Isaac Ben Jacob

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The True Cross, the Symbol of Constantine and the Mystery of Rennes-le-Château

Having travelled to Metz for the wedding of Sigebert, King of the ancient kingdom of Austrasia and son of King Clotaire, Venance Fortunat carried on to Tours, where he would meet Queen Radegonde.

 

Radegonde, a 6th century Frankish princess of great renown, was born in Thuringia in 519.  As the daughter of King Berthar, who had been murdered by his brother, Hermanfrid, Ragdegonde was placed in Hermanfrid’s guardianship until Clotaire kidnapped her from her homeland. The young girl was taken by force to Gaul, where Clotaire ensured that she was educated by erudite courtiers on his estate in Athies and soon invited her to become his wife. The marriage would be his fourth.

 

As Queen of the Franks, Radegonde appeared more interested in spiritual matters than in her husband. Her behaviour was mysterious and it is likely that she had developed a keen interest in the gold cross which Clotaire had inherited from his brother, Childebert, and which had previously been in the possession of Bishop Germain of Paris. This is evident in certain anomalies in Fortunat’s poetry.

 

Queen Radegonde was, by now, separated from her husband, Clotaire, who had disgraced himself in her eyes by having her brother put to death. While this was the catalyst which led Radegonde to move away from the frivolities of the court, it was also an opportunity for her to focus upon a task that demanded the utmost secrecy; one which she could not accomplish without the assistance of Fortunat. At least this is the impression that we are left with, in light of the forthcoming turn of events.

 

Fortunat met secretly with the Queen at Tours and proposed to devote himself to her service, taking an oath to assist her throughout her life. Never once did he consider returning to Italy. Paul Diacre (Paulus Diaconus) relates that Fortunat and Radegonde left Tours and travelled to Poitiers, where the Queen established a permanent residence. Nearby, there was an estate built by Clotaire, known as Suèdes, located just outside the city gates, near the village of Condat, and the Queen developed this domain into a monastery and named it ‘Sainte Croix’.

Statue of Queen Radegonde Vintage postcard featuring Queen Radegonde

Queen Radegonde

Statue of a pious Queen Radegonde

Thus, equipped with a dedication similar to that held by the Basilica of ‘St Vincent and Ste Croix de Paris’, which then relinquished its former name, it seems that this monastery was intended by Radegonde to hold the famous gold cross of Toledo. Was it because they feared for the object’s safety while in Paris that they moved it to Poitiers; or was there a personal cult dedicated to it; or, even still, was it because Fortunat wanted to examine the relic in private? We may never know. However, transporting the object could only be achieved with the consent of the Bishop Germain. According to Gregory of Tours, after agreeing to the arrangement, he used his authority to sanctify the abbess of the monastery at Poitiers. The abbess was Agnès, a young girl who had formerly been in the service of the Queen and who, having been educated by her, became her confidante before being appointed to the post of abbess. Fortunat, the architect of the project, fuelled the rumour mill by portraying Solomon as once having held the Cross himself, as celebrated in the following extract by Germain, Bishop of Paris (Book II of Fortunat’s Miscellaneous Poems, Sections IX and X):

St Helena cross by Conegliano Bust of Constantine the Great True cross reliquary

'St. Helena' - Conegliano 1495

Constantine

A 'True Cross' Reliquary

With respect to the hymn, we cannot help but notice that Fortunat confuses the symbol revered by Constantine (which Lactantius and other chroniclers of his time identify as an atypical Tau) and the relic of the True Cross that Helena had unearthed in Jerusalem. It appears that in this hymn our poet strived with all his might to associate, as he himself says, the ‘love’ that Constantine held for the ‘cross’, with the very relic removed from Jerusalem by St Helena. But the symbol of Constantine was never a forerunner of the True Cross. In this instance, Fortunat simply amuses himself, and takes great pleasure in continuing the work of his predecessors.

 

I propose that humble theologians, unable to explain the obscure form of the object held by the Emperor, have Christianised it by contriving an artificial connection with the rod of Moses, then combining the respective cult with that associated with the True Cross. If this assumption is correct, then we must concede that the approach initiated by Radegonde, on the authority of Fortunat (that is to say, the transformation of a fragment of the True Cross from Poitiers), was intended to cause a divergence of the Christian cross in favour of the object found by Childebert in Toledo, which, as we suppose, was actually the ‘symbol of Constantine’. The operation was, therefore, designed to ensure the survival of a pagan symbol in a world then dominated by the Byzantine Orthodox Christians.

 

Such an undertaking could only have been completed by Fortunat, as he was the man for the job. But was this the reason he had been taken to Gaul in the first place? He had drawn from the sources of Rufinus of Aquileia and had sufficient knowledge to evaluate the object, which Childebert had been divested of in favour of St Germain. A skilful theologian, Fortunat was indeed a party to the ‘secret of the gods’. As heir to the secret doctrines expounded in the monastery of his native city, Aquileia, he was not unaware of the motives which had once prompted some learned people to conceal their reverence for the symbol of Constantine behind an apparent devotion to the cross of Christ.

 

One of the most eminent architects of this deception was the aforementioned Tyrranius Rufinus (or, more simply, Rufin), a monk born around 345 AD in the Roman city of Concordia. Having studied in Rome, he was linked for a time with St Jerome, before founding a monastery at Aquileia, which we know existed in the time of Fortunat, since Bishop Paulinus was his instructor there. It was here that Rufinus assembled the knowledge he had gained from his travels in Egypt. He had attended the school of Didymus, had met Melania the Elder and recovered the original writings of the great Christian scholar and theologian, Origen, thus preserving them for prosperity. He is especially remembered for the Constantinian legend that Christianised the pagan symbol. So, we can say with some certainty that Fortunat drew much of his knowledge from Rufinus.

St Jerome by Caravaggio

'Saint Jerome in His Study'  c1605 Caravaggio

Rufinus of Aquileia book

Work attributed to Rufinus of Aquileia

If Fortunat had, in fact, adapted the legend that his illustrious predecessor had established, then he appears to have committed two significant errors in the process. These are interesting, because they highlight the fact that the hymns of Fortunat, which are dedicated to the relic of the True Cross, are actually intended for another cross, presumably the gold cross of Toledo (the symbol of Constantine):

 

1. It should be noted that Fortunat was prompted to compose his Constantinian acrostics even before Radegonde had thought of bringing back a fragment of the True Cross from the East. These acrostics, a type of ‘talismanic’ poem, in which the geometrical arrangement of the verses when viewed on the page reveal cruciform figures, were (according to Brower) very rare at that time. Brower adds that this particular kind of illustrated poetry (invented by Optatianus Porphyrius) consisted of variations on the symbol of Constantine (and not on the model of the True Cross) and had been offered to the Emperor. The nature of these acrostics, which were attributed to Fortunat, show the poet as an admirer of this symbol of Constantine and, if this hypothesis is correct, of the gold cross of Toledo.

 

2. Relying on the false opinion of Lucchi, it has been believed for a long time that Fortunat had begun the second book of his Miscellaneous Poems with verses celebrating the gift made to the West by Justinian II of a relic of the True Cross. This book contained the bulk of the hymns and songs that the poet devoted to the ‘Lord's Cross’; that is to say, a fragment of the wood of the cross of Christ, which Radegonde had claimed for the monastery at Poitiers. However, upon examination of this poem, Charles Nisard, who first undertook to translate Fortunat’s Latin verses, observed that "it was wrong" that Lucchi had assigned the composition of this piece to the celebration of this event. Charles Nisard also notes that if the first verses of Fortunat’s poetry actually relate to the titled From the Lord's Cross, either Lucchi deliberately ignored, or he did not know, that the last four refer to "[another] cross that Radegonde had probably housed near a stream in the gardens of her monastery, and which had a vine climbing around its arms”. It clearly appears, therefore, that the poet Fortunat uses ‘double-entendre’ in his language and thereby alters the primary meaning of his poems. In the composition of his poem at the beginning of Book II, we see how he has roughly superimposed an apology for the Christian cross over words in praise of a cruciform object that belonged to St Radegonde. We have here an example of a diversion, masterfully orchestrated, which, noting what we have explained above, probably gives a more or less faithful description of the cross that Radegonde possessed; that is to say the cross of Toledo, undoubtedly the symbol of Constantine.

Eugene Vintras Eugene Vintras levitation in Tilly-sur-Seulles

Eugene Vintras

Eugene Vintras's alleged Levitation

The illegitimate son of a washerwoman, Eugene Vintras was born on 7 April 1807 in the Normandy town of Bayeux. Graced with an imposing cathedral, whose construction dates back to Odon de Conteville, William the Conqueror's half brother, history teaches us that this city, capital of the Bessin, was once one of the most important centres of ancient Druidic Gaul. The hill overlooking the city, Mount Phaunus, was the gathering place of the college of wise and learned Druids, whose science continued to be investigated by the local Catholic clergy long after the Celts themselves had disappeared. The ambiguous and religious role of the city was later lost and Bayeux became the seat of the bishopric of Lower Normandy, from which arise some very curious legends.

 

Vintras did not have a very happy childhood in Bayeux, as he was abandoned at a very young age by his mother, who was unable to provide for him. He was placed in an orphanage and his education was limited; he soon became involved in several shady deals, which led to his imprisonment. However, he did not stay in prison long and Vintras soon put down his roots at Tilly-sur-Seulles, a village in Normandy, situated midway between Bayeux and Caen. In 1839, aged 32, Vintras met a former lawyer, Ferdinand Geoffroi, and a doctor by the name of Liégeard. These two men had a decisive influence on him and their meeting marked a turning point in Vintras’ life; through them he found the door to a world about which he had known nothing. Ferdinand Geoffroi and his acolyte were, indeed, very involved in the political sphere. Committed royalists, they had their entrée into the royal family of Charles X, and practised the darkest occultism and power games, which combined misguided mysticism and political intrigue.

Stained glass window Villa Bethania sacred prostitute

Sacred Heart stained glass, Villa Bethania

Sacred Prostitute

Vintras, the pious, mild-mannered Catholic, had been transformed by his experiences and, as ‘Elijah returned’, radiated a powerful presence. People from all over France rushed to join his ‘Church of Carmel’ or ‘Work of Mercy’, with its new priesthood, which was to replace the ‘corrupt’ priesthood of the Catholic Church. Lacking any formal religious training and with only a basic education, Vintras (who was now known by his spiritual name, the Prophet Elie-Strathaniel), preached complex rites and doctrines, which remarkably resembled those of the ancient Gnostics.

 

The disconcerting sight of bloody masses attracted more legitimists daily, and this swelled the ranks of the sect. Vintras became carried away by the influence of the infectious, demonic and possessing powers that now overwhelmed him; chalices which had been empty became miraculously filled with wine and, like fountains, overflowed with the liquid bubbling up from the depths. The faithful saw with their own eyes the pristine white communion hosts cover themselves with blood and display the wounds of Christ. Angelic voices could be heard proclaiming the worship of the Sacred Heart and the miracles of Carmel.

 

Boullan, the Beloved Disciple, and the Comte de Chambord

 

By the reign of Napoleon III numerous complaints had been received by the authorities, demanding the dissolution of the scandalous sect. From 1852 onwards arrests were made and Vintras was pursued and forced into exile in London. It was there, in a strange land, while repression was at its height in France, that he somehow found the necessary resources to establish a school of Eliate Carmelites. The school was established in around 1859 and from that moment Vintras thought about nothing else, other than returning to his homeland. Despite the memory of arrests and the sulphurous reputation of the sect’s adherents, Vintras' supporters remained loyal. He therefore had little difficulty in re-founding his Carmelite school and decided to return to Lyon, which became the centre for his activities.

Black mass depiction

Typical depiction of a Black Mass

If the secret was at first well preserved, dark rumours soon began to spread, along with reports of abhorrent practices in the monastery. Adding further to the infamy, Boullan (like Bérenger Saunière and a certain Monseigneur Billard, Saunière’s bishop) dedicated himself to securing wealthy inheritances. His richest disciples and most fervent admirers, who were enthralled by the aura of the priest, took great pleasure in letting themselves be fleeced and stripped of their very last penny. To add to the disquiet, Adèle suddenly fell pregnant to Boullan, gave birth in secret and concealed the child. Soon it was revealed, however, that following a magical ritual the priest had sacrificed the youngster on the high altar. The child was never found, nor was any incriminating evidence ever discovered.

 

Despite these reports, the black masses continued and, among other rites, Boullan offered his followers the naked body of his mistress stretched out on the altar. In 1860, however, the couple Boullan-Chevalier were publicly disavowed during a trial, which led to their conviction and three years’ imprisonment; but only on the basis of an accusation of fraud. The Pope and the court of Rome showed themselves to be inexplicably conciliatory towards Boullan. Indeed, having confessed his crimes to His Holiness, he was pardoned. Cleansed of his sins, the priest was once again received into the bosom of the Church and, with the power of his return to grace, established a second review and a new order, ‘l’Œuvre de Marie’. The mortuary rites began again, stronger than ever.

 

Nonetheless, the behaviour of the abbé gave too much rope to the criticisms of the anticlericals and, despite attempts at appeasement, the court of Rome had to resort to force and succeeded in having Boullan permanently banished from the Church; a sad end for this priest who, after his disgrace, was bewitched by Stanislas de Guaita, a Rosicrucian, with whom he had become at odds. The wax doll, bristling with needles patiently stuck in one by one by Guaita, seems to have worked on the diabolical Abbé Boullan and he was carried off on 4 January 1893, but not without having denounced the author of this abominable machination.  

jean bricard Tau Johannes II Deodat Roche Tau Theoditos

Deodat Roché

Jean Bricaud (left)

Born in Arques, a town close to Rennes-le-Château, Deodat Roché, as Laurent Buchholtzer states in his recent book, Rennes-le-Château – Une Affaire Paradoxale, had personally known Abbé Saunière. In addition, the doctor and the notary of the priest were family members and would have been well informed, as one of them signed the ‘certificats de complaisance’ [otherwise known as fraudulent sick notes] at the time of the trial, while the other was to sign all the notarial deeds for Marie [Denarnaud]. [...] [But Déodat Roché] came into contact very early on with Jules Doinel [1899] and was bishop of his Gnostic Church under the name of Tau Théoditos."

 

We cannot exclude the hypothesis that this movement would have been interested in Saunière and, having strong ties with the congregations of penitents, the neo-Cathar sects and La Sanch (Carmelites of Brittany and Normandy coming from Vincent Ferrer's La Sanch), they would have aspired to acquire and control his discovery, or at least have tried to involve themselves in his affairs. There were some sects which, at the twilight of an era (the Monarchy) and at the dawn of a new day (the Republic) sought to revive ancient secrets and by drawing on traditions that had carefully been guarded, soon awoke the old demons. It is therefore imperative that we understand and learn from our past so that this disturbing heritage may serve as a warning to us all.

    "IX. The august and venerable clergy of Paris, the flower, the glory, the ornament and honour of the Church, intoning the divine chants of David, begins again steadily and never wearies of its gentle task. [...] In their midst walks Germain, the august Pontiff, directing the young Levites, and by his conduct he helps the elderly. He is preceded by the deacons. [...] He himself advances slowly, like another Aaron. [...] Happy is this army that marches under the command of Germain! O Moses, extend to him a helping hand; come to the aid of your soldiers.

 

    X.  If we extol the magnificence of Solomon's temple, this edifice, where art is great, owes its faith to a superior beauty. [...] It is the pious king, Childebert, who gave his people this token of his immortal love. Devoted with his whole soul to the service of God, he added new riches to the inexhaustible treasure of the Church. "

 

Actually, Fortunat never uses such biblical comparisons with other subjects in his poems. This leaves little doubt as to the origin he intended to give to this mysterious cross. But was it not also an attempt to Christianise a pagan symbol? If this issue remains unresolved, the following discussion may give credence to this proposal.

 

Fortunat, the future bishop of Poitiers, maintained daily contact with Queen Radegonde, for he was now in her service. For Agnès and Radegonde he soon became an able counsellor and a privileged intermediary in the relationship between the two women and the Bishop St Germain. But Fortunat was primarily Radegonde's powerful secret advisor, constantly travelling to Gaul, and to Germany, acting on her behalf, and forging a broad network of connections amongst the most influential people in Europe. In this capacity Fortunat intervened one day, in an extraordinary way, with the Byzantine Emperor, Justinian II. On the orders of Radegonde, in 569 AD, he sent an ambassador to the Emperor, begging him to enrich the monastery of Poitiers with a piece of the True Cross of the Lord. Justinian II, advised by his wife, Sophia, finally acceded to this request and sent the precious relic to Poitiers. This was an opportunity for Fortunat to compose a hymn in honour of Justinian and Sophia, in which the poet emphasises Constantine and the veneration he held for the symbol of the cross:

 

    "[...] Glory to you, Creator of all things, and Redeemer... Sophia is today on the throne! O piety; from your beneficent fountain up until now flowed the waters of faith, that the love of Christ is spread to all parts of the world. August Princes, a similar desire is yours and to accomplish it you will be revitalised in your efforts. You, Empress, you reveal your sex, like you, Emperor, your own. You bring back Constantine to us, and you Sophia, his pious companion, Helena. In one just as in the other, the same honour, the same love of the cross. Helena found this sign of salvation, you Sophia will scatter it everywhere, the East no longer has the privilege, the West is filled by it."

It is important to emphasise that the trail of enquiry that led us from Toledo to St-Germain-des-Prés and then on to Poitiers corresponds in all respects with the developments outlined in Le Serpent Rouge. Philippe de Chérisey, the author of this treatise, which has as its central theme the enigma of Rennes-le-Château, has somehow written a similar discourse to the one described above, but goes even further. It seems that de Chérisey felt that he was able to locate the object's last resting place and, if we believe him, it would not be possible to consider any other resting place in which to preserve the gold cross, than in the church at Rennes-le-Château. Effectively, de Chérisey compares Bérenger Saunière's church to a "new temple of Solomon, built by the children of St Vincent". We have here not only the proof that de Chérisey, borrowing these terms from Fortunat, had studied his writings, but also the certainty that he attributed the success of Saunière's Cult of the Dead to the abbé's discovery of the true symbol of Constantine, the gold cross of Toledo.

 

Finally, we must point out that de Chérisey had clearly made a connection between the inscription on the old Visigoth pillar (which is actually more likely to be of seventh century AD Carolingian origin), found in the church of Rennes-le-Château, and the verses of Fortunat's poem referred to above. Removed by Saunière, the pillar subsequently served as a pedestal for a statue of the Virgin Mary. Engraved on the top, we can read the inscription ‘pénitence, pénitense’, which belongs to the Cult of the Dead and to the brotherhood of the Penitents. But, above all, this sculpted pillar portrays a cross illuminated with grapes. This is a representation of the Cross of Toledo, faithful to these verses written by Fortunat:

 

    "Appensa est vitis inter tua brachia, de qua

    Dulcia sanguinco vina rubore fluunt."

 

    "Between your arms [of the Cross] a vine is suspended,

    from which runs a wine that has the redness of blood."

 

 

Vintras, the Precursor

 

It may seem slightly tenuous for us to establish a parallel between Bérenger Saunière and Eugene Vintras.  However, the paths of these two men contain peculiar similarities. If we put aside the outrageous personality of Vintras, who lived a few decades earlier than Saunière at Tilly-sur-Seulles in Normandy, the opinions of this character have a peculiar parallel to those professed by Saunière. The two accomplices, each endowed with a strong personality, were equally familiar with the confraternities of penitents and, whilst not in any way concealing their royalist positions, were devotees of Marian apparitions. If we add the fact that they both enjoyed high society and the good life - good food, beautiful women - and sometimes liked to defy their superiors (who were now the established authorities), there can be no doubt that, coming from a shared background, they had at least one other similarity which contributed to their exceptional destiny.

It was then that the Abbé Boullan, who boasted a sinister reputation, joined the sect. He had already maintained a correspondence with Vintras for some years, when he took the decision to become his disciple. Vintras, worn down by a life of debauchery, sensed his end was nigh. Is this why he organised the sudden and hasty meeting in August 1875 in Brussels?  Amazed by the teachings of the one that he now considered his master, Boullan resolved to follow in the footsteps of Vintras and continue the latter’s ‘Œuvre de la Miséricorde’.

 

After a second meeting of the two men in Paris, Boullan moved to Lyon and took over the celebration of these rites, when he replaced Vintras upon his death towards the end of 1875. A Royalist, like his mentor, Boullan was nonetheless sceptical about the survival of Louis XVII and favoured, like Bérenger Saunière, the Comte de Chambord, according to Michèle Brocard in his book,  Lumière sur la Sorcellerie et le Satanisme (Light on Witchcraft and Satanism, Editions Cabedina). Nevertheless, we must not imagine that the political views of Boullan were irreproachable or that he had an orthodox approach to Catholicism and an untarnished respectability. Quite the contrary; it seems that getting close to occult royalist circles, being welcomed into the privacy of the Comte de Chambord's family and investigating the murky origins of the French monarchy had seriously tarnished Boullan’s reputation. When he took over the succession from Vintras, he had already become a liability.

 

Born on 18 February 1824, Joseph-Antoine Boullan was a brilliant theologian who, in the early years of the seminary, immersed himself in occult circles and displayed great erudition. He became a doctor of theology and entered the Congregation of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood. A few years later he settled in Paris and divested himself of his former obligations, in order to contribute to the liturgical journal, Le Rosier de Marie. After a trip to La Salette in 1856, which would allow Boullan to judge the ‘quality’ of the Marian apparitions unfolding there, he fell in love with Adèle Chevalier, a nun from the region of Soissons, who was to never leave his side. Bérenger Saunière also shared his attraction to Marian apparitions and, as we know, erected a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes on the carved base of the ‘Visigoth’ pillar, which had once adorned the altar and was now placed at the entrance to his church. We see here, without a doubt, the enigmatic expression of whatever Bérenger Saunière had discovered when he undertook the renovation work on the altar.

 

Boullan then went to Rome, where he advocated the creation of a new order of penitents, ‘l’Œuvre de la Réparation des Âmes’ (Society for the Reparation of Souls). Pope Pius IX, having listened, did not oppose this project and deferred to the bishop of Versailles to finalise the conditions. And so, in Sèvres in 1859, the ‘Community of Bethlehem’ was born, under the direction of Adèle Chevalier, whom Boullan had taken as his mistress.

 

Not long after the foundation of the order several cases of diabolic possessions were reported amongst the nuns. Boullan resolved to experiment with new methods of exorcism. With great secrecy he prepared concoctions of Eucharistic wafers mixed with excrement, together with a fermented beverage based on the sisters’ urine mixed with that of the Mother Superior, Adèle Chevalier herself. He then applied a poultice of the concoction to the possessed and made them swallow the horrible beverage.

Bérenger Saunière, the Trial of the Tobiaque Patriarchs and l’Œuvre de la Miséricorde

 

No-one would have foreseen that Jean Bricaud was destined for a brilliant career within secret societies. Born around 1881 into a modest family, nobody imagined he would become the first ‘Primate Bishop of France in the Gnostic Church’, under the noteworthy name of ‘Tau Johannes II’. When still very young he was encouraged to take an interest in religion by his parents, who wanted him to join the priesthood. It is not known if they were greatly disappointed, but the young Jean Bricaud did not fulfil his parents’ ambitions and, despite studying at the seminary, he left at the age of sixteen.

 

Charmed by the splendour of the secular life, and probably driven by an unquenchable thirst for independence, he began his career in the banking profession. To this end he joined Crédit Lyonnais, but soon his taste for religious studies, divination and the magical arts won him over and, profiting from the climate of secrecy that prevailed in the city of Lyon, he eagerly immersed himself in occult circles. Among others, he attended a Kabbalist, Dr Bouvier, and subsequently became interested in Vintras' Church of Carmel. It was with this sect that he discovered his true vocation. His eloquence and heretical influence soon came to the fore and it became obvious to all that Jean Bricaud would succeed the already elderly pontiffs, who had taken over from the deceased Vintras. But he aspired to a higher destiny and, while consolidating his position in the Œuvre de la Miséricorde, he began to establish himself within the ranks of the Johannite Church of Palaprat.

 

He eventually managed to bring together several organisations: the Work of Mercy, the Church of the Paraclete, the ‘ordinary’ Johannite Gnostic Church and the mysterious ‘Valentinian School’. From 1901 Bricaud was elevated to the position of Gnostic Bishop under the title, Tau Johannes II. It was, therefore, only a matter of time before his ambitions were realised and his plan would finally come to fruition; in around 1907 he received the unfailing support of both the Vintrasian Carmelite and of Fabre des Essarts, the successor of Jules Doinel, who was otherwise known as ‘Tau Synesius’, together with Papus (Gérard Encausse) and the Bishop ‘Tau Sophronius’ (Louis-Sophrone Fugairon). The Catholic Gnostic Church was born. It would be forever marked by two trends, Gnostic and Carmelite, of which Vintras and Jules Doinel had been the instigators. The following year the synod of this new entity endorsed the merger and acknowledged Bricaud as its sole patriarch, thus making the transmission of Jules Doinel's heritage official.

 

Saunière was not fundamentally alien to this movement and, as such, we cannot exclude him from an eventual involvement in the mystery of Rennes-le-Château. It should also be emphasised that at least two people close to the priest were also involved in this movement and seemed to have been informed about his finances and about the tomb that he claimed to have discovered in 1891. First, there was Prosper Estieu, a Cathar enthusiast and teacher at Rennes-le-Château, who rubbed shoulders for a time with Saunière, and secondly we have Deodat Roché.

The student soon surpassed the master and Vintras, thanks to Ferdinand Geoffroi and Dr Liégeard, grew into an intuitive, bright and intelligent young man. An adventurer, endowed with extraordinary abilities, Vintras, newly trained in the occult sciences by his two mentors, began to witness unusual apparitions. On 6 August 1839, when he still lived in the paper mill of Tilly-sur-Seulles, he was allegedly visited by a ‘superior being’. From his description, the apparition resembled an old man, whose face was luminous and radiating light. He recognised him later as St Joseph and reported receiving instructions concerning a ‘MISSION’. This involved the creation of a penitential movement, l’Œuvre de la Miséricorde (Work of Mercy), and a proclamation of the coming of the ‘Grand Monarque’, sovereign of the Grail, identified at that time as Louis XVII, who, according to Vintras, had not died in the Temple, but was actually still alive. Faithfully following the instructions given to him by St Joseph, Vintras, now supported by the archangel Gabriel, quickly organised the Œuvre de la Miséricorde. He was also joined by Father Charvoz, a renowned theologian, who was charged with handling the technical aspects of the administration and the implementation of the Septaine Sacrée (Sacred Seven), which was, to all intents and purposes, a clandestine church. Soon, thanks to this support, we see the Septaine flourishing everywhere, especially in Lyon, but also in Angers, Poitiers, Avignon and Paris.

 

The scandal was at its height when Vintras began to prophesy the ‘End of Times’, claiming to be the reincarnation of Elijah, and it became apparent that he was engaging in elaborate funeral rites and orgies. He justified these acts by designating them as a necessary prelude to the reincarnation of souls. For these occasions Vintras covered himself in ornaments, which were as diverse as they were strange. Wrapped in a white, or occasionally a blood red, robe, with an inverted cross hanging on his chest, he held in his hands a curious sceptre, of which only the fingers were decorated. His forehead was adorned with a ‘phallic lingam’, which he proudly wore during celebrations in the purest pre-Dravidian tradition, and he preached to all who would listen about the reincarnation of souls and the regeneration of man through sexual orgy, which was said to return them to the original hermaphrodite state. Vintras said it came from the Work of Carmel, the mystical (but very real) orgy, where women were truly sacred prostitutes, daughters of Shahaël (The Virgin Wife and Mother), who must offer themselves to men and liberate the vital force that Eve had transmitted to humanity by the fruit of the forbidden tree.