A pair of documents which first surfaced in the 1960's, claiming to be the two parchments composed by the Abbe Antoine Bigou which Berenger Sauniere found in his church in Rennes-le-Chateau

The first parchment contains a Latin text telling the story of Jesus walking in the cornfields on the Sabbath. The last four lines of this text are truncated in the middle, so that they end with the letters SION. The last two words, "Solis Sacerdotibus", meaning "Only for the initiated", are separated out from the main body of the text so they stand out, and are followed by an oval flourish containing the letters PS. In addition, in the body of the text there are a number of small letters raised above the level of the lines on which they are written, and when read in order they spell the cryptic message:

A Dagobert II Roi et a Sion est ce tresor et il est la mort

(This treasure belongs to King Dagobert II and to Sion, and he is there dead)

Dagobert was one of the last of the Merovingian kings of France, but it also begs the question: who is the "he" that is "there dead"?

The second parchment is twice the size of the first. It ostensibly contains an extract from John chapter 12, the dinner at the house of Mary and Martha. However, after the initial word "Jesus" the text rapidly becomes indecipherable due to a large number of spurious letters inserted into the text. These letters at first do not appear to make sense, but a complex cryptographic sequence leads to their transformation into the message:

Bergere, pas de tentation. Que Poussin Teniers gardent la clef, pax DCLXXXI. Par la Croix et ce cheval de Dieu, J'acheve ce daemon de gardien a midi. Pommes bleues.

(Shepherdess, no temptation. That Poussin Teniers guard the key, peace 681. By the Cross and this horse of God, I complete (or I destroy) this guardian demon at noon. Blue apples)

While at first this appears to be nonsense, many conspiracy theorists have read deep meanings into it. The system by which this message is to be gleaned from the original text is a complex process involving tabulating the letters, two applications of a cypher called the Tableau de Vigeneres using different keywords, and finally reading off the letters in a sequence derived from the Knight's Tour, where a knight visits each square of the chessboard once and once only.

So complex is this sequence that cypher experts have declared the code to be unbreakable, even by computer. Since the message is known, however, it means that someone must have the key. Investigation of the ways by which the message became known shows that the ultimate sources were Pierre Plantard and Phillipe de Cherisey, which has been used by several authors as evidence of the link between the Rennes mystery and the Priory of Sion.

Doubt was immediatly thrown, however, as the version of the Vigneres cypher used requires the use of a full 26-letter alphabet. The letter W is not used in Latin, and in French only occurs in words imported from other languages. It was only made an official part of the French alphabet in the 1920's, and so it is doubtful that Sauniere would have used it; and Bigou, who lived in the 1780's, certainly would not have.

The authors of The Holy Blood & The Holy Grail tried to explain this discrepancy by showing that the introduction of a Caesar shift between the two Vigneres encryptions would restore the validity of the cypher, but many felt that this was an unecessary addition to an already over-complex cypher. Further doubt was thrown when it was revealed that none of the authors to work on the mystery had ever seen the parchments - all had worked on photocopies.

Finally, a BBC documentary in 1997 interviewed Jean-Luc Chaumeil, a French journalist who had (perhaps unwittingly) acted as a go-between between Pierre Plantard and the Holy Blood authors. When pressed, Chaumeil was forced to admit he now knew that both parchments had been forged in the 50's by de Cherisey, and was able to produce the latter's notes on the Bergere cypher as evidence. Handwriting experts have since concluded that the parchment containing this message appears to be written in de Cherisey's own hand.

So what happened to the actual Sauniere Documents? No-one knows for certain; they are certainly not amongst the documents preserved in the Rennes museum. Possibly they remain amongst the closed records at the Seminary of Saint Sulpice, where Sauniere took them for examination. If this is so, then their contents will almost certainly never be known.

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