Rennes le Château though small, with a population of just 70 inhabitants, has been known for decades throughout France and beyond as boasting one of our greatest legends and arguably the inspiration for Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code.
Accessed via a narrow road you navigate up the mountain with the village at the top, and marvellous views across the valleys and distant foothills of the Pyrenees. Adjacent to the château (pictured) sits a large villa (dwarfing the church and other buildings) which was built by pastor Bérenger Saunière (1852-1917). It is this man who is at the centre of the legend – by the end of the 19th century he had acquired enormous wealth!
During Pastor Saunière’s tenure as the pastor the village church was in a very poor state of disrepair and he began restoration which was a slow process due to lack of funds. However, during his work he discovered something in the Church that suddenly made him a rich man.
According to the legend, Pastor Saunière found treasure in one of the altar pillars (which incidentally date back to the time of the West Goths a nomadic Germanic people who fought against Roman rule in the late 300s and early 400s A.D.). Within the pillars he is said to have discovered gold coins, jewels and some parchment documents containing a secret mystical message. According to his brother who was also his Bishop, the church wanted this secret never to be revealed.
Pastor Saunière died in 1917 and his housekeeper Marie Dénarnaud inherited his belongings; it is highly possible that he would have shared the secret with her. Marie lived a luxury life and would most likely have revealed the mystery before she too passed, however she suffered a stroke and died at the age of 85 taking he secret to her grave.
Rennes le Château enjoys tens of thousands of visitors each year all drawn by the conspiracy theories of the buried treasure. However, even if you are not a treasure hunter by nature, the town itself is beautiful and well worth a visit. Located in the Aude region of South West France the Château itself is not habitable.
If you would like to read more on this story go to www.renneslechateau.nl/mystery-of-rennes-le-chateau.