Treasure, Chapter 2
by Bryan Andrews
(Chapter One is available to read in Hertford Writers’ Circle Anthology, ENCOUNTERS)
Chapter Two - Rennes le Chateau
Their next stop was the little hilltop village of Rennes le Chateau, some 40 km away over the mountain which separated Montsegur country from the Corbieres. “What have you brought me here for?” demanded Claudine as she slammed the door of her hired silver Peugeot and surveyed the valley below, where Visigoths had built their now vanished city of Razes.
“Have you ever heard of Berenger Sauniere?” asked Bernard.
“Non, jamais,” she replied.
“He was the parish priest here in the late 19thcentury and he may have discovered your Cathar treasure hidden in or near his church.” “Oh yes.” she replied doubtfully, “and I suppose he gave it to the Vatican so they could keep it out of sight for all these years.”
“It’s even stranger than that,” said Bernard. “He became fabulously rich after discovering something. He spent huge amounts which no parish priest could possibly have on rebuilding his church and building that fantastic tower over there, which he called Tour Magdala.”
“Maybe he’d been selling indulgences. They used to you know,” said Claudine.
“Now it’s your turn to be the cynic.”
Then Bernard told her the dream he had had, years ago: a dream which had so affected him that it had led him to new discoveries. The dream took place in a restaurant where a young waitress was being unnecessarily rude to the dreamer and, instead of taking his order, she whacked him on the shoulder with a rolled up newspaper. The other diners looked round horrified and said she should be punished. The crowd of diners led him to an underground cavern and he began to dig a grave there. In the dream it seemed just that she should be buried there and he began to dig, with the crowd silently supporting him. He looked round and saw as vividly as anything he had ever seen in a dream, Jesus standing there with a look of deep anger and disapproval at what he was doing. A member of the crowd said, “Do you know what you’re doing? You’re burying his girl friend!” And he knew this was not a waitress - it was Mary Magdalene!
“Zut, quel reve!” Claudine exclaimed.
“Exactly, that’s what I thought at the time and it was news to me that Christ could ever have had a girl friend. It felt like a revelation which had been made to me, but basically it seemed then to be a bit blasphemous too, It was some years later that I heard the story from another source when Scorsese’s film “The Last Temptation of Christ” came out and there were protests in Leicester Square by people who didn’t like the idea of Jesus being portrayed in a sexual relationship. And now the idea is so current I am amazed that I had that dream.
“Later I came here to Rennes le Chateau. I was staying at a friend’s farm nearby and by chance discovered this place and, for me, the whole thing took off - the mystery of the treasure, the Mary Magdalene obsession of Sauniere, the building of the Tour Magdala. All the pieces began to fit into place and I realised that the dream which had come to me was actually the same information that had inspired researchers like Henry Lincoln to write “The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail”.
Claudine said, “Look I really want to go to the hotel now as I’ve got to catch up with finishing a report I am writing and have to send off to Paris tonight. After that I’ll get an early night. Perhaps meet you at breakfast,” she smiled
“OK. I think I’ll hang around and explore for a bit and walk down the hill. You take the car.”
* * *
It was the strangest message to find inscribed above the church entrance: “Terribilis est locus iste” (this place is terrible). The door gave to Bernard’s touch and creaked open. A wave of myrrh incense hung in the air. The first shock was the statue, which stood menacingly in front of him as he entered. Bernard had never seen anything so hideous. Not even Hieronymus Bosch could have come up with this stooped creature with its diabolical smile. “What is it doing here in this church in a small French village?” he asked himself.
The rest of the church was crudely beautiful, if you like glossily painted alabaster saints and golden angels. Bernard felt so affected by the atmosphere that he had to sit on an uncomfortable wooden chair and ponder the strangeness of this place. He was fascinated by the strange paintings of the Stations of the Cross, which seemed unlike those he had seen in other Catholic churches. When he finally got up to go it was dusk and the light in the church was getting dim. He was hungry now and fancied a good French dinner and a glass of wine. But turning the door handle he found it stiff and resistant. The huge wooden door was locked.
He looked around for some help, maybe something he could use as a tool, and jumped back on his heels as he met the mocking gaze of the ghastly statue of Asmodeus, the incarnation of the devil, lit by a beam of light coming from an upper window. Frustrated by his useless attempts to force the large wooden door, he began to resign himself to spending some time here. The most likely explanation for his predicament was that the verger, or whoever, had not seen him sitting quietly in the shadows and had locked the church for the night.
“My mobile phone!” he exclaimed with relief as he pulled it from his rucksack. The little light came on and then flickered and went out. “Damn" - he had forgotten to re-charge the battery. He sighed with despair at his entrapment, tried a few bangs on the door and then decided that if he was going to spend the night here it was definitely not going to be close to the devilish statue, which guarded the door.
Scrabbling around for somewhere to make himself comfortable, he tripped and fell. Slightly bruised, he noticed his fall had dislodged a paving stone. Struggling to replace it he spotted something trapped between the stone and the earth underneath. Curious, he pulled it out and found himself holding a small packet. By the light of the moon bathing him from an overhead window, he opened it and found the surprising contents: a letter written in Spanish and a yellow cardboard ticket.
The next morning the verger was surprised to discover a man asleep curled up on a pew, a backpack for a pillow.
Bernard met Claudine at the five star Hotel des Ducs de Joyeuse for an elegant breakfast in the converted mediaeval chateau.
“You’ll never guess how I spent the night,” said Bernard over croissants and a big cup of café crème. After recounting his uncomfortable night he said, “I’d like to show you Sauniere’s church.” She was a bit puzzled at Bernard’s excitement when, later that morning, he led her hurriedly in the direction of a quite ordinary looking village church. Ordinary, that is, until she had got up close and he pointed out the inscription above the door. And then she was startled to see as they entered a hideous looking creature guarding the door.
“It’s Asmodeus the devil,” said Bernard.
“Quelle surprise! What is he doing in here?”
“There’s more” said Bernard, pointing out the starry ceiling above the altar and there, kneeling with her alabaster jar, the focal point of the whole thing: Mary Magdalene.
“Berenger developed this obsession with Mary Magdalene, dedicated his church to her and built her the tower I showed you yesterday. You could say he was a devoted disciple of hers, venerated her, but maybe he had discovered something really special about her. Being in here all night it was terrible and wonderful. I saw amazing things, just like Howard Carter.”
“Qui est lui?”
“You know, the guy who discovered Tutankhamun’s treasure.”
“You found treasure?”
“Not exactly but… look Claudine,” he urged, “will you come with me to Perpignan, now?”
“Calmez vous,” soothed Claudine
“No listen to me. I have discovered something amazing and if you want to come with me trust me… it’s the next step I need to take.”
“Mais non, I do not want to rush off. I want to see a little more of this village and I want you to tell me what happened in the church before we go anywhere.”
They walked though the village, exploring the gardens of the Villa Bethania where Sauniere had lived and entertained wealthy guests, like Emma Calve the internationally famous opera singer from Paris. At the Tour Magdala they looked out over the fantastic landscape of the valley where the ancient Visigoth town of Razes once dominated the region.
“I was pretty scared in the church when I realised I couln’t get out. When I was looking around in the semi darkness I tripped over a loose flagstone. I tried to put it back in place and a piece crumbled away and under it I found the strangest thing. What I saw convinced me I need to go to Perpignan to check up on it. Will you come with me now?”
Claudine smiled. “D’accord. I have finished my report so I am free… for une petite aventure.”