This was the house (or mansion) that Fr Sauniere built as part of his estate in Rennes.
Interestingly, Sauniere never actually lived there, only using the Villa to do what was
described as a great deal of entertaining.
The account books show that the construction of the Tour Magdala and the Villa Bethania
cost some 26,000 francs at the time of their construction (1901-5). This again brings up the question of how Sauniere came up with the funds to build these extravagant and expensive buildings on the salary of a simple parish priest. The accusation was that he was charging for saying masses, apparently the cost of 1 franc for each one. So he would have to have said mass 26,000 times over a relatively short period of time? Hmm.
Villa Bethania remained the property of Sauniere's housekeeper after his death in 1917. She was apparently having a hard time paying the property taxes for such a large property in a small village.
The property was bought in 1948 and became a hotel in 1955. Today it is the property of the municipality.
- Religious Travel
Church of Mary Magdalene-
According to records and research, a church has stood on this site as early as the 8th century. Later, most likely around the 11th century another church was built over it. It was not until the 19th century that the church was renovated by the main character in the mystery of Rennes le Chateau, Fr. Berenger Sauniere, the local parish priest.
One has to wonder, how a parish priest in a small village in rural France would come upon the funds to carry out such a restoration. Clearly his salary as a priest would be insufficient. The common argument that the good father was trafficking in masses, in effect saying mass for pay, would also be most unlikely because according to various sources the amount of money he would have received from this endeavor would have been fairly small.
As churches go, this one was fairly simple on the inside. Remember of course that this village had a very small population even then. The mystery aspect of it all comes from a number of statues, decorations and inscriptions. Even to the person that is not very religious, some of these things just seemed strange,uncommon.
And the one after whom this church was named. Mary Magdalene. Now a Saint in the western traditions. It seems that over the years the depiction of her has changed rather dramatically. I seem to remember that she used to be described as a prostitute or loose woman. She traveled with the Disciples and was supposedly close to Jesus as much as any of the disciples. Interestingly, the gnostic gospels refer to Mary Magdalene as Jesus' companion. Later writers have gone on to argue that Mary Magdalene was in fact the wife of Jesus. Some of the mystery of Rennes le Chateau circles around the argument that Mary was Jesus wife, and she bore his children.
- Religious Travel
The Magdala Tower is one of the most easy to recognize sights in Rennes le Chateau. From its construction in 1906 it served as Fr. Berenger Sauniere's study, housing a collection of old books.
By this time Fr Sauniere was under investigation and his bishop had already assigned him to a different parish. Sauniere refused to go and insisted on remaining in Rennes le Chateau, though he was unpaid. For all the stories about great wealth and treasures and secret connections, Sauniere died basically penniless, subsisting by selling religious medals to wounded soldiers in a nearby village.
The tour Magdala (Magdala Tower) right from the start has all sort of double meanings and hidden associations. Take the name. Magdala in Aramaic means tower. However, it is also supposedly the place where Mary Magdalene was from. The usage common at the time would have identified her as Mary of Magdala, which meant she was an unmarried woman from that town.
I hadn't really delved much into the mysteries of Rennes before my visit, so I probably missed a lot of the symbolism that can be seen there. For example, the trefoil is used a great deal. It is an old Celtic symbol. It has been used to symbolize the Trinity. You can also see the eight pointed star at Magdala, which the Knights Templar used to symbolize the Holy Grail. This then naturally brings up the question of whether the Holy Grail is buried nearby or if something in this was pointing to that burial place?
- Historical Travel
Berenger Sauniere Center
"Terribilist est locus iste," is in engraved in capital letters above the door of St. Mary Magdalene Church. ..."This place is terrifying." (Even my simpleton knowledge of language can translate that little bit of Latin.) A warning to all those who enter? Some scholars and conspiracy theorist have argued that's not right, not what it means, some have even been bold enough to state the words aren't even there, but they are here--right in front of my eyes.
Crossing the door's threshold, there's no going back. My heart pounds quickly in my chest. It's here, I knew it would be here, but now that I see it I don't think I should have. To my left, just inside the church's door, is Asmodeus, forever staring angrily with bulging, blue eyes. This 3-foot tall statue is a bright, red demon--complete with claws, horns, pointed ears, jet-black goatee, and bat wings; mouth agape in a tortured, angry howl. I ask you, what sort of church greets its parishioners with a demon? The uninitiated to legends of Rennes-le-Chateau might automatically assume this was the Devil, good old Lucifer himself, but it's generally agreed on that it's Asmodeus--one of the seven princes of hell; the demon in charge of the sin of sexual lust, who helped build Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem, and is thought of as generally handsome (as far as demons go, anyway). Ironically, Asmodeus is said hate water because it reminds him of God, but what's he carrying on his back? A large bowl full of the church's holy water!
I cautiously tear my eyes away from the statue and towards the inside of the church. As my vision adjusts to the darkness inside, I am greeted by what I can only call a ocular cacophony. It's nothing but sheer noise for eyesight--almost painful to look at, if that's possible. "There's too much...," I mumble. And there is too much--too many statues, too much colour, too many words, excessive gold trim, the floor tiled in gleaming black-and-white, the pews placed a little too close together.
My friend, Lynn, brushes my shoulder to let me know she is there. "See, on the altar," I whisper, "who's the baby the Virgin Mary's holding?" "Easy," she replies, "that's Jesus!" I then point to the other side, "Then what baby is Joseph's holding?" Lynn looks chilled. "It's Thomas," I answer, "Jesus's twin brother." Thomas gets very little airtime in modern Christianity. I guess a twin for the saviour would just confuse a lot of people and raise some serious questions. How could a woman give birth to twins--one divine and one not? Where did the other seed come from if she was virginal? Lynn says, "I'm going outside, this place gives me the creeps." Honestly it gives me the creeps too, and I'd like nothing more than to leave (my stomach is upset and my hands are trembling), yet I decide to take time examining things for a little while longer. However, I'm well aware this place has led many to obsess and even driven an unlucky few to clinical insanity.
The Church of Saint Mary Magdalene, so simple in appearance from the outside, is thought to have been originally built in the 10th or 11th century. It was then renovated into this garish cryptogram by a wayward piest by the name of Berenger Sauniere between 1887 and 1897.
Over the next hour, Lynn and I tour the rest of the Berenger Sauniere Center: the presbytery where Sauniere lived (now a museum), where I am most fascinated by a dinosaur egg found on the premises; the Villa Bethania, a luxurious home the priest had constructed to host lavish parties; the Magdala Tower, which served primarily as a library and offers stunning views of the surrounding Languedoc countryside from its rooftop; and the garden, where Sauniere's remains now rest in a small tomb. I pause for awhile beside his stone coffin and can't help but ask out loud, "You miserable, old priest! ...What did you do here?!"
- Historical Travel
- Castles and Palaces
- Museum Visits
If you come to Rennes le Chateau in search of treasure, you should visit the Tour Magdala, since Abbe Sauniere had it built under strict guidelines. It most likely has something to do with the location of the treasure! Pay attention to the curious miniature tower on top of the tower. Does it have some deeper meaning?
- Historical Travel
- Adventure Travel
- Castles and Palaces