The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
Et In Arcadia Ego
Rennes-le-Chateau 7pm August 6th 1999
Stigmata? Louis frowns, puzzled. Jake shakes his head and looks away.
"Everyone wants to see her," Marie explains. "They say she is very blessed, very happy. In this town, many people go to her every day. Sometimes she says she is happy, but " a shrug. "I do not know."
Nate stirs uneasily. "How did it happen?"
"Happen?" She looks puzzled a moment, then smiles. "She prayed in the church on Easter day. When she came out the stigmata was there. Is still there now." She says it almost defiantly, as if she doesn't expect to be believed.
"We should see her," Lizra muses. "Can you arrange it?"
"Mais oui. Her home is open at afternoons. I will tell her you come tomorrow?"
"Tomorrow," agrees Sonja quickly. "Also, the priory "
"Is always open." She hesitates a moment and Dexter smiles at her reassuringly.
"I'm sure we'll be fine. You're doing a great job here."
She smiles back. "Merci. I come Monday and Wednesday to clean. If you want, I bring shopping. My telephone number is here. Any time you want me, you phone and I will help. I get you maps and books, anything you want."
"At the moment all we want to do is to look around," he tells her. "We're interested in anything out of the ordinary here. You know, any unusual happenings. Like the stigmata."
Marie pauses, confused, waits for Louis to translate then nods and frowns. "I understand. I do not know what you think is unusual. Only Sandrine has stigmata. The church is strange, they say. Very interesting pictures. The church and the priory are main things to see - and now Sandrine, too, of course."
"What is the priory like?" Judith asks her. "Does M. Plantard ever stay there?"
Marie laughs and shakes her head. "No, no. The priory is very small, all ruined. No one lives there. M. Plantard has a house in town, but he is not here now, I think."
"I see." Judith looks disappointed, but shrugs it off. "I don't suppose he owns this house, does he?"
"This house? No. This one owned by agent in Paris."
They talk for a few more minutes then Marie leaves, promising to bring maps of the area and to arrange to hire a horse for Judith and anyone else who wants to try riding.
"By the way," Lizra calls after her. "I don't suppose you're related to the American Barnards?"
"Sorry, I do not think so. I will come later with the maps."
Lizra turns back to the others. "There was an American called Barnard killed in North Wales a few months ago. The name stuck in my mind."
Dexter, Nate and Judith exchange silent, guilty glances.
"Dinner time," Lizra decides briskly. "I'll cook."
Over a meal of cheese, salad and french bread, they talk.
Nate sits back, opens a can of lager and tosses one to Jake. "G'Day Bruce, got some tinnies in just for you! What do you reckon on this great mystery then?" He drains his can in a single mouthful. "Anyone know what or where Arcadia is?"
"I'm an archeologist," Jake says. "My specialty is Egyptian and Western Asiatic studies, not European, I'm afraid, but it shouldn't be a problem. After all, the true history of the Knights Templar is closely linked."
Louis raises a skeptical eyebrow. "You think so?"
"I know so. The Masons had to get geometry from somewhere. Anyway, I had a quick look at the Bergers d'Arcadie painting and the one of Pope Celestin in the Louvre. I tried to get hold of the 'Dossiers Secret' they mentioned in the book but they weren't available."
Lizra, who lost the thread of the conversation after the word 'archeologist' tosses her long, blonde hair back and smiles at the group. "I'm not really an expert at anything. What sort of a broadcast are we supposed to be doing? I could be the presenter. I can speak a bit of French."
"It's a book," Sonja tells her patiently. "We're supposed to be researching a book." She glances to the others for confirmation and Dexter grins and nods. Nate, though, is watching Lizra thoughtfully.
"I'm sure I've seen you before," he says. "Didn't you do a spread for Penthouse a few years back?"
She looks at him, surprised. "Not Penthouse, but I've done swim-wear modeling. I was in Cosmopolitan a lot. Maybe you saw me there."
"Maybe," he agrees, slightly taken aback. "In any case, you're not any kind of expert. Thankfully, I am. Here." He takes three leather wallets out of his jacket pockets and tosses them down. "ID's," he explains. "One for me, one for Judith, one for Dex. I've got us listed as research technicians for London Independent Radio. It should get us into places that aren't open to the public."
"Pity you couldn't get enough for all of us," Sonja comments.
Nate grins at her, not altogether friendly. "You could always say you're researching a Josh Stone novel. Not that any of that crap is ever researched properly. That Snowdon one, for instance. I bet Dexter here knows a damn sight more about Snowdonian Maidens than Stone ever will."
Sonja flushes angrily. "I happen to work for him," she snaps. "Which reminds me: does anyone happen to have a laptop with internet access?" Nate raises his hand and she looks at him sourly.
"Ignore him," Dexter advises. "Nate's problem is he's got this compulsion to be unpleasant to people just to see if they'll snap and hit him." He tears off another chunk of bread and waves it vaguely in her direction. "I'm no expert on these things either. I used to lecture on parapsychology, now I have a lot more fun doing Elvis impersonations. Garston here fancies himself as a bit of a private eyes. Lady Judith is a charity worker. That right, Judy?"
She flushes slightly, pleased. "Among other things, yes. "I can speak a bit of French, if that's any use. But all we need to do is look around and find out if there's anything happening here. We don't need to be experts for that. I think we should find out if there's anyone working for Harvest living locally. We could look at the cars around here and then check the Harvest car park or something. We need to keep an eye on them. And, do you realise the solar eclipse is happening on the eleventh? Will we get a total eclipse here?"
No one knows for sure. "I think we're a bit far south," Louis offers. "We'll only get a partial eclipse. It's something to think about, though. Personally, I'd like to visit this Sandrine girl first. Jake, could the stigmata be the sign of 'le sang real?'"
"The royal blood-line of Christ," Jake explains. "I doubt it. These things are usually self-inflicted. If you want to see her, though, go ahead."
"We shouldn't all go," Sonja says. "Maybe you can, Louis, and Judith. The rest of us can look at the site of the tomb."
"And the tower and the villa," Jake adds. "My idea was that we should take a general look around, get a feel for the place, have a few drinks."
Dexter grins broadly. "I'll go along with that."
There is a sudden banging at the door. Louis stands up. "I'll get it; it'll be Marie with the maps."
It isn't. He flings the door open and finds himself looking in the face of a man, well over six foot tall and almost as wide. His light brown hair is receding slightly but the rest of his face seems to be completely covered in greyish stubble. He yawns widely, covering his mouth with his left hand and Louis notices with a shock that his thumb and the top section of his ring finger are missing.
"My name's Yuri," he announces himself, walking on in. His accent is pure Russian. "You wouldn't believe the trouble I had getting here. First some terrorist decides to plant a bomb and we all get delayed, then I have to drive the last thousand odd miles home." He slumps into a chair. "Does someone want to brief me, and then I can go to bed."
The others look at each other warily. Yuri closes his eyes then opens one of them again. "Didn't SITU say I was coming?"
"They did," Jake says. "We were just discussing the situation." Quickly, he fills the Russian in, and then produces a copy of 'The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail' and talks about it in detail. Yuri listens with his eyes half-closed and only shows any interest when Louis mentions Sandrine.
"I will go to see her," he says. Lizra starts to object and he holds up a massive hand. "I will go."
There is a short silence, then Louis nods. "Very well."
"Good." Sonja stretches. "Now that's settled, what does everyone think about what SITU said about Ylids? Do you think they're real?"
"They're real," Yuri replies heavily. "Real, and they want to hurt us." He holds up his left hand. "This was done to me for a reason."
The others look at him with various mixtures of sympathy and unease.
Later that evening, Sonja wanders out of the house in search of a phone. There are few street light, no cars on the road. Trees throw patches of black shadow over everything. In the pale moonlight it is hard to tell whether the dark spots on the road are holes or just more shadows. Footsteps behind her startle her and she swings around.
"Only me," Dexter says. He holds out something to her. "Here, if you want to call your employer you can use this."
Sonja takes the mobile phone gratefully. Dexter just shrugs.
"Don't thank me," he says. "It's Nate's."
Sonja's PC arrives by courier first thing the next morning.
"I've been doing some hunting on the net," Nate tells the group while she's checking her email. "Our notes said Sauniere was accused of simony. That's the selling of ecclesiastical preferment - promotion to us. Jaques de Molay had connections with the King before the Inquisition tried him for heresy and burned him; and Plantard was quite big in French politics at the end of the last war and still has connections in the government. And - wait for it - he was involved in some deal last year which gave Harvest PLC a large chunk of government funding."
"I told you Harvest was involved," Judith crows. "Let's go and check the cars this morning."
"Later," Nate says. He is sporting a brand-new video camera. "First we've got to see the sights. Louis, you're the closest thing we've got to a native guide. Can we drink the water here?"
The narrow streets are quiet for a Saturday morning. A few shops are opening but many of them still have their wooden shutters pulled down over the windows. A stray cat sniffs around a set of litter bins outside what is probably a butchers shop. Lizra bents down to stroke it until Louis pulls her away.
A woman, sweeping the path in front of her doorway, stops to smile at them as they pass.
"English?" she asks.
"Some of us." Judith repeats it in French. "Je suis angliase."
"Ah!" she claps her hands. "On holiday?"
Lizra smiles brightly. "We are writing a book. And a radio programme," she adds with a defiant glance at the others. "We are here to see the church and the priory."
"The church, yes." She nods her head vigorously. "Happy holiday."
They walk on. A few other people stop them to speak to them, generally wanting to practise their English skills, asking if they are on holiday and whether they like France.
"A friendly place," Dexter comments, surprised. "Makes a change from bloody Wales." He smiles an apology to Sonja. "Present company excepted, of course."
A car goes past, the first one they've seen all morning, and then a couple of girls on bikes. the sunlight makes the road shimmer so it appears they are riding on silver. Lizra slips her sunglasses on against the glare.
Then, suddenly, they are walking in the shadow of high walls.
The Church of the Magdalene is a huge, gothic-inspired building. The ruins of the priory are set behind it, visible through a garden that is a tangle of rose bushes and heavily-scented, white anemones. The front door is set between two arches and lined with white stone. Jake glances up to read the inscription.
"This place is terrible," he murmurs. "Shall we go in?"
They file in in silence.
Many churches have an aura of quiet about them, and this one is no different. But it's not a feeling of calm quiet, Lizra feels. Rather, it's the quiet of impending doom. The statue of Asmodeus in the doorway has upraised arms, the face is twisted into a sneer and is turned towards the inside of the church. Lizra looks at him and shivers. She smiles to herself and takes off her sunglasses. Her imagination playing tricks on her again. She follows the others in.
There is only one other person there - an old woman sitting behind a counter knitting. Yuri strides on past her without looking at her. The rest of the group nod politely.
"Where are the paintings?" Yuri asks. His footsteps are heavy, echoing through the silent building. They stand in a row and look at them, the only sound the click and whir of Nate's camera and the occasional creak of a floorboard.
"I can see the child in plaid," Sonja whispers, pointing.
"Why would anyone have done this?" Dexter wonders. "It's like a 'what's wrong with this painting' competition."
Jake moves forward to study the scene at Christ's tomb more closely. "The book talked about this one. Jesus was supposed to have been buried before sunset but it's night here. They thought the painter may have been hinting that the body was removed at night."
"It could be artistic licence," Judith suggests doubtfully. She turns away from the paintings and walks back to the woman by the door. "Excuse me," she says brightly. "Parlez vous anglais?" She produces a small dictaphone from her bag and holds it out. "We are talking interviews for the radio. Can you tell us about the church?"
The knitting needles hesitate a moment then continue. "The church is very old," comes the reply, "and very famous because of the paintings and statue. Many books written about it. You are writing book too?"
"Yes. We're interested in the history of the church. Especially in the war."
The woman looks slightly more interested. "I was here in the war. A bad time. Germans here, resistance fighting. Not much food, not much anything."
"There are stories that the Germans were looking for the priory treasure," Judith says carefully. "Did they ever find anything?"
"There is no treasure. They dug up the church, the priory. All over the tower and villa, and outside the village. Found nothing. People have always looked for treasure, never found it."
The mention of treasure has caught Lizra's interest. She wanders over. "What sort of treasure was it? Are we talking about gold here?"
"Gold?" A shrug. "Some say gold, some say things from the church, maybe from the Vatican. Others say it is books, things that shouldn't be known. No one has ever found it."
"Then what about the church records?" Lizra asks. "May we see them?"
She looks reluctant, but Louis comes across and conducts a rapid conversation with her in French. In the ends she smiles and unlocks a cupboard."
"She says she's the caretaker here," Louis whispers. "She shouldn't show us the records without the priest's permission, but I told her you were an important visitor making a report. It seemed to work."
The woman comes back and sets down a pair of loose-leaf folders. "Five minutes," she says firmly.
They start to search through them.
The records only go back two hundred years. There is a note that the church was originally built for the use of the small priory that existed in the village. The priory fell into disuse and disrepair, much of the stone being taken for building houses, but the church was left intact and became the central church of the village. The usual lists of christenings and marriages are long lists of unfamiliar names until they find the names of Sauniere and his companion / successor Marie Denarnaud. There is nothing else.
"You've lived here a long time," Nate says. "Has there ever been anything unusual happening here? Like the girl, Sandrine."
"Ah, Sandrine." She tuts and shakes her head. "I remember it happened once before. Many years ago, just after the war. The girl was seventeen when the marks appeared. She died before she was eighteen and when the doctors looked at her they found she was pregnant." She shakes her head again. "Very sad. I must put records back now." She gathers them up.
Thanking her, Louis turns back to look back to the altar. It is made of wood overlaid with gold and the altar stone itself is polished black. That's where Jake said Sauniere found his secret documents, he thinks. He runs his hand across the stone. The top is perfectly smooth; it looks as if it hasn't been moved since the church was built, although he knows it must have been if Sauniere found his documents under it. He wonders if the top will come off now and prises at one corner of the stone with his fingertips. Nothing happens.
The whole church feels strange, he thinks, Sauniere's additions set against the traditional background. From a distance the paintings of the stations of the cross look ordinary, but knowing that each one carries some subtle oddity makes the whole set seem wrong. He stands there a long while until Nate shoves him aside, wanting Judith to pose for some photographs.
They come out of the church, blinking in the golden rush of sunlight.
"We should borrow Nate's car and go for a picnic," Lizra suggests to Judith and Sonja. Sonja is already walking into the priory grounds.
Looking them over takes no more than half an hour. All that is left is the bare walls. The ground is stony and covered with weeds. The graveyard is more interesting. Jake tracks down the gravestones with the inscriptions that Sauniere destroyed. There is no telling what they might have said, now. Sauniere's grave is also there, a modest headstone engraved with his name and date of death only.
"I want to talk to the Corbu family," Jake says, looking at the grave. "They bough the Villa Bethania, and they did know Marie Denarnaud personally. And is there a place called Laval de Dieu around here?" He explains that one of the parchments Sauniere found had the words 'cheval de dieu.' "But 'a's and 'e's are sometimes interchangeable for place names so 'cheval' could be 'laval'"
Dexter slaps him on the back. "I haven't got the faintest idea what you're talking about. Lets get a drink."
They spend the rest of the morning walking around the village. They find the library - there is no museum. The library is small, no books in English, of course, but several on the history of the area. By the time Sonja has chosen a postcard and Judith has looked around wool shops, the morning is almost over.
"This afternoon we split, then," Yuri says, speaking for almost the first time that morning. He has shaved but he still looks tired, dark shadows around his grey eyes. "We will meet Marie and go to visit Sandrine. You will visit the tower and the villa."
"And the site of the tomb from the painting," Sonja reminds them. "They told me where it was in the post-office. They said it was a lovely place. Just right for a picnic," she adds, shooting a look at Judith. "A pity you have to see Sandrine and can't come."
The view from the hills is magnificent. Even the air seems to shimmer with a glow of green, catching the colour from the trees. A far of lake glistens like sapphire. The only piece of ugliness is a pale billow of smoke on the horizon from the nuclear plant.
"I like France," Sonja says with enthusiasm. Dexter laughs and puts a hand on her shoulder as he stands.
The folly tower rises off the top of the hill like something out of a fairy tale. Pure white and several stories high. A small garden surrounding it is full of roses and more roses trail around the arched doorway.
"A pretty place," Jake concludes. "Rather different from the church, isn't it?"
They hand over some notes at the counter and go in. The inside of the tower smells of roses too. Light floods in through the large windows and the thick carpets, though worn, are jewel bright. Lizra looks around admiringly. The tower looks so comfortable, so inviting, it could have been designed by a woman. It certainly doesn't look as if it was the invention of the same man who had the statue and paintings put into the church. There are some English guide books on a table and she picks one up. "It mentions Bertrand de Blancheford in here," she says. "In the post office they told me everyone thought he had a stash of treasure somewhere. Pity they don't know where it is."
Sonja walks from window to window, looking out of them all. Nate busies himself taking another set of photographs. Dexter roams restlessly.
"What does that book say about freemasons," he asks Lizra.
"Nothing at all. Have a look." She tosses it to him.
Then Sonja and Jake call to them excitedly. "We've found something. Come and look at this."
On the third floor, tucked away in the corner of the smallest room is a portrait. It is only small, framed in plain wood unlike the elaborate frames of the other pictures in the room. The woman in it is not particularly attractive, her dress is a shade of dark grey with only a ring of lace at the neck for decoration. But Jake is pointing at her hands. They are folded on her lap in such a way that a perfectly round scar is visible on the back of each.
"Look at the name," Jake says.
They look. The tiny gold letters are clear enough. Marie Denarnaud.
"Wasn't that the woman you said lived with Sauniere?" Dexter asks.
Sandrine is sitting in the front room of her house, her hands folded on her lap. She looks as if she has been waiting in that pose for a long time. Marie greets her quickly in French then turns to Louis, Judith and Yuri. "She doesn't speak good English," she says. "But she says she is happy to see you."
"We are also happy," Yuri puts in. Louis and Judith sit down but he stands against the wall, staring at the girl intently. Judith takes out her dictaphone and checks the tape. With Louis translating as necessary the interview starts off a little stilted but soon Sandrine is relaxing.
"What did you do before this happened?" Judith asks. "Do you paint or play music?"
"No." Sandrine unclasps her hands. "I worked in a department store, selling perfume. I thought I might have been a manager there, but now I know God has planned something else." She shoots a quick glance at Marie as if for reassurance. "I am happy to be chosen," she says. "I don't know why it happened to me. All I know is I was praying and suddenly I was in terrible pain, so much that I couldn't see. When I opened my eyes again I saw my hands were like this." She holds them up for inspection.
Judith gasps. Both hands have open wounds in the palms and on the backs. The right one is still bleeding a little. Sandrine dabs at it with a tissue and shrugs. "It does not hurt so much now. There are also marks on my feet, but smaller, and when it first happened I had marks on my head too, like the crown of thorns."
Judith makes an effort to control her voice. "Have you experienced visions or voices, or is it just the stigmata?"
The girl's smile becomes radiant. "Visions. I dreamt of the Magdalene. In the winter she came, before Christmas, and spoke to me. She says there is forgiveness even for the fallen, that I was to follow my heart and what I knew to me true. She said she was praying for me in heaven and I would see God." She falls silent, her eyes turned up, her lips moving silently in prayer. As they watch, a long drop of blood runs down her left hand.
August 7th 1999 2:30pm
Judith, Yuri, Louis, at Sandrine's house.
Dexter, Jake, Nate, Sonja, Lizra at the Tour Magdala.
Photocopy of 'The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail' - courtesy of Jake.
Chapter 1: The Village of Mystery
Section 1: Berenger Sauniere and Rennes-Le-Chateau
A few miles to the south-east of Rennes-Le-Chateau looms another peak, called Bezu, surmounted by the ruins of a medieval fortress, which was once a preceptory of the Knights Templar. On a third peak, a mile or so out of Rennes-Le-Chateau, stand the ruins of the Chateau of Blanchefort, ancestral home of Bertrand de Blanchefort, fourth Grand Master of the Knights Templar, who presided over that famous order in the mid-12th Century. Rennes-Le-Chateau and its environs had been on the ancient pilgrimage route, which ran from northern Europe to Santiago de Compastela in Spain. The entire region is steeped in legends, in echoes of a rich, dramatic and often blood-soaked past.
The village church is consecrated to the Magdalene, in 1059 AD, on the foundation of a still older Visigoth structure dating from the 6th Century.
In June 1885 the tiny French village of Rennes-Le-Chateau received a new parish priest, Berenger Sauniere (born in nearby Montazels). From 1885 to 1891 his average income was the equivalent of £6.00 per annum. His good friend was Abbe Henri Boudet, at Rennes-les-Baines.
In 1891 Sauniere embarked on a modest restoration. Under the altar stone he is reported to have found four parchments in sealed wooden tubes. Two of these were said to be genealogies, one dating from 1244, and the other from 1644. The other two parchments were composed by Abbe Antoine Bigou, one of Sauniere's predecessors, in the 1780's
(It is important to note that Bigou was personal chaplain to the noble Blanchefort family, the head of whom, Bertrand de Blanchefort, was Grand Master of the Knights Templar.)
The two 'Bigou' parchments were ostensibly Latin texts, which were later found to contain the following hidden codes.
BERGERE PAR DE TENTATION QUE POISSIN TENIERS GARDENT LA CLEF PAX DCLXXXI PAR LA CROIX ET CE CHEVAL DE DIEU J'ACHIEVE CE DAEMON DE GARDIEN A MIDI POMMES BLEUES
This translates as follows:
(SHEPERDESS, NO TEMPTATION, THAT POISSIN, TENIERS, HOLD THE KEY; PEACE 681. BY THE CROSS AND THIS HORSE OF GOD, I COMPLETE -or destroy- THIS DAEMON OF THE GUARDIAN AT NOON. BLUE APPLES).
A DAGERBERT II ROI ET A SION EST CE TRESOR ET IL EST LA MORT.
This translates as follows:
(TO DAGOBERT II, KING, AND TO SION BELONGS THIS TREASURE AND HE IS THERE DEAD.)
Sauniere took the parchments to his superior the Bishop of Carcassone, who immediately despatched him to Paris (at the bishop's expense). He showed the parchments to (among others), Abbe Bieil, Director General of the Seminary of Saint-Sulpice, and Bieil introduced Sauniere to his nephew Emile Hoffet. Hoffet had very close links with diverse esoteric and occult groups in Paris. His circle of friends included Mallarme, Maeterlinck, Debussy and Emma Calve, all prominent occultists of the period. Sauniere was promptly adopted by this distinguished circle and may have had an affair with Maria Calve.
During his stay in Paris Sauniere obtained copies of three paintings from the Louvre. A portrait of Pope Celestin V, a work by David Teniers (although it is unclear whether it was by David Teniers Snr. or Jnr.), and 'Les Bergers d'Arcadie' by Nicholas Poussin.
On his return to Rennes-le-Chateau he resumed his restoration and exhumed a curiously carved flagstone dating from the 7th or 8th Century.
In the churchyard stood the sepulchre of Marie, Marquise of d'Hautpol de Blanchefort. The headstone and flagstone marking the grave had been designed and installed by Bigou. The headstone inscription, which included a number of deliberate errors in spacing and spelling, was a perfect anagram for the message concealed in the parchment referring to Poussin and Teniers. Sauniere obliterated these inscriptions.
Between 1896 and 1917 Sauniere spend the equivalent of several million pounds (without using any church or village funds!). He built a modern road leading up to the village and facilities for running water. A tower (the Tour Magdala) and the Villa Bethania. The church was redecorated in a most bizarre fashion. A Latin inscription was incised in the porch lintel above the entrance.
TERIBILIS EST LOCUS ISTE - This place is terrible.
Immediately inside the entrance a statue of Asmodeus - custodian of secrets, guardian of hidden treasures and, according to ancient Judaic legend, builder of Solomon's Temple.
On the church walls lurid, garishly painted plaques were installed depicting the Stations of the Cross - each was characterised by some odd inconsistency, some inexplicable added detail, some flagrant or subtle deviation from accepted scriptyral accounts.
In Station VIII there is a child swathed in a Scottish plaid. In Station XIV, which portrays Jesus's body being carried into the tomb, there is a background of dark nocturnal sky, dominated by a full moon. It is almost as if Sauniere were trying to intimate something, but what? That Jesus's burial occurred after nightfall, several hours later than the bible tells us it did? Or that the body is being carried out of the tomb, not into it?
On Jan 17, 1917 he suffered a stroke. This date (Jan 17) is also important because it was the date inscribed on the tombstone that he had eradicated. It is also the feast day of Saint Sulpice. Strangely, Marie Denarnaud (Sauniere's companion) purchased the coffin on the 12th of January. This was at a time when the villagers were remarking how healthy Sauniere (aged 66) looked.
The priest called to hear Sauniere's final confession and administer last rites emerged visibly shaken and refused to administer extreme unction. This priest then lapsed into a prolonged depression and, according to various church sources, "was never seen to smile again".
Sauniere died on the 22nd of January 1917. His body was placed upright in an armchair on the terrace of the Tour Magdala, clad in an ornate robe adorned with scarlet tassels. One by one certain unidentified mourners filed past, many of them plucking tassels of remembrance from the dead mans garment. (No explanation for this curious ritual has ever been offered - modern residents are still mystified as to its significance.)
Sauniere left all his goods and possessions to his companion, Marie Denarnaud, who continued to live a comfortable life in the Villa Bethania until 1944. In that year the French government issued a new currency and citizens were obliged to account for the source of their revenue at the time of exchanging old for new. Marie Denarnaud chose poverty instead and was seen burning vast sheaves of old currency in the garden of the Villa Bethania.
She lived for 7 years by 'selling' the villa to Monsieur Noel Corbu. She promised him that she would confide in him, before her death, a 'secret' which would make him not only rich but also 'powerful'. On Jan 29, 1953, however, Marie, like her master before her, suffered a sudden and unexpected stroke. This left here prostrate on her deathbed, incapable of speech.
To Corbu's intense frustration, she died shortly thereafter, carrying her secret with her.
Section 2: The Possible Treasures
The first question is obvious. What was the source of Sauniere's wealth? Whence could such sudden and enormous wealth have come?
Messrs. Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln considered several explanations suggested by other researchers, many of which assumed that Sauniere had indeed found some treasure. The history of the area includes many possible sources of hidden gold and jewels.
In the 6th Century the town was the northern capital of the empire ruled by the Visigoths - the Teutonic people who had swept westwards from central Europe, sacked Rome, toppled the Roman empire and established their own domain straddling the Pyrenees.
For another 500 years the town remained the seat of an important county, or Compte, the Compte of Razes. Then, at the beginning of the 13th Century (1209), an army of northern knights descended on the Languedoc to stamp out the Cathars or Albigensian heresy and claim the rich spoils of the region for themselves.
The Cathars were reputed to possess 'something of fabulous and even sacred value' - which, according to a number of legends was the Holy Grail. Wagner's opera Parsifal was inspired during a pilgrimage to Rennes-le-Chateau. German troops conducted extensive, though seemingly fruitless, excavations in the vicinity during the Second World War.
There was also the vanished treasure of the Knights Templar, whose Grand Master, Bertrand de Blanchefort, commissioned certain mysterious excavations in the area (using imported German miners). If some kind of Templar treasure was concealed near Rennes-le-Chateau, this might explain the reference to 'Sion' in one of Sauniere's parchments.
Another possibility, in the 5th-8th Century most of modern France was ruled by the Merovingian Dynasty, which included Dagobert II. Rennes-le-Chateau, in Dagobert's time, was a Visigoth bastion, and Dagobert was married to a Visigoth princess. There are documents which speak of great wealth amassed by Dagobert for military conquest and concealed in the area. If Sauniere found this it might explain the coded reference to Dagobert.
The Cathars, The Templars, Dagobert II and a further possibility, the vast booty of the Visigoths. This might include items of immense relevance to western religious traditions. It might have included the legendary treasure of the Temple of Jerusalem - which, even more that the Knights Templar, would warrant the reference to Sion.
Treasure then might have been the source of Sauniere's wealth. A treasure, or treasures, that had passed through the hands of the Temple of Jerusalem, to the Romans, to the Visigoths, eventually to the Cathars and/or the Knights Templar. This would explain the coded references to the treasure belonging both to Dagobert II and to Sion.
However, mere money would not explain a number of facets of the story. They would not account for his sudden introduction to certain esoteric circles; they would not explain the Church's intense interest, the impunity with which Sauniere defied his bishop or his subsequent exoneration by the Vatican.
It would not explain a priest's refusal to administer last rites to a dying man, or the visit of a Habsburg archduke to such a remote village. Nor would money, gold or jewels explain the elaborate coded ciphers, or Marie Denarnaud's burning of her inheritance. Marie herself promised to divulge a 'secret' which conferred not merely wealth but 'power' as well.
The authors believed that Sauniere's story involved more than riches and that it involved a secret of some kind. One that was extremely controversial. Perhaps his wealth came not from treasure but from knowledge of some kind. Could it have been used to blackmail someone? Could his wealth have been payment for his silence?
It is documented that he received money from Johann Salvator Von Habsburg (also known as Jean Orth). Strangely, he renounced all his rights and titles in 1889 and within two months had been banished from all the territories of the Empire. It was shortly after this that he first appeared in Rennes-le-Chateau. He was officially said to have died in 1890, but in fact died in Argentina in 1910 or 1911.
However, the 'secret' seemed more religious than political and there was one institution which was distinctly afraid of Sauniere, the Vatican. What if the money bestowed on Sauniere actually issued from the coffers of the Vatican?
[Indeed, if this claim can be substantiated, what could Sauniere possibly have known that would have made the Vatican so afraid?]
Section 3: The Intrigue
Correspondence in the possession of Messrs. Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln include one from a retired Anglican priest who claimed that the 'secret' consisted of 'incontrovertible proof' that the Crucifixion was a fraud and that Jesus was alive as late as AD 45!
Further evidence of a monumental secret was forthcoming during the investigation of Poussin's role. He was closely involved with the Fouquet brothers, Abbe Louis Fouquet and Nicholas Fouquet, Superintendent of Finances to Louis XIV of France. Correspondence from the Abbe to his brother alluded to a great secret "which even kings would go to great pains to draw from him (Poussin)." Shortly after receiving the letter Nicholas was arrested and imprisoned for the duration of his life. According to certain, reliable, accounts he was held strictly incommunicado. The whole of his correspondence was confiscated by Louis XIV, who inspected them all personally.
In the years to follow Louis XIV went out of his way to obtain the original of Poussin's painting 'Les Bergers d'Arcadie'. When he at last succeeded it was sequestered in his private apartments at Versailles.
The painting is of three shepherds and a shepherdess gathered about a large antique tomb, contemplating the inscription in the weathered stone. 'ET IN ARCADIA EGO'. The actual tomb has been located on the outskirts of a village called Arques - about 6 miles from Rennes-le-Chateau, and 3 miles from the Chateau of Blanchefort.
The code behind 'ET IN ARCADIA EGO' or 'AND IN ARCADIA I' shows that the inscription lacks a verb. However, the codes in Sauniere's parchments rely heavily on anagrams, on the transposition and rearrangement of letters.
Could 'ET IN ARCADIA EGO' also be an anagram? Could the verb have been omitted so that the inscription would consist of only certain precise letters?
The authors advance the idea that is an anagram of:
I TEGO ARCANA DEI
(BEGONE! I CONCEAL THE SECRETS OF GOD)