The traffic in masses does not seem to have worried Mgr Billard. What do you think?
It is curious, at first glance, that Sauniere was never worried by his superiors when Mgr Billard occupied the archbishopric. His troubles began with Bishop Paul-Felix Beuvain Beauséjour. I happen to think that the trial against Saunière was only [one] episode in a much larger cleaning operation, about which the church authorities have remained very discreet until today. Indeed, Monsignor Billard was [also a mysterious] money handler. The origin of his fortune, which was not insignificant, remains murky. He was himself suspended "a divinis" for his management of funds - and had to undergo several trials for simony and property grabbing. In particular, the questionable circumstances surrounding the purchase by Monsignor Billard, privately, of the domain of Our Lady of Marceille near Limoux, which did not escape investigation by Bishop Beausejour.
In your opinion, was Sauniere informed in advance of the existence of the tomb?
The discovery of the tomb in 1891 does not seem coincidental. Mgr Billard, who held the information [from] his mentor Bishop Bonnechose, probably told the abbe of an "interesting" tomb when he appointed [Sauniere] to Rennes in 1885. In any case, Sauniere obtains confirmation [of the tomb] in 1887 , when he finds a scroll written around 1790 by his distant predecessor, Father Bigou, revealing the secret of his church. This is the starting point for the adventure. He finds, in the process, the former parish register hidden by Father Bigou at the start of the Revolution, which confirms the existence of the tomb. From the beginning of 1891, Sauniere began a series of actions that betray a premeditated plan to search his church and around the grounds without arousing suspicion. A few months later he "discovered" the tomb.
The parish register that speaks of the burial of the lords of Rennes - is it authentic?
Yes, the parish register is genuine. It is a book whose sheets are stamped with the arms of the Archdiocese of Alet. The entries are handwritten, from the hand of the priests who have succeeded in the parish of Rennes between 1694 and 1726. This exceptional document, as I could see, was found in the papers of Saunière by Claire Corbu and Antoine Captier, [who are] its current owners. I recall that Claire Corbu is the daughter of Noel Corbu, who was the sole heir of Mary Dénarnaud, who died in 1953, and who was the heir of Berenger Sauniere.
If the famous "scrolls" were forgeries made by Plantard and Cherisey, what about the stele of Marie de Negre?
It is necessary to distinguish the stele of the slab. The horizontal slab, bearing the inscriptions "ET IN ARCADIA EGO", "Reddis REGIS CELLIS ARCIS" and "PS - PRAECUM" does not seem entirely genuine. Its existence is not attested to in the time of Sauniere, & not before. The vertical stele bearing the epitaph "CIT GIT NOBLE M ..." is, however, genuine. The original is gone, but there is one statement made in 1905 by Elie Tisseyre during a tour of the Scientific Society of Studies of the Aude. Reproductions given in most books is incomplete. The original design for information and additions - we see engraved on the edge of the stele, the words "PS-PRAECUM". Thus, the 128 letters necessary for decryption of the epitaph to give the anagram "BERGERE NO TEMPTATION ..." has always been found [on] a single stone. This little discovery strengthens my conviction that only the horizontal slab is inauthentic.
According to Corbu-Captier, Saunière found something under the "Dalle des Chevaliers" in 1887. Sauniere also notes the discovery of a tomb in his notebook diary in 1891.
Claire Corbu and Antoine Captier and many others report that it was the "Dalle des Chevaliers" that covered the underground entrance to the tomb, which Sauniere discovered & mentions in his diary-book on September 21, 1891. For me personally, I do not think so. Indeed, the most reliable testimonies talk of a slab that had been raised and that it "[was] the entire width of the altar." Now, the "Dalle des Chevaliers" measures just 134cm wide. It is very little for an altar which was supported by two pillars, each measuring 45cm. You should know that there is in the church a second altar, dedicated to the Virgin. It's under this altar erected on a slab, that Sauniere discovered the entrance to the tomb. As for the "Dalle des Chevaliers" I think it is a sarcophagus panel, probably recovered from the tomb.
How does Mgr Billard have knowledge of the existence of a tomb under the church?
Monsignor Félix-Arsène Billard was protected by Cardinal Henri de Bonnechose, since 1860, at the time when he was archbishop of Rouen (Normandy). But from 1848 to 1865 Bishop Bonnechose himself had been archbishop of Carcassonne. This is certainly the occasion of one or other of his many and, apparently, meticulous, pastoral visits to churches in his diocese, and it is here he has learned of the tomb of the Lords and the crypt of Rennes. He naturally transmitted this information to Billard & he will support the nomination to Carcassonne in 1881 of Billard.
What were the relations between Sauniere and Bishop Billard?
Monsignor Billard was the superior of Saunière. It was he who in 1879 named him vicar in Alet, and then in 1882 priest in Le Clat, a small parish in the Sault. It is interesting that Le Clat is located in the former stronghold of Marie de Negre of d'Ables. Had he been tasked to learn about the Negre family? It is quite plausible because Sauniere spent much time with the Abbot Cros, pastor of Roquefeuil, home of the Negre family. Cros later became vicar general, that is, the right arm of Mgr Billard. Cros is one of the people Sauniere informs first when he makes his discovery of the tomb. The hypothesis that I believe the most likely, given the background of Billiard and his predispositions to Sauniere, is that both agreed on the looting of the tomb, the first driving the second in a sinister affair of trafficking and receiving stolen goods.
And Father Gelis?
Abbe Gelis was among one of those as well as the vicar general Cros, that Sauniere informed of the discovery of the tomb. He is also one of the "four brothers" who visited him [Sauniere] at Rennes on 6 October. Sauniere, with the acquiescence of Billiard, probably bought the silence of the "four brothers" who condoned looting of the tomb. October 31, 1897, Gelis was found murdered in his presbytery. A fortune in coins and bank notes was found at his home, while his salary did not exceed 900 francs annually. Money was not the motive, but the mystery remains unsolved as to the origin of this fortune. The inquest will conclude that there was a theft of documents, but which ones? The case is to date unclear.
So there exists a cemetery under the church?
Indeed, the parish register tells us that. It mentions the burial, in 1705 and in 1724, of two people "in the church of the place, the tomb of the Lords, which is near the baluster." This makes us think, like Corbu-Captier, that the tomb is quite large, and was still receiving in the eighteenth century, the burials of characters who are not the lords of the place, but relatives, friends or allies. The will of Henry Hautpoul of 24 April 1695 also referred to the grave: "... wishing that after my death my body be buried in the parish church of that Rennes, tomb of my predecessors ..." Besides the tomb, I am convinced that the church of Rennes also contains within it a crypt. This is what makes it different. The crypt is a place where there is veneration by the faithful, of the relics of one or several saints. Knowing that the church dates from the late eighth century, it is very likely that it was built on a site of an old devotional pilgrimage. This is the case of many churches in the Languedoc-Roussillon. So you could be in the presence of one of the oldest crypts in France. This reason alone is sufficient to warrant the interest of archaeological excavations.
To conclude, what is your view on this whole affair?
To me, Rennes-le-Chateau is the seat of a historical and / or real religious enigma.
The veil might have been lifted long ago if not for wild mythography which seized researchers and began to pollute any scientific debate and in turn scared away serious historians and archaeologists.
There are two currents.
The first is that of a hoard of treasure [?], pursued relentlessly by researchers on the ground since the revelations of Noel Corbu in the '50s. I would characterize this current as Franco-French.
The second trend emerged in the late 60s with the book by Gerard de Sede "L'Or de Rennes" and has grown globally in the 80's with the book "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" of Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln, followed by "The Tomb of God" from Andrews and Schellenberger. It is the pseudo-historical trend favored by Anglo-Saxons, whose foundations are based entirely on what I consider to be an elaborate hoax fabricated by Pierre Plantard and Philippe de Chérisey. It still continues to be revived by the novel "The Da Vinci Code" by Dan Brown, which has sold over 4 million copies. Note, however, in this fable, that the epilogue is not located in Rennes-le-Château as might have been expected, but Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland, then, improbably, in the Louvre Pyramid in Paris.
The times may be changing. Rennes is now beginning to interest amateurs who are a little more enlightened and young scholars who are casting an entirely new light on the case. This is promising for the future. At the local and regional level, in the context of a society which favours the development of its historical and cultural heritage, Rennes-le-Château deserves better to be enhanced with cultural and tourism plans. Only archaeological excavations will once and for all complete the sterile debates, and focus especially on other more rewarding areas.
For my part, I will quote in conclusion the words of Fontenelle (1657-1757): "It is true that one cannot find the philosopher's stone, but it is good to look for it. For in that search, there are beautiful secrets to discover...."
You can see the whole interview HERE