Rennes le Chateau, Sauniere’s Umbrella, and the Riddle of the Sphinx

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The small church of Rennes le Chateau is considered to be filled with mystery, and many feel it holds clues to a hidden treasure. The peculiar details in the church, although not completely out of place, have led people to still ponder their full intent.  Plus, the past village priest, Berenger Sauniere, who was responsible for renovations made to the buildings, and the surrounding grounds, in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, led an unusual, extravagant, and questionable lifestyle.  These curiosities provide support to the notion that clues to a valuable secret are encoded within the restorations.  One of these restorations include the large bas relief depicting Jesus on the Mount.

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Researchers of the Rennes le Chateau mystery feel the fresco, positioned above the confessional, may hold hints for the priest’s past actions.  It’s wondered, could Sauniere have included a message to a secret understanding here? The scene is riddling.  On each side of Jesus on the Mount are landscapes depicting opposite seasons. One springs to life, while the seeds of the other remain sleeping.  And a broken column, symbolizing the origin of a possible forgotten knowledge, resting in front on the right, seems totally out of place.

As mentioned in the article, Just as the Artist Cast it Away, another anomaly is noticed. The prominent central image, consisting of Jesus and his many followers, contains a curious sack.  The rod, which is included in the assumed inspiration for the scene, is not to be found within the one presented at Rennes le Chateau.  This omission is interesting and one which would seem important. Perhaps it is seen elsewhere in the scene?

Many will also notice the small mysterious figure on the right, who is clearly leaning on what may be an umbrella, cane, or staff.  A wonderful close up of this image is shared here (the rlc research site-scroll down).  Why does he lean so?  Upon asking myself that question, I can’t help but think of the answer to The Riddle of the Sphinx.

Most are familiar with the story of the Sphinx.  Guarding the entrance to Thebes, the Sphinx would not allow a traveler to pass unless he could answer a riddle.  Two separate riddles have become commonly told in the tale and are believed to be the questions the Sphinx asked.  Both can be said to hold the same hidden knowledge.  They are as follows:

“There are two sisters.  One gives birth to the other and she in turn, gives birth to the first.  Who are the two sisters?”

and the most universally known,

“Which creature has four legs in the morning, two in the afternoon, and three in the evening?”

By supplying the proper answer to the riddle (deeming he had the acquired wisdom and proving himself worthy), the traveler would be allowed to enter.  One may wonder why these specific riddles have attached itself to this rite of passage. It is said when the story of the Sphinx was first told, these precise riddles were not given.  Only later did they become associated to the Sphinx and it’s guarding of a ‘city’.

The answer to the first riddle is Day and Night.  In Greek, both words are feminine.  As mentioned in a previous article concerning the Number 17, the Sun (day) and Moon (night), giving birth to the other, is seen to depict a doorway. By providing the answer, it could be assumed that a traveler would have proved his knowledge of this opening, and therefore would be given permission to pass through it.

The second answer is Man.  Man crawls on all fours when young, walks on two legs later in life, and when aged, he uses a cane; the cane being seen as the third.  How would this confirm knowledge for the right of passing into the city?  Was realizing the physical progress of man, and the fact he uses a cane, once aged, key enough?   It would seem a deeper layer of meaning should be recognized.  For if not, the riddle is clever, but not very enlightening.

I believe a deeper level is being suggested, and one which does not include a physical change of man, but one of spiritual ascension.  This is related to Proverbs 3:5 which states, “lean not on your own understanding”.  As man ages and learns from his surroundings, he obtains wisdom and realizes his need for something greater than his own knowledge.  It is a process of spiritual growth.

Within the Rennes le Chateau’s fresco, the bent over figure is obviously leaning upon a cane or other similar item.  Since Sauniere had knowledge of the True Word of God (which he may be carrying), it would seem he positioned himself in the fresco to illustrate this secret meaning of man leaning on God’s understanding; his staff.

Psalms 23:4 holds within in its verse, ‘your rod and your staff, they comfort me.’  While Bible scholars feel the rod is used as a weapon to fight off predators, the staff is used more for guidance; like the shepherd who uses the crook of a staff to direct the wavering sheep by hooking them around the neck and steering them the correct way.  This closely relates to the before mentioned verse of Proverbs.  The full verse is; “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”

The hook is clearly seen in the Rennes le Chateau scene, and could symbolize the staff which hooks and guides (provides understanding) and makes man’s paths straight.  I know it has been suggested Sauniere placed himself in the scene and it is he with his regularly held umbrella. Used, the umbrella both protects like the rod, and with its handled arch, guides like a staff.  Did Sauniere consider his umbrella to be like the rod and staff mentioned in Psalms 23?  Is that why he was seen carrying it by his side time and again?

The figure in Sauniere’s fresco reminds me of a man with a cane; an aged man who walks on three legs in the evening and so explains my association to the Sphinx Riddle.  It would seem Sauniere included himself in this image in order to convey an important understanding about himself.  An umbrella, which shields and consists of a hooked handle, could symbolize the trusting in God.  It implies a spiritual ascension and possibly Sauniere’s belief and entrance in so.  A relationship which does not require the Church.

Although often associated with physical aging, a man of wisdom being shown leaning on a cane, does not have to only imply a physical weakening, like often thought.  A deeper understanding certainly could be communicated.  Couldn’t a man who has gained wisdom, no matter of age, be shown using an object like a cane, and be interpreted as leaning on God’s staff or understanding, which links to Proverbs 3 and Psalms 23?  Something like what is found in the Shepherds of Arcadia by Poussin.  And something, I feel, the Maranatha Puzzle, suggested.

An amazing corroboration for this higher Truth, can be appreciated in the central scene of Sauniere’s chosen fresco.  As described on the RLC research site, Jesus is shown with his arms stretched forth and visibly illustrates a triangular formation.  The three points of a triangle correlates to the three ‘legs’ of man’s development and may signify a ‘missing capstone’.

This realization can delve further.  The three Sacred and primary shapes of geometry, (the square, circle and triangle), are recognized here.  They are, I believe, a hidden greatness to the Riddle of the Sphinx.  As man crawls, he is closest to earth.  A square is often associated with the material or earthly world. The four points of the square correspond to a man who crawls.  He is at the stage of his life when little knowledge is realized.  As he begins to rise, he walks on two.  Two points, beginning and end, can be associated with the circle.  Finally, man’s highest wisdom is associated with the Triangle and his walking with the aid of the divine; his realization of need for something more than himself.

This only comes with wisdom or age and growth.  Is this a hidden meaning to the Riddle of the Sphinx?  It would seem, to me, this is the hidden understanding of the answer to the Sphinx that would prove man’s rite of passage into a ‘city’.  This spiritual rise of man.

And amazingly still, the scenes of Sauniere’s clearly show this ascension.  Starting from a place of barren land or sleep, the figure guided by God’s ‘rod and staff’, is moving across the land towards growth.  He is shown heading straight to the other side displaying life.   I wonder which direction he is walking.  If the bas relief is on the western wall, I suppose one could say he is walking South. Does he turn to head up the Mount?  Does this show a way?  Like the two sisters, one gives birth to the other and reveals the passage.

Whether or not one agrees with the above offer for the secret meaning to Sauniere’s umbrella (placed to convey his secret understanding or rite of passage to a higher learning), the Sphinx and its deeper level to the Riddle remains strong, in my opinion.  One has to wonder if it isn’t for the above reasons (this hidden sacred geometry), the Sphinx has been adopted by Freemasonry and set outside other sacred buildings.  The image symbolizes the guarding of ‘secret knowledge’ within.  What is the key for passage or allowed entry?

Is it to find the staff of God and not be fooled by man’s?

Curiously, in the Time Monk article revealing the Key for the Maranatha Puzzle (as it was forged in one period of time), Duncan Burden wrote of his inability, and of the other authors, to share more because of oaths made concerning Freemasonry and possible other secret societies.  This image of Sphinx, the Riddle, and the Sacred Shapes of Geometry all seem to connect.  Fanciful thinking?  Oh maybe.

But whatever the mystery of Rennes le Chateau is, and whether or not Sauniere was actually revealing his understanding or initiation to an entrance, I still personally love the possibility of the bent figure to be sharing the following insight and revealing a mysterious layered meaning to the Sphinx’s Riddle.

As the small, unassuming figure leans on God’s ‘rod and staff’ (and not on his own understanding), he is being guided.  Like the wisdom of Proverbs states, ‘he will make your pathways straight.’  Straight ahead, as seen in the growing landscape, is Life.  One only needs to continue walking with God’s staff to find it.  The famous word of Nicolas Flamel, which was known to be included in his most prized book, and the puzzle book which this site features comes to my mind; Maranatha.

It is possible Sauniere may have discovered, believed and hid the same.  No one can be sure.  And as we each are allowed to wonder and make our own interpretations, I will hold this one dear.  Like revealed by the Riddle of the Sphinx; man first crawls, then walks, and finally leans.  The question is, what does he lean on?


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19 Responses

  1. Eliza says:

    The discussion about the two riddles of the sphinx brings to mind one of the older clues to the Maranatha puzzle:

    ‘To find a description of what you are looking four. Three names for it are found in the books warning two its readers, before the encrypted words even start. Be assured You will have no doubts when you find it, no uncertainties, it will reveal all that you need in the most amazing fashion.’

    The numbers 4,3, and 2 are listed in succession. 432 is equal to twice 6x6x6, which has been noted by others. The second riddle alludes to a binary pairing as well. So perhaps we are to look for two sets of three sixes somewhere.

    Another more speculative line of thinking: perhaps the two clues of the sphinx are meant to be combined. The binary dyad of modern computing is 0 and 1. If we connect the two clues and do a little reordering, we can get 0,1,2,3,4. Perhaps this sequence is meant to be continued?


    • jkile says:

      Yes, very true, Liz. So glad you mentioned it. Many puzzlers at the time noted the 4-3-2 suggested in the clue, and considered it to link to not only the square, triangle, and circle, but the number like you say. As the Time Monk Article on Arcadia states, these shapes were important for the ‘key’ and so the number may be as well. Reflected of course it gives, 666 (432+234).

      The relationship to the answer of the Sphinx (of man crawling (4), walking (2) and leaning (3)), with the three primary shapes of geometry (square, circle, triangle), and the fact the riddle allowed ‘entry’, like a key to a door (or invisible college), seem significant to me. And, I also liked the added Umbrella aspect of Sauniere’s to be hinting at it.

      I like your thoughts about the 6x6x6 and what you call, your other speculative ideas. Thank you. I am sure they will have us all thinking.

      • Maria Rigel says:

        I have a different interpretation to the riddle of the sphinx: The apprentice crawls on four golden triangles. The fellow walks on two equilateral triangles. And the master walks on three equilateral triangles.

    • Maria Rigel says:

      I think the clue could be referring to the tetractys.

  2. Madmonk says:

    In Kabbalah a student aimed at the barrier by the “RAV” (teacher) upon approaching the barrier the student must find the door that will open his awareness to the upper world.

    This barrier is what hids god from man. Finding this door and entering is the hardest thing any person can undertake in this world. In fact its impossible for man to make such a journey on his own. There must be help by higher forces. This journey to the barrier is there to prepare a person for the upper worlds. If a person was suddenly to become aware of the upper world it would scare him to death. Its not that the upper worlds are bad, its because mans mind in its lowest form is pure ego and the upper world pure altruism. What do think will happen ? it pretty clear.

    There is 7 billion people in this world and we are all parts on one whole.Nature is forcing man to realise this right now.

    An apple is not ready to eat until it is ripe.


  3. Eliza says:

    My dear husband, who is more interested in living things than ancient puzzles and games, pointed out to me that if one is looking for a sequence of numbers that brings to mind the concept of life, or growth, one should consider the process of mitosis and the very beginning of life. Each of us, he reminded me, arose from a single cell, which then divided, and divided again, over and over. So from 1, came 2, then 4, then 8. Three more divisions brings us to 64, the number of squares on a chessboard, so I suppose we come back to ancient puzzles and games in any case!


    • Nate Beck says:

      Good post Eliza,

      We all should remember that the Grail/Philosopher’s Stone deals mainly with a secret encoded and hidden within nature and creation itself. We create puzzles and games because we naturally resonate the forces and designs around us, in our own bodies and in the bodies celestial and terrestrial.

      Why, those familiar with the Key revealed by Mr. Duncan Burden’s ‘Time Monk Project’ article ( should find it pretty hilarious that we put pizza (more often than not, in a circle shape) inside a square box and the food itself is more often than not cut into triangles!

      Nature is such a funny thing, folks. We take water, composed of two extremely combustible elements, to put out flaming combustions!

      Hey, it ain’t pizza, but it’s food for thought!

      • Maria Rigel says:

        I know you were joking about the pizza. But it’s important to remember that sacred geometry isn’t just any combination of circles, triangles and squares. It’s very specific combinations of circles, triangles and squares. And sometimes other geometric shapes.

    • Maria Rigel says:

      There is a legend that the king was so pleased with the man who invented chess, that he asked him what reward he wanted. The inventor said: “None, because Your Majesty won’t be able to provide the reward I would like.” The king insisted, and the inventor said: “I want one grain of wheat for the first square of the chessboard, two for the second, four for the third, eight for the fourth, and so on, doubling each time, up to the last and 64th square.” The king said: “You shall have your reward,” thinking it would amount only to painstakingly counting a sack or two of grain. He asked the court astrologer to calculate the exact value. A week after, he asked if the inventor had been rewarded, and he was told the astrologer was still calculating the value. After three weeks, the astrologer finished the calculation, and told the king: “Your Majesty, there is not enough land in the whole world to grow enough wheat to give the inventor his reward.”

      The legend certainly suggests that doubling was part of the idea behind the origins of chess.

  4. Nate Beck says:

    Now, more than ever, I am finding more joy, and am realizing how important it is, in revisiting your older articles Jenny.

    God bless you for everything you do!

  5. Maria Rigel says:

    I wouldn’t give too much significance to the position of the arms of Jesus. First, because it looks to me like it’s a statue that it was already available (much like the saints in the church). Secondly, the arms are roughly at a 45 degree angle to the vertical. That isn’t particularly symbolic. If you are looking for hidden sacred geometry in a picture, look for 36 degree angles (the angle of a pentagram), hidden circles, or identical things that seem to have a particular configuration that they wouldn’t usually have. Sacred geometry is usually inscribed in a circle, so look for something that is an obvious centre for a circle (the navel of a person, the geometric centre of the picture, a point indicated by the confluence of several lines).

    • Nate Beck says:


      I would argue that 45 degrees is very symbolic in sacred geometry, not only in relation to the tilted hexagram that Duncan has shared but also consider this: 90 degrees can symbolize being completely upright or perfect. 45 degrees being half of 90 would seem to mean “not quite perfect, but halfway there”. 45 degrees is also the fourth part of a triangle and 1/8th part of a circle, which I think could have some symbolic reference as well.

      • Maria Rigel says:

        What I actually meant is that 45 degrees is so common, that by itself it has no symbolic meaning. But a figure that has something at 45 degrees and something else at a more uncommon angle could contain sacred geometry.

  6. Maria Rigel says:

    I don’t think Sauniere used his umbrella as his staff or rod in a Biblical sense. There is a Maranatha clue that indicates what the staff or rod is for: “The Egyptian Staff is the rod that the masters used to measure their work”. You can’t really measure anything with an umbrella!

  7. Maria Rigel says:

    I agree that the key could be called “the staff of God”. I know part of the key to pass through the gate guarded by the sphinxes is to do with right-angle triangles and with stairways. But there is an important ingredient that still escapes me, frustratingly.

  8. Maria Rigel says:

    About the little man leaning on his umbrella on the fresco: What strikes me is that the only feature clearly marked on his face is his eye. It’s like his face is one giant eye, effectively.

    This is an interesting exercise: overlap the tilted geometry that Duncan gave as “the key” on the little man, using his eye as the centre. You’ll find there’s an obvious size to use, because the top and bottom lines of the big square are indicated on the drawing.

  9. Maria Rigel says:

    I don’t think it’s likely the compass direction (South or whatever) that the little man with the umbrella is walking is important, but I can’t rule out it is. It depends in part on whether the church is well orientated to the cardinal points.

  10. Maria Rigel says:

    I don’t see the landscapes on the two sides showing opposite seasons. It could have been far more obvious, if there was an intention to convey that.

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