Rennes-le-Château is a castle in small hilltop village in Southern France that is at the center of many conspiracy theories. Some say that priest Bérenger Saunière discovered buried treasure in the 19th century, but there are many conflicting theories and stories about what exactly transpired in this area filled with beautiful scenery etched with deep river canyons.
The history of Rennes-le-Château reflects the history of many other European villages. It began with a prehistoric encampment, followed by a Roman villa. The area was a part of Septimania during the 6th and 7th centuries. Thirty thousand people lived in the city around 500-600 AD, with the number of castles rapidly increasing in the area around 1002 AD. In modern times, Rennes-le-Château became very famous when stories from the mid-1950s concerning Roman Catholic priest, Francois Bérenger Saunière, influenced modern writings including The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, published in 1982, and The Da Vinci Code, published in 2003.
The stories told about Rennes-le-Château and Bérenger Saunière consist of many theories, revolving around all matters of conspiracies involving the Blanche of Castile, the Merovingians, the Knights Templar, the Cathars, and later, the Priory of Sion, the Holy Grail, Mary Magdalene, and the remains of Jesus Christ.
The starting ground for these conspiracy theories involve Bérenger Saunière. He was the priest of a small village from the late 19th to early 20th centuries. Somehow, Saunière came across large sums of money – amounts so large that it is unimaginable how a small village priest could come to have such wealth. This led to much speculation as to where and how he got the money. Some say that he discovered a buried treasure, but this theory has never been substantiated.
During his first few years in the village, Saunière lived in poverty. He kept meticulous accountings of his money, which showed that in 1892 he owed a debt of 105 francs and had savings of 80.65 francs. From the 1890s on, his papers showed that he spent an alarming total of 660,000 francs.
As a priest, he earned a salary of 900 francs per year. Around 1880, the going rate for a single mass was 1 franc, so it is difficult to imagine that Saunière could have earned such an income on performing mass alone. In 1910–1911 Bérenger Saunière was summoned by the bishopric to appear before an ecclesiastical trial to face charges of “mass trafficking” – receiving money for masses that he never actually performed. He was found guilty and suspended of the priesthood. When asked to produce his account books he refused to attend his trial.
Even if Saunière was guilty of this, he could not have collected enough through this practice to amount to the sums he spent over his lifetime. As his life came to an end, Saunière began having financial difficulties. It has been noted that this time in his life corresponded with the start of World War I, which may indicate that his funds were held abroad and he could no longer access them.
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