The Mystery of Rennes-le-Château

This hilltop village in the Corbieres attracts many visitors. While it has an almost uninterrupted, rich historical and political past going back to 5 BC, it's the events of the late 1800s at the Abbe Sauniere which put this village on the map...

Following World War II, in the 1950s, a businessman opened a restaurant in Rennes-le-Château. Times were hard, so he put a tape recording, later a video recording, on the tables of the restaurant as a gift to his clients. The recordings explained that the local priest in the village, Father Bérenger Saunière, who served there from 1885 to 1907, had discovered a fortune which was - although sources were never revealed - the money hoarded by Blanche of Castille to pay the ransom for her son, Louis IX, who was being held captive by the Saracens.

The story hit the Parisian newspapers and Rennes-le-Château became a tourist hot spot.

Father Bérenger Saunière

Father Bérenger Saunière arrived at the village in 1885 and started renovating his church. He had it decorated with brightly coloured paintings, many, apparently, based on masonic symbolism. The story of the day he discovered a secret doorway and went down into the crypt is masked by legend; but he discovered something valuable enough to enable him to build a house and live a lifestyle rivalling the wealthiest minor nobility of southern France.

Treasure of the Abbé Saunière

Hundreds of books have been published, each with a different theory of the source of the treasure. Some believe the decorations of the church carried secret messages and further treasure is still to be discovered; others believe the "secret" to be religious and linked with Mary Magdalene. Legend in the region says she came to Rennes-le-Château with Jesus where they preached very early Christianity which later became Catharism. The Cathers were obliterated as heretics in the 13th century; a history that had never been forgiven or forgotten by the local people of the region. The Corbières, and the Pays de Sault to the west of them, were the final hide-outs for the Cathars.

Reaching Rennes-le-Château by Road

To find it, take the D118 road south from Carcassonne, pass through Limoux and Alet-les-Bains and arrive at Couiza. Once there, cross the river Sals and on leaving Couiza look for a small sign for Rennes-le-Château pointing to the left.

The road winds upwards, with a wonderful new view on every bend, until reaching the village with its church, ruined château, two restaurants, two bookshops (with books in English), and the Domain of Bérenger Saunière.

Access to the church

  • Domaine de l'Abbé Saunière
    Open summer
    : 1 May to 15 September 10:00-18:00 and closed 11 January to 28 February. Open times vary for the rest of the year
    Tel: 04 68 31 38 85

  • For full details on open hours and ticket prices: Click here

Further Information

  • For further information about the mysteries of Rennes-le-Château, and details of a book on Mary Magdalene and Jesus in the region: Click here
  • For the official website of the commune of Rennes-le-Château: Click here
  • Information on Rennes-le-Château and the theories surrounding the story: Click here
  • Local tourism in the Pays de Sault: Click here (in French)
  • Local tourism in the Corbières, Minervois area: Click here (in French and English)
  • The French Association Terre de Rhedea is dedicated to exploring this mystery. The website, in French, has links to many articles and much reference material: Click here

Mysteries of Rennes and what to see in the Corbières and information on Canet d'Aude

Information provided by Valerie Ann Wineyard. Author of Mysteries of Rennes and what to see in the Corbières and information on Canet d'Aude