Millions who have read Dan Brown’s book or seen the movie The Da Vinci Code, have been intrigued by the story of the Priory of Sion, a mysterious secret society which some believe operated for centuries behind the scenes of European and American history. As has been argued recently in British courts, most of the ideas in Brown’s book were taken from the the 1980s best-seller Holy Blood, Holy Grail, but the actual facts behind both works were laid down decades and centuries earlier. Today researchers continue to comb the archives of the world in a tireless quest for the secrets of a forgotten order. Not the least among them is our own Steven Sora. Here is the fruit of his latest foray into the secrets of Rennes-le-Chateau.—Editor
A secret society does exist, sharing knowledge among its members, blocking knowledge from others who are not among the initiated. In the greatest cities in the world, hints of deeper mysteries are out in the open. In smaller villages and towns, the secrets may be just as noticeable, especially to an insider. And on occasion, an outsider may just stumble across a secret meant to be kept secret.
That may describe the unusual story of Berenger Sauniere.
In June of 1885 Father Sauniere arrived in his new posting, the tiny village of Rennes-le-Chateau. It was not a great posting as the young priest would find out. At first, his income was barely enough to keep him from starving. Soon, the generosity of parishioners came to the rescue and eventually he was able to lead a peaceful life reading, learning languages, hunting, and fishing. In his employ was a young village girl, Marie Denarnaud, who caused a few eyebrows to be raised, but in general life was quiet. That is until he found some mysterious parchments hidden in an old altar.
One of the four, coded parchments mentioned a painting entitled, Shepherds of Arcadia by Nicolas Poussin; and one phrase in the same line said “Teniers held the key.”
Father Sauniere visited his bishop in Carcasonne to show him the parchments. The bishop sent him to St. Sulpice in Paris where he bought prints of the paintings. St. Sulpice had been a center of unusual politics for centuries. It held several mysteries and concealed several, secretive orders. One of them was the Priory of Sion.
Oddly enough it was right on the zero degree line, the Meridian of Paris. On a particular day the sun emerged through a church window on what is called the Roseline.
Henry Lincoln, one of the three authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail, has described the area around Rennes-le-Chateau as the Holy Place.
After his visit to Paris, Father Sauniere returned from St. Sulpice to Rennes-le-Chateau. Soon he was a wealthy man. He eventually spent the equivalent of millions of pounds on public works, an unusual villa, and a downright bizarre church. Along the way, he would run afoul of his bishop and be accused of selling masses. The accusation was more likely a guess, as his wealth could simply not be explained. Intercession by the church kept him from being removed, and it was speculated that the parchments may have provided legitimacy for the Hapsburg dynasty to rule as Holy Roman Emperors.
The story was much greater than the rustic priest. He had simply found himself in the middle of it. Did he uncover secret objects or precious metals held by the Cathars who were nearly annihilated centuries before? Did he find a hidden treasure brought from Jerusalem to Rome by Titus and then in turn looted from Rome and brought to the south of France? No gold or silver was found; and after the priest’s death, his housekeeper had in her possession only banknotes, which pointed to an earthly and modern horde.
Et in Arcadia Ego
Part of Sauniere’s discovery was a tomb with the Latin inscription “Et in Arcadia ego.” This tomb and the Nicholas Poussin painting were linked by the expression.
The inscription itself roughly translates to “And in Arcadia I am.”
The Shepherds of Arcadia painting depicts a tomb with three shepherds and a woman standing beside it. The men are all pointing at something, which they appear to be showing to the woman. While most art historians claimed the tomb was a mystical representation of an idyllic Arcadia where the Shepherd’s tomb was situated by the underground river Alpheus, the tomb was actually discovered to be a real tomb six miles from Rennes-le-Chateau near a village named Arques. There are no records of the construction of the tomb, and it is said to have been there from at least 1709. By the time of father Sauniere, it was on the property of an American, Louis Lawrence.
The Poussin painting, however, dates to 1620—1640. The painter did not invent the depiction in his painting nor did he invent the saying “Et in Arcadia ego.” The tomb and descriptive saying were themes that reached back to Virgil who wrote of Arcadia as an Eden. The theme was modernized through Jacobo Sannazaro who wrote in 1504 of an idyllic Arcadia. It was an Eden or a paradise that existed in an age of purity. The tomb of the shepherd was where other shepherds went to make sacrifice to the river god. The actual phrase first appeared on a work done by Guercino, just before 1621. Sannazaro’s theme was followed by Sidney’s Arcadia, Montemayor’s Diana and Belleau’s Bergerie.
The Mirror Image
Far from the south of France, at Shugborough Hall in Staffordshire, England, lies the ancestral home of the Earls of Lichfield. Their home, like the St. Sulpice Church in Paris, had been a hotbed for Masonic activity; and when Charles Radclyffe, an alleged grandmaster of the Priory of Sion, escaped from Newgate prison, his cousin, the current earl, protected him.
The Priory of Sion, under one name or another, might be one thousand years old. It is believed that the organization operated within, or in control of, the Knights Templar. It took on the name, Company of the Sacred Sacrament, during the colonization period in America and operated out of St. Sulpice in Paris. Today, the Priory operates in Barcelona, barely a couple of hours from Rennes-le-Chateau; while the Sulpician priests operate in several countries, including the United States.
Around the time Poussin painted his famous Shepherds of Arcadia, the Anson family bought the Staffordshire lands. The date was 1624, and the purchase would soon include the titles. William Anson was the name of the buyer as well as the name of his son and grandson. Next came Thomas Anson who continued the upgrading of the famous hall that was started in 1693. Then finally, a George Anson went to sea in 1711. He was the second English privateer to circumnavigate the world. The first, Sir Francis Drake, was doubtless a hero of his. When Drake came home, he gave his Queen enough money to start the Royal Navy. He bought a great house owned by a rival and brought a water supply system to his village. Anson had returned home from his epical voyage in June of 1744. He paraded through London with 32 wagons of treasure and with his cronies, who would later band together to sack Havana.
With his newly established fortune he bought 17,000 acres of land in North Carolina and upgraded London’s docks. It was just part of his ostentatious expenditure.
Drake has been a long-time candidate for the man who hid immense treasure on Oak Island in Nova Scotia (see “Knight Templar Treasure in America,” A.R. #20). Anson, too, would be named by some as a man who had motive and means to construct the major complex shaft with the booby traps which would vex treasure hunters in the centuries ahead. Enjoying, as they did, the support of the crown, Drake and Anson spent their fortunes openly. While there is no evidence for Drake, there is evidence of Anson’s landing at Halifax, just a short hop to Oak Island. Members of the Anson circumnavigation who looted Havana had the means, and greater motivation, to conceal their loot.
Some of the two-million pounds Anson brought home, an immense fortune in his time, would go to making additions to Shugborough such as a Pagoda (no doubt inspired by his visit to Asia) an imitation of the Arch of Hadrian, a Doric Temple, and a monument also based on Grecian mythology—the House of Winds. Last, and inscribed in cipher text, was the Shepherd’s Monument.
Many believe it signifies that Anson was connected to a shadow Templar group, now surviving in a Masonic context. They further believe the Holy Grail is preserved at The Shepherd’s Monument.
The most interesting thing in the Shepherd’s Monument at Shugborough is the re-created Poussin painting. It is close to an exact depiction with one dramatic difference, it is horizontally reversed. The woman on the right is now on the left. And why is this important? The positioning of the figures and the tomb was never explained. To outsiders, this is just a coincidence. To the initiate it means something much greater.
When Admiral George Anson died in 1762 a poem was read in Parliament to his honor. It included lines about Arcadia’s blessed plains and ended saying “Reason’s finger pointing at the tomb.”
Why was the tomb in Staffordshire related to the tomb at Rennes-le-Chateau? Did they hold an important message related to Jesus, Arthur, or to a secret underground society? It is very likely. The theme of an underground stream of knowledge stretched from Italy to France to England and spanned centuries. A secret society held and protected a secret knowledge from the catholic popes and kings who claimed a monopoly over education and learning. Members of such secret societies used certain themes as a backdrop. Pre-Masonic groups often formed attachments to tombs. Virgil’s tomb, the tombs of Solomon, Hiram, and others were very important; and for some reason, the tomb of the Shepherd might have been important as well. Another strong theme is Fog. From books and plays to early motion pictures, fog is usually depicted surrounding tombs. Fog and Mist hovering over a tomb or a sacred place in the woods was meant to point to the chaos of birth and death. The passage was through the worlds of birth, death, and possibly resurrection. It was a theme in religion from Ireland to India.
Evelyn Waugh’s most popular work Brideshead Revisited has a chapter entitled “Et in Arcadia Ego.” Traces in other works suggest a meaning is recognized, understood and secretly preserved by a select few. George Sand wrote a letter to Gustave Flaubert saying, “In any case, today all I am good for is writing my epitaph! You know, Et in Arcadia ego.”
Maurice Barres wrote The Mystery in the Open as well as passages on the tombstone and the motto, “Et in Arcadia ego.” Both he and Jules Verne were connected by Rosicrucian thought and “Angelic Society.”
Shugborough is nearest to the town of Great Haywood. During the winter of 1916-1917 the Lord of the Rings author, J.R.R. Tolkein, stayed in Great Haywood. In his Tale of the Sun and the Moon he mentions seeing a great house of one hundred chimneys. Shugborough has eighty chimneys. Similarly another borderline occult writer, Jules Verne, goes well beyond Tolkein in mentioning Rennes-les-Chateau names in his works. Clovis Dardentor refers to the Merovingian king Clovis and the title given to Dagobert. Captain Bugarach, another important character is taken from a village of the same name. According to Holy Place author Henry Lincoln, the village of Bugarach forms one point of the star on the geographical face of the Rennes-le-Chateau area. In the Jules Verne story, this is where the protagonists kill time at the chalk hill of St. Clair.
The New Arcadia
The Sinclair family of course plays a central role in the Priory of Sion, in the break-up of the Knights Templar, in carrying away a treasure to their realm in Scotland headquartered at Roslyn. In 1398 the Sinclair navy crossed the Atlantic nearly a hundred years before Columbus. They landed in a place that would become Nova Scotia, although they had no name for it. When asked the name of the place they had landed, a native, most likely a Micmac, answered, “Acadia.”
The Sinclair family stayed and briefly established a colony or two in the New World. When the Verrazano brothers went looking for their colony, they placed Arcadia on the map, near to another name, Refugio, the refuge of the Sinclair Templar organization. They further depicted a “Norman villa” on their map, although most likely the Verrazano family was aware of the building style as a Templar baptistery. The structure in the New World would be similar to structures from Damascus to Ireland. Some of these structures measured the lunar and solar year.
The Verrazano expedition’s last European port was left on January 17. This day is the feast day for St. Roseline, whose name is recalled in the Roslyn home of the Sinclairs and the rose-line marker in St. Sulpice. The same day is the feast day of St. Sulpice. Sauniere’s documents revealed that Teniers painting of St. Anthony “holds the key.” January 17 is the feast day of St. Anthony. A purported grandmaster of the Priory of Sion, Nicholas Flamel, said he discovered the method to transmit base metals to silver and gold. The date of his discovery was January 17, 1361. Possibly last in this chain of messages, Henry Lincoln’s most important Holy Blood, Holy Grail was dedicated by him on January 17.
Works of architecture and art, poetry and rhymes, sculpture and literature have conveyed concealed secrets for more than twenty centuries. Some are in plain sight, many are undecipherable even in plain sight. Except for an initiate.