V. Blue Apple Day – January 17th 2022 – Part 2 of 3.

Tales from the Zone, by Richard Stanley. Episode 5 Blue Apple Day, part 2 of 3.

This is part 2 of 3. We suggest you start with part 1.

JC was silent on the backseat, watching the frozen forest and its familiar landmarks flickering by. The mists had burned away and the cone of Bugarach and the spires of Bezu were clearly visible beyond the leafless trees, the sky a deep, rich meridianal blue. Before us the Zone unfurled itself like a dream. From the crest of the rise you could see all the way to Puivert and the ice bound summit of Saint Barthelemy. Earlier researchers sometimes referred to the Zone as the ‘Devil’s Chessboard’, a term not without merit that conforms to the concept of the ‘knight’s tour’ as the essential means of decryption. Everything in this place comes in oddly mirrored pairs and braces, not the least being the two Rennes – Rennes-les-Chateau and Rennes-les-Bains – the ‘deux reines’ or ‘two queens’ – the White Lady and the Dark Mother. A high place where opposing forces are locked in mysterious confrontation, a game of the gods that has yet to be resolved, let alone understood by its players. Those of us who find our way onto its ultradimensional squares are the merest pawns.

If you want to support Tales from the Zone by Richard Stanley, you can do say via PayPal donations.

The only thing anyone can agree on is that shortly after cracking the code Bérenger Saunière became unaccountably rich. It is not my purpose here to speculate on his source of that wealth, save to say the priest of Rennes put it to notoriously questionable use, redecorating the church in the flamboyant, wildly off-kilter manner we know today. The chapel floor was redesigned to resemble a chessboard. On one side, a statue of Christ peers mutely down at the white and black tiles and on the other, supporting the font, squats a life-sized effigy of a winged demon, commonly identified as Asmodeus, the guardian of Solomon’s temple, who fought the arch-mage after he lost his seal and was wounded in the knee before being cast out into the wasteland. Esoterically he is the guardian and teacher of all occult knowledge.  Above the demon are emblazoned the words: “By this sign you will conquer“.

demon hand

Not that Saunière’s disorientated parishioners needed further clues as to the diabolic origins of the clergyman’s largesse. The relationship between Saunière and Marie Dernarnaud had become an open secret and she publicly disported herself wearing jewellery and expensive, daringly cut gowns that would have put her mother to shame, had not the good widow passed shortly after the priest came into his sudden wealth. The causes are obscure, but at least she died in her own bed with her beloved daughter at her side and Saunière in attendance to hear her confession. Nor was she the only one to have lost her life that season under less than certain circumstances. Grave robbing and necromancy are the least of the accusations made against the couple, initially behind Marie and Saunière’s backs and later more openly when the enraged mayor demanded an official investigation from his ecumenical superiors in Carcassonne. 

Saunière had severed all ties with his fellow priests, Antoine Gelis and Henri Boudet. Gelis was said to have become irrationally frightened of something he either couldn’t comprehend or dared not explain to his friends and family. Indeed the old priest had become so paranoid he refused to leave his rectory and barred the door to all comers, save his niece and nephew who brought his food and tended to the laundry. His precautions however were in vain. On Hallow’een night, 1897, someone managed to get to him. Somewhere around midnight there was a fierce struggle and Gelis was bludgeoned with a poker before being finished off with an axe, while apparently trying to crawl to the window to scream for help. When the local authorities finally dared to enter the house, they found the elderly priest’s mutilated remains laid out in a strange, reputedly ritualistic manner resembling the Tarot trump of the ‘hanged man’. A pack of Russian cigarettes were retrieved from the floor beside the corpse on which someone had hastily pencilled the words ‘Viva Angelina’. More than a century later, the murder remains unsolved and there are those who believe that Henri Boudet, the third member of the triumvirate, known locally as the ‘three high valley villains’ came to a similarly sticky end, dying in agony in March 1915, apparently the victim of poisoning, after receiving a mysterious dinner guest. If Berenger Sauniere was in any ways implicated in these events then he showed no sign of attempting to flee the scene of the crimes. If anything, he appeared to be digging in, commissioning a magnificent new residence facing the church, where he intended to live with Marie as man and wife. 

The Domaine
The Domaine – photo by Richard S.

No expense was spared in furnishing the art deco mansion Saunière named the Villa Bethany, its interiors decorated by gold leaf, swirling mosaics and distinctly psychedelic velvet wallpaper. The Villa’s windows and those of the greenhouse that abutted it were fashioned from a deep, lustrous stained glass that caught the sun and filled the fallen priest’s domain with every incandescent shade of red and deep pools of midnight blue that seemed to remain cool even in summertime. But this was only the beginning of his grand design.  As the parallel investigations by the civil and clerical authorities gathered pace, Sauniere enclosed his domain with a gothic belvedere surmounted by a strange high tower he christened the ‘Tour Magdala’ which served as the repository for his burgeoning library. The tower commands an extraordinary 360 degree view of the plateau and surrounding valleys and foothills, its narrow windows, patterned after the embrasures in the heretic castles that dot the rugged landscape. At the far end of the belvedere, inclined towards the rising sun, Saunière raised a second tower, a tower of glass whose myriad panes were of the same curious character as the others installed in the villa. As much work seemed to be going on beneath the ground as above and the walled garden became a veritable paradise with any number of exotic species nurtured by a system of subterranean aqueducts, its orchards bearing strange fruit such as the locals had never seen before. 

Shortly after the turn of the century, the incoming bishop of Carcassonne, Lord Bishop De Beausejour, finally succeeded in barring Saunière from holding mass in the village church. Engaging the best lawyers he could afford, the rogue preacher blithely ignored his incipient excommunication and continued to hold services in his greenhouse, where he had a statue of Saint Michael erected amidst the prehistoric ferns and orchids. Retreating into their private world, Marie and her lover entertained lavishly, receiving their guests from Paris and Rome in grand style, plying them with rum imported from Martinique, the lights blazing all night in the Tour Magdala, which had been equipped with scientific novelties, telescopes, microscopes and purportedly a ‘magic lantern’, akin to an early motion picture projector, with which Saunière hoped to illustrate his hellfire ‘sermons’. Among their guests were said to be several members of the Hapsburg dynasty, the legendary chanteuse Emma Calve and two popular authors of the period, Maurice le Blanc and Jules Verne, whose novels contain tantalising allusions to the miasma of myths that had begun to accrue about the domain. 

Be it guilt over his ill-gotten gains or the sheer stultifying weight of the mounting bureaucracy that clogged his study, the consequences of Saunière’s secrecy exacted a heavy toll. He continued his obsessive construction work as if racing against time, gathering rocks from the ‘River of Colours’ that flowed beneath the plateau and carrying them one basket load at a time up the steep slope to construct a ‘Lourdes grotto’ outside the disused church, insisting that one day the village would become a place of pilgrimage.  At the centre of his handmade cavern he erected an image of the Magdalene, this time resting on the hollow altar column in which the coded documents were said to have been found. At the base of the column he inscribed two simple, but telling words: “Penitence! Penitence!” 

In December 1916, while still apparently in good health, Saunière visited the local undertaker and commissioned a bespoke coffin to be made according to his measurements. He was a tall man with the broad shoulders and barrel chest of a southerner and wanted to make certain the box would be an easy fit. Exactly one hundred and five years ago to this day, on January 17th 1917, Bérenger Saunière suffered the symptoms of a massive stroke, although there were some who, for obvious reasons, suspected poisoning. A minister was hastily summoned from the neighbouring parish to hear the dying man’s confession and administer the last rites, and it is said he departed Sauniere’s bedroom ashen-faced at what he heard and according to popular account, ‘never smiled again’. Whether it is true that all the dogs began to howl in the village or that Marie really muttered “Thank God it’s over“, as Sauniere breathed his last is hard to say. Certainly if she did utter those words, she was hopelessly misguided. The following morning his body was moved to the belvedere, where it was propped up in an armchair and exhibited to a procession of anonymous mourners, who came from as far afield as Paris to pay their last respects. Legend has it each took a tassel from the hem of the dead priest’s gown as they passed as a token of respect. 

It was snowing. The ground was frozen that day, making hard work for master Captier’s eldest son, who had taken over his father’s duties. How many came to grieve and how many gathered out of morbid curiosity is a moot point, but those who expected the secret of Saunière’s wealth to finally become public knowledge were in for a surprise. When the contents of his will were divulged, it became clear the rogue cleric had died a pauper, his only income being the meagre stipend accorded to him as village priest. The Villa Bethany, the Tour Magdala, the domain it commanded and the seemingly bottomless bank account that paid for its upkeep had either been signed over or perhaps had always been registered in the name of Sauniere’s loyal ‘house keeper’ Marie Denarnaud, who remained good to her promise and kept her lips stubbornly sealed. 

The Church or Marie Madeleine
The Church or Marie Madeleine – January 17th 2022 – photo by Richard S.

a note from the editor:

Stay tuned for the third and final part of this blog entry.

Thank you for reading the Richard Stanley blog, Tales from the Zone, a journal that will give outsiders some small insight into our day to day lives in the valleys of French Occitania. Please NOTE these entries are meant to be experienced in order. If you only just found this blog, you can begin reading from the start: Halloween. You can also find Richard Stanley on Twitter, and Facebook. However, Tales from the Zone are only published here.

If you want to support Tales from the Zone by Richard Stanley, you can do say via PayPal donations.

2 thoughts on “V. Blue Apple Day – January 17th 2022 – Part 2 of 3.”

  1. I would so love to see these places of infamy, intrigue, power struggles, murder and religious twistiness. Your words bring them alive like something out of The Name of the Rose, only it’s real life. All we need are some tasty catacombs underneath Sauniere’s residence and it’s on! “a similarly sticky end”. Mais oui! What else! :=)

  2. Pingback: V. Blue Apple Day - January 17th 2022 - Part 3 of 3. - Tales From the Zone

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top
Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap