The village church dedicated to Saint Mary Magdalene in Rennes-le-Château has been rebuilt several times. The earliest church of which there is any evidence on the site may date to the 8th century. However, this original church was almost certainly in ruins by the 10th or 11th century, when another church was built upon the site - remnants of which can be seen in Romanesque pillared arcades on the north side of the apse. This survived in poor repair until the 19th century, when it was renovated by the local priest, Bérenger Saunière.
The village received up to around 100,000 tourists each year at the height of popularity of Dan Brown's bestselling novel The Da Vinci Code. The modern reputation of Rennes-le-Château rises mainly from claims and stories dating from the mid-1950s concerning the local 19th-century priest Father Bérenger Saunière. These stories influenced the authors of the worldwide bestseller The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail in 1982, and that work in turn influenced Dan Brown when he wrote The Da Vinci Code, published in 2003.References:
The Abbey of Saint-Etienne, also known as Abbaye aux Hommes ('Men"s Abbey'), is a former monastery dedicated to Saint Stephen (Saint Étienne). It is considered, along with the neighbouring Abbaye aux Dames ('Ladies" Abbey'), to be one of the most notable Romanesque buildings in Normandy. Like all the major abbeys in Normandy, it was Benedictine.
Lanfranc, before being an Archbishop of Canterbury, was abbot of Saint-Etienne. Built in Caen stone during the 11th century, the two semi-completed churches stood for many decades in competition. An important feature added to both churches in about 1120 was the ribbed vault, used for the first time in France. The two abbey churches are considered forerunners of the Gothic architecture. The original Romanesque apse was replaced in 1166 by an early Gothic chevet, complete with rosette windows and flying buttresses. Nine towers and spires were added in the 13th century. The interior vaulting shows a similar progression, beginning with early sexpartite vaulting (using circular ribs) in the nave and progressing to quadipartite vaults (using pointed ribs) in the sanctuary.
The two monasteries were finally donated by William the Conqueror and his wife, Matilda of Flanders, as penalty for their marriage against the Pope"s ruling. William was buried here; Matilda was buried in the Abbaye aux Dames. Unfortunately William"s original tombstone of black marble, the same kind as Matilda"s in the Abbaye aux Dames, was destroyed by the Calvinist iconoclasts in the 16th century and his bones scattered.
As a consequence of the Wars of Religion, the high lantern tower in the middle of the church collapsed and was never rebuilt. The Benedictine abbey was suppressed during the French Revolution and the abbey church became a parish church. From 1804 to 1961, the abbey buildings accommodated a prestigious high school, the Lycée Malherbe. During the Normandy Landings in 1944, inhabitants of Caen found refuge in the church; on the rooftop there was a red cross, made with blood on a sheet, to show that it was a hospital (to avoid bombings).