Rennes-Le=Chateau, Languedoc, Occitania, South France

Rennes-Le-Chateau, Aude, Languedoc-Roussillon, South France
Mysterious Corbieres mystical village, near Limoux, and Carcassonne

tower in rennes-le-chateau languedoc
Rennes Le Chateau Tower

Why does the hilltop village of Rennes-le-chateau in the Corbières attract so many visitors, books, films ?

It began in the 1950's when a businessman decided to open a restaurant in Rennes-le-Château after the second World War. Times were hard and so he put a tape recording, later a video recording, on the tables of the restaurant as a gift to his clients.

The recordings explained that the local priest in the village, Bérenger Saunière, who served there from 1885 to 1917, had discovered a fortune which was – although sources were never revealed – the money hoarded by Blanche of Castille to pay the ransom for her son, Louis IX, who was being held captive by the Saracens in the 11th century. Or maybe he had found the long lost Treasure of Jerusalem? The story hit the Parisian newspapers and Rennes-le-Château became a hot tourist spot.

To find it, you take the D118 road south from Carcassonne, pass through Limoux and Alet-les-Bains and arrive at Couiza. Once there you cross the river Sals and look for a small sign-post pointing you to the left as you leave Couiza, for Rennes-le-Château. The road winds upwards, with a wonderful new view on every bend, until you reach the village with its church, ruined château, two restaurants, two bookshops (with books in English), and the Domain of Bérenger Saunière, the priest who discovered a fortune. He arrived at the village in 1885 and started renovating his church. He decorated it with brightly coloured paintings, many, apparently, based on masonic symbolism.

The story of the day he discovered a secret doorway and went down into the crypt, is masked by legend; but he did discover something valuable enough to enable him to build a house and live a lifestyle rivalling the wealthiest minor nobility of southern France. In 1969 a book was published in French, telling an amazing tale of secret documents with coded messages being discovered by Saunière, of mysterious murders of people who knew the secret, of caches of gold, of adulterous alliances, of links to the Royalty of Europe, of the amazing story that, via the Merovingians, the rightful kings of France, the descendant of Jesus himself was alive and well and living in Paris.

rex mundi - the god of the material world - rennes-le-chateau
Rex Mundi - God of the Material World
porch of rennes-le-chateau church, languedoc
Porch of the church at Rennes-Le-Chateau
alfred sauniere
Priest Alfred Sauniere

This was picked up by English authors and TV people who went on to make a series of television programmes and publish a book called “The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail.” This later became the inspiration was the bestseller by Dan Brown – “The Da Vinci Code.” Hundreds of books have been published, each with a different theory of the source of the treasure.

Some believe the decorations of the church carried secret messages and further treasure is still to be discovered! Other believe the “secret” to be religious and linked with Mary Magdalene. An old legend of the region says she came to Rennes-le-Château with Jesus himself and they preached very early Christianity which later became Catharism. The Cathers were obliterated as heretics in the 13th century; a history that had never been forgiven or forgotten by the local people of the region.

The Corbières around Rennes-le-Château, and the Pay de Sault to the west of them, were the final hide-outs for the Cathars.

Now an English writer living in the region has investigated the old legend and carried the story one step further. She has lived and France for 15 years and studied the Rennes-le-Chäteau mysteries for 20 years. Her book is called; “Mary, Jesus and the Charismatic Priest” and is the latest slant on the mysteries that have held us in thrall for over forty years. Her book is beautifully-presented and consists of 100 pages of fascinating text plus over 150 colour photographs. The story starts with a very down-to-earth account of Bérenger Saunière and the times he lived in as a priest, and the source of his wealth is discovered. He had to keep his secret to the end because of his Roman faith. Two of his friends who knew it were murdered for it, and his housekeeper, who lived until 1953 after he died, never told a soul. From there the author investigated the possibility that Mary Magdalene and Jesus came to the region after the crucifixion and concludes they founded a form of early Christianity that led to Catharism. She tells us; “People think this book is religious but no - it is really alternative history that treats Mary and Jesus as real people, with real human passions.”

Explore France
Visit Ceret, near Perpignan or Conques, near Rodez, Aveyron or

Cordes sur Ciel, Tarn or Villefranche-de-Conflent, near Perpignan