While writing an article for the latest Rhedesium magazine i decided to tackle that ever thorny issue of mass trafficking by Abbé Saunière. I have been given permission [many years ago now] to translate the seminal work by Mariano Tomatis regarding the history of our Abbé. The section on trafficking opens with this paragraph:
"In addition to the state-earned salary, priests had two other sources of earnings: the demand of gifts or donations from the faithful and the sale of masses. The latter could not be offered directly to the parishioners, but they had to be sent to the Bishop's Secretary, who then shared them equally among the priests of the local area. This was the instructions given to priests by Bishop Billard in 1886:
"Ladies and gentlemen, those who ask for bids, and other priests in the diocese who cannot celebrate all their requests in due time, are invited to submit these intentions, together with their honoraries, to the Secretary of the Bishop, who will have the task of distributing them to the priests of the diocese who do not have them (1).
Saunière, however, did not like the criteria followed by the secretariat to distribute requests; believing that the secretary favoured some priests to the detriment of others, and so the other priests decide to organise themselves".
In a questionnaire that he will send to his lawyer in 1910, Saunière tells that when he arrived at Rennes there was a great deal of shortage of mass requests, and he addressed the bishopric secretary together with other parish priests of the area: "These gentlemen, having met our requests two or three times, began to kindly leave us, telling us that they did not have them anymore [Masses]. Even after a few subsequent requests we did not get anything. The secretariat had no longer made masses for us. Actually, we knew it .... But the honours of those orders were not destined for us, the poorly cared for in the countryside. Tired of insisting, we began to turn to some religious communities & some charitable priest had given us the addresses, and in fact the fees of the messes were not too late and arrived in large numbers "(2).
Has anyone floated the idea that Abbé Saunière - as evidenced by his own letter - was at least trafficking for some masses as a direct result against the actions of the Bishop's Secretary? Abbé Saunière
quite clearly did not like how Billard's secretary divided out mass requests. He also obviously believed that the Secretary to Billard favoured other priests before him and other country priests. This obviously annoyed Abbé Saunière greatly, and he decided to do something about it! And what did he do? He tells you in his letter - 'we began to turn to some religious communities - the fees [for] masses arrived in large numbers'.
But hang on, who is this 'WE'? It quite clearly would be other priests. Other priests in the area were disgusted with what was happening and decided to take on the unfair Bishopric [unfair at least int heir eyes] - and it seems our Abbé Saunière was the front man.
But it may go deeper than that too.
If you see HERE I had obtained a direct translation of that strange announcement put up via the Bishopric Announcements - "Notice concerning Mr Abbé Saunière, former parish priest of Rennes-le Château". Not only had i read elsewhere that Saunière claimed the 'advert' the Bishopric was referring to was fake, but i also thought the paragraph added to the Notice by some newspapers was quite odd. It was entitled « Save the tillbox !»
The writer of this 'add-on' went on to say:
"Abbé Saunière is spoiling the trade by underselling masses, and now - for unlawful trade practices – he sees himself boycotted by the prayer merchants’ union of his département.
Evangelical times are long gone!"
Abbé Saunière saw unfair practices in the Bishops office via his Secretary and decided that if he [along with other priests] were going to be summarily ignored for masses, then it is quite clear that THIS is the reason why Saunière began to traffic. What is also clear from the advert is that Saunière was 'underselling masses'. This mean nothing more or less that he was doing a better job of selling masses than the racket going on higher up in his ecclesiastical pecking order! And what is more, everyone knew it!
The last comment - "Evangelical times are long gone", suggests that when evangelical means zealous in advocating or supporting a particular cause - Saunière became overzealous in his 'cause' and found himself some kind of scapegoat.
The whole thing seems a complicated mess and is not as clear cut a subject as it sometimes presented as.
Welcome to the blog of Rhedesium
My name is Sandy Hamblett, inspired and passionate researcher of the mysteries at Rennes-les-Bains.