Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Rennes-le-Château: Church of Mary Magdalene

Trip to Aude: Day 4:
The third and final pilgrimage spot for the conspiracy tourist at Rennes-le-Château is the Church of Mary Magdalene. This was a ruined 8th century church which Father Saunière renovated with his secret funds around 1897. This church features prominently in the first few chapters of Holy Blood, Holy Grail, because it was while renovating the ancient alter of this church, and subsequent diggings around the church, that he was supposed to have discovered the awful secret at the heart of Holy Blood, Holy Grail and Da Vinci Code: the secret of how to write a bestseller that takes the world by storm. Too bad the good father was not much of a writer, and it had to wait for Dan Brown to do the needful a century later.

Mary Magdalene, as you may or may not know, depending on how much of the Bible or Da Vinci Code you have read, was the first among all of Jesus's disciples. He is said to have loved her above all others, and revealed teachings to her that he did not to the others. She stood by him in his darkest hours, when all the macho male disciples had fled in terror. After the death of Jesus, she was sidelined by the macho male MCP disciples, particularly St. Peter and St Paul, although ideally she should have been their leader. She was even vilified as a reformed prostitute by the later church, although this has since been overturned by the Vatican. All this is undisputed fact. But DVC and HBHG go even further by claiming that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had actually married and had a baby, and that she had escaped to the South of France after the Crucifixion, carrying the child in her womb. And that the child founded the Merovingian Dynasty. What Saunière was supposed to have found is proof that King Dagobert II of the Merovingian Dynasty claimed his ancestry to Jesus and Mary Magdalene. At least, that is how I remember the plot. I could have mixed it up somewhere. The plots were so convoluted and it's such a long time since I read those books.

Anyhow, here I was at that famous church, which is to one side of the museum.
The first thing that strikes you is this inscription above the church door:  Terribilis est locus iste  - "This is a place of awe"

The second thing that strikes you as you enter is this rather startling statue of the devil holding up the holy water stoup, with three angels above.

A number of statues of saints and scenes from the life of Jesus line the walls. I was rather disappointed to discover from Wikipedia that Father Saunière had ordered these statues from a catalog, while restoring the church.

The most prominent of the figurines: that of Mary Magdelen, whose church it is, after all.
Here is a long shot of the nave of the church. I had to wait a long time to take this picture, waiting for a moment when there was a break in the endless flow of tourists.

After I had done the tourist bit and taken all the pictures, I sat myself down on a pew to meditate. It was one of those rare moments when there weren't any conspiracy tourists around. And it was magical. Despite its air of notoriety and all the pesky tourists buzzing all over the place, this place has an atmosphere that can be cleaved with a butter knife. Despite Dan Brown, you are made aware you are in a sacred place.

On exiting the main church, we took a look at some of the side structures. To one side of the church is the ancient graveyard where Father Saunière had done much of his digging. It is firmly locked up and tourists are not allowed. There is a summer house to one side of the graveyard.

A statue of Mary Magadelene to one side of the church, and the grotto facing it.

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