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Brian Kannard

The church of Saint Marie Madeleine

September 21, 2007 | Comment icon 3 comments

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Most aspects of the life and construction works of Bérenger Saunière have been analyzed by Rennes-le-Chateau enthusiasts ad infinitum. The driving force behind our fascination with Saunière is that his unusual behavior and building projects had some specific purpose. No matter what theory you hold to the RLC mysteries, most believe that Saunière was trying to leave clues behind for later generations to solve his enigma. One of these sets of clues is found in Saunière’s 1896 restoration of the Church of Saint Marie Madeleine. Saunière oversaw every aspect of the restoration himself. As part of the restoration, Saunière replaced the Church’s Stations of the Cross. The molds for the fourteen Stations were purchased from a religious art dealer in Toulouse. However, the Stations were modified somewhat and painted at Saunière’s direction. The modifications and painting differences can be seen when comparing these Stations to those at the Jean d'Alcas church. Ben Hammontt’s site provides an excellent side by side comparison of the two.

I was reminded of one such modification this week while reading Michael Baigent’s The Jesus Papers. Baigent reminds us that in Station VIII, there is a woman beside a child “wearing a Scottish tartan robe”. (A photo of the station can be found here, scroll down for a close up) Baigent also made the same claim in Holy Blood, Holy Grail. This claim has become a rather disjointedly accepted fact in the Grail world.

If Saunière directed a tartan to be painted on this Station, there had to be some significance attached to it. One common explanation is that the tartan is a reference to Scottish Rite Freemasonry. Tartans are used as a part of the Masonic organization Knights of Saint Andrews. However, tartans worn by this group are unique to each jurisdiction. It is unlikely that Saunière was trying to make this connection since there is no single tartan that represents the organization. No where else in Masonry, can I recall any ritual references to tartans.

Scottish tartans are the hallmarks of specific clans or families. A single clan/family might have a number of different tartans; each tartan is uniquely linked to that group. So was Saunière trying to point us in the direction of a Scottish family via the Station VIII tartan?

After a few hours of pouring through on line tartan guides, I could find no credible match. Since light blue is an unusual background color for a tartan, I contacted a number of tartan manufacturers to see if they could identify a tartan with these properties.
The folks at Lochcarron, Kilts of Caledonia, and The Scotch Corner graciously gave me a number a possibilities. Ancient Anderson, Musselburg, Bell of the Borders, and the Princess Diana Memorial Tartan topped the lists, but none matched the Station VIII tartan. Going back to the photo of Station VIII, I thought I’d return to the original premise.

I realized then that the child is not swaddled in a tartan at all. One thing that all tartans have in common is that they have horizontal and vertical intersecting lines of weave. Look closely at the depiction of the cloth around the child’s leg. The colors are all vertical. Around the child’s shoulders the color stripes turn horizontal. This is because in the mold, the cloth has twisted around the child’s shoulder.

Whoever painted this station was trying to get the perspective of the lines correct, not attempting to display a Scottish tartan. You can do a simple experiment with a rectangular piece of lined paper. Orient the paper with the lines vertically and twist one end up 90 degrees. The lines on the twisted portion of the paper are now horizontal. The only thing that has changed is the perspective of the line’s orientation.

So what was Saunière up to with the stripped cloth on the child in Station VIII? I suspect nothing more adding some detail to the mold. This just goes to prove that sometimes we see what we want to, even though the evidence is staring us right in the face.

Brian Kannard is a 32nd Degree Scottish Rite Mason that lives in Nashville, Tennessee with his wife and fellow Grail Seeker Laura, and his son Robert. His keen interest in topics on the Holy Grail, the Knights Templar, and Freemasonry are also chronicled his blog Grail Seekers. Brian can be contacted here at Unexplained Mysteries under the user name of Grail Seekers. Sources available upon request.

Comments (3)

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Comment icon #1 Posted by Madeleine 16 years ago
Errrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrm i hate to correct you but it's the curch of Mary Magdalene normally i wouldn't but my mum picked Madeleine as my name becsue it's so un-religous
Comment icon #2 Posted by Grail Seekers 16 years ago
Errrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrm i hate to correct you but it's the curch of Mary Magdalene normally i wouldn't but my mum picked Madeleine as my name becsue it's so un-religous Well, that's true. The church is dedicated to Mary Magdalene. However, I used the French spelling of "Marie Madeleine" in the article since that's how this particular church is commonly referred to. Thanks for the input.
Comment icon #3 Posted by nettysavalon 16 years ago
Ok maybe we just have to accept that the tartan pattern was just a pattern and nothing to do with the childs herratage?Or maybe the cloth was given to the kid by a stranger who passed by (he happenend to be scottish) and gave him a peace of his kilt,since it was winter and the poor child was freezing its bum of??

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