In Search of the Big One
To be honest if you are a grave hunter they don’t come much bigger than this. We were in the Corbieres and we had driven beyond the spectacular hilltop castle of Salvaterre, deep into the abandoned garrigue.
The castle lies above the quiet and prosperous village of Opoul-Perillos and beneath the striking Opoul plateau, also known as Terresalvaesche, the Land of the Saviour, which might give you a hint about the place to which the stories and the roads lead.
Salveterra is an abandoned ruin of a castle, high on a promontory above the Mediterranean. If you look back there are expansive views. Fifteen miles away the beaches of the Cote Catalan might be full but up there all is desolation. There are rocks everywhere, poking up through the scrub.
We turned off the road beneath the castle and drove into the hills along a single track road below the plateau of Opoul. There are no signposts. Deeper and deeper we went, twisting and turning. This was a one way ticket. There was no turning round. You must trust the road. We drove for about 15 minutes, slowly, always doubting that this was really wise. There was no one in sight and the occasional enclosures of vines were untended.
We went past a stele to a mysterious air crash, past the church of Saint Barbara in the middle of no- where, apparently incorrectly orientated, to the deserted village of Perillos. The Stony Place.
There isn’t much there. We wandered around the hot rocks. It had a strange indefinable and unsettling atmosphere. A few piles of stone remain, old streets and the church.
The village had been finally abandoned during the Second World War, and when you looked around it was hard to understand why anyone would want to live here in the first place. It is dry and barren. A small restoration project had begun in 2006 but that was not why we were here.
Perillos is a place which shelters mysteries.
This is where aircraft and space craft collide. UFO watchers and their friends keep very busy here. They believe in covert government underground activity and secret military manoeuvres. They believe in secret mines. They look at over-large electrical substations and see a conspiracy. They visit a ruin called “The Seat of Death.” And how come when it is so dry and unforgiving out here was the village once known as Perillos les Bains? Oh yes, Perillos is hot for mysteries.
Once again it is the fault of the peculiar priest Sauniere from Rennes le Chateau, on whom so much hinges. His activities across the region, frequently unexplained and unexplainable, have spawned an industry. The world is full of people who are desperate to find out what it was that he knew. And whatever it was, it is believed that it relates to a treasure or, more likely, a secret which might relate in some way to Jesus and Mary.
This website is not the place to explore the vast array theories and the speculations which surround Sauniere. But he is either a blank canvas upon which others project their frustrated imaginations. Or he was infuriatingly devious, scattering everywhere the enigmatic pieces of an elusive and incomplete jigsaw.
It is said that he commissioned a relief map to be made of the holy sites in Jerusalem, identifying the graves of Jesus and Joseph of Arimathea. Except it wasn’t a map of Jerusalem at all but one of Perillos. Or rather the mould of a map of Perillos, a negative with everything in reverse. Appropriate I suppose. And so, the story goes, out there amongst all the rocks you will find the The Big One, the grave of Jesus. Waiting just for you. A discovery about a death that could change a life – and certainly a life style if it is marketed properly.
But that is why the castle and village were here. Suddenly it is no longer a place without a purpose, a village supporting a meagre, subsistence lifestyle. No. The Knights of Malta were actually protecting the site, which had upon it two places even they were not allowed to go.
Of course there are those who want to believe such things. It adds more detail and colour to The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail and The Da Vinci Code. There are certainly many local legends in this part of France suggesting that Jesus survived the crucifixion and came to settle here in what was known then as Septimania. And it is a secret that many have lived and died to preserve.
Of course we didn’t find anything, just stones glowing in the heat. A set of ruins at the end of a road which for some others marks the beginning of a new and unexpected journey.
There are those who do search the hills, looking for caves and tombs. I would say that it is impossible to find anything out there. Or perhaps it is possible to find everything out there. There is just enough uncertainty to allow the imagination to run wild. And the night brings a profound darkness and a big big sky full of stars. A time for the imagination. It is no surprise to learn that Dali is involved in the myths that surround the place. He had visions apparently. This was where he believed the apocalypse would begin, with the “abduction of Europe.” It should not be a surprise that the area has a suitably portentous post code – 666000.
Apparently it is where enthusiasts come to greet time travellers from the future. Hmm. But who is to say they would be noble scientists on a mission of research and compassion. Knowing our luck they would be the bankers of the future (if you see what I mean), overpaid boys with a top of the range toy coming back to see us for a bit of havoc and confusion, stopping off at the Perillos services on their way back from drinking themselves senseless in a Dinosaur Theme Park in the Pleistocene Age.
This is all part of the Chronodrome Experiment and it is all to do with messages placed aboard an as yet unlaunched satellite called Keo that will circle the earth for 50,000 years. Once recovered on re entry, our descendants will discover an invitation to come back in their time machines and leave us a sign in the sky. They have, helpfully I think, been given a window of 50 years in which to make an appearance, between 2000 and 2050. People have now started to gather every year on the chosen date 1 May, and wait patiently for a sign.
I am not too inspired by the future though. The couple of cars we saw in Perillos were rather unimpressive. If these were indeed the choice of our descendants then I am afraid car transport has an uncertain future. I better look after the Espace more carefully if I need it to last. You never know.
Perhaps it happens all the time, this time travelling business. And perhaps our time travelling descendents continually take the chrononaut fans away and continually bring them back to the day before they departed. Everything is possible.
And yet, and yet…
The church in the village of Perillos is St Michaels, serving a community that no longer exists. But misfortune is said to haunt those who approach it and are not pure at heart, just as if you were entering the place of the Holy Grail in Castle Perilous. There is an echo there isn’t there? As I approached the church, suddenly, and for no possible reason, our car alarm started to sound, an intrusive yell that cut across the cicadas and pulled me away from the church. Why did that happen? It has never happened before. It hasn’t happened since. There was no logical reason for it. But it happened and we thought it best to drive away down the track. I wasn’t wanted there.
I think I will stick to grave hunting.
You might feel better employed down in Tuchan or Durban, wine tasting. Just down the road there is of course Fitou, a heady fruity glass. One of those at lunchtime will convince you of any of the mysteries of Perillos by 3.00pm on a hot afternoon. Two glasses and you will start thermal imaging the Corbieres.
If you want more details then go to www.perillos.com
And if you want to go wine tasting then I can thoroughly recommend www.chateau-wiala.com in Tuchan who produce a fantastic Fitou. Just avoid the early afternoon. Go there after 4.00pm. Madame likes a siesta.