The tiny commune of Rennes-le-Château has been embroiled in conspiracy and controversy since the early 1950s when a restaurateur named Noël Corbu claimed a priest from the village had discovered a well-known deposit of treasure from the wife of Louis VIII. According to Corbu, the priest, Bérenger Saunière had discovered something of great material wealth and power.
Since the exact nature of the treasure was a mystery, an explanation vacuum was created and conspiracy quickly filled the void. Overnight, the treasure was anything from jewels and gold to some document or proof that would damage the Catholic Church forever. The latter became the focus of visitors to the town, and attracted an opportunistic Parisian named Pierre Plantard.
Plantard used the chance to popularize the Priory of Sion, which was allegedly a 1,000-year-old secret society, founded in Jerusalem during the first Crusade. With the intent of restoring a Merovingian order across Europe and fulfilling prophecies of Nostradamus, the Priory became one of the most discussed orders in the world during the 1960s when Plantard proposed the idea.
Unfortunately, the Priory of Sion was not real. It was never real, and was in fact an elaborate hoax. He created a number of false documents and led the world to believe a secret society existed. These claims were later picked up in bestselling books, and most notably, in The Da Vinci Code. Despite the excitement generated by Plantard’s claims, the order was completely debunked.
However, while the myth was destroyed, the small commune of Rennes-le-Château was changed forever. Thousands of tourists poured into the town, whose native population had hardly reached 100. Excavations were performed looking for treasure and clues to the world’s biggest conspiracy theory. Today, even after all conspiracies have been proven false, hundreds search Sainte Marie-Madeleine Church and other buildings in the village for clues proving the sleepy town is in fact more interesting than it really is.