Murder, mystery, intrigue and …. treasure!

Bloodline- The Magdala Tower at Rennes-Le- Chateau

The Church of St Mary Magdalene
Rennes Le Chateau

If you are interested in history, murder, mystery or treasure hunting then the hilltop village of Rennes Le Chateau in the Aude has it all. Made famous by books such as ‘Holy Blood, Holy Grail’ and the film The Da Vinci Code, it is well worth a visit.

"Il y a deux histoires: l'histoire officielle,
menteuse, puis l'histoire secrète..."
Honoré de Balzac

There are two stories: the official one, all lies, and the secret one….

Bérenger Saunière

Bérenger Saunière

The history and intrigue which surrounds this tale go back to the 12th and 13th centuries and possibly even as far back as 200 BC but it only came to the public’s attention in relatively modern times with the arrival in 1885 of a new village priest called Bérenger Saunière.

Saunière was a local man, born close by in the village of Montazels, who would have no doubt have grown up hearing the stories of secrets and treasure which had filtered through the local community.

Although a very intelligent and educated man, he was penniless, living on his meagre priest’s pay. The Church of St Mary Magdalene that he inherited was dilapidated and located in one of the remotest parts of France. In the 1890s he began renovating the church decorating it in a very elaborate and colourful manner, unlike any other church in the area. He also provided services for the village such as roads and a water supply. He bought land around the existing presbytery and spent a fortune building a new house, a library, ornate gardens and a small private zoo. By the time of his death in 1917, it is estimated that he had spent the equivalent today of around 2-3 million Euros. Where did he get this sort of money?

knights templar

Since the 6th century Rennes Le Chateau had been an important and strategically placed town. In Visigoth times it was heavily fortified and the capital of the region. Over 30,000 people lived in its environs - much different to the current sleepy village it is today with 100 or so inhabitants.

It is the suspected resting place of a number of treasures reputed to be hidden in the locality including the famous ‘Visigoth Treasure’ and relics and treasure of The Knights Templar who were very active in the Languedoc in the 12th and 13th centuries. Whether it stayed here or not is not known.

templar sign

During the crusade against the Cathars (Les Bonhommes) in this region in the 13th-14th centuries, a group of Cathars under siege at Monsegur by Simon De Monfort are rumoured to have escaped carrying a great treasure which was then hidden somewhere in the locality. No one knows what the treasure was or where it went, but it was never seen again. 200 of the remaining Cathars were burnt at the stake as heretics and considered to be a threat to the Vatican.

A Queen of France, Blanche of Castile, married to Louis VIII, fled to Rennes le Chateau in the 12th Century at a time of rebellion bringing her treasure with her. She allegedly created an underground chamber and stored her treasure there together with the bodies of the builders!

Saunière made his first discovery, believed to have been a pot of gold, in the crypt. He also discovered a number of coded documents hidden in a compartment of the altar - clues to a secret, or a treasure, or both? To this day no one really knows the truth. In 1891 he notes in his diary that he has found a ‘tomb’ but does not elaborate.

Saunière is believed to have brought two other priests in on the secret; Henri Budet, the priest of nearby Rennes Le Bains, and Antoine Gelis the priest of nearby Coustaussa. Gelis was violently murdered in 1897 and it is now believed that Saunière may have had a hand in the murder in order to keep him from divulging the secret. All three would appear to have had access to large amounts of cash that remain unexplained to this day. Budet had written several well received books including ‘le Cromlech de Rennes le Bains’ in which he left a coded message revealing the secret and possibly its location.

church wall

One of the painted walls in the church
Rennes Le Chateau

Saunière was accused of selling mass’s illegally to raise the money. It was never proved and this would not have accounted for the amount of money spent. Also, he seemed to be protected by the Vatican, as if he had a hold over the Catholic Church. During this time he was visited by many luminaries from Paris and a Prince of the Royal house of Habsburg.

It is now suspected that the secret he discovered was far more important and far reaching than any treasure, and although he did not want to reveal the secret at the time, believing that the moment was not right, he foresaw a time in the future when it should be revealed. As he redecorated the church he designed into its fabric clues as to ‘what’ it may be and its current location.

coded scroll

For a 100 years academics from around the world have been trying to unravel the clues and discover the secret. Some 300 books have been written about the subject with many outlandish ideas, sceptics and accusations. To date no one has broken the code or the clues in the church and other messages that were left for the world to find. No one has come close to solving the mystery.

Until now.....

Bloodline- Inside the Tomb

Inside the tomb

Ben Hammott, an Englishman, began his quest for the treasure in the 1990’s and accidentally stumbled on a tomb close to Rennes le Chateau with his brother. They had been searching the area using the clues they had discovered in and around Saunière’s church. Whilst searching a cave Ben dropped his video camera down a narrow shaft and after some time and difficulty managed to hook it out with the aid of a stick. The video was still running with the light on. On the way back to the UK they decided to look at the tape of the trip and at the end they found that, when the camera had dropped down the hole, it had taken footage of what appeared to be a tomb with a body under a shroud on a large slab of rose marble.

The Body appeared to be surrounded by boxes, one of which is broken open and appears to contain coins and other valuables, a large wooden cross, what appeared to be parchments and a book/codex of some description. There is a blocked entrance off to one side of the tomb that clearly was the original entrance, but extensive searching has not revealed a tunnel entrance. There is no access to the tomb and images so far have been via a fibre optic camera fed down through the narrow fissure.

Bloodline- Cup and Jar in Chest

Ben went on to make more discoveries including a small chest, found after he dug up a series of bottles containing letters apparently signed by Saunière giving more clues. In the chest was an earthenware cup and oil jar, dated 1st century AD, 30 coins dated from 200 BC to 12th century and a glass phial containing a small parchment, carbon dated to the 15th century, with a small plan of what appears to be the Church at Rennes Le Chateau and indicating a Royal Crypt beneath the church.


A clue to ‘the secret’ is the marriage of Jesus and Mary Magdalene and their bloodline through their three children with its implications on biblical events and therefore the basis of Christianity and Catholicism.

In one of the letters found by Ben, Saunière repudiates the church and calls it false. Is the body in the tomb that of Mary Magdalene? He seems to be so thoroughly convinced by his discovery that the evidence must have been in the parchments or documents found with the body. The question is ‘are they still there?

It may or may not be significant, but a hair sample from the mummified corpse under the shroud has been DNA tested to show that it is of Middle Eastern origin and the corpse is believed to be that of a woman. Photos of the tomb itself have been shown to a number of authorities who have commented on how unusual the tomb is, particularly with the chests and other artefacts. All are unable to comment on its authenticity until it is opened. Ben is currently speaking to the appropriate French authorities with a view to excavating the tomb.

Perhaps one day, evidence will be found that confirms the Catholic Church has created the most elaborate cover up of all time?