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The conspiracy theories of Bérenger Saunière and Rennes-le-Château


Rennes-le-Château is a castle in small hilltop village in Southern France that is at the center of many conspiracy theories. Some say that priest Bérenger Saunière discovered buried treasure in the 19 th century, but there are many conflicting theories and stories about what exactly transpired in this area filled with beautiful scenery etched with deep river canyons.

Picturesque view from Rennes-le-Château

Picturesque view from Rennes-le-Château (Wikimedia Commons)

The history of Rennes-le-Château reflects the history of many other European villages. It began with a prehistoric encampment, followed by a Roman villa. The area was a part of Septimania during the 6th and 7th centuries. Thirty thousand people lived in the city around 500-600 AD, with the number of castles rapidly increasing in the area around 1002 AD. In modern times, Rennes-le-Château became very famous when stories from the mid-1950s concerning Roman Catholic priest, Francois Bérenger Saunière, influenced modern writings including The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, published in 1982, and The Da Vinci Code, published in 2003.

Medieval stone wall and tower at Rennes, France

Medieval stone wall and tower at Rennes, France. Source: BigStockPhoto

The stories told about Rennes-le-Château and Bérenger Saunière consist of many theories, revolving around all matters of conspiracies involving the Blanche of Castile, the Merovingians, the Knights Templar, the Cathars, and later, the Priory of Sion, the Holy Grail, Mary Magdalene, and the remains of Jesus Christ.

The starting ground for these conspiracy theories involve Bérenger Saunière. He was the priest of a small village from the late 19 th to early 20 th centuries. Somehow, Saunière came across large sums of money – amounts so large that it is unimaginable how a small village priest could come to have such wealth. This led to much speculation as to where and how he got the money. Some say that he discovered a buried treasure, but this theory has never been substantiated.

François Bérenger Saunière

François Bérenger Saunière (Wikipedia)

During his first few years in the village, Saunière lived in poverty. He kept meticulous accountings of his money, which showed that in 1892 he owed a debt of 105 francs and had savings of 80.65 francs. From the 1890s on, his papers showed that he spent an alarming total of 660,000 francs. As a priest, he earned a salary of 900 francs per year. Around 1880, the going rate for a single mass was 1 franc, so it is difficult to imagine that Saunière could have earned such an income on performing mass alone. In 1910–1911 Bérenger Saunière was summoned by the bishopric to appear before an ecclesiastical trial to face charges of “mass trafficking” - receiving money for masses that he never actually performed. He was found guilty and suspended of the priesthood. When asked to produce his account books he refused to attend his trial.

Even if Saunière was guilty of this, he could not have collected enough through this practice to amount to the sums he spent over his lifetime. As his life came to an end, Saunière began having financial difficulties. It has been noted that this time in his life corresponded with the start of World War I, which may indicate that his funds were held abroad and he could no longer access them.


Rennes-le-Château (Wikimedia Commons)

Saunière’s income and spending have led to many conspiracy theories about Rennes-le-Château and where the money may have come from. Some say he came across a buried treasure. Others accused him of digging graves and stealing from the dead. When his spending was investigated by the church, Saunière claimed that the money had been gifted to him. Marie Dénarnaud, the faithful housekeeper who was accused of digging through graves with Saunière, claimed to know a secret that would make one extremely wealthy. When Noel Corbu purchased the Saunière estate from her, she told him she would tell him a secret that would make him powerful and rich. However, prior to her death, Dénarnaud had a fit that left her unable to write or speak. She ultimately took her secret to the grave.

During the 1950s, Corbu began circulating stories that Saunière was in possession of parchments, which he found while renovating his church in 1892, and that these were linked the treasure of Blanche de Castile, supposedly amounting to 28,500,000 gold pieces. This was the treasure of the French crown assembled by Blanche de Castile, wife of Louis VIII, to pay the ransom of her son Louis IX (Saint Louis), who was captured during a crusade. The surplus was said to have been hidden at Rennes-le-Château.

Blanche de Castille with Saint Louis by Jean Baptiste Jouvenet

Blanche de Castille with Saint Louis by Jean Baptiste Jouvenet (Wikimedia Commons)

It was during the 1960s that Corbu’s stories took on a life of their own, and ignited interest in the case of Saunière and Rennes-le-Château. Corbu’s account of Saunière reached the ears of Pierre Plantard, a French draughtsman who is famous for claiming to be a direct Merovingian descendant and for being the principal perpetrator of the Priory of Sion story. Plantard adapted Corbu’s story and entwined it within the mythological account of the Priory of Sion, which inspired the 1967 book L'Or de Rennes by author Gérard de Sède. The book had photographs purportedly showing the parchments discovered by Saunière, but a friend of Plantard later admitted to forging the parchments and both Plantard and his friend were also involved in planting fabricated documents in France's Bibliothèque Nationale that dealt with the secret history of the Priory of Sion.

A decade later and the story of Saunière became even more convoluted and mixed up with conspiracies relating to the ‘Jesus bloodline’, made popular in the bestselling book ‘Holy Blood, Holy Grail’. Wikipedia reports:

“In 1969, a British supporting actor and screenwriter for the BBC by the name of Henry Lincoln read de Sède's book while on holiday in the Cévennes in 1969 that led him to inspire three BBC Two Chronicle documentaries between 1972-1979, working some of its material into the 1982 non-fictional bestseller Holy Blood, Holy Grail, that he co-wrote with Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh. The book claimed Bérenger Saunière discovered proof (possibly the Marriage Certificate) that Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene were married and their descendants became the Merovingian dynasty. Among the book's hypotheses are the possibilities that this was the secret of the Priory of Sion; that Pierre Plantard could have been the descendant of Jesus Christ; that the source of Saunière's wealth could have involved the blackmailing of the Vatican.”

This theme was further picked up by Dan Brown for his famous historical novel, ‘The Da Vinci Code’, which led to a further surge of interest in Rennes-le-Château. The story of the castle and the priest with his hidden treasure has since become popularized in radio shows, TV programs, and films, and it is now virtually impossible to separate fact from fiction in this complicated conspiracy story. 

To this day, the secret of Saunière’s fortune remains a mystery. Many theories as to where he got the money have been developed, but none substantiated. Was he a dishonest priest, highly skilled in mass trafficking? Did he come across buried treasure? Was his money kept and hidden overseas? We may never know the real story of Saunière and his fortune, the truth of which he most likely took to his grave when he passed away on 22 January 1917.

Saunière's Grave in Rennes-le-Château

Saunière's Grave in Rennes-le-Château (Wikipedia)

Featured image: Rennes-le-Château (Wikimedia Commons)


Mysteries of Rennes-le-Château and the Prieure du Sion – Dreamscape. Available from:

Mystery of Rennes-le-Château - Rennes-le-Chateau Research and Resource. Available from:

Rennes-le-Château – Wikipedia. Available from:

By M R Reese



I cannot believe, they really believed the priest was mass trafficking. They must have known it impossible. More likely they found him guilty to remove him from the public eye, in the hope the rumours of grave digging would stop.

Sunny Young

Peter Harrap's picture

Reading between the lines can make you blind to truth. You can look at ANY image at all and turn it into a conspiracy theory. ANY. You can read any novel and find in it whatever interpretation you fancy. ANY.

But although these stories can be great fun, and even interesting on cold winter evenings in the western hemisphere, or landlocked and snowbound on the plains of Tibet and Mongolia (It was a dark and wintry night, and the Captain said, "Gather round lads, and I'll tell you a story". " It was a dark and windy night...."

Does nobody consider these timewasting exercises ever the result of our appalling weather?. In hot countries NOBODY indulges in such insanity. What we have is a certain fixation on visual representations, plans, maps and suchlike that exist because we decorate homes we spend so much time in, but surely we must not then allow ourselves to regard purely material human artifacts as indications of the divine!!

It's ridiculous. I can remember a fellow traveller handing me the "Holy Blood and the Holy Grail" to read years ago in Delhi where I was waiting days for a flight home. I read a few chapters, and nauseated by its fiction dumped it in a bin in the street in disgust.

When Berenger Sauniere the Priest of Rennes-le-Chateau discovered the Parchments in his Altar pillar he realised the symbol at the bottom of Parchment 2 was a monogram and read ‘N Povsin’. He also saw that the symbol on P1 – the ‘triangle with tails’, could be drawn through the heads of the shepherds on Poussin’s painting of the ‘Arcadian Shepherds’. He noted that the second shepherd was pointing at the letter ‘R’ (followed by the ‘C’) in the word ARCADIA … R-le-C and identified the ‘heads’ as hills on the map (the painting is a map) – the first shepherd was Rennes-le-Chateau, the second is the low hill Bois du Lauzet, the third is Auriol; the tall female with the white headband is Cardou with the chalky outcrop : the end of the upper ‘tail’. The lower ‘tail’ on the map points directly to Rennes les Bains. Sauniere also saw the P2 symbol named the place of the treasure … st NAZ(aire Et Celse) the Church at Rennes les Bains.
The Abbe Henri Boudet, the priest of St Nazaire Et Celse had years before Sauniere found the treasure – the Cardinals of Rome knew of it and commissioned Poussin to record it in Pictures – the Knight Templar had known of it, it’s secret is set out in Rosslyn Chapel, at Shugborough and in Temple Church London and what is more someone at Rennes les Bains also knows.

Geoffrey Morgan

Interesting stuff! Describing daVinci Code as a historical novel was more generous than I would be, however!

mrreese's picture

M R Reese

M R Reese is a writer and researcher with a passion for unlocking the mysteries of ancient civilizations. She believes that only by understanding where we come from, can we truly understand our life path and purpose. She has earned... Read More

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