Monday, April 6, 2009

Rennes-le-Chateau Visit - May 1900

Greetings Jill
Hope you are well. As you will see I have something for you which may be of interest even it it ends in anti-climax.The translation gave me considerable trouble trying to get the style right. Hope your researches and writings are going well. Anything new of interest? I didn't realise the RAF did flying training in Arizona still I suppose as far as climate goes its good for simulating the Middle East and Afghanistan perhaps. Read something in the New York Times the other day (online edition) about electronically tagging Saguaro Cactus in Arizona to try to prevent theft for use in gardens. Please keep in touch when you have the time.
Kind regards

The following are entries for May 1900. Castillon has been spending some time as a guest of La Diva [Emma Calve?] at her "little castle" i.e. the Chateau de Cabrieres in the Aveyron.

Staying at La Diva's "Castle" the Chateau de Cabrieres in the Aveyron not far from the town of Millau in Languedoc. A bit of an out of the way place to get to but worth the journey. La Diva bought it in 1895 or thereabouts. It came about this way. You could say it was the call of the soil crying out to a woman who comes from good Provencal peasant stock indeed her father, a trained engineer, was forced at one stage, by economic circumstances to go back to working the family farm. They were only tenant farmers and after her father took his family to Spain in search of better things the farm reverted back to the landlord so their was no family home to inherit. She didn't set out to buy a castle what she had in mind was large farmstead and land but when she made enquiries about suitable properties at an agent's in Millau she was told about this estate comprising chateau, farm, lands and so on but it could not be split up so no chateau no farmstead. During it's long history (built originally in the 11th century they say and according to La Diva had in the 13th century connections with the Knights Templar who had a treasury here and according to local tradition it held "a great treasure." Indeed when the Order was suppressed some knights were kept here in the dungeons and put to death when no treasure was found in the castle and they refused to divulge its whereabouts) it has been owned by several noble families interconnected by marriage but the last of these (the Des Esseintes) finally died out about 90 years ago since when the chateau has stood empty but the farm, lands, forest rights, shooting rights, fishing rights have been let out to tenants. La Diva has spent lavishly on renovating and restoring with a certain amount of modernisation to make it amenable to present day expectations of comfort whilst retaining its medieval atmosphere. The work is by no means finished yet.

The party of guests comprised Castillon of course, JB described as La Diva's manager; CD a composer and his mistress EB the wife of a prosperous Parisian banker and previously mistress of GF another composer, she is an accomplished "amateur" singer; P a Polish exile, a pianist; Leconte, "a symbolist poet, effete and languid, writer of erotically charged verse usually about the devotees of Sappho on the Island of Lesbos and other like classical themes. CD is at present setting some of these to music." [the words in inverted commas are Castillon's own]; Marcel "a novelist of fragile health who is writing the novel of the 20th century having tired of and been revolted by what he calls the sweaty, heaving, realism of Zola and his clique of the late 19th."; JO "an odd fish, big, burly man with the appearance of a common labourer or deckhand rather who claims to be an English citizen, despite a pronounced guttural teutonic sort of accent, ship-owner and mercantile trader operating out of Gibraltar. Has a yacht moored at Port-Vendres."; JO's wife Molly "she is definitely teutonic, Viennese actually it transpires, plump, attractive embonpoint, blonde, singer in light opera and operetta."; the Ser "apparently the high-priest of the Symbolists and a founder of the Rose+Croix." So very interesting company and as far as the ladies are concerned quite a nest of nightingales. [This house-party lasts from the 14th to the 17th May. Castillon grumbles about being alone following the desertion of Semiramis but nevertheless confesses to enjoying himself immensely. What they got up to is described at some length but is not really relevant to the next entries.]

18 MayAfter the departure of her guests and also JB her manager and eminence grise and ? - who had urgent business in Paris (Another and younger mistress Leconte whispered to me gleefully as he too left for the railway station in Millau.) La Diva declared herself to be in need of a little holiday and put it to me that as I was obviously in no hurry to return to Paris or anywhere else that I accompany her on a tour of the South with a visit to a most interesting priest with whom she had become acquainted in 1893 in Paris. They met in the Church of St. Sulpice where she often goes to hear Mass. He introduced himself saying that he was a devotee of the opera. He also gave evidence that he is an initiate of the Craft. Delighted she invited him to one of her soirees and they have kept up some sort of correspondence since. This priest Sauniere holds the benefice of some backwoods place called Rennes le Chateau deep in the Languedoc. All that part of the Languedoc is, according to La Diva steeped in history, mystery, supernatural happenings, a cradle of kings, a refuge for Cathars and Templars with hoards of hidden treasure waiting to be discovered in undiscovered caves and grottoes and powerful occult secrets too waiting to empower those who can uncover and interpret them, to those who can decipher certain clues hidden in nature and man-made structures and monuments also. She told me all this as we took our ease that warm drowsy Spring afternoon on the lawn at the foot of the castle walls. It would appear that this curé is a man with a special gift for divining such things something akin perhaps to a dowser or water diviner and that he is also a man with a SECRET. I emphasize this because La Diva put plenty of emphasis on it as she told it to me. She would not explain further as to what this SECRET might be no, not even to me a fellow Martinist and Traveller in the Path. Does she know what it is? After she came into possession of the Chateau de Cabrieres Sauniere wrote a letter in which he claimed to have in his possession a manuscript chronicle of events in and around Rennes for roughly three decades from 1290 to about 1320 written in Occitan by a wandering Franciscan Friar which states that the last Seneschal of Cabrieres, a Templar named Eustache de Rastaignac passed through Rennes in June 1309 with a squire and six heavily laden pack mules bound for the monastery of Montserrat in Catalonia but that close pursuit by officers of King Philip forced him to hide whatever the mules carried somewhere in the vicinity of Rennes. Raistagnac was soon afterward apprehended at the Chateau Blanchefort in a state of physical exhaustion alone, no mules, no squire. He was tortured and executed. Tantalizingly she said that the letter also contained other "esoteric" information. She did not offer to show it to me however.We were annoyingly interrupted at this point by the arrival of a Monsieur de Senmaret the architect responsible for work on the chateau and they must needs talk business. [There is more in this entry but none of it directly relevant - they obviously did not get back to discussing Sauniere - they had an early dinner and were early to bed in order to start out on their travels - also - musings on what a fine bosom La Diva has and Molly O also and does singing lead to a well-developed bosom in a woman i.e. constant deep expansion of the lungs = expansion of breasts! and so on]

19, 20, 21, MayWe travelled down to this place Rennes le Chateau in easy stages in La Diva's luxurious new touring automobile, a Panhard-Levassor apparently especially built to her specifications operated by her chauffeur Nodier. We visited en route Montpellier, Beziers, Narbonne and went as far south as Perpignan which last city despite it being my birthplace I had never hitherto visited. La Diva was incognito; she travelled as Madame Tavelec and at our overnight stops insisted that I play the part of Monsieur Tavelec and that we were to pass ourselves off as a sightseeing couple from Brittany. This little charade amused her enormously and she entered into it with great gusto giving a performance of which even the Divine Sarah could have been proud. It was however purely a brief marriage de convenance and I observed all the gentlemanly proprieties as was expected of me so that it was never consummated. That would have been too much to hope for. But after all hope springs eternal or should that be infernal. Perpignan is a pleasant enough little town with a distinctly Spanish character which, given its proximity to the frontier is not surprising. It has an imposing citadel and a fine Cathedral but as I do not wish to turn this diary into a second-hand Baedeker I will not expatiate further on its touristy attractions. We spent a night at the Hotel Pyrenees. We then proceeded to Carcasonne with its splendid medieval walls and the whole place redolent with turbulent history and we spent several tiring hours in perambulating the sights. La Diva is very knowledgeable about these parts and particularly their ill-fated Cathar past. Put up at Royal Hotel. [Not much of interest in rest of entry, sight-seeing, a good dinner, early to bed and he ponders the fascinating (to him) fact that no matter to which large city or town you travel in France you will always find hotels with English names.]

22 MayLeft Carcassonne for the town of Limoux. The roads become more and more difficult for automobile travel and there is of course the question of kerosene or whatever it is that they fuel up these conveyances with.. Limoux on the Aude is a pleasant enough little town and I am told that they produce very good wines hereabouts. The majority of the populace persist in speaking the old Occitan tongue much to the annoyance of the Government officials. It is not of course taught in the schools. We stopped at what appeared to be the only hotel of any size, which rejoices in the name Hotel Moderne, for coffee and here the proprietress advised against trying to get to Rennes le Chateau in the automobile because of the terrible state of the road even though it is only about 18 miles distant and suggested that we hire a carriage so she summoned a lad from the stables to fetch "old Janou" from the square. Presently an old Victoria pulled by two aged nags appeared, Janou the coachman did not seem to be very eager to go to Rennes. La Diva is quite fluent in Occitan besides being naturally charming but the old man proved stubborn and it was some time before he could be persuaded and his change of heart was only brought about by the promise of what I thought was a quite outrageous sum of money. On the journey he was taciturn and uncommunicative. The road was indeed in a diabolical state of repair and after passing through a place called Cuiza and as we approached the village itself became even worse especially as it rose up steeply on the final stretch. At first sight Rennes appeared to be a typically wretched Provencal Hill Village a fact I remarked on to my companion to which she replied rather to my amazement that yes it was sad indeed when one considered that this had once been an important Visigothic city a place of cultural and religious significance named Rhedda (not sure of spelling here). "The people around here are poor today, as you can see most of them scratch a living from the land but in the not too distant future thanks to the secret of Father Sauniere (the SECRET again) their prosperity will be restored" she declared somewhat portentiously I thought.Janou drew up in the public square in the shade of the plane trees and put nosebags on his steeds. We made our way to the Presbytery having been directed by some ancient stting on a seat in the square.Disappointment awaited us. In answer to our knocking on the presbytery door it was opened slightly and we were asked our business. La Diva explained and the door swung open to reveal a small, slim, dark woman of uncertain years clad in rusty black. "Oh Madame, Madame, Father Sauniere has been summoned to Rome, yes Madame to Rome the Bishop himself came from Carcassone to give him the summons and he was off two days ago no doubt to meet the Holy Father himself at last his greatness is to be recognised maybe he will come back a Cardinal wouldn't that be one in the eye for all the backbiters, backstabbers and gossips around here who say that he is nothing but a rogue and a graverobber and that I am a witch and that we cast evil spells to make the earth give up its treasures if only they knew the truth but they never will not this bunch of clodhoppers but I know and soon the Holy Father will too and then there will be some changes round here you mark my words." This astounding tirade was poured forth with breathless haste and real malevolence which showed on her dark, narrow, pinched and altogether unpleasant countenance. It was obvious that La Diva was somewhat annoyed at this news and also by the not unsurprising (to me anyway) fact that the concierge had no idea as to who she was. La Diva then explained that she was a friend of Father Sauniere from Paris who had travelled a long way to see him and at that we were invited inside and taken into a rather dingy and sparsely furnished parlour where La Diva was installed in the only comfortable looking chair in the room. The concierge offered us some refreshment and bustled off to get it. I looked around the room and opening a door in the inside wall found myself in what must have been the priest's study. It was as poorly furnished as the parlour, a large desk, a bookcase two or three upright chairs and a wall-clock. On the dingy walls besides the usual religious objects, crucifix, statuette of the Virgin, etc. was a large scale map of Rennes and the surrounding countryside with certain locations ringed in red ink and also three well framed prints quite diverse in subject matter and looking somewhat incongruous in the study of a country priest. One was of what appeared to be the Temptation of St. Anthony clearly in the Dutch style but by an artist I did not recognize, the second a portrait of a Pope identified by a label as Celestine V, Saint of whom I then knew nothing and the third Poussin's masterpiece Les Bergers d'Arcadie, closer inspection revealed that this was not in fact a print but a fine copy of the type done regularly in the Louvre by accomplished copyists and would have commanded a fair price. The books in the bookcase from what I could see through the dusty glass doors were mostly devotional works but I also noted Michelet's History of France, Reclus' Universal geography, a history of the Merovingian Kings, Ulfilas' History of the Goths, some treatises on applied mathematics and a Surveyor's Manual. Another door led from this room into what was clearly a storeroom full of crates some open revealing laboratory equipment, piles of books some corded into bundles, a hunting rifle and bandolier, fishing rods and what looked like a surveyor's theodolite and distance measuring staffs. I was about to edge into the room when I heard a voice saying "Pardon Monsieur but Father Sauniere does not like strangers to enter his private rooms." Turning I mumbled an apology of sorts to the concierge and rejoined Madame in the parlour. La Diva looked at me with a wry smile and said "So Rodrigo you now know what curiosity did to the cat but never mind have a glass of Madame Denarnaud's excellent lemonade." The lemonade was indeed excellent and afterwards La Diva expressed a desire to be shown round the Church which she understood to have been recently restored. "Oh yes Madame it is now so beautiful and all thanks to Father Sauniere who generously paid for it all for he loves this place with all his heart and soul though nobody thanks him for it either here or in Carcassone but they know that he has a special power and so they let him get on with it and wasn't the Bishop only too ready to come and say Mass and Bless the Church when it was finished and smile and smarm as though he'd done it all himself" This second breathless tirade having come to an end we made our way the short distance to the church. The church is dedicated to Sainte Marie Madeleine who commands a special devotion in this part of the world; indeed she is supposed to have ended her days in Provence. It is fairly typical of churches in this region and not architecturally outstanding and has undergone exterior restoration and repair at various times although dating from the 11th century. The plainness of this exterior hardly prepares one for what lies inside, quite magnificent decoration which completely transforms what is otherwise a mere insignificant little church into a quite wondrous place of worship.From the entrance which is guarded by a wonderful painted plaster effigy of the devil supporting the holy water basin to the magnificence of the altar with its terracotta bas-relief of the Magdalene in a grotto, the bas-relief on the west wall, a beautifully painted fresco, statues of St. Joseph and the Virgin each holding a Christ child and a set of terracotta Stations of the Cross. The whole effect which it invokes is one of deep reverence and respect. The concierge especially singled out the Stations of the Cross which were all done to special designs drawn by Father Sauniere adding that he was extremely particular that they were done accurately and that he had sent three back to be corrected. La Diva inspected them with great care but to me they looked merely conventional products of church interior fitters. When we left the church La Diva having declared that she felt quite overcome by the experience and would with Madame Denarnaud's kind indulgence rest a while in the parlour I decided to stroll around the village. After the splendour of the church interior the village, despite the bright Provencal Spring sunshine seemed drabber than before and I could find no building of particular interest there is a chateau but although inhabited it is in a very ruinous state. I eventually found an estaminet of sorts and refreshed myself with a glass of cider and naturally as an outsider I attracted from the few loafers who were in there and there was much audible whispering, in Occitan of course. Then one asked in French, "You sightseeing Mister?" "I nodded. "Not much to see though is there." They all laughed. You have a beautiful church here I replied and I had hoped to see Father Sauniere. "Slippery Sauniere eh weren't he there then? Probably out treasure hunting." More laughter. "That witch would be there though weren't she." Madame Desnarnaud yes she showed us round. "Madame Desnarnaud eh you mean Black Marie the hatmaker's daughter."I made no reply. "Did she tell you where the good Father gets his gold from then?" "His brother should have had some of that gold Mister he helped on the church he found the documents that made Sauniere rich." Interjected another. No I said we did not discuss that. "I bet she didn't graverobbers that's what those two are did she tell you they tore up the graveyard." The talk was becoming heated. "Graverobbing and black magic." added another. "You mean he gets gold from base metal," I ventured. "More like from the ground Mister when he goes out with his fancy paraphernalia and his magic umbrella." More general laughter. "He and she they summon up spirits, old kings and knights they give them knowledge." All this is fascinating gentlemen I said (as indeed it was) seeking to extricate myself which I accomplished by instructing the publican to give them all drinks and providing a generous sum to do it with. I left with shouts of "Here's to you sir, come back soon but not at full moon." And raucous laughter. I went straight back to the presbytery.Madame Desnarnaud having provided the necessary means La Diva wrote a note for Father Sauniere which she entrusted to that worthy woman and we walked back to the square where with some difficulty we woke Janou from deep slumber and endured a painfully slow journey back to Limoux and, needs must, put up at the Hotel Moderne for the night. Imust say in their favour that they served us a good dinner that night. La Diva was not very communicative during the evening except to reiterate her disappointment at the absence of the priest (I forbore from saying that a telegram might have been helpful) and that Madame Desnarnaud had told her that Sauniere has big plans for the further development of Rennes proposing to build a Retreat for city priests and a tower to house his library. We retired early. [ coded passages follow and when this happens I suspect that some form of sexual activity takes place - maybe La Diva made him a happy man after all but that is just conjecture and in view of what was said earlier probably unlikely. ] Next day we left Limoux and it became obvious on the way that the automobile was not in good shape, Nodier recited some technical details, meaningless to me but he nursed the beast into Carcassone. I left La Diva at the Hotel Royale and made my adieus. She replied,"Ah well Rodrigo we may have been on a fool's errand but at least we had a pleasant trip and you are a most congenial and discreet travelling companion." I assured her that the pleasure had been all mine. I returned to Milau and onwards to Paris by train. Thank God for steam. Sadly I never got to meet the priest with the great SECRET.........

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