PRIORY OF SION FAKE PARCHMENTS
HISTORY OF A HOAX

Paul Smith

ORIGINS

THE SINGLE MOST DECISIVE FACTOR that keeps the so-called Rennes-le-Château "mystery" in existence are the fake "parchments" of Philippe de Chèrisey – without the "parchments" the argument would be reduced to the mundane and boring question: "Did the Abbé Bérenger Saunière get his wealth from the selling of masses or not?" Presenting the "parchments" as genuine broadens the horizons for introducing all sorts of exciting conjectures involving alternative histories: ranging from Christian heresies – to secret geometries concealed in classical works of art – to sacred landscape geometries found on maps.


 


 

First mentioned in a 1965 Priory Document ascribed to Madeleine Blancasall (actually written by Pierre Plantard and Philippe de Chérisey) and first published in Gérard de Sède’s 1967 book L’Or de Rennes – with the Book Contract containing four signatures: those of Gérard de Sède, Sophie de Sède, Pierre Plantard and Philippe de Chérisey – the theme of "parchments and the Abbé Bérenger Saunière" has only one other origin – in the fertile imagination of hotelier Noël Corbu. There is no historical evidence in the primary source material relating to Bérenger Saunière to suggest that the priest discovered any "parchments" – this allegation was essentially first introduced by Noël Corbu.

On 10 May 1955, Noël Corbu opened the Hotel de la Tour in Rennes-le-Château and began claiming that Abbé Bérenger Saunière discovered "parchments" in a hollow pillar that supported the Main Altar whilst renovating his church in 1891. Noël Corbu never claimed to having possessed these "parchments" – or even having seen them – he only claimed that they were written in Latin and that they contained the Seal of Blanche of Castille – following numerous digs in the area Noël Corbu eventually sold his property in 1964 and later died in a car crash in 1968. Noël Corbu’s story was circulated by the local regional newspaper La Dépêche Du Midi which ran a series of articles in January 1956. This drew the attention of the French author Robert Charroux who also happened to be a member of a Treasure Seekers’ Club and he later included Noël Corbu’s claims in his 1962 book, Treasures of the World.

Enter Pierre Plantard and Philippe de Chérisey. Various reports claim that Plantard’s signature exists in a Hotel Register in Rennes-le-Château dating from the late 1950s, but a photograph of this interesting piece of evidence has never materialised; what can be said for certain is that the very first written reference to Rennes-le-Château by Pierre Plantard is in a 1964 Priory Document. The motives of Pierre Plantard and Philippe De Chérisey were transparently clear: by the early 1960s Plantard was claiming to be the direct descendant of Dagobert II and they both decided between them to develop their allegations upon the earlier claims of Noël Corbu – the only two pieces missing from the jigsaw were the "parchments".

But how reliable were Noël Corbu’s claims to begin with? Both Pierre Plantard and Philippe de Chérisey accepted Corbu’s claims on face value and those claims became the basic foundations for many a Priory Document to follow from 1964 onwards.

Abbé Bérenger Saunière began renovating his church in 1887 and not in 1891. This can be demonstrated by the receipt for the Main Altar dated 27 January 1887 that was provided by the firm of F D Monna of Toulouse – and the replacement Main Altar was paid for by a donation from a rich widow, Mme Marie Cavailhé.


 


 

Was the pillar that allegedly contained the "parchments" really hollow? In 1993 the original pillar was transferred to the Saunière Museum in Rennes-le-Château and it became established for certain that the pillar was not hollow. The small square cavity (too small to having contained any "parchments") was part of a mortise and tenon that simply connected the pillar to its base. The base is on display by the pillar at the Saunière Museum in Rennes-le-Château.


 


 

Is the pillar Visigothic? Opinion is sharply divided over this matter. Not everyone believes that the pillar is Visigothic. Antoine Fagès, in an article for the Bulletin of the Society for Scientific Study of the Aude in 1909 (From Campagne-Les-Bains to Rennes-le-Château, Volume XX, pp.128-133), claimed that Saunière told him it came from his church and that it was one of two pillars that supported the original Main Altar.

There is a resemblance between a Visigothic pillar in the museum of Narbonne and the one in Rennes-le-Château.


 


 

Did the pillar originate from Saunière’s church? This is a question that nobody can really answer – Saunière may simply have obtained the pillar (whether authentic or a copy) from somewhere else – if there were two pillars in Saunière’s church, what happened to the other one? And where was the pillar located between 1887 – when the church first began to be renovated – and 1891 when Saunière decided to use it as part of his Shrine to Notre Dame de Lourdes? Where in the entire region of the Aude can anyone find a Main Altar in a church that is supported by two Visigothic pillars?

Without certain answers to these basic questions, nobody can really accept on face value the claim that the pillar originally came from Saunière’s church – a pillar that was never hollow to contain "parchments" to begin with.



 

PRANKSTERS AND FAKE PARCHMENTS

Pierre Plantard first began creating phantom right-wing occult associations during the late 1930s – later during the 1940s the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered together with the Copper Scroll that allegedly represented Solomon’s Treasure placed in 64 hiding places – Plantard noticed that this story was extremely popular in France and when he first heard about the story of Bérenger Saunière as told by Noël Corbu, decided to transpose the popularity of the Dead Sea Scrolls literature in France over Corbu’s allegations relating to Bérenger Saunière and Rennes-le-Château – the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls became the discovery of the "parchments in the hollow pillar" and the discovery of the Copper Scroll became the "treasure of Bérenger Saunière". Correspondence dating from the 1960s between Pierre Plantard and Philippe de Chérisey reveal this very strategy and motive – this correspondence is in the possession of French researcher Jean-Luc Chaumeil.

The two "parchments" are written in Latin bearing uncials copied from the Merovingian period – the text in the small "parchment" is from Luke chapter 6 being a copied extract from the Codex Bezae (originally identified by Wieland Willker) from Dictionnaire de la Bible, Edited by Fulcran Vigouroux and published by Letouzey et Ané, Paris, between 1895-1912; while the text in the large "parchment" is from John chapter 12 being a copied extract from a late 19th century version of the vulgate by John Wordsworth and Henry J. White entitled Novum Testamentum Domini Nostri Iesu Christi latine secundum sancti Hieronymi, published by Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1889-1954 (originally identified by Bill Putnam).

The Latin texts in both "parchments" contain numerous spelling mistakes showing that their creator did not understand that particular language. The books by Fulcran Vigouroux and John Wordsworth & Henry J. White are both contained in the Bibliothèque Nationale of Paris, France.

The small "parchment" contains references to PS, to Sion and to Dagobert II – reflecting Plantard’s 1960s Priory of Sion agenda – that he was the direct descendant of the Merovingian King, Dagobert II. This is reinforced by a hidden message in the small "parchment" that reads "This treasure belongs to King Dagobert II and to Sion, and he is there, dead".

The large "parchment" is considered by the believers to be a work of sophisticated genius because of the complex methods deployed by its creator by which to encode and decode the hidden message into the Latin text of John chapter 12: a combination of the Viginère Table technique and the Knights’ Tour – but the large "parchment" bears all the hallmarks of being a forgery by Philippe de Chérisey for various reasons.

Quite apart from the Latin spelling mistakes contained in the large "parchment", there is also a unique Pierre Plantard trademark contained in two crucial areas: in one of the two keywords with which to decode the hidden message; and within the hidden message itself – the additional letters PS PRAECUM that makes up the message.

Philippe de Chérisey used letters found on an epitaph in a diagram of a gravestone from a 1906 French article, Excursion du 25 Juin 1905 à Rennes-le-Château by M. Elie Tisseyre, published in the Bulletin of the Society for Scientific Study of the Aude, Volume 17 (17th year), pp98-103 (1906):


 

 
 
 
 
CT GIT NOBLe M
ARIE DE NEGRe
DARLES DAME
DHAUPOUL De
BLANCHEFORT
AGEE DE SOIX
ANTE SEpT ANS
DECEDEE LE
XVII JANVIER
MDCOLXXXI
REQUIES CATIN
PACE


 

That he transformed into the following message:

BERGERE PAS DE TENTATION QUE POUSSIN TENIERS GARDENT LA CLEF PAX DCLXXXI PAR LA CROIX ET CE CHEVAL DE DIEU J'ACHEVE CE DAEMON DE GARDIEN A MIDI POMMES BLEUES

As stated previously, the above message is not an exact anagram of the epitaph found on the gravestone – it contains nine extra letters: Plantard’s unique trademark words – PS PRAECUM.

The epitaph on the gravestone can plainly be traced back to the 1906 French article by Elie Tisseyre.

The BERGERE PAS DE TENTATION message – because it contains the nine extra letters PS PRAECUM – shows it to be the work of Philippe de Chérisey: the BERGERE PAS DE TENTATION message is therefore a modern creation and not directly related to the epitaph found in the 1906 French article.

Did Philippe de Chérisey ever claim to be the creator of the BERGERE PAS DE TENTATION message? The answer to this question is simply "yes" – towards the end of his life in a letter to Geoffrey Basil Smith, Philippe de Chérisey wrote the following:


 


 

"Yes, I am the author of the message "BERGERE PAS DE TENTATION" quoted on pages 20-21 [cf, in Elizabeth Van Buren’s book, The Sign of the Dove]. My conclusions have been registrated at an attorney at law and by my novel "Circuit" deposited in the Bibliothèque Nationale".

If the hidden message in the large "parchment" was composed by Philippe de Chérisey, then the countless number of discussions on internet forums, website hypotheses, and conjectures by the believers that Philippe de Chérisey wasn’t smart enough or did not know properly how to operate his own encoding/decoding technique suddenly becomes superfluous – the message itself is the primary factor concerned and not the encoding/decoding process that was used to place the message into the Latin text in the large "parchment" riddled with Latin spelling mistakes.

If Philippe de Chérisey got it wrong about the encoding/decoding technique then it was only because he did not preserve his original notes and he simply could not fully and precisely remember in the future exactly how the complex process that he himself created worked.

When the "parchments" were first created during the early 1960s neither Pierre Plantard nor Philippe de Chérisey could have imagined in their wildest dreams that what they were doing would one day develop into the extraordinary success and popularity that it has become today.

The next thing that exposes the large "parchment" to be a modern creation is the fact that the Latin text of John chapter 12 contained in the "parchment" does not date from before 1889 – it originated from the version of the vulgate published by John Wordsworth and Henry J. White – yet the encoding/decoding technique used for the large "parchment" has omitted the letter W from the process to make it appear that the large "parchment" was truly ancient and authentic dating from before the 18th century when the letter W was not used in the French alphabet (from the period of Abbé Bigou, who was first attributed with the authorship of the "parchments" in the earliest Priory Documents by Pierre Plantard and Philippe de Chérisey). Here lies Philippe de Chérisey’s major blunder – he overlooked the fact that the Latin text he copied into the large "parchment" only dated from the late 19th century when the letter W was commonly used in the French alphabet!


 

The decoding of the hidden message in the Latin text of the large "parchment" involves a process whereby the letter W has to be omitted giving the impression that it was created before the 18th century when the letter W was not used in the French alphabet.

However, the Latin text contained in the large "parchment" dates from 1899, when the letter W was commonly used in the French alphabet.


 

That Philippe de Chérisey used a 25-letter and not a 26-letter alphabet for the encoding/decoding process for placing the message into the large "parchment" can be established from his own account in Pierre et Papier ("Stone and Paper"):


 


 

"…my grid decipherment has only 25 letters whereas the French alphabet has 26 – I have left out W. Was I cheating? No, not at all, as I drew up Documents I and II in semi-uncial handwriting to give the impression that they dated from an historical period when the letter W was unknown to the Western world as U and V were used instead."

The encoding/decoding technique itself can be used as even stronger evidence that the large "parchment" is a modern creation – as Henry Lincoln himself wrote in The Holy Place (1991)"Without a full knowledge of the keys and system of encoding, the cipher is unbreakable."

Codes are intended to be broken as they are passed on – but only one person can possibly break the code in the large "parchment" and nobody else: its creator. As cryptography expert Professor John Gordon commented, when informed that the decoding/encoding technique required the discovery of 128 random letters and their subsequent transformation by five successive ciphers – two of which used keys, fragments of inscriptions on obscure gravestones; in effect, the message was encoded six times: "Nobody is going to discover that, are they? That sort of settles it in my mind – if you can find anybody who'd have anything to gain out of decoding this, then my suggestion would be it’s a hoax on their part". (Featured on The Discovery Channel documentary, Conspiracies On Trial: The Da Vinci Code, broadcast on 10 April 2005.)
 

HISTORY OF THE FAKE PARCHMENTS

Philippe de Chérisey’s faked "parchments" were first referred to in the Priory Document ascribed to Madeleine Blancassall entitled Les Descendants Mérovingiens ou l’énigme du Razès wisigoth which was deposited in the Bibliothèque Nationale of Paris on 26 August 1965. The document concerned was evidently written on Plantard’s typewriter with the lettering on its cover produced on Plantard’s stencil-kit.


 


 

Many references in the document’s text show that it was a work of Pierre Plantard; for example statements like "the Plantards cultivated vines from Jerusalem to Saint-John Le Blanc for the Prieuré de Sion". But what makes this Priory Document stand apart from all other Priory Documents is that it contains the decoded BERGERE PAS DE TENTATION message from the large "parchment" – the decoded message appeared before the actual "parchment" itself in Gérard de Sède’s 1967 book L’Or de Rennes.


 


 

These "parchments" were first presented as genuine by all original parties concerned – by Philippe de Chérisey, Pierre Plantard, Gérard de Sède and Sophie de Sède. However, following the publication of L’Or de Rennes in 1967, Gérard de Sède failed to honour his agreement by sharing the book royalties with the others whose names were contained in the Book Contract, and this led to a split whereby Pierre Plantard and Philippe de Chérisey took legal action against Gérard de Sède. They had every right to do so because Gerard de Sède was profiting financially from their material. It stopped short of going to Court – but that it involved legal action can be demonstrated by the existence of the following letter to Philippe de Chérisey from his solicitor dating from 1967:


 


 

Dear Sir,
I am in receipt of your letter and I am writing at once to Maison Juillard and to M. de Sède to object to the use, without authorization, of the two parchments which you made and lodged in my office. These are in the book L'or de Rennes.
Yours faithfully
Maître Boccon-Gibod

Here is reference to Philippe de Chérisey having admitted to creating the two "parchments" allegedly discovered by Bérenger Saunière in 1891 – and he wanted to have them legally removed from Gérard de Sède’s book because he wasn’t being paid for having produced them – the "parchments" were the strongest selling point to Gérard de Sède’s book – Philippe de Chérisey repeated his admission several times during his lifetime in various Priory Documents, in various interviews as well as in various correspondence to various people.

For example, in 1974, Philippe de Chérisey wrote to the author, Pierre Jarnac:


 


 

29 January 1974
P.S. Do you know that the famous manuscripts supposedly discovered by the Abbé Saunière were composed in 1965? And that I took responsibility for being the author?
Yours sincerely
Philippe de Chérisey.


 

Philippe de Chérisey’s handwritten document Pierre et Papier ("Stone and Paper") was composed during the early 1970s (first mentioned in Pégase Number 5, October 1973) – where Philippe de Chérisey made statements like "I am indeed the author of this enigma" and "I am quite confident about declaring myself the only begetter of this hoax and that if, today, I am only a half-successful hoaxer, I will soon be a completely successful one"; and further describing the whole escapade as "an enjoyable little prank".

On 28 June 1971 Philippe de Chérisey deposited his Priory Document entitled Circuit in the Bibliothèque Nationale of Paris – again repeating that he was the creator of the "parchments" and including a partial demonstration of the decoding technique to the large "parchment".

In Circuit, Philippe de Chérisey stated that although the words "BERGERE" and "TENTATION" in his message dealt with the Shepherds of Arcadia by Nicolas Poussin and to The Temptations of St. Anthony by David Teniers respectively, he changed tack by declaring that the "parchments" did not predate the French Revolution (no longer to be the works of the Abbé Bigou) but dated from the year 1861 and the lock to the "CLEF" held by the two painters was now lost but could be found again in the period of the "third painter" – Eugene Delacroix – in particular in his painting in St Sulpice, Heliodorus Driven from the Temple (painted between 1854-1861). Philippe de Chérisey also wrote in Circuit "...on January 17th the profile of the horse [in the painting by Delacroix in St Sulpice] looks like a geographical relief of the map of Rennes-les-Bains and the route to the treasure". The reference to "POMMES BLEUES" was to a stained-glass window in the Chapelle des Anges in Saint-Sulpice in Paris, mysteriously broken and replaced in 1900, but in place when Delacroix inaugurated the chapel, and depicting Adam and Eve expelled from Paradise by a blue apple. The word "CHEVAL DE DIEU" in the message referred to the Horse that was driving out Heliodorus from the Jerusalem Temple.

Although Philippe de Chérisey provided additional interpretations to his BERGERE PAS DE TENTATION message – none of it was really contradictory but rather supplemental in nature –the basic elements that inspired the creation of the "parchments" were still there – the painting by Heliodorus was to do with Solomon’s Treasure and this "treasure" was transposed over the region of Rennes-le-Château. It has to be remembered also that nobody before Pierre Plantard and Philippe de Chérisey named the statue of the Devil in Saunière’s Church as "Asmodeus" – the guardian of Solomon’s Treasure. Quoting Philippe de Chérisey from Pierre et Papier again: "It was Asmodeus who guarded the treasures of King Solomon and who guarded them so well that, one day, he actually threw the King down the steps of the Temple by his hair because he presented himself at the treasury without the seal that acted as his pass".


 

In Le Cercle d’Ulysse by "Jean Delaude" (1977), Philippe de Chérisey wrote:

"The so-called manuscripts presented by Gérard de Sède are false. The original was fabricated in 1961 by Marquis Philippe de Chérisey and deposited in May 1962 with Maître Boccon-Gibot. Also, Gérard de Sède only possesses a photocopy reproduced in his book L’OR DE RENNES. Better still, this same marquis spiced up his joke by publishing in June 1971 (with a legal deposit in the National Library) a work on Rennes, with the decipherment of the original. This work bears the name CIRCUIT."


 

And later, in L’Enigme de Rennes (1978), Philippe de Chérisey wrote:

"When I visited Rennes-les-Bains in 1961 and learned that, after the Abbé’s death, the town hall of Rennes-le-Château had burned down (along with its archives), I took advantage of the opportunity to invent a story that the Mayor had made a copy of the parchments discovered by the Abbé."

Also in L’Enigme de Rennes :

"What happened next far exceeded my wildest dreams! Today visitors to RENNES-LE-CHATEAU are encouraged to admire, at the home of Monsieur BUTHION, the restaurateur who keeps the Hôtel de la Tour, two superb enlargements of photocopies of MY ENCIPHERED TEXTS!"



 

During the 1970s Pierre Plantard and Philippe de Chérisey made the acquaintance of Jean-Luc Chaumeil, and they both entrusted him with the original "parchments" that were used in Gérard de Sède’s 1967 book L’Or de Rennes – together with the handwritten document by Philippe de Chérisey Pierre et Papier that contained the encoding and decoding technique to the large "parchment" – as well as the confession that de Chérsiey was the creator of both "parchments". This material was given to Jean-Luc Chaumeil because of a book that he was preparing at that time – Le Trésor du Triangle d’Or, published in 1979 – Plantard and de Chérisey were hoping that Jean-Luc Chaumeil would use their material in his book as part of their revenge campaign against Gérard de Sède. Jean-Luc Chaumeil, as it happened, failed to publish any of this material in his book – but he did produce transcripts of several interviews with Philippe de Chérisey where he admitted again that he was the creator of the "parchments".



 

HENRY LINCOLN

At the same time as Jean-Luc Chaumeil was publishing Le Trésor du Triangle d’Or, Henry Lincoln appeared on the scene presenting the "parchments" as being genuine all over again without providing any of the information relating to Philippe de Chérisey’s admissions or to the split between Pierre Plantard, Philippe de Chérisey and Gérard de Sède. It was within this context – because of Henry Lincoln – that the revised claim relating to the "parchments" was introduced – that they were "good copies of originals".

In 1996 the BBC2 Timewatch documentary series showed The History of a Mystery that finally revealed the original "parchments" that were in Jean-Luc Chaumeil’s possession and were used in Gérard de Sède’s 1967 book, L’Or de Rennes. Of especial interest was Pierre Plantard’s handwritten annotation in red ink found on the top right-hand corner of the small parchment:


 


 

The annotated French text by Pierre Plantard translates as:

Photocopy – this is the "original" Philippe de Cherisey "fake document" that Gérard de Sède reproduced in his book L'Or de Rennes.

The believers make a lot out of the word "Photocopy" – but the words "original" and "fake document" are also included in the annotation. The original "parchment" is essentially a photocopy and a fake – the original "parchments" were the pieces of Tracing Paper that Philippe de Chérisey took with him to the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris with which to copy the Latin Uncials from the Merovingian Period and then to try and place them into correct order when copying the Latin texts found in the books by Fulcran Vigouroux and John Wordsworth & Henry J. White – there never were any "original parchments" to begin with – and the pieces of Tracing Paper have naturally not survived for various obvious reasons – not least the fact that the "parchments" were originally presented as genuine in the earliest Priory Documents and in Gérard de Sède’s 1967 book, L’Or de Rennes. There never were any "original parchments" in the first place as the believers claim.



 

It was also alleged that the "original parchments" were kept in a safe-deposit box at Lloyds Bank Europe, London – being the "property" of Sir Thomas Frazer and Captain Roland Stansmore (which later transpired to be Roland Stanmore Nutting, in relation to "parchments" that were being circulated by Pierre Plantard through Louis Vazart, since then shown to be worthless forgeries themselves).

I managed to trace Sir Thomas Frazer’s only son, Thomas Athol Frazer, during the 1980s, and this was what he had to say about the matter (dated 20 August 1983):

After your previous letters, and having the photocopies which you enclosed, I sent these to my solicitor, who was one of my father's executors, to see if he could throw any light on the matter. He says that they ring no bells as far as he is concerned, and he has no recollection of hearing anyone by the name of Roland Stanmore. He has been in touch with Lloyd's Bank International (into which I gather Lloyd's Bank Europe has now been absorbed, and received the following reply: "In accordance with your request we made a search on our present and past records and regret to advise that we cannot trace having maintained a dossier in the above name (Sir Thomas Frazer, O.B.E.) or jointly with Captain Roland Stansmore. We are also unable to trace a record of a safe deposit box or any details in connection with the documents to which you refer".



 

PRESENT DAY BELIEVERS IN THE FAKE PARCHMENTS
Patrick Mensior

Needless to say, the belief in Philippe de Chérisey’s fake non-existent "parchments" as if they were really "discovered by Bérenger Saunière" continues to the present day – and despite all the evidence relating to their being originally part of a hoax involving Pierre Plantard and Philippe de Chérisey during the 1960s – the belief in Philippe de Chérisey’s fake "parchments" is as strong in France as it is anywhere else in the world. Although Pierre Plantard and his Priory of Sion is regarded as a laughing-stock in France, the "parchments" themselves are treated quite seriously by many "researchers" and tremendous care is exercised by the believers to make it appear as if they were not originally part of the Plantard-de Chérisey hoax.

French author Patrick Mensior is one example. Patrick Mensior believes that Pierre Plantard and Philippe de Chérisey were entrusted with the care of the "parchments" by person/body uknown, and that they did not really understand what they had in their possession. The fact that Philippe de Chérisey never mentioned the Codex Bezae in relation to the small "parchment" is turned into some sort of "evidence" that the "parchments" originated from person/body unknown and are therefore really genuine, and because Philippe de Chérisey copied the Latin text from the Codex Bezae – itself originating from Southern France – into the small "parchment", the Codex Bezae itself becomes part of the Rennes-le-Château "mystery" involving the Abbé Bérenger Saunière.

Of course, Patrick Mensior is unable to provide any independent documentation or any independent references to demonstrate that the fake "parchments" ever existed outside of the context of Pierre Plantard and Philippe de Chérisey – but in order for a belief system in a Rennes-le-Château "mystery" to exist, treating the "parchments" as being genuine must be Paramount – no "Saunière parchments", no "Rennes-le-Château mystery". In the end, what Patrick Mensior believes in is something that he cannot see and touch – and in something that has ultimately never existed.

What was once originally a Pierre Plantard ego-trip has now developed into "evidence for a mystery" being detached from its true original context and true intention – the promotion of Pierre Plantard’s Priory of Sion.


 


 

Fake Parchment based upon another Fake Parchment.
From Bloodline-The Movie.


priory-of-sion.com