By Writer Val Wineyard, a close friend of mine and professional writer.
The priest at Rennes-le-Château had many secrets but for a long time people thought he had only one - what was the treasure he discovered?
It all began for the French in the early 50's, when the newly-opened restaurant in Rennes-le-Château attracted its customers with stories of Blanche of Castille, who hid the ransom, to release her son the king from captivity, in the region near Rennes. It was easy to confuse people with this tale for there were two Blanches; the mother of Saint Louis and the other Blanche who stayed at Rennes-les-Bains for a while to take a cure, around 1362. The town was named after her.
Articles with immense estimations of the value of Bérenger Saunière's treasure appeared in local and national newspapers. A young man called Pierre Plantard, on holiday with his family in Rennes-les-Bains, founded "The Priory of Sion", a secret society which proclaimed the secret was the survival today of the Merovingian bloodline - descended from Jesus himself! It was not a hoax exactly, more an entertaining fantasy game.
It was picked up by the English media then, resulting in films on TV and the book, The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, with its implication that Saunière had discovered the union of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, which shocked the Vatican so much that he was able to blackmail them for a fortune. Everyone took it very seriously - well, the English have no sense of humour.
Three "secrets" so far! None of them were true.
Researchers took up the idea the secret was knowledge, rather than gold. After all, Saunière had discovered something in his crypt. Could this have been agreements between the local nobility to hide the fact Jesus was buried underneath Bugarach? Could it have been directions to the grave of Mary Magdalene? (And people still believed in the "secret parchments" devised by Pierre Plantard.),
I researched all this in my book, "Mary, Jesus and the Charismatic Priest," inspired by French sources and the history of the Church as it was in the last 19th century. What would Bérenger Saunière, the priest and the man, have been like, what were his aspirations, thoughts, feelings? He was indeed, very secretive. Why?
What was his relationship with Marie Denarnaud? I have no doubt they were lovers and business partners. On the surface all was correct; Bérenger lived in the presbytère, his room was on the ground floor to the right of the front door, and Marie lived in the Villa Bethania. Next time you visit Rennes, look at how close are the two doors - the back door of the villa and the front door of the presbytère. Their relationship was triggered by the discovery by Marie of a secret letter written to Bérenger by another woman . . .
Other people, as well as myself, have concluded that Bérenger was a freemason; his church and domain reflect a lot of Rosicrucian ideas. But there is no evidence; he would not have been so silly as to sign his name in any book, as freemasonry was totally forbidden by the Church. However, freemasonry would not have made Bérenger rich; rather, his riches enabled him to be one.
So exactly how did he amass the wealth that enabled him to support his "fin-de-siècle" lifestyle? To find out that, you will have to read my book. And yes, the secret was to do with Mary Magdalene.
Full details of the book and how to buy it are on my site.