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Monday, 15 August 2011

The Red Serpent - Background

This is the Background to the 13 chapters of the book Discovering the Keystone, Solving the Riddle of The Red Serpent after 40 years by Guillaume Brouillard (Griffel Media, Cape Town, 2009). This book is named after one of the most important documents associated with the Priory of Sion, namely Le serpent rouge, which was part of a cache of documents deposited in the French National Library between 1956 and 1967. This document holds the key to the mysteries of Rennes-le-Château with which most people are familiar through Dan Brown's the popular novel The Da Vinci Code. These mysteries, however, do not merely concern the holy grail but also the temple treasures of Jerusalem. 

On the 17th January, 1967, a short document titled Le serpent rouge, meaning ‘The Red Serpent’, was published in Pontoise, France. To this day, the document is shrouded in sheer mystery. The cover shows a coat of arms on which are depicted a pitcher with water flowing from it and the head of a horse. At a glance, the pitcher and flowing water could be mistaken for a serpent, or even some kind of monster. Spanning the coat of arms is the motto ‘LENE BUXEUM-EOUS SCAPHFE’, of which nobody has as yet risked an (acceptable) interpretation. The document itself comprises a poem and notes on two Parisian churches.
That this is everything but an ordinary and least of all insignificant document is evident from the fact that another symbol appears on the cover, to wit the seal of the Rosicrucian Order. This seal consists of three concentric circles. In the inner circle, the letters M and S are combined into one symbol. In the next ring is written ‘rosa-crux.1099.1188’, and in the outer ring, 36 small circles appear, with the letter P right at the top and the letter S right at the bottom. One later discovers that the letters PS refer to the Rosicrucian Order called the Prieuré de Sion (the Priory of Sion).
The use of this Rosicrucian symbol indicates that Le serpent rouge was initially circulated in the secret world of occult organisations, of which this order is one.

Fig 1. The cover of Le serpent rouge.

i. The authors

The three authors of this document, Pierre Feugère, Louis Saint-Maxent and Gaston de Koker, call themselves the ‘three brethren’ – in all probability referring to the Brethren of the Rose Cross. Not much is known about them, except that all three died tragically shortly after Le serpent rouge was published. On the 6th March, 1967, Saint-Maxent and De Koker were found hanged, and the following day, so too Feugère. The way in which they died, and the fact that their deaths were almost concurrent, lead one to believe it was the result of their leaking the order’s secrets.
These unfortunate incidents only deepen the mystery surrounding the document. If these three persons’ transgression was punishable by death, the document must surely contain information of immense value to the group it concerns – in this case the Prieuré de Sion. It is, after all, not very common for three authors of specifically a secret document to die more or less simultaneously, and on top of it, to all appearances by being executed. Judging from this mere fact, Le serpent rouge unquestionably contains highly sensitive and top secret information not meant for the eyes of outsiders, and perhaps not even certain members of the Rosicrucian Order itself.

ii. Just another smokescreen?

When it comes to the hidden world of secret organisations, it is, however, wise not to swallow everything that’s dished up. More often than not, the explicit goal is to mislead the uninitiated, which could very well also be the case with Le serpent rouge. The first thing that springs to mind, then, is whether the names on the document were not perhaps borrowed to conceal the identity of the true author(s). The content of the document, as well as the fact that this was but one of several similar writings that appeared in the French National Library at that time, and just about all under different aliases, lead one to believe that this holds true for this document as well.
The obvious question then is: Who is the true author(s) of Le serpent rouge?
In their booklet Rennes-le-Château: A Bibliography [1], John M. Saul and Janice A. Glaholm list all the books and writings related to this subject. Underneath the names of the ‘authors’ of Le serpent rouge they noted the following: ‘The names Feugère, Saint-Maxent and De Koker are said to have been borrowed from contemporary reports of suicides. The true author is likely to be Pierre Plantard and/or Philippe de Chérisey.’[2] This supposition probably originated with Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, co-authors of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, who, together with Jonathan Tootell, advised Saul and Glaholm on the content of their booklet.
If Pierre Plantard and/or Philippe de Chérisey were indeed the true author(s) of the document, a couple of questions remain. For instance: If Feugère, Saint-Maxent and De Koker’s names had only been placed on the document after their deaths to protect the true author(s), the writing could obviously not have been published on the 17th January, 1967, as is stated on the document, as they only died in March of that year. The deposit slip in the French National Library furthermore states that Le serpent rouge had already been received on the 15th February, 1967 – almost a month before the purported authors died! This date could, however, have been backdated with a little help from a library employee.
In view of the fact that the alleged authors are said to have committed suicide, one can also not help but wonder why three seemingly unrelated persons would simultaneously decide to hang themselves.
It seems that, in the end, more questions than answers will remain as to the identity of the true author(s) of this document.

iii. The poem

The first part of Le serpent rouge consists of a poem with the same title. It is of extraordinary poetic quality, and comprises 13 stanzas. The poem was signed by ‘Louis Saint-Maxent’, with ‘October 1966’ written underneath. Although Pierre Plantard or one of his friends could have put together this document, it is highly unlikely that any of them was capable of writing such an exceptional poem. Some writers are of the opinion that the author is more likely to have been someone like the famous painter and poet Jean Cocteau (1889 - 1963), who, like Plantard, is said to have been a Grand Master of the Prieuré de Sion.
Back to the poem itself: Each of the 13 stanzas falls under one of the signs of the zodiac, which in this case consists not of 12, but 13 signs. The additional sign is that of the Serpent-handler, inserted between the signs of Scorpio and Sagittarius. Given the title of the poem, it is not surprising to find a stanza under the Serpent-handler.
It is only when one starts analysing the details in the poem that it becomes clear why Le serpent rouge is veiled in such mystery. There is absolutely no question that it does indeed contain a secret of immense proportions. The poem is written in the form of a riddle in which specific clues were very cleverly weaved. There are references to mysterious symbols that have to be deciphered and a ‘solution’ that must be obtained.
From stanza to stanza one is drawn in by this singularly odd set of riddly clues, until one is told: ‘To this, Dear Reader, be careful not to add or remove an iota ... meditate, Meditate again. The base lead of my writing perhaps contains the purest gold’ – which is yet another clue.
Only towards the end of the poem the red serpent itself, which is clearly at the heart of the mystery, is mentioned. It is described as an ‘enormous beast’ that is ‘red with anger’, and one whose coils have apparently been rolling down through the centuries.
But more about that later.

iv. The secret lies in the Razès

From the clues in the poem it is clear that the secret primarily relates to the region of the ancient Razès, which is in the south of France, in the Languedoc, south of Carcassonne. In the Razès – once the stronghold of the Visigoths – are two small towns where over a century ago truly mysterious things happened that have given rise to almost a cult following. These are the twin towns of Rennes-le-Château and Rennes-les-Bains. Centuries ago, the former seems to have been called Rhedae, which according to certain experts means ‘swift serpent’.
At the end of the 19th century, the parish priest of Rennes-le-Château, Bérenger Saunière, is said to have discovered certain parchments in his church, after which his life changed dramatically. Overnight, this once impoverished priest was a man of enormous wealth, undertaking one building project in the town after the other. Among these were the erection of the beautiful Villa Bethania and the famous Tower of Magdalene. Some writers are convinced his sudden fortune stemmed directly from the discovery of the parchments, stating he either came upon a treasure along with it, or discovered the directions to a treasure in the parchments.
Another of Saunière’s projects was the restoration of his church, dedicated to Mary Magdalene, which included some very peculiar changes, such as a devil with the holy-water stoup on his back at the entrance, and curious depictions of the 14 stations of the cross. Although these correspond greatly to those in the church of Rocamadour, for example, they contain considerable diversions from the latter with regard to detail.
As for the town of Rennes-les-Bains, the parish priest, Henri Boudet, a close friend of Saunière’s, in 1886 published an odd piece of work entitled La vraie langue celtique et le cromleck de Rennes-les-Bains [3] (‘The True Celtic Language and the Stone Circle of Rennes-les-Bains’). In this, he details the area around Rennes-les-Bains and also supplies a map of the region. He specifically mentions an enormous stone circle with a 16 - 18 km circumference, and furthermore makes the bizarre statement that the early Celts spoke Anglo-Saxon (English). Up to this day, no-one has ever seen this stone circle, and some deem his off-the-wall statements as clues concerning something of enormous value hidden in the area.
The poem Le serpent rouge therefore on the one hand contains information pertaining to the interior of the Rennes-le-Château church, and on the other, to the area around Rennes-les-Bains. Most everything in the poem indicates it is here that one will find the most important clues to the ‘solution’ the poet speaks of.
Later on one discovers that the parchments Saunière allegedly found also contain crucial information, as do certain paintings – among others those by Poussin called ‘The Shepherds of Arcadia’, and the ones painted by Delacroix in the St. Sulpice Church in Paris.

v. Two Parisian churches

Besides the poem, the document Le serpent rouge contains a set of notes, including various sketches, maps and a genealogy. The last eight of the 13 pages comprise ‘notes on St.-Germain-des-Prés and Saint Sulpice of Paris’, as is indicated by the subtitle of the document. These two Parisian churches are situated close to each other on the banks of the river Seine. The church of St.-Germain-des-Prés (‘des prés’ meaning ‘of the open field’) is the oldest in Paris, and is a monastery chapel built in 542 to house the relics King Childebert, son of the famous Frankish king Clovis, brought back from Spain. The St. Sulpice Church, on the other hand, is a parish church founded by the abbot of St.-Germain-des-Prés. The existing building was erected in 1642 on the same spot where the earlier church stood.
The notes also include an article on the history of the monastery of St.-Germain-des-Prés, wherein is stated that the church was built in the exact same place where earlier stood a temple of Isis, the Egyptian goddess. Various sketches accompany the article, including one of St.-Germain-des-Prés just before its demolition in 1794, a sketch of the monastery itself (supposedly done by Gaston de Koker), as well as a sketch of the bank of the river Seine where the monastery was later built as it looked in 1615. There are also sketches of the graves of King Childebert, the founder of the church, and King Chilperic, who was buried there. Another article by ‘Pierre Feugère’ concerns Childebert and his wife, Ultragothe.
As far as the St. Sulpice Church is concerned – which is also mentioned in the poem – one later on discovers that the most important item in the notes is the floor plan of this church, signed by ‘Louis Saint-Maxent’. This plan clearly shows the meridian that is indicated by a copper line running across the floor of the church. To the left of this line the letter P is written, and to the right, the letter S – in other words, PS. The word ‘PRAE-CUM’ also appears next to the meridian line.
Accompanying an article called ‘Le bi-centenaire de Mazarin – 1861’ (‘The Two Centuries since Mazarin – 1861’) are two sketches of the inscription on the gnomon to be found on the copper line in the northern wing of the church. There is also a sketch of the mausoleum of the priest Jean-Baptiste Languet de Gergy, in whose time the gnomon was erected. The Chapel of the Holy Angels, situated at the back of the church, also features prominently in the poem.

Fig 2. The floor plan of the St. Sulpice Church in Paris.

Also included in the notes are the adjoining sketches of three men: Jean-Jacques Olier (1608 - 1657), founder of the new St. Sulpice Church, Eugène Delacroix (1798 - 1863), who painted the three paintings with angels as theme in the church, and the painter Nicolas Poussin (1593 - 1665), who is not directly linked to the church. All three of these men are mentioned by name in the poem. Right underneath these sketches is a short quote by the celebrated opera singer Emma Calvé (1858 - 1942), dated the 7th May, 1939. She was romantically linked to the priest Saunière of Rennes-le-Château, who allegedly visited Paris in 1891 or 1892.

vi. The Merovingian bloodline

The genealogy included in the notes is that of the earliest Frankish kings, the Merovingians. Although it was one of them who founded the monastery of St.-Germain-des-Prés, namely Childebert – a block is drawn around his name in the genealogy – it seems odd that one’s attention is drawn to this early dynasty. Underneath the genealogy are two maps of Gaul from the Merovingian era – one of 511 A.D. and the other of 620 - 632 A.D.
This Merovingian genealogy differs somewhat from the common Merovingian genealogies in that it includes Sigebert IV, the son of Dagobert II. Underneath his name is written ‘Septimania’, which is a region in the south of France, also shown on the mentioned maps. Septimania is the region in which the Razès lies – the area that is central to the poem Le serpent rouge. What is strange, though, is that during that time, Septimania did not belong to the Franks, but to the Visigoths.
According to this genealogy, then, King Dagobert II had a son called Sigebert, who apparently came to this area in the south of France at some point. It would therefore seem that the ‘red serpent’ and the whole enigma of the Razès are somehow connected with this Sigebert.

vii. Solving the riddle

The impression the document as a whole leaves is that it contains information in the form of clues to solve the riddle embedded in the poem. On the inner front cover one then indeed finds the depiction of a man squatted in front of scattered cubical stones, seemingly lost in thought, with the caption: ‘Discover the sixty-four stones one by one’, which links with a line from the fourth stanza: ‘I am able to discover the sixty-four dispersed stones of the perfect cube.’
As was mentioned earlier, the specific spot the clues are supposed to lead one to, is in the region wherein Rennes-le-Château and Rennes-les-Bains lie. Pierre Plantard, who is connected with the authorship of the document, visited this area towards the end of the 1930s – and it was not to marvel at the bird-life; he fine-combed the Sals Valley at Rennes-les-Bains under the pretence that he was an archeologist. In his book Rennes-le-Château et l’énigme de l’or maudit [4] (‘Rennes-le-Château and the Enigma of the Accursed Gold’), Prof. Jean Markale refers to this visit of Plantard, stating that he closely searched the heights and cliffs in the river valley and that he was particularly interested in the Fountain of Magdalene and the Queen’s Baths. He apparently also paid particular attention to the two tombstones of an earlier local ruler, Paul-Urbain de Fleury, in the cemetery of Rennes-les-Bains. With him he carried the scarce book by the priest Henri Boudet, La vraie langue celtique et le cromleck de Rennes-les-Bains, which deals exclusively with this area.

Fig 3. The figure at the cubical stones.

What is quite noteworthy is that virtually all the landmarks mentioned in the recounting of Pierre Plantard’s visit to the Sals Valley feature in Le serpent rouge. The Plantards had also owned a piece of land in the region of Blanchefort and Roque Nègre, which lies in the area where one enters the valley of Rennes-les-Bains from the north. In former times, there had also been a goldmine here, where according to the authors of Web of Gold. The Secret History of a Sacred Treasure [5], a treasure had most probably been hidden.

viii. The temple treasures

In the writing Les descendants Mérovingiens ou l’énigme du Razès Wisigoth (‘The Merovingian Descendants or the Enigma of Visigothic Razès’), there are a couple of interesting comments about this alleged treasure. This writing was circulated among members of the Swiss Alpina Masonic lodge and was also deposited in the French National Library. The purported author is Madeleine Blancasall – in all probability a pseudonym of Pierre Plantard, his friend Philippe de Chérisey, or Plantard’s wife, Anne-Léa Hisler. According to this script, the treasure hidden in the area consists of 25 000 000 golden Francs, which is part of the Merovingian king Dagobert II’s treasure, and an additional 19 500 000 golden Francs, allegedly part of the treasure of the Visigoths of the Razès. Although these numbers are clearly highly exaggerated and a (feeble) attempt at emphasising the value of the treasure, it is interesting that Pierre Plantard is said to have taken part in the moving of gold bars worth a hundred million Francs to the Union Bank of Switzerland in 1952.
The most famous treasure said to be found in the region is the one the Romans had robbed from the temple in Jerusalem, which the Visigoths later brought here after their pillaging of Rome. Pierre Plantard himself referred to this treasure in a conversation with the authors Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln, who write: ‘In 1979, M. [monsieur] Plantard had said to us, quite categorically, that the Prieuré [de Sion] was in possession of the treasure of the Temple of Jerusalem, plundered by the Romans during the revolt of A.D. 66 and subsequently carried to the south of France, in the vicinity of Rennes-le-Château. The treasure, M. Plantard stated, would be returned to Israel ‘when the time is right’.' [6]
It could therefore very well be that the poem Le serpent rouge is somehow connected with this treasure. There is, after all, mention of the ‘purest gold’ in the poem, and one of the paintings of Delacroix the poet emphasises indeed revolves around the temple treasures.
If the intricacy of the poem is anything to go by, it is certainly possible that what one is dealing with here are in fact directions that could lead to the biggest treasure of all – the treasure of the Temple of Jerusalem. As was mentioned earlier, some writers are of the opinion that the famous Jean Cocteau was the writer of this poem, which makes one wonder whether he did not perhaps write it as a sort of last testament.
Some experts believe the poem to be related to the geometrical pattern according to which the Rennes-le-Château church was laid out, and others that it describes the mysterious process that is symbolic of the inner path of a mystic’s development. Although both of these suppositions could be correct, right from the start, however, it seemed to me to rather primarily involve the Sals Valley in the Rennes-les-Bains region, containing directions for a route through the area. Visiting Rennes-les-Bains for the first time, I couldn’t wait to see if such a route does in fact exist. Needless to say, I was quite thrilled when I discovered that the first clues in the poem do indeed correspond to such a route.
Next, I will set out exactly how I went about analysing the 13 stanzas of the poem in consecutive chapters and elaborate on the information related to each clue. The complex thread of the content is carried through on each of the many levels the poet saw fit to weave into the riddle, up until the final solving of it. In conclusion, I venture an opinion as to the political and religious implications of the discovery of the actual keystone.
[1] Saul, J.M. & Glaholm, J.A. 1985. London: Mercurius. 
[2] Ibid., p. 19.
[3] Boudet, H. 1886. Carcassonne. Reissue: 1984. Belisane: Nice.
[4] Markale, J. 1986. Paris: Pygmalion. Translation: Graham, J. 2004. The Church of Mary Magdalene. The Sacred Feminine and the Treasure of Rennes-le-Château. Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions.
[5] Patton, G. & Mackness, R. 2000. London: Sidgwick & Jackson.
[6] Baigent, M., Leigh, R. & Lincoln, H. 1982. The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail. London: Jonathan Cape, p. 235.


Read also
Chapter 1: The Manuscripts

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