The Portal: An Initiate's Journey into the Secret of Rennes-le-Chateau

The Portal: An Initiate's Journey into the Secret of Rennes-le-Chateau

by Patrice Chaplin

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The true-life memoir Patrice Chaplin began in City of Secrets continues here in the story of her spiritual initiation into the Kabbalistic tradition preserved since the Middle Ages by a secret society in the pre-Roman city of Girona, Spain. Salvador Dalí was a member of that society, as was the renowned author Umberto Eco, the filmmaker Jean Cocteau,


The true-life memoir Patrice Chaplin began in City of Secrets continues here in the story of her spiritual initiation into the Kabbalistic tradition preserved since the Middle Ages by a secret society in the pre-Roman city of Girona, Spain. Salvador Dalí was a member of that society, as was the renowned author Umberto Eco, the filmmaker Jean Cocteau, and Jancint Verdeguer, one of the most celebrated Catalan poets. Importantly, so was the mysterious Berenger Sauniere, the priest who in the late 1800s built Rennes-le-Château in southern France, with the Tour Magdala, a tower that is twin to the neo-gothic tower in Girona. In this gripping story that reads like the adventures of a female Castenada, Chaplin is led through a series of initiatory stages which correspond to the magical square of Venus, containing the constellation of the Great Bear.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Chaplin's latest continues the Grail mysteries and New Age practices explored in her City of Secrets memoir. This time the author, daughter-in-law of legendary comedian Charlie Chaplin, and a guide traverse cities and landmarks in southern France and northern Spain that fall on energy-rich ley lines--geographic locations that resonate with mystical force. One stop is Rennes-le-Château, the small French church popular with speculative historians of the Holy Grail. Chaplin's journey is an initiation into a secret order charged with protecting esoteric information and involves fasting, chanting, and a psychic baptism. The Dan Brown-meets-On the Road journey culminates with an experience at the summit of Mt. Canigou in southern France, in which the author's life, and lives past, flash before her. Heaped onto the Grail mythos are references to Cabala, numerology, astrology, chakras, and astral travel that are rattled off much too quickly for clarity. Chaplin is an able writer but repeatedly falls into lengthy reveries about a lost lover and her bohemian youth, slowing momentum and diverting focus from the spiritual narrative. While some may enjoy this, most Grail researchers and occult specialists will find the author's claims unsupported and unlikely. (Sept.)
From the Publisher

"Readers of the Da Vinci Code will be fascinated with this real-life drama of magic and intrigue! The truth is out there, and Patrice Chaplin has lived it!
" --Kathleen McGowan, author of The Source of Miracles

"A story of love and magic steeped in the truth, a story that will stay with you years after you read the last pages.
" --Kathleen McGowan, New York Times best-selling author of The Expected One and The Book of Love

"Patrice Chaplin becomes the first author in decades, to add something original to the Rennes-le-Chateau mystery. No one except her has been so involved in the decipherment of a century-old secret that, if we could put under control in the near future, it could give a quantum leap in our evolution. The Portal is, no doubt, the missing piece in the Rennes-le-Chateau puzzle.
" --Javier Sierra, New York Times best-selling author of The Lady in Blue

"The Grail mystery: Patrice Chaplin lived it and is conveying its incredible nature to the reader." --Philip Coppens, investigative journalist and author of The Stone Puzzle of Rosslyn Chapel and Servants of the Grail

"Chaplin continues the epic literary journey that she started in 'Happy Hour' and 'City of Secrets'. The reward is an enchanting tale of love and nothing less than the truth." --Corjan, Singer/Songwriter and publisher of Rennes-le-Chateau Research and Resource

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Quest Books
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5.64(w) x 11.06(h) x 1.02(d)

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The Portal

An Initiate's Journey into the Secret of Rennes-le-Château

By Patrice Chaplin

Theosophical Publishing House

Copyright © 2010 Patrice Chaplin
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8356-0888-6


The poor priest in a rundown church in a little-known village in the Aude district of southern France could hardly eke out a living. His account books showed a hand-to-mouth existence. Then one morning, without explanation, he became fabulously rich. The year was 1891, and he was thirty-eight years old.

How did he get the money? What had he done? The answer to those questions has been a mystery ever since and in the last three decades a source of continuing speculation, producing books, TV documentaries, and the basis for the novel and film of Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code.

The priest, Bérenger Saunière, was born in 1852, in Montazels, a small village south of the medieval town of Carcassonne in France. As was customary in large families at that time, he went into the Church. Ambitious and intelligent, he seemed destined for a promising clerical career, but after a short term in the seminary in Narbonne, he was placed in the rundown parish of Rennes-le-Château. With a donation from a member of the Habsburg dynasty, Saunière began to repair and restore his church. In 1891, while removing the altar columns, he discovered four scrolls, two with coded messages. These, it appears, were the source of his wealth.

He took the scrolls immediately to the Church of St-Sulpice in Paris and, while they were being examined, was introduced to esoteric and secret societies. Was this where his involvement with a mystery unholy and still not resolved began?

On his return from Paris, Saunière continued the restoration of the church, discovering Templar emblems, gold, and ritual stones. A number of theories now exist that Saunière's great and continuing wealth was the result variously of alchemy, blackmailing the Vatican, or obtaining proof that Jesus and the Magdalene produced a child and thus began the divine bloodline that continued in France. It is also theorized that the Habsburgs were his paymasters.

Saunière restored the church in a manner that provoked curiosity and shock. He built the Villa Bethania, a substantial house in the Renaissance style, and the Tour Magdala, a neo-Gothic tower facing southeastern Spain. He created a park, a zoo, an orangery; he gave lavish entertainments and planned for a paved road down to the nearby village of Couiza. He lived a sumptuous and extravagant life. This country priest Saunière met intellectuals and celebrities who would not normally have crossed his path: Mallarmé, Maeterlinck, Debussy. Such celebrities became visitors to Saunière's home in Rennes-le-Château, and it was rumoured that he had a liaison with opera singer Emma Calvé, the Maria Callas of the time.

The Archduke Johann von Habsburg took an interest in Saunière's restoration, and the two men opened bank accounts with consecutive numbers. Saunière's maid, Marie Denarnaud, was dressed in the latest Parisian fashions and called 'Madonna' by the villagers.

By all accounts, Saunière liked grand things and important people. So why did he stay in a backwater? Was it because he couldn't leave? Did fear keep him in the rundown parish? He and his maid died without leaving any explanation of the source of his wealth; but I have been told more than once that his paymasters paid him too well for him to do as he pleased, and that they demanded he stay at the church and work as they needed.

Saunière did make short journeys for a few days at a time, but to where and for what? Did he go to Paris? Nearby Carcassonne? The parishioners said he crossed the border into northeastern Spain. Many years later, I came to learn that he went to the ancient city of Girona. This pre-Roman site, forty miles inland from the Costa Brava, has a vast old quarter, Arab baths, and monumental churches. Its predominantly Gothic cathedral, believed to have begun as a simple pagan temple, features a disproportionately large nave, and the fact that the building still stands at all is considered a miracle.

Bells ring across the forest of stone that is Girona every fifteen minutes, day and night. The old part survives—gloriously, with cobbled alleys, crumbling stairways, and deep arches leading to unexpected courtyards—all stone, medieval, or pre-Roman, with parts of the original city wall still standing as clumps of stone, four thousand years old. The buildings, huge buttresses of Roman skill, lean together across the strip of street, leaving only a shine of brilliant sky. The stones make the town echo and enhance all sound. Only the bells are free as they toll high above the old town. Girona holds onto its atmosphere and makes sure the past is there always, solid, unconquered by decay. It was to this city that the French priest came.

Nobody could have known the purpose of Saunière's visits in the 1890s, and they still wouldn't know it today if it weren't for an unthinkable, unacceptable, yet inevitable fact—people grow old and die. Facing death, the custodians of hidden material in Girona—those who held what the priest had come there for—needed conclusive outcomes. What had seemed beneficent in their youth and bound them together in maturity became another thing altogether as they became more opinionated and despairing in the emergence of death's shadow. They disagreed. Secrets leaked a little. Suddenly, too many outsiders seemed to know something. This was in the summer of 2003.

In antiquity, before the Romans arrived, Girona had been an Iberian trading centre. The Iberians, the first-known inhabitants of the area, lived in the Catalan country village of Ullastret at least five thousand years ago. The Phoenicians settled in Girona province, leaving artefacts and sacrificial stones. The Greeks left a settlement along the coast: Empuriés, a Spanish translation of the Greek Emporion, with rows of still-existing sculpted figures in some decay, looking out to sea. Along that coast, many villages have names based on the Greek influence.

The Romans built a large part of what is now Girona's old quarter. Charlemagne marched into the city and left his influence, as did Napoleon III. Girona won the Moorish contest but lost against Franco in the Civil War in the 1930s. Every invader left some mark.

Perhaps because so many cults and religions had flourished in Girona, not one of them is remembered exceptionally. The only visible sign of what has been so important there and then completely forgotten are the stones. Historical finds occur frequently, giving evidence of even older civilisations than local historians could have predicted; and today Girona celebrates this past with fiestas, legends, ritual, and theatre.

Situated between the frontier with France and the Catalan capital of Barcelona, Girona has always been a city of passage. Those anonymous travellers passing through it had left little trace, making it a good place to hide what must never show its name.

When I first set foot in Girona in the 1950s, I knew this was where I should be. I was fifteen, a bohemian, hitchhiking through Europe with my friend Beryl. We were travelling south, taking the roads as they came, running not away from anything but towards freedom. We wanted to be gypsies. On the evening we entered the town, the local craftsmen were lighting fires at the edge of the old quarter, and the sky was violet and flashing with huge, flat stars. The sun was setting behind the last bridge in a blaze of scarlet rage. The narrow streets were full of music, perfume, the smell of wood smoke. The church bells chimed as though for a celebration, and then all the lights of the city came on—hundreds of yellow eyes. It was a true welcome.

It was said that the stones of Girona had a magnetism that drew certain people back time and time again. Carcassonne, an ancient, fortified French town in the former province of Languedoc, had the same legend, and I heard it had to do with ley lines. At certain points across the earth, the energy builds up and creates a pull, a pulse, and in these places unusual and mystical things happen. In Girona, on certain days, depending on the wind, even the air was charged, producing an instant excitement. As I said in City of Secrets, you were seduced and changed into a different person, into the town's lover, because that's what the town wanted. You laid your heart on the narrow streets like a newborn child at a sacrifice. The town approved of offerings on a grand scale. A stranger could never really belong. It was a question of the stones, not the inhabitants. The stones housed the power.

The spirit of the town was what mattered. It had to approve of you; otherwise, you'd pass through that old quarter and it would show you nothing. I believe the spirit of Girona did approve of me as I was then. Of course it would not let me go; a town's love does not die. At the time, a lovely fifties optimism prevailed, and no political regime—even that of Franco's then tyrannizing Spain—could quite suppress that. The town was touched by dreams, dreams from other centuries that appeared in legends and were passed down in poetry, songs, and even the cries of birds.

The day I first entered Girona when I was fifteen, I remember standing on the side of the river that wound through the centre of the town knowing that if I crossed the clanking, iron bridge built by Eiffel and stepped onto the other bank, I'd be in an unimaginable land and changed forever.

The thought was providential. The first person I saw on the other side of the bridge was José Tarres. All the radios were playing a haunting Spanish song I thought was a flamenco chart buster. (It was in fact an advertising jingle for Torres chocolate.) The music was full of the melancholy and desire that Spain conjures up, and I thought it announced the beginning of a huge, even deadly, passion. How right I was.

As time went on, I could not have known that my unsurpassable feelings for this man and the town echoed those of another woman half a century before. A Frenchwoman, her name was Maria Tourdes, and she had been the lover of Bérenger Saunière, priest of Rennes-le-Château. She was surely one reason for his frequent visits to Girona, although he had others, as well. I think Beryl and I, as we first walked on that superb evening through those ancient streets, sensed the imprint of some of this intrigue, although of course we could glean nothing of its outer, knowable form and could not have put any of it into words.

José Tarres—charismatic poet, defender of his Catalan province against the rape of Franco's dictatorship, keeper of the old customs that had survived through the centuries—celebrated his birthplace with fiestas, dances, and language, making Girona come alive and unlike any other area of Spain. That was the part I knew. He himself was unlike anyone I'd ever met. Over the last half-century, that hasn't changed.

Beryl and I stayed in his small, family-run hotel, the Residencia International, behind the Ramblas. It was the heart of the old quarter and the base for considerable resistance against Franco's regime operating from Madrid. The guests passing through the hotel from France to Barcelona or for holidays on the then-untouched Costa Brava were sophisticated and well-off. Others stayed permanently on full pension and had work or business in the area. Local artists also made the Residencia International their home. Dances were held every Saturday night on the ground floor to live music with a singer of tangos. The hotel, steeped in atmosphere, had the feeling of being cared for and shown to advantage, its identity provided by José, who always brought out the essence of wherever he was. Jean Cocteau stayed in the hotel while making a short film about a poet in love with a local girl whose lost shoe in his hands turned into a rose. Umberto Eco stayed in a room behind the bar.

I knew José completely and utterly from the first glance and felt that the whole of my life until then had been merely a time of waiting. Over the years I understood he loved his town more than he could ever love a woman or, indeed, himself. If necessary, he would have protected it with his life. Catalan history was spotted with charismatic figures who, bearing the secret of the stones of the city, cherished and defended it. They were a product of the soil and of the myths and religions that had flourished there.

After dinner at Chez Beatrice (a small dining room run by two sisters) for forty pesetas, José and I would walk through the alley seething with stray cats into the old quarter, never tiring of the city's strong skyline with the cathedral, the Church of St Felix, and, oddly, an ordinary house with a rather grand neo-Gothic tower that stuck up incongruously amidst the ancient buildings. José said it belonged to a Frenchwoman and would say no more.

Cocteau set his film around that house with the tower. The Frenchwoman, Maria Tourdes, had lived there apparently alone since the 1890s. The garden was overgrown and treacherous with holes and tricky weeds. The surrounding walls, some of them forming part of the ancient city wall, were broken, and steps up inside this formation provided another entrance to the house. A huge royal palm tree gave a wonderful, deep shade for which we were grateful, its branches seeming to cover the garden. The tower, a mere hundred years old, was attached to the side of the house facing the sacred mountain of the Catalans, Mt Canigou. The house, much older, was built behind the cathedral, from which the organ music filled the rooms, shook the windows. The garden, known as the Black Cemetery, had been a burial ground for priests.

'Oh, this house used to be splendid,' said José's uncle, the cathedral organist. 'Here there was a superb garden, the talk of Girona in its time. The house was done in the Parisian style. They had a carriage and entertainments. Debussy came here.' He pointed to a sign over the garden entrance: House of Canons. 'The clergy always lived here. The Frenchwoman was the first secular individual to own this house.'

At the time of my visit, Cocteau was arranging ladders to get inside the tower. He cast me in the role of the girl the poet loved, but I didn't think he really wanted to make a film. He wanted to be inside that house. He mentioned the 'society', and it seemed José wanted him silent on that subject. After Cocteau's visits, I used to climb into what I thought was a deserted garden, and when José found out he said I must never go there. I asked why. 'Because it is cursed' is all he would say.

In that time in the fifties, José enhanced life; he drew people close and had the power to transform them. He certainly transformed me. But he would suddenly be gone for hours, days, without explanation. I learned from the hotel cook that he was involved in a political group. When the grey police, the dreaded ones in 'blind cars'—cars without lights—raided the Residencia International, I understood that José was more than simply a poet. He was a Catalan Nationalist supporting fighters against Franco, hiding them in the hotel and helping them escape across the Pyrénées into France. I believed that accounted for the air of undeniable mystery around him.

But the issue of José's mysteriousness was much more complex. It took my discovery of a nocturnal group that faded away in the light of day for me to begin to understand his true identity. The group—which turned out to be the members of the secret society—was made up of established professionals: a banker, lawyers, a priest, Masons, a French industrialist, the wealthy, and the scholarly. They met at various locations, including the house of the French-woman. José was the society's custodian. Much later, I understood that the role he'd taken had been in existence for hundreds of years. José's family had held the position for the past century, and as a young man he had been sent for two years to Ripoll, a small town in the mountains, to prepare for the responsibility.

The role was documented in the Middle Ages, when secret practices that had been known in ancient Egypt were further experimented with in Girona—practices that transformed life as it was understood. Considered unsuitable for public knowledge, the material had always been withheld and kept in the care of a private society. (In Catalunia, the classification 'private' was preferred to 'secret'.) The material was handed down and the group renewed when necessary with chosen members, the intention being always to keep the content hidden and not to make personal use of its properties. The prevailing sense was that a time would come perhaps when the world would be a more optimistic and safe place for such knowledge to be revealed.


Excerpted from The Portal by Patrice Chaplin. Copyright © 2010 Patrice Chaplin. Excerpted by permission of Theosophical Publishing House.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Patrice Chaplin is an internationally renowned playwright and author who has written twenty-six books; her novel Siesta became a film starring Jodie Foster and Isabella Rossellini. As a Bohemian in Paris during the 50's and 60's, she spent time with Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. Married to Charlie Chaplin's son Michael and living and working in Hollywood, she was friends with everyone from Lauren Bacall and Miles Davis, to Salvador Dali and Jean Cocteau, who gave her a starring role in one of his films. with Lauren Bacall, Miles Davis, and Salvador Dali. Chaplin has contributed to collections of short stories, including "Black Valentine" and "The Minerva Book of Short Stories". Her plays, documentaries, and short stories have been extensively written and adapted for radio. The short story "Night in Paris" has been translated in many countries, and other short stories of hers have appeared in magazines and newspapers, including The Independent. Her stage play "From the Balcony" was commissioned by The National Theatre in London in conjunction with Radio 3 and was performed at the Cottesloe Theatre. She has also written articles for publications including The Guardian, The Sunday Times, The Jewish Chronicle, The Daily Mail, Marie Claire, and The London Magazine. Today, Chaplin finds herself thrown deep into the Grail culture, and at the heart of a raging new controversy about the reality of the Rennes-le-Château mystery. Chaplin is the director of The Bridge®, a non-profit organization that leads workshops based in the performing arts as a new and unique way to help fight addiction. She resides in London and is currently writing The Garden of the Frenchwoman.

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