Berenger Saunière

François Berenger Saunière was born on April 11th,  1852 in Montazels.

He was the eldest of 7 children: 3 sons (Alfred,  Martial,  Joseph) and 3 daughters (Mathilde,  Adeline,  Marie-Louise). 


He was the son of Marguerite Hugues and Joseph Saunière (1823-1906),  also called "cubié".  His father had been the mayor of Montazels.  He also managed the flour mill and he was the steward of Marquis de Cazermajou’s castle.  His three sons studied a lot.  Alfred became a priest; Joseph wanted to be a physician but he died at 25.  Berenger was insolent,  independent,  fundamentalist.  He rebeled against hierarchy.  He was an athlete,  with deep eyes.  He went at school at St.  Louis in Limoux.  He entered the seminary in Carcasonne in 1874. 


He was ordained as a priest in June,  1879.  He was a vicar in Alet from July 16th 1879 to 1882,  a priest in the deanery of Clat (282 inhabitants) from June,  1882 to 1885.  He was a teacher in the seminary in Narbonne but,  because he was unsisciplined,  he was appointed to Rennes le Château (298 inhabitants) on June 1st,  1885. 


He was anti-republican and he had to leave the diocese from December 1st to July,  1886 to give lessons once more in the seminary of Narbonne.  As the villagers wanted him to come back,  the prefect changed his mind and called him back.  In May 1890,  he also said mass in Antugnac on Sundays.  At fifty he had a glass eye.  He often played lottery (loterie de la maison des artistes)

He had an ambiguous relationship with Marie Denarnaud.  When he arrived,  he lived with Marie’s family in the presbytery,  but as he didn’t get along very well with her mother,  he left and lived in the building that he had built next to the churchyard. 


One can read in his diary,

4/19/1892 : came back from Carcassonne,  drama on the evening,  Marie came back home.
4/22/1892 : fine weather,  Marie goes on bringing my meals. .

He resigned on February 1st,  1909 and was no longer a priest in 1911.  He was sued for trafficking in masses in 1915.  He lived the rest of his life penniless,  selling religious medals and rosaries to wounded soldiers who were stationed in Campagne les Bains.  He was accused of taking in German spies.

He had a attack on January 17th 1917,  and he died on January 22nd.

When he died,  many books from his library were bought by the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers,  a British organization which also bought Father Hoffet’s library.




Maison natale

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Sauniere Berenger



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Asmodeus The Devil


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Saunière Alfred

Beranger’s brother

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Denarneau Marie


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Calve Emma



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Boudet Henri
Rennes les Bains Priest


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Gélis Antoine
Coustaussa Priest murdered

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Dujardin Beaumetz Etienne


Jean Salvator d’Autriche



Beauvain de Beausejour Paul-Félix
He was the bishop of Carsassonne in 1902

La Comtesse de Chambord



L’abbé Pons
Father doesn’t really belong to the story.  He was appointed as a priest in Rennes le Château in 1836.  He was a crook who asked money to accomplish miracles and to heal ill people.  He was born in 1806





Billard Arsène
Felix arsene Billard was born in st Valery en Caux on october 23rd 1829.  Started teaching in the school Jom Lambert.  Ordained as a priest on october 4th 1853.  Appointed as a vicar in St Remy de Dieppe on June 29th 1858.  Appointed as a vicar in st Patrice de Rouen on February 2nd 1860.  Appointed as a vicar at the cathedral in Rouen on November 14th 1863.  Appointed as a curate in Caudebec les Elbeuf on August 1868.  Became a canon on January 1st 1877.  Appointed in Carcassonne on February 17th 1881.  Succeded Monseigneur Leullieux on July 25th 1881. Died on December 12th 1901

Hoffet Emile
He spoke several langages,  he was a scholar.  He was a priest in the church of La Trinité,  and a member of the documentation service of Vatican.  He wrote a lot about freemasonry and rocicrucians.  He published a magazine with the occultist René Guénon : REGNABIT




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The Story


1st Part
Marie d’Hautpoul and Father Bigou

Antoine Bigou had succeeded his uncle Jean as priest of Rennes le Château in 1774 . He was the confessor of marchioness of Hautpoul. It is said that she told him a very important family secret and gave him some documents just before she died.  It is said that she asked him to tell the secret to another person who would understand it’s importance.  Marie de Négri Dables,  Lady of Hautpoul died on January 17th 1781 and was buried in Rennes le Chateau’s churchyard

Bigou hid the documents in one of the pillar that held the altar in the church.

In 1791, he laid a flagstone on the marchioness’ tomb.

He had some strange signs carved on the tombstone : ET IN ARCADIA EGO :I who am also in Arcadia

Moreover, as the lady died on January 17th 1781, the date on the grave should be MDCCLXXXI instead of MDC O LXXXI

In the church,  he had the Knights flagstone laid before the altar,  but the sculpted side was facing the ground.

He was considered a non-juring priest and he had to flee to Sabadell,  Spain,  where he died on March 21st 1794 after he had told the secret to Father Jean Vié (priest in Rennes les Bains) and to Father Emile François Cayron (priest in St Laurent de la Cabrerisse).  Both men were priests of their towns from 1840 to 1872

The signs on the tomb were erased by Sauniere , but we know of 2 reproductions of it. One was made by Eugène Cros( an amateur archeologist), the other by Eugène Stublein.  On Stublein’s drawing though,  the greek letters ( et in arcadia ego) do not appear.






Come-Sourde Stone

This stone was found in the presbytery.  It could be the stone of "Come Sourde",  which had been found by Ernest Cros (one of Sauniere’s friend) in the mountain of Come Sourde.  Enest Cros had left it in the presbytary. 


This stone bears marks,  as if it had been hit by a chisel and hammer.  It seems someone had wanted to erase what was written on it.


Ernest Cros had made a copy of it.

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2nd Part
Father Saunière

On june 1rst 1885,  the clergyman Berenger Saunière was appointed priest of Rennes-le-Château.  He succeded Father Antoine Croc who had himself succeeded Father Charles Eugene Mocquin.  There,  he found a ramshackle church.  The village did not have enough money to restore it. 

As the presbytery needed repair,  the priest had to live at Antoinette Marce’s for a while.  The cost of the most urgent repairs was said to be about 2797 Francs (using the old gold value of the franc). 

Saunière had to leave the village for some time because of an anti-republican speech he made on october 4th 1885.  He came back to Rennes-le-Château in july 1886.  Thanks to a gift of 3000 F (gold value) from Marchioness of Chambord and 1400 F (or 2500 F) given by the local council,  he was able to begin the restorations.  He spent 518 F (gold value) of his own money.  Some say he would have inherited this money from Father Pons.

During the work,  the workers found a hiding place in the ground.  Later,  they said there was a little cauldron filled with golden coins but Father Saunière told them they were only holy medals from Lourdes. 


The priest had the altar built over the hiding place.
In 1886, he offered a vermeil chalice to Father Grassaud, priest of Amélie les bains. It still exists and it was dated 19th century

Those who worked with Saunière are :

- Marie Dénarnaud his servant
- The building contractor,  Elie Bot.
- The bricklayers Pibouleau and Nazaire Babou. 
- The altar boys Rousset et Antoine Verdier

In 1891, he asked the town council for the right to build a calvary before the church.  In spring,  Bérenger Saunière began to work on the garden in front of the church.  He brought stones from the country himself to build a grotto.  He also build a calvary on which was written "Christus A. O. M. P. S.  Defendit".




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3rd Part

A. O. M. P. S.


Many people wanted to see a connection with the priory of Sion in this sentence :

Christ defends the Ancient Mystic Order of the Priory of Sion.


This sentence is very well known by theologians and means :

May Christ protect his people from all evil


He had a Visigothic pillar put the wrong way up before the church. 


The statue " Our lady of Lourdes " on the visigothic pillar was inaugurated on June 21th 1891. On the same day, the 24 children of the village made their communion. He organized a procession with the diocesan missionnary Father Ferrafiat(that’s why it is written Mission 1891 on the pillar).


He had the words " pénitence pénitence "(penance penance) carved on the pillar to recall the message of Lourdes " Kiss the Earth as a penance for sinners ".


Old Calvary

New Calvary made by Alain Feral


There is a bench near the grotto.  We can read an inscription : K X L S X


Two versions of what happened :

1) A few days later,  the bellringer,  Antoine Captier,  found a flask in an old wooden baluster.  The priest told him it contained relics.  Actually,  there were 3 scrolls wich bore Blanche de Castille’s signature : a genealogic tree about Dagobert II and two coded texts taken from the Gospel.



2) In the Visigothic pillar,  Father Saunière found 3 wooden tubes in which were 4 scrolls :

  • The Gospel according to St john : the text in which Jesus visits Lazarus in Bethania

  • Marthe and Mary of Magdala

  • Verses of Luc (VI, 1-5),  Matthieu (XII,  1-8) and Marc (II,  23-28)

  • A genealogical tree about the unknow lineage of Dagobert II

According to the two versions,  Saunière would have given a copy to the Mayor. 

The next day,  he asked two workers to lift up a flagstone wich was in the church before the altar.  It is called "The Knights flagstone".  This stone had the sculpted side down to the ground. 


On it,  one can see two knights riding the same horse.  The workers thought it was a grave stone but the priest halted the work.  He told his superiors about this and so he met Father Boudet and Father Gélis.  Saunière worked in his church late at night and he never let anyone come in.  No one knows what he did there : some said he had found out a crypt,  others that Marie Dénarnaud had found out what his secret was... 


The fact remains that he had a pavestone sealed on this gravestone. 

In his diary,  under the date 09/21/1891 is written : "letter from Granès,  a tomb discovered,  rain in the evening".  He stopped the work until October 14th 1891, the workmen were putting the pulpit in place.

On 29/09/189,  he wrote in his diary he had met the priest of Nevian Father Gélis, Father Carriere and Father Cros.

In his mail record,  one can notice he received many letters from Father Gélis, but none of these remain.

On 4/10/189,  he wrote that 4 "colleagues" had visited him.

The Bishop of Carcassonne,  Monseigneur Félix Billard,  sent him to Paris for 5 days in order to have the scrolls deciphered. 


There he met Father Bieil,  director of St Sulpice.  his nephew had Father Saunière at his house.  He also met Emile Hoffet,  20 years old who introduced him to literature (and also to the opera singer Emma Calvet).  After the scrolls had been translated,  Father Bieil (or Father Hoffet) did not give the genealogical tree back to Saunière. 


He brought back with him 3 copies of pictures:

- "St Antoine’s Temptation" by D. Théniers
- "the sheperds of Arcadia" by N. Poussin
- a picture of Pope Celestin V

Back to Rennes-le-Château,  he had the work start again. 


For the works, he employed Marie Dénarnaud’s family, who lived in the presbytery . Mary’s brother and father worked in the factory in Esperaza as hatters. Her father from 1894 to 1907 and her brother from 1895 to 1909.  The priest raised all the paving stones in the church during the night.  Outside the church,  he had the churchyard gate built and also a building above the citern next to the cemetary.


On the graveyard gate was drawn a crane with 22 teeth. 



Sauniere lived in the new building for a while so he was able to search through the cemetary at night.  The mayor found him once,  opening a grave with Marie.  Some understood he was seen sifting the earth.

It was said he had erased words written on Marchionnes of Hautpoul’s tombstone.  Saunière stopped his research,  for the feared to be denounced to the prefect.

The statues were put in place in early 1897.  On june 6th 1897,  the church was officially "opened" in the presence of Monseigneur Billard.

From 1897 to 1899,  Saunière often went away to unknow places.  He also had walks in the area of Rennes-le-Château. 


He was followed by some inhabitants of the village who wondered where he was going.  He walked towards Rennes les Bains,  went throught the forest of " l’homme mort " (the dead man),  jumped across the small stream of "La Blanque" and climbed up the hillside of "Serbaïrou" towards "la Pierre du Pain" (the stone of bread) on which it was said the Devil had left his finger prints. 


A few months later,  it is said he was visited by Jean-Stéphane of Hapsburg who was called Mr Guillaume by the villagers . It is supposed he offered 3000f (corresponding to the value of the time) to find precious documents hidden in the church…


He came back several times during 6 years and he gave Saunière 20 000F for his search ( which means 250 000F today).

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4th Part
The Domain




Bethania Villa





1st Floor

1st Floor

2nd Floor

2nd Floor

2nd Floor

2nd Floor


Personal chapel under a veranda


Magdala Tower


In the 60’s









A cave,  inside the tower

(above and below)


He also planted an orange grove and built a neo-gothic tower where he had his library (he had 10000 postal cards and 100000 stamps). 


It was called Magdala tower and it had 22 crenels. 



In 1900,  the priest bought 6 pieces of land,  using the name of Marie Dénarnaud and began to build his "estate". 


The architect was Tiburce Caminade,  the building contractor Elie Bot who had 17 workers under his orders,  all of them were fed by Saunière.  The stones were cut in St Sauveur and brought back on donkeys.  First,  Saunière had the villa "Bethania" built. 


He wanted it to become a retirement house for the priests of the diocese after his death. 



In the garden,  there were many exotic trees and animals : two dogs (Faust and Pomponet),  2 monkeys (Capri and Mora),  peacocks,  cockatoos,  exotic fishes...



Some water went from a cistern to a fountain.  There was a wonderful view of the area from the promenade.



The whole work lasted 8 years.


If one looks at the map of the domain, one will see it looks exactly like Mary Magdalene’s walk from Magdala to Bethania. Magdala tower represents Galilee and Bethania Mansion, Judaea.  It is said that many famous people artists and politicians visited the priest (the Fine Arts State secretary Henri Charles Etienne Dujardin-Beaumetz,  a freemason who belonged to the lodge called "La clémente amitié" - the merciful friendship). 

It is told Saunière entertained Stephen of Hasbourg would have given some money to the priest for his research. 


Father Saunière lived in splendour,  he was corresponding with many famous people and banks and received important money orders.  He was in contact with the Petitjean bank in Paris. 


He also had accounts in the Bank of Langudoc and Roussillon in Perpignan,  in the Bank Pommier and Pavie in Toulouse.  Gérard de Sède said he had an account in Budapest (he consulted the accounts himself in 1971 when the bank didn’t exist anymore). 

Anyhow,  Saunière’s way of life began to worry the Bishopric who had heard many complaints about him from other priests in the area. 


Monseigneur de Beauséjour,  bishop of Carcassonne wanted to send him to Coustouges.  Saunière refused to leave and resigned from his belonging to the Church.  a new priest,  Father Marty.  He was appointed to Rennes on July 2nd 1909 and settled there on July 4th .  He was appointed in Rivel in 1912.  Villagers prefered attend Mass in Father Saunière’s private chapel. 


The altar was the original church’s altar.

On january 17th 1917,  Saunière had an attack just before the Magdala Tower.  He asked for Father Rivière,  priest of Couiza.  The confession was long and when Rivière went out the room,  he was very pale... Saunière received the last Sacraments and 2 days later he died from a brain haemorrhage on january 22nd 1917. 

(Note: some people thought the way the villagers behaved was a mystery : they took away the bobbles from the blanket that covered the priest’s body.  It was only a devotion act,  and an ancient occitan tradition.)

Saunière died,  leaving many plans behind him : he wanted to have a car ,  to have the road tarred and another tower built,  to have a chapel in the graveyard,  to rebuil Renne-le-Château walls.

It is said he spent 659 413 F (gold value) or 23 079 455 today’s francs.



When his testament was opened,  everyone learnt he owned nothing. 


Everything belonged to Marie Dénarnaud.  She lived alone until Noël Corbu bought her estate for life.  Marie Dénarnaus and the Corbu family were good friends,  so she made Noël Corbu her sole legater on 07/22/1946. 


After Marie’s death,  Corbu opened a restaurant in the villa Bethania and he told the priest’s story.  He recorded a tape and played it for the restaurant’s clients.  He spoke the REAL facts but he also invented some of his own. 


He didn’t earn much money and Mr Corbu died in a car crash in 1968.  Saunière’s estate was bought by an occultist from Lyon: Henri Buthion who made very... "special" lectures. 


Today’s,  it’s owned by a SCI which opened another restaurant and offers lectures about different themes.

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