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The Grail Quest and The Destiny of Man: Part XI: Rennes-le-chateau and the Accursed Treasure

I suppose you are wondering when and how I am going to get to the “Shepherds of Arcadia?” Well, it’s coming up here.

At some point in the early part of 1992 I had read a number of articles about the book Holy Blood, Holy Grail, and I did think that the hypothesis presented by the authors, i.e. that Jesus had been married to Mary Magdalene and had children, was certainly possible, but not sufficiently interesting to me to warrant pursuing that particular line of investigation. (Yes, I know, sometimes I am truly DENSE!)

Not long after the session wherein my past life in Germany was brought up, Moshe-in-Israel was mentioned, and I had the vision of “the face” before going to sleep, I was chatting with the same young woman who had attended that session. She brought up the book Holy Blood, Holy Grail and mentioned the Priory of Sion that was supposed to be the most secret of secret organizations on the planet, and that their ostensible purpose was to reinstitute the Davidic kingship at some point in time. Yeah, that sounds pretty hokey, but I began to wonder if this was not a “cover story” for something else.

As noted, I already had begun to think in very serious terms about the possible existence of some sort of “most secret of organizations” on our planet, whose presence could only be detected by the tracks it left and by no other truly identifiable point of locus. I had searched in a hundred different directions to find the fountainhead, but to no avail at that point, so I figured that I might as well look at these claims about the Priory of Sion for possible clues.

I pulled out one of my books which had extensive reference articles to the subject of the Rennes-le-Chateau/Priory of Sion mystery and began to read again. For the sake of the reader who is unfamiliar with the story, I am going to recapitulate it as well as I can without going into extensive details. The details ARE interesting and I highly recommend that the interested reader obtain copies of Holy Blood, Holy Grail, AND The Messianic Legacy, as well as The Temple and The Lodge, and Key to the Sacred Pattern. Those of you who have read these books and related ones will know immediately the details to which I allude.

In any event, the article I began to re-read, authored by Brian Innes began:

From the Southern French city of Carcassonne to the Spanish border, the hills rise steadily to the peaks of the Pyrenees…

Well, after all the recent work in studying Alchemy in general and Fulcanelli in specific, THAT got my attention! The Pyrenees: the location of the purported enclave of alchemists where Fulcanelli was supposed to have gone after his transmutation. My earlier readings of this subject were prior to the Fulcanelli study, so this detail had flown right by me. But, to continue with Mr. Innes’ article:

The area is now sparsely populated, with small towns and tiny villages, a land of minor vineyards between the bare stone ridges, of deserted valleys loud with nightingales, of rushing streams fed from the melting snows, and wild sandy uplands rich with tyme and myrtle. But once it was extensively settled – by the Southern Gauls, a Celtic people whose capital of Narbo is now Narbonne, and later by the Visigoths, whose kingdom of Septimania survived from AD 475 until it was overrun by the Moors in 715. Ruined watchtowers and tumbledown castles dominate the hilltops, evidence of the troubled condition of the region through 10 centuries.

This is sounding like a pretty interesting place, yes? Well, I thought so. Aside from the fact that it is a location just dripping with history, I was also primed to be very interested in the doings of the ancient Celts simply based on the information the Cassiopaeans had given about them, not to mention what I had read and heard throughout my many years of research into mysteries.

This is the southern half of the Languedoc, which from the 1050s came under the rule of the counts of Toulouse, autonomous vassals of the king of France. It was also the heartland of the Catharist heresy – often known as the Albigensian heresy from its prevalence among the inhabitants of the city of Albi – and on the steep bare rock of Montsegur the Cathars made their last desperate stand in 1244.

I was fascinated, and the connection to the Cathars and gnostic heresies really piqued my interest because I had clearly seen a pattern of gnosticism in the alchemical texts, and this was certainly a trend in the Cassiopaean communications.

In 1855, at the age of 33, Francois-Berenger Sauniere was appointed cure of the tiny church of Sainte-Madeleine, which stood neglected and in poor repair at the top of the village street [of Rennes-le-Chateau] where once the Visigoths had raised a mighty fortified palace. A man of humble origins, the eldest of seven children, Sauniere had no future except in the church. Like many of his fellow priests, he took into his house a young girl, Marie Denarnaud, as a housekeeper and settled down to a prospect of lifelong penny-pinching obscurity. But fate decreed otherwise.

Sauniere learned that one of his predecessors had left a small legacy for the upkeep of the church, and in 1892 he decided to restore the church altar. This was made from a solid stone slab, one end of which was cemented into the wall of the church, while the other was supported on an ancient carved stone column that had survived from the time of the Visigoths. When the slab was lifted, the column was found to be hollow; inside were three wooden tubes, sealed with wax, which held four parchment manuscripts.

Copies of these parchments have survived.

Right here, I stopped. What do you mean “copies” have survived? What about the originals? I was not at ease with this remark. But, let’s not get sidetracked here. On with the story at “face value.”

At first glance they seem to be nothing more than transcriptions of well-known New Testament passages, written in Latin in a strange archaic-looking script. The first, (John 12:1-12) describes Christ’s visit to Bethany – the house of Lazarus, Martha and marry Magdalene. The second is the story of the disciples plucking ears of corn on the sabbath; but it has been put together from three different versions, those of Matthew (12:1-8), Mark (2:23-28, and Luke (6:1-5).

On closer inspection, however, these manuscripts reveal a number of unexpected features: there are distinctive monogrammatic devices, additional letters have been added to the text, some letters are marked with a dot, others are displaced – in fact, there are all the signs that these manuscripts are ciphered. […]

At the beginning of 1893 Sauniere took the manuscripts to his bishop, Monseigneur Felix-Arsene Billard, in Carcassonne, and was given permission (and money) to go at once to Paris. there he laid the documents before Abbe Biel, the director of Saint Sulpice, who introduced him to his nephew, the religious publisher Ane, at whose home Sauniere lodged while he was in Paris, and to his grand-nephew Emile Hoffet, destined to become a famous authority on old manuscripts and secret societies.

For just three weeks Sauniere remained in Paris. He spent much of his time in the Louvre, where he bought reproductions of three apparently unrelated paintings: Nicholas Poussin’s “Arcadian Shepherds,” David Teniers’s portrayal of Saint Anthony, and a portrait of Pope St. Celestine V by an unknown hand.

He also became the friend – remarkable for a humble parish priest from a remote corner of France – of the toast of Paris, Emma Calve. This beautiful operatic soprano was then at the height of her career… For many years she remained a close friend of Sauniere, and visited him regularly until her marriage in 1914.

On his return to Rennes, Sauniere continued his restoration work on the church. With the assistance of some young men from the village – one of whom was still alive in 1962 and provided invaluable details of the cure’s activities – he raised another stone slab, which lay directly in front of the altar. The underside of the slab was found to be carved in an archaic style identified as dating from the sixth or seventh century.

There are two scenes on the slab, which take place either in an arched building or in a crypt. That on the left represents, as far as it is possible to tell, a mounted knight sounding a hunting horn while his horse lowers its head to drink at a fountain. That on the right is of another knight with a staff in one hand and either a child upon his saddle-bow or a disc or sphere of some sort. The stone is worn and chipped in places, and it is difficult to identify the subjects clearly, but there is no doubt as to the great age of the work.

After the slab had been removed, Sauniere ordered the youths to dig down for several feet, but when they announced that they had discovered something in their excavations he sent them home and locked himself in the church. It is said that they had discovered two skeletons and a pot full of bright objects, which Sauniere told them were worthless medallions; and certainly, when a further excavation was made recently, a skull was found with a characteristic ritual slot made in the cranium.

After this discovery, work ceased in the church for some time. Instead, Sauniere, accompanied by his housekeeper Marie, took to wandering the surrounding countryside, a sack on his back. Each evening he returned, the sack loaded with stones that he had selected with care, and when he was asked the purpose of his excursions, he replied that he had decided to beautify the tiny garden in front of the church with a stone grotto. Certainly the grotto is still there, although sadly reduced; it has been ransacked, either by souvenir hunters or by those who hoped that the stones might reveal Sauniere’s secret.

But this was not his only strange pastime. The cemetery of the church contained two memorial stones marking the grave of Marie de Negri d’Ables (died 1781), the wife of Francis d’Hautpoul, the seigneur of Rennes. By night, Sauniere moved these stones from one end of the cemetery to the other, and patiently erased the inscriptions. Unknown to him, however, his labours were in vain, for the inscriptions had already been copied by itinerant archaeologists – and one of the stones, we now know, bore the same monogrammatic device as appeared in at least one of the manuscripts.

For the next two years, Berenger Sauniere spent much of his time traveling. He is known to have opened two bank accounts in neighbouring cities, one in Perpignan and one in Toulouse, another in Paris, and a fourth has been traced as far away as Budapest. From Germany, Spain, Switzerland and Italy, money orders arrived frequently for Marie Denarnaud, some apparently sent by various religious communities.

Then, from 1896, Sauniere undertook a major refurbishment of the church, the results of which can be seen to this day. The overall effect is extraordinary. Fitting diagonally into the junction of nave and transept he laid a checker-board floor of 64 alternate black and white square tiles; beside the entrance door he raised a huge garishly coloured monument, the stoup borne upon the head of a wildly staring life size figure of the demon Asmodeus, while above rise small statues of four winged angels, with the motto Par ce signe tu le vaincras – ‘In this sign shalt thou conquer’ – a quotation from the vision that brought about Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity in AD 313.

The walls of the church are covered with painted relief scenes in popular style – a rather unconventional series of the Stations of the Cross, and, above the confessional, a representation of Christ on the Mount. Sauniere himself painted the picture of Mary Magdalene for the front of the altar. Strangest of all, carved above the porch of the church are the words of Jacob at Bethel, spoken the morning after he had seen the vision of the angels ascending and descending a ladder that led to Heaven: Terribilis est locus iste, ‘This is a fearful place.’

When work on the church was finished, Sauniere did not give up his lust to rebuild. He purchased the land that extended between the church and the western edge of the hill. Along the crest he built a semicircular promenade, and at its southern end a two storied tower, the Tour Magdala. Within the curve of the raised walk he created a formal garden, and at the eastern end, separated by a small courtyard from the church, he built a guesthouse that he named Bethania.

Sauniere paid for all this work form his own pocket. And when Bethania was finished, and furnished with valuable antiques, he entertained his guests royally, with fine wines and rich food. There were regular visits from Emma Calve, whenever her professional engagements would allow; and other guests included the secretary of state for fine arts, the writer Andree Bruguiere, many local notables – and, now and again, strictly incognito, a man whispered to be the Habsburg archduke John, a cousin of the Austrian emperor.

When Sauniere died in 1917, it is calculated that he had spent well over one million francs – and these were francs d’or, worth about 20 times a present-day franc.

[Laura’s note: At the time this was written, the franc to dollar conversion fluctuates around 7ff=1dollar, so that amounts to something close to three million dollars in today’s values.]

After his death, and for 36 years until her own death in 1953, Marie Denarnaud wanted for nothing, and in a letter in 1920 she estimated her own fortune at more than 100,000 francs. Between 1885 and 1893, then, Berenger Sauniere was transformed from the poor cure of an impoverished parish into an enormously wealthy man – one of the most extravagant spendthrifts of the region. The evidence of his expenditure is there, in Rennes-le-Chateau, for all to see, even if it has faded somewhat with the years. But, where did Sauniere’s riches come from? [Innes, Mysteries of Mind, Space and Time, Orbis: 1992]

Well, that is pretty much the story that grabbed the attention of Henry Lincoln, a television writer, in 1969. He writes in Holy Blood, Holy Grail:

…En route for a summer holiday in the Cevennes, I made the casual purchase of a paperback. Le Tresor Maudit by Gerard de Sede was a mystery story – a lightweight, entertaining blend of historical fact, genuine mystery, and conjecture. It might have remained consigned to the postholiday oblivion of all such reading had I not stumbled upon a curious and glaring omission it its pages.

The “accursed treasure” of the title had apparently been found in the 1890’s by a village priest through the decipherment of certain cryptic documents unearthed in his church. Although the purported texts of two of these documents were reproduced, the “secret messages” said to be encoded within them were not. The implication was that the deciphered messages had again been lost. And yet, as I found, a cursory study of the documents reproduced in the book reveals at least one concealed message. Surely the author had found it. In working on his book he must have given the documents more than fleeting attention. He was bound, therefore, to have found what I had found. Moreover, the message was exactly the kind of titillating snippet of “proof” that helps to sell a “pop” paperback. Why had M. de Sede not published it? [Lincoln, Leigh, Baigent, 1982]

Lincoln goes on to say that this little omission continued to bother him “like an unfinished crossword puzzle,” so he decided to see if he couldn’t get funded to investigate it for a possible television show, thus satisfying his personal curiosity within the constraints of his work schedule which did not allow time for the investigation he would have liked to undertake.

The idea was received favorably by his employers, the BBC, and he was sent to dig deeper into the mystery so as to make a short film. Lincoln arranged to meet M. de Sede in Paris in 1970 and there, asked him the question: “Why didn’t you publish the message hidden in the parchments?”

De Sede’s answer astounded Lincoln: “What message?”

Lincoln writes:

“It seemed inconceivable to me that he was unaware of this elementary message. Why was he fencing with me? Suddenly I found myself reluctant to reveal exactly what I had found. We continued a verbal fencing match for a few minutes and it became apparent that we were both aware of the message. I repeated my question: “Why didn’t you publish it?” This time de Sede’s answer was calculated. “Because we thought it might interest someone like you to find it for yourself.”

That reply, as cryptic as the priest’s mysterious documents, was the first clear hint that the mystery of Rennes-le Chateau was to prove much more than a simple tale of lost treasure. [Lincoln, Leigh, Baigent, 1982]

In my opinion, the description of this encounter with M. de Sede was the first clue that Mr. Lincoln was dealing with a very clever con artist, but it’s not really that simple and, we will get to that later.

Mr. Lincoln got the okay from his employers for a 20 minute program and de Sede began to feed more information to him.

First came the full text of a major encoded message, which spoke of the painters Poussin and Teniers. This was fascinating. The cipher was unbelievably complex. We were told it had been broken by experts of the French Army Cipher Department, using computers. As I studied the convolutions of the code, I became convinced that this explanation was, to say the least, suspect. I checked with cipher experts of British Intelligence. They agreed with me. “The cipher does not present a valid problem for a computer.” The code was unbreakable. Someone, somewhere, must have the key.

[Laura’s note: in other words, whoever deciphered the documents MUST have also possessed the key either by virtue of being the author of the documents AND key, or by some other means.]

And then de Sede dropped his second bombshell. A tomb resembling that in Poussin’s famous painting Les Bergers d’Arcadie had been found. He would send details as soon as he had them. Some days later the photographs arrived and it was clear that our short film on a small local mystery had begun to assume unexpected dimensions. [Lincoln, Leigh, Baigent, 1982]

So, they decide to do more research and make a longer program. The first screening of The Lost Treasure of Jerusalem, which was the result of the first stages of research into the matter, was on February of 1972. Apparently, the public was consumed with curiosity about this mystery, so a follow-up film was planned with more research. In 1974, The Priest, the Painter and the Devil was screened, and it was an unmitigated hit with viewers. More research was needed and Mr. Lincoln decided that the many complexities of the mystery were too much for one man, so Richard Leigh, a writer with graduate degrees and knowledge of history, philosophy, esoterica, etc was brought onboard. Richard brought in Michael Baigent, a photojournalist and researcher of Templar history. The three of them began to dig into the problem of Rennes-le-Chateau in a more thorough way and produced another television special entitled The Shadow of The Templars in 1979. Mr. Lincoln writes:

The work we did on that film at last brought us face to face with the underlying foundations upon which the entire mystery of Rennes-le-Chateau had been built. But the film could only hint at what we were beginning to discern. Beneath the surface was something more startling, more significant, and more immediately relevant than we could have believed possible when we began our work on the “intriguing little mystery” of what a French priest might have found in a mountain village.

In 1972 I closed my first film with the words, “Something extraordinary is waiting to be found… and in the not too distant future, it will be.” [Lincoln, Leigh, Baigent, 1982]

What Lincoln, Leigh and Baigent claim to have found is the secret that Jesus was a king in a long line of Priest kings, and that he had been married to Mary Magdalene, and produced a child, born posthumously (after his crucifixion), and that this child had been spirited away to France to be the progenitor of the kings of the Franks, the Merovingian, and that this Holy/Royal Bloodline is the real secret contained in the mysteries of the “Holy Grail” stories.

How in the world did a story about a possible hidden treasure found by an obscure priest in a remote corner of rural France transmogrify itself into THAT?! Good question.

Mssrs. Lincoln, Leigh and Baigent write in the conclusion of Holy Blood, Holy Grail,

We had not, in the beginning, set out to prove or disprove anything, least of all the conclusion to which we had been ineluctably led. We had certainly not set out to challenge some of the most basic tenets of Christianity. On the contrary, we had begun by investigating a specific mystery. We were looking for answers to certain perplexing questions, explanations for certain historical enigmas. In the process, we more or less stumbled upon something rather greater than we had initially bargained for. We were led to a startling, controversial, and seemingly preposterous conclusion. [Lincoln, Leigh, Baigent, 1982]

And THAT is the clue that is most interesting in this whole matter: “we were led…”

What were they led to?

If our hypothesis is correct, the Holy Grail would have been at least two things simultaneously. On the one hand, it would have been Jesus’ bloodline and descendants – the “Sang Raal,” the “Real” of “Royal” blood of which the Templars, created by the Prieure de Sion, were appointed guardians. At the same time the Holy Grail would have been, quite literally, the receptacle or vessel that received and contained Jesus’ blood. In other words, it would have been the womb of the Magdalene – and by extension, the Magdalen herself. From this the cult of the Magdalen, as it was promulgated during the Middle Ages, would have arisen – and been confused with the cult of the Virgin. It can be proved, for instance, that many of the famous “Black Virgins” or “black Madonnas” were early in the Christian era shrines not to the Virgin but to the Magdalen – and they depict a mother and child. It has also been argued that the Gothic cathedrals – those majestic stone replicas of the womb dedicated to “Notre Dame” – were also, as Le Serpent rouge states, shrines to Jesus’ consort rather than to his mother.

The Holy Grail, then, would have symbolized both Jesus’ bloodline and the Magdalen, from whose womb that bloodline issued. But it may have been something else as well. In A.D. 70, during the great revolt in Judaea, Roman legions under Titus sacked the temple of Jerusalem. The pillaged treasure of the temple is said to have found its way eventually to the Pyrenees; and M. Plantard, in his conversation with us, stated that this treasure was in the hands of the Prieure de Sion today. But the temple of Jerusalem may have contained more than the treasure plundered by Titus’ centurions. In ancient Judaism religion and politics were inseparable. The Messiah was to be a priest-king whose authority encompassed spiritual and secular domains alike. It is thus likely, indeed probable, that the temple housed official records pertaining to Israel’s royal line – the equivalents of the birth certificates, marriage licenses, and other relevant data concerning any modern royal or aristocratic family. If Jesus was indeed “King of the Jews,” the temple is almost certain to have contained copious information relating to him. It may even have contained his body – or at least his tomb, once his body was removed from the temporary tomb of the Gospels. [Lincoln, Leigh, Baigent, 1982]

Let’s hear that sentence one more time: “We were led to a startling, controversial, and seemingly preposterous conclusion.”

By WHOM were they led?

A group calling itself Le Prieure de Sion, The Priory of Sion, and its purported agent, Pierre Plantard.

This, of course, leads to the question: Did Berenger Sauniere find an ancient hoard of gold and appropriate it to himself? Or did he uncover some other secret that required his silence to be bought?

And, I add the corollary questions: Or was Sauniere, perhaps, the unwitting tool of a different, greater, conspiracy? And: Did our intrepid writer, Henry Lincoln, then fall into the same trap?

Getting to the bottom line of this story is difficult; it is rather like the Pit on Oak Island: so many people have been digging that the ground is no longer amenable to discovering tracks, and the water is impossibly muddy. But we are here going to attempt to sort it all out bit by bit.

Who and what is the Priory of Sion?