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TRACY R. TWYMAN | Nicolas Poussin and the “Incontrovertible Proof”

By Tracy R. Twyman

Originally written for Dagobert’s Revenge Magazine, Copyright 1998
(Does not necessarily represent author’s current viewpoint.)

Painter Nicolas Poussin’s name was mentioned in the mysterious coded parchments found buried in the parish at Rennes-le-Chateau — parchments that have been instrumental in opening up the mystery of the Holy Grail. That area of the Languedoc in Southern France where they were found has long been associated with the Merovingian dynasty, the Knights Templar and the Ark of the Covenant. In fact, Rennes-le-Chateau itself had been the home of a number of Merovingian princes, including Dagobert the II’s son Sigisbert. The parish and other religious monuments in the surrounding area have been dedicated to Mary Magdalene, most likely the wife of Jesus and the sacred “vessel” that carried the royal blood of his offspring into France after the crucifixion. In 1891 the parish’s cure, Berenger Sauniere, began a restoration project for the church, during which he found the said parchments, sealed in wooden tubes and hidden inside two Visigothic columns that held up the altar stone. Besides two pages of genealogies detailing the lineage of Dagobert II, two parchments consisted of passages from the New Testament, written with deliberate spelling errors, misplaced truncated letters and spacing anomalies which revealed a clever coding system. Sauniere was sent by Monsignor Felix Billard, the Bishop of Carcassonne to have the parchments interpreted by Father Bieil, Director of St. Sulpice in Paris. However, once deciphered, the parchments still didn’t make much sense. One stated:

“To Dagobert II, King, and to Sion belong this treasure and he is there dead.”

The second was much more cryptic. It read:

“Shepherdess — No temptation that Poussin and Teniers hold the key; Peace 681 by the cross and this horse of God I destroy this dæmon of the guardian at noon blue apples.”

Both of these bizarre quotations have been picked apart by scholars for many years, and much has been revealed. For instance, we know that Dagobert II was the last significant Merovingian king, supposedly descended through Jesus from the House of David, and therefore “of the blood of Sion.” We can then determine that “blue apples” — a term for grapes sometimes used by the French, was probably a veiled reference to this royal blood (grapes signifying wine, which symbolizes royal blood), and to the continuation of the royal family genes. Also, other code words have been found in the documents. Certain misplaced letters spell out the word “Sion” twice, and also “Rex Mundi,” which means “King of the World.” (1) At the bottom of second message we find the initials P.S, for “Priory of Sion,” perhaps, which could be a clue as to who put the parchments there in the first place. In addition, we have considerable information on the meaning of the words, “Poussin and Teniers hold the key.” For after Father Bieil (and his friend Emile Hoffett) deciphered the parchments, he gave Berenger Sauniere copies of two paintings: St. Anthony’s Temptation, by David Teniers, and a work by Nicolas Poussin, The Shepherds of Arcadia.

Poussin’s painting, although once thought to have depicted a figment of his imagination, is now known to have depicted an actual tomb that existed near the village of Arques at the time, six miles from the Rennes-le-Chateau. The inscription on the tomb in the painting reads: “Et in Arcadia Ego,” which is the title of an earlier work from 1618 by the painter Guercino, as well as another Poussin painting on the same theme made ten years previously. Often translated “Even in Arcadia I am,” and taken to be a reference to the pervasiveness of death, it means, more literally: “And in Arcadia I…” — an unfinished sentence. The phrase also appeared on another tombstone, found in the churchyard at Sauniere’s parish, for the grave of Marie, Marquise de Blanchefort. The stone had been designed by the parish’s former cure, Abbe Antoine Bigou, and inscribed with a strange mixture of Greek and Latin letters which spelled the words “Et in Arcadia Ego.” The inscription was removed by Sauniere, who by this time had learned the “terrible” secrets of the parchments, but he did not realize that somebody had already made an engraving of the stone.


The Shepherds of Arcadia by Nicolas Poussin.

Over the years, much has been made of all of this. Some have suggested that the “he” referred to in the second parchment (“and he is there dead”) might have actually been Jesus Christ, who survived the crucifixion only to die years later in Southern France. Thus the painting The Shepherds of Arcadia could actually be a map to buried treasure: the remains of the most popular man in history and the link between the Merovingian kings and the House of David. Indeed, Sauniere is said by one witness to have come across “incontrovertible proof” that the crucifixion was a hoax. We know that he learned of some secret, and afterwards exhibited strange behavior after learning this, continuing to renovate his parish in a most bizarre fashion.

For instance, Sauniere arranged the Stations of the Cross inside the church to make it appear that Jesus’ body was actually being removed from the tomb, suggesting a resurrection in which instead of ascending to Heaven, Jesus just went on with his merry life. Then he erected a large, Satanic-looking statue above the doorway, which has been said to represent Asmodeus, the keeper of secrets and hidden treasures (and, according to Judaic tradition, the true builder of Solomon’s Temple). Above the door Sauniere placed a sign that read “Terribilis est locus ist,” meaning “This place is terrible.” He erected a Gothic-looking tower called “Tour Magdala” to house his library in, and a villa named “Bethania.”(2)

Sauniere could often be found up late at night, walking the grounds, digging in the graveyard and making excavations underneath the parish foundation. One interesting excavation involved lifting what was called “the Knight’s Flagstone,” which stood before the altar. No one knows exactly what he found under there, but he immediately told his workmen to put everything back, and had the stone (which bore a depiction of two knights riding the same horse, the seal of the Knights Templar) paved over. At about this time he received a large cash deposit from Archduke Johann von Habsburg, a cousin of Franz Josef, emperor of Austria. Sauniere then began to spend extravagantly. He was then hired by Jean-Stephane Habsburg specifically to search for secret documents within the church. He also started hanging out it esoteric circles that included opera singer Emma Calve, his suspected lover, and composer Claude Debussy, Grand Master of the Priory of Sion. Sauniere is believed too have joined a secret society, but we can not be sure if that was the one.

Also known to have traveled in esoteric circles was Poussin himself, and he is thought to have embodied a number of mystical secrets in his work. (On the surface, he is quite obviously obsessed with Venus, Mary Magdalene, and Bacchus, the Greek god of wine.) A booklet has recently been written on this subject called Poussin’s Secret, by David Wood and Ian Campbell, which explores mathematical coding and sacred geometry in Poussin’s work. These two authors, especially David Wood, are known for two earlier books, Genisis: The First Book of Revelations and Geneset: Target Earth, both focusing on a geometric study of the Rennes-le-Chateau. Wood, who was joined by co-author Campbell on the second book, has spent years connecting the dots on maps of Southern France to reveal patterns in the placement of the parish at Rennes-le-Chateau and other significant monuments in the area. The shapes formed were then analyzed for numerological significance in the degrees of the angles and in other measurements. Specifically he was looking for multiples of 9 and 15, which he believed to represent Isis and Osiris His favorite shape that he found was a lop-sided pentagram in a circle (which he called “the Extended Pentagram”), where the top point is elongated and sticks out of the circle. This was especially significant because the angles of the points are 360º (4 x 9, indicating Isis), just like the regular pentagram, yet you can form the Extended Pentagram by “dividing a circle into 15 (Osiris) parts and joining the division.”

The pentagram is generally taken to represent the human body, but David Wood says the extended pentagram represents a female body specifically, and a goddess at that. He also finds significance in the fact that this pentagram “generates” the phi ratio, which is the nth term of the Fibonacci sequence, an algorithm mimicked in the growth rate of all living organisms. (Phi and its geometric equivalent, the golden mean section, are essential foundations of mathematics.) From the geometry of Rennes-le-Chateau that he and Ian Campbell found, they somehow “decoded” a message that they believe had been placed there originally by an extraterrestrial civilization the — one that created us, warning us of impending doom. This civilization, they believed, was headed by a being named Satan, which they equated with occultist Eliphas Levi’s figure of Baphomet. They also concluded that the prolific worship of Mary Magdalene in that area of France was actually a form of Isis-worship, and that the extraterrestrials had included some sort of mystical sexual imagery in their message. They then attempted to decipher the words “Et in Arcadia Ego,” which they did by “translating the letters of the inscription into trigonometric Sine values.” When deciphered, the message appeared to be an account of a destructive cataclysm caused by a comet — either one that occurred in the past or one that will occur in the future.

Finally, in Poussin’s Secret, Wood and Campbell assert that the painting The Shepherds of Arcadia contains a scaled down (5/6) version of the Extended Pentagram, except that this one is created from a ten-division circle instead of fifteen, and represents, they say, a mortal woman instead of a goddess, probably the historical Magdalene. The authors believe that the painting tells an allegorical resurrection tale, certainly of Jesus, who lived on to perpetuate his royal blood through Magdalene, and perhaps deeper still the story of Osiris’ resurrection by Isis, “which has been plagiarized by Christianity but with the characters changed to Jesus and Magdalene, and so does the theme echo…” Yet at the same time they believe that the painting is a geometric replica of the landscape at Rennes-le-Chateau, and therefore carries the same apocalyptic warning. Could Poussin have known all this, enough to encode such a message into his picture? We must be reminded that in 1656, Poussin was visited in Rome by Abbe Louis Fouquet, brother of Nicolas Fouquet, Louis XIV’s superintendent of finances. After the meeting, while still in Rome, the Abbe sent a letter to his brother saying:

“He and I discussed certain things, which I shall with ease be able to explain to you in detail — things which will give you, through Monsieur Poussin, advantages which even kings would have great pains to draw from him, and which, according to him, it is possible that nobody else will ever discover in the centuries to come. And what is more, these are things so difficult to discover that nothing now on this earth can prove of better fortune nor be their equal.”

Shortly after receiving this, Nicolas Fouquet was arrested, imprisoned, and held “incommunicado” for the rest of his life. The letter was confiscated by Louis XIV, who later went to great efforts to obtain The Shepherds of Arcadia, which he hung at his private apartments in Versailles. But what was it that Poussin and the Abbe discussed? What had he discovered “which even kings would have great pain to draw from him”? Was it, perhaps, “incontrovertible proof”?


(1) Rex Mundi was considered by the heretical Cathars who had once occupied the area to be the evil demiurge that had created existence.

(2) Some have claimed that the landscape resembles “Mary Magdalene’s walk from Magdala to Bethania,” but that may be a stretch.