Jun 292012
 

Last week I told you about the Visigoth king Amalaric who may be buried in the crypt below the church at Rennes-le-Chateau. This week I will tell you about the last of the Merovingians who is also linked with Rennes.

The Merovingians were the Frankish kings who became the rulers of most of what we now know as France. Their name comes from their first known generation – a monarch called Merovée. There are legends that the dynasty are descended from Mary Magdalene who is supposed to have landed in France when she was fleeing from the Holy Land bearing the child of Christ.

Merovée’s grandson, Clovis, who ruled from AD 466 to 511, firmly established the Merovingians as the leading power in France when he drove the Visigoths back into the Pyrenees and made an alliance with the Burgundians.

A century and a half later his descendant, Dagobert II, married a Visigoth princess from Rhedae (ancient Rennes-le-Chateau) where the wedding took place in AD 675. A year later Dagobert was proclaimed king of what was then called Austrasia (one of the three Frankish kingdoms which covered the whole of France except Burgundy and also included modern Belgium, Holland and a part of Germany). However his reign didn’t last long. Just before Christmas 679 he was assassinated while out hunting in the Ardennes.

His three-year-old son Sigisbert IV succeeded him but never ruled. The official history books say he was killed with his father. However there is a persistent belief that he was rescued by one of his father’s knights and carried to Rennes-le-Chateau. I told you about the Knight’s stone which is alleged to depict the event in an earlier blog.

It is recorded locally that Sigisbert lived until AD758 (82 years – a ripe old age for those days) before he died and was buried in the crypt of Rennes church. He never regained the throne but his descendents became the Dukes of Aquitaine and (through Eleanor, who married Henry II of England) their bloodline passed into the Plantagenet royal dynasty.

Interestingly, when Saunière started his exploration/renovation of the church at Rennes, the first thing he did was dismantle the altar. When he did so he discovered the right hand support, which was a carved Visigoth pillar, was hollowed out in the top. It is now fixed upside down to the end of the Villa Bethania and supports the statue of Saint Mary of Lourdes (see the photo). The hollow contained two parchments. It is claimed that the writing on these included various codes, one of which stated “To Dagobert II, king. and to Sion belongs this treasure and he is there dead”.

 

Next week I will discuss the part the Blanchefort family played in this mystery and possible links to a third royal dynasty.

 

 

 

 

Jun 182012
 

The present church at Rennes-le-Chateau which is dedicated to Saint Mary Magdalene was built on a site which had been occupied by an earlier chapel. That had been constructed by the Visigoths when they constructed the adjacent chateau, the remains of which still remain on the edge of the village overlooking the sheer drop to the valley of the River Sals below. (see photo)

There are indications of a funerary band still to be seen around the church which indicate that a royal personage is buried there. No royal tombs are visible in the church so it is reasonable to assume they are in the crypt below the church. But which royalty are we talking about? There are several possibilities.

In the fifth and sixth centuries AD the Visigoths made Rennes (which was then called Rhedae) one of their capitals. The Visigoth empire was large. It covered the whole of Spain and nearly half of present-day France, from the Atlantic coast to the Rhone and north as far as the River Loire. Their administrative capitals were at Toledo and Toulouse. However early in the fifth century they were attacked and slowly driven out of France by the Franks who were invading from the north. The Visigoths retreated to their stronghold at Rhedae.

At that time Rennes (which is now just a little village) had a population of 30,000 and was bigger than Paris. The city spread over a large area south of the present village and was well fortified, making it easy to defend. The Visigoth king, Alaric II, was defeated and killed by the Frankish leader Clovis in 508 AD near Carcassonne. His son and heir, Amalaric and his wife Clothilde, made Rhedae their capital and built the castle and chapel. Amalaric was killed at Narbonne in 531 AD and it is probable that he was brought back to his home town for burial.

I have mentioned in a previous blog about the fabulous treasure of Jerusalem which was believed to include the Ark of the Covenant and the Menorah, the beautiful seven-branched candlestick of pure gold which stood on the altar in the Holy of Holies in Solomon’s temple. The Franks were hoping to find this when they over-ran Narbonne but they were unsuccessful. It is likely that it had been moved to the Visigoths’ defensive capital of Rhedae and it is possible that it was secreted with Amalaric in his mausoleum beneath Rennes church.

 

Next week I will tell you about another king who may be buried in the crypt beneath Rennes church.

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Jun 102012
 

In 2002 a team of American surveyors, using sophisticated depth-sounding equipment, carried out a survey of Rennes Church and confidently asserted that there was a large void under the nave – probably a vaulted crypt. The question is – how was it accessed?

Excavations had already been authorised in the church in 1967 after a letter had come to light, written in the early eighteenth century, by the uncle of the Abbé Bigou (see the previous blog) which referred to a crypt and said that the entrance had been blocked up.

The professor who carried out the excavations reported that he had discovered the beginning of three passages leading downwards below the church. One was in the north wall of the church, being a staircase beneath the steps within the wall which lead up to the pulpit. The second was in a “little structure off the sacristy”. The third wasn’t described and, oddly, the excavators blocked up the entrances they had found and apparently went no further with their exploration. One wonders what influenced their change of heart.

Of the three possible entrances which have been put forward, the most interesting would appear to be in the “secret room” (referred to as an isoloir) which Saunière built off the sacristy in 1894. It is believed that the only entrance to this room is through the back of the cupboards which are built against its eastern wall. Unfortunately public access is not permitted to the isoloir or even to the sacristy and I cannot find a report from anyone who has been in either room.

However it is recorded that the priest had been seen to leave the church and go into the sacristy (which has no outside door) at the end of the service and appear outside a few minutes later without going back through the church which was still occupied by a number of the congregation. He obviously had a secret exit route.

The photo shows a model of the church viewed from the south which is not quite accurate. The sacristy is the lean-to structure with the window in the roof. The “secret room” is the small quadrant-shaped building to its right which is actually linked to it. This room could easily house a curved staircase leading down into the crypt.

 

Next week I will discuss what Saunière may have discovered in the crypt.