Its kind of distasteful isnt it? Bérenger Saunière might have been practising a 'cult of the dead' ritual. That in the backwaters of his tiny church in Southern France Saunière went further than he was supposed to do and started selling a mortuary 'ritual' for his own material gain! Breathlessly it is concluded that this was the root origin of the unexplained incredible wealth he amassed. Saunière built his domaine and the Magdala Tower and the Bethany villa to broadcast this "fact"!
Its all very distasteful because the origins of the 'Cult of the Dead' and what the ancients got up to with corpses doesn't make for nice bed-time reading. Drinking the blood or eating the flesh of those seen as Gods - the most modern incarnation of this idea being Christianity and the 'Last Supper'. Ritually anointing of would be kings with the blood of ancestors or those seen as Gods. Are we to believe that a ritual based on these old ideas was being practiced at Rennes-le-Chateau? Or was the form much more 'modernised' than these archaic rituals? Why would people, religious people, in the 19th century, whether from a 'penitent' group or whether from a plain old monastery background, be interested in a 'Cult of the Dead'? A 'Cult of the Dead' that had been outlawed by the Church centuries ago, as horrific pagan rituals which have some kind of magical component, but which the researchers announcing this new theory believe has survived through a network of old Cathar remnants, whether individually or as a group.
You may ask why the Cathars have been brought [dragged?] into the mix? Apparently they practised a solemn ritual at the moment of death that was the equivalent and derivative from this old 'Cult of the Dead' ritual.
What kind of form did the ritual take that Saunière performed? Why were 'people' willing to pay him handsomely for it? How did the people even find out what he was doing? It isn't like Saunière advertised the ritual in the 'ad's' he put in the local press and magazines, is it? All that was indicated was that he was willing to say a mass on the person's behalf! What were the 'payee's' getting for their money? And why did the whole ritual revolve around a 'notorious Merovingian Talisman'? Why did people even believe Saunière? Why did they even believe the ritual 'would work'? What is the connection between the personal view of individuals regarding the ritual, as opposed to the Confraternity groups who adminstered so called ritual burials of the dead, whether criminals or not?
The team of researchers headed by Isaac Ben Jacob have asserted that their theory fits the evidence available to explain what Saunière
was dabbling in. The belief for their theory is evidenced solely in the writings of master prankster Philippe de Chérisey - and not from Saunière. The evidence is mainly garnered from the poem Le Serpent Rouge and some private letters of Chérisey available on the internet as well as Stone & Paper, the so called final testament of Chérisey.
The main points that allowed the team to develop the 'cult of the dead' ritual theory are summed up here:
1] Firstly because of Chérisey's obsession with Mary Magdalene. After he had realised that she was being used - not as a biblical character or Saint, but as 'a falsely Christianised Isis, goddess of the Egyptian Cult of the Dead. She presided over mortuary anointing and embalming rituals' Chérisey realised something irregular was going on.
2] The suppressed Secret Gospel of Mark fragment. This fragment revolved around a 'ritual' at Bethany, [which] was essentially hijacked by Chérisey. All the elements of this ritual are symbolised at Rennes-le-Chateau and in fact are reflected by Chérisey in his writings. For him, the Villa Bethania, Mary Magdalene and the tomb for example are all symbols for the 'Cult of the Dead'. Whatever the Bethany ritual was - that is what Chérisey believed Saunière was replicating or using a form of! The researchers have also seen an origin of the cult in the Book of Tobit.
3] All the traditions associated with Magdalene and various other ideas related to her are amalgamated on to the Saint along with the legends of what Saunière found in 1891 by Chérisey!
4] What Saunière found in 1891 was a 'Talisman of Salvation'. He found it in a 'secret necropolis' - a secret necropolis which turns out to be the crypt under the church at Rennes-le-Chateau. The entrance to this crypt was revealed to Saunière in the small parchments he found in the Visigothic pillar. These are not the parchments we know and love, but some other handwritten testaments. Chérisey found all this out in a space of three years (between 1964 and 1967). The Visigothic pillar is alleged to carry a design on it which hints at this talisman (see image below)!
5] Chérisey's term - 'ransacked house' in the poem Serpent Rouge is an allusion to the crypt at Rennes-le-Chateau. Rather contradictorily the Jacob team of researchers assert; 'Rennes-le-Chateau was the receptacle of something which had been preserved in the ancient former village church, St Peter in Chains'. How, then, did it get to the crypt under the Magdalene church?
6] According to the researchers the Comtesse de Chambord gave 1000 francs to Saunière so that Saunière could be assisted financially in locating this 'talisman'. It seems that the Comtesse already knew that it was in the crypt and 'used' Saunière to find it. Did she give him a plan to return the relic to her once he had found it? Did Saunière ignore that?
7] Perhaps because of some wish for the significance of what the demise of the French Monarchy would mean at her death and the end of that particular family line, and all that that entailed (including the loss of such symbolism and mythology attached to the Monarchy) the 'Comtesse relieved her conscience of a heavy family secret ....'
8] That 'heavy secret' would appear to be information on this Merovingian talisman and its location.
9] After he had successfully found the relic, Saunière began to 'offer a ritual, on behalf of his clients, which used this talisman he had discovered in the crypt'. It is not clear whether this ritual was 'invented' by Saunière, or whether this 'pagan relic' had always been used in this manner. It is also not clear whether the Comtesse intended the 'relic' to be used in this way by Saunière, or whether she had only been attempting to save it from historical oblivion by making sure it was retrieved. One would think she would have had a plan after the finding of said relic. If it was a family heirloom of the Chambords, what happened to it after Saunière died?
10] For the Jacob team, Chérisey had said that these rituals took place in the 'Secret Room' or the crypt in the church at Rennes-le-Chateau and that the price for the ritual was 'related to the fee of Judas'. There was no indication by the Comtesse de Chambord that she thought Saunière would go on to do this! The ritual and the object itself (which is to be identified with the 'Crista') later came to the attention of distant family relatives of the Chambords (i.e. the Habsburgs) well after the death of Chambord.
There is so much in this 'theory' that is currently unsubstantiated, that it is hard to keep abreast of it all. However, the most essential thing for me is firstly to look at the main claims. Just what is a 'Cult of the Dead'? What was the ritual at Bethany? How could Chérisey appropriate the 'symbolism' of the Bethany 'ritual' to suggest something akin to this was going on at Rennes-le-Chateau?
Especially as the researchers suggest that Chérisey based his idea of the ritual somehow on a 'Secret Gospel of Mark' fragment, itself not altogether accepted by historians as an authentic Gospel fragment, and which is also not related to a 'Cult of the Dead' ritual but more akin to a 'baptism' ritual for some.
What would a 19th century priest think he could do in a mortuary ritual of the sort offered? And what use would an ancient relic be in these rituals? Was it something he [Sauniere] thought up independently - somehow relying on the Jewish Book of Tobit and the giving of money to 'bury the dead' as his guide? How was the relic useful, particularly one with the history already attached to it and its confusion with a Gold Cross of Solomon/Toledo (if indeed they are to be identified as the same things)?
What we must say is that this theory is gleaned only from the 'works' of Chérisey, which may turn out to be important. Supposing Chérisey has read all the 'signs' wrong?
There is also no mention of the involvement of Plantard in this theory. Plantard himself has no interest in a 'Cult of the Dead'. But he shows every interest in a very important tomb in the vicinity of Rennes-les-Bains. And whether you accept Plantard or not, he is a very important player in the later RLC myths. There is, as yet, no suggested involvement of other local priests (Boudet for example, Gelis etc) - surely Saunière could not do all this alone? And why would Marie Denarnaud be a party to such a macarbre cult of the dead?
There is no explanation or proof showing Saunière had the relic.
However, there is certainly evidence that Saunière was actively looking for something in the old area of ancient Rhedae castle and the church domaines. However, there is not a whisper or a suggestion by any writers on the subject, contemporary with Chérisey, or even contemporary with Saunière, that Saunière was involved in a 'cult of the dead' ritual. Indeed, all the suggestions were that Saunière was 'looking' for something (which also explained why he uprooted some graves in the cemetery), usually expressed in terms of a 'treasure'. The testimonies of the locals, that there was a msytery at Rennes long before Saunière arrived which spoke of a 'treasure' seems to have nothing to do with a 'Cult of the Dead'.
I attempt to answer some of these questions about this 'Cult of the Dead' ritual and the involvement of Saunière here! I also look into the theology of the Bethany ritual to try and understand what it is that the Jacob team may think, via Chérisey, was going on and what this ritual offered by Saunière was.
You can read more about Isaac Ben Jacob's theory and the points i
have raised in the original article here:
Welcome to the blog of Rhedesium
My name is Sandy Hamblett, inspired and passionate researcher of the mysteries at Rennes-les-Bains.