St Sulpice, headquarters of “Secret France”?
Part 3: Vincent de Paul, secret agent?
Right in front of the church of Notre-Dame-de-Marceille, on the opposite side of the road, sits a pleasure garden, offering along its walls excellent views over the surrounding landscape. Close to the church rises a statue of St Vincent de Paul. The saint’s presence seems to be quite straightforward: the Lazarists were (until quite recently, when a fire swept through their residences, forcing them to relocate) installed next to the church. The Lazarists’ presence on the site goes back to at least the 19th century, witness their presence at the dedication ceremony of Saunière’s church in Rennes-le-Château.
A saintly abduction
de Paul was born on August 24, 1581, in the parish of Pouy, in the diocese
of Dax. He was ordained priest in 1600, when he moved to Toulouse to take
a course in theology there. He attained the degree of “bachelor”
in 1604. But then trouble came his way. This is the official story: “The
following year, Vincent was obliged to go to Marseilles to receive a legacy
which had been left to him by one of his friends, who had died in this city.
Ready to go back to Toulouse, he accepted the offer to return by boat to
Narbonne, but the ship was taken by pirates. De Paul was captured, taken
to Tunis, and initially sold to a fisherman, then to a doctor, after whose
death he was sold to a renegade, a native of Nice in Provence. Vincent was
exposed to all kinds of tests during his captivity; but despite promises,
threats or ill treatment, nothing shook his faith.” Finally, he succeeded
in re-converting his master and his wife, who enabled his return to France,
on a small boat, on June 28, 1607.
That is the official story of Vincent’s trials and tribulations. The ordeal of having to witness alchemy practiced by his master did not change his faith and in the end, it is he who is able to change his captors’ faith. It is sufficient for many to be looked upon as a potential saint, but for de Paul it was but the beginning of his career.
Barely back on Christian soil in Western Europe, Vincent de Paul goes to Rome… to have an audience with the Pope, even before informing friends or family of his safe return from captivity. He is then sent back to France – Paris – where he is received by King Henry IV, and in 1610, obtains the position of chaplain of Marguerite de Valois. He thus becomes acquainted with the Cardinal de Bérulle, who engineers his appointment to the envied function of tutor of the children of count P. E. de Gondi. Later, the Count encourages the king to make Vincent the General Chaplain of Galères.
Statue of Vincent de Paul, inside St Peter's Basilica, Rome
There are several bizarre events here. It is remarkable that Vincent de
Paul immediately goes to Rome, and is able to receive an audience with the
Pope himself. Also, he is then used for a diplomatic mission between the
pope and the French king. It looks suspiciously as if he was fulfilling
a mission for either man… and we can only wonder whether this “abduction”
was merely a convenient cover story that was there to mask another mission
that de Paul performed behind enemy lines. After all, what did de Paul have
to tell the Pope? The story of his abduction would definitely not interest
the Pope personally and the Pope definitely would not charge de Paul to
go and tell the French king of this.
Whatever it is, it is clear that de Paul is hence well “looked after” by the king. It seems that he has fulfilled his mission… whatever that is.
Creating the Lazarists
the following years, Vincent’s religious ambitions grew and grew,
including the creation of a new order of priests. In 1632, the regular canons
of Saint-Victor ceded the priory of Saint-Lazare to him. The place became
the focal point of his congregation and its members became known as “Lazarists”.
The order was a quick success. In 1660, the congregation comprised nearly thirty houses, four hundred priests and one hundred brothers. That same year, the houses become independent from each other, beginning in France, then spreading to Ireland, Scotland and Poland, and even as far as Madagascar.
Unfortunately, De Paul died on September 27, 1660. He was canonised in the 18th century. The work of his Seminarists was taken up by one of his most attentive disciples, Jean-Jaques Olier (born in 1608) and attached to the Parisian church of St Sulpice in 1642. He is one of the rare saints to have been deemed worthy of a gigantic statue inside St Peter’s in the Vatican.
This brief summary of Vincent de Paul’s life seems to be quite straightforward, but at the same time already highlights a period of great mystery: his time in captivity, as a slave, in Arabia. It is bizarre that upon his return from slavery, he is immediately propelled to the highest ranks of the Church and State, with audiences with the Pope and the French king, both making sure that afterwards de Paul wants for nothing. The account of de Paul’s life that we cited above was taken from J. B. Pélagaud (written in 1861, with the authorisation of the Pope), where the events are different from other accepted accounts. First, a small detail: the vessel leaving Marseilles is taken by “pirates”, not Arabs as most biographies have it. Another difference: he learns alchemy from one of his compatriots, not from a Moslem alchemist, as most authors allege. Thirdly, although his “alchemist master” has given up his Christian faith, Vincent is asked to sing for one of his concubines the psalm “Super flumina Babylonys” (on the rivers of Babylon) and “Salve, Regina”. It is stated that the concubine was so affected by this that she converted back to Christianity.
ten months of hardship, Vincent de Paul is finally on his voyage back home.
But rather than flee, he and his former master, who is originally from Nice,
sail back together – and it seems that both meet the vice-legate of
Avignon. His families and friends would have to wait several more weeks
– and some of them months – before they were informed of the
fact that their son and friend was still alive. Allowing people to continue
in the belief that you are dead, is definitely not something “saintly”,
one would think. Brief observation: who is this man with whom de Paul lived?
We do not have a name and that is most odd. We also see how the official
version is slightly different from the “common version”. In
short, is it possible that de Paul went to Arabia to meet a man who seems
to have been a Christian who has gone into exile. De Paul seems to have
convinced this man to return to Europe, and together, they meet the papal
representative in Avignon (not a minor town), and he seems to send de Paul
onwards to Rome.
“From Avignon, Vincent de Paul went to Rome, where he visited the tomb of the Apostles. Towards the end of 1608, he left Italy, charged, by the cardinal of Ossat, to speak to King Henry IV on a very significant matter, which he did not want to write down in a letter. Having arrived in France, Vincent went to see Henry IV.” All of this is mysterious business. Why do the Vatican and the Holy Father not have more “qualified” messengers than this man, who is already apparently ill-fated when he has to travel even short distances, and who is to all intents and purposes a “novice clergyman”. What is it about him that he is entrusted with information that is so sensitive that the Vatican decides it cannot be written down?
is an incredible sequence of events. We are sure no-one would believe any
part of it – and it seems that later in life, de Paul shared the same
belief. If it was all true and there was nothing more to it than that, it
makes a joke of the affairs of state: a young priest who is almost “sightseeing”
in Rome, who should know better and who really ought to go and see his worried
family, is asked by a Cardinal to go back to France, to inform the French
king of a most important secret. It suggests that his “mission”
was only completed once he had briefed the French king.
So, is it possible that de Paul was tasked with a specific mission? That he had to go to the Arab world, to locate a person and then convince him to return? Once accomplished, he brief the Pope, who then told de Paul to inform the French king (it seems that our unidentified “Christian reconvert” remained in or around Avignon, i.e. France).
that information to one side for a brief moment, the story echoes a similar
account, also involving Rome, a priest and the French king. It is the letter
that passed between the brothers Fouquet, of which there were three: one
(Louis) was a priest residing in Rome, one (François) was archbishop
of Narbonne (the original destination of de Paul’s ship), the third
(Nicolas) was the main advisor to the French king, Louis XIV.
The correspondence, dated to 1656, between the brothers details information which Louis has picked up in Rome, and which he will mention to his brother once he is in France, once they meet face to face. The information is of such grave importance that it is labelled as the “greatest secret”, and it is said that it could potentially rock heads of state –read King Louis XIV.
let us return to Vincent de Paul. Was he on a secret mission? Sent perhaps
to meet someone with specific knowledge? Perhaps this former inhabitant
from Nice, well-versed in alchemy, somehow possessed specific knowledge?
Or was the man himself important? Did he accomplish his mission and was
he asked to go immediately to the Vatican, to inform the Church officials?
Was he consequently told that he should also give that information to the
This scenario would seem quite logical. It would explain why de Paul was entrusted with it: he already knew the secret information, so it would be natural for him to present it to the French king. In fact, he would be ideally suited to brief these officials himself, as he had the most knowledge about the situation and was thus best placed to answer any questions.
There are more strange things about Vincent de Paul. It is known that for the rest of his life, he would try to recover all correspondence which mentioned his “abduction”. After his return, he had to inform his patron, de Comet, of his safe return. De Comet had paid for his education and was therefore greatly intrigued by de Paul. News of his likely death must have upset him; de Paul could furthermore not merely announce his safe return; de Comet would need to be given some details of precisely what had happened to him. So he wrote about his abduction in several letters, and sent them to de Comet. But, as mentioned, late in life, de Paul went on a crusade to try and recover these letters. He made a special effort to do so between 1658 and 1660, and once he had retrieved them, he burnt them. Of course, he must have known he would never succeed in finding and destroying all letters, but he did succeed in destroying many. Why would he do this? Some possibilities have been put forward, but none withstand careful scrutiny. It seems obvious that they contained certain details de Paul did not want to see become public knowledge – or remain in the public domain.
On another level, however, the story of the life of de Paul is reminiscent of another story: that of Bérenger Saunière. In both instances, we have young and/or unimportant priests, fresh from the seminary, who seem to have been “taken” into confidence and prepared for special missions. And it seems that in both instances, they are well looked after – though in the case of Saunière, it is clear that his fortunes did change once a new bishop, Mgr de Beauséjour, arrived on the scene.
Commemoration stone, in front of the church of Rennes-le-Château, showing the presence of a Lazarist of Notre-Dame de Marceille at Saunière's grand re-opening.
But that is not all: those who brought Saunière to fame, who promoted Poussin, also promoted Vincent de Paul: these promoters are called the “Priory of Sion”. Let us note that Pierre Plantard, to all intents and purposes the Priory of Sion, stated that de Paul had not been abducted, but that instead he had spent his time in Notre-Dame-de-Marceille, where he had been trained in alchemy! He stated that it was not “Marseilles”, at the mouth of the river Rhone, but was in truth “Marceille”, near Limoux. I do not believe this to be the case and I include it as it is a most strange allegation to make. When it was made, in the early 1980s, there seemed nothing special about Notre-Dame-de-Marceille. It would only be from 1993 onwards that the “Bertaulet circle” began to pay specific attention to this statement of Plantard & Co. Let us state how remarkable these words are: Plantard made this apparently ridiculous statement at a time when no-one was interested in Notre-Dame-de-Marceille, or even particularly in Vincent de Paul. But slowly, it is clear that all pieces of the puzzle – all the evidence – begins to show that Plantard might not necessarily have been right in the de Paul allegation, but that there is definitely a link between Rennes-le-Château and Notre-Dame-de-Marceille; though not in the manner, in my opinion, that Plantard alleged.
and co. stated that Vincent de Paul had studied with “Jean the Alchemist”,
who had taught him in the castle of Barbarie, in Nièvre. Philippe
de Chérisey, one of Plantard’s “assistants”, labelled
this castle the “Occult Bastion of France”. Of course, Plantard
never presented any proof of these allegations – in fairness, no-one
ever actually asked. It is true that King Louis XIV did dismantle the castle
in June 1659, the specific order coming from Cardinal Mazarin.
But it is clear that Plantard did underline two intriguing aspects: he did not accept the official story of Vincent de Paul’s abduction; he links this abduction with his subject, the mystery of Rennes-le-Château, as Jean the Alchemist is linked with the “mystery of the Priory of Sion”; finally, he links all this with Notre-Dame-de-Marceille, at a time when there was no interest in Notre-Dame-de-Marceille from any person connected with the Rennes-le-Château or Priory of Sion mystery; at a time when Notre-Dame-de-Marceille seemed to be nothing more than a normal church, without any mystery whatsoever.
A strange time
De Paul’s bizarre action may have been at the origins of events that were to occur from roughly 1650 onwards: the correspondence between the Fouquet brothers, Nicolas Fouquet’s arrest, De Paul cleansing his “abduction account”, soon to be followed by Poussin’s death, and Cassini’s appointment as Astronomer Royal. It is also de Paul who trains Olier, who in his turn will become instrumental with the Compagnie du Saint-Sacrement, will mastermind St Sulpice and the construction of Montreal, before that organisation too falls victim of the king. It suggests that a series of events was (re)kindled when de Paul went on his mission… though it is clear that he was neither alone, nor that the mission had been accomplished in his lifetime.
28 of september 2006