Rennes-le-Château (Rènnas del Castèl in Occitan) is a small medieval castle village and a commune in the Aude département in Languedoc in southwestern 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 rumours 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 fiction thriller The Da Vinci Code.

The legend of Rennes-le-Château is one of the most complicated treasure-hunting stories of all time. It is steeped in the movements of pre-medieval European dynasties and encompasses a whole host of historical unsolved mysteries. Enthusiasts believe the secret of Rennes-le- Château could reveal the whereabouts of the Holy Grail, or the Ark of the Covenant, or indeed almost any other lost treasure. The story involves mysterious societies like the Knights Templar, the Freemasons and the Priory of Sion. Researchers say that many of those who have been told any of the real details have died in suspicious circumstances. Their fate, and the village’s enigmatic story, all revolved around the arrival of one man.

Bérenger Saunière

On 1st June 1885, a recently ordained priest entered the hot, dusty, hilltop village of Rennes-le-Château in the French Pyrenees. Bérenger Saunière was an ambitious young cleric, and was very unimpressed by the dilapidated ninth century church and the uninhabitable presbytery, although he stayed. In October of that year Saunière was banished from the region for a short time for committing a public order offence when he campaigned against the ruling Republican Party.

During this exile from his parish he formed a friendship with the wealthy and respected Countess of Chambord, who loaned him a large sum to rebuild the village church. He began the restoration work five years later, starting with the altar. As he removed the heavy stone lintel, the ancient pillar on which it stood cracked, and inside it Saunière found three wooden tubes containing parchments. After finding another scrap of paper in a pillar supporting the pulpit, Saunière immediately began digging up parts of the church and its yard. Helped in this by his housekeeper, Marie Denarnaud, Saunière recorded in his personal diary on 21st September 1891, ‘Excavated a grave. Found a tomb.’ What was found in the tomb is unknown, but over the following years Saunière led a very odd life. He built an elaborate estate, which had gardens full of exotic flora and fauna. The whole structure was said to be a recreation of Mary Magdalene’s walk from Magdala to Bethania.

Aerial View of Rennes-le-Château

The earliest church of which there is any evidence on the site of the present church may be as old as the eighth century. 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 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: “Terribilis est locus iste” (This is a place of awe). Inside the church, one of the added figures was of a devil holding up the holy water stoup (rare, but other examples exist in other churches around France). The decorations chosen by Saunière were selected from a catalogue published by Giscard, sculptor and painter in Toulouse who - among other things - offered statues and sculptural features for church refurbishment. Pages from the Catalogue of Giscard and Co were reproduced in a book by Marie de Saint-Gély first published in 1989. The figures and statues chosen by Saunière were not specially made.

Saunière also funded the construction of another structure dedicated to Mary Magdalene, named after his church, a tower on the side of a nearby mountain which he used as his library, with a promenade linking it to the Villa Bethanie, which was not actually used by the priest. He stated during his trial that it was intended for retired priests. Note that "magdala" also means "tower" in Aramaic and Hebrew, so perhaps there is some sort of pun involved. The inscription above the entrance is taken from the Common Dedication of a Church, which in full reads [Entrance Antiphon Cf. Gen 28:17]: "This is a place of awe; this is God's house, the gate of heaven, and it shall be called the royal court of God." The first part of the passage is situated in the entrance of the church - the rest of the passage is actually inscribed over the arches on the two doors of the church.

Sauniere's church was re-dedicated in 1897 by his bishop, Monsigor Billard, following Sauniere's renovations and redecorations. Saunière lived in splendour and was said to hold accounts in various major banks. He was known to visit Paris and mix with famous people, but regional church authorities grew tired of his strange behaviour and tried to discipline him. Saunière said he needed to answer to nobody but the Pontiff and resigned his seat. The villagers of Rennes-le-Château chose to attend Mass at Saunière’s private chapel rather than attend the one provided by the officially installed new priest.

On 17th January 1917 Saunière had a serious seizure, and shortly before his death explained how he had come to find his wealth. The priest who heard the details was so disgusted he denied Saunière absolution and last rites. But Denarnaud also knew the secret and promised to reveal it on her deathbed. Unfortunately she suffered a debilitating stroke and could not talk when she died in 1953. Others who may have understood some aspects of the mysteries suffered horrific fates. Many people believe Denarnaud’s carer, Noel Corbu, may have learnt something from her before her death, but he was killed in a car accident in the same year.

Another local priest, Jean- Antoine-Maurice Gelis, was said to know details during Saunière’s time, but he grew so paranoid that he would let only his niece into his presbytery. On All Saints’ Eve 1897, he was found killed by four blows from an axe. During an investigation in 1956 the corpses of three men who had been shot were found in Saunière’s garden, and in 1967 Fakhur el Islam, a courier carrying Saunière’s secret documents, was found dead on train tracks near Melun in Germany. It is believed that a secretive society called the Priory of Sion is behind much of the strange history of Rennes-le-Château. The group is said to have strong connections with Freemasons and legends of the Holy Grail. It has been a registered organisation in France since 1956 and has over a thousand members, some of whom are extremely high profile.

The Grand Master until 1963 was Jean Cocteau, and past leaders have included Claude Debussy, Leonardo de Vinci and Isaac Newton. Yet, despite this air of respectability, the organisation is still said to be untraceable. Saunière himself was not so secretive about the treasure though, and it is believed he left many clues in the buildings he erected and the monuments he left.

The design of the church in Rennes-le-Château itself is supposed to be a clue about the treasure. One theory is that Saunière’s wealth came about by his discovery of details relating to an old Christian secret, which he then used to blackmail the Roman Catholic Church. One of the stained glass windows he had commissioned after rebuilding the church depicts both Mary and Joseph holding babies, which has lead some to suspect Saunière had proof that Christ had a twin. Similarly, it has been considered that perhaps the priest found evidence that Jesus did not die on the cross, but moved to Europe and had a family with Mary Magdalene.

Many of the blackmail ideas seem to revolve around elaborate conspiracy theories, but there are also legends of real, sparkling, mystical treasure. Rennes-le- Château is believed to have been the third largest town in the Visigoth kingdom, when it was known as Rheddae. Visgoths were said to have looted Rome of all its riches in 410 AD and were also believed to have stolen great wealth from Greece and Jerusalem. It was never disclosed exactly where the Visigoths finally buried their treasure, although the fortress of Rheddae was always considered a strong possibility.

Another theory combines aspects of both treasure and religious secrecy. It is suggested that the Cathars, a Christian group who were considered a threat by the Roman Catholic Church, buried something of immense religious importance near Rennes-le-Château before they were destroyed. Some have suggested that this great spiritual treasure may have been the Holy Grail or Ark of the Covenant. The great French classical artist, Nicolas Poussin, is also said to have known of the secrets of Rennes-le-Château. He apparently included clues in a number of his paintings; particularly one called Les Bergers d’Arcadie which features a tomb that closely resembles one found near to Rennes-le- Château.

Many factors pointing to the truth behind Saunière’s wealth are still available for study. But despite the best efforts of countless experts, these mysteries remain hidden. Did Saunière find a legendary religious artifact, a horde of ancient treasure, or some terrible Christian secret? The answers may, one day, be revealed, but for now, Saunière and his money continue to be a curious puzzle.

(Sources : 100 Most Strangest Mysteries by Matt Lamy; and Wikipedia)

(Pic sources :
Pic 1 taken from;
Pic 2 taken from;
Pic 3 taken from


  1. Great mystery.
    I really enjoyed reading about the Rennes-le-Chateau mystery in Lost Tomb of the Knights Templar by Ben Hammott. Hammott has a writing style which engrosses the reader in his story and I alway found myself wanting to read the next chapter to find out what happened next.
    The book is full of interesting stuff and as well as being very informative it is also very entertaining and' very laugh out loud' in places. There are shadowy figures and meetings, Knights Templar treasure, codes hidden in an ancient church to decipher, tombs and tunnels, a treasure hunt and a myriad of other great stuff to read about.
    At almost 700 pages and over 300 images, the book is well worth the cover price, it is like three books in one.
    I have read other books on the Templars and Rennes-le-Chateau but they amount to little when compared to the Lost Tomb of the Knights Templar and I cannot wait for the next installment.
    A highly recommended book which I am sure most people will enjoy even if they are not interested in the subject matter. Do yourself a favor and read this book. 5/5
    PS - Ben also has a great website about Rennes-le-Chateau and his discoveries which you may like to check out.

  2. wow...I'd like to spend my whole life there hahaha

  3. that is a very nice architecture. thanks for sharing infos! ^_^

  4. nice blog and have lots of stuff here......


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