Abbé François-Pierre Cauneille, village priest of Rennes-les-Bains in 1780
(born in 1754, date of death unknown.)

To my faithful servant and his descendants I bequeath these lines. May they throw them away when they cease to be of any interest. A copy of the whole text is in the possession of Monsieur de la Vauguyon, the French Ambassador to Spain.


God bless the fall from a horse that was suffered by Father de la Caille (1713-1762) during his journey to Rennes-les-Bains! Was this happy accident not well worth it, given that it gave us a chance to get to know this learned man who was honoured throughout France, this zealous Christian who should really have lost his sight (and some would say his life) through his habit of always looking through his spectacles simultaneously at his notebook with his right eye and the sky with his left eye. Other countries envied us for having such a person among us. The adjustments that he made to the zero meridian described by Piccard, and more particularly to the Dunkirk-Paris section, earned him the admiration of Frederick the Great, who should have given him the task of constructing Unter den Linden, the zero meridian of all German territories. Our country could not however do without him. The Church then took him on as a collaborator on its ‘Art de vérifier les dates’ [The Art of Verifying dates], the fundamental work of Dom Lobineau to which our descendants owe the existence of a history of France and, therefore, a history of Europe as well.

The fact is that a knowledge of history and geography are indissolubly linked with a knowledge of the stars. One could therefore say that an astronomy that does not tend towards astrology is but the ruin of the soul.

To the notes that follow, which I owe entirely to Father de la Caille, I have added some comments provided by Fouillée and by the memoirs of Abbé Delmas drawn up in 1709, but my gratitude towards the former is only increased by the light that he has shed on works whose significance I would never have seen if left to my own efforts.

François-Pierre Cauneille
Curé of Rennes-les-Bains

A priest, because he has to concern himself as part of his job with both Heaven and Earth, has a duty to meditate on the relationship between astronomy and geography. It's all very well saying that the French zero meridian is an "imaginary" line, but one immediately asks where this "imaginary" line comes from and where it goes to. Here we propose to examine in the light of our rational understanding what poetic instinct has never forgotten: innate knowledge demands that we view it with infinite rigour. For if a rational geography is content with vaguely knowing that the zero meridian passes through Paris and Carcassonne, a poetic geography would insist that one actually visit the exact places that it passes through in order that the map be brought to life and experienced for the greater glory of Creation.

Out of the forty remarkable points that the French zero meridian passes through we shall deal here with only thirteen, leaving the curious reader to examine for himself the other twenty-seven in order that he may be fully persuaded of the spirit of mischievousness that can be discerned in the physical geography of humanity.


The zero meridian entered France via Till Eulenspiegel and was then moved in the year 1670 following the work of the geographer Piccard. Louis XIV was anxious to establish on this Flemish territory a French community which, thanks to Colbert, formed a little country within a country, a sort of seed-bed for seafaring folk.

The history of Fort Mardyck is full of proud traditions, dating back to Julius Caesar embarking for Britain and handing over his command to Sulpitius the Red, from which is perhaps derived the name Blooteland, "land of blood", by which the Flemish still call it.

Christianized in 646 by Saint Eligius, it prides itself on having the first steeple surmounted by a cross ever to be seen in the north of Europe. In 911 the Peace of Gisors led to the baptism here of Rollo the Norman and his subsequent marriage to the daughter of Charles the Simple. The zero meridian at that time ran through a primitive lighthouse, the church and the rue du Gibet [where the gallows were].

In 1168 Fort Mardyck was the first town to be declared a "ville franche" [a town chartered by the King], a privilege solemnly renewed in 1297 by Philip the Fair. When the Count of Flanders was proclaimed King of Castile and Aragon in 1504 the town returned to the Spanish crown until 1662 when it was returned to France even thought the reconquest was achieved with the help of Cromwell. Responsibility for it then passed to the Marquis de Monpesat, who held Dunkirk and whose orders were to detach Fort Mardyk from the territories of the châtelain of Bergues, which were under English rule.

The restoration of this region to French influence in 1670 was a great success. The fishermen of the region, having been granting the privilege of raising geese there, maintained close economic links with the interior, and we know that this example was followed by a community in Lower Canada which still exists (1).

It was in 1679 that Vauban replaced the old lighthouse with a more modern structure, the lamp of which was covered with a small lead dome surmounted by a golden fleur-de-lys, the compass-North of which can still be seen today. This building was demolished in 1718 under the terms of the Treaty of Utrecht.


Sixticapella is the original name of this place. The word means "hexagonal chapel", i.e. a scale-model of the hexagon of the nation of France. Today the meridian is still indicated by the "Cruys Bellaert" or "Cross of the Little Bells", a Celtic boundary-stone which was Christianized and dedicated to Saint Anthony the Hermit, whose feast-day is 17 January and which has given rise to the "Rozenhood" or "Rose Hat", a dance performed on the meridian. The dancing takes place beneath a crown of roses hung in the air. With the Rosenhood is associated the Roze-papa or Reuze-papa of Dunkirk as well as all the giants of the North who have received the name of Reuze but who tend to have their celebrations at the time of the summer solstice (2).


The meridian passes through an old grave and a lime-tree.


The meridian is marked by a stone statue which the Infanta Isabella of Spain embellished with a red thread and a golden girdle.


Here you can still see the place where St. Martin cut his red cloak in two, thus giving the Celtic region its structure. His tradition of miracle-working, inherited from St. Hilary, has been transmitted to us by the chronicler Sulpitius Severus via Saint Sulpitius of Bourges, from whom it was adopted by Saint Gregory of Tours. The presence of Sulpitius Severus and Saint Sulpitius of Bourges on the zero meridian reminds us of Sulpitius the Red, whom we encountered when we were discussing Fort Mardyck. The name of "Severus", denoting a separation, is itself an allusion to the cutting in two of the cloak by Saint Martin.

This cutting of the cloak has sometimes been misinterpreted in excessively concrete terms as if it had something to do with the establishment of a territorial or social frontier. "Was it really so cold that winter", asks Sancho Panza in Don Quixote,"that Saint Martin needed to keep the other half to himself?" And we can quote here the popular Spanish song:

San Martin, santo francés,
Partie la capa con Dios;
Entera se la habria dado
Si hubiera sido espanol.

Saint Martin, a French saint,
Shared his cloak with God;
He would have given all of it
If he had been Spanish.

Even though Amiens Cathedral is not located precisely on the meridian it is worth examining the relationship between the "Beau Dieu", the rose-bowl and the bowl of lilies in the portico. A beautiful text by Saint Jerome prescribes the following meditation:

"He stands in the doorway because it is through Him that we come to the Father, without Whom we shall never enter into the City of God. A judgement will admit the just, deeming unjust those who are not within the doorway."


Here the zero meridian coincides with the trail of blood from the severed head of Saint Denis, as also with the wine from his grapevine at Montmartre, a name that has something in common with Mars, Martin, Mercury and martyr. Saint Denis is also the location of the Merovingian necropolis founded by Dagobert I as a successor to the necropolis at Saint Germain des Prés, which neither the Carolingians nor the Capetians entered. On the tomb of Dagobert I you will notice the image of Osiris, the Egyptian Sun God.


Here there is an ambiguous situation regarding the meridian, since you have to trace simultaneously the line that we have followed above and then pass through the cave of the devil Vauvert (on which the Observatory rests) and also find the church of Saint Sulpice on the vertical plane of Saint Germain des Prés.

The meridian of the Observatory is mentioned by Rabelais in the story about the bet that he proposes between the devil Vauvert and the valet of Saint Martin, where the Devil is understood to mean an occult science.

The meridian of Saint Sulpice is found 200-300 metres to the East of the first meridian, and is peculiar in that it is inscribed in the paving by means of a metal line which extends to the obelisk of the gnomon and which must then be traced northwards until it marks out the Merovingian necropolis of Saint Germain des Prés. This obviously raises the question of a possible conflict between the "royal" meridian based on the Observatory and the "clerical" meridian based on Saint Sulpice.

To deal only with the zero meridian of Saint Sulpice: you must note the care that has been taken over piercing a hole in the southern stained-glass window, a hole which is so positioned that at noon on the equinox the Sun shines for several seconds on the copper disc in the choir. This disc was formerly moistened with vinegar before the office of Tenebrae and therefore at noon gave off a greenish glow, the last beverage consumed by Christ on the cross (3), and the colour of Raphael.


Here is found the centre of the French landmass and the middle of the French section of the zero meridian.

This place was consecrated by the Kings of the World known as the Bituriges, who welcomed Vercingetorix as a war-chieftain. Battle was actually joined further to the East, at Avaricum, where today the city of Bourges is to found, the city's name being a corruption of "Bituriges" into "bourgeois". Saint Ursin itself was the huge camp where 40,000 knights assembled and where the headquarters of the general staff was to be found, but there is also a legend of an underground passageway running from La Chapelle Saint-Ursin via the Faubourg d'Auron to the house of Jacques Coeur in Bourges.

Gregory of Tour mentions Saint Ursin as the first Bishop of Bourges, and therefore the predecessor of Saint Sulpitius.

The central location of La Chapelle Saint-Ursin make it possible to superimpose upon it simultaneously both of the hexagonal emblems, i.e. the fleur de lys and the Seal of Solomon. This can be seen from the fact that a Jewish community established itself there in the 6th century and subsequently flourished. This community possessed the basin of red jasper decorated with gadroons which came from the Temple of Solomon.


Here we find the earliest of the Black Virgins of France, known as Notre Dame des Miracles thanks to the power that it gives the faithful to transport themselves in space and time. The legend of Mauriac says that two Crusaders captured by the Moors and loaded with chains miraculously found themselves in the local chapel. The same legend is found in the Acta Sanctorum, which locates the Crusaders in Saint Germain des Prés.

This Black Virgin was brought there in 507 by Theodechild, the daughter of Clovis, who lit a candle there, the flame of which was only extinguished last year (1791).


In 1270 a man should have drowned in the gorges of Belcatel (through which the meridian passes). Elzéar of Sabran jumped in to save him, while Jeanne de Villeneuve, his cousin, saw a red rose falling and, raising her head, an immense rope which she threw to the two men for them to clutch onto. Jeanne de Villeneuve became a nun and took the name of Roseline (meaning "red line") [or more correctly, "pink line"], under which name she was canonized.


Saint Colombe, who travelled from Spain accompanied by a bear, took up residence here in the year 201 and lived there for twenty-eight years, receiving manna from heaven served upon a shield. Veneration of Saint Colombe was instituted by Saint Sulpitius when he was master of the Palace School of King Dagobert II. He it was who dedicated the abbey of Colombies to this saint.


The rock of Campsoleil near the village of Lafontaine follows the zero meridian. It was here that the "canis Domini", the Dog of God, known as St. Dominic saw the red star descend and received the instructions to found the Order of Preachers that bears his name. In a neighbouring grotto the saint, annoyed by the mischief of an ape and by the need to hold a candle, invented the rosary.


My own parish. A beautiful avenue planted with trees traces out the zero meridian, leading to the Source d'Amour, so-called because of the bitterness of its water which cures heart trouble.

If you follow the zero meridian out of France towards the south you encounter three remarkable points.


A suburb of Barcelona. A place of exile and gathering for non-juring priests. It was here that there died my colleague Bigou, curé of Rennes-le-Château. RIP.


The zero meridian passes between Majorca and Menorca. Joinville tells us that the ship of Saint Louis, when it was crossing this line, picked up there a sailor who was swimming. When the crew expressed astonishment that he could have survived a shipwreck he said that he had been, "ordered to Notre Dame de Vauvert" who had "lifted him up by the shoulders from the moment he had fallen until the moment the King could rescue him".

A legacy of plays on words seems to have turned Notre Dame de Vauvert into Notre Dame de Verdelot, who formed the object of a cult in the diocese of Meaux, where her statue was of walnut . The Revolutionaries, having decided to move the statue, were forced to abandon the attempt as it was so heavy (4).


An Algerian village, in ancient times known as Caesarea. The zero meridian runs through Kubr-er-Rumia, which means "the tomb of the Christian". This is an Egyptian pyramid which was built by Juba II of Mauretania, lord of the Canaries, in honour of his wife Cleopatra, who was not actually Christian but the last sovereign of the line of Ptolemaic Pharaohs (5).


Notes by General David-Leroy

(1) The French society of Fort Mardyck was dissolved in 1824 on the orders of Charles X, as the fishermen had descended into illiteracy and so were no longer capable of governing themselves.

(2) The French Republic takes its nickname of "Marianne" from the Marianne Canal which formerly joined Mardyck, Petite Synthe and Dunkirk.

(3) The reputation for ugliness bestowed on the church of Saint Sulpice has always had the aim of distracting attention away from its prodigious interest, which goes far beyond the "mystery of the cathedrals". If Saint Sulpice is ugly then that is probably due to the multiple plans that meant that it was constantly being modified during its construction, in other words as a result of the pursuit of the most complex symbol which, unfortunately, remains inaccessible.

If we remain in the Romantic Era for a moment, certain phenomena have attracted the attention of historians. It was while looking at the towers of Saint Sulpice that Flora Tristan had the revelation that they had been built with charitable donations, which she then made her personal quest on behalf of the people. It was at Saint Sulpice also that Flora Tristan, the grandmother of the painter Gauguin, invented the famous Christian formula, "Workers of the world unite". It was once again at Saint Sulpice that the conspirators of the "Jeune France" movement agreed that "El Hierro" would be the rallying cry for the Battle of Hernani.

And what was going through Madame Victor Hugo's mind when, on those nights when her husband had a "first night" at the theatre, she had guilty meetings there with Sainte-Beuve?

The case of the sculptor Carpeaux seems to be a case of being, as it were, split in two by the two meridians. His home in the Rue de l'Abbaye was located on the golden line of Saint Sulpice, and it was at Saint Sulpice on 15 August 1854 that he prayed to the Virgin to arrange for him to win the Prix de Rome for his "Hector invoking the Gods in favour of Astyanax". However it was on the meridian of the Observatory that Carpeaux enjoyed good fortune on two separate occasions: the first under the porch of Amiens Cathedral, where Napoleon III saw his bas-relief depicting the surrender of Abd-el-Kader. The second was the commission entrusted to him in 1867 to construct the monumental fountain of the Observatory, which illustrates the zero meridian in the Luxembourg Gardens. Between these two events one must situate the famous dialogue of the artist with the scientist Arago:

Carpeaux: "You bunch of astronomers, you don't believe in anything at all".
Arago: "But who lives closer to God than we do?"

It seems that the Carpeaux was the spiritual heir of the sculptor Elschoet, known as "La Chouette" (the owl), who was born in Dunkirk in 1791 and who decorated the Palais de Luxembourg.

(4) PréParadol reports a groundswell of opinion which, in 1859, demanded the return of the Balearic Islands to France because of their location between France and North Africa.

(5) The pyramid of Cherchell is the strangest of all. Recent excavations have revealed a network of corridors that do not lead to any burial sites.