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Nicolas Poussin and the Pontil's Tomb

Nicolas Poussin and the Pontils Tomb Landscape

Discovery of a Second Pontils Tomb

The Galibert family put the Pontils estate up for sale and it was duly purchased by Emily Rivares and her son, Louis Lawrence in 1921. Both were from America, although Madame Rivares had French blood. A year later Marie Rivares, Louis’s grandmother, died and after being embalmed in accordance with her wishes, she was placed in the grave at the site, presumably this would be the same grave used by the Galibert family.
In 1931 or 1932 Emily, Louis’s mother, died and she too was placed in the Tomb, apparently with the remains of her two mummified cats.
It was only in 1933 that the above ground Pontils Tomb was built to become the tomb that we associate with the mystery today, so this 1933 construction cannot be the same tomb that appears in the Poussin painting, Shepherd’s of Arcadia.
Near to the Tomb are the ruins of a mill, Moulin des Pontils. It was this mill that the Galibert family purchased in 1880. At one time the mill would have been powered by a water wheel. We know a mill was on this site prior to 1749 as it appears on the Cassini Map.  There are three other water mills indicated in this map area so it shows how popular they were and how populated the area must have been.
Although the map was released in 1749, Cassini had been surveying for many years, 1683 to 1744. So it is more than possible that a mill or some other dwelling existed at Pontils prior to 1638 or 1639 when Poussin painted Shepherds of Arcadia. If people lived there people would die there and would need to be buried, so a family living there may have constructed a tomb on the Pontils Tomb site which Poussin then possibly painted. The tomb may have been used by different owners of the land until it was abandoned and fell to ruin.
It was not unusual for such tombs to be built along the roadside, although not as common as some would have us believe, and a few still remain in the area today, although none bear a resemblance to the Pontils tomb, which was hardly a grand affair compared to the other few we can see alongside the roads today.

Roadside Tomb on the D118 near Rennes-le-Chateau  Roadside Tomb on the D118 near Rennes-le-Chateau (closer)

A Roadside Tomb on the D118 near Rennes-le-Chateau

So it is not inconceivable that an older tomb once stood on the Pontils Tomb site but had long since fallen into decay. Or perhaps like the Galibert family, a previous owner of the estate could have built a tomb that was then transported to another location when the family who owned it moved on, which seems to have been the done thing back then; families took the bodies of their loved ones and any expensive stone tombs with them.

Pontils Tomb today

The Pontils Tomb site today - In this photograph you can still see some of the original foundations for the above ground construction.

While Bruce Burgess, the Bloodline Movie director, and I were at Pontils taking a photograph of the tomb site an old man passed by and Bruce asked him if he knew where the Peyrolles Menhir was, he did and told us how to get to it. Seeing me taking a photo of the tomb site the conversation turned to the subject of the tomb. He said his family had lived in the area for generations and there had always been a tomb here, although it was nothing more than a ruin most of the time. He added that it was rebuilt last in the 1930’s over a hole that was already there but the owner (Lawrence), never used it as a family tomb.
This was interesting information as if the old man was correct, a tomb had been here for generations and if the Lawrence’s had not used this tomb, where did they bury their dead?

An interesting snippet is that if we counted back from 1933 to 1638/39 when Poussin painted Shepherds of Arcadia, it would only be eight generations.

Discovery of a Second Pontils Tomb?

While exploring the area around the tomb site on a separate visit, I came across a hole in the ground just a few meters from the Pontils Tomb site that may provide an answer as to where Lawrence’s Mother and Grandmother had been buried.
The dimensions of this hole are more or less the same as the ‘Pontils Tomb’ and there is no sign that this ‘hole’ could have any other purpose than that of a grave, and a couple of coffins would easily fit side-by-side. The cemented sides are also very similar to a photograph of the interior of the Pontils tomb taken by the Rev Lionel Fanthorpe before the tomb was destroyed in 1988 by Roussett.

2nd Pontils Tomb?

Possible Second Pontils Tomb

If the above photograph is that of an old family grave used by a previous owner of the land then it had to be the Galibert or Lawrence family, as it does not look that old, certainly constructed in the last hundred years or so. In all likelihood it is this tomb that was dug for the Galibert family by Bourrel, and then later utilized by the Lawrence family. The position of this second tomb is in a far more secluded and altogether more private spot for relatives to visit their dearly departed.

An anomaly with the normal Pontils Tomb construction is its purpose as a family tomb, is that it is not the normal construction design one would expect as there was no way, without dismantling it, to add any further bodies. Family tombs have an entry hatch that can be removed to add more coffins as needed without destroying the tomb. So when the above ground tomb construction was built, that was it, a finished product: there was no intention of adding any more bodies.

For arguments sake let’s say this second tomb was the one used by the Galibert family and not the Pontils tomb. Gilibert then moves to Limoux transferring the interred bodies of his family into new coffins and leaves the empty coffins inside. Perhaps he even leaves a stone slab covering the hole, just taking the more fancy and expensive pieces of stonework with him. Along comes the Lawrence family and seeing the grave lifts the slab to find the two empty coffins. He wants to use the grave as his family tomb and knowing of the old ruined tomb on the rocky outcrop, he transfers the empty coffins into it and has Bourrel or someone build the above ground tomb that we know about, possibly some of the original design was still evident or perhaps there was local knowledge of how it once looked and it was rebuilt in a similar fashion. This would explain the lack of a 'door' to add more coffins, it was just a sort of memorial.

Henry Lincoln says he could not find any official record of when the Pontils Tomb was constructed and Pierre Jarnac bases his report on testimony from Adrian Bourrel, who he identifies as the second son of Louis Lawrence, taking the name apparently of Lawrence’s common law wife instead, who also seems to have been related to the stonemason Bourrel that constructed a tomb in 1903. Remember this 1903 tomb was not the Pontils above ground construction but a grave as seen in the second tomb photo. But this version of the tomb’s history contradicts with that told to Lincoln by a previous owner of the land. He said his Grandfather had told him there was always a tomb there. (At Pontils) Perhaps it was the same man Bruce and I met more recently and perhaps also the same man or his family mentioned in an article about the Knights Templar by David Ellsworth, citing a testimony given to him by some local peasants about the history of the tomb, that also confirms what we and Lincoln were told, that there was always a tomb placed at this location. But Ellsworth goes one step further mentioning a record dating from 1709 that has a tomb located in Pontils. Unfortunately he gives no references for this record so it cannot be verified.
There is also a rumour in the area that the 1933 Pontils tomb was a copy of one that previously stood there some time earlier and which was destroyed by a man called Colbert in his overzealous search for old mine entrances in the area.

So was the tomb built on an earlier ancient tomb mimicking one that had been there previously but had fell to ruin, or was 1933 the very first time a tomb was constructed on the site?

It is probable that there has been a tradition of building or using an existing tomb on the site, perhaps even dating back to Poussin’s time and before.

Disbelievers in the Pontils tomb appearing in the Poussin painting often quote part of Louis Fédié’s article he wrote in 1878 about his visit to Peyrolles to look at a menhir located there, which is thought to be the oldest man-made structure in the area. The article appeared in the publication: Étude Historique sur le des Haut-Razès, in Mémoires de la Société des Arts et des Sciences de Carcassonne, Vol. 4 pp. 42-92 and the bit the disbelievers use as their evidence is that he failed to mention the existence of any tomb at Pontils.
So because someone visits the area and writes an article about his visit, which seems to have been specifically to see this old bit of erected stone, fails to mention they saw a tomb, it didn't’t exist. Is that evidence? I don’t think so.
How many people visited the area when we know the tomb was there and didn't’t mention it, thousands I would think?
But it existed, they just didn't’t think it worthy of a mention, and it is quite easy to miss if you are not looking for it. It could have also been overgrown. In 1878 it may have been a ruin, nothing more than a heap of rubble and un recognizable as a tomb. Also the track leading up to the menhir Louis Fédié’s would have have to have took to reach the stone, is a lot further along the road and not near the Pontils Tomb site which would have not been in line of sight from the his position. The track also leads up to what is thought to be an old rose marble Templar Quarry, where large chunks of cut marble can still be seen. The road bridge there today was not there before, the road led down towards the farm and across a bridge, cutting off the Pontils Tomb corner.

But since no official records exist to prove or disprove when the tomb was built, or how many succession’s of tombs have been constructed on the site, we are left with contradictory testimony, so as I said before, I think it boils down to who or what you want to believe, which is fine by me.

Poussin, Pontils and Plantard

It is said that the Pontils tomb was first connected to the Poussin painting in the 1960’s when Pierre Plantard brought it to our attention. And it is easy for us to see the similarities today when this has been pointed out to us, but to be the first to notice this, whoever it was, is a great feat of observation. Was Plantard just a messenger passing on this information or just part of his plan to bring attention to the Priory of Sion? Even though it all seems to have backfired on him in the end, we are still talking about him and the PoS has never been so popular as a talking point, so perhaps if part of Plantard’s mission was to popularize the PoS, it wasn't such a failure after all. I am certain Dan brown is grateful to him with all the money he has made out of the Da Vinci Code, I know I would be.

When we later met with Lionel Fanthorpe, who has been a Rennes-le-Chateau researcher for thirty years, he told us that when he looked inside the tomb it looked as if the coffins were resting on two wooden beams, but below them there seemed to be a void. Speculating on what this void may be, Fanthorpe said it could be a shaft leading to an underground cavern. With the Pontils Tomb constantly being thrust into our consciousness and Fanthorpe’s information that there may be an entrance to a secret underground cavern in the tomb, Bruce and I decided we would investigate. The next time we were in the area we would look inside the Pontils tomb to check for ourselves. But that as they say is another story and can be read in full in my book Lost Tomb of the Knights Templar.

Related Research Articles

Nicolas Poussin and the Pontil's Tomb

Nicolas Poussin and the Pontils Tomb Landscape

Cassini map showing the area around Rennes-le-Chateau circa 1600 - 1700

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