Key to the Sacred Pattern

14 September 2007

A New Perspective on Station of the Cross VIII at Church of Saint Marie Madeleine

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.


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