Rennes-le-Château, Templar mysteries and the Holy Grail

TIM WALLACE-MURPHY

Mysteries of Templar Treasure & the Holy Grail: The Secrets of Rennes Le Chateau

Foreword to the book Mysteries of Templar Treasure & the Holy Grail: The Secrets of Rennes Le Chateau by TIM WALLACE-MURPHY.

The mystery of the Abbe Berenger Saunière, the free-spending parish priest of the small hilltop village of Rennes-le-Château has, over the last thirty years, taken on a vibrant life of its own, enlivened with tales of hidden treasure, accusations of heresy, and allegations of fraud, murder, and general mayhem in a manner that almost defies belief. This tiny and otherwise insignificant, remote village now attracts over twenty thousand visitors a year from all over the world; modern pilgrims who wend their way on foot, on horseback, by car, or by bus up the narrow, twisting, mountainous road that-leads from Couiza to the village.

The short sandy traverse from the first houses to the car park, which occupies a considerable portion of village, is a vivid reminder of how small this hamlet really is and that despite its superb location, its mere existence cannot explain why it has such an apparently insatiable, truly international appeal that transcends all barriers of race, culture, or creed.

The village of Rennes-le-Château was virtually unknown to the English-speaking world until 1972 when a television documentary, The Lost Treasures of Jerusalem, presented by the masterful storyteller, Henry Lincoln, was broadcast by the BBC. This program recounted the tale of Berenger Saunière, a parish priest who in the later years of the nineteenth century was appointed to Rennes-le-Château after some unspecified misdemeanour and who rose from abject poverty to immense wealth with bewildering speed without ever giving the slightest indication of the source of his new-found riches.

Henry Lincoln wove a fascinating tale of hidden treasure, intrigue, and medieval mystery, telling of an ancient, heretical conspiracy that spanned the ages from the time of Jesus down to the twentieth century. Two other documentaries followed the first, each separated by several years — The Priest the Painter and the Devil in 1974 and The Shadow of the Templars in 1979. Their impact was considerable, but it was nothing compared to the international furore that erupted in 1981 with the publication of the book, The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, written by Henry Lincoln in collaboration with Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh.

Insatiable curiosity

To say that this book caused a sensation would be the understatement of the century. Depending on their personal bias, various critics described it as “a brilliant piece of detective work,” a book “which will infuriate many ecclesiastical authorities,” or simply “blasphemous.” It soon achieved best-seller status and was translated into nearly every known language in the world. This one book, a humanly flawed masterpiece, turned a small trickle of interest in esoteric matters into a veritable tidal wave of insatiable curiosity.

The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail was followed by another book by the same authors entitled The Messianic Legacy. The publication of these two books provoked a literary cascade and as early as 1988, two English bibliographers had counted over 473 books, essays, and articles, plus more than one thousand Web pages on the Internet all devoted to the mystery of Rennes-le-Château. Since then the flood of publications has shown no sign of abating; indeed I added to it myself with Rex Deus: The True Mystery of Rennes-le-Château.

Most of the books and articles on the subject swallowed Lincoln’s, Baigent’s, and Leigh’s research without question. It was almost as if the original authors, having castigated “Holy Mother the Church” for dogmatism had inadvertently created yet another form of “holy writ” that was held to be infallible and above criticism. Indeed for many aficionados of the genre, the medieval Priory of Sion that featured as the main narrative device of the original book was as real and as tangible as the local fire brigade or police department.

Bizarre facts

Some of the authors who rushed so precipitately into print reached conclusions that were as surreal as they were incredible. One “proved” that Jesus was buried a few short kilometers from the village, while another suggested that the “Head of Christ” was buried under Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland. Others proposed that the mystery was inextricably linked to pirate treasure in Oak Island, Nova Scotia, and a variety of authors busied themselves drawing lines on maps and using their questionable results to demonstrate their own capacity to fantasize. This illusory euphoria was not to last, however. Reality eventually began to rear its ugly head as the muddy waters of fantasy and surreal speculation were clarified by the revelation of certain bizarre facts.

A catholic theologian, the American Margaret Starbird, was so incensed at the The Holy Blood and Holy Grail’s heretical idea that Jesus had married and founded a dynasty, that she was determined to refute it. It is a tribute to her intellectual and spiritual integrity that the book she eventually published after many years of careful research, The Lady with the Alabaster Jar, did not merely fail to refute this particular “heresy,” it reinforced it almost beyond question.

Then came the revelation confirming what many had suspected from the beginning: that the original three authors had been duped and that the coded documents and dossiers secrets on which they had lavished so much research were, in fact, modern creations — forgeries confected by a certain Pierre Plantard and his dissolute, but intellectually brilliant associate, Antoine de Cherisey. This came in a superbly researched BBC documentary The History of a Mystery, broadcast as part of the Time watch series.

Fabrications

Furthermore, extensive archival research by Georges Keiss of the Centre des études et du Recherche Templieres at Campagne-sur-Aude established that the majority of Templar attributions of ownership of property in the vicinity of Rennes-le-Château, paraded as proven fact in The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, were completely bogus and without foundation. For example, the allegation that the one-time Grandmaster of the Templar Order, Bertrand de Blanchefort, who was described by Lincoln, Baigent, Leigh as being born near Rennes-le-Château, was actually born in the Guyenne several hundred kilometers from the village. He did not own any property near Rennes-le-Château and thus could not have given the Chateau Bezu to the Templars. Indeed, Chateau Bezu was never in the possession of the Knights Templar and its only real claim to fame is that it was used as a center for the falsification of the coinage some centuries later.

Thus, to tales of buried treasure, sacred bloodlines, historical conspiracy, persecution, Cathar heresy, genocide, and inquisitorial torture we now have to add forgery, fantasy, downright error, and complete fabrication.

Yet bizarre though it may seem, when the miasma of fabrication, questionable research, fantasy, and fabrication are stripped away, several very real and puzzling mysteries still remain, all surrounding that enigmatic priest, Berenger Saunière, and the events that took place at Rennes-le-Château in the years between 1886 and 1917.

Bérenger Saunière portrait
Bérenger Saunière

Saunière’s mysterious and sudden wealth

What was the source of Saunière’s mysterious and sudden wealth? Was it treasure in the form of good old-fashioned loot such as gold, silver, or jewels? Was it documentary evidence of some great secret that could damage the Church or one of the great royal houses of Europe? Was it the ancient secret of alchemy, the philosopher’s stone perhaps?

Why was Saunière sacked from his post as priest at Rennes-le-Château? Who brutally murdered one of his elderly colleagues? What secrets could possibly undermine the authority of the Vatican? What is the true interpretation of the bizarre symbolism in the church he so lovingly restored?

Who were the mysterious mourners at his funeral? Despite the plethora of books, articles, essays, and websites, each plugging their preferred theories, explanations, and fantasies, these questions remain unanswered to this day.

There are as many ways to seek answers to this mystery as there are people. For the local residents fixated on material treasure, there is one method that is pursued with unflagging enthusiasm: despite the rusting notice at the entrance to the village forbidding unauthorized archaeological excavations, the quiet of siesta time in Rennes-le-Château is often disturbed by the constant clinking of hammers from the caverns that permeate the rock the village is built on. Other seekers still publish and speculate using reason, research, intuition, astrology, and every arcane art, real or imagined, that can be brought into play. Yet the mystery remains unsolved. So what need is there of yet another book on the subject and one that is a reissue at that?

A unique answer

Rennes-le-Château
Rennes-le-Château

The answer comes from the fact that Mysteries of Templar Treasure and the Holy Grail: The Secrets of Rennes-le-Château is unique among the vast majority of works on the subject. Lionel and Patricia Fanthorpe do not seek to prove any theory — either their own, or one proposed by anyone else. Instead they provide an all-embracing examination of the circumstances that seeks to discover where the possible answers may lie, without falling into the trap of finding “proof.” Presented with the blessed qualities of humour, humility, and commendable scholarship, Mysteries of Templar Treasure and the Holy Grail is a work that puts every aspect of the Saunière mystery under the intellectual microscope and then weighs the results with independence and clarity.

Nothing relevant is ignored or dismissed without in-depth examination. Every possible line of investigation, however remote, that might shed further light on the subject is followed to its logical conclusion. The authors’ own bias, which they admit with transparent honesty and commendable brevity is that, as devout Christians, they do not question the New Testament accounts of the life and work of Jesus. Yet they also freely admit that, on this subject, readers are perfectly entitled to reach their own conclusions.

A lucid exposition of the complex web

The location of Rennes-le-Château and the country surrounding it are described with loving detail that is obviously based upon first-hand knowledge and prolonged, personal exploration. The Fanthorpes present the history of the area in a lucid exposition of the complex web that has molded the Languedoc, its people, and its culture from Greek, Roman, Visigoth, Merovingian, Cathar, Templar, and Inquisitorial times up to the present day.

The difficult and of t-times controversial subject of sacred geometry in the magnificent landscape of the Languedoc is given due attention and the authors describe the various theories floated by Henry Lincoln, David Wood, and others, evaluating them all, accepting with reservation, aspects of some, and dismissing others with considerable humour.

The coded documents and the so-called dossiers secret lodged at the Bibliothèque Nationale, which are central to the original story promoted by Henry Lincoln, are examined with due diligence and proper critical analysis that leads the authors to make conditional statements such as “if the Priory of Sion actually existed.” To the authors’ credit, this justifiable scepticism does not prevent them from exploring all possible consequences of that secret society’s putative existence, as if indeed it was a viable entity in the medieval era as described by Henry Lincoln.

The tentacles of the mystery of Saunière’s millions are wide reaching, for as well as arcing back into the mists of the past they stretch, in geographical terms, across western Europe and possibly even the Atlantic. The narrative flows easily from Rennes-le-Château to Paris, Rosslyn Chapel near Edinburgh, Shugborough Hall in England, and on to Oak Island and the Money Pit in Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia.

European esoteric tradition

The authors’ knowledge of the European esoteric tradition is profound and displayed to the reader’s advantage as they examine the wide spectrum of possible contributors to the mystery in fascinating detail, including Sir Francis Bacon, the Ansons, John Napier, Nicolas Flamel and, of course, the ubiquitous and mysterious Comte de St. Germain. In addition, brief but informative studies of the Templars, the Cathars, the Rosicrucians, and the Troubadors form the setting for a critical and highly astute analysis of the Priory of Sion.

What more could any student of the mystery of Rennes-le-Château reasonably ask for? Yet there is more that is both pertinent and informative. Lionel is a priest in the Church of England and his professional view of Berenger Saunière, his eminence grise, the Abbe Boudet, and the inexplicable murder of the elderly priest, Abbe Gelis, brings the reader insights denied in other works on this mystery.

Another rare and highly treasured addition to this meticulous approach can be found in the colourful pen portraits of many of the living commentators and investigators in this field who still live in the vicinity of the village. These are all drawn with tolerance, respect, and often times affection and add a distinctly warm and highly relevant human touch to the book that again marks its difference from other works in the field.

A superb introduction

I recommend this book on many levels. It is a superb introduction to the mystery of Rennes-le-Château that is written with open-mindedness and erudition and that is mercifully free from bias and from the desire to “prove” some pet theory, and it is an investigation that treats its subject matter and its readers with the respect that they both truly deserve.

While I would not necessarily accept all of the conclusions the authors’ reach, I respect their courage and their integrity in presenting them. For far too long, this subject has spawned an incalculable number of books that have unquestioningly accepted the conclusions of their predecessors as irrefutable statements of truth. We are at the point where we are in danger of replacing the tyranny of Church dogma with the absolute dictatorship of a revisionist consensus based on fantasy and not on fact. This book will encourage debate, personal investigation, and the dissemination of rational, dissenting opinions in order to arrive at truth.

It is time for many flowers to bloom in this particularly well-hoed furrow and Lionel and Patricia Fanthorpe’s book, Mysteries of Templar Treasure and the Holy Grail is a major contribution to the debate on Rennes-le-Château. More importantly, it is a damned good book that, whether or not you agree with all the points raised within its covers, is informative, provocative, entertaining and, above all, honest.

— Tim Wallace-Murphy’s foreword to Mysteries of Templar Treasure & the Holy Grail: The Secrets of Rennes Le Chateau

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