Dramatically, Abbe Saunière selected and arranged the order of the Saints statues within the church to imply the presence of the Holy Grail.
Intriguingly, the first letter of each Saint's name spells out G R A A L, French for Grail! The sequence of Saints goes like this:
* St Germaine
Furthermore, the configuration of the statues forms a large, albeit disproportional shaped 'M', and seems to represent Mary Magdalene, as depicted below:
And while treasure hunters have recognized this 'anomaly' for some time, in the context of Occam's Razor it appears to add further credence to our budding hypothesis.
One last point on the statues; it is worth mentioning that the statue of Saint Antoine stands opposite the statue of Mary Magdalene. Their respective feast days are the 17th and 22nd; numbers that reoccur throughout the legend. (see 22 & 17: The Haunting of Rennes-le-Château)
Moving towards the east of the church, one's attention is immediately drawn to the alter painting of Mary Magdalene in the grotto. Saunière personally designed it, and it contains some very revealing detail.
In the painting, Mary is on her knees, staring at a long wooden cross, or 'X'. Her hands are crossed in a peculiar fashion, forming what appears to be a swastika, which was once a very sacred symbol, before it was adopted by the Germans in the War.
Readers of The Da Vinci Code will recall that Margaret Starbird was one of Dan Brown's primary references. As a recognized expert in the sacred feminine, and Mary Magdalene in particular, Starbird was a natural reference for Brown's subject matter.
In her book, The Woman with the Alabaster Jar, Starbird, highlights the symbolism of the 'X' in classical art. Starbird concludes that it a sign of concealed esoteric knowledge, meaning quite literally, 'X' marks the spot. Take that Indiana Jones!
So what we have here are four X's. Could Abbe Saunière be trying to tell us he has uncovered concealed knowledge and is preserving it for those with 'eyes to see'? Before we get carried away, let us review the rest of the painting.
Clearly, we can see that Mary Magdalene and a Grotto are involved, but are the supporting clues symbolic or literal? As we take a closer look at the skyline in the background we see what appears to be real structures, and they appear to mirror images of actual buildings in the village of Rennes-le-Château. From the viewer's right, we see can see:
1) A Mountain (Pech Cardou)
A possible fourth landmark in the painting, on the viewers left, could either represent the adjoining tower to the Tour Magdela or the Church of Mary Magdalene.
Intriguingly, the abbe's altar paining, which again he personally designed, would seem to point to the presence of Mary Magdalene in a Grotto just outside of Rennes-le-Château. Additionally, there is symbolic evidence of concealed knowledge. What else do we know that could confirm this rather speculative evidence?
Abbe Saunière's Grotto of the Magdalene
The grotto Saunière constructed, like the natural grotto in the cliff-side near where he collected the unusual stones (more about this later!), was dedicated to Mary Magdalene. It contained a statue of The Magdalene, and a stone bench with the raised characters XXSLX written across the top. Sadly, the entire grotto was destroyed by treasure hunters, who were convinced it concealed a secret. It has since been rebuilt and the XXSLX is still intact, although nobody has come close to deciphering it.
What are we to make of this apparent code, especially since there is no 'S' in Latin? The grotto was originally aligned on the Tour Magdela, the Tower of the Magdalene, arguably Saunière's finest creation, some 75 yards in the distance. It now sits on a slight variance from the original. So let's have a look at the Tour Magdela.
The Tour Magdela
Once again we turn to Margaret Starbird, who informs us that 'the word magdala in Hebrew means 'tower' (with connotations also of "stronghold" or "fortress")'. We shall keep this in mind as we review the Tour Magdela's many clues.
We mentioned before the frequent occurrence of the numbers 22 and 17 in the Rennes-le-Château legend. Well, here we find some of the most revealing examples:
* Two sets of 11 steps (22) lead up to the observatory platform that leads to the Tour Magdela.
* An anomalous tile on the floor of the Tour Magdela points up a 22 step stone staircase where a lone window points unambiguously at a grotto, approximately a mile in the distance.
* The ancient place-name of the Grotto is 'Grotte du Fournet - dite de la Magdeleine', which translates 'The Burial Site of the Mary Magdalene'.
* The offset of the lone window to the grotto in the distance is, astoundingly, 22 degrees (see Blog entry 'Fear and Loathing in Rennes-le-Château' for an account of my discovery of this alignment)
My first walk to the grotto was quite arduous, to say the least.
Before proceeding, let me state that there is no longer anything of value in the grotto. Trust me, I've explored the possibilities. Please do not attempt to disturb this fragile and sacred site.
Concealed in The Burial Site of the Mary Magdalene grotto are the apparent remains of two graves. The first, near the entrance, is an imprint in the shape of a small coffin. Not surprisingly, the spot had recently been adorned with candles and flowers, so its potential importance is clearly known to a few. Further back, underneath a rocky outcrop, I found the remnants of what appears to be a shallow grave, one that was dug up at some point in the not too distant past (possibly the time of Saunière).
So, before making any conclusions, let's review the facts:
* The number 22, the feast day of Mary Magdalene, is concealed throughout the Tour Magdela.
* Saunière personally designed unconventional restorations in his church that point to the significance of Mary Magdalene, The Grail and concealed religious truths or spiritual knowledge (i.e. 'X' marks the spot).
* The Abbe was obsessed with grottos, including erecting statues of saints who were associated with them (i.e. Saint Anthony and Mary Magdalene). We must not forget that he built one from scratch, constructed with stones he had secretly gathered from the valley below, in the vicinity of the real grotto; the 'Grotte du Fournet - dite de la Magdeleine' – the Burial Site of Mary Magdalene. Sauniere’s imitation grotto points at the tower of the Magdalene, the Tour Magdela, which in turn, unambiguously points at the 'Grotte du Fournet - dite de la Magdeleine.'
While that is all pleasantly persuasive, a picture is worth a thousand words:
Now, the reader will be conscious of the fact that little effort has been made to discuss the series of events that could have led Mary Magdalene, and possible her daughter Sara, to French soil. This possibility is covered rather exhaustively in other books and web sites, and is addressed in Simon Cox's The Dan Brown Companion, which used this very research to form its explosive conclusions.
Additionally, and regretfully, I have refrained for sharing all that I have learned (as annoying as that might be), in order to preserve my intellectual property for my forthcoming book, which I promise you will reinforce the themes featured on Arcadia, as well as some I have held back completely. I hope the reader can understand the need to do this.
Thus, the temptation is to say that the Abbe Beringer Saunière discovered the bones of Mary Magdalene and possibly her daughter Sara, the embodiment of the Holy Grail, in the grotto pointed to by the Tour Magdela. In fact this is very tempting. And if we forget for a moment the dogma of Christianity, then this supposition becomes very attractive, indeed. It even passes many of the tests of Occam's Razor (again, if we leave our preconceptions about Christianity behind).
But as any real physical evidence is lacking, all we can confidently state is that Abbe Saunière did find a treasure, or secret, or both, in the grotto, and what his restorations have done is simply commemorate his discovery by encoding the number 22. That appears clear. What did he find? Well, that is speculative, although I do have my theories. However, I am confident that Occam's Razor tells me that I am on the right trail. The Grotto might not be the smoking gun at the scene of the crime, but at least it is evidence there was a crime - so to speak.
Copyright © 2006 - 2009 Andrew Gough. All rights reserved.