The hilltop village of Rennes-le-Chateau, near Couiza wich is between Carcassonne and Quillan, has become world-famous ever since its priest discovered - or made - a small fortune. Many think he left clues in his church so that enlightened people could find his treasure. There's a Holy Grail element to this; The Knight on his Quest solves the conundrum and finds ultimate enlightenment at the end.
It's of particular interest to us, however, because the church is dedicated to Mary Magdalene, and some people think that the priest's great treasure was spiritual - the knowledge that Mary Magdalene and Jesus were married and had founded a bloodline, great knowledge which would destroy the Church's concepts of virginity being related to godliness.
There is no doubt that the priest loved Mary Magdalene. He restored his church lovingly and spent thousands of francs on it between 1886 and 1897.
He built a house and called it Villa Bethania. That he named the house like this is the nearest thing to any mysterious religious knowledge he might have had, for at the time the Church believed that Mary at Bethany and Mary Magdalene were different people. But Bérenger Saunière didn't. ("Bethania" was the name used to signify the village of Bethany in the late nineteenth century.)
He built a "folly" and called it the Tour Magdala. There is a legend, I don't know if it is true or not. At first the priest called his tower something else. When he started building, he discovered a huge stone and found it had been the plinth for a gigantic statue of Mary Magdalene, looking out over the valley, so he changed the name of his tower to Tour Magdala.
There he would study and read.
Inside the church is a statue of Mary Magdalene and she appears in many of the Stations of the Cross.
It is standard iconography that Mary holds a crucifix (the crucifix was not used as an emblem until the 9th century) and her jar of ointment. At her feet is a skull resting on a book; this signifies her meditations on mortality and "the word", no doubt of St. John, which I believe was written by her brother Lazarus. In the Station of the Cross, above, she is shown weeping as Jesus is laid in his tomb by Joseph of Arimathea. The person in red comforting the Virgin Mary in the background is Mary Magdalene's brother, Lazarus.
In this Crucifixion scene, she is again in yellow and kneeling at Jesus's feet; behind her is her brother Lazarus.
Perhaps the most interesting representation of her is the painting on the front of the altar, again with a book and a skull, but with a crucifix of living wood, implying that Jesus did not die on the cross.
The message underneath it is very strange. In fact it is a play on words, which directs the reader to the village of Rennes-les-Bains where, I believe, Mary Magdalene and Jesus came to live for a while. You can find my interpretation in my book, "The Sacred River of Rennes-les-Bains."
In the porch of the church is yet another secret message that implies that Bérenger Saunière believed that Mary Magdalene loved Jesus, indeed, adored him. Again, you will have to read my book!
Just recently, after some 60 years of treasure-hunters, the village is becoming greatly loved by spiritual people interested in Mary Magdalene, and spiritual tours include Rennes-le-Chateau on their list of sacred places to visit. Some say that Mary Magdalene lived in this tiny citadel village, but we must remember that Rennes-le-Chateau did not exist in Roman times, there was no village there, because it was founded by the Visigoths in the fifth century.
History tells us that Mary and Jesus lived in Rennes-les-Bains. But there WAS a Temple to Isis at Rennes-le-Château . . . many think Isis was a personification of the Goddess, as in Mary Magdalene.
For a film of Rennes-le-Château and its church, with some ethereal and haunting music by Ani Williams, just click here.
For details of the book I wrote about Rennes-le-Chateau and its priest, click here.
For much more about Rennes-le-Château and its mysteries, click here.