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
One can read in his diary,
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
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.
The priest had the altar built over the hiding place.
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".
A. O. M. P. S.
This sentence is very well known by theologians and means :
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 ".
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...
remains that he had a pavestone sealed on this gravestone.
In his mail record, one can notice he received many letters from Father Gélis, but none of these remain.
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:
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.
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).
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.
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
belonged to the lodge called "La clémente amitié" - the merciful
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
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
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.
it’s owned by a SCI which opened another restaurant and offers
lectures about different themes.