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Rennes-le-Château, Fall Out - a classified case, finally closed

The Franciscan and Dominican heretics settled in various parts of Western Europe, including the area around Rennes-le-Château. In this country, two areas stand out: the first is Limoux, 20 kilometres north from Saunière’s village; the second is Prouilhe, 43 kilometres north-west of the same village (1).

    In Limoux, the presence of Franciscan monks dates back to the reign of Saint Louis, or 1270 AD, at the latest. The historian Gérard Jean (2) notes that in July 1292, Philippe le Bel (3) assembled his companions in the “cloister of the convent of the Brothers Minor of Limoux” (4) (another name for the Franciscans). The Brothers of Limoux were originally based in Assisi, Italy, and so were amongst the first of their denomination to settle in France. Thus it seems likely that the men who settled in Limoux came from the immediate circle of the founder of the order, St. Francis. This, of course, is not without importance. Furthermore, it is likely that in this first community were some Fraticelli, the branch of the Order that was the most heretical and most inclined to simony (5).


Two orders 


It seems that these Franciscans had little financial means. The convent was not of significant size and, still according to Gérard Jean (6), was situated “outside of the protection of the feeble defensive walls [of the city], near the Aude [the river that runs through the city], very likely on what is now the ‘Esplanade François Mitterrand’.”

Hence, the English troops under the command of Edward Woodstock did not spare the house of this religious community during the capture of Limoux. In November 1355, Edward “crossed the river to the North of Carcassonne”, marched to the “Monastery of Prouilhe” and attacked “several cities in the regions”. He sacked Limoux (7), as its defenses were insufficient to keep him at bay for any length of time, and burned “more than 4,000 houses” (8). The monastery disappeared and for a period of time, not a single trace of its existence is found in the various remaining archives of the region.




(1)The town of Limoux is located on the very road which goes from Rennes-le-Château to the monastery of Prouilhe, to where Saunière was sent by his bishop in 1910 (Mgr. de Beauséjour), and ordered to do penitence for 10 days.

(2) All of the information and quotes with regard to the Monastery of the Franciscans of Limoux are extracted from the research of historian Gérard Jean, as well as the works of the historical society « Mémoire Historique de Limoux » (“Historical Memory of Limoux”), of which he is the president. Gérard Jean is also the Secretary General of the Académie des Arts et des Sciences de Carcassonne (Arts and Science Academy of Carcassonne), and a prominent member of the knowledgeable Société d'Etudes Scientifiques de l'Aude (SESA: Society for Scientific Studies of the Aude region).

(3) King Philip IV of France, also known as “Philip the Fair” in English.

(4) Archives départementales de l'Aude (Archives of the Aude Department), Chart Register no. 4E206/AA1, f° XXXII, r°.

(5) Refer to note 219 concerning Simon Magus. Simony is a means of financing the Cult of the Dead.

(6) Refer to Gérard Jean’s research report entitled « Une chronique de Gérard Jean - Rue des Cordeliers, L'ordre mendiant des Frères mineurs » (“A chronicle by Gérard Jean – Street of the Cordeliers, The Mendicant Order of the Friars Minor”), which is on display on his personal website: (text in French) This text is the exact source for all of the quotes used here.

(7) Letter of the Duke of Normandy, 17 October 1359, in: Fonds-Lamothe, L.-H. « Notices historiques sur la ville de Limoux » (“Historical Notices on the Town of Limoux”) (1838), p. 142.

(8) Froissart, J., « Chroniques » (“Chronicles”), Editions Kervyn de Lettenhove, Bruxelles, 1867-1877.

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    But the Franciscan monastery was not “lost” and would re-enter history, in several stages. After the sack of the town by Edward Woodstock, the council demanded financial and material aid from the Count of Armagnac. This was the signal for the Franciscans to reconstruct their community and to equip it with a “new infrastructure”; to use the words of Gérard Jean once again: “Like the myth of the Phoenix, Limoux was reborn from its ashes (9) . […] The Franciscan Brothers decided to rebuild their convent inside the walls, occupying the location that would remain theirs until the 14th century; this was the triangle formed, today, by the streets ‘Maurice Lacroix’, ‘Gaston Prat’, and ‘des Cordeliers’. The essential part of the construction seemed to have been well under away by 21st November 1360, for the Archbishop of Narbonne visited to bless the Saint-Jacques hospital, and received a protest letter from the perpetual vicar of the parish of Saint Martin, who complained about some of the actions of the ‘Confraters’, the Franciscans (10). On 20th December 1369, the church is known to have been in existence, since those who wished to be buried inside it were then allowed to do so in exchange for a money transaction (11). […] The monastery consists of a church, a chapel, a cloister, a refectory, annex buildings and gardens. The sanctuary, which is ostentatiously orientated north-south [rather than the more conventional east-west], is quite spacious: in length it is longer than that of the Saint-Etienne Cathedral, in Toulouse, but not as wide. The great nave, alone, is built in a style that is unique to the buildings constructed by the Mendicant Orders (12) and has, along its sides, ten chapels. The heptagonal southern end, which is the extension of a disproportionate choir, houses the raised main altar. The building is entered through an open door in the north, on the current Place Alcantara. The bell-tower, almost square, prolonged by a small eight-faced building capped with an eight-faced dome, is still there to remind visitors astonished by its rather Oriental look, of the presence, for more than five centuries, of Franciscan brothers within the walls of Limoux.”

    As to the other order, that of the Dominicans, they settled in the region under the direction of their founding father, Dominic de Guzman (13), later to be worshipped as Saint Dominic. Indeed, Dominic founded his first monastery in this area (14), the Monastery of Prouilhe, as well as running into St. Francis for the second time, in a place known as “Le Soler”, near Perpignan.

    After having worked with Mgr. Diego d’Azevedo, Dominic was sent on a mission to Denmark by King Alfonso IX of Castille, in 1201. The trip was long and dangerous and its purpose was to bring the daughter of the Danish king to Spain. She was to marry the son of Alfonso IX, which would thus create a strong alliance between the two kingdoms. It was during this journey that Dominic crossed the Razès (15), a countryside with which, it seems, he fell in love; and it was in Toulouse where he was lodged one night by a Cathar, that the Saint...




(9) Letters of the Count of Armagnac, 5th February 1356, 25th October 1356, in: Fonds-Lamothe, L.-H. « Notices historiques sur la ville de Limoux » (“Historical Notices on the Town of Limoux”) (1838), p. 141.

(10) Most likely, these dealings involved tomb desecrations, or quarrels over the price asked in exchange for the mortuary rituals…

(11) « Brevet et répertoire des titres, papiers et documents contenus dans les archives du royal monastère de Prouille » (“Register of the Titles, Papers and Documents contained in the Archives of the Royal Monastery of Prouille”), volume III, 1788, located in the Archives départementales de l'Aude (Archives of the Aude Department), no. H514, f° 51 à 55.

(12) “Mendicant Orders” is the generic name usually given to all Dominican and Franciscan Orders.

(13) All information on the life of Dominic of Guzman and the history of the Monastery of Prouilhe are extracted from the Archives Royales du Monastère de Prouilhe (Royal Archives of the Monastery of Prouilhe), and from the official press dossier entitled « Projet de Prouilhe » (“The Prouilhe Project”) published by the monastery.

(14) The area in which Dominic settled was almost entirely populated by Cathars at that time.

(15) The “Razès” (“Rhedaesium” in Latin) is the region of Rennes-le-Château. Interestingly, “Razès” sounds very much like “Rhagès”, a town located in Media (modern Iran) and where Tobias, accompanied by the Archangel Raphael, goes to fetch the money left in the house of Gabael by his father Tobit for his burial, the price that was to be paid for the mortuary rituals.

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...wondered about his “religious mission in life”. Full of pity, he converted the Cathar Penitent. When crossing the area around Rennes-le-Château, he had a desire to return there later and help these “heretics that misunderstand Christ”. So, upon his return from Denmark, Dominic demanded the help of Diego d’Azevedo to intervene with Pope Innocent III, to give him the authorisation to preach penitence to these Cathar heretics, a mandate he received in December 1206. His mission could begin.


From that moment onwards, the impetuous Dominic went in search of a location in the Razès where he could found a community. The region was full of heretics, so he knew that it was an area where he could fulfil his mission. In March 1207, he participated in the “Dispute of Montréal”, where certain theologians had invited the Cathars to a theological debate, in the vain hope to make them see the error of their ways. Two weeks later, he left Montréal and settled in Fanjeaux. In 1214, he became its local priest, but he did not feel that his mission was succeeding. Dominic wanted to build a bridge towards the heretics and was not content with teaching merely from the pulpit of his church, which was a place that no heretic ever entered. He therefore quit his position in Fanjeaux and moved to Prouilhe, where he would live “according to the Penitence”, that is to say that he would wear penitent’s clothing and live in extreme poverty.


The location he chose was not picked at random but was quite specific. In 1206, Dominic had already seen a “sphere of fire” hanging over the abandoned hamlet, which had been devastated by feudal wars. The luminous phenomenon was witnessed during several consecutive nights and the saint interpreted it as a “divine signal” (though some interpreted it as demonic), which foreshadowed the glorious destiny of his work. For many years if not centuries, the site, a hill also known as “Seignadou”, had been known as the location of several “apparitions”. It was also the destination of a pilgrimage in honour of the Black Virgin, whose statue, a small representation with strange looks, was displayed there in a small chapel. In 1206, he asked Bishop Foulques of Toulouse for the concession of the chapel, with “33 steps” of pastures around it.

    Dominic built a most basic building on it, the floor of which was nothing more than sand. Some years later, he “made the site into a religious community, where he placed several sisters who had been converted from Catharism”. The Royal Archives of the Monastery of Prouilhe note that “to these women who, in their heresy, lived a quasi-religious life, penitence and austerity”, Dominic offered “a similar way of life according to the Catholic tradition”. While it might seem that these women had become “sisters”, in truth they had not changed anything at all about their heretical practices. Indeed, the sisters of Prouilhe continued to practice “penitence” as well as mortifications.


The Monastery of Prouilhe (16) thus became a closed community of women who had received the religious habit of Saint Dominic, but who were, in essence, still as heretical as they were before their “conversion” to the Catholic faith. To this, Dominic added a male community, who were charged with performing the more menial tasks, as well as ensuring the protection of the sisters. Saint Dominic himself remained in the area for a further ten years and made Prouilhe into the premier female monastery of the region. In 1217, he used the Monastery for a reunion where the “Rule” of the Order was discussed and it was from Prouilhe that he would later send his preachers out to evangelise the heretics. Prouilhe was thus at once the centre of the pseudo-attack on the Cathar heretics, as well as a centre of the heresy itself.




(16) The information on the history of the Monastery of Prouilhe is extracted from the Archives Royales du Monastère de Prouilhe (Royal Archives of the Monastery of Prouilhe), and from the official press dossier entitled « Projet de Prouilhe » (“The Prouilhe Project”) published by the monastery.

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The scandal of the Cult of the Dead in Limoux


The Dominicans of Prouilhe and the Franciscans of Limoux were two monastic powerbases, two communities, the members of which practised a monastic lifestyle behind closed doors, islands of “religious devotion” within the noisy life of a busy market town – at least in the case of Limoux. But behind this façade – the walls of the monastery – we find an implantation of heretical thinking, hermetically-sealed and preserved by those very walls. In truth, what went on inside had in no way changed from the old heretical lifestyle; and it was populated by heretics who continued to practice their own rites… the cult of the dead.

    It is the very fact that both groups fought for the rights of burial in Limoux that exposes much of their true allegiance. Geographically, Limoux and Prouilhe are situated close to each other (approximately 23 kilometres). This meant that both religious communities tried to grasp control of these practices within the city, and soon this rivalry ended in quarrels and lawsuits.


Prouilhe and the Franciscan monastery of Limoux were both, to use the words of Philipp Schaff (17) and Georges Jehel (18), communities which were - in reality - heirs of the Humiliati penitent sect. This means that they practiced the Cult of the Dead. It means that they were able to provide a service for those who wanted to make use of it: in return for money, the body and the soul of the deceased would be looked after.

    Both the Franciscans and the Dominicans offered this service to the citizens of Limoux, the town itself a former hotbed of Catharism, and thus no doubt predisposed to welcome (and feel a religious need for) such services. The city had a large elderly population, many of whom had only outwardly embraced Christianity (19). Even so, bearing in mind the usual cost of securing the Mortuary Rite (20), it seems unlikely that the rather poor people of Limoux would be an ideal target. However, the fact that no single community held the monopoly of these practices, meant that prices went down… and it meant that there were numerous legal proceedings between both organisations, evidence of which has been preserved by the Archaeological Association of the city. Gérard Jean (21) thus writes that “the titles, papers and documents that are preserved in the Archives of the Royal Monastery of Prouilhe inform us, in detail, of the customs and habits through which the exclusivity of the ‘burial of the dead’ was given to a certain Order. But more than that, they inform us of the [surprisingly] irrational conflict that existed in Limoux, for more than three centuries, between the clergy of the church of Saint Martin, directed by the community of Dominican nuns of Prouilhe and its priors, and the Franciscan brothers.”




(17) Schaff, Philipp, “History of the Christian Church”, Oak Harbor, Washington State, Logos Reseach Systems, Inc., 1997, electronic edition based on the first published version by Charles Scribner’s sons, 1907, enhanced with corrections by The Electronic Bible Society, Dallas, Texas, 1998.

(18) Georges Jehel, « Les villes d’Italie, XII ème – XIV ème siècles : sociétés, pouvoirs, économies, cultures » (“The Cities of Italy from the 12th to the 14th century: societies, powers, economics, cultures”), Editions du Temps, Nantes, 2004.

(19) It means that the population of Limoux retained and observed certain customs and superstitions which are unique to heretics.

(20) The price asked by the penitents was determined based on the personal fortune of the deceased, or else the wealth of his family. The price could reach as much as half the dead person’s fortune, which was bound to make the penitent brotherhoods and monastic orders incredibly rich, considering that apart from monks, mostly noble families and kings requested such rites.

(21) The information on the Monastery of the Franciscans of Limoux are extracted from the research of historian Gérard Jean, as well as the works of the historical society « Mémoire Historique de Limoux » (“Historical Memory of Limoux”), of which he is the president.

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After consulting the Dominican archives, we discovered – with some horror – the extent of the disputes that reigned over the bodies of the deceased. This fight had taken on unusual proportions, to the extent that it could no longer be settled between the two communities but had to be referred to higher authorities for resolution.

    It was thus the “Provincial of Provence” that heard the arguments of both parties, after which the “Court of the Tribunal of Toulouse” and, finally, the Archbishop of Narbonne was required to render a verdict. But litigation lasted for more than three centuries and was, in fact, never satisfactorily adjudicated, with the result that the remains of various deceased were often subjected to acts of brutality while the debate between the two parties raged on. Each wanted to take possession of the dead bodies for their own purpose, bury them in their own cemetery, and pocket the money that went with this service.


The following chronology emerges from the work of local historian Gérard Jean and the documents located in Prouilhe (22), revealing the extent of the quarrel, which extended from 1271 to the XVth century (23). Towards the end of the 13th century, after terrible disputes, the prior of the order of the Franciscans addresses the claims of the Monastery of Prouilhe and proposes to cease the hostilities, at least temporarily. He agrees to leave certain bodies to the Dominicans, but intends to recover those of the little children “whose family already elected to be buried in the cemetery of their fellow brothers” (24). The people of the city and the affected families do not seem to be against this proposal. Still, on 10th October 1336, the Vicar of the church of Saint Martin (reporting to the Monastery of Prouilhe), with the support of the archbishop of Narbonne, issues an injunction to the Franciscans, forbidding them to touch the remains of any child. Their remains become the sole property of the Dominicans and, by extension, that of the parish of Saint Martin, in Limoux.

    The deliberations commence and, in 1337, the Franciscans are sentenced to repay the money that they have received “illegally”. Mortal remains are also exhumed and transferred, at least if they are still in a fit state to do so. The sanction is nevertheless not prohibitive enough to prevent the Franciscans from rebelling. In fact, it seems that they pay little notice to the judgment and remain convinced that they are within their rights, and thus continue to take ownership of dead children.

    In 1341, the quarrels intensify and Prouilhe takes the case before the Official of Razès. The verdict is clear: the Franciscans are no longer allowed to bury the remains without the specific agreement of the Vicar of the Church of Saint Martin and Prouilhe. Furthermore, the Franciscans are obliged to return all money, as well as all the rights received. The original texts speak of “burial rights” and it is of course how, within a more modern organised society, the “Cult of the Dead” had become known. On 20th December 1369, tariffs are placed on what the Franciscans must pay to the Dominicans, and these prices are high (25).




(22) These documents have now been relocated in the Archives Départementales de l’Aude (Archives of the Department of Aude) for the most part.

(23) « Brevet et répertoire des titres, papiers et documents contenus dans les archives du royal monastère de Prouille » (“Register of the Titles, Papers and Documents contained in the Archives of the Royal Monastery of Prouille”), volume III, 1788, located in the Archives départementales de l'Aude (Archives of the Aude Department), no. H514, f° 51 à 55.

(24) i.e the fellow brothers of the Franciscans, in the cemetery of the Franciscans themselves.

(25) Actually, “eight pounds of wax which are to be paid each year, forever, according to the following instructions: 2 pounds at Christmas, 2 at Easter, 2 at the summer equinox, and 2 on the feast of St. Michael.” Furthermore, two additional pounds of wax had to be given to the Vicar of the church of Saint Martin for each corpse buried in the cemetery of the Franciscans.

This arrangement was specifically designed by the Dominicans to force the Franciscan to only bury their own member in their cemetery – thereby acquiring a monopoly for themselves on the burials of lay people. It should be noted that wax – the currency of exchange in this arrangement – was extremely expensive at that time.

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    The Franciscans soon found a loophole in the new arrangement. The ingenious idea took the form of inviting people who are close to death to join the Franciscan community, offering them the Rite as well as a burial within the cemetery. Gérard Jean states that on 30th November 1367, the Vicar of the church Saint Martin, by order of the Monastery of Prouilhe, “delivers an act to the Guardian of the Franciscans of Limoux, accusing him of having buried, on his own authority and without any right, the corpse of Pierre de Calmon”, draper of Limoux and “parishioner of Saint Martin's church, of the same city”. The vicar protests and the superior of the Franciscans answers quite simply that “Pierre de Calmon was a brother of the Order of which he had taken the habit some time before his death”.

    The case turns into a scandal once again and on 15th February 1482, the Parliament of Toulouse hands down a judgment, confirming that the Monastery of Prouilhe is authorised “to take the dead bodies of those who have chosen to be buried with the Franciscans, into the parish church of Saint Martin, to celebrate the mass there, to exonerate them, to receive offerings and, only then, to carry them to the door of the church of the Franciscans to be buried there”. Let it be said that this, once again, is not the end of the problem and that the quarrels continue.

Of course, the “offerings” were nothing more or less than the money that the friends and family were willing to pay for the Mortuary Rite. And it was this Rite that was the main reason for which people like Pierre de Calmon entered the Franciscan Order at the end of their life, to ensure receiving it. The excuse being used was that this would enable them to be buried in their cemetery and it was neatly circumvented by the court’s verdict, which essentially gave the profits to the Dominicans, and the burden and cost of the burial to the Franciscans.  


The Hautpoul family


Any profitable business, by definition, was connected to the local landlords. In Orléans, the Saint-Mesmin family offered considerable sums to the local Monastery of the Franciscans and, in return, hoped that the members of the family could benefit from their special final farewell. This soon led to abuse, for the brothers felt that one of the lords did not give them enough, so they unearthed the body of his deceased wife and declared it “damned” (26). It is therefore necessary to regard, at least in daily practice, the Cult of the Dead as a financial means through which pressure could be applied on the more fortunate ones, i.e. the nobility. Of course, for this to succeed, it is required that the affected person is someone who wants to see the Mortuary Rite performed on himself or his dearest. Of course, if the local noble family was Cathar in origin, then it is to be expected that they would frequent Penitent circles and piously keep their allegiance with these organisations.

    Who is the noble family whose rule held sway over the Franciscans and Dominicans in Limoux? The answer is the Hautpoul family – and they ruled from Rennes-le-Château. The family was Cathar in origin, and, most importantly, it is the tomb of the last descendant of this




(26) « Seigneur de Saint-Mesmin contre Pères Cordeliers Pénitents d’Orléans » (Trial of Lord of Saint-Mesmin against the Franciscan Penitents of Orléans) 1534, a manuscript housed in the Bibliothèque du roi de France (Library of the King of France), n°1770.

The ruthless way in which the Dominican nuns and Franciscan friars of Limoux each lay claim to ownership of the corpses evokes this quote from Voltaire’s “Philosophical Dictionary”: “These good Franciscans took it upon themselves to unearth the deceased lady, so as to force the widow’s lord to have his wife buried again, in exchange for a higher payment to them.”

The most efficient way for these heretics to force believers to pay the desired amount of money is obviously to have the deceased buried in their own cemetery. The burial rights, i.e. the prices charged for the burials, and therefore the “offerings” derive from this. Money is indeed acquired through blackmail if necessary, and notably by threatening to exhume the corpse.

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