06 April, 2015

The treasure of Rennes-le-Château : a mystery solved by Bill Putnam & John Edwin Wood [Clare, Massey Library]


In a small village in France, called Rennes-le-Chateau, a mystery unfolded that would capture the public imagination for many years to come. A quiet priest, Father Berenger Sauniere, moved to the ancient hilltop town and proceeded to renovate the church of Saint Mary Magdalene.

There had been human occupation on the small, rocky hilltop for centuries, and in neolithic, Roman and Visigoth times there may have been as many as 30,000 people living in the town and scattered nearby.The church itself shows evidence of having been rebuilt many times, and has earlier features intermingled with more modern architecture.

It was the cost of the renovations and other buildings which the priest financed, which led to speculation about where a poor country priest found the money to undertake such extensive work. Over time, he renovated the church and commissioned new artworks, and built a separate tower nearby which he furnished as a library, as well as a very comfortable villa which he intended to be a retreat for retired priests.

During the early renovations he was seen to recover parchments which had been hidden inside two ancient stone pillars. Locals believed that he had found maps which disclosed the location of a hidden treasure. Many wondered if this was the fabled treasure of Blanche of Castile who had supposedly hidden it in the area. Or whether the Cathars had hidden their wealth before being persecuted by the French king. Still others believed that he had found the marriage certificate of Jesus and Mary Magdalene and the genealogy showing their line of descendants.

He made several trips to Rome and other countries, and there were rumours of the involvement of the Priory of Sion and the Vatican. If he did indeed discover such a document, the price of his silence may have enabled the priest to finance his buildings. It was said that on his deathbed he made his confession to another local priest, who appeared ashen-faced after the confession, and became morose and depressed thereafter.

Of course, the legend has continued into the twenty-first century with the bestselling books of Dan Brown, the Da Vinci Code. I happened to be in London some years ago at the Temple church, when the films with Tom Hanks were being made, and I recall people wandering about with the books, and knocking on stone walls, and peering at inscriptions.

Whether or Father Sauniere found an earthly or explosively religious treasure may never be known, but it is certain that he got fabulous sums of money from somewhere, and the buildings he erected stand as a testimony to his sudden wealth. This is a good read with plenty of historical background and information from descendants of those who took part in the events. An enduring and a puzzling mystery.

Title: The treasure of Rennes-le-Chateau
Authors: Bill Putnam and John Edwin Wood
ISBN: 0750930810
Published: 2003
Publisher: Stroud: Sutton

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