The pillar was on of two that supported the original altar in the church. The second pillar has disappeared, but it is know that it had no inscriptions (Jean-Luc Robin, Rennes-le-Château – Saunière’s secret). There is a pillar without any ornaments of exactly the same size standing against the church wall in Rennes-les-Bains. Coincidence? It is said that inside a hollow space in the pillar, Saunière found four parchments. The first containing Latin text fragments of Luke VI, 1-5 and Matthew XII, 1-8, Mark II, 23-28, the second containing the story in which Jesus visits Lazarus in Bethania from the Gospel of John and two genealogies of Dagobert II, dating from resp. 1244 and 1644. It is sometimes claimed there was a fifth document: the will of Henri d’Hautpoul dated 1695. In actual facts the cavity at the top of the pillar is the size of a big matchbox and couldn’t have contained 4 parchments. If Saunière discovered papers it is more likely he found them in the wooden baluster as witnessed by his bellringer Antoine Captier.
On the 21st of June 1891, 24 children of the village received first communion. Since this was a major event for the small village a ‘Mission’ was organized. A statue of Notre Dame de Lourdes was carried around the whole village by four men in a procession that included most of the villagers and their children. At the end of the procession, the statue was placed on a piedestal, consisting of the decorated pillar that once supported the original altar of the Eglise Madeleine. Oddly enough he placed the pillar upside-down and had it engraved ‘Pénitence, pénitense, Mission 1891’.
The placement of the pillar has led to a much speculation. It was a Visigoth custom to bury their kings below an upside-down cross. It is today believed by some researchers that the pillar marks the, outer wall, of the, crypt of the Eglise Madeleine.
The pillar is more likely to be of Carolingian than of Visigoth origin judging by it’s Christian depiction of a cross with jewels and branches.
Abbé Saunière used a number of inversions while decorating his domain, church and particularly this pillar as attested by this article on Société Perillos.
There is a second identical pillar standing at the entrance of the cemetery at Rennes-les-Bains. Its dimensions are identical to the one in Rennes-le-Château. It is therefore widely believed to be the long missing 2nd pillar of the old Church Altar.