Times Literary Supplement 29 March 1991 No 4591

The ruins of a mystery

Dr Paul G Bahn
(author of ‘Pyrenean Prehistory’)

Henry Lincoln
THE HOLY PLACE: The mystery of Rennes-le-Château:
Discovering the eighth wonder of the ancient world.
176pp.Cape. £14.99
0 224 02696 8

The myth of Rennes-le-Château – so beloved of occultists and ‘aficionados’ of the "Unexplained" – is ranked with the Bermuda Triangle, Atlantis and ancient astronauts as a source of ill-informed and lunatic books. This small Pyrenean village has been seen as the location of, among other lost treasures, that of Jerusalem and the Holy Grail. Henry Lincoln bears much of the blame for this. The pseudonymous writer of BBC dramas such as "Dr Who", he happened on a French book about a "treasure" which a nineteenth-century parish priest in Rennes was supposed to have found. The tale so fired his imagination that he was able to put together three BBC documentaries and two books on the subject, all filled with cryptic clues, dark conspiracies and secret societies. The first book, ‘The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail’, proposed the theory that Christ had staged his crucifixion, married Mary Magdalene and eventually sired the Merovingian dynasty. Its review in the TLS of 22 May, 1982, called it a "worthless…rather silly book".

But Lincoln has moved on. He has now shifted emphasis away from the treasure – perhaps he finally read the work of local historians and archivists which proved long ago that there was no such thing. He also seems to have realised that much of the evidence which loomed so large in his earlier accounts was bogus, the parchments and tombstone inscriptions and "Visigothic pillar" all modern forgeries like the "ancient" society of the "Prieuré de Sion", actually founded in 1956. However, the goose has now laid a different golden egg. Lincoln has discovered the eighth wonder of the ancient world, "perhaps the largest structure ever built by man upon the face of the earth" with an engineering complexity that far exceeds that of the Pyramids. What, one wonders, could this marvel be?

Lincoln has turned to geomancy. In this slim volume of large print and numerous diagrams, he shows us what can be achieved by playing with a ruler and a pair of compasses on a map. All the old Rennes-le-Château paraphernalia is re-examined as a source of secrets, riddles, false trails, and the tantalizing hints and clues which point to a huge geometric temple laid out in the region – though why he calls it a temple is never explained.

Occultists had already associated Rennes with pentagrams; Lincoln has taken this to extremes, and his book is filled with pentagons (regular and irregular), triangles, six and ten-pointed stars, grids and overlapping circles. His thesis is that practically everything in the region, regardless of date – castles, churches, shepherd huts, ruins of any kind, ‘calvaires’, junctions of tracks, caves, springs – was purposefully laid out by some genius to fit exactly on all these superimposed geometric forms. Even the Paris meridian of 1718 was designed to fit the temple. What is more, it was all done in exact distances of miles and half miles.

Lincoln readily admits that measuring all these points on modern IGN 1:25,000 maps is one thing, but laying them out over many miles on a flat plain with rudimentary equipment would be a tall order; and the mountainous terrain around Rennes is the very opposite of a flat plain, with steep valleys, deep rivers and towering hills. Yet his exact measurements and equidistant points are based entirely on his maps – ie, on distances as the crow flies. It is impossible to imagine how early surveyors without accurate maps could have laid out anything of the kind on the ground.

The author carefully avoids these points; he hints at megalithic stone circles, and inevitably mentions Druids, but in fact it is clear that he has no idea how and when his temple was laid out. He has derived inspiration from the work of another local priest of the nineteenth century, the Abbé Boudet. Lincoln recognizes that Boudet's theories on language were ridiculous, but accepts as gospel his equally potty concept of a vast megalithic "cromlech" in the region.

Had Lincoln investigated Pyrenean archaeology he would know that cromlechs are not found east of Ariège, and in any case are never megalithic but Iron Age circles only a few metres across. Lincoln even uses Boudet's theory that English was the original universal language in order to assert that all the structures laid out around Rennes used the mile.

Contrary to Lincoln's claim that this area is "still virgin and almost completely unexplored territory" archaeologically, the region is well known, especially with regard to megalithic monuments. Another point on which basic archaeological knowledge would have enlightened the author is his "discovery" of massive drystone walls in the hills; far from being a "lost city", as he hopes, they in fact form a tiny part of the extensive and well documented network of predominantly pastoral constructions in this region and in south east France. Lincoln tells us that he almost succeeded in devoting a fourth TV documentary to these aspects of the "mystery" – fortunately the producer finally decided against the idea.

The book's bibliography lists the excellent ‘Ley Lines in Question’ by Tom Williamson and Liz Bellamy; but Lincoln either has not read it or has failed to understand its message that "it is possible to join up dots to make….triangles, heptagons and so on, but the fact that you can do so does not in itself mean that anyone ever intended this to be possible or planned the landscape with these shapes in mind." Statisticians have found that complex geometric structures can easily arise on maps by chance. Instead of detecting geometry concealed in the landscape, Lincoln has imposed abstract designs on it. Like those of any ley-hunter, his figures contain only one or two points of genuine archaeological or historical importance. His methods lead him to "seemingly insignificant ruins, to caves and springs scattered about the countryside, all of which are fixed unquestionably by the developing geometric patterns fixed by meaningful distances." Points that are crucial to his patterns but where he can find nothing "must once have been marked". A cave is claimed to be man-made ("the grotto appears to be natural, but such is the incredible exactitude of its placing in relation to the five mountains that a human agency must be suspected"). Reviews of his earlier ‘Holy Blood’ referred to it as amateurish, ignorant, grotesque, a "farrago of non-sequiturs" and a piling-up of inconsistencies and unsupported suppositions. The most generous verdict one can give here is that the author has remained firmly attached to his chosen style.

Henry Lincoln

Broadcasting Standards Commission Adjudication 25 June 1997