene extant today, it matters not for “blood” is no guarantee of wisdom or anything else, but Smith does not grasp that the orthodoxy he defends has its roots in what amounts to a “New Age” movement in the first century C.E., which successfully did to the pagan religions of its day what today’s “New Age” movement is trying to do to orthodox Christianity.  He calls the whole idea of Mary Magdalene’s being the intended “Pope” of the ur-church “pseudo-historical,” but that would be an excellent word to characterize the New Testament as well, not to mention the entire Bible, for there is even less scientific proof for the divinity of Jesus than for the Magdalene thesis.   It is crystal clear by now that the Bible is mostly fiction and essentially a series of political spin jobs by people driven to establish or maintain their power.   So Smith’s dismissal of the “New Age” movement is just the pot calling the kettle black.   


In short, if we have a Hermeneutical Hell here, and we do, the debunkers have made as large a contribution as the True Believers through their questionable methods and their unexamined biases.  All of which adds up to the realization, perhaps first stated by G. K. Chesterton, that, to paraphrase, we do not live in an age that believes in Nothing, we live in an age that believes in Everything!


Is there a way out?  Well, nothing has even the remotest chance of getting settled until serious digs in numerous places by professional and neutral archaeologists take place.  And I wouldn’t confine them to the obvious places, since it’s likely they were cleaned out long ago (as, for example, Torkain reports that nothing was found under the Tour Magdala during an attenuated August 2003 dig).  It’s rumored that some digs may be in the offing, after scientific scanning of the mountain has suggested that another, older church lies beneath Saunière’s church (a Sixth Century Visigoth church, tradition says), and that huge, perhaps royal graves lie below that.  We’ll see.  Putnam & Wood claim that digs by professionals have turned up no evidence of RLC ever being much larger than its present size, but that’s a very large area to dig up, and I question how thorough the dig has been, since others have attested to finding relevant artifacts.   Perhaps another dig should be at the Perillos site Douzet says he has located as the model for “Saunière’s model.”  Seems far-fetched, but who knows?  In addition to digs, expert evaluation of the handwritings involved, those on the parchments and those of Bigou, De Chérisey, Plantard, etc., are a necessity.  Whatever, the only possible way to stop the spread of the cancer of Postmodern Relativity is to find more “objects” that “speak” for themselves and that assert a reality exterior to the linguistic maze with no exit that all current investigations have landed us in.  


However, one troubling aspect of any dig that may ensue is that when some joker reported that the Vatican has insisted that it be allowed to confiscate or destroy anything found that might compromise the faith, the joke reminded us of the Church’s long history of suppressing truth, in this century illustrated by the Church’s brazen twisting of the Fatima prophecy and censoring of the lady who was its source, and so, we rightly ask, why wouldn’t it be capable of archaeological censorship as well?   It was Pope Leo X who spoke for the Church in all ages: “It has served us well, this myth of Christ.”   And they are not going to give up easily what has served them so well.  


It’s probably too much to hope for, but what is needed now, in addition to scientific digs, is a serious, systematic, patient scholarly effort to investigate and weigh the merits of each piece of evidence, discarding or at least calling into question the contradictory and the bogus, and to put the pieces of the puzzle together, if possible.  Putnam & Wood probably think they have done that, and certainly they have gone further than most and are to be thanked and encouraged.  But as I was reading their account, many questions occurred to me that did not get answered, questions that came partly out of the gaps in their and my and everybody else’s knowledge of this affair and partly out of my awareness of facts or theories skipped over.    What is needed is an international meeting where everybody sits down and asks questions of the evidence.  All the evidence, not just the parts that suit one’s particular thesis.   There’s a Saunière Society that does meet, and a Rennes Group and a Cercle Alpheus as well, each with worthwhile publications, and these days both Henry Lincoln and Jean Luc Robin (alas, now dead) are happy to answer the questions of anyone who visits the café at the entrance to Sauniere’s garden, but these are small groups limited to like-minded people.  And even if all interested parties were to sit down and peacefully discuss their differences, it’s possible that we would soon see the demon of Postmodern Relativity again assert itself, leaving us no wiser, as it became clear that no agreement can be reached over the validity of certain evidence.   Will the Shroud of Turin ever get settled to everyone’s satisfaction?   Doubtful.


However, it needs to be said that from the point of view of a scientifically-inclined secularist like myself (secularist by default), the competing claims to a “true church” and to a true apostolic succession between the Catholic Church and a Gnostic or Celtic Church are hardly a matter for melodrama, for declaring one good and the other evil.  For a secularist, both claims to divine right are equally preposterous and equally without contemporary validity, and the world would be better off if both were dropped.   Putting aside the questions of whether Jesus was in any sense divine or of how trustworthy the New Testament is as history, the belief that Jesus gave Peter the Keys to the Kingdom is no guarantee that those "keys" weren’t lost or tossed out by subsequent popes.  The history of that Church, in fact, suggests strongly that they were tossed out, at least by the Fourth Century, and never recovered!  On the other hand, the belief that Jesus had children (or a child) whose descendants are still with us is no guarantee that possessing the blood of Jesus lends one any special wisdom or ability.   A pox on both their houses!


That last point, the questioning of the bloodline of Jesus as “holy,” even if it does exist, deserves more emphasis to counteract an impression Henry Lincoln and his co-authors left at the end of HBHG.   In the original, 1982 book the authors speak of “an intensifying quest for meaning, for emotional fulfillment, for a spiritual dimension to our lives, for something in which genuinely to believe.  There is a longing for a renewed sense of the sacred that amounts, in effect, to a full-scale religious revival . . . .  There is also a desire for a true ‘leader’ – not a führer, but a species of wise and benign spiritual figure, a “priest-king” in whom mankind can safely repose its trust . . . .  Such an atmosphere would seem eminently conducive to the Prieuré de Sion’s objectives . . . .   How might the advent of Jesus’ lineal descendant be interpreted?   To a receptive audience, it might be a kind of Second Coming.”  End of HBHG!    If you read the concluding argument of the 1982 HBHG (386-7) about the possible benefits of a benevolent Priory of Sion, responding to the religious needs of a despairing, cynical, materialist civilization by offering a “priest-king” as messiah, you see how even the best intentioned of men can fall under the spell of this unwelcome idea of a Messiah.   Or did.   I sense that twenty-five years later Henry Lincoln at least, if not Baigent and Leigh, is pretty much disillusioned with the possibility of a supra-national, constitutional monarchy overseeing a United States of Europe in Messiah fashion, but, if so, I wish he would thus make this clearer to the world at large, for the original language of HBHG is still being read as “gospel.”  This longing for the return of a sacred dimension to life is quite understandable, and it’s a credit to Henry Lincoln’s noble soul that he chooses this outcome as the preferred solution to “The Mystery of Rennes-le-Château,” but history strongly suggests we’re more likely to find “some rough beast slouching toward Bethlehem to be born” than any benevolent Messiah.    That there is a Habsburg at the center of Opus Dei is enough to give me the shivers and should give everyone great pause.   And Zot save us from the Pierre Plantards of this world.   So enough of “holy blood.”  There is no such thing.     


 Furthermore, although in reading history one may be inclined to root for underdog “heretics” against an all-too-often oppressive, power-crazed, ignorant Church, it must be admitted that there are just as many unattractive features in the beliefs of the “heretics” in this case as in the Church that persecuted them.  For example, the extreme asceticism of the leading Cathars always gives me pause, for this is the defining characteristic of obsessive Puritans, who, like the Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia or the Taliban of Afghanistan, only need power to show how oppressive they can be.  


And I’m no happier about the Cathars’ Gnostic/Manichean view of reality, which imposes a melodrama of good and evil upon the world and from which cockamamie notions of being able to “purify” the world of evil derives.  Nothing and no one is good or evil in themselves, and everyone and everything has the potential for evil.  The potential for evil cannot be separated out from the potential for good, no matter how many torture racks are used or bonfires are lit.  Furthermore, the only way to be possessed by the Devil is by believing that he exists.  In fact, believing that he exists and acting accordingly is precisely what the possession consists of.  People who believe this invariably behave crazily.   One hears that John Paul II performed three exorcisms!


So, insofar as these life-hating Cathar “heretics” would have imposed a Puritanical regimen as oppressive as that they opposed, I can’t wish that they had won their struggle with the Church, however much the Church must be condemned for its attempt at genocide and its general oppressiveness and corruption.  But insofar as these “heretics,” or some of them, were preserving ancient Wisdom of a liberating, peace-making, civilizing nature, Wisdom that was being suppressed by a Church interested only in preserving its worldly power at the expense of the rest of humanity, then hooray for the “heretics.”  There’s some evidence that in periods when this Gnostic view of things had some sway in the world, certain regions of Europe, such as parts of the Languedoc before the massacre of the Cathars, enjoyed a higher level of civilization than regions not possessed of their view, such as that of the Catholics who massacred them, and that encourages one to believe that the “heretical” tradition had more benefit to offer than not.  Gnosticism at least eliminates the need for priests, and that in itself might be civilizing.   But it’s possible that this higher civilization was an accident of history, of tolerant, talented spirits leading the way in a few places, so that it wasn’t the beliefs of the Cathars that mattered but the way individuals were led to practice their beliefs.  What if the leaders of the Cathars had been Osama bin Ladens or Taliban?   The more likely reason for this flowering of civilization in medieval Languedoc was the cross-fertilization of Arab, Jewish, and Western secularism.   It was the culture of the troubadours, a covert manifestation of goddess-worship, that provided the brief golden age of the Languedoc, which the patriarchal Church moved quickly to squash.  


Another turn-off, for me, is in the spiritual snobbery that pervades so much of the thinking on all sides.   The Church is not the only one with hierarchical or elitist notions.  The Cathars, Knights Templars, and all the various mystical/ Hermetic/ alchemical/ Gnostic/ Masonic societies possibly connected to this are characterized by notions of some souls being superior to others or of some being more worthy of whatever salvation or survival is the goal.   Although there may be some attempt these days to democratize the thing, by getting “the Secret” out to the world at large, the assumption of all those secret societies posited as relevant to the Rennes mystery is that only a few can or should be “saved.”   A pox on that too!


As for the Alchemical/Hermetic/Gnostic tradition that many wish to see as Rennes-le-Chateau’s principal reference, I congratulate researchers on their rediscovery of the tradition and think it’s well worth pursuing Rennes’ possible role in an Alchemical/ Hermetic/ Gnostic past and future.  But the ancient astrology behind this, however clever human beings were in detecting the zodiac, understanding its amazing mathematical precision, building a certain Wisdom from it, working out a fascinating multiplicity of ways to express it, and by heroic effort keeping it alive through the centuries, is simply not a valid, meaningful account of how and why the universe works the way it does.  The zodiac is marvelously descriptive of certain local conditions attendant upon the wobbly rotation of the earth, and I stand in awe of the patient and keen observation over millennia that gave us reliable tables of the relative positions of certain celestial bodies and their interlocking mechanics of movement, and I’m intrigued by the possibility that this is a degenerate version of an advanced astronomy and geodetics of an “Atlantean” civilization, but its use is very limited in today’s astronomy and then only after translation.   And astrology is no predictor of divine Apocalypse (let alone your day)!   I’m pretty sure that any Apocalypse that comes about will be either of the perfectly willy-nilly, mundane, man-made, self-destructive sort or will come in the natural course of the sun’s aging or from galactic bursts of radiation or celestial collisions or violent earth-crust displacements, etc., which will have nothing to do with God and will be unaffected in any case by gnosis or astrology or alchemy.  As with the beliefs of the major religions, these are all just futile attempts to find an escape clause in human existence.  Appalled by the unbelievably cruel and unjust nature of existence, as generally experienced, humans from the start have sought to fly away to a better world or, as in the Book of Revelation, to persuade God that this is not “the best of all possible worlds” and to replace it with a better one—a new Jerusalem.  But it has availed not.  More than 99% of the world’s flora and fauna that has ever existed, we’re told, has already vanished into extinction, and no alchemical or astrological gnosis is going to prevent Homo sapiens from eventually doing likewise.  Even as the rest of the universe goes merrily on.


Despite my despair at ever finding a way out of the RLC mystery and mystification, my sympathies are obviously with those who think the “treasure” worth seeking at Rennes-le-Château, if there is any, is of an intellectual or spiritual sort, whatever else is there.  The Quest for Knowledge is what may save us, if there’s any chance at all.  I nod to the spirit of Gnosticism for its promotion of knowledge as the only possible path to a better future, however bogus its claims for a sure-fire formula for success may be.  And while granting that Rennes-le-Château usefully serves many as a kind of Rorschach ink blot, therapeutically lending them the images they need to survive in an increasingly lunatic world, I hang on to the increasingly desperate hope that there is an objective truth buried there that if learned can help us grow up as a species.   Even if the truth is the realization of nada.


But so far we are finding not so much “the truth” but what people involved over the centuries thought was the truth and acted on, including this century.  That in itself is a kind of reality, and I concur with Henry Lincoln that it is valuable in itself to know this reality, even if it is not the great revelation we would like.  It makes its contribution to the history of belief.


There are two kinds of skeptics—those with “vision” and those without.  Our world is more than what it appears to our limited senses, and it requires imagination to see behind appearances, as, say, Einstein did.  True, some acts of imagination produce hallucinations, and there’s plenty of that here, but that’s one of the risks one must take in the attempt to see life more clearly and certainly to try to understand something like Rennes-le-Château, which seems to encapsulate so much of human history, including its popular delusions.  Well, sometimes delusions are all there are, and that in itself needs seeing clearly, if it comes to that. 


One final point.  It was the fabulous wealth imagined for Abbé Saunière that got all this started.  Granted that the exact extent of Saunière’s wealth is still subject to debate, and even if it was somewhat greater than Paul Smith is willing to concede, for the reasons mentioned above, a more important consideration, perhaps, is that the extent of Saunière’s wealth may not be the key to this. While many theories provide plausible explanations of the kind of Secret and valuable knowledge that might be available in the Rennes-le-Chateau region, few give plausible explanations of how Saunière could possibly have drawn sufficient wealth from such knowledge.  Perhaps it’s time to acknowledge that in striving to solve the mystery of the clue that first got everybody’s attention, of how Saunière became so rich (if he did), investigators have accidentally stumbled across mysteries that may or may not be related to the original mystery but certainly do not provide answers to the source of the man’s wealth.  All well and good, I say.    Saunière himself may have stumbled across knowledge that had no sale value and may have been intellectually curious enough to value it for its own sake.  Did he not collect rare books?  {His library has been variously dispersed, one hears, and a valuable task now would be the locating and cataloguing of it.  One of the things he collected, we know, is postcards of the region.  An excellent reason for collecting such things, by the way, is as aids to mapping the place, to supplement what he could see from his tower.}  Or he may have simply valued what he found as a priest, as someone curious about ancient rites and how to perform them, which may have also brought wealth if he then performed such rites for a wealthy coterie.  Or his focus may have been on finding a rationalization for his secret love affair with Marie, the wealth coming from treasure accidentally stumbled upon as he quested for that Mary Magdalene whose story provided an alternate Christianity in which priests need not be celibate.  And in all or any of these, he might have found sponsorship from people who were interested in uncovering the same truths, but for their own reasons. 


Well, whether it’s true or not that Saunière welcomed multiple truths, there’s no reason why we questers for the truth (or truths) of the mystery (or mysteries) of Rennes-le-Château shouldn’t welcome everything that can be proved and damn the money motive.  In short, it may be that although there are many parts to the mystery, only one of those parts made money for Saunière, or maybe none.  Whether or not Saunière pursued them for their own sakes, should we not?


However, it’s now time to recommend reading Humberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum, which is a fictionalized account of the sort of fever that consumes people so desperate for meaning that they insist upon imposing meaning where none is to be found, even to the death, a cautionary tale for anyone who gets too caught up in “The Mystery of Rennes-le-Chateau” and its inevitable association with secret societies and their obsessions.  Yet there’s a skepticism that goes too far, that denies meaning on principle, thus sometimes missing it where it does exist!   Either way, there are traps all around here.   


With the hazards of entering this theme park well in mind then, I’ve endeavored in this website to dramatize Belief and Disbelief in “The Mystery of Rennes-le-Château” and to put major theories together in a way that suggests connections and paths to further exploration.  I conclude by inviting anyone who finds an error of fact in what I’ve written here to contact me via email at dietrich@cas.usf.edu.  As long as it’s understood that assertions and inferences and unsupported testimony are not the same as facts, and that all too often “the facts” come in more than one version.      


If you’re just getting started on Rennes-le-Château, I recommend that you first familiarize yourself in more detail with the popular version, which, after all, may succeed in creating the reality it describes, if it doesn’t already exist.   That is one of the meanings of the passage quoted at the top from André Breton--"The imaginary is something that tends to become true."   History is replete with examples of world views (the Christian, for example) that have first existed in somebody’s head before they existed in the external world, and Rennes-le-Château could follow that course.  If I had to bet on one thing, I would bet that Pierre Plantard, after serious exercising of his imagination, was simply trying to make something happen that he thought would be beneficial to a Europe that was lost in a murderous chaos most of the 20th Century and under great stress and strain the rest of the time.  Ironically, the EU as it is developing is not entirely unlike what he had in mind, although sans monarch, of course.   So much so that a True Believer in the Priory might be inspired to ask--has the Priory abandoned Rennes and sacrificed Plantard because they’ve found other ways to realize their aims?   A question to which of course there is no final answer in the funhouse we call life on the third rock from the sun.

Then, after reading the popular version, so hopeful for the future in a facing of the truth about the awful fakery of our past, read the debunkers to find out which reality you think the world would be better believing in.   Which illusions are more or less destructive?

Among books to read, you might as well start with those that made the popular version popular (although there’s something to be said for reading first the book that got Lincoln interested—Gerard de Sède’s The Accursed Treasure—now available in English).  Henry Lincoln’s Key to the Sacred Pattern (1998, St. Martin’s Press) relates the history of his fascinating encounter with Rennes-le-Château, and so it might be wise to read his last book on Rennes first.  He’s also done some videos that give stay-at-homes a wonderful view of the area and the major sites.  Then read his other books, co-authored with Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh—Holy Blood, Holy Grail (1982), The Messianic Legacy (1986) and The Holy Place (1991)—before going on to the many books mentioned above and whatever else you can find.  Amazon.com is one place to find Lincoln’s books—click here.  Windrush Press is another—click here.  And the bookstore in Rennes-le-Château has them all, as well as the videos.   Rennes-le-Château: A Bibliography, by Saul and Glaholm (The Mercurius Press, London), provides a list of key books but needs updating. 


For a bibliography and a link to the online Rennes bookstore Atelier Empreinte (recently sold in early 2004) to buy books and videos from, I recommend going to perhaps the most useful of the many websites devoted to Rennes-le-Château, started by “Torkain” (Frederic Fons) in 1997, but in 2004 taken over by Nicolas Miécret:  http://www.rennes-le-chateau.com/default-uk.htm.  Although this site seems to be in some sort of transitional state at the moment, there you may find links to other sites, which will lead to further links, perhaps ad infinitum.   And, supposedly, periodic updates by email, if you sign up for them, although this seems to be in abeyance at the moment.  Torkain also offers a CD-ROM, which contains many pictures and much interesting information, such as a plan of the church and (apparently) the summary of Saunière’s accounts prepared for his trial.   Torkain says that “obviously, these figures are wrong,” which cryptic comment may mean that Torkain thinks Saunière was lying to cover up, but Torkain’s comment might also suggest that this is testimony to contradict the idea of Saunière’s possessing great wealth, in which case Torkian doesn’t provide a good reason for their being wrong.  He just remarks that “at that time a castle and 380 hectares were 100,000 golden francs.”  His apparent point is that since Saunière’s estate was no castle, it must have cost less.   Well, how many castles were for sale at that time and what kind of shape were they in?   Might it have been easier and cheaper to buy a crumbling castle in those days of Republican triumph than to buy the things Saunière bought or possessed?  Is a castle really to be equated to or measured against Saunière’s estate? 

And, while on the subject, Paul Smith’s insistence that the bank Saunière applied to for a loan in 1913 valued the priest’s estate at only 18,000 francs merely raises questions.   First, how much is 18,000 francs in today’s dollars and pounds?  (In a footnote, Putnam & Wood recommend using a multiplier of 7, which suggests this is equivalent to 125,000 pounds and $230,000).   Secondly, how much would you have offered for that estate in 1913, on the eve of WWI?   This is a very peculiar estate, and it apparently did not include the church and cemetery.   What did it include?   Looked at through a banker’s eyes, there wasn’t a lot to it, and what there was would not have attracted the usual clientele.  If Saunière's main wealth was in "treasure," then obviously he couldn't declare any of that as collateral.   Perhaps he was having trouble fencing stuff.  Thirdly, if Saunière had put most of his property in Marie’s name, as seems to be the case, then there wasn’t much of his personal estate to offer as collateral, and if the 18,000 francs did not include what Marie owned, then maybe it wasn’t so bad an offer.   So that bank evaluation needs a lot of clarification before one can accept it as proof of how little Saunière’s estate was worth at that point.   And why was it that not long after he stopped trying to sell it?   It appears that his circumstances had sufficiently changed to warrant hanging on to it.   How so?   Even Putnam & Wood seemed to agree that however financially strained Saunière was, he never stopped spending, and rather lavishly at times, almost up to the end.


Paul Smith’s website, devoted to debunking the popular version, is at http://priory-of-sion.com, and should not be missed, whatever its flaws and however oddly and rudely he conducts his argument with True Believers (this site has changed a bit in tone recently, by the way, so perhaps he's "reformed").  And on Page 7 is a bibliography of French sources that seem to have significantly influenced Paul Smith.   Also recommended (by Smith) is the 1996 “History of a Mystery” by BBC-2, although it seems impossible to find these days.  But the best debunking account is clearly Putnam & Wood’s Rennes-le-Château: The Mystery Solved.   Which of course solved nothing.


Whatever path you take, I wish you the best of luck and would like to hear from you if you come up with something new.  A person named Hannah Johnson has announced that, for her dissertation at Princeton U., she intends to write an "intellectual history" of the "Rennes research," and one hopes that this will result in a more scholarly summary than I have had time for here.   She welcomes contact from anyone who has information that will assist her.  Email her at hmclaugh@princeton.edu.


See Torkain’s website at http://www.rennes-le-chateau.com/anglais/magdala.htm for the following and other relevant photos:

 The Tour Magdala and its Esplanade from Below:



Click here to go to Page 7—