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RENNES-LE-CHÂTEAU AND ITS AREA
Non est ad astra mollis e terris via.
Not far from the Naurouze Gap which separates the eastern Pyrenees from France's central massif lies the village of Rennes-le-Château. Mediterranean chestnut, Hermes oak and cork oak all flourish here in the eastern Pyrenees. Broom grows prolifically and ubiquitously on the hillsides, and there are countless hectares of tough, drought-resistant bushes of the species which are native to Provence.
The eastern Pyrenees are cut by the valleys of the Agly, the Tech and the Tet; and the Agly has sculpted an interesting line of cretaceous marls. The neighbouring Corbières with their hard palaeozoic core seem to be fighting a stubborn rearguard action on behalf of the central massif.
Rennes and its immediate surroundings rest on cretaceous limestone: the area is rich in sharp, jagged crests with stark, singular profiles, labyrinthine caves and subterranean rivers and streams. Despite the heavy undergrowth and afforestation on most of the nearby slopes, the hill on which Rennes itself stands is comparatively bleak. Only the scant, tough, mountain grasses and an occasional shrub cover its ponderous limestone base.
This absence of cover would have appealed to its original neolithic settlers (some of whose stone axe-heads and other artefacts have been discovered in the area by M. Henri Fatin, the owner of the ancient Château Hautpoul) as well as to the Celt-related Tectosages (an interesting ethnic title probably meaning "wise builders or makers, skilled craftsmen") who were probably living in Rennes at about the same time that Pericles was guiding the Athenians. The bare slopes of the hill on which Rennes-le-Château stands give its defenders a clear view of any potential enemies while they are still several kilometres away. Military strategists among the Romans, Visigoths, Septimanians, Merovingians, Carolingians and their successors would also have found Rennes an eminently defensible site.
Couiza lies on the main D118 road between the towns of Limoux in the north and Quillan in the south, while Rennes-le-Château it self is less than five kilometres south of Couiza. Montazels, which adjoins the western outskirts of Couiza, is a fascinating old hilltop village — "Mount Hazel" in its anglicised form, and some folklorists traditionally associate the hazel with wisdom. It was here in Montazels on April 11th, 1852, that Bérenger Saunière was born in a narrow, three-storeyed house with iron verandas overlooking the curious "Fountain of the Tritons". The Tritons depicted on this fountain are reminiscent of dolphins in many respects, but their heads are grotesque. The foreheads are much too high for an aquatic mammal, or for a fish, and the rows of regular teeth look distinctly human. Some early artists portrayed Triton, the son of Neptune and Amphitrite, as a man down to the waist, the rest of him being a fish's tail. The statue in the Vatican museum which shows Triton abducting a nymph portrays him with a horse's forelegs, as well as a human torso from the waist up — rather like a centaur.
Ancient tradition places Triton's home just off the coast of Libya, where he is said to live with his parents in a beautiful golden palace below the sea.
This "Fountain of the Tritons" may well be a significant clue in the Rennes mystery. Firstly, Saunière built his watchtower looking out directly towards his old home beside that fountain in Montazels, and with the fountain just behind us, we photographed Saunière's tower during a research visit to Montazels in 1990. Secondly, we believe, the Rennes mystery has links with the Money Pit on Oak Island, Nova Scotia, which we studied in 1988, and interviewed Dan Blankenship, the site manager. The Money Pit is currently being explored by a syndicate called Triton Alliance with whom Dan is closely associated. Thirdly, there is a very curious legend concerning the birth of Mérovée, alias Merovech, alias Merovaeus, the founder of the Merovingian Dynasty. According to this legend, Mérovée's mother, the wife of King Clodion le Chevelu (Clodion the longhaired), was impregnated twice before Mérovée was born: first by Clodion, then by some sort of merman, sea-monster or aquatic demi-god while she was swimming. Was this the mysterious Triton (whoever or whatever Triton really was)?
The traveller who follows the banks of the River Aude from north to south, as it flows to the west of Rennes-le-Château, comes first to Alet-les-Bains, then Castel Nègre (the Black Castle) followed by the turning to the east which leads to Luc (meaning light). Once south of Couiza, the Aude trail leads through the village of Campagne, the town of Quillan and on to Belvianes. Immediately south of Belvianes, the river passes between two dramatic and curiously named natural features: to the west le Trou du Curé (the Priest's Hole, or the Priest's Canyon); to the east Les Murailles du Diable (the Devil's Ramparts). The Black Castle beside the Village of Light? The Priest's Canyon opposite the Devil's Ramparts? No more than fanciful and romantic local place names perhaps, but in view of the strange rumours and legends saturating Rennes and the surrounding area they may be a clue to something more.
It is equally interesting to follow the course of the River Sals, which means "salt", and there is yet another strange coincidence here concerning names. Saunière can mean "salt-maker" and salt is a powerful religious symbol: it is a purifying agent used in rituals of exorcism; it represents the power of goodness and light; it heals and it cleanses; both literally and metaphorically it gives flavour and meaning to an otherwise dull and tasteless existence. Jesus himself told the first disciples that they were the salt of the earth. The Rennes mystery has connections with Shugborough Hall in Staffordshire, England, home of the extremely wealthy Admiral Anson. In the grounds of Shugborough Hall stands The Shepherd Monument: a mirror image in stone of Poussin's "Shepherds of Arcadia". Staffordshire is a salt county. Natural brine wells up to the surface in many places there. So much salt is produced that cattle standing in what the locals call the "plashes" of natural brine soon become white with crystalline salt.
A small tributary of the Sals called the Rialsesse, which flows into it from the east, passes close to the site of the Tomb of Arques, flowing at the very foot of the limestone promontory on which the tomb stood until it was unaccountably razed by the new owner of the site in 1988. The demolished tomb had been erected by an American named Lawrence in 1903, and was an exact replica of the one with the Et in Arcadia Ego inscription featured in Poussin's canvas.
It was Visigothic practice in the fifth century, and probably for some years afterwards, to bury their kings surrounded by their royal treasures in secret chambers concealed below river beds. The technique was to dam the river and divert its course temporarily while the bed was excavated and the burial chamber prepared. Once the dead king and his treasures were safely interred, and the waterproof subterranean chamber properly sealed, camouflaging sand and gravel would be raked over the site and the dam demolished. The all-concealing river then resumed its original course. Within a few weeks it would be almost impossible to locate the site, and, even if it was located, without sufficient manpower to divert the river again, it would be almost impossible to profane the king's tomb. Unless, of course, a secret passage was constructed ... perhaps from the base of a tomb on the bank?
Pierre Jarnac's Archives du Trésor de Rennes-le-Château reproduce our 1975 photographs of the Tomb of Arques and the two coffins it then contained. Jarnac records on the same page that a M. Adams says that the tomb also contains — or once contained — a very large iron wheel, fixed in the wall, and carrying an endless chain. It did not show up on our 1975 photographs, but that does not mean it wasn't there. It might simply have been out of camera range.
The Sals rises several kilometres southeast of Sougraine, and flows on northwest through Rennes-les-Bains. Shortly before entering this ancient village, the Sals is reinforced by the River Blanque, and immediately to the west of their confluence are three very curious and significant landmarks: the Dead Man; the Devil's Armchair and the Trembling Rock. Beside the road which follows the curve of the River Blanque, and immediately south of these three strange landmarks, lie the ruins of a very ancient mine; a few hundred metres south of that mine is a heritage.
As we follow the Sals through Rennes-les-Bains itself, we pass the ancient church where Boudet — at least as enigmatic a figure as Saunière — worked for so many years prior to the First World War, and the presbytery where he laboriously assembled his cryptic volume about the old Celtic language. This timeless settlement with its thermal springs — well-known since Roman times — has the same deep, secretive atmosphere that envelopes Rennes-le-Château.
From Rennes-les-Bains the Sals flows almost due north between the Pech Cardou to the west and the high slopes which hide the ruined Château Blanchefort to the east. Below Blanchefort juts the sinister Black Rock, and halfway up the mighty side of Cardou stands the White Rock: again that balance; again that challenge — it is as though the two cosmic forces of Good and Evil, Darkness and Light, Order and Chaos (central to the Gnostic beliefs of the Cathars who once thronged the Languedoc) are dramatically and repeatedly symbolised in so many of the rivers, mountains and landmarks of this mysterious region.
At the tiny hamlet of Pachevan, the Sals turns due east towards the little hillside village of Cassaignes. There is a mystery here, too. In the cemetery of Cassaignes, incongruous among the nineteenth and twentieth century tombs and memorial carvings which surround it, stands an ancient, weathered stone cross, unmistakably of octagonal Visigothic cross-section. It has probably stood there for fifteen hundred years. What mystery does it cover? To what secret hiding place does it point?
Coustaussa is the next hillside village. There is a ruined Château here, with gaunt stone fingers that point upwards starkly like the hand of a traveller who has died of thirst in the desert and still points accusingly at the merciless sun. In the cemetery of Coustaussa lies the body of the murdered priest, Antoine Gélis, savagely struck down by some unknown hand in his own presbytery, here in the village in 1893. A solitary and secretive old man, Gélis normally answered the door only to his niece, when she called with food or clean laundry for him. On the tragic evening when he neglected his own prudent rule, whoever — or whatever — got into his presbytery, attacked him with heavy iron fire-tongs, and finished him with an axe while he was apparently trying to struggle towards the window overlooking the street in a vain attempt to summon help. What seems even more sinister and macabre is that the murderer then coolly and calmly laid out the body — as solemnly and respectfully as a priest or an undertaker might have done.
There were three great pools of blood on the presbytery floor but there was not one telltale foot or fingerprint to be seen. Gélis had considerable sums of church money lying about the presbytery: none of these had been touched. A locked deed box, however, had been forced and the contents rifled. Very probably some interesting documents had been removed — but what were they? And what made them more important than the old priest's life? What strange, paradoxical, psychopathic type of killer could strike down a defenceless old man with an axe, and then spend vital getaway time in laying out the body?
There is another mystery centred on Coustaussa, which would not have come to our attention without the invaluable help of M. Henri Fatin, the proprietor of Château Hautpoul in Rennes-le-Château. M. Fatin showed us around his fascinating and historic home, and very generously gave us several hours of his time. Among the many interesting theories he discussed with us was the possibility that the actual street layout of Rennes-le-Château had been deliberately designed to approximate to the form of an ancient "boat of the dead" — including the gigantic outline of a dead warrior, complete with helmet. He lies with his back to the north, his head to the east — towards Jerusalem, the Holy City. His feet are towards the west — the Isles of the Dead, the Twilight Lands of the Setting Sun. The casque, or helmet, of this dead warrior is very plainly outlined, and Château Hautpoul occupies the midpoint of his back, approximately where the keel of the boat would join the underside of the hull. Having once been made aware of such a possibility through our discussions with M. Fatin, we noticed that the outline plan of the village of Coustaussa also bears an uncanny resemblance to the helmeted head of a dead warrior. Were these original street plans laid out as gargantuan memorials to ancient lords and heroes? Pyramids decay; the deepest lines carved on stone become indecipherable as aeons pass: but streets, tracks and roadways last as long as men walk them.
There is another possibility: deliberate designs of this size and scale are readily visible from above, and their outlines become clearer as the observer's distance from them increases. Compare this with the various giants and white horses cut into the chalk of several English hillsides, and the inexplicable lines of Nazca, which Erich von Däniken once maintained were intended for the use of ancient astronauts or aviators. In a mountainous district like that in which Rennes-le-Château is located there are numerous ridges, peaks and other viewpoints from which the layout of an entire village is clearly visible.
Almost due north of Rennes-le-Château, the Sals joins up with the Aude at Couiza, and, having briefly traced the courses of these rivers, we can centre our attention on Rennes itself and its relationship to the significant sites and landmarks nearby.
A bearing of zero degrees leads to the Black Castle. At 7 degrees we find Luc, the Village of Light; 39 degrees (significantly 13 x 3!) is the bearing for Coustaussa with its mysterious ruined Château and the grave of Antoine Gélis, its brutally murdered nineteenth century priest. A bearing of 55 degrees leads to Cassaignes, where the cemetery contains the ancient Visigothic cross — incongruous among the more modem memorials. The ruined Château Blanchefort is on a bearing of 72 degrees: exactly one fifth of the 360 degrees of a full circle, and exactly the size of each external angle in a regular pentagon. In Poussin's famous picture of the "Shepherds of Arcadia", the geometry of the painting is believed by at least one expert to be based on a regular pentagon, which extends outside the frame. The centre of this pentagon is said to coincide with the head of the shepherdess. Some other investigators are convinced that pentagons feature prominently in the landscape and topography of the Rennes area, and, of course, the pentagon has been regarded for centuries as a potent magical symbol.
A bearing of 87 degrees from Rennes-le-Château points towards the mysterious cave in the Bézis Valley, near what the maps usually label the Berco Petito, but which Stanley James refers to as Berque Petite in his Treasure Maps of Rennesle-Château. Taking a bearing of 105 degrees leads to Rennes-les-Bains; 114 degrees locates the village of Sougraine; 115 degrees takes us over to the Devil's Armchair; 117 degrees is the direct line to the Trembling Rock; the 121 degree line arrives first at the Dead Man and beyond that at the ancient mine close to the bank of the River Blanque where it runs parallel to the narrow, winding D14road connecting Rennes-les-Bains with Bugarach. The 147 degree bearing leads to the ruined Château of the Templars, which lies less than two kilometres to the west of Le Bézu.
Travelling due south from Rennes-le-Château on a bearing of 180 degrees brings the traveller to several more ancient mines. Exactly two kilometres due south of Rennes lies the Aven. The fascinating black dot which marks its location on the official map produced by the Institut Géographique National for the area is shown on the key as representing Entree de mine, d'excavation souterraine — entrance to a mine or subterranean excavation. Aven is close to the French word avenir with its sense of futurity, hopes, expectations and prospects. Merely a coincidence? Or is it another of those very curious verbal connections which appealed so strongly to the brilliant but devious mind of the author of La Vraie Langue Celtique, Abbé Henri Boudet?
Excerpted from Mysteries of Templar Treasure & the Holy Grail by Lionel Fanthorpe, Patricia Fanthorpe. Copyright © 1992 Lionel and Patricia Fanthorpe. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
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Introduction to the Mystery
Chapter 1: Rennes-le-Château and its Area
Chapter 2: The History of Rennes-le-Château
Chapter 3: Theological and Religious Factors
Chapter 4: The Real Messianic Message
Chapter 5: Lines, Shrines and Signs
Chapter 6: Codes, Ciphers and Cryptograms
Chapter 7: Magicians, Alchemists and Men of Mystery
Chapter 8: The Habsburg Connection
Chapter 9: Priests and Prelates
Chapter 10: The Overseas Enigma
Chapter 11: Glimpses and Glances
Chapter 12: Conclusions