1 November 2015
Updated 27 June 2017
The popular story claims that Bérenger Saunière obtained reproductions of paintings by Nicolas Poussin and David Teniers from the Louvre. It was also later reported he obtained a copy of a painting by an unknown artist of Pope Celestine V.
According to the initial accounts given by Noël Corbu during the 1950s, Bérenger Saunière discovered “parchments” in the hollow pillars of his church altar and travelled to Paris in 1892 to get them translated. But Noël Corbu never mentioned anything at all about Saunière obtaining reproductions of paintings – not in the tape recording of the story he made for the guests to his restaurant – not in the 5-page essay he deposited in the Archives de l'Aude (File Nº 2J248) – not in the essay attributed to him entitled “La Puissance et la Mort” (Power and Death).
Noël Corbu's story was also reported by Robert Charroux in his 1962 book Trésors du monde (through first hand conversations) – but here again there were no references to paintings.
Using Noël Corbu's initial story as its foundation, the Priory of Sion document entitled Les Descendants Mérovingiens ou l’énigme du Razès wisigoth and attributed to “Madeleine Blancasall”, deposited in the Bibliotheque Nationale on 26 August 1965, introduced numerous new claims about Bérenger Saunière, including how...
“On the advice of abbé Hoffet, the priest of Rennes went to the Louvre Museum to look at the works of Poussin and Teniers for, after decoding [the parchments], the text clearly delivered the following message:
BERGERE PAS DE TENTATION, QUE POUSSIN ET TENIERS GARDENT LA CLEF – PAX DCLXXXI – PAR LA CROIX ET CE CHEVAL DE DIEU – J'ACHEVE CE DAEMON DE GARDIEN A MIDI – POMMES BLEUES.”
The claim that Saunière was interested in paintings by Nicolas Poussin and David Teniers originated from Pierre Plantard and Philippe de Chèrisey as part of their Priory of Sion deception. The claim is directly linked to the Large Parchment that was created by Philippe de Chèrisey during the early 1960s as a result of Corbu's initial claims about Saunière, and that the decoded text (in 20th century French) mentioned “Poussin, Teniers Hold The Key”
The additional claim that Saunière was interested in a painting of Celestine V by an unknown artist was later given in Gérard de Sède's 1967 book L'Or de Rennes (co-authored with Pierre Plantard, page 28).
Gérard de Sède's L'Or de Rennes also introduced how Bérenger Saunière visited the seminary of St Sulpice in Paris to get the parchments examined by Émile Hoffet (page 27).
The 1996 BBC Timewatch documentary The History of A Mystery provided more information about this story.
“The Louvre does keep records of reproductions of paintings that it has sold – and these records show that the Museum sold no copies of the Poussin until 1901. Ten years too late.”
“There's no evidence that Saunière ever visited St Sulpice or celebrated Mass there, according to a letter from the Seminary's archivist. Yet Saunière's trip to Paris is what ties him to the all-important painting by Poussin.”
Pierre Plantard and Philippe de Chèrisey had previously linked Bérenger Saunière with Nicolas Poussin's painting in the Priory of Sion document Généalogie des Rois Mérovingiens et Origine des diverses Familles Françaises et Etrangères de Souche Mérovingienne attributed to “Henri Lobineau”, deposited in the Bibliothèque Nationale on 18 January 1964, without mentioning the trip to St Sulpice (“Généalogie de Mérovée à Dagobert I, Planche Nº 1, de 400 à 600”; later integrated into the 1967 Les Dossiers Secrets d'Henri Lobineau).
Nicolas Poussin was born close to Les Andelys, near Gisors – and since Plantard involved himself in the Gisors subject matter in 1961 – this could have inspired Plantard to include Poussin into his later Rennes-le-Château mythmaking process (also collaborating with Gérard de Sède).
Everything about the story of the paintings and parchments is directly connected to Plantard's bogus claim to be descended from Dagobert II.