View of the Tour Magdala.
Rennes-le-Château (Rènnas del Castèl in Occitan) is a small medieval castle village and a commune in the Aude département, in the Languedoc area in southern France. It is known internationally, and receives tens of thousands of visitors per year, for being at the center of various conspiracy theories. Starting in the 1950s, a local restaurant owner, in order to increase business, had spread rumors of a hidden treasure found by a 19th century priest. The story achieved national fame in France, and was then enhanced and expanded by various hoaxsters, who claimed that the priest, Father Bérenger Saunière, had found proof of a secret society known as the Priory of Sion. The story and society were later proven to be a hoax, but became the origin for hypotheses in documentaries and bestselling books such as Holy Blood Holy Grail and The Da Vinci Code, and the village is now often cited in various elements of popular culture as the center of many mysterious happenings. Looking beyond the wild claims and red herrings which have been propagated the village is still found by "spiritual tourists" to be packed with clues to an alternate view of religious history which has long existed in the area.
Mountains frame both ends of the region — the Cevennes to the northeast and the Pyrenees to the south. The area is known for beautiful scenery, with jagged ridges, deep river canyons and rocky limestone plateaus, with large caves underneath.
Like many European villages, it has a complex history. It is the site of a prehistoric encampment, and later a Roman colony (possibly an oppida, but no traces have been found of ramparts, and it is thought more likely to have been a Roman villa or even a wayside temple, such as is confirmed to have been built at Fa, no more than 5 km west of Couiza). It was the site of a mediaeval castle which was definitely in existence by 1002 (nothing remains above-ground of this mediaeval structure - the present ruin is from the 17th or 18th century). According to some modern non-scholarly opinions, it was an important site during the era of Charlemagne, but no primary source material confirms this. Archaeological results suggest merely that this site was a small settlement of no more than 300 inhabitants at most. Rennes-le-Château was a Visigoth site during the 6th and 7th centuries, during the trying period when the Visigoths had been defeated by Clovis I of the Franks and had been driven back to Septimania. Its importance as a Visigothic site has been exaggerated - indeed, at one point it was claimed that Rennes-le-Château was the capital of the Visigoths, but it is inarguably known that Narbonne held that position, not the remote hillside village of Rennes-le-Château. This claim can be traced back to an anonymous document - actually written by Noël Corbu - entitled L’histoire de Rennes-le-Château, which was deposited at the Departmental Archives at Carcassonne, on 14th June 1962. The assertion of Visigothic importance of Rennes-le-Château in this wishfully anonymous document is drawn directly from one source - and one source only: A monograph by Louis Fédié, entitled ‘Rhedae’, La Cité des Chariots, which was published in 1876. The connection Monsieur Fédié drew between Rennes-le-Château and "Rhedae" is without authority, although it is oft-quoted - and in fact Monsieur Fédié's assertions concerning the population and importance of Rennes-le-Château have been contradicted by archaeology and the work of genuine historians.
Several castles situated in the surrounding region in the Languedoc were central to the battle between the Catholic church and the Cathars at the beginning of the 13th century. Other castles guarded the volatile border with Spain. Whole communities were wiped out during the campaigns of the Catholic authorities to rid the area of the Cathar heretics during the Albigensian Crusades and again when Protestants fought for religious freedom against the French monarchy during the French Revolution
Church of Mary Magdalene
The earliest church of which there is any evidence on the site of the present church may be as old as the eighth century. Architect Giraud Cals believed the first church on the site to date back to the eighth century, and the "Knight's Stone" and carved altar support which were re-used in the 19th century suggest that this is indeed the case. However, this original church was almost certainly in ruins during the 10th or 11th century when another church was built upon the site - remnants of which can be seen in Romanesque pillared arcades on the north side of the apse. It is this 10th or 11th century church which had survived in poor repair (an architectural report of 1845 reporting that it required extensive repairs). This second church was renovated in the late 1800s by the local priest, Bérenger Saunière, though the source of his funds at the time was controversial (see below) and some of the additions to the church appear unusual to modern eyes. One of the new features added to the church was an inscription above the front door, which said, Teribilis es locus iste. Inside the church, one of the added figures was of a demon figure holding the bowl of holy water, and certainly this figure has been incorporated into the 20th century RLC mythologies. Of course, the decorations chosen by Saunière were simply selected from a catalogue published by Giscard, sculptor and painter in Toulouse who - among other things - offered statues and sculptural features for church refurbishment. The figures and statues chosen by Saunière were in no way specially made.
Saunière also funded the construction of another structure dedicated to Mary Magdalene, a tower on the side of a nearby mountain.
One speculative translation of the church's Latin inscription is that the church contains something dreadful. However, another translation of Terribilis est locus iste would read: "Awesome is this place," based on the first part of the introit of the mass Terribilis for the dedication of a church, which is itself based on Gen. 28:17. The word Terribilis would be used not in the context of describing something dreadful, but rather as something awesome or great. The Latin phrase continues as :hic domus Dei est, et porta coeli, translated to English as: "This is the House of God, and the gate of Heaven." It tells the visitor to be awed and tremble before the presence of this house of God. However, "iste" can also imply a meaning of contempt.
Though initially a tiny unknown village, as of 2006 the area received 100,000 tourists each year. Much of the modern reputation of Rennes-le-Château rises from rumours dating from the mid-1950s concerning a local 19th-century priest. Father Bérenger Saunière had arrived in the village in 1885, and mysteriously acquired and spent large sums of money during his tenure, funding several building projects including the Church of Mary Magdalene. The source of the wealth had long been a topic of conversation and rumour within the village. In the 1950s, these rumours were given wide local circulation by Noël Corbu, a local man who had opened a restaurant in Saunière's former estate (L'Hotel de la Tour), and hoped to use the stories to attract business.
From that point on Rennes-le-Château became the centre of conspiracy theories claiming that Saunière uncovered hidden treasure and/or secrets about the history of the Church, which could potentially threaten the foundations of Catholicism. The area has become the focus of increasingly sensational claims including the Knights Templar, the Priory of Sion, the Rex Deus, the Holy Grail, the treasures of the Temple of Solomon, the Ark of the Covenant, ley lines, and sacred geometry alignments.
Am International spiritual ascension community has formed around what is regarded by the "new age" community as a strong energy centre in the Rennes Le Chateau region causing real estate prices to have sky rocketed in recent years (.
The Saunière story
The story began when Noël Corbu wanted to attract visitors to his local hotel in Rennes-le-Château, by spreading the claim that Saunière had become rich by finding a royal treasure inside one of the pillars in his church in the late 1800s. The first newspapers started printing Corbu's story in 1956. This ignited a flame: visitors with shovels flooded the town and Corbu got what he wanted. However, this also attracted a number of persons such as Pierre Plantard. His childhood dream was to play a vital role in the history of France, so he and some friends concocted an elaborate hoax. It involved planting fabricated documents in France's Bibliothèque nationale de France, to imply that Plantard was a descendant of a French royal dynasty, which would somehow mean that he was supposed to be declared King of France. The fabricated documents also mention the ancient "Priory of Sion", which was supposedly a thousand years old, but was in fact the name of an organisation that Plantard founded himself in 1956 with three of his friends.
No serious journalists who investigated the story found it plausible enough to write about, so Plantard asked his friend, Gérard de Sède, to write a book to give more credence to the story. They chose the already rumour-rich area of Rennes-le-Chateau as their setting, and L’Or de Rennes (the Gold of Rennes, later published as Le Trésor Maudit de Rennes-le-Château) came out in 1967 and was an instant success. The book presented (forged) Latin documents by Plantard's group, alleging that these were medieval documents which had been found by Saunière in the 19th century. One of the documents had multiple encrypted references to the Priory of Sion, thereby attempting to "prove" that the society was older than its actual creation date of 1956.
In 1969, a British actor and science-fiction writer by the name of Henry Lincoln read the book, dug deeper, and wrote his own books on the subject, pointing out his "discovery" of hidden codes in the parchments. One of the codes involved a series of raised letters in the Latin message, which when read off separately, spelled out in French: a dagobert ii roi et a sion est ce tresor et il est la mort. (translation: This treasure belongs to King Dagobert II and to Sion, and he is there dead.). Lincoln created a series of BBC Two documentaries about his theories in the 1970s, and then in 1982, co-wrote The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail with Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh. Their book expanded upon the Rennes-le-Château story to further imply that Plantard was connected not just to royal ancestry, but actually descended from Jesus Christ. This torch was then picked up and carried further in 2003 in Dan Brown's bestselling novel The Da Vinci Code, though Brown's book never mentioned Rennes-le-Château by name.
The extraordinary popularity of The Da Vinci Code has reignited the interest of tourists, who come to the village to see sites associated with Saunière and Rennes-le-Château, even though the village is officially not part of "The Da Vinci Code trail". The pillar where Sauniere was said to have found the documents is on display in the village's "Sauniere Museum," where visitors are told that the "visigothic pillar" was never hollow, nor can it be established that the pillar was actually "visigothic". Instead, the pillar was set up by Saunière in 1891 as part of his Shrine to Our Lady of Lourdes. Even the claim that the pillar originated from Saunière's church cannot be substantiated.
The truth behind Saunière
Almost all historians reject the conspiracies as nothing more than fantasy. The stories of Saunière's "mysteries" were based on little more than a minor scandal involving the sale of masses, which eventually led to the disgrace of both Saunière and his bishop. His wealth was short-lived and he died relatively poor. Official records of a trial against Saunière's on August 23rd of 1910 revealed his fortune at the time to have been 193,150 francs, which he claimed to be spending on parish works. In order to have gained this wealth through the selling of masses, the priest would have had to sell over 20 masses per day for the 25 years prior to the trial, more than he could have performed. Sauniere claimed that he performed masses for which he was paid and that other funds came from local donations.
This evidence was published by French Editions Belisane from the early 1980s onwards, the evidence for this ranged from the archives in the possession of Antoine Captier, which includes Saunière's correspondence and notebooks. The minutes of the ecumenical trial between Saunière and his bishop between 1910–1911 are located in the Carcassonne Bishopric. Or as Ed Bradley said on a 2006 episode of the American news program 60 Minutes: "The source of the wealth of the priest of Rennes-le-Chateau was not some ancient mysterious treasure, but good old fashioned fraud."
As for the relationship with the fictional Priory of Sion and Plantard's hoax, multiple factors disproved those theories as well. Philippe de Chérisey – who helped Plantard with his fraud – admitted having fabricated the historical documents. The supposed "medieval" documents were shown to have been written in modern French. Gérard de Sède, another of the conspirators who had written the book Le Tresor Maudit, also wrote a book denouncing the fraud, and this was further confirmed by his son.
^ Genesis 28
^ * Translation of iste, Latin dictionary and grammar aid, University of Notre Dame, last visited April 12, 2007
^ this is common knowledge in Southern France - the trend can be verified with a cursory reading of net postings)
^ "Priory of Sion", 60 Minutes, April 30, 2006, produced by Jeanne Langley, hosted by Ed Bradley
^ Gabriel Knight 3: Blood of the Sacred, Blood of the Damned at the Internet Movie Database
Source : Wikipedia.
Web site : www.rennes-le-chateau.blog4ever.com