The highlight of our recent trip to Cathar Country was our look around the village of Rennes- le-Chateau. Surely most people interested in history, and especially French history, must have heard of this fascinating little place. It was our fourth visit, but this time we managed to see a number of things we had missed on previous visits.
It was a beautiful morning and we got there early, in fact before most of the buildings had opened. The only place we could get into this early was the little church of Saint Mary Magdalene where the door already stood open. We were the only people in the place so we could take all the photos we wanted without interruption. It was great to be ahead of the crowds.
You are probably aware of the bizarre decorations which are everywhere you look in this strange church. However the strangest of them all is the devil which carries the holy water stoup on its shoulders (see photo). I am told this is the only devil portrayed inside a catholic church anywhere in the world.
This winged devil is believed to portray Asmodeus, who was said in fables to be the guardian of the treasure of the Temple of Solomon. This has led writers to ask whether Berenger Saunière, the village priest who became fabulously wealthy in the 1890’s, placed this particular devil here as a clue to what he found somewhere around the church. This is because the treasure of Solomon was looted by Titus, the Roman emperor, when he sacked Jerusalem in AD 70 and carried back to Rome. In AD 410 Rome, in its turn, was overrun by the Visigoths under King Alaric I and its wealth was carried off by them. The village of Rennes-le-Chateau (now with less than 200 inhabitants) then became the capital city of the Visigoths, had a population of over 30,000 and was the seat of its royalty – the obvious place to store the treasure they had acquired.
You will also notice the four angels above the stoup. At their feet is a Latin inscription which roughly translates as “By this sign you will conquer him” and below that again is a red plaque with the initials BS in it, framed by two salamanders. The original devil’s head (which was apparently more evil-looking, if possible, than the present one) was broken off by a vandal in 1997 and replaced by the one in the photo.
Some readers may accuse me of seeing mystery where there is none. However I think you will agree that there are several interesting questions which remain to be answered satisfactorily about this strange statue complex.
In the next few weeks I will tell you about other strange things connected with the church at Rennes-le-Chateau.