Holy Blood ~ Holy Grail
By Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln
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PART ONE ~ THE MYSTERY
CHAPTER 1 ~ Village Of Mystery
At the start of our search we did not know precisely what we were looking for or, for that matter, looking at. We had no theories and no hypotheses, we had set out to prove nothing. On the contrary, we were simply trying to find an explanation for a curious little enigma of the late nineteenth century. The conclusions we eventually reached were not postulated in advance. We were led to them, step by step, as if the evidence we accumulated had a mind of its own, was directing us of its own accord. We believed at first that we were dealing with a strictly local mystery an intriguing mystery certainly, but a mystery of essentially minor significance, confined to a village in the south of France. We believed at first that the mystery, although it involved many fascinating historical strands, was primarily of academic interest. We believed that our investigation might help to illumine certain aspects of Western history, but we never dreamed that it might entail re-writing them. Still less did we dream that whatever we discovered could be of any real contemporary relevance and explosive contemporary relevance at that.
Our quest began – for it was indeed a quest with a more or less straightforward story. At first glance this story was not markedly different from numerous other “treasure stories’ or “unsolved mysteries’ which abound in the history and folklore of almost every rural region. A version of it had been publicised in France, where it attracted considerable interest but was not to our knowledge at the time accorded any inordinate consequence. As we subsequently learned, there were a number of errors in this version. For the moment, however, we must recount the tale as it was published during the 1960s, and as we first came to know of it.”
Rennes-leChateau and Berenger Sauniere
On June 1st, 1885 the tiny French village of Rennes-leChateau received a new parish priest. The cure’s name was Berenger Sauniere. He was a robust, handsome, energetic and, it would seem, highly intelligent man aged thirty-three. In seminary school not long before he had seemed destined for a promising clerical career. Certainly he had seemed destined for something more important than a remote village in the eastern foothills of the Pyrenees. Yet at some point he seems to have incurred the displeasure of his superiors. What precisely he did, if anything, remains unclear, but it soon thwarted all prospects of advancement. And it was perhaps to rid themselves of him that his superiors sent him to the parish of Rennes-leChateau.
At the time Rennes-leChateau housed only two hundred people. It was a tiny hamlet perched on a steep mountaintop, approximately twenty-five miles from Carcassonne.
To another man, the place might have constituted exile a life sentence in a remote provincial backwater, far from the civilised amenities of the age, far from any stimulus for an eager and inquiring mind. No doubt it was a blow to Sauniere’s ambition. Nevertheless there were certain compensations. Sauniere was a native of the region, having been born and raised only a few miles distant, in the village of Montazels. Whatever its deficiencies, therefore, Rennes-leChateau must have been very like home, with all the comforts of childhood familiarity. Between 1885 and 1891 Sauniere’s income averaged, in francs, the equivalent of six pounds sterling per year -hardly opulence, but pretty much what one would expect for a rural cure in late nineteenth-century France. Together with gratuities provided by his parishioners, it appears to have been sufficient for survival, if not for any extravagance. During those six years Sauniere seems to have led a pleasant enough life, and a placid one.
He hunted and fished in the mountains and streams of his boyhood. He read voraciously, perfected his Latin, learned Greek, embarked on the study of Hebrew. He employed, as housekeeper and servant, an eighteen-year old peasant girl named Marie Denarnaud, who was to be his lifelong companion and confidante. He paid frequent visits to his friend, the Abbe Henri Boudet, cure-of the neighbouring village of Rennes-les-Bains. And under Boudet’s tutelage he immersed himself in the turbulent history of the region a history whose residues were constantly present around him.
A few miles to the south-east of Rennes-leChateau, for example, looms another peak, called Bezu, surmounted by the ruins of a medieval fortress, which was once a preceptory of the Knights Templar. On a third peak, a mile or so east of Rennes-leChateau, stand the ruins of the chateau of Blanchefort, ancestral home of Bertrand de Blanchefort, fourth Grand Master of the Knights Templar, who presided over that famous order in the mid-twelfth century. Rennes-leChateau and its environs had been on the ancient pilgrim route, which ran from Northern Europe to Santiago de Compastela in Spain. And the entire region was steeped in evocative legends, in echoes of a rich, dramatic and often bloodsoaked past, For some time Sauniere had wanted to restore the village church of Rennes-leChateau. Consecrated to the Magdalene in 1059, this dilapidated edifice stood on the foundations of a still older Visigoth structure dating from the sixth century. By the late nineteenth century it was, not surprisingly, in a state of almost hopeless disrepair. In 1891, encouraged by his friend Boudet, Sauniere embarked on a modest restoration, borrowing a small sum from the village funds. In the course of his endeavours he removed the altar-stone, which rested on two archaic Visigoth columns.
One of these columns proved to be hollow. Inside the cure found four parchments preserved in sealed wooden tubes. Two of these parchments are said to have comprised genealogies, one dating from 1244, the other from 1644. The two remaining documents had apparently been composed in the 1780s by one of Sauniere’s predecessors as cure of Rennes-leChateau, the Abbe Antoine Bigou. Bigou had also been personal chaplain to the noble Blanchefort family who, on the eve of the French Revolution, were still among the most prominent local landowners. The two parchments from Bigou’s time would appear to be pious Latin texts, excerpts from the New Testament. At least ostensibly. But on one of the parchments the words are run incoherently together, with no space between them, and a number of utterly superfluous letters have been inserted. And on the second parchment lines are indiscriminately truncated unevenly, sometimes in the middle of a word while certain letters are conspicuously raised above the others. In reality these parchments comprise a sequence of ingenious ciphers or codes. Some of them are fantastically complex and unpredictable, defying even a computer, and insoluble without the requisite key. The following decipherment has appeared in French works devoted to Rennes-leChateau, and in two of our films on the subject made for the BBC. BERG ERE PAS DE TENTATION QUE POUSSIN TENIERS GAR DENT LA CLEF PAX DCLXXXI PAR LA CROIX ET CE CHEVAL DE DIEU J’ACHEVE CE DAEMON DE GARDIEN A MIDI POM MES BLEUES (SHEPHERDESS, NO TEMPTATION. THAT POUSSIN, TENIERS, HOLD THE KEY; PEACE 681. BY THE CROSS AND THIS HORSE OF GOD, I COMPLETE or DESTROY THIS DAEMON OF THE GUARDIAN AT NOON. BLUE APPLES.)
But if some of the ciphers are daunting in their complexity, others are patently, even flagrantly obvious. In the second parchment, for instance, the raised letters, taken in sequence, spell out a coherent message. A DAGO BERT II ROI ET A SION EST CE TRES OR ET IL EST LA MORT. (TO DAGO BERT II, KING, AND TO SION BELONGS THIS TREASURE AND HE IS THERE DEAD.)
Although this particular message must have been discernible to Sauniere, it is doubtful that he could have deciphered the more intricate codes. Nevertheless, he realised he had stumbled upon something of consequence and, with the consent of the village mayor, brought his discovery to his superior, the bishop of Carcassonne. How much the bishop understood is unclear, but Sauniere was immediately dispatched to Paris at the bishop’s expense with instructions to present himself and the parchments to certain important ecclesiastic authorities. Chief among these were the Abbe Bieil, Director General of the Seminary of Saint Sulpice, and Bieil’s nephew, Emile Hoffet. At the time Hoffet was training for the priesthood. Although still in his early twenties, he had already established an impressive reputation for scholarship, especially in linguistics, cryptography and palaeography. Despite his pastoral vocation, he was known to be immersed in esoteric thought, and maintained cordial relations with the various occult-oriented groups, sects and secret societies which were proliferating in the French capital. This had brought him into contact with an illustrious cultural circle, which included such literary figures as Stephane Mallarme and Maurice Maeterlinck, as well as the composer Claude Debussy. He also knew Emma Calve, who, at the time of Sauniere’s appearance, had just returned from triumphant performances in London and Windsor.
As a diva, Emma Calve was the Maria Callas of her age. At the same time she was a high priestess of Parisian esoteric sub-culture, and sustained amorous liaisons with a number of influential occultists. Having presented himself to Bieil and Hoffet, Sauniere spent three weeks in Paris. What transpired during his meetings with the ecclesiastics is unknown. What is known is that the provincial country priest was promptly and warmly welcomed into Hoffet’s distinguished circle. It has even been asserted that he became Emma Calves lover. Contemporary gossips spoke of an affair between them, and one acquaintance of the singer described her as being “obsessed’ with the cure. In any case there is no question but that they enjoyed a close enduring friendship.
In the years that followed she visited him frequently in the vicinity of Rennes-leChateau, where, until recently, one could still find romantic hearts carved into the rocks of the mountainside, bearing their initials. During his stay in Paris, Sauniere also spent some time in the Louvre. This may well be connected with the fact that, before his departure, he purchased reproductions of three paintings. One seems to have been a portrait, by an unidentified artist, of Pope Celestin V, who reigned briefly at the end of the thirteenth century. One was a work by David Teniers although it is not clear which David Teniers, father or son. The third was perhaps the most famous tableau by Nicolas Poussin, “Les Bergers d’Arcadie’ – “The Shepherds of Arcadia’. On his return to Rennes-leChateau, Sauniere resumed his restoration of the village church. In the process he exhumed a curiously carved flagstone, dating from the seventh or eighth century, which may have had a crypt beneath it, a burial chamber in which skeletons were said to have been found.
Sauniere also embarked on projects of a rather more singular kind. In the churchyard, for example, stood the sepulchre of Marie, Marquise d’Hautpoul de Blanchefort. The headstone and flagstone marking her grave had been designed and installed by the Abbe Antoine Bigou – Sauniere’s predecessor of a century before, who had apparently composed two of the mysterious parchments. And the headstone’s inscription which included a number of deliberate errors in spacing and spelling was a perfect anagram for the message concealed in the parchments referring to Poussin and Teniers. If one rearranges the letters, they will form the cryptic statement quoted above alluding to Poussin and to Sion (see p.26); and the errors seem to have been contrived precisely to make them do so. Not knowing that the inscriptions on the marquise’s tomb had already been copied, Sauniere obliterated them. Nor was this desecration the only curious behaviour he exhibited. Accompanied by his faithful housekeeper, he began to make long journeys on foot about the countryside, collecting rocks of no apparent value or interest. He also embarked on a voluminous exchange of letters with unknown correspondents throughout France, as well as in Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Austria and Spain. He took to collecting stacks of utterly worthless postage stamps. And he opened certain shadowy transactions with various banks. One of them even dispatched a representative from Paris, who travelled all the way to Rennes-leChateau for the sole purpose of ministering to Sauniere’s business. In postage alone Sauniere was already spending a substantial sum more than his previous annual income could possibly sustain. Then, in 1896, he began to spend in earnest, on a staggering and unprecedented scale. By the end of his life in 1917 his expenditure would amount to the equivalent of several million pounds at least. Some of this unexplained wealth was devoted to laudable public works a modern road was built leading up to the village, for example, and facilities for running water were provided. Other expenditures were more quixotic. A tower was built, the Tour Magdala, overlooking the called the Villa Bethania, which Sauniere himself never occupied. And the church was not only redecorated, but redecorated in a most bizarre fashion. A Latin inscription was incised in the porch lintel above the entrance: TERRIBILIS EST LOCUS ISTE (THIS PLACE IS TERRIBLE) Immediately inside the entrance a hideous statue was erected, a gaudy representation of the demon Asmodeus -custodian of secrets, guardian of hidden treasures and, according to ancient Judaic legend, builder of Solomon’s Temple.
On the church walls lurid, garishly painted plaques were installed depicting the Stations of the Cross each was characterised by some odd inconsistency, some inexplicable added detail, some flagrant or subtle deviation from accepted Scriptural account. In Station VIII for example, there is a child swathed in a Scottish plaid. In Station XIV, which portrays Jesus’s body being carried into the tomb, there is a background of dark nocturnal sky, dominated by a full moon. It is almost as if Sauniere were trying to intimate something. But what? That Jesus’s burial occurred after nightfall, several hours later than the Bible tells us it did? Or that the body is being carried out of the tomb, not into it? While engaged in this curious adornment, Sauniere continued to spend extravagantly. He collected rare china, precious fabrics, antique marbles. He created an orangery and a zoological garden. He assembled a magnificent library. Shortly before his death, he was allegedly planning to build a massive Babel-like tower lined with books, from which he intended to preach. Nor were his parishioners neglected. Sauniere regaled them with sumptuous banquets and other forms of largesse, maintaining the life-style of a medieval potentate presiding over an impregnable mountain domain. In his remote and well-nigh inaccessible eyrie he received a number of notable guests. One, of course, was Emma Calve. One was the French Secretary of State for Culture. But perhaps the most august and consequential visitor to the unknown country priest was the Archduke Johann von Habsburg, a cousin of Franz-Josef, Emperor of Austria.
Bank statements subsequently revealed that Sauniere and the archduke had opened consecutive accounts on the same day, and that the latter had made a substantial sum over to the former. The ecclesiastical authorities at first turned a blind eye. When Sauniere’s former superior at Carcassonne died, however, the new bishop attempted to call the priest to account. Sauniere responded with startling and brazen defiance. He refused to explain his wealth. He refused to accept the transfer the bishop ordered. Lacking any more substantial charge, the bishop accused him of simony -illicitly selling masses and a local tribunal suspended him. Sauniere appealed to the Vatican, which exonerated and reinstated him. On January 17th, 1917, Sauniere, then in his sixty-fifth year, suffered a sudden stroke. The date of January 17th is perhaps suspicious. The same date appears on the tombstone of the Marquise d’Hautpoul de Blanchefort -the tombstone Sauniere had eradicated. And January 17th is also the feast day of Saint Sulpice, who, as we were to discover, figured throughout our story. It was at the Seminary of Saint Sulpice that he confided his parchments to the Abbe Bieil and tmile Hoffet. But what makes Sauniere’s stroke on January 17th most suspicious is the fact that five days before, on January 12th, his parishioners declared that he had seemed to be in enviable health for a man of his age. Yet on January 12th, according to a receipt in our possession, Marie Denarnaud had ordered a coffin for her master. As Sauniere lay on his deathbed, a priest was called from a neighbouring parish to hear his final confession and administer the last rites. The priest duly arrived and retired into the sick-room. According to eye-witness testimony, he emerged shortly thereafter, visibly shaken. In the words of one account he “never smiled again’. In the words of another he lapsed into an acute depression that lasted for several months. Whether these accounts are exaggerated or not, the priest, presumably on the basis of Sauniere’s confession, refused to administer extreme unction. On January 22nd Sauniere died un shriven The following morning his body was placed upright in an armchair on the terrace of the Tour Magdala, clad in an ornate robe adorned with scarlet tassels.
One by one, certain unidentified mourners filed past, many of them Map 2 Rennes-leChiteau and its Environs 0 KILOMETRES5 LIMOUX O ALET-LES-RAINS ARQUFS “POVl71D1 tomb’ FSPtRAZA COUIZAR.U CO~BLA CHEPORT P~ RENNES-LE-CHATEAURENNES-LES-BAINS LAVALDIEU kB ~~ I/ ‘o P4 oLE Bezu ~I~ QUILL AN plucking tassels of remembrance from the dead man’s garment. There has never been any explanation of this ceremony. Present-day residents of Rennes-leChateau are as mystified by it as everyone else. The reading of Sauniere’s will was awaited with great anticipation. To everyone’s surprise and chagrin, however, it declared him to be utterly penniless. At some point before his death he had apparently transferred the whole of his wealth to Marie Denarnaud, who had shared his life and secrets for thirty-two years. Or perhaps most of that wealth had been in Marie’s name from the very beginning. Following the death of her master, Marie continued to live a comfortable life in the Villa Bethania until 1946. After the Second World War, however, the newly installed French government issued a new currency. As a means of apprehending tax-evaders, collaborators and wartime profiteers, French citizens, when exchanging old francs for new, were obliged to account for their revenues. Confronted by the prospect of an explanation, Marie chose poverty. She was seen in the garden of the villa, burning vast sheaves of old franc notes. For the next seven years Marie lived austerely, supporting herself on money obtained from the sale of Villa Bethania. She promised the purchaser, Monsieur Noel Corbu, that she would confide to him, before her death, a “secret’ which would make him not only rich but also “powerful’. On January 29th, 1953, however, Marie, like her master before her, suffered a sudden and unexpected stroke which left her prostrate on her deathbed, incapable of speech. To Monsieur Corbu’s intense frustration, she died shortly thereafter, carrying her secret with her. The Possible Treasures This, in its general outlines, was the story published in France during the 1960s. This was the form in which we first became acquainted with it. And it was to the questions raised by the story in this form that we, like other researchers of the subject, addressed ourselves.
The first question is fairly obvious. What was the source of Sauniere’s money? Whence could such sudden and enormous wealth have come? Was the explanation ultimately banal? Or was there something more exciting involved? The latter possibility imparted a tantalising quality to the mystery, and we could not resist the impulse to play detectives. We began by considering the explanations suggested by other researchers. According to many of these, Sauniere had indeed found a treasure of some kind. This was a plausible enough assumption, for the history of the village and its environs includes many possible sources of hidden gold or jewels. In prehistoric times, for example, the area around Rennes-leChateau was regarded as a sacred site by the Celtic tribes who lived there; and the village itself, once called Rhedae, derived its name from one of these tribes. In Roman times the area was a large and thriving community, important for its mines and therapeutic hot springs. And the Romans, too, regarded the site as sacred. Later researchers have found traces of several pagan temples. During the sixth century, the little mountain-top village was supposedly a town with 30,000 inhabitants. At one point it seems to have been the northern capital of the empire ruled by the Visigoths the Teutonic people who had swept westwards from Central Europe, sacked Rome, toppled the Roman Empire and established their own domain straddling the Pyrenees. For another five hundred years the town remained the seat of an important county, or comte, the Comte of Razes. Then, at the beginning of the thirteenth century, an army of northern knights descended on the Languedoc to stamp out the Cathar or Albigensian heresy and claim the rich spoils of the region for themselves. During the atrocities of the so-called Albigensian Crusade, Rennes-leChateau was captured and transferred from hand to hand as a fief. A century and a quarter later, in the 1360s, the local population was decimated by plague; and Rennes-leChateau was destroyed shortly thereafter by roving Catalan bandits.”
Tales of fantastic treasure are interwoven with many of these historical vicissitudes. The Cathar heretics, for example, were reputed to possess something of fabulous and even sacred value which, according to a number of legends, was the Holy Grail. These legends reportedly impelled Richard Wagner to make a pilgrimage to RennesleChateau before composing his last opera, Parsifal; and during the occupation of 1940-45 German troops, following in Wagner’s wake, are said to have undertaken a number of fruitless excavations in the vicinity. There was also the vanished treasure of the Knights Templar, whose Grand Master, Bertrand de Blanchefort, commissioned certain mysterious excavations in the vicinity. According to all accounts, these excavations were of a markedly clandestine nature, performed by a specially imported contingent of German miners. If some kind of Templar treasure were indeed concealed around Rennes-leChateau, this might explain the reference to “Sion’ in the parchments discovered by Sauniere. There were other possible treasures as well. Between the fifth and dynasty, which included King Dagobert II. Rennes-leChateau, in Dagobert’s time, was a Visigoth bastion, and Dagobert himself was married to a Visigoth princess. The town might have constituted a sort of royal treasury; and there are documents which speak of great wealth amassed by Dagobert for military conquest and concealed in the environs of Rennes-leChateau. If Sauniere discovered some such depository, it would explain the reference in the codes to Dagobert.
The Cathars. The Templars. Dagobert II. And there was yet another possible treasure the vast booty accumulated by the Visigoths during their tempestuous advance through Europe. This might have included something more than conventional booty, possibly items of immense relevance both symbolic and literal to Western religious tradition. It might, in short, have included the legendary treasure of the Temple of Jerusalem which, even more than the Knights Templar, would warrant the references to “Sion’. In A.D. 66 Palestine rose in revolt against the Roman yoke. Four years later, in A.D. 70, Jerusalem was razed by the legions of the emperor, under the command of his son, Titus. The Temple itself was sacked and the contents of the Holy of Holies carried back to Rome.
As they are depicted on Titus’s triumphal arch, these included the immense gold seven-branched candelabrum so sacred to Judaism, and possibly even the Ark of the Covenant. Three and a half centuries later, in A.D. 410, Rome in her turn was sacked by the invading Visigoths under Alaric the Great, who pillaged virtually the entire wealth of the Eternal City. As the historian Procopius tells us, Alaric made off with “the treasures of Solomon, the King of the Hebrews, a sight most worthy to be seen, for they were adorned in the most part with emeralds and in the olden time they had been taken from Jerusalem by the Romans.”5 Treasure, then, may well have been the source of Sauniere’s unexplained wealth. The priest may have discovered any of several treasures, or he may have discovered a single treasure which repeatedly changed hands through the centuries passing perhaps from the Temple of Jerusalem, to the Romans, to the Visigoths, eventually to the Cathars and/or the Knights Templar. If this were so, it would explain why the treasure in question “belonged’ both to Dagobert II and to Sion. Thus far our story seemed to be essentially a treasure story. And a treasure story even one involving the treasure of the Temple of Jerusalem is ultimately of limited relevance and significance. People are constantly discovering treasures of one kind or another. Such discoveries are often exciting, dramatic and mysterious, and many of them cast important illumination on the past. Few of them, however, exercise any direct influence, political or otherwise, on the present unless, of course, the treasure in question includes a secret of some sort, and possibly an explosive one. We did not discount the argument that Sauniere discovered treasure. At the same time it seemed clear to us that, whatever else he discovered, he also discovered a secret an historical secret of immense import to his own time and perhaps to our own as well. Mere money, gold or jewels would not, in themselves, explain a number of facets to his story. They would not account for his introduction to Hoffet’s circle, for instance, his association with Debussy and his liaison with Emma Calve. They would not explain the Church’s intense interest in the matter, the impunity with which Sauniere defied his bishop or his subsequent exoneration by the Vatican, which seemed to have displayed an urgent concern of its own. They would not explain a priest’s refusal to administer the last rites to a dying man, or the visit of a Habsburg archduke to a remote little village in the Pyrenees. The Habsburg archduke in question has since been revealed as Johann Salvator von Habsburg, known by the pseudonym of Jean Orth. He renounced all his rights and titles in 1889 and within two months had been banished from all the territories of the Empire. It was shortly after this that he first appeared in Rennes le Chateau. Said officially to have died in 1890 but in fact died in Argentina in 1910 or 1911. See Les Maisons Souveraines de L’Autriche by Dr. Dugast ROulIIe, Paris, 1967, page 191. Nor would money, gold or jewels explain the powerful aura of mystification surrounding the whole affair, from the elaborate coded ciphers to Marie Denarnaud burning her inheritance of banknotes. And Marie herself had promised to divulge a ‘secret’ which conferred not merely wealth but ‘power’ as well. On these grounds we grew increasingly convinced that Sauniere’s story involved more than riches, and that it involved a secret of some kind, one that was almost certainly controversial. In other words it seemed to us that the mystery was not confined to a remote backwater village and nineteenth-century priest. Whatever it was, it appeared to radiate out from Rennes-leChateau and produce ripples perhaps even a potential tidal wave in the world beyond.
Could Sauniere’s wealth have come not from anything of intrinsic financial value, but from knowledge of some kind? If so, could this knowledge have been turned to fiscal account? Could it have been used to blackmail somebody, for example? Could Sauniere’s wealth have been his payment for silence? We knew that he had received money from Johann von Habsburg. At the same time, however, the priest’s ‘secret’, whatever it was, seemed to be more religious in nature than political. Moreover, his relations with the Austrian archduke, according to all accounts, were notably cordial. On later career, seems to have been distinctly afraid of him, and to have treated him with kid gloves the Vatican.
Could Sauniere have been blackmailing the Vatican? Granted such blackmail would be a presumptuous and dangerous undertaking for one man, however exhaustive his precautions. But what if he were aided and supported in his enterprise by others, whose eminence rendered them inviolable to the church, like the French Secretary of State for Culture, or the Habsburgs? What if the Archduke Johann were only an intermediary, and the money he bestowed on Sauniere actually issued from the coffers of Rome?s The Intrigue In February 1972 The Lost Treasure of Jerusalem?” the first of our three films on Sauniere and the mystery of Rennes-leChateau, was shown. The film made no controversial assertions, it simply told the ‘basic story’ as it has been recounted in the preceding pages, Nor was there any speculation about an ‘explosive secret’ or highlevel blackmail. It is also worth mentioning that the film did not cite smile Hoffet the young clerical scholar in Paris to whom Sauniere confided his parchments by name. Not surprisingly perhaps, we received a veritable deluge of mail. Some of it offered intriguing speculative suggestions. Some of it was complimentary. Some of it was dotty. Of all these letters, one, which the writer did not wish us to publicise, seemed to warrant special attention. It came from a retired Anglican priest and seemed a curious and provocative non sequitur. Our correspondent wrote with categorical certainty and authority. He made his assertions baldly and definitively, with no elaboration, and with apparent indifference as to whether we believed him or not. The ‘treasure’, he declared flatly, did not involve gold or precious stones. On the contrary, it consisted of ‘incontrovertible proof’ that the Crucifixion was a fraud and that Jesus was alive as late as A.D. 45. This claim sounded flagrantly absurd. What, even to a convinced atheist, could possibly comprise ‘incontrovertible proof’ that Jesus survived the Crucifixion? We were unable to imagine anything which could not be disbelieved or repudiated which would not only comprise ‘proof’, but ‘proof’ that was truly ‘incontrovertible’.
At the same time the sheer extravagance of the assertion begged for clarification and elaboration. The writer of the letter had provided a return address. At the earliest opportunity we drove to see him and attempted to interview him. In person he was rather more reticent than he had been in his letter, and seemed to regret having written to us in the first place. He refused to expand upon his reference to “incontrovertible proof’ and volunteered only one additional fragment of information. This “proof’, he said, or its existence at any rate, had been divulged to him by another Anglican cleric, Canon Alfred Leslie Liney. Liney, who died in 1940, had published widely and was not unknown. During much of his life he had maintained contacts with the Catholic Modernist Movement, based primarily at Saint Sulpice in Paris. In his youth Liney had worked in Paris, and had been acquainted with Emile Hoffet. The trail had come full circle. Given a connection between Liney and Hoffet, the claims of the priest, however preposterous, could not be summarily dismissed. Similar evidence of a monumental secret was forthcoming when we began to research the life of Nicolas Poussin, the great seventeenth-century painter whose name recurred throughout Sauniere’s story. In 1656 Poussin, who was living in Rome at the time, had received a visit from the Abbe Louis Fouquet, brother of Nicolas Fouquet, Superintendent of Finances to Louis XIV of France. From Rome, the abbe dispatched a letter to his brother, describing his meeting with Poussin. Part of this letter is worth quoting. He and I discussed certain things, which I shall with ease be able to explain to you in detail things which will give you, through Monsieur Poussin, advantages which even kings would have great pains to draw from him, and which, according to him, it is possible that nobody else will ever rediscover in the centuries to come. And what is more, these are things so difficult to discover that nothing now on this earth can prove of better fortune nor be their equal.?
Neither historians nor biographers of Poussin or Fouquet have ever been able satisfactorily to explain this letter, which clearly alludes to some mysterious matter of immense import. Not long after receiving it, Nicolas Fouquet was arrested and imprisoned for the duration of his life. According to certain accounts, he was held strictly incommunicado and some historians regard him as a likely candidate for the Man in the Iron Mask. In the meantime the whole of his correspondence was confiscated by Louis XIV, who inspected all of it personally. In the years that followed the king went determinedly out of his way to obtain the original of Poussin’s painting, “Les Bergers d’Arcadie’. When he at last succeeded it was sequestered in his private apartments at Versailles. Whatever its artistic greatness, the painting would seem to be innocent enough. In the foreground three shepherds and a shepherdess are gathered about a large antique tomb, contemplating the inscription in the weathered stone: “ET IN ARCADIA EGO’. In the background looms a rugged, mountainous landscape of the sort generally associated with Poussin. According to Anthony Blunt, as well as other Poussin experts, this landscape was wholly mythical, a product of the painter’s imagination. In the early 1970s, however, an actual tomb was located, identical to the one in the painting identical in setting, dimensions, proportions, shape, surrounding vegetation, even in the circular outcrop of rock on which one of Poussin’s shepherds rests his foot. This actual tomb stands on the outskirts of a village called Arques -approximately six miles from Rennes-leChateau, and three miles from the chateau of Blanchefort. If one stands before the sepulchre the vista is virtually indistinguishable from that in the painting. And then it becomes apparent that one of the peaks in the background of the painting is Rennes-leChateau. There is no indication of the age of the tomb. It may, of course, have been erected quite recently but how did its builders ever locate a setting which matches so precisely that of the painting? In fact it would seem to have been standing in Poussin’s time, and “Les Bergers d’Arcadie’ would seem to be a faithful rendering of the actual site.
According to the peasants in the vicinity, the tomb has been there for as long as they, their parents and grandparents can remember. And there is said to be specific mention of it in a memoire dating from 1709.8 According to records in the village of Arques, the land on which the tomb starts belonged, until his death in the 1950s, to an American, one Louis Lawrence of Boston, Massachusetts. In the 1920s Mr. Lawrence opened the sepulchre and found it empty. His wife and mother-in-law were later buried in it. When preparing the first of our BBC films on Rennes-leChateau, we spent a morning shooting footage of the tomb. We broke off for lunch and returned some three hours later. During our absence, a crude and violent attempt had been made to smash into the sepulchre. If there was once an inscription on the actual tomb, it had long since been weathered away. As for the inscription on the tomb in Poussin’s painting, it would seem to be conventionally elegiac Death announcing his sombre presence even in Arcadia, the idyllic pastoral paradise of classical myth. And yet the inscription is curious because it lacks a verb. Literally translated, it reads: AND IN ARCADIA I .. . Why should the verb be missing? Perhaps for a philosophical reason to preclude all tense, all indication of past, present or future, and thereby to imply something eternal? Or perhaps for a reason of a more practical nature. The codes in the parchments found by Sauniere had relied heavily on anagrams, on the transposition and rearrangement of letters. Could “ET IN ARCADIA EGO’ also perhaps be an anagram? Could the verb have been omitted so that the inscription would consist only of certain precise letters? One of our television viewers, in writing to us, suggested that this might indeed be so and then rearranged the letters into a coherent Latin statement.
The result was: I “FEGO ARCANA DEI (BEGONE! I CONCEAL THE SECRETS OF GOD) We were pleased and intrigued by this ingenious exercise. We did not realise at the time how extraordinarily appropriate the resulting admonition was. 2 The Cathars and the Great Heresy We began our investigation at a point with which we already had a certain familiarity the Cathar or Albigensian heresy and the crusade it provoked in the thirteenth century. We were already aware that the Cathars figured somehow in the mystery surrounding Sauniere and Rennes-leChateau. In the first place the medieval heretics had been numerous in the village and its environs, which suffered brutally during the course of the Albigensian Crusade. Indeed, the whole history of the region is soaked in Cathar blood, and the residues of that blood, along with much bitterness, persist to the present day. Many peasants in the area now, with no inquisitors 1o fall upon them, openly proclaim Cathar sympathies. There is even a Cathar church and a so-called “Cathar pope’ who, until his death in 1978, lived in the village of Arques. We knew that Sauniere had immersed himself in the history and folklore of his native soil, so he could not possibly have avoided contact with Cathar thought and traditions. He could not have been unaware that RennesleChateau was an important town in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, and something of a Cathar bastion. Sauniere must also have been familiar with the numerous legends attached to the Cathars. He must have known of the rumours connecting them with that fabulous object, the Holy Grail. And if Richard Wagner, in quest of something pertaining to the Grail, did indeed visit Rennes-leChateau, Sauniere could not have been ignorant of that fact either. In 1890, moreover, a man named Jules Doinel became librarian at Carcassonne and established a neo-Cathar church.” Doinel himself wrote prolifically on Cathar thought, and by 1896 had become a prominent member of a local cultural organisation, the Society of Arts and Sciences of Carcassonne.
In 1898 he was elected its 41 secretary. This society included a number of Sauniere’s associates, among them his best friend, the Abbe Henri Boudet. And Doinel’s own personal circle included Emma Calve. It is therefore very probable that Doinel and Sauniere were acquainted. There is a further, and more provocative, reason for linking the Cathars with the mystery of Rennes-leChateau. In one of the parchments found by Sauniere, the text is sprinkled with a handful of small letters eight, to be precise quite deliberately different from all the others. Three of the letters are towards the top of the page, five towards the bottom. These eight letters have only to be read in sequence for them to spell out two words “REX 1vtuNDt’. This is unmistakably a Cathar term, which is immediately recognisable to anyone familiar with Cathar thought. Given these factors, it seemed reasonable enough to commence our investigation with the Cathars. We therefore began to research into them, their beliefs and traditions, their history and milieu in detail. Our inquiry opened new dimensions of mystery, and generated a number of tantalising questions. The Albigensian Crusade In 1209 an army of some 30,000 knights and foot-soldiers from Northern Europe descended like a whirlwind on the Languedoc the mountainous north-eastern foothills of the Pyrenees in what is now southern France. In the ensuing war the whole territory was ravaged, crops were destroyed, towns and cities were razed, a whole population was put to the sword. This extermination occurred on so vast, so terrible a scale that it may well constitute the first case of “genocide’ in modern European history. In the town of Beziers alone, for example, at least 15,000 men, women and children were slaughtered wholesale many of them in the sanctuary of the church itself. When an officer inquired of the pope’s representative how he might distinguish heretics from true believers, the reply was, “Kill them all. God will recognise His own.” This quotation, though widely reported, may be apocryphal Nevertheless, it typifies the fanatical zeal and bloodlust with which the atrocities were perpetrated. The Map 3 The Languedoc of the Cathars BORDEAUX R C- fm CA HORS AGE ~f /” MOISSAC MONTAUBANAVIGNON ALBI -NIMES TOUL USE CA EMONTPELLIER ~MU0.ET MI NERVE BE:2I CARCASSONNE “MARSEILLES PAMI~”RS.X . MOT _A0.BONNE~ MIR~”PO X LET IX TERM LA VELA NET rMCNTStGURi-QU IBP us _ ^^~”RPIGNAN same papal representative, writing to Innocent III in Rome, announced proudly that “neither age nor sex nor status was spared’. After Beziers, the invading army swept through the whole of the Languedoc. Perpignan fell, Narbonne fell, Carcassonne fell, Toulouse fell. And, wherever the victors passed, they left a trail of blood, death and carnage in their wake. This war, which lasted for nearly forty years, is now known as the Albigensian Crusade. It was a crusade in the true sense of the word. It had been called by the pope himself. Its participants wore a cross on their tunics, like crusaders in Palestine. And the rewards were the same as they were for crusaders in the Holy Land remission of all sins, an expiation of penances, an assured place in Heaven and all the booty one could plunder. In this Crusade, moreover, one did not even have to cross the sea. And in accordance with feudal law, one was obliged to fight for no more than forty days assuming, of course, that one had no interest in plunder.
By the time the Crusade was over, the Languedoc had been utterly transformed, plunged back into the barbarity that characterised the rest of Europe. Why? For what had all this havoc, brutality and devastation occurred? At the beginning of the thirteenth century the area now known as the Languedoc was not officially a part of France. It was an independent principality, whose language, culture and political institutions had less in common with the north than they had with Spain with the kingdoms of Leon, Aragon and Castile. The principality was ruled by a handful of noble families, chief of whom were the counts of Toulouse and the powerful house of Trencavel. And within the confines of this principality, there flourished a culture which, at the time, was the most advanced and sophisticated in Christendom, with the possible exception of Byzantium. The Languedoc had much in common with Byzantium. Learning, for example, was highly esteemed, as it was not in Northern Europe. Philosophy and other intellectual activities flourished; poetry and courtly love were extolled; Greek, Arabic; and Hebrew were enthusiastically studied; and at Lunel and Narbonne, schools devoted to the Cabala the ancient esoteric tradition of Judaism -were thriving. Even the nobility was literate and literary, at a time when most Northern nobles could not even sign their names. Like Byzantium, too, the Languedoc practised a civilised, easy-going religious tolerance in contrast to the fanatical zeal that characterised other parts of Europe. Skeins of Islamic and Judaic thought, for instance, were imported through maritime commercial centres like Marseilles, or made their way across the Pyrenees from Spain. At the same time, the Roman Church enjoyed no very high esteem; Roman clerics in the Languedoc, by virtue of their notorious corruption, succeeded primarily in alienating the populace. There were churches, for example, in which no mass had been said for more than thirty years. Many priests ignored their parishioners and ran businesses or large estates. One archbishop of Narbonne never even visited his diocese. Whatever the corruption of the church, the Languedoc had reached an apex of culture that would not be seen in Europe again until the Renaissance.
But, as in Byzantium, there were elements of complacency, decadence and tragic weakness which rendered the region unprepared for the onslaught subsequently unleashed upon it. For some time both the Northern European nobility and the Roman Church had been aware of its vulnerability, and were eager to exploit it. The Northern nobility had for many years coveted the wealth and luxury of the Languedoc. And the Church was interested for its own reasons. In the first place its authority in the region was slack. And while culture flourished in the Languedoc, something else flourished as well the major heresy of medieval Christendom. In the words of Church authorities the Languedoc was “infected’ by the Albigensian heresy, ‘the foul leprosy of the South’. And although the adherents of this heresy were essentially non-violent, they constituted a severe threat to Roman authority, the most severe threat, indeed, that Rome would experience until three centuries later when teachings of Martin Luther began the Reformation. By 1200 there was a very real prospect of this heresy displacing Roman Catholicism as the dominant form of Christianity in the Languedoc. And what was more ominous still in the Church’s eyes, it was already radiating out to other parts of Europe, especially to urban centres in Germany, Flanders and Champagne. The heretics were known by a variety of names. In 1165 they had been condemned by an ecclesiastical council at the Languedoc town of Albi. For this reason, or perhaps because Albi continued to be one of their centres, they were often called Albigensians. On other occasions they were called Cathars or Cathares or Cathari. In Italy they were called Patarines. Not infrequently they were also branded or stigmatised with the names of much earlier heresies Arian, Marcionite and Manichaean. “Albigensian’ and “Cathar’ were essentially generic names. In other words they did not refer to a single coherent church, like that of Rome, with a fixed, codified and definitive body of doctrine and theology. The heretics in question comprised a multitude of diverse sects many under the direction of an independent leader, whose followers would assume his name. And while these sects may have held to certain common principles, they diverged radically from one another in detail.
Moreover, much of our information about the heretics derives from ecclesiastical sources like the Inquisition. To form a picture of them from such sources is like trying to form a picture of, say, the French Resistance from the reports of the SS and Gestapo. It is therefore virtually impossible to present a coherent and definitive summary of what actually constituted “Cathar thought’. In general the Cathars subscribed to a doctrine of reincarnation and to a recognition of the feminine principle in religion. Indeed, the preachers and teachers of Cathar congregations, known as parfaits (“perfected ones’), were of both sexes. At the same time, the Cathars rejected the orthodox Catholic Church and denied the validity of all clerical hierarchies, or official and ordained intercessors between man and God. At the core of this position lay an important Cathar tenet the repudiation of “faith’, at least as the Church insisted on it. In the place of ‘faith’ accepted at second hand, the Cathars insisted on direct and personal knowledge, a religious or mystical experience apprehended at first hand. This experience had been called “gnosis’, from the Greek word for ‘knowledge’, and for the Cathars it took precedence over all creeds and dogma. Given such an emphasis on direct personal contact with God, priests, bishops and other clerical authorities became superfluous. The Cathars were also dualists. All Christian thought, of course, can ultimately be seen as dualistic, insisting on a conflict between two opposing principles good and evil, spirit and flesh, higher and lower. But the Cathars carried this dichotomy much further than orthodox Catholicism was prepared to. For the Cathars, men were the swords that spirits fought with, and no one saw the hands. For them, a perpetual war was being waged throughout the whole of creation between two irreconcilable principles -light and darkness, spirit and matter, good and evil. Catholicism posits one supreme God, whose adversary, the Devil, is ultimately inferior to Him. The Cathars, however, proclaimed the existence not of one god, but of two, with more or less comparable status. One of these gods the ‘good’ one was entirely disincarnate, a being or principle of pure spirit, unsullied by the taint of matter. He was the god of love.
But love was deemed wholly incompatible with power; and material creation was a manifestation of power. Therefore, for the Cathars, material creation the world itself was intrinsically evil. All matter was intrinsically evil. The universe, in short, was the handiwork of a ‘usurper god’, the god of evil or, as the Cathars called him, “Rex Mundi’, “King of the World’. Catholicism rests on what might be called an “ethical dualism’. Evil, though issuing ultimately perhaps from the Devil, manifests itself primarily through man and his actions. In contrast, the Cathars maintained a form of “cosmological dualism’, a dualism that pervaded the whole of reality. For the Cathars, this was a basic premise, but their response to it varied from sect to sect. According to some Cathars, the purpose of man’s life on earth was to transcend matter, to renounce perpetually anything connected with the principle of power and thereby to attain union with the principle of love. According to other Cathars, man’s purpose was to reclaim and redeem matter, to spiritualise and transform it. It is important to note the absence of any fixed dogma, doctrine or theology. As in most deviations from established orthodoxy there are only certain loosely defined attitudes, and the moral obligations attendant on these attitudes were subject to individual interpretation. In the eyes of the Roman Church the Cathars were committing serious heresies in regarding material creation, on behalf of which Jesus had supposedly died, as intrinsically evil, and implying that God, whose ‘word’ had created the world “in the beginning’, was a usurper. Their most serious heresy, however, was their attitude towards Jesus himself. Since matter was intrinsically evil, the Cathars denied that Jesus could partake of matter, become incarnate in the flesh, and still be the Son of God. By some Cathars he was therefore deemed to be wholly incorporeal, a ‘phantasm’, an entity of pure spirit, which, of course, could not possibly be crucified. The majority of Cathars seem to have regarded him as a prophet no different from any other a mortal being who, on behalf of the principle of love, died on the cross.
There was, in short, nothing mystical, nothing supernatural, nothing divine about the Crucifixion if, indeed, it was relevant at all, which many Cathars appear to have doubted. In any case, all Cathars vehemently repudiated the significance of both the Crucifixion and the cross -perhaps because they felt these doctrines were irrelevant, or because Rome extolled them so fervently, or because the brutal circumstances of a prophet’s death did not seem worthy of worship. And the cross at least in association with Calvary and the Crucifixion was regarded as an emblem of Rex Mundi, lord of the material world, the very antithesis of the true redemptive principle. Jesus, if mortal at all, had been a prophet of Ahs oR the principle of love. And AMOR, when inverted or perverted or twisted into power, became ROMA Rome, whose opulent, luxurious Church seemed to the Cathars a palpable embodiment and manifestation on earth of Rex Mundi’s sovereignty. In consequence the Cathars not only refused to worship the cross, they also denied such sacraments as baptism and communion. Despite these subtle, complex, abstract and, to a modern mind perhaps, irrelevant theological positions, most Cathars were not unduly fanatical about their creed. It is intellectually fashionable nowadays to regard the Cathars as a congregation of sages, enlightened mystics or initiates in arcane wisdom, all of whom were privy to some great cosmic secret. In actual fact, however, most Cathars were more or less “ordinary’ men and women, who found in their creed a refuge from the stringency of orthodox Catholicism a respite from the endless tithes, penances, obsequies, strictures and other impositions of the Roman Church. However abstruse their theology, the Cathars were eminently realistic people in practice. They condemned procreation, for example, since the propagation of the flesh was a service not to the principle of love, but to Rex Mundi; but they were not so naive as to advocate the abolition of sexuality. True, there was a specific Cathar “sacrament’, or the equivalent thereof, called the Consolamentum, which compelled one to chastity. Except for the parfaits, however, who were usually ex-family men and women anyway, the Consolumentum was not administered until one was on one’s death-bed; and it is not inordinately difficult to be chaste when one is dying. So far as the congregation at large was concerned, sexuality was tolerated, if not explicitly sanctioned. How does one condemn procreation while condoning sexuality?
There is evidence to suggest that the Cathars practised both birth control and abortion.” When Rome subsequently charged the heretics with ‘unnatural sexual practices’, this was taken to refer to sodomy. However, the Cathars, in so far as records survive, were extremely strict in their prohibition of homosexuality. “Unnatural sexual practices’ may well have referred to various methods of birth control and abortion. We know Rome’s position on those issues today. It is not difficult to imagine the energy and vindictive zeal with which that position would have been enforced during the Middle Ages. Generally, the Cathars seem to have adhered to a life of extreme devotion and simplicity. Deploring churches, they usually conducted their rituals and services in the open air or in any readily available building a barn, a house, a municipal hall. They also practised what we, today, would call meditation. They were strict vegetarians, although the eating of fish was allowed. And when travelling about the countryside, parfaits would always do so in pairs, thus lending credence to the rumours of sodomy sponsored by their enemies. The Siege of Montsegur This, then, was the creed which swept the Languedoc and adjacent provinces on a scale that threatened to displace Catholicism itself. For a number of comprehensible reasons, many nobles found the creed attractive. Some warmed to its general tolerance. Some were anti-clerical anyway. Some were disillusioned with the Church’s corruption. Some had lost patience with the tithe system, whereby the income from their estates vanished into the distant coffers of Rome. Thus many nobles, in their old age, became parfaits. Indeed, it is estimated that 30 per cent of all parfaits were drawn from Languedoc nobility. In 1145, half a century before the Albigensian Crusade, Saint Bernard himself had journeyed to the Languedoc, intending to preach against the heretics. When he arrived, he was less appalled by the heretics than by the corruption of his own Church.
So far as the heretics were concerned, Bernard was clearly impressed-by them. “No sermons are more Christian than theirs,” he declared, “and their morals are pure. ‘3 By 1200, needless to say, Rome had grown distinctly alarmed by the situation. Nor was she unaware of the envy with which the barons of Northern Europe regarded the rich lands and cities to the south. This envy could readily be exploited, and the Northern lords would constitute the Church’s storm-troops. All that was needed was some provocation, some excuse to ignite popular opinion. Such an excuse was soon forthcoming. On January 14th, 1208, one of the Papal Legates to the Languedoc, Pierre de Castelnau, was murdered. The crime seems to have been committed by anticlerical rebels with no Cathar affiliations whatever. Furnished with the excuse she needed, however, Rome did not hesitate to blame the Cathars. At once Pope Innocent III ordered a Crusade. Although there had been intermittent persecution of heretics all through the previous century, the Church now mobilised her forces in earnest. The heresy was to be extirpated once and for all. A massive army was mustered under the command of the abbot of Citeaux. Military operations were entrusted largely to Simon de Montfort father of the man who was subsequently to play so crucial a role in English history. And under Simon’s leadership the pope’s crusaders set out to reduce the highest European culture of the Middle Ages to destitution and rubble. In this holy undertaking they were aided by a new and useful ally, a Spanish fanatic named Dominic Guzman. Spurred by a rabid hatred of heresy, Guzman, in 1216, created the monastic order subsequently named after him, the Dominicans. And in 1233 the Dominicans spawned a more infamous institution the Holy Inquisition. The Cathars were not to be its sole victims. Before the Albigensian Crusade, many Languedoc nobles especially the influential houses of Trencavel and Toulouse had been extremely friendly to the region’s large indigenous Jewish population. Now all such protection and support was withdrawn by order. In 1218 Simon de Montfort was killed besieging Toulouse. Nevertheless, the depredation of the Languedoc continued, with only brief respites, for another quarter of a century. By 1243, however, all organised resistance in so far as there had ever been any had effectively ceased.
By 1243 all major Cathar towns and bastions had fallen to the Northern invaders, except for a handful of remote and isolated strong points. Chief among these was the majestic mountain citadel of Montsegur, poised like a celestial ark above the surrounding valleys. For ten months Montsegur was besieged by the invaders, withstanding repeated assaults and maintaining tenacious resistance. At length, in March 1244, the fortress capitulated, and Catharism, at least ostensibly, ceased to exist in the south of France. But ideas can never be stamped out definitively. In his best-selling book, Montaillou, for example, Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, drawing extensively on documents of the period, chronicles the activities of surviving Cathars nearly half a century after the fall of Montsegur. Small enclaves of heretics continued to survive in the mountains, living in caves, adhering to their creed and waging a bitter guerrilla war against their persecutors. In many areas of the Languedoc including the environs of Rennes-leChateau the Cathar faith is generally acknowledged to have persisted. And many writers have traced subsequent European heresies to offshoots of Cathar thought the Waldensians, for instance, the Hussites, the Adamites or. Brethren of the Free Spirit, the Anabaptists and the strange Camisards, numbers of whom found refuge in London during the early eighteenth century. The Cathar Treasure During the Albigensian Crusade and afterwards, a mystique grew up around the Cathars which still persists today. In part this can be put down to the element of romance that surrounds any lost and tragic cause that of Bonnie Prince Charlie, for example with a magical lustre, with a haunting nostalgia, with the “stuff of legend’. But at the same time, we discovered, there were some very real mysteries associated with the Cathars. While the legends might be exalted and romanticised, a number of enigmas remained. One of these pertains to the origins of the Cathars; and although this at first seemed an academic point to us, it proved subsequently to be of considerable importance.
Most recent historians have argued that the Cathars derived from the Bogomils, a sect active in Bulgaria during the tenth and eleventh centuries, whose missionaries migrated westwards. There is no question that the heretics of the Languedoc included a number of Bogomils. Indeed a known Bogomil preacher was prominent in the political and religious affairs of the time. And yet our research disclosed substantial evidence that the Cathars did not derive from the Bogomils. On the contrary, they seemed to represent the flowering of something already rooted in French soil for centuries. They seemed to have issued, almost directly, from heresies established and entrenched in France at the very advent of the Christian era. 4 There are other, considerably more intriguing, mysteries associated with the Cathars. Jean de Joinville, for example, an old man writing of his acquaintance with Louis IX during the thirteenth century, writes, “The king (Louis IX) once told me how several men from among the Albigenses had gone to the Comte de Montfort .. . and asked him to come and look at the body of Our Lord, which had become flesh and blood in the hands of their priest. ‘5 Montfort, according to the anecdote, declared that his entourage may go if they wish, but he will continue to believe in accordance with the tenets of “Holy Church’. There is no further elaboration or explanation of this incident. Joinville himself merely recounts it in passing. But what are we to make of that enigmatic invitation? What were the Cathars doing? What kind of ritual was involved? Leaving aside the Mass, which the Cathars repudiated anyway, what could possibly make “the body of Our Lord .. . become flesh and blood’? Whatever it might be, there is certainly something disturbingly literal in the statement. Another mystery surrounds the legendary Cathar “treasure’. It is known that the Cathars were extremely wealthy. Technically, their creed forbade them to bear arms; and though many ignored this prohibition, the fact remains that large numbers of mercenaries were employed at considerable expense.
At the same time, the sources of Cathar wealth the allegiance they commanded from powerful landowners, for instance were obvious and explicable. Yet rumours arose, even during the course of the Albigensian Crusade, of a fantastic mystical Cathar treasure, far beyond material wealth. Whatever it was, this treasure was reputedly kept at Montsegur. When Montsegur fell, however, nothing of consequence was found. And yet there are certain extremely singular incidents connected with the siege and the capitulation of the fortress. During the siege, the attackers numbered upwards of ten thousand. With this vast force the besiegers attempted to surround the entire mountain, precluding all entry and exit and hoping to starve out the defenders. Despite their numerical strength, however, they lacked sufficient manpower to make their ring completely secure. Many troops were local, moreover, and sympathetic to the Cathars. And many troops were simply unreliable. In consequence, it was not difficult to pass undetected through the attackers’ lines. There were many gaps through which men slipped to and fro, and supplies found their way up to the fortress. The Cathars took advantage of these gaps. In January, nearly three months before the fall of the fortress, two parfaits escaped. According to reliable accounts, they carried with them the bulk of the Cathars’ material wealth a load of gold, silver and coin which they carried first to a fortified cave in the mountains and from there to a castle stronghold. After that the treasure vanished and has never been heard of again. On March 1st Montsegur finally capitulated. By then its defenders numbered less than four hundred between 150 and 180 of them were parfaits, the rest being knights, squires, menat-arms and their families. They were granted surprisingly lenient terms. The fighting men were to receive full pardon for all previous ‘crimes’. They would be allowed to depart with their arms, baggage and any gifts, including money, they might receive from their employers. The parfaits were also accorded unexpected generosity. Provided they abjured their heretical beliefs and confessed their “sins’ to the Inquisition, they would be freed and subjected only to light penances.
The defenders requested a two-week truce, with a complete halt to hostilities, to consider the terms. In a further display of uncharacteristic generosity, the attackers agreed. In return the defenders voluntarily offered hostages. It was agreed that if anyone attempted to escape from the fortress the hostages would be executed. Were the parfaits so committed to their beliefs that they willingly chose martyrdom instead of conversion? Or was there something they could not or dared not -confess to the Inquisition? Whatever the answer, not one of the porfaits, as far as is known, accepted the besiegers’ terms. On the contrary, all of them chose martyrdom. Moreover, at least twenty of the other occupants of the fortress, six women and some fifteen fighting men, voluntarily received the Consolamentum and became parfaits as well, thus committing themselves to certain death. On March 15th the truce expired. At dawn the following day more than two hundred parfaits were dragged roughly down the mountainside. Not one recanted. There was no time to erect individual stakes, so they were locked into a large wood-filled stockade at the foot of the mountain and burned en masse. Confined to the castle, the remainder of the garrison was compelled to look on. They were warned that if any of them sought to escape it would mean death for all of them, as well as for the hostages. Despite this risk, however, the garrison had connived in hiding four parfaits among them. And on the night of March 16th these four men, accompanied by a guide, made a daring escape again with the knowledge and collusion of the garrison. They descended the sheer western face of the mountain, suspended by ropes and letting themselves down drops of more than a hundred metres at a time.fi What were these men doing? What was the purpose of their hazardous escape, which entailed such risk to both the garrison and the hostages? On the next day they could have walked freely out of the fortress, at liberty to resume their lives. Yet for some unknown reason, they embarked on a perilous nocturnal escape which might easily have entailed death for themselves and their colleagues. According to tradition, these four men carried with them the legendary Cathar treasure.
But the Cathar treasure had been smuggled out of Montsegur three months before. And how much “treasure’, in any case how much gold, silver or coin could three or four men carry on their backs, dangling from ropes on a sheer mountainside? If the four escapees were indeed carrying something, it would seem clear that they were carrying something other than material wealth. What might they have been carrying? Accoutrements of the Cathar faith perhaps books, manuscripts, secret teachings, relics, religious objects of some kind; perhaps something which, for one reason or another, could not be permitted to fall into hostile hands. That might explain why an escape was undertaken an escape that entailed such risk for everyone involved. But if something of so precious a nature had, at all costs, to be kept out of hostile hands, why was it not smuggled out before? Why was it not smuggled out with the bulk of the material treasure three months previously? Why was it retained in the fortress until this last and most dangerous moment? The precise date of the truce permitted us to deduce a possible answer to these questions. It had been requested by the defenders, who voluntarily offered hostages to obtain it. For some reason, the defenders seem to have deemed it necessary even though all it did was delay the inevitable for a mere two weeks. Perhaps, we concluded, such a delay was necessary to purchase time. Not time in general, but that specific time, that specific date. It coincided with the spring equinox -and the equinox may well have enjoyed some ritual status for the Cathars. It also coincided with Easter. But the Cathars, who questioned the relevance of the Crucifixion, ascribed no particular importance to Easter. And yet it is known that a festival of some sort was held on March 14th, the day before the truce expired.” There seems little doubt that the truce was requested in order that this festival might be held. And there seems little doubt that the festival could not be held on a date selected at random. It apparently had to be on March 14th. Whatever the festival was, it clearly made some impression on the hired mercenaries some of whom, defying inevitable death, converted to the Cathar creed. Could this fact hold at least a partial key to what was smuggled out of Montsegur two nights later? Could whatever was smuggled out then have been necessary, in some way, for the festival on the 14th? Could it somehow have been instrumental in persuading at least twenty of the defenders to become parfaits at the last moment? And could it in some fashion have ensured the subsequent collusion of the garrison, even at the risk of their lives? If the answer is yes to all these questions, that would explain why whatever was removed on the 16th was not removed earlier in January, for example, when the monetary treasure was carried to safety. It would have been needed for the festival. And it would then have had to be kept out of hostile hands.
The Mystery of the Cathars As we pondered these conclusions, we were constantly reminded of the legends linking the Cathars and the Holy Grail.8 We were not prepared to regard the Grail as anything more than myth. We were certainly not prepared to assert that it ever existed in actuality. Even if it did, we could not imagine that a cup or bowl, whether it held Jesus’ blood or not, would be so very precious to the Cathars for whom Jesus, to a significant degree, was incidental. Nevertheless, the legends continued to haunt and perplex us. Elusive though it is, there does seem to be some link between the Cathars and the whole cult of the Grail as it evolved during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. A number of writers have argued that the Grail romances -those of Chretien de Troyes and Wolfram von Eschenbach, for example are an interpolation of Cathar thought, hidden in elaborate symbolism, into the heart of orthodox Christianity. There may be some exaggeration in that assertion, but there is also some truth. During the Albigensian Crusade ecclesiastics fulminated against the Grail romances, declaring them to be pernicious, if not heretical. And in some of these romances there are isolated passages which are not only highly unorthodox, but quite unmistakably dualist in other words, Cathar. What is more, Wolfram von Eschenbach, in one of his Grail romances, declares that the Grail castle was situated in the Pyrenees an assertion which Richard Wagner, at any rate, would seem to have taken literally.
According to Wolfram, the name of the Grail castle was Munsalvaesche – a Germanicised version apparently of Montsalvat, a Cathar term. And in one of Wolfram’s poems the lord of the Grail castle is named Perilla. Interestingly enough, the lord of Montsegur was Raimon de Pereille whose name, in its Latin form, appears on documents of the period as Perilla.9 If such striking coincidences persisted in haunting us, they must also, we concluded, have haunted Sauniere -who was, after all, steeped in the legends and folklore of the region. And like any other native of the region, Sauniere must have been constantly aware of the proximity of Montsegur, whose poignant and tragic fate still dominates local consciousness. But for Sauniere the very nearness of the fortress may well have entailed certain practical implications. Something had been smuggled out of Montsegur just after the truce expired. According to tradition, the four men who escaped from the doomed citadel carried with them the Cathar treasure. But the monetary treasure had been smuggled out three months earlier. Could the Cathar ‘treasure’, like the ‘treasure’ Sauniere discovered, have consisted primarily of a secret? Could that secret have been related, in some unimaginable way, to something that became known as the Holy Grail? It seemed inconceivable to us that the Grail romances could possibly be taken literally. In any case, whatever was smuggled out of Montsegur had to have been taken somewhere. According to tradition, it was taken to the fortified caves of Ornolac in the Ariege, where a band of Cathars was exterminated shortly after. But nothing save skeletons has ever been found at Ornolac. On the other hand, Rennes-leChateau is only half a day’s ride on horseback from Montsegur. Whatever was smuggled out of Montsegur might well have been brought to Rennes-leChateau, or, more likely, to one of the caves which honeycomb the surrounding mountains. And if the ‘secret’ of Montsegur was what Sauniere subsequently discovered, that would obviously explain a great deal. In the case of the Cathars, as with Sauniere, the word ‘treasure’ seems to hide something else knowledge or information of some kind.
Given the tenacious adherence of the Cathars to their creed and their militant antipathy to Rome, we wondered if such knowledge or information (assuming it existed) related in some way to Christianity -to the doctrines and theology of Christianity, perhaps to its history and origins. Was it possible, in short, that the Cathars (or at least certain Cathars) knew something -something that contributed to the frenzied fervour with which Rome sought their extermination? The priest who had written to us had referred to ‘incontrovertible proof’. Could such ‘proof’ have been known to the Cathars? At the time, we could only speculate idly. And information on the Cathars was in general so meagre that it precluded even a working hypothesis. On the other hand our research into the Cathars had repeatedly impinged on another subject, even more enigmatic and mysterious, and surrounded by evocative legends. This subject was the Knights Templar. It was therefore to the Templars that we next directed our investigation. And it was with the Templars that our inquiries began to yield concrete documentation, and the mystery began to assume far greater proportions than we had ever imagined. 3 The Warrior Monks To research the Knights Templar proved a daunting undertaking. The voluminous quantity of written material devoted to the subject was intimidating; and we could not at first be sure how much of this material was reliable. If the Cathars had engendered a welter of spurious and romantic legend, the mystification surrounding the Templars was even greater. On one level they were familiar enough to us the fanatically fierce warrior-monks, knight-mystics clad in white mantle with splayed red cross, who played so crucial a role in the Crusades. Here, in some sense, were the archetypal crusaders the storm-troopers of the Holy Land, who fought and died heroically for Christ in their thousands. Yet many writers, even today, regarded them as a much more mysterious institution, an essentially secret order, intent on obscure intrigues, clandestine machinations, shadowy conspiracies and designs. And there remained one perplexing and inexplicable fact. At the end of their two-century-long career, these white garbed champions of Christ were accused of denying and repudiating Christ, of trampling and spitting on the cross. In Scott’s Ivanhoe the Templars are depicted as haughty and arrogant bullies, greedy and hypocritical despots shamelessly abusing their power, cunning manipulators orchestrating the affairs of men and kingdoms. In other nineteenth-century writers they are depicted as vile satanists, devil-worshippers, practitioners of all manner of obscene, abominable and/or heretical rites. More recent historians have been inclined to view them as hapless victims, sacrificial pawns in the high-level political manoeuvrings of Church and state.
And there are yet other writers, especially in the tradition of Freemasonry, who regard the Templars as mystical adepts and initiates, custodians of an arcane wisdom that transcends Christianity itself. Whatever the particular bias or orientation of such writers, no one disputes the heroic zeal of the Templars or their contribution to history. Nor is there any question that their order is one of the most glamorous and enigmatic institutions in the annals of Western culture. No account of the Crusades or, for that matter, of Europe during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries will neglect to mention the Templars. At their zenith they were the most powerful and influential organisation in the whole of Christendom, with the single possible exception of the papacy. And yet certain haunting questions remain. Who and what were the Knights Templar? Were they merely what they appeared to be, or were they something else? Were they simple soldiers on to whom an aura of legend and mystification was subsequently grafted? If so, why? Alternatively was there a genuine mystery connected with them? Could there have been some foundation for the later embellishments of myth? We first considered the accepted accounts of the Templars the accounts offered by respected and responsible historians. On virtually every point these accounts raised more questions than they answered. They not only collapsed under scrutiny, but suggested some sort of ‘cover-up’. We could not escape the suspicion that something had been deliberately concealed and a ‘cover story’ manufactured, which later historians had merely repeated. Knights Templar The Orthodox Account So far as is generally known, the first historical information on the Templars is provided by a Frankish historian, Guillaume de Tyre, who wrote between 1175 and 1185. This was at the peak of the Crusades, when Western armies had already conquered the Holy Land and established the Kingdom of Jerusalem or, as it was called by the Templars themselves, “Outremer’, the “Land Beyond the Sea’.
But by the time Guillaume de Tyre began to write, Palestine had been in Western hands for seventy years, and the Templars had already been in existence for more than fifty. Guillaume was therefore writing of events which predated his own lifetime events which he had not personally witnessed or experienced, but had learnt of at second or even third hand. At second or third hand and, moreover, on the basis of uncertain authority. For there were no Western chroniclers in Outremer between 1127 and 1144. Thus there are no written records for those crucial years. We do not, in short, know much of Guillaume’s sources, and this may well call some of his statements into question. He may have been drawing on popular word of mouth, on a none too reliable oral tradition. Alternatively, he may have consulted the Templars themselves and recounted what they told him. If this is so, it means he is reporting only what the Templars wanted him to report. Granted, Guillaume does provide us with certain basic information; and it is this information on which all subsequent accounts of the Templars, all explanations of their foundation, all narratives of their activities have been based. But because of Guillaume’s vagueness and sketchiness, because of the time at which he was writing, because of the death of documented sources, he constitutes a precarious basis on which to build a definitive picture. Guillaume’s chronicles are certainly useful. But it is a mistake and one to which many historians have succumbed to regard them as unimpugnable and wholly accurate. Even Guillaume’s dates, as Sir Steven Runciman stresses, ‘are confused and at times demonstrably wrong’.” According to Guillaume de Tyre, the Order of the Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon was founded in 1118. Its founder is said to be one Hugues de Payen, a nobleman from Champagne and vassal of the count of Champagne.” One day Hugues, unsolicited, presented himself with eight comrades at the palace of Baudouin I -king of Jerusalem, whose elder brother, Godfroi de Bouillon, had captured the Holy City nineteen years before. Baudouin seems to have received them most cordially, as did the Patriarch of Jerusalem the religious leader of the new kingdom and special emissary of the pope. The declared objective of the Templars, Guillaume de Tyre continues, was, ‘as far as their strength permitted, they should keep the roads and highways safe .. . with especial regard for the protection of pilgrims ‘.3 So worthy was this objective apparently that the king placed an entire wing of the royal palace at the knights’ disposal. And, despite their declared oath of poverty, the knights moved into this lavish accommodation. According to tradition, their quarters were built on the foundations of the ancient Temple of Solomon, and from this the fledgling Order derived its name. For nine years, Guillaume de Tyre tells us, the nine knights admitted no new candidates to their Order. They were still supposed to be living in poverty such poverty that official seals show two knights riding a single horse, implying not only brotherhood, but also a penury that precluded separate mounts. This style of seal is often regarded as the most famous and distinctive of Templar devices, descending from the first days of the Order. However, it actually dates from a full century later, when the Templars were hardly poor if, indeed, they ever were. According to Guillaume de Tyre, writing a half century later, the Templars were established in 1118 and moved into the king’s palace presumably sallying out from here to protect pilgrims on the Holy Land’s highways and byways. And yet there was, at this time, an official royal historian, employed by the king. His name was Fulk de Chartres, and he was writing not fifty years after the Order’s purported foundation but during the very years in question. Curiously enough, Fulk de Chartres makes no mention whatever of Hugues de Payen, Hugues’s companions or anything even remotely connected with the Knights Templar. Indeed there is a thunderous silence about Templar activities during the early days of their existence. Certainly there is no record anywhere not even later of them doing anything to protect pilgrims. And one cannot but wonder how so few men could hope to fulfill so mammoth a self-imposed task. Nine men to protect the pilgrims on all the thoroughfares of the Holy Land? Only nine? And all pilgrims? If this was their objective, one would surely expect them to welcome new recruits.
Yet, according to Guillaume de Tyre, they admitted no new candidates to the Order for nine years. None the less, within a decade the Templars’ fame seems to have spread back to Europe. Ecclesiastical authorities spoke highly of them and extolled their Christian undertaking. By 1128, or shortly thereafter, a tract lauding their virtues and qualities was issued by no less a person than Saint Bernard, abbot of Clairvaux and the age’s chief spokesman for Christendom. Bernard’s tract, “In Praise of the New Knighthood’, declares the Templars to be the epitome and apotheosis of Christian values. After nine years, in 1127, most of the nine knights returned to Europe and a triumphal welcome, orchestrated in large part by Saint Bernard. In January 1128 a Church council was convened at Troyes court of the count of Champagne, Hugues de Payen’s liege lord at which Bernard was again the guiding spirit. At this council the Templars were officially recognised and incorporated as a religious military order. Hugues de Payen was given the title of Grand Master. He and his subordinates were to be warrior-monks, soldier-mystics, combining the austere discipline of the cloister with a martial zeal tantamount to fanaticism a “militia of Christ’, as they were called at the time. And it was again Saint Bernard who helped to draw up, with an enthusiastic preface, the rule of conduct to which the knights would adhere a rule based on that of the Cistercian monastic order, in which Bernard himself was a dominant influence. The Templa~s were sworn to poverty, chastity and obedience. They were obliged to cut their hair but forbidden to cut their beards, thus distinguishing themselves in an age when most men were clean-shaven. Diet, dress and other aspects of daily life were stringently regulated in accordance with both monastic and military routines. All members of the Order were obliged to wear white habits or surcoats and cloaks, and these soon evolved into the distinctive white mantle for which the Templars became famous. “It is granted to none to wear white habits, or to have white mantles, excepting the .. . Knights of Christ.” So stated the Order’s rule, which elaborated on the symbolic significance of this apparel, “To all the professed knights, both in winter and in summer, we give, if they can be procured, white garments, that those who have cast behind them a dark life may know Map 4The Major Castles and Towns of the Holy Land in the Mid-Twelfth Century Ton.- \ s.r~a 1 – – TRIPOLI – I
_- i __ I Sidon I I DAMASCUS Beaofor< — –_7yrej – _A
__ -_Tibenae SraofGafilrr – I – Cacaarea – E”
Jaffa”\ / / / -JERUSALEM *
Aaralon -1 _ 1- _ C–1 I)eadSca 1 \ I \ Kcrakl \ 1 \ 1 MI nc real \ 1 \ I 1 I 1 I 1 I 1 I Petra ~ \1\\ / / that they are to commend themselves to their creator by a pure and white life. ‘5 In addition to these details, the rule established a loose administrative hierarchy and apparatus. And behaviour on the battlefield was strictly controlled. If captured, for instance, Templars were not allowed to ask for mercy or to ransom themselves. They were compelled to fight to the death. Nor were they permitted to retreat, unless the odds against them exceeded three to one. In 11396 a Papal Bull was issued by Pope Innocent II a former Cistercian monk at Clairvaux and protege of Saint Bernard. According to this Bull, the Templars would owe allegiance to no secular or ecclesiastical power other than the pope himself. In other words, they were rendered totally independent of all kings, princes and prelates, and all interference from both political and religious authorities. They had become, in effect, a law unto themselves, an autonomous international empire. During the two decades following the Council of Troyes, the Order expanded with extraordinary rapidity and on an extraordinary scale. When Hugues de Payen visited England in late 1128, he was received with “great worship’ by King Henry I. Throughout Europe, younger sons of noble families flocked to enroll in the Order’s ranks, and vast donations in money, goods and land were made from every quarter of Christendom. Hugues de Payen donated his own properties, and all new recruits were obliged to do likewise. On admission to the Order, a man was compelled to sign over all his possessions. Given such policies, it is not surprising that Templar holdings proliferated. Within a mere twelve months of the Council of Troyes, the Order held substantial estates in France, England, Scotland, Flanders, Spain and Portugal. Within another decade, it also held territory in Italy, Austria, Germany, Hungary, the Holy Land and points east. Although individual knights were bound to their vow of poverty, this did not prevent the Order from amassing wealth, and on an unprecedented scale. All gifts were welcomed. At the same time, the Order was forbidden to dispose of anything not even to ransom its leaders. The Temple received in abundance but, as a matter of strict policy, it never gave.
When Hugues de Payen returned to Palestine in 1130, therefore, with an entourage quite considerable for the time of some three hundred knights, he left behind, in the custody of other recruits, vast tracts of European territory. In 1146 the Templars adopted the famous splayed red cross the cross pat tee With this device emblazoned on their mantles, the knights accompanied King Louis VII of France on the Second Crusade. Here they established their reputation for martial zeal coupled with an almost insane foolhardiness, and a fierce arrogance as well. On the whole, however, they were magnificently disciplined -the most disciplined fighting force in the world at the time. The French king himself wrote that it was the Templars alone who prevented the Second Crusade ill-conceived and mismanaged as it was from degenerating into a total debacle. During the next hundred years the Templars became a power with international influence. They were constantly engaged in high-level diplomacy between nobles and monarchs throughout the Western world and the Holy Land. In England, for example, the Master of the Temple was regularly called to the king’s Parliament, and was regarded as head of all religious orders, taking precedence over all priors and abbots in the land. Maintaining close links with both Henry II and Thomas a Becket, the Templars were instrumental in trying to reconcile the sovereign and his estranged archbishop. Successive English kings, including King John, often resided in the Temple’s London preceptory, and the Master of the Order stood by the monarch’s side at the signing of the Magna Carta.” Nor was the Order’s political involvement confined to Christendom alone. Close links were forged with the Muslim world as well the world so often opposed on the battlefield and the Templars commanded a respect from Saracen leaders exceeding that accorded any other Europeans. Secret connections were also maintained with the Hashishim or Assassins, the famous sect of militant and often fanatical adepts who were Islam’s equivalent of the Templars. The Hashishim paid tribute to the Templars and were rumoured to be in their employ.
On almost every political level the Templars acted as official arbiters in disputes, and even kings submitted to their authority. In 1252 Henry III of England dared to challenge them, threatening to confiscate certain of their domains. “You Templars .. . have so many liberties and charters that your enormous possessions make you rave with pride and haughtiness. What was imprudently given must therefore be prudently revoked; and what was inconsiderately bestowed must be considerately recalled.” The Master of the Order replied, “What sayest thou, O King? Far be it that thy mouth should utter so disagreeable and silly a word. So long as thou dost exercise justice, thou wilt reign. But if thou infringe it, thou wilt cease to be King.” It is difficult to convey to the modern mind the enormity and audacity of this statement. Implicitly the Master is taking for his Order and himself a power that not even the papacy dared explicitly claim the power to make or depose monarchs. At the same time, the Templars’ interests extended beyond war, diplomacy and political intrigue. In effect they created and established the institution of modern banking. By lending vast sums to destitute monarchs they became the bankers for every throne in Europe and for certain Muslim potentates as well. With their network of preceptories throughout Europe and the Middle East, they also organised, at modest interest rates, the safe and efficient transfer of money for merchant traders, a class which became increasingly dependent upon them. Money deposited in one city, for example, could be claimed and withdrawn in another, by means of promissory notes inscribed in intricate codes. The Templars thus became the primary money-changers of the age, and the Paris preceptory became the centre of European finance.9 It is even probable that the cheque, as we know and use it today, was invented by the Order. And the Templars traded not only in money, but in thought as well. Through their sustained and sympathetic contact with Islamic and Judaic culture, they came to act as a clearing-house for new ideas, new dimensions of knowledge, new sciences. They enjoyed a veritable monopoly on the best and most advanced technology of their age the best that could be produced by armourers, leather-workers, stone masons military architects and engineers.
They contributed to the development of surveying, map-making, road-building and navigation. They possessed their own sea-ports, shipyards and fleet, a fleet both commercial and military, which was among the first to use the magnetic compass. And as soldiers, the Templars’ need to treat wounds and illness made them adept in the use of drugs. The Order maintained its own hospitals with its own physicians and surgeons whose use of mould extract suggests an understanding of the properties of antibiotics. Modern principles of hygiene and cleanliness were understood. And with an understanding also in advance of their time they regarded epilepsy not as demonic possession but as a controllable disease. ‘ Inspired by its own accomplishments, the Temple in Europe grew increasingly wealthy, powerful and complacent. Not surprisingly perhaps, it also grew increasingly arrogant, brutal and corrupt. “To drink like a Templar’ became a cliche of the time. And certain sources assert that the Order made a point of recruiting excommunicated knights. But while the Templars attained both prosperity and notoriety in Europe, the situation in the Holy Land had seriously deteriorated. In 1185 King Baudouin IV of Jerusalem died. In the dynastic squabble that followed, Gerard de Ridefort, Grand Master of the Temple, betrayed an oath made to the dead monarch, and thereby brought the European community in Palestine to the brink of civil war. Nor was this Ridefort’s only questionable action. His cavalier attitude towards the Saracens precipitated the rupture of a long-standing truce, and provoked a new cycle of hostilities. Then, in July 1187, Ridefort led his knights, along with the rest of the Christian army, into a rash, misconceived and, as it transpired, disastrous battle at Hattin. The Christian forces were virtually annihilated; and two months later Jerusalem itself captured nearly a century before was again in Saracen hands. During the following century the situation became increasingly hopeless. By 1291 nearly the whole of Outremer had fallen, and the Holy Land was almost entirely under Muslim control. Only Acre remained, and in May 1291 this last fortress was lost as well. In defending the doomed city, the Templars showed themselves at their most heroic. The Grand Master himself, though severely wounded, continued fighting until his death.
As there was only limited space in the Order’s galleys, the women and children were evacuated, while all knights, even the wounded, chose to remain behind. When the last bastion in Arce fell, it did so with apocalyptic intensity, the walls collapsing and burying attackers and defenders alike. The Templars established their new headquarters in Cyprus; but with the loss of the Holy Land, they had effectively been deprived of their raison d’etre. As there were no longer any accessible infidel lands to conquer, the Order began to turn its attention towards Europe, hoping to find there a justification for its continued existence. A century before, the Templars had presided over the foundation of another chivalric, religious-military order, the Teutonic Knights. The latter were active in small numbers in the Middle East, but by the mid-thirteenth century had turned their attention to the north-eastern frontiers of Christendom. Here they had carved out an independent principality for themselves the Ordenstoat or Ordensland, which encompassed almost the whole of the eastern Baltic. In this principality which extended from Prussia to the Gulf of Finland and what is now Russian soil the Teutonic Knights enjoyed an unchallenged sovereignty, far from the reach of both secular and ecclesiastical control. From the very inception of the Ordenstaat, the Templars had envied the independence and immunity of their kindred order. After the fall of the Holy Land, they thought increasingly of a state of their own in which they might exercise the same untrammelled authority and autonomy as the Teutonic Knights. Unlike the Teutonic Knights, however, the Templars were not interested in the harsh wilderness of Eastern Europe. By now they were too accustomed to luxury and opulence. Accordingly, they dreamed of founding their state on more accessible, more congenial soil that of the Languedoc.” From its earliest years, the Temple had maintained a certain warm rapport with the Cathars, especially in the Languedoc. Many wealthy landowners Cathars themselves or sympathetic to the Cathars had donated vast tracts of land to the Order. According to a recent writer, at least one of the co-founders of the Temple was a Cathar.
This seems somewhat improbable, but it is beyond dispute that Bertrand de Blanchefort, fourth Grand Master of the Order, came from a Cathar family. Forty years after Bertrand’s death, his descendants were fighting side by side with other Cathar lords against the Northern invaders of Simon de Montfort. ‘2 During the Albigensian Crusade, the Templars ostensibly remained neutral, confining themselves to the role of witnesses. At the same time, however, the Grand Master at the time would seem to have made the Order’s position clear when he declared there was in fact only one true Crusade the Crusade against the Saracens. Moreover, a careful examination of contemporary accounts reveals that the Templars provided a haven for many Cathar refugees.”? On occasion they do seem to have taken up arms on these refugees’ behalf. And an inspection of the Order’s rolls towards the beginning of the Albigensian Crusade reveals a major influx of Cathars into the Temple’s ranks where not even Simon de Montfort’s crusaders would dare to challenge them. Indeed, the Templar rolls of the period show that a significant proportion of the Order’s high-ranking dignitaries were from Cathar families. 14 In the Languedoc Temple officials were more frequently Cathar than Catholic. What is more, the Cathar nobles who enrolled in the Temple do not appear to have moved about the world as much as their Catholic brethren. On the contrary, they appear to have remained for the most part in the Languedoc, thus creating for the Order a long-standing and stable base in the region. By virtue of their contact with Islamic and Judaic cultures, the Templars had already absorbed a great many ideas alien to orthodox Roman Christianity. Templar Masters, for example, often employed Arab secretaries, and many Templars, having learnt Arabic in captivity, were fluent in the language. A close rapport was also maintained with Jewish communities, financial interests and scholarship. The Templars had thus been exposed to many things Rome would not ordinarily countenance. Through the influx of Cathar recruits, they were now exposed to Gnostic dualism as well if, indeed, they had ever really been strangers to it. By 1306 Philippe IV of France Philippe le Bel was acutely anxious to rid his territory of the Templars.
They were arrogant and unruly. They were efficient and highly trained, a professional military force much stronger and better organised than any he himself could muster. They were firmly established throughout France, and by this time even their allegiance to the pope was only nominal. Philippe had no control over the Order. He owed it money. He had been humiliated when, fleeing a rebellious Paris mob, he was obliged to seek abject refuge in the Temple’s preceptory. He coveted the Templars’ immense wealth, which his sojourn in their premises made flagrantly apparent to him. And, having applied to join the Order as a postulant, he had suffered the indignity of being haughtily rejected. These factors together, of course, with the alarming prospect of an independent Templar state at his back door were sufficient to spur the king to action. And heresy was a convenient excuse. Philippe first had to enlist the co-operation of the pope, to whom, in theory at any rate, the Templars owed allegiance and obedience. Between 1303 and 1305, the French king and his ministers engineered the kidnapping and death of one pope (Boniface VIII) and quite possibly the murder by poison of another (Benedict XI). Then, in 1305, Philippe managed to secure the election of his own candidate, the archbishop of Bordeaux, to the vacant papal throne. The new pontiff took the name Clement V. Indebted as he was to Philippe’s influence, he could hardly refuse the king’s demands. Philippe planned his moves carefully. A list of charges was compiled, partly from the king’s spies who had infiltrated the Order, partly from the voluntary confession of an alleged renegade Templar. Armed with these accusations, Philippe could at last move; and when he delivered his blow, it was sudden, swift, efficient and lethal. In a security operation worthy of the SS or Gestapo, the king issued sealed and secret orders to his seneschals throughout the country. These orders were to be opened everywhere simultaneously and implemented at once. At dawn on Friday, October 13th, 1307, all Templars in France were to be seized and placed under arrest by the king’s men, their preceptories placed under royal sequestration, their goods confiscated.
But although Philippe’s objective of surprise might seem to have been achieved, his primary interest the Order’s immense wealth eluded him. It was never found, and what became of the fabulous ‘treasure of the Templars’ has remained a mystery. In fact it is doubtful whether Philippe’s surprise attack on the Order was as unexpected as he, or subsequent historians, believed. There is considerable evidence to suggest the Templars received some kind of advance warning. Shortly before the arrests, for example, the Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, called in many of the Order’s books and extant rules, and had them burnt. A knight who withdrew from the Order at this time was told by the treasurer that he was extremely ‘wise’, as catastrophe was imminent. An official note was circulated to all French preceptories, stressing that no information regarding the Order’s customs and rituals was to be released. In any case, whether the Templars were warned in advance or whether they deduced what was in the wind, certain precautions were definitely taken. ‘5 In the first place the knights who were captured seem to have submitted passively, as if under instructions to do so. At no point is there any record of the Order in France actively resisting the king’s seneschals. In the second place there is persuasive evidence of some sort of organised flight by a particular group of knights virtually all of whom were in some way connected with the Order’s Treasurer. It is not perhaps surprising, therefore, that the treasure of the Temple, together with almost all its documents and records, should have disappeared. Persistent but unsubstantiated rumours speak of the treasure being smuggled by night from the Paris preceptory, shortly before the arrests. According to these rumours, it was transported by wagons to the coast presumably to the Order’s naval base at La Rochelle and loaded into eighteen galleys, which were never heard of again. Whether this is true or not, it would seem that the Templars’ fleet escaped the king’s clutches because there is no report of any of the Order’s ships being taken. On the contrary, those ships appear to have vanished totally, along with whatever they might have been carrying.”
In France the arrested Templars were tried and many subjected to torture. Strange confessions were extracted and even stranger accusations made. Grim rumours began to circulate about the country. The Templars supposedly worshipped a devil called Baphomet. At their secret ceremonies they supposedly prostrated themselves before a bearded male head, which spoke to them and invested them with occult powers. Unauthorised witnesses of these ceremonies were never seen again. And there were other charges as well, which were even more vague: of infanticide; of teaching women how to abort; of obscene kisses at the induction of postulants; of homosexuality. But of all the charges levelled against these soldiers of Christ, who had fought and laid down their lives for Christ, one stands out as most bizarre and seemingly improbable. They were accused of ritually denying Christ, of repudiating, trampling and spitting on the cross. In France, at least, the fate of the arrested Templars was effectively sealed. Philippe harried them savagely and mercilessly. Many were burned, many more imprisoned and tortured. At the same time the king continued to bully the pope, demanding ever more stringent measures against the Order. After resisting for a time, the pope gave way in 1312, and the Knights Templar were officially dissolved without a conclusive verdict of guilt or innocence ever being pronounced. But in Philippe’s domains, the trials, inquiries and investigations continued for another two years. At last, in March 1314, Jacques de Molay, the Grand Master, and Geoffroi de Charnay, Preceptor of Normandy, were roasted to death over a slow fire. With their execution, the Templars ostensibly vanish from the stage of history. Nevertheless, the Order did not cease to exist. Given the number of knights who escaped, who remained at large or who were acquitted, it would be surprising if it had. Philippe had tried to influence his fellow monarchs, hoping thereby to ensure that no Templar, anywhere in Christendom, should be spared. Indeed, the king’s zeal in this respect is almost suspicious. One can perhaps understand him wanting to rid his own domains of the Order’s presence. It is rather less clear why he should have been so intent on exterminating Templars elsewhere.
Certainly he himself was no model of virtue; and it is difficult to imagine a monarch who arranged for the deaths of two popes being genuinely distressed by infringements of faith. Did Philippe simply fear vengeance if the Order remained intact outside France? Or was there something else involved? In any case, his attempt to eliminate Templars outside France was not altogether successful. Philippe’s own sonin-law, for example, Edward II of England, at first rallied to the Order’s defence. Eventually, pressured by both the pope and the French king, he complied with their demands, but only partially and tepidly. Although most Templars in England seem to have escaped completely, a number were arrested. Of these, however, most received only light sentences sometimes no more than a few years’ penance in abbeys and monasteries, where they lived in generally comfortable conditions. Their lands were eventually consigned to the Knights Hospitaller of Saint John, but they themselves were spared the vicious persecution visited upon their brethren in France. Elsewhere the elimination of the Templars met with even greater difficulty. Scotland, for instance, was at war with England at the time, and the consequent chaos left little opportunity for implementing legal niceties. Thus the Papal Bulls dissolving the Order were never proclaimed in Scotland and in Scotland, therefore, the Order was never technically dissolved. Many English and, it would appear, French Templars found a Scottish refuge, and a sizeable contingent is said to have fought at Robert Bruce’s side at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. According to legend coherent body in Scotland for another four centuries. In the fighting of 1688-91, James II of England was deposed by William of Orange. In Scotland supporters of the beleaguered Stuart monarch rose in revolt and, at the Battle of Killiecrankie in 1689, John Claverhouse, Viscount of Dundee, was killed on the field. When his body was recovered, he was reportedly found to be wearing the Grand Cross of the Order of the Temple -not a recent device supposedly, but one dating from before 1307.” In Lorraine, which was part of Germany at the time, not part of France, the Templars were supported by the duke of the principality. A few were tried and exonerated.
Most, it seems, obeyed their Preceptor, who reputedly advised them to shave their beards, don secular garb and assimilate themselves into the local populace. In Germany proper the Templars openly defied their judges, threatening to take up arms. Intimidated, their judges pronounced them innocent; and when the Order was officially dissolved, many German Templars found a haven in the Hospitallers of Saint John and in the Teutonic Order. In Spain, too, the Templars resisted their persecutors and found a refuge in other orders. In Portugal the Order was cleared by an inquiry and simply modified its name, becoming Knights of Christ. Under this title they functioned well into the sixteenth century, devoting themselves to maritime activity. Vasco da Gama was a Knight of Christ, and Prince Henry the Navigator was a Grand Master of the Order. Ships of the Knights of Christ sailed under the familiar red pat tee cross. And it was under the same cross that Christopher Columbus’s three caravels crossed the Atlantic to the New World. Columbus himself was married to the daughter of a former Knight of Christ, and had access to his father-inlaw’s charts and diaries. Thus, in a number of diverse ways, the Templars survived the attack of October 13th, 1307. And in 1522 the Templars’ Prussian progeny, the Teutonic Knights, seculari sed themselves, repudiated their allegiance to Rome and threw their support behind an upstart rebel and heretic named Martin Luther. Two centuries after their dissolution, the Templars, however vicariously, were exacting revenge on the Church which had betrayed them. Knights Templar The Mysteries In greatly abridged form, this is the history of the Knights Templar as writers have accepted and presented it, and as we encountered it in our research. But we quickly discovered that there was another dimension to the Order’s history, considerably more elusive, more provocative and more speculative. Even during their existence, a mystique had come to surround the knights. Some said they were sorcerers and magicians, secret adepts and alchemists.
Many of their contemporaries shunned them, believing them to be in league with unclean powers. As early as 1208, at the beginning of the Albigensian Crusade, Pope Innocent III had admonished “the Templars for un-Christian behaviour, and referred explicitly to necromancy. On the other hand, there were individuals who praised them with extravagant enthusiasm. In the late twelfth century Wolfram von Eschenbach, greatest of medieval Minnesanger or romanciers, paid a special visit to Outremer, to witness the Order in action. And when, between 1195 and 1220, Wolfram composed his epic romance Parzival, he conferred on the Templars a most exalted status. In Wolfram’s poem the knights who guard the Holy Grail, the Grail castle and the Grail family, are Templars.”e After the Temple’s demise, the mystique surrounding it persisted. The final recorded act in the Order’s history had been the burning of the last Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, in March 1314. As the smoke from the slow fire choked the life from his body, Jacques de Molay is said to have issued an imprecation from the flames. According to tradition, he called his persecutors Pope Clement and King Philippe to join him and account for themselves before the court of God within the year. Within a month Pope Clement was dead, supposedly from a sudden onslaught of dysentery. By the end of the year Philippe was dead as well, from causes that remain obscure to this day. There is, of course, no need to look for supernatural explanations. The Templars possessed great expertise in the use of poisons. And there were certainly enough people about refugee knights travelling incognito, sympathisers of the Order or relatives of persecuted brethren to exact the appropriate vengeance. Nevertheless, the apparent fulfilment of the Grand Master’s curse lent credence to belief in the Order’s occult powers. Nor did the curse end there. According to legend, it was to cast a pall over the French royal line far into the future. And thus echoes of the Templars’ supposed mystic power reverberated down the centuries. By the eighteenth century various secret and semi secret confraternities were lauding the Templars as both precursors and mystical initiates.
Many Freemasons of the period appropriated the Templars as their own antecedents. Certain Masonic “rites’ or “observances’ claimed direct lineal descent from the Order, as well as authorised custody of its arcane secrets. Some of these claims were patently preposterous. Others resting, for example, on the Order’s possible survival in Scotland -may well have a core of validity, even if the attendant trappings are spurious. By 1789 the legends surrounding the Templars had attained positively mythic proportions, and their historical reality was obscured by an aura of obfuscation and romance. They were regarded as occult adepts, illumined alchemists, magi and sages, master masons and high initiates veritable supermen endowed with an awesome arsenal of arcane power and knowledge. They were also regarded as heroes and martyrs. harbingers of the anticlerical spirit of the age; and many French Freemasons, in conspiring against Louis XVI, felt they were helping to implement Jacques de Molay’s dying curse on the French line. When the king’s head fell beneath the guillotine, an unknown man is reported to have leaped on to the scaffold. He dipped his hand in the monarch’s blood, flung it out over the surrounding throng and cried, “Jacques de Molay, thou art avenged!” Since the French Revolution the aura surrounding the Templars has not diminished. At least three contemporary organisations today call themselves Templars, claiming to possess a pedigree from 1314 and charters whose authenticity has never been established. Certain Masonic lodges have adopted the grade of “Templar’, as well as rituals and appellations supposedly descended from the original Order. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, a sinister “Order of the New Templars’ was established in Germany and Austria, employing the swastika as one of its emblems. Figures like H. P. Blavatsky, founder of Theosophy, and Rudolf Steiner, founder of Anthroposophy, spoke of an esoteric ‘wisdom tradition’ running back through the Rosicrucians to the Cathars and Templars who were purportedly repositories of more ancient secrets still. In the United States teenage boys are admitted into the De Molay Society, without either they or their mentors having much notion whence the name derives. In Britain, as well as elsewhere in the West, recondite rotary clubs dignify themselves with the name “Templar’ and include eminent public figures.
From the heavenly kingdom he sought to conquer with his sword, Hugues de Payen must now look down with a certain wry perplexity on the latter-day knights, balding, paunched and bespectacled, that he engendered. And yet he must also be impressed by the durability and vitality of his legacy. In France this legacy is particularly powerful. Indeed, the Templars are a veritable industry in France, as much as Glastonbury, ley-lines or the Loch Ness Monster are in Britain. In Paris book shops are filled with histories and accounts of the Order some valid, some plunging enthusiastically into lunacy. During the last quartercentury or so a number of extravagant claims have been advanced on behalf of the Templars, some of which may not be wholly without foundation. Certain writers have credited them, at least in large part, with the building of the Gothic cathedrals or at least with providing an impetus of some sort to that burst of architectural energy and genius. Other writers have argued that the Order established commercial contact with the Americas as early as 1269, and derived much of its wealth from imported Mexican silver. It has frequently been asserted that the Templars were privy to some sort of secret concerning the origins of Christianity. It has been said that they were Gnostic, that they were heretical, that they were defectors to Islam. It has been declared that they sought a creative unity between bloods, races and religions a systematic policy of fusion between Islamic, Christian and Judaic thought. And again and again it is maintained, as Wolfram von Eschenbach maintained nearly eight centuries ago, that the Templars were guardians of the Holy Grail, whatever the Holy Grail might be. The claims are often ridiculous. At the same time there are unquestionably mysteries associated with’ the Templars and, we became convinced, secrets of some kind as well. It was clear that some of these secrets pertained to what is now called ‘esoterica’. Symbolic carvings in Templar preceptories, for instance, suggest that some officials in the Order’s hierarchy were conversant with such disciplines as astrology, alchemy, sacred geometry and numerology, as well, of course, as astronomy which, in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, was inseparable from astrology, and every bit as ‘esoteric’.
But it was neither the extravagant claims nor the esoteric residues that intrigued us. On the contrary, we found ourselves fascinated by something much more mundane, much more prosaic the welter of contradictions, improbabilities, inconsistencies and apparent “smoke-screens’ in the accepted history. Esoteric secrets the Templars may well have had. But something else about them was being concealed as well something rooted in the religious and political currents of their epoch. It was on this level that we undertook most of our investigation. We began with the end of the story, the fall of the Order and the charges levelled against it. Many books have been written exploring and evaluating the possible truth of these charges; and from the evidence we, like most researchers, concluded there seems to have been some basis for them. Subjected to interrogation by the Inquisition, for example, a number of knights referred to something called “Baphomet’ too many, and in too many different places, for Baphomet to be the invention of a single individual or even a single preceptory. At the same time, there is no indication of who or what Baphomet might have been, what he or it represented, why he or it should have had any special significance. It would appear that Baphomet was regarded with reverence, a reverence perhaps tantamount to idolatry. In some instances the name is associated with the gargoyle-like, demonic sculptures found in various preceptories. On other occasions Baphomet seems to be associated with an apparition of a bearded head. Despite the claims of certain older historians, it seems clear that Baphomet was not a corruption of the name Muhammad. On the other hand, it might have been a corruption of the Arabic abufihamet, pronounced in Moorish Spanish as bufihimat. This means “Father of Understanding’ or “Father of Wisdom’, and ‘father’ in Arabic is also taken to imply ‘source’.””’ If this is indeed the origin of Baphomet, it would therefore refer presumably to some supernatural or divine principle. But what might have differentiated Baphomet from any other supernatural or divine principle remains unclear. If Baphomet was simply God or Allah, why did the Templars bother to re-christen Him? And if Baphomet was not God or Allah, who or what was he? In any case, we found indisputable evidence for the charge of secret ceremonies involving a head of some kind.
Indeed the existence of such a head proved to be one of the dominant themes running through the Inquisition records. As with Baphomet, however, the significance of the head remains obscure. It may perhaps pertain to alchemy. In the alchemical process there was a phase called the “Caput Mortuum’ or “Dead Head’ the “Nigredo’ or “Blackening’ which was said to occur before the precipitation of the Philosopher’s Stone. According to other accounts, however, the head was that of Hugues de Payen, the Order’s founder and first Grand Master; and it is suggestive that Hugues’s shield consisted of three black heads on a gold field. The head may also be connected with the famous Turin Shroud, which seems to have been in the possession of the Templars between 1204 and 1307, and which, if folded, would have appeared as nothing more than a head. Indeed, at the Templar preceptory of Templecombe in Somerset a reproduction of a head was found which bears a striking resemblance to that on the Turin Shroud. At the same time recent speculation had linked the head, at least tentatively, with the severed head of John the Baptist; and certain writers have suggested that the Templars were “infected’ with the johannite or Mandaean heresy which denounced Jesus as a ‘false prophet’ and acknowledged John as the true Messiah. In the course of their activities in the Middle East the Templars undoubtedly established contact with johannite sects, and the possibility of Johannite tendencies in the Order is not altogether unlikely. But one cannot say that such tendencies obtained for the Order as a whole, nor that they were a matter of official policy. During the interrogations following the arrests in 1307, a head also figured in two other connections. According to the Inquisition records, among the confiscated goods of the Paris preceptory a reliquary in the shape of a woman’s head was found. It was hinged on top, and contained what appeared to have been relics of a peculiar kind. It is described as follows: a great head of gilded silver, most beautiful, and constituting the image of a woman. Inside were two head bones wrapped in a cloth of white linen, with another red cloth around it. A label was attached, on which was written the legend CAPUT LVIIIm. The bones inside were those of a rather small woman.z A curious relic especially for a rigidly monastic, military institution like the Templars. Yet a knight under interrogation, when confronted with this feminine head, declared it had no relation to the bearded male head used in the Order’s rituals. Caput LVIIIm -“Head 58m’ remains a baffling enigma. But it is worth noting that the ‘m’ may not be an ‘m’ at all, but U, the astrological symbol for Virgo .z’ The head figures again in another mysterious story traditionally linked with the Templars. It is worth quoting in one of its several variants: A great lady of Maraclea was loved by a Templar, a Lord of Sidon; but she died in her youth, and on the night of her burial, this wicked lover crept to the grave, dug up her body and violated it. Then a voice from the void bade him return in nine months time for he would find a son. He obeyed the injunction and at the appointed time he opened the grave again and found a head on the leg bones of the skeleton (skull and crossbones). The same voice bade him’ guard it well, for it would be the giver of all good things’, and so he carried it away with him. It became his protecting genius, and he was able to defeat his enemies by merely showing them the magic head. In due course, it passed into the possession of the Order .z2 This grisly narrative can be traced at least as far back as one Walter Map, writing in the late twelfth century. But neither he nor another writer, who recounts the same tale nearly a century later, specifies that the necrophiliac rapist was a Templar.Z3 Nevertheless, by 1307 the story had become closely associated with the Order. It is mentioned repeatedly in the Inquisition’s records, and at least two knights under interrogation confessed their familiarity with it. In subsequent accounts, like the one quoted above, the rapist himself is identified as a Templar, and he remains so in the versions preserved by Freemasonry which adopted the skull and crossbones, and often employed it as a device on tombstones. In part the tale might almost seem to be a grotesque travesty of the Immaculate Conception. In part it would seem to be a garbled symbolic account of some initiation rite, some ritual involving a figurative death and resurrection. One chronicler cites the name of the woman in the story Yse, which would seem quite clearly to derive from Isis. And certainly the tale evokes echoes of the mysteries associated with Isis, as well as those of Tammuz or Adonis, whose head was flung into the sea, and of Orpheus, whose head was flung into the river of the Milky Way. The magical properties of the head also evoke the head of Bran the Blessed in Celtic mythology and in the Mabinogion. And it is Bran’s mystical cauldron that numerous writers have sought to identify as the pagan precursor of the Holy Grail. Whatever significance might be ascribed to the ‘cult of the head’, the Inquisition clearly believed it to be important. In a list of charges drawn up on August 12th, 1308, there is the following: Item, that in each province they had idols, namely heads… Item, that they adored these idols .. . Item, that they said that the head could save them. Item, that lit could] make riches .. . Item, that it made the trees flower. Item, that it made the land germinate. Item, that they surrounded or touched each head of the aforesaid idols with small cords, which they wore around themselves next to the shirt or the flesh .24 The cord mentioned in the last item is reminiscent of the Cathars, who were also alleged to have worn a sacred cord of some kind. But most striking in the list is the head’s purported capacity to engender riches, make trees flower and bring fertility to the land. These properties coincide remarkably with those ascribed in the romances to the Holy Grail. Of all the charges levelled against the Templars, the most serious were those of blasphemy and heresy of denying, trampling and spitting on the cross. It is not clear precisely what this alleged ritual was intended to signify -what, in other words, the Templars were actually repudiating. Were they repudiating Christ? Or were they simply repudiating the Crucifixion? And whatever they repudiated, what exactly did they extol in its stead?
No one has satisfactorily answered these questions, but it seems clear that a repudiation of some sort did occur, and was an integral principle of the Order. One knight, for example, testified that on his induction into the Order he was told, “You believe wrongly, because he [Christ] is indeed a false prophet. Believe only in God in heaven, and not in him.”zs Another Templar declared that he was told, “Do not believe that the man Jesus whom the Jews crucified in Outremer is God and that he can save you.”zs A third knight similarly claimed he was instructed not to believe in Christ, a false prophet, but only in a “higher God’. He was then shown a crucifix and told, “Set not much faith in this, for it is too young.” Such accounts are frequent and consistent enough to lend credence to the charge. They are also relatively bland; and if the Inquisition desired to concoct evidence, it could have devised something far more dramatic, more incriminating, more damning. There thus seems little doubt that the Templars’ attitude towards Jesus did not concur with that of Catholic orthodoxy, but it is uncertain precisely what the Order’s attitude was. In any case, there is evidence that the ritual ascribed to the Templars -trampling and spitting on the cross was in the air at least half a century before 1307. Its context is confusing, but it is mentioned in connection with the Sixth Crusade, which occurred in 1249.28 Knights Templar The Hidden Side If the end of the Knights Templar was fraught with baffling enigmas, the foundation and early history of the Order seemed to us to be even more so. We were already plagued by a number of inconsistencies and improbabilities. Nine knights, nine “poor’ knights, appeared as if from nowhere and among all the other crusaders swarming about the Holy Land promptly had the king’s quarters turned over to them! Nine “poor’ knights without admit ting any new recruits to their ranks presumed, all by themselves, to defend the highways of Palestine. And there was no record at all of them actually doing any thing, not even from Fulk de Chartres, the king’s official chronicler, who must surely have known about Map 5Jerusalem the Temple and the Area of Mount Sion in the Mid-Twelfth Century BRh’ACH OF If199 I EPER HOSPII’AI~ Chorch4ih’HolyS~lchr~ FHE TEMPI .F ,i, o m “~4 C S, Man of,h, Lame._ S’Mary heGr S, Man d ih, F.<I’m~n I~ Bhp Moun~ 1I Ulno god Bwhun SI( IN GA’II’F. AHE’A OWNLD Ny’ F Ht: I’t)hFPLARS NOTE DAME Dt: SION (C-le and Tomb ~”I D-id) “IoBahleham them!
How, we wondered, could their activities, their move into the royal premises, for instance, have escaped Fulk’s notice? It would seem incredible, yet the chronicler says nothing. No one says anything, in fact, until Guillaume de Tyre, a good half century later. What could we conclude from this? That the knights were not engaged in the laudable public service ascribed to them? That they were perhaps involved instead in some more clandestine activity, of which not even the official chronicler was aware? Or that the chronicler himself was muzzled? The latter would seem to be the most likely explanation. For the knights were soon joined by two most illustrious noblemen, noblemen whose presence could not have gone unnoticed. According to Guillaume de Tyre, the Order of the Temple was established in 1118, originally numbered nine knights and admitted no new recruits for nine years. It is clearly on record, however, that the count of Anjou -father of Geoffrey Plantagenet joined the Order in 1120, only two years after its supposed foundation. And in 1124 the count of Champagne, one of the wealthiest lords in Europe, did likewise. If Guillaume de Tyre is correct, there should have been no new members until 1127; but by 1126 the Templars had in fact admitted four new members to their ranks.” Is Guillaume wrong, then, in saying that no new members were admitted for nine years? Or is he perhaps correct in that assertion, but wrong in the date he attributes to the Order’s foundation? If the count of Anjou became a Templar in 1120, and if the Order admitted no new members for nine years after its foundation, its foundation would date not from 1118, but at the latest, from 1111 or 1112. Indeed there is very persuasive evidence for this conclusion. In 1114 the count of Champagne was preparing for a journey to the Holy Land. Shortly before his departure, he received a letter from the bishop of Chartres. At one point, the bishop wrote, “We have heard that .. . before leaving for Jerusalem you made a vow to join “la mi lice du Christ”, that you wish to enrol in this evangelical soldiery. ‘3 “La mi lice du Christ’ was the name by which the Templars were originally known, and the name by which Saint Bernard alludes to them. In the context of the bishop’s letter the appellation cannot possibly refer to any other institution. It cannot mean, for example, that the count of Champagne simply decided to become a crusader, because the bishop goes on to speak of a vow of chastity which his decision has entailed. Such a vow would hardly have been required of an ordinary crusader. From the bishop of Chartres’s letter, then, it is clear that the Templars already existed, or had at least been planned, as early as 1114, four years before the date generally accepted; and that as early as 1114, the count of Champagne was already intending to join their ranks -which he eventually did a decade later. One historian who noted this letter drew the rather curious conclusion that the bishop cannot have meant what he said.” He could not have meant to refer to the Templars, the historian in question argues, because the Templars were not founded until four years later in 1118. Or perhaps the bishop did not know the year of Our Lord in which he was writing? But the bishop died in 1115. How, in 1114, could he ‘mistakenly’ refer to something which did not yet exist? There is only one possible, and very obvious, answer to the question that it is not the bishop who is wrong, but Guillaume de Tyre, as well as all subsequent historians who insist on regarding Guillaume as the unimpeachable voice of authority. In itself an earlier foundation date for the Order of the Temple need not necessarily be suspicious. But there are other circumstances and singular coincidences which decidedly are. At least three of the nine founding knights, including Hugues de Payen, seem to have come from adjacent regions, to have had family ties, to have known each other previously and to have been vassals of the same lord. This lord was the count of Champagne, to whom the bishop of Chartres addressed his letter in 1114 and who became a Templar in 1124, pledging obedience to his own vassal! In 1115 the count of Champagne donated the land on which Saint Bernard, patron of the Templars, built the famous Abbey of Clairvaux; and one of the nine founding knights, Andre de Montbard, was Saint Bernard’s uncle. In Troyes, moreover, the court of the count of Champagne, an influential school of Cabalistic and esoteric studies had flourished since 1070.”2 At the Council of Troyes in 1128 the Templars were officially incorporated.
For the next two centuries Troyes remained a strategic centre for the Order; and even today there is a wooded expanse adjacent to the city called the Foret du Temple. And it was from Troyes, court of the count of Champagne, that one of the earliest Grail romances issued quite possibly the earliest, composed by Chretien de Troyes. Amid this welter of data, we could begin to see a tenuous web of connections a pattern that seemed more than mere coincidence. If such a pattern did exist, it would certainly support our suspicion that the Templars were involved in some clandestine activity. Nevertheless, we could only speculate as to what that activity might have been. One basis for our speculation was the specific site of the knights’ domicile the wing of the royal palace, the Temple Mount, so inexplicably conferred upon them. In A.D. 70 the Temple which then stood there was sacked by Roman legions under Titus. Its treasure was plundered and brought to Rome, then plundered again and perhaps brought to the Pyrenees. But what if there were something else in the Temple as well something even more important than the treasure pillaged by the Romans? It is certainly possible that the Temple’s priests, confronted by an advancing phalanx of centurions, would have left to the looters the booty they expected to find. And if there were something else, it might well be concealed somewhere near by. Beneath the Temple, for instance. Among the Dead Sea Scrolls found at QumrAan, there is one now known as the “Copper Scroll’. This scroll, deciphered at Manchester University in 1955-6, makes explicit references to great quantities of bullion, sacred vessels, additional unspecified material and ‘treasure’ of an indeterminate kind. It cites twenty-four different hoards buried beneath the Temple itself .33 In the mid-twelfth century a pilgrim to the Holy Land, one Johann von Wurzburg, wrote of a visit to the so-called “Stables of Solomon’. These stables, situated directly beneath the Temple itself, are still visible. They were large enough, Johann reported, to hold two thousand horses; and it was in these stables that the Templars quartered their mounts.
According to at least one other historian, the Templars were using these stables for their horses as early as 1124, when they still supposedly numbered only nine. It would thus seem likely that the fledgling Order, almost immediately after its inception, undertook excavations beneath the Temple. Such excavations might well imply that the knights were actively looking for something. It might even imply that they were deliberately sent to the Holy Land, with the express commission of finding something. If this supposition is valid, it would explain a number of anomalies -their installation in the royal palace, for example, and the silence of the chronicler. But if they were sent to Palestine, who sent them? In 1104 the count of Champagne had met in conclave with certain high-ranking nobles, at least one of whom had just returned from Jerusalem.” Among those present at this conclave were representatives of certain families r. Brienne, Joinville and Chaumont who, we later discovered, figured significantly in our story. Also present was the liege lord of Andre de Montbard, Andre being one of the co-founders of the Temple and Saint Bernard’s uncle. Shortly after the conclave, the count of Champagne departed for the Holy Land himself and remained there for four years, returning in 1108.35 In 1114 he made a second journey to Palestine, intending to join the mi lice du Christ’, then changing his mind and returning to Europe a year later. On his return, he immediately donated a tract of land to the Cistercian Order, whose pre-eminent spokesman was Saint Bernard. On this tract of land Saint Bernard built the Abbey of Clairvaux, where he established his own residence and then consolidated the Cistercian Order. Prior to 1112 the Cistercians were dangerously close to bankruptcy. Then, under Saint Bernard’s guidance, they underwent a dazzling change of fortune. Within the next few years half a dozen abbeys were established. By 1153 there were more than three hundred, of which Saint Bernard himself personally founded sixty-nine. This extraordinary growth directly parallels that of the Order of the Temple, which was expanding in the same way during the same years. And, as we have said, one of the co founders of the Order of the Temple was Saint Bernard’s uncle, Andre de Montbard.
It is worth reviewing this complicated sequence of events. In 1104 the count of Champagne departed for the Holy Land after meeting with certain nobles, one of whom was connected with Andre de Montbard. In 1112 Andre de Montbard’s nephew, Saint Bernard, joined the Cistercian Order. In 1114 the count of Champagne departed on a second journey to the Holy Land, intending to join the Order of the Temple which was co-founded by his own vassal together with Andre de Montbard, and which, as the bishop of Chartres’s letter attests, was already in existence or in process of being established. In 1115 the count of Champagne returned to Europe, having been gone for less than a year, and donated land for the Abbey of Clairvaux whose abbot was Andre de Montbard’s nephew. In the years that followed both the Cistercians and the Templars both Saint Bernard’s order and Andre de Montbard’s became immensely wealthy and enjoyed phases of phenomenal growth. As we pondered this sequence of events, we became increasingly convinced that there was some pattern underlying and governing such an intricate web. It certainly did not appear to be random, nor wholly coincidental. On the contrary we seemed to be dealing with the vestiges of some complex and ambitious overall design, the full details of which had been lost to history. In order to reconstruct these details, we developed a tentative hypothesis a “scenario’, so to speak, which might accommodate the known facts. We supposed that something was discovered in the Holy Land, either by accident or design something of immense import, which aroused the interest of some of Europe’s most influential noblemen. We further supposed that this discovery involved, directly or indirectly, a great deal of potential wealth as well, perhaps, as something else, something that had to be kept secret, something which could only be divulged to a small number of high-ranking lords. Finally, we supposed that this discovery was reported and discussed at the conclave of 1104. Immediately thereafter the count of Champagne departed for the Holy Land himself, perhaps to verify personally what he had heard, perhaps to implement some course of action the foundation, for example, of what subsequently became the Order of the Temple. In 1114, if not before, the Templars were established with the count of Champagne playing some crucial role, perhaps acting as guiding spirit and sponsor. By 1115 money was already flowing back to Europe and into the coffers of the Cistercians, who, under Saint Bernard and from their new position of strength, endorsed and imparted credibility to the fledgling Order of the Temple. Under Bernard the Cistercians attained a spiritual ascendancy in Europe. Under Hugues de Payen and Andre de Montbard, the Templars attained a military and administrative ascendancy in the Holy Land which quickly spread back to Europe. Behind the growth of both orders loomed the shadowy presence of uncle and nephew, as well as the wealth, influence and patronage of the count of Champagne. These three individuals constitute a vital link. They are like markers breaking the surface of history, indicating the dim configurations of some elaborate, concealed design. If such a design actually existed, it cannot, of course, be ascribed to these three men alone. On the contrary, it must have entailed a great deal of co-operation from certain other people and a great deal of meticulous organisation. Organisation is perhaps the key word; for if our hypothesis was correct, it would presuppose a degree of organisation amounting to an order in itself a third and secret order behind the known and documented Orders of the Cistercians and the Temple. Evidence for the existence for such a third order was not long in arriving. In the meantime, we devoted our attention to the hypothetical “discovery’ in the Holy Land the speculative basis on which we had established our “scenario’. What might have been found there? To what might the Templars, along with Saint Bernard and the count of Champagne, have been privy? At the end of their history the Templars kept inviolate the secret of their treasure’s whereabouts and nature. Not even documents survived. If the treasure in question were simply financial bullion, for example it would not have been necessary to destroy or conceal all records, all rules, all archives. The implication is that the Templars had something else in their custody, something so precious that not even torture would wring an intimation of it from their lips. Wealth alone could not have prompted such absolute and unanimous secrecy.
Whatever it was had to do with other matters, like the Order’s attitude towards Jesus. On October 13th, 1307, all Templars throughout France were arrested by Philippe le Bel’s seneschals. But that statement is not quite true. The Templars of at least one preceptory slipped unscathed through the king’s net the preceptory of Bezu, adjacent to Rennes-leChateau. How and why did they escape? To answer that question, we were compelled to investigate the Order’s activities in the vicinity of Bezu. Those activities proved to have been fairly extensive. Indeed, there were some half dozen preceptories and other holdings in the area, which covered some twenty square miles. In 1153 a nobleman of the region a nobleman with Cathar sympathies became fourth Grand Master of the Order of the Temple. His name was Bertrand de Blanchefort, and his ancestral home was situated on a mountain peak a few miles away from both Bezu and Rennes-leChateau. Bertrand de Blanchefort, who presided over the Order from 1153 until 1170, was probably the most significant of all Templar Grand Masters. Before his regime the Order’s hierarchy and administrative structure were, at best, nebulous. It was Bertrand who transformed the Knights Templar into the superbly efficient, well-organised and magnificently disciplined hierarchical institution they then became. It was Bertrand who launched their involvement in high-level diplomacy and international politics. It was Bertrand who created for them a major sphere of interest in Europe, and particularly in France. And according to the evidence that survives, Bertrand’s mentor some historians even list him as the Grand Master immediately preceding Bertrand was Andre de Montbard. Within a few years of the Templars’ incorporation, Bertrand had not only joined their ranks, but also conferred on them lands in the environs of Rennes-leChateau and Bezu. And in 1156, under Bertrand’s regime as Grand Master, the Order is said to have imported to the area a contingent of German-speaking miners. These workers were supposedly subjected to a rigid, virtually military discipline. They were forbidden to fraternise in any way with the local population and were kept strictly segregated from the surrounding community.
A special judicial body, ‘la Judicature des Allemands’, was even created to deal with legal technicalities pertaining to them. And their alleged task was to work the gold mines on the slopes of the mountain at Blanchefort gold mines which had been utterly exhausted by the Romans nearly a thousand years before.-1s During the seventeenth century engineers were commissioned to investigate the mineralogical prospects of the area and draw up detailed reports. In the course of his report one of them, Cesar d’Arcons, discussed the ruins he had found, remains of the German workers’ activity. On the basis of his research, he declared that the German workers did not seem to have been engaged in mining.3’ In what, then, were they engaged? Cesar d’Arcons was unsure smelting perhaps, melting something down, constructing something out of metal, perhaps even excavating a subterranean crypt of some sort and creating a species of depository. Whatever the answer to this enigma, there had been a Templar presence in the vicinity of Rennes-leChateau since at least the mid-twelfth century. By 1285 there was a major preceptory a few miles from Bezu, at Campagnesur-Aude. Yet near the end of the thirteenth century, Pierre de Voisins, lord of Bezu and Rennes-leChateau, invited a separate detachment of Templars to the area, a special detachment from the Aragonese province of Roussillon.38 This fresh detachment established itself on the summit of the mountain of Bezu, erecting a lookout post and a chapel. Ostensibly, the Roussillon Templars had been invited to Bezu to maintain the security of the region and protect the pilgrim route which ran through the valley to Santiago de Compastela in Spain. But it is unclear why these extra knights should have been required. In the first place they cannot have been very numerous not enough to make a significant difference. In the second place there were already Templars in the neighbourhood. Finally, Pierre de Voisins had troops of his own, who, together with the Templars already there, could guarantee the safety of the environs. Why, then, did the Roussillon Templars come to Bezu? According to local tradition, they came to spy. And to exploit or bury or guard a treasure of some sort. Whatever their mysterious mission, they obviously enjoyed some kind of special immunity.
Alone of all Templars in France, they were left unmolested by Philippe le Bel’s seneschals on October 13th, 1307. On that fateful day the commander of the Templar contingent at Bezu was a Seigneur de Goth .39 And before taking the name of Pope Clement V, the archbishop of Bordeaux King Philippe’s vacillating pawn was Bertrand de Goth. Moreover, the new pontiff’s mother was Ida de Blanchefort, of the same family as Bertrand de Blanchefort. Was the pope then privy to some secret entrusted to the custody of his family a secret which remained in the Blanchefort family until the eighteenth century, when the Abbe Antoine Bigou, cure of Rennes-leChateau and confessor to Marie de Blanchefort, composed the parchments found by Sauniere? If this were the case, the pope might well have extended some sort of immunity to his relative commanding the Templars at Bezu. The history of the Templars near Rennes-leChateau was clearly as fraught with perplexing enigmas as the history of the Order in general. Indeed, there were a number of factors the role of Bertrand de Blanchefort, for example which seemed to constitute a discernible link between the general and the more localised enigmas. In the meantime, however, we were confronted with a daunting array of coincidences coincidences too numerous to be truly coincidental. Were we in fact dealing with a calculated pattern? If so, the obvious question was who devised it, for patterns of such intricacy do not devise themselves. All the evidence available to us pointed to meticulous planning and careful organisation so much so that increasingly we suspected there must be a specific group of individuals, perhaps comprising an order of some sort, working assiduously behind the scenes. We did not have to seek confirmation for the existence of such an order.
The confirmation thrust itself upon us. 4 Secret Documents Confirmation of a third order an order behind both the Templars and the Cistercians thrust itself upon us. At first, however, we could not take it seriously. It seemed to issue from too unreliable, too vague and nebulous a source. Until we could authenticate the veracity of this source, we could not believe its claims. In 1956 a series of hooks, articles, pamphlets and other documents relating to Berenger Sauniere and the enigma of Rennes-leChateau began to appear in France. This material has steadily proliferated, and is now voluminous. Indeed, it has come to constitute the basis for a veritable ‘industry’. And its sheer quantity, as well as the effort and resources involved in producing and disseminating it, implicitly attest to something of immense but as yet unexplained import. Not surprisingly, the affair has served to whet the appetites of numerous independent researchers like ourselves, whose works have added to the corpus of material available. The original material, however, seems to have issued from a single specific source. Someone clearly has a vested interest in ‘promoting’ Rennes-leChateau, in drawing public attention to the story, in generating publicity and further investigation. Whatever else it might be, this vested interest does not appear to be financial. On the contrary, it would appear to be more in the order of propaganda propaganda which establishes credibility for something. And whoever the individuals responsible for this propaganda may be, they have endeavoured to focus spotlights on certain issues while keeping themselves scrupulously in the shadows. Since 1956 a quantity of relevant material has been deliberately and systematically ‘leaked’, in a piecemeal fashion, fragment by fragment. Most of these fragments purport to issue, implicitly or explicitly, from some ‘privileged’ or “inside’ source. Most contain additional information, which supplements what was known before and thus contributes to the overall jigsaw. Neither the import nor the meaning of the overall jigsaw has yet been made clear, however. Instead, every new snippet of information has done more to intensify than to dispel the mystery. The result has been an ever-proliferating network of seductive allusions, provocative hints, suggestive cross-references and connections. In confronting the welter of data now available, the reader may well feel he is being toyed with, or being ingeniously and skilfully led from conclusion to conclusion by successive carrots dangled before his nose. And underlying it all is the constant, pervasive intimation of a secret a secret of monumental and explosive proportions. The material disseminated since 1956 has taken a number of forms. Some of it has appeared in popular, even best-selling books, more or less sensational, more or less cryptically teasing. Thus, for example, Gerard de Sede has produced a sequence of works on such apparently divergent topics as the Cathars, the Templars, the Merovingian dynasty, the Rose-Croix, Sauniere and Rennes-leChateau. In these works, M. de Sede is often arch, coy, deliberately mystifying and coquettishly evasive. His tone implies constantly that he knows more than he is saying perhaps a device for concealing that he does not know as much as he pretends. But his books contain enough verifiable details to forge a link between their respective themes. Whatever else one may think of M. de Sede, he effectively establishes that the diverse subjects to which he addresses himself somehow overlap and are interconnected. On the other hand, we could not but suspect that M. de Sede’s work drew heavily on information provided by an informant and indeed, M. de Sede more or less acknowledges as much himself. Quite by accident, we learned who this informant was. In 1971, when we embarked on our first BBC film on Rennes-leChateau, we wrote to M. de Sede’s Paris publisher for certain visual material. The photographs we requested were accordingly posted to us. Each of them, on the back, was stamped “Plantard’.
At that time the name meant little enough to us. But the appendix to one of M. de Sede’s books consisted of an interview with one Pierre Plantard. And we subsequently obtained evidence that Pierre Plantard had been involved with certain of M. de Sede’s works. Eventually Pierre Plantard began to emerge as one of the dominant figures in our investigation. The information disseminated since 1956 has not always been contained in as popular and accessible a form as M. de Sede’s. Some of it has appeared in weighty, daunting, even pedantic tomes, diametrically opposed to M. de Sede’s journalistic approach. One such work was produced by Rene Descadeillas, former Director of the Municipal Library of Carcassonne. M. Descadeillas’s book is strenuously anti-sensational. Devoted to the history of Rennes-leChateau and its environs, it contains a plethora of social and economic minutiae for example, the births, deaths, marriages” finances, taxes and public works between the years 1730 and 1820.” On the whole, it could not possibly differ more from the mass-market books of M. de Sede which M. Descadeillas elsewhere subjects to scathing criticism.2 In addition to published books, including some which have been published privately, there have been a number of articles in newspapers and magazines. There have been interviews with various individuals claiming to be conversant with one or another facet of the mystery. But the most interesting rind important information has not, for the most part, appeared in book form. Most of it has surfaced elsewhere in documents and pamphlets not intended for general circulation. Many of these documents and pamphlets have been deposited, in limited, privately printed editions, at the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris. They seem to have been produced very cheaply. Some, in fact, are mere typewritten pages, photo offset and reproduced on an office duplicator. Even more than the marketed works, this body of ephemera seems to have issued from the same source. By means of cryptic asides and footnotes pertaining to Sauniere, Rennes-leChateau, Poussin, the Merovingian dynasty and other themes, each piece of it complements, enlarges on and confirms the others. In most cases the ephemera is of uncertain authorship, appearing under a variety of transparent, even ‘cute’ pseudonyms Madeleine Blancassal, for example, Nicolas Beaucean, Jean Delaude and Antoine 1”Ermite.
”Madeleine’, of course, refers to Marie-Madeleine, the Magdalene, to whom the church at Rennes-leChateau is dedicated and to whom Sauniere consecrated his tower, the Tour Magdala. “Blancassal’ is formed from the names of two small rivers that converge near the village of Rennes-les-Bains the Blanque and the Sals. “Beaucean’ is a variation of “Beauseant’, the official battle-cry and battle-standard of the Knights Templar. “Jean Delaude’ is “Jean de 1”Aude’ or “John of the Aude’, the department in which Rennes-leChateau is situated. And “Antoine 1”Ermite’ is Saint Anthony the Hermit, whose statue adorns the church at Rennes-leChateau and whose feast day is January 17th -the date on Marie de Blanchefort’s tombstone and the date on which Sauniere suffered his fatal stroke. The work ascribed to Madeleine Blancassal is entitled Les Descendants merovingiens et 1’enigme du Razes wisigoth (“The Merovingian Descendants and the Enigma of the Visigoth Razes’) Razes being the old name for Sauniere’s region. According to its title page, this work was originally published in German and translated into French by Walter Celse-Nazaire another pseudonym compounded from Saints Celse and Nazaire, to whom the church at Rennes-les-Bains is dedicated. And according to the title page, the publisher of the work was the Grande Loge Alpina, the supreme Masonic lodge of Switzerland -the Swiss equivalent of Grand Lodge in Britain or Grand Orient in France. There is no indication as to why a modern Masonic lodge should display such interest in the mystery surrounding an obscure nineteenth-century French priest and the history of his parish a millennium and a half ago. One of our colleagues and an independent researcher both questioned Alpina officials. They disclaimed all knowledge not only of the work’s publication, but also of its existence. Yet an independent researcher claims personally to have seen the work on the shelves of Alpina’s library.3 And subsequently we discovered that the Alpina imprint appeared on two other pamphlets as well. Of all the privately published documents deposited in the Bibliotheque Nationale, the most important is a compilation of papers entitled collectively Dossiers secrets (“Secret Dossiers’). Catalogued under numberlm’ 249, this compilation is now on microfiche. Until recently, however, it comprised a thin, nondescript volume, a species of folder with stiff covers which contained a loose assemblage of ostensibly unrelated items news clippings, letters pasted to backing-sheets, pamphlets, numerous genealogical trees and the odd printed page apparently extracted from the body of some other work. Periodically some of the individual pages would be removed. At different times other pages would be freshly inserted. On certain pages additions and corrections would sometimes be made in a minuscule longhand. At a later date, these pages would be replaced by new ones, printed and incorporating all previous emendations. The bulk of the Dossiers, which consists of genealogical trees, is ascribed to one Henri Lobineau, whose name appears on the title page. Two additional items in the folder declare that Henri Lobineau is yet another pseudonym derived perhaps from a street, the Rue Lobineau, which runs outside Saint Sulpice in Paris and that the genealogies are actually the work of a man named Leo Schidlof, an Austrian historian and antiquarian who purportedly lived in Switzerland and died in 1966. On the basis of this information we undertook to learn what we could about Leo Schidlof. In 1978 we managed to locate Leo Schidlof’s daughter, who was living in England. Her father, she said, was indeed Austrian. He was not a genealogist, historian or antiquarian, however, but an expert and dealer in miniatures, who had written two works on the subject. In 1948 he had settled in London, where he lived until his death in Vienna in 1966 the year and place specified in the Dossiers secrets. Miss Schidlof vehemently maintained that her father had never had any interest in genealogies, the Merovingian dynasty, or mysterious goings-on in the south of France. And yet, she continued, certain people obviously believed he had. During the 1960s, for example, he had received numerous letters and telephone calls from unidentified individuals in both Europe and the United States, who wished to meet with him and discuss matters of which he had no knowledge whatever. On his death in 1966 there was another barrage of messages, most of them inquiring about his papers. Whatever the affair in which Miss Schidlof’s father had become unwittingly embroiled, it seemed to have struck a sensitive chord with the American government. In 1946 -a decade before the Dossiers secrets are said to have been compiled Leo Schidlof applied for a visa to enter the United States. The application was refused, on grounds of suspected espionage or some other form of clandestine activity. Eventually the matter seems to have been sorted out, the visa issued and Leo Schidlof was admitted to the States. It may all have been a typical bureaucratic mix-up. But Miss Schidlof seemed to suspect that it was somehow connected with the arcane preoccupations so perplexingly ascribed to her father. Miss Schidlof’s story gave us pause. The refusal of an American visa might well have been more than coincidental, for there were, among the papers in the Dossiers secrets, references that linked the name Leo Schidlof with some sort of international espionage. In the meantime, however, a new pamphlet had appeared in Paris which, during the months that followed, was confirmed by other sources. According to this pamphlet the elusive Henri Lobineau was not Leo Schidlof after all, but a French aristocrat of distinguished lineage, Comte Henri de Lenoncourt. The question of Lobineau’s real identity was not the only enigma associated with the Dossiers secrets. There was also an item which referred to “Leo Schidlof’s leather briefcase’. This briefcase supposedly contained a number of secret papers relating to Rennes-leChateau between 1600 and 1800. Shortly after Schidlof’s death, the briefcase was said to have passed into the hands of a courier, a certain Fakhar ul Islam who, in February 1967, was to rendezvous in East Germany with an ‘agent delegated by Geneva’ and entrust it to him. Before the’ transaction could be effected, however, Fakhar ul Islam was reportedly expelled from East Germany and returned to Paris “to await further orders’. On February 20th, 1967, his body was found on the railway tracks at Melun, having been hurled from the Paris-Geneva express. The briefcase had supposedly vanished. We set out to check this lurid story as far as we could. A series of articles in French newspapers of February 21st did confirm most of it.” A decapitated body had indeed been found on the tracks at Melun. It was identified as that of a young Pakistani named Fakhar ul Islam. For reasons that remained obscure, the dead man had been expelled from East Germany and was travelling from Paris to Geneva engaged, it appeared, in some form of espionage. According to the newspaper reports, the authorities suspected foul play, and the affair was being investigated by the DST (Directory of Territorial Surveillance, or CounterEspionage). On the other hand, the newspapers made no mention of Leo Schidlof, a leather briefcase or anything else that might connect the occurrence with the mystery of RennesleChateau. As a result, we found ourselves confronted with a number of questions. On the one hand, it was possible that Fakhar ul Islam’s death was linked with Rennes-leChateau that, the item in the Dossiers secrets in fact drew upon “inside information’ inaccessible to the newspapers. On the other hand the item in the Dossiers secrets might have been deliberate and spurious mystification. One need only find any unexplained or suspicious death and ascribe it, after the fact, to one’s own hobby-horse. But if this were indeed the case, what was the purpose of the exercise? Why should someone deliberately try to create an atmosphere of sinister intrigue around Rennes-leChateau? What might be gained by the creation of such an atmosphere? And who might gain from it? These questions perplexed us all the more because Fakhar ul Islam’s death was not, apparently, an isolated occurrence. Less than a month later another privately printed work was deposited in the Bibliotheque Nationale. It was called Le Serpent rouge (“The Red Serpent’) and dated, symbolically and significantly enough, January 17th. Its title page ascribed it to three authors Pierre Feugere, Louis Saint-Maxent and Gaston de Koker. Le Serpent rouge is a singular work. It contains one Merovingian genealogy and two maps of France in Merovingian times, along with a cursory commentary. It also contains a ground plan of Saint Sulpice in Paris, which delineates the chapels of the church’s various saints. But the bulk of the text consists of thirteen short prose poems of impressive literary quality many of them reminiscent of the work of and each corresponds to a sign of the Zodiac a zodiac of thirteen signs, with the thirteenth, Ophiuchus or the Serpent Holder, inserted between Scorpio and Sagittarius. Narrated in the first person, the thirteen prose poems are a type of symbolic: or allegorical pilgrimage, commencing with Aquarius and ending with Capricorn which, as the text explicitly states, presides over January 17th. In the otherwise cryptic text there are familiar references -to the Blanchefort family, to the decorations in the church at Rennes-leChateau, to some of Sauniere’s inscriptions there, to Poussin and the painting of “Les Bergers d’Arcadie’, to the motto on the tomb, “Et in Arcadia Ego’. At one point, there is mention of a red snake, “cited in the parchments’, uncoiling across the centuries an explicit allusion, it would seem, to a bloodline or a lineage. And for the astrological sign of Leo, there is an enigmatic paragraph worth quoting in its entirety: From she whom I desire to liberate, there wafts towards me the fragrance of the perfume which impregnates the Sepulchre. Formerly, some named her: Isis, queen of all sources benevolent. COME UNTO ME ALL YE WHO SUFFER AND ARE AFFLICTED, AND I SHALL GIVE YE REST. To others, she is MAGDALENE, of the celebrated vase filled with healing balm. The initiated know her true name: NOTRE DAME DES CROSS.” The implications of this paragraph are extremely interesting. Isis, of course, is the Egyptian Mother Goddess, patroness of mysteries the “White Queen’ in her benevolent aspects, the “Black Queen’ in her malevolent ones. Numerous writers, on mythology, anthropology, psychology, theology, have traced the cult of the Mother Goddess from pagan times to the Christian epoch. And according to these writers she is said to have survived under Christianity in the guise of the Virgin Mary the “Queen of Heaven’, as Saint Bernard called her, a designation applied in the Old Testament to the Mother Goddess Astarte, the Phoenician equivalent of Isis. But according to the text in Le Serpent rouge, the Mother Goddess of Christianity would not appear to be the Virgin.
On the contrary, she would appear to be the Magdalene to whom the church at Rennes-leChateau is dedicated and to whom Sauniere consecrated his tower. Moreover, the text would seem to imply that “Notre Dame’ does not apply to the Virgin either. That resonant title conferred on all the great cathedrals of France would also seem to refer to the Magdalene. But why should the Magdalene be revered as “Our Lady’ and, still more, as a Mother Goddess? Maternity is the last thing generally associated with the Magdalene. In popular Christian tradition she is a prostitute who finds redemption by apprenticing herself to Jesus. And she figures most noticeably in the Fourth Gospel, where she is the first person to behold Jesus after the Resurrection. In consequence she is extolled as a saint, especially in France where, according to medieval legends, she is said to have brought the Holy Grail. And indeed the ‘vase filled with healing balm’ might well be intended to suggest the Grail. But to enshrine the Magdalene in the place usually reserved for the Virgin would seem, at very least, to be heretical. Whatever their point, the authors of Le Serpent rouge -or, rather, the alleged authors met with a fate as gruesome as that of Fakhar ul Islam. On March 6th, 1967, Louis Saint-Maxent and Gaston de Koker were found hanged. And the following day, March 7th, Pierre Feugere was found hanged as well. One might immediately assume, of course, that these deaths were in some way connected with the composition and public release of Le Serpent rouge. As in the case of Fakhar ul Islam, however, we could not discount an alternative explanation. If one wished to engender an aura of sinister mystery, it would be easy enough to do. One need only comb the newspapers until one found a suspicious death or, in this instance, three suspicious deaths. After the fact, one might then append the names of the deceased to a pamphlet of one’s own concoction and deposit that pamphlet in the Bibliotheque Nationale with an earlier date (January 17th) on the title page. It would be virtually impossible to expose such a hoax, which would certainly produce the desired intimation of foul play.
But why perpetrate such a hoax at all? Why should someone want to invoke an aura of violence, murder and intrigue? Such a ploy would hardly deter investigators. On the contrary, it would only further attract them. If, on the other hand, we were not dealing with a hoax, there were still a number of baffling questions. Were we to believe, for example, that the three hanged men were suicides or victims of murder? Suicide, in the circumstances, would seem to make little sense And murder would not seem to make much more. One could understand three people being dispatched lest they divulge certain explosive information. But in this case the information had already been divulged, already deposited in the Bibliotheque Nationale. Could the murders if that was what they were have been a form of punishment, of retribution? Or perhaps a means of precluding any subsequent indiscretions? Neither of these explanations is satisfactory. If one is angered by the disclosure of certain information, or if one wishes to forestall additional disclosures, one does not attract attention to the matter by committing a trio of lurid and sensational murders unless one is reasonably confident that there will be no very assiduous inquiry. Our own adventures in the course of our investigation were mercifully less dramatic, but equally mystifying. In our research, for example, we had encountered repeated references to a work by one Antoine 1”Ermite entitled Un Tresor merovingien a Rennes-leChateau (“A Merovingian Treasure at Rennes-leChateau’). We endeavoured to locate this work and quickly found it listed in the Bibliotheque Nationale catalogue; but it proved inordinately difficult to obtain. Every day, for a week, we went to the library and filled out the requisite fiche requesting the work. On each occasion the fiche was returned marked “communique’ indicating that the work was being used by someone else. In itself this was not necessarily unusual. After a fortnight, however, it began to become so and exasperating as well, for we could not remain in Paris much longer. We sought the assistance of a librarian. He told us the book would be ‘communique’ for three months -an extremely unusual situation and that we could not order it in advance of its return. In England not long afterwards a friend of ours announced that she was going to Paris for a holiday. We accordingly asked her to try to obtain the elusive work of Antoine 1”Ermite and at least make a note of what it contained. At the Bibliotheque Nationale, she requested the book. Her fiche was not even returned. The next day she tried again, and with the same result. When we were next in Paris, some four months later, we made another attempt. Our fiche was again returned marked “communique’. At this point, we began to feel the game had been somewhat overplayed and began to play one of our own. We made our way down the catalogue room, adjacent to the ‘stacks’ which are, of course, inaccessible to the public. Finding an elderly and kindly looking library assistant, we assumed the role of bumbling English tourists with Neanderthal command of French. Asking his help, we explained that we were seeking a particular work but were unable to obtain it, no doubt because of our imperfect understanding of the library’s procedures. The genial old gentleman agreed to help. We gave him the work’s catalogue number and he disappeared into the “stacks’. When he emerged, he apologised, saying there was nothing he could do the book had been stolen. What was more, he added, a compatriot of ours was apparently responsible for the theft an Englishwoman. After some badgering, he consented to give us her name. It was that of our friend! On returning to England again, we sought the assistance of the library service in London, and they agreed to look into the bizarre affair. On our behalf, the National Central Library wrote to the Bibliotheque Nationale requesting an explanation for what appeared to be deliberate obstruction of legitimate research. No explanation was forthcoming. Shortly thereafter, however, a Xerox copy of Antoine 1”Ermite’s work was at last dispatched to us -along with emphatic instructions that it be returned immediately. This in itself was extremely singular, for libraries do not generally request return of Xerox copies. Such copies are usually deemed mere waste paper and disposed of accordingly. The work, when it was finally in our hands, proved distinctly disappointing hardly worth the complicated business of obtaining; it. Like Madeleine Blancassal’s work, it bore the imprint of the Swiss Grande Loge Alpina. But it said nothing in any way new.
Very briefly, it recapitulated the history of the Comte of Razes, of RennesleChateau and Berenger Sauniere. In short, it rehashed all the details with which we had long been familiar. There seemed to be no imaginable reason why anyone should have been using it, and keeping it “communique’, for a solid week. Nor did there seem any imaginable reason for withholding it from us. But most puzzling of all, the work itself was not original. With the exception of a few words altered here and there, it was a verbatim text, reset and reprinted, of a chapter in a popular paperback a facile best-seller, available at news-stands for a few francs, on lost treasures throughout the world. Either Antoine 1”Ermite had shamelessly plagiarised the published book, or the published book had plagiarised Antoine 1”Ermite. Such occurrences are typical of the mystification that has attended the material which, since 1956, has been appearing fragment by fragment in France. Other researchers have encountered similar enigmas. Ostensibly plausible names have proved to be pseudonyms. Addresses, including addresses of publishing houses and organisations, have proved not to exist. References have been cited to books which no one, to our knowledge, has ever seen. Documents have disappeared, been altered, or inexplicably mis catalogued in the Bibilotheque Nationale. At times one is tempted to suspect a practical joke. If so, however, it is a practical joke on an enormous scale, involving an impressive array of resources financial and otherwise. And whoever might be perpetrating such a joke would seem to be taking it very seriously indeed. In the meantime new material has continued to appear, with the familiar themes recurring like leitmotifs -Sauni6re, Rennes-leChateau, Poussin, “Les Bergers d’Arcadie’, the Knights Templar, Dagobert II and the Merovingian dynasty. Allusions to viticulture the grafting of vines figure prominently, presumably in some allegorical sense. At the same time, more and more information has been added. The identification of Henri Lobineau as the count of Lenoncourt is one example. Another is an increasing but unexplained insistence on the significance of the Magdalene. And two other locations have been stressed repeatedly, assuming a status now apparently commensurate with Rennes-leChateau.
One of these is Gisors, a fortress in Normandy which was of vital strategic and political importance at the peak of the Crusades. The other is Stenay, once called Satanicum, on the fringe of the Ardennes the old capital of the Merovingian dynasty, near which Dagobert II was assassinated in 679. The corpus of material now available cannot be adequately reviewed or discussed in these pages. It is too dense, too confusing, too disconnected, most of all too copious. But from this ever-proliferating welter of information, certain key points emerge which constitute a foundation for further research. They are presented as indisputable historical fact, and can be summarised as follows: 1) There was a secret order behind the Knights Templar, which created the Templars as its military and administrative arm. This order, which has functioned under a variety of names, is most frequently known as the Prieure de Sion (“Priory of Sion’). 2) The Prieure de Sion has been directed by a sequence of Grand Masters whose names are among the most illustrious in Western history and culture. 3) Although the Knights Templar were destroyed and dissolved between 1307 and 1314, the Prieure de Sion remained unscathed. Although itself periodically torn by internecine and factional strife, it has continued to function through the centuries. Acting in the shadows, behind the scenes, it has orchestrated certain of the critical events in Western history. 4) The Prieure de Sion exists today and is still operative. It is influential and plays a role in high-level international affairs, as well as in the domestic affairs of certain European countries. To some significant extent it is responsible for the body of information disseminated since 1956. 5) The avowed and declared objective of the Prieure de Sion is the restoration of the Merovingian dynasty and bloodline to the throne not only of France, but to the thrones of other European nations as well. 6) The restoration of the Merovingian dynasty is sanctioned and justifiable, both legally and morally.
Although deposed in the eighth century, the Merovingian bloodline did not become extinct. On the contrary it perpetuated itself in a direct line from Dagobert II and his son, Sigisbert IV. By dint of dynastic alliances and intermarriages, this line came to include Godfroi de Bouillon, who captured Jerusalem in 1099, and various other noble and royal families, past and present Blanchefort, Gisors, Saint Clair (Sinclair in England), Montesquieu, Montpezat, Poher, Luisignan, Plantard and Habsburg-Lorraine. At present, the Merovingian bloodline enjoys a legitimate claim to its rightful heritage. Here, in the so-called Prieure de Sion, was a possible explanation for the reference to “Sion’ in the parchments found by Berenger Sauniere. Here, too, was an explanation for the curious signature, “P.S.” which appeared on one of those parchments, and on the tombstone of Marie de Blanchefort. Nevertheless, we were extremely sceptical, like most people, about ‘conspiracy theories of history’; and most of the above assertions struck us as irrelevant, improbable and/or absurd. But the fact remained that certain people were promulgating them, and doing so quite seriously; quite seriously and, there was reason to believe, from positions of considerable power. And whatever the truth of the assertions, they were clearly connected in some way with the mystery surrounding Sauniere and Rennes-le Chateau. We, therefore, embarked on a systematic examination of what we had begun to call, ironically, the “Prieure documents’, and of the assertions they contained. We endeavoured to subject these assertions to careful critical scrutiny and determine whether they could be in any way substantiated. We did so with a cynical, almost derisory scepticism, fully convinced the outlandish claims would wither under even cursory investigation. Although we could not know it at the time, we were to be greatly surprised.