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Fr. Bérenger Saunière of Rennes-le-Château fame a Martinist Freemason?

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Saunière, Freemason?

An impossible hypothesis?

By André Douzet

Fr. Bérenger Saunière of Rennes-le-Château, freemasons, freemasonry

For the past twelve years, when I argued that Saunière was no stranger to Freemasonry and actually visited a Masonic Lodge in Lyon as a visitor at one point, largely, I was greeted with laughter or incredulity – sometimes worse. It simply could not be, and I therefore had to have invented the entire thing. As there was physical evidence – Saunière’s name in the register – the cleverer of my opponents argued it was Alfred – not Bérenger – Saunière who “had” to have visited the Lodge. The less clever argued I had fabricated – faked – the register. I decided largely to let those people have their say. I knew their framework of what the mystery was supposed to be, had been dented, if not shattered, and they were not so much protesting against me, as to the paradigm shift that was occurring within the Rennes-le-Château mystery.

First of all, it is true that the new elements we introduced suggested a Martinist, rather than a straightforward Masonic trend. Nevertheless, everyone knows that Martinists were often Masons, and vice versa, and hence, the specific nature of the revelation was placed within its larger context – except by those who welcomed the new element, and used it to progress some of their own theories that involved a Martinist angle. Secondly, some argued that Saunière never set foot in the Lyon region, as there was no trace of such a voyage in his notebooks. Today – and even a decade ago – it was known and widely reported that the notebooks and account books had several vital elements of Saunière’s life missing, including several aspect which we know had occurred – for example the acquisition of books for his library, etc. However, those who want to beat someone, are in need of a stick, and this argument sufficed. Fortunately, a decade later, the absence of known facts in the notebooks is so well-known, that to argue against a Lyon episode on this basis, has become intellectual suicide. Thirdly, and more importantly, there was the argument that a priest could never – never – be a Freemason. It was, after all, an official interdiction by the Church, was it not? In this case, we do indeed note that the Church fought long and hard with the demon of the “three points”, but it is also a debate in which I did not find myself alone. After all, Saunière was not the only priest, and not the only priest who was claimed to have been a member of Freemasonry.

Arsène Billard and Freemasonry

The first evidence submitted in front of a jury is no doubt the “pastoral letter” of Arsène Billard, which launched an anti-Masonic mission, which was no doubt inspired by the statement of Pope Leo XIII against Freemasonry. As Billard is largely seen as Saunière’s protector, on first impression, it would indeed seem bizarre that Saunière would thus be a Freemason. But impressions can be… In 1884, when the letter was circulated, Saunière was still the priest of the village of Clat; only on June 1, 1885, did he arrive in Rennes. We know that in subsequent years, Mgr. Billard was very much indulgent and fatherly towards his subordinate, who was able to create conflict out of nothing, it seemed. When we look at the anti-Masonic document, we note that Billard uses wording that is well-known and used within Masonic Lodges. For example, he uses, several times, abbreviations like TCF (Très Chers Frères) and NTCF (nos très chers frères). By coincidence, this pastoral letter is also given the number 33, which in Masonic circles is highly symbolic! When we pointed out that Billard had “familiarised” himself with Masonry by using abbreviations such as TCF and NTCF, one point of criticism directed towards us – though we don’t specifically know why – was that this was purely in an effort to save space! Obviously, our critic believed that we were implying that Billard, when using terms like NTCF, was actually a member of a Masonic Lodge himself. Not at all. We were merely pointing out that he was familiar with Masonic customs. And that he may have used these abbreviations to create a sense of understanding and commonality with those he is trying to redirect on the proper path towards salvation. By noting – and implying – that Billard was familiar with Masonic lore, it would have negated the criticism of any Mason that here was, again, the Inquisition speaking from the pulpit, without any understanding of what the heretic believed.

But the main point in this debate was, we felt, that Billard’s tone of familiarity might not necessarily be towards the population as a whole, but to certain members of his immediate “flock” – the priests of his bishopric – who themselves might have fallen “foul”, and entered Masonry.

Masons everywhere

Marconis de Nègre

For many years, it was our conviction that Billard had certain informants within the “fraternal society”. The evidence underlying this conviction was the force that Saunière was able to dispose of to rearrange his return to Rennes in 1886, after his “exile” in Narbonne. It was during this exile that the de Chefdebien family did everything it could to welcome this poor man, persecuted for preaching against the Republic, in their midst. What needs to be highlighted is that the de Chefdebien family have a family history that is specifically Masonic in nature. It was they who created the Société de Philadelphes, which dominated the occult scene in and around Narbonne. We also note that it was with this family that Bérenger’s brother, Alfred, found himself preceptor, only to be sacked when it was learned that our beloved Father stole one or more documents from the private family archives. What specifically he stole, no-one knows, and it also seems that the nature of the document was such, that the de Chefdebien family were unable to take the matter to court. To this, we merely need to add that François-Pierre, Eugène, Armand, Théobald and Charles d’Hautpoul were all “brothers”, and this at the highest level. And it was also one H.J. Marconis de Nègre (linked to the Marquis Nègre d’Ables that forms the centre of the mystery of the small village), who was "souv :. P :.G :. Maître des lumières, Prince de Memphis, Organe de l’héirophante, Dép :. Sacré des Trad :. Sub :. Command :. Des 3 légions des Chev :. De l’Ordre &a &a". For those unfamiliar with Freemasonry, let us add that this was a man very high up in the ranks of Freemasonry – and it would be hard to be more Masonic than him. It was this family that were the founders of the Order of Misraïm, which would later join with Memphis, to become Memphis-Misraïm – still an operative order.

To them, we need to add that Henri Dujardin-Beaumetz and Ernest Cros, as well as Jules Doinel, were all Masons, and that they were all very close and good friends of Saunière. As mentioned before, it was a Lyonese book dealer whose owner was a ranking Mason who would later buy up the library of Saunière; yet how a Lyon book dealer had ever heard of Saunière – if Saunière never ventured to Lyon – is something some researchers have found hard to explain.

A stumble, but not a fall

Alfred Saunière

Thus, already, it is clear that Saunière was surrounded by Masons, and his brother even more. Already, Saunière must have known much about Freemasonry, even if he was not a member – and his famous natural curiosity will have made sure that, even if he was not a Mason, he read up on the subject. Rightfully so, for wherever he turned, he was surrounded by noble families that had been – and remained – of primary Masonic importance. The problem – if there is one – is however also that all of these known Masons were also devout Catholics, well-known to, and often dining with, the bishop himself. And hence we do need to wonder whether Billard, when writing his pastoral letter, was just dotting the i’s, knowing his position required him to write it, as otherwise the Church hierarchy might wonder why he had not spoken out against the new enemy. But Billard was not an idiot. He knew who sat at his dining table and he knew where they came from, and to what they belonged. But he also must have known that despite their Masonic allegiances, these men were – despite what the Pope in Rome thought or at least stated – devout Catholics. Some of them much more so than Billard, it has to be said. So, immediately, Billard must have understood the debate was not as black and white as the Pope had written, and we can see this more soft approach in his pastoral letter. Furthermore, he may have realised that a terse condemnation might have meant his dinner table would become embarrassingly empty. Empty chairs at empty tables also meant fewer “donations to the poor” from the rich.

Saunière in the land of the three points?

Of course, we would never claim Billard himself might have been a Mason. There is no evidence for this. And until recently, our sceptics would have stated that we should have shown an equal discretion towards Saunière, to which we would have to underline the fact that Saunière’s name does appear in a Martinist Lodge attendance book and that, given the other evidence available for his visits to Lyon, logic dictates that it was Bérenger and not Alfred who attended the Lodge meeting. Still, both brothers frequented circles that were both noble and Masonic, and which were devout Catholics too. If he visited them purely from a Christian missionary point of view, at least we should note that their Masonic allegiance did not seem to bother either brother. Still, without going into detail, when you look at the relationship between Saunière and these families, it appears that not only did they accommodate him in his role as priest, but also as a Brother. They lodge him, help him, assist him in retaining funds and subsidies – anything to help this man out. There were dozens of priests crying out that their churches were near ruinous too, yet Saunière was among the very few who were helped. Why? It is for example Doctor Roché (related to Déodat Roché) who is more than helpful to Saunière and even provides him with falsified medical certificates when Saunière is engaged in a battle with Billard’s successor, Mgr. de Beauséjour. We note this is clearly not ethical, but it would be ethical if Roché were assisting a Brother in need – specifically if a Lodge had “ordered” its members to help a brother who is in need out. What to make, for example, of another brother, V. Jordy, photographer and member of the “Les Vrais Amis Réunis à l’Orient de Carcassonne”? It is he who together with Saunière makes a series of… 33 postcards, this to help line Saunière’s bank accounts even further. For someone not familiar with Freemasonry, he will ask so what. For someone familiar with the ways of Masonry, this “fortunate coincidence” of Saunière will have all the telltale signs of agreements engineered between those who know the funny handshakes.

Saunière on the list

Indeed, to give our critics due space, until now, we had reported, but never shown the document that showed Saunière’s name in the ledger of the Lyon lodge. Only two people had seen this specific document. I had my reasons for this – and largely they resided in the fact that by showing the signature, those witnessing the document would be able to progress their research in a direction where I personally wanted to have a large lead. To this, I would add that I do not dispose of huge funds, which means that quite often, accomplishing one step of further research takes me several months or years, whereas with others, it would merely take the minute it takes to write a cheque.

Still, since April 28, 2007, I am no longer alone in making allegations that Saunière is a Mason. Indeed, that day, during the General Assembly of the Terre de Rhedae, Antoine Captier showed his members proof that Saunière was a Freemason. Captier is – and is considered to be – one of the most genuine and authoritative voices in the Rennes-le-Château debate and even the sceptics prefer to keep silent, rather than sling insults at him. The proof he presented was a Masonic collar, belonging to Saunière himself, and now belonging to Antoine and Claire Captier. The collar is one of the Scottish Rite, and, as is in evidence on the back of the collar, identifies its wearer as a member of the Knight of the Rosy Cross, or the 18th degree. It shows that Saunière was at least an 18th degree member – and hence had, in Regular Masonry, attained the grade of Master Mason. We do not know, based on this evidence, whether Saunière’s rise ended in the 18th degree, or continued to climb upwards, eventually having to end with the 32nd degree.

Missing bits

Still, we note that the collar itself has its “jewel” missing. This absence is unfortunate, for it would have allowed anyone to identify to which Lodge the collar – and hence by extension its wearer and owner – i.e. Saunière – would belong. Did the object simply “fall off” the collar, as time progressed and the object was moved? Though possible in theory, in practice, it is known to be well-woven into the collar and it would be rather difficult – though not impossible – to be removed. Still, accidents happen, but if they did happen, one would think that whoever caused the accident would reattach the object as quickly as possible back to the collar. However, the more logical scenario has to be that it was removed on purpose. Why? Largely because, indeed, its presence would allow one to draw a too precise conclusion: identify to which Lodge its wearer belonged. Its removal would thus stop anyone from making an altogether easy identification – and come up with a major revelation in the mystery of Saunière. Let us note we do not at all suggest that Captier removed this object – not at all. I was privileged to see the collar before its official “publication”, and it is clear that Antoine was largely ignorant that a piece was missing. Instead, a more likely suspect is Saunière himself, who late in life did become very paranoid. Some might argue why, if he wanted to remove traces of his Masonic allegiance, he did not dispose of the entire collar. It may be for the same reason that criminals often retain incriminating evidence… or perhaps Saunière never truly destroyed the collar, but merely separated the two elements. In this scenario, the missing object may still be somewhere in Captier’s possession, unless it disappeared during the several decades that it was in the possession of Marie Denarnaud.

A triumph without glory

The arrival of this new piece of evidence came as a surprise to many – including our critics, who suddenly seemed unable to turn left or right – if only because it came from Antoine Captier. Here, the usual claims of fabrication or nonsense could not be applied. Though we are approximately six months post this major revelation, few if any Rennes researchers have commented on this new element. Perhaps, indeed, it is because the revelation was totally unexpected, or perhaps because it did come with a loss of face if done by someone who had previously decided to throw eggs at my face. Or perhaps no-one was knowledgeable enough to provide further comments on the discovery, perhaps through unfamiliarity with Masonic lore? Of equal interest was therefore a statement made by Captier, namely that he would put this item of information “out there”, to see what type of reaction it would receive. He thus implied that there was more to come? And perhaps the silence with which the discovery has been greeted may actually have been orchestrated so that no further revelations about Saunière’s Masonic allegiance would be divulged – or at least not so in public? Though I will now be accused of finally having shown clear signs of paranoia, let me merely state that stranger things have happened in the mystery of Saunière.


Leaving such first-hand evidence – proof – of Saunière’s fraternal allegiances to one side, I want to specifically focus on the fact that if – as – Saunière was a Mason, he was not the only priest to be “on the level”. In Billard’s letter there was the statement that for one year following the publication of this letter, anyone who was a Mason would be welcomed back into the flock purely by repenting for his “error”. When reading the letter, one could easily be mistaken to ponder whether we are still in the 13th century, during the Albigensian Crusade, when repenting for the Cathar “error” that had been committed was sufficient to spare death by fire. But it is also clear that this low-key approach was engineered so that those priests that had joined the Craft and were invited to end their membership, could do so without any controversy. It implies that Billard knew some priests were members, and offered them an easy way out, so that it would not create a problem for them, him, or the Church.

As we know Saunière was a Mason, perhaps he was already a Mason by 1884, in which case he would have been able to resign and a mere “mea culpa” would have sufficed to end the saga. But, of course, it is extremely unlikely that Saunière had already progressed to the 18th degree of Scottish Rite Masonry by 1884 – seeing that only from 1885 did he begin to mingle with powerful Masonic families. Furthermore, evidence that he did not stop being a Mason in 1884-5 is known to us, namely him signing the attendance register in Lyon, in the late 1890s. Only active Masons are able to attend lodge meetings elsewhere – where they are listed as “Visiting”. Often, such a Visitor will also note down the number or name of his Lodge next to his name… which may, or may not, be a clue as to why I have never publicly revealed this document’s existence in the past decade.


But let us – once again – note that Saunière would hardly have been unique and that several other priests, much more renowned in their own time, would have been member of a Masonic lodge. Unfortunately, though accepted by all, the difficulty is in finding evidence for this, as of course Pope Leo’s dictum, and it becoming Church dogma, meant that both Masonic Lodges and “Fraternal Priests” went out of their way to have some of this evidence “disappear”. And whereas a general statement to this effect would suffice in any type of research, it is not in Rennes research – or at least not as it applies to us. Sometimes, however, you really don’t – or can’t – travel too far before bumping into evidence. In this case, the evidence can be found in the museum of Saint-Paul de Fenouillet. It is located in the remains of a Benedictine abbey of the 10th century which, in 1318, was transformed into a Collegiate church, which was sacked at the time of the French Revolution. As a consequence, the building became less religious, and more of a museum. Today, the museum is there to underline several aspects of local life, including a display of fossils, minerals and archaeological discoveries made in the area. Some displays are very much orientated towards school children, or for those with nostalgia to times gone by. One section thus proudly shows off banners and paraphernalia of the local brass bands. But amidst this “cacophony” of material, are some items that are clearly Masonic in nature. One banner is called “La libre Pensée”, identifying it as belonging to a Masonic Lodge. However, the evidence under discussion can be found nearby: two documents on display, each of which highlights the Masonic life in this community. On those two panels, the first is that of a list of members belonging to a Masonic lodge, known as “la Révèrente Loge Régulièrement Constituée à l’Orient de St Paul sous le titre distinctif de la Prudence”, the name of the local Masonic lodge. The list has approximately twenty names and of course it should perhaps not come as a surprise that the then mayor was a member. The second panel, however, is of even greater interest. For it is this document that shows that amongst its members, are a certain number of the clergy. There is, for example, a canon who is Treasurer, and has attained the Degree of the Rosy Cross in the Scottish Rite. Another canon is “Master of Ceremonies”, and of the same grade as the former. And another “ecclesiastic”, and another canon, are both Master Masons but without a specific task in the lodge. And to make the Masonic tour of this museum complete, in a nearby display cabinet, filled with female hats, a type of mug is on display, ornate with Masonic symbolism.

The panel on display in this museum clearly proves – and this within a local context, for Saint Paul de Fenouillet is not far from Rennes-le-Château and was even the hunting ground of Father Grassaud, a very good friend of Saunière – that Masonry and the clergy did gel. Furthermore, the document shows that these men of the cloth not merely belonged to, but also executed important roles within the Lodge.

For us, it is not important to know whether some of the clergy repented, or the extent in which Billard was able to clean his diocese. We merely want – and have – argued that Saunière, as a Mason, would not be an exception, and furthermore that he was a Mason himself. As to the reasons that would will or force him to join the Fraternity, that is an altogether different matter. Still, it is clear that we have already seen some clues as to why he may have done so, including the involvement of his brother in the theft of certain family documents, belonging to a family that was instrumental in the creation of a very specific – and intriguing – type of Masonry. Furthermore, let us repeat another allegation that we have made in the past, namely that Saunière was chosen as a go-between for the fusion of two lodges, one from Catalonia, the other from Lyon. This underlines that Saunière was of some distinction within a Masonic lodge and was seen by those involved as the best broker of this “deal”.


Those sceptics that will not let go of the account books as the alpha and the omega of Saunière’s life might argue that they contain no evidence of Saunière paying his membership fee to a Lodge – and hence that the entire possibility of Saunière being a Freemason is – alas – contrary to the “evidence”. As previously stated, these note and account books have several glaring omissions and it is now known – though perhaps not common knowledge – that these books are at best incomplete. Still, the fact that Saunière was a Mason and must have paid his membership fees (unless they were, somewhat unlikely, paid for him) once again goes into the direction to show that for certain actions, Saunière either did not maintain an expense account – or kept a separate account, which so far has not surfaced, or may forever have been “lost” – passively or actively. But it is clear that Saunière, after 1884, would have had a good reason why he should not list Masonic membership fees with all other expenses, for by paying his dues, he was breaking a Papal Rule. And it thus shows that if there was a mental struggle between following Church rule or his own desires, Saunière decided to do as he pleased. To that, even our critics will be able to agree.

To be continued

André Douzet

Further Reading:

Freemasonry in the Vatican