Monday, 8 August 2011

Ben Hammott - The Man, the Myth, the Tomb

Like many others now interested in the Rennes-le-Chateau mystery, I have Henry Lincoln to thank for bringing it to my attention. I saw a repeat of one of his Rennes-le-Chateau documentaries on TV, which aroused my curiosity enough to purchase a copy of Holy Blood, Holy Grail. After reading it I was hooked, and knew I would have to visit Rennes-le-Chateau to find out more. There was a lost treasure to be found after all, and it seemed the priest left clues in his church to where it was hidden. How could I resist.
Two trips later I made a discovery, and a few years ago I posted some information and images of a tomb on my website. At the time it was not taken seriously, whether this was due to the somewhat unprofessional nature of its release, or the fact that I had posted it under the name of a gimmicky alias, 'The Tombman' (excuse me while I cringe in embarrassment) but it is a name I have to live with now. I soon realised, if I wanted to be taken seriously, I could not go around introducing myself as the Tombman, so my daughter came up with an anagram of The Tombman, 'Ben Hammott'. This was much better and a lot less embarrassing, and it also sounded like a real name, so Ben Hammott it was, or should that be I was?
Why did I need to use an alias, why not just use my real name like most other people?
I am afraid there is no short answer to this so please read on.
Most people in the Rennes-le-Chateau circle, especially the French researchers, believed it was because I had something to hide, that I was up to no good, the tomb was just in my imagination. Looking back on it now, I in all honesty cannot blame them for thinking this way. Suddenly it is announced, on a far from professional web site, (I am cringing again) that a Templar Tomb has been discovered in France, even worse, by an Englishman.
I even had a person contact me saying he was a high up member of the Knight's Templar order, and my website was tacky and I was to remove the information I had posted. He was obviously not a fan of mine, and just as obviously I left the information posted. This did though lead to an interesting and somewhat scary meeting with three men in Scotland, but that, as they say, is another story.
In the early days I had very little support for my find but this has slowly changed over the years as people met me and I steadily improved the quality, content and layout of my web site. Though I am still learning and sometimes I still make mistakes, I have come a long way since my first attempt, or I at least I like to think I have.
Anyway, back to discussing my alias.
It was on my second trip to Rennes-le-Chateau that I discovered the Tomb, though I did not realise this at the time. I would only find out later when I reviewed the video footage. (The full story is on my website.) But on that very same night of the day I had found the site pointed to by the clues I had solved from Sauniere's church, I was sitting in 'Le Pommes Bleu' restaurant, drinking beer. There was only me, my brother, the owner and another man present. I was having trouble ringing the UK so when I heard the stranger talking in English, I asked him if he knew the correct code to ring the UK. He did and so told me. We got chatting and he told me he was a writing a book about the Rennes-le-Chateau Mystery, he did tell me his name but it went in one ear and straight out the other, I blame the booze, but I will call him Pete here to save confusion. Anyway Pete goes on to say he is here doing research and after I told him we were here trying to solve the mystery, hoping to find Sauniere's treasure if any still remained, I let slip that we had managed to decipher some of Saunière's church clues that led to a location in the surrounding hills. He seemed to get very excited at this point and attempted to push me for more information, what clues, how did I solve them, where did they lead to? He obviously thought this would be good material for his book, an idea that I did not share. I got the feeling I should have kept quiet about my discovery.
When he realised I was not going to divulge anymore, he seemed happy to change the subject. After another beer and a couple of vodkas that he insisted on buying for me (I wasn't about to refuse free drinks, it's just not what we British do), he returned to the the subject of my discovery, again asking me what clues I had used and where was it. When I told him I wasn't going to tell him, obviously annoyed that his ruse to pump me full of alcohol had failed, he became insistent, angry. I remember staring at him with my alcohol blurred eyes, he must have ordered me doubles, surprised at his sudden change of tone. I had heard that there were some strange and not very nice people involved in the Rennes-le-Chateau mystery, and looking at the man opposite me, I believed I had met my first. I wondered if this was the same man Henry Lincoln had a run in with a few years back, but I wasn't about to stay and find out, so making our excuses my brother and I left.
I had parked my campervan in the car park by the Tour Magdala, as we planned to spend the night there, which is what we did.

In the morning, feeling slightly hung over, definitely doubles, I drove off to continue our exploration of the area. As I drove down the hill, the brakes felt spongy and then suddenly stopped working altogether, this was not good news at any time, but as the road I was on was all downhill and steep in places with many tight corners, it was particularly bad. With the sudden loss of brakes it felt as if I was travelling at twice the speed I actually was. Quickly I slammed the van into first gear, and the engine whined loudly in protest, as did my brother when he realised the problem. The sudden change of speed caused items to be dislodged from the shelves and cupboard doors swung open also, spilling their contents onto the floor. That was the bad news; the good news was that the van was moving at a much slower pace, I gently applied the hand break to slow it down even more. With very few places to park a van the size of mine, I continued to the bottom of the hill in first gear, using the hand break to slow my descent even more. Ahhh, the smell of burning break pads in the morning, lovely.
Stopping in Couiza I checked the brake fluid and found it empty, but luckily I had some spare and topped it up. We continued on our journey towards Rennes-le-Bains but the breaks still didn't feel right and soon stopped working again. I pulled over, and looking under the van, saw the cause of the problem - the break fluid was leaking. As we had already planned to spend the night at the campsite in Rennes-les-Bains, so we could explore the area, I drove there slowly, much to the annoyance of the convoy of French drivers stuck behind me. From the campsite I phoned the RAC breakdown service and they sent out someone to have a look at it.
When the mechanic arrived two hours later, pulling up in his big four-wheel drive jeep, dressed in an Hawaiian shirt and bright red shorts, accompanied by his girlfriend and suitcases and a belly board on the back seat, I had the feeling that fixing my van was not top of his list of things to do today. I don't even believe he had brought any tools with him, but though he did not speak a word of English, I managed to explain the problem. Forever the professional, he insisted on walking around the van kicking each of the tyres in turn, even though the problem was at the front and nothing whatsoever to do with the tyres. He even glanced underneath the van, and I mean glanced, if you blinked you would have missed it. He stood back with a hand rubbing his chin, this was okay as he hadn't got them dirty yet, and I suspected they would stay that way. He shook his head with an expression as if someone had died; I almost expected to see tears. This bloke should have been an actor, or maybe he was because I never saw any of his mechanical skills. He raised his arms in defeat and spewed forth his verdict in such fast French it sounded like one long word, and he was obviously eager to get away as quickly as possible, because as soon as he finished saying whatever it was he said, he walked towards his jeep to leave. I pounced and grabbing his arm I dragged him to the phone so he could speak to the RAC woman, who could then translate it into English for me.
Apparently, because of the five day public holiday that had just started, that explained the girlfriend and suitcases in the jeep, the mechanic could not get the parts he needed to fix the van. See I said he was a professional, without looking at the problem or taking anything apart, he instinctively knew what was wrong with the van and what parts he needed to fix it. I spoke to the RAC woman, and she said she would arrange for my van to be transported back to England, she also arranged a hire car for me. Hanging up, the 'mechanic', his work done, walked back towards his vehicle, obviously washing his hands of the situation, though they were both still spotlessly clean. He climbed into his jeep and waved as he passed, with a big smile on his face. Well at least someone was happy. I would rather it had been me.

The Villa Bethania at Rennes-le-Chateau

After a horrible taxi ride, I picked up the arranged hire car from Carcassonne and drove back to Rennes-le-Chateau to stay the night in the Villa Bethania, which was still a hotel then.
The man running the restaurant, which was then in the lower part of the Tour Magdala garden, where Sauniere's monument is now, also took bookings for the hotel. He told us we would be the only ones staying there as he lived elsewhere, which was cool. We could explore Sauniere's domain unobserved, or so we thought.
I stayed in the bedroom behind the big window on the right.

The Villa Bethania bedroom I stayed in

When everyone had left, my brother and I explored the garden and Villa Bethania, looking for any secret compartments or clues to solve the mystery. Needless to say, we found none. Unlike today, then you were able to walk up to the objects and touch them.

Four images showing some of the objects in the Dining Room of the Villa Bethania as it was then

I had read somewhere that Noel Corbu had started digging a tunnel from the basement of the villa towards the church. Thinking this would be an ideal chance to take a look at it, my brother and I made our way down to the basement. Because of a non-working bulb in the hallway above, the stairs were very dimly lit, and my torch was still in my van in Rennes-les-Bains. By feel we managed to slip past the flimsy obstruction put there to prevent tourists entering the basement. As I fumbled about in the darkness for a light switch, we heard footsteps on the floor above us. The place was already spooky, and the sudden footsteps made it much worse, especially as we were told we were the only ones staying here. Was it an intruder or the footsteps of Sauniere's ghost? I had a feeling we were about to find out.

There was a scrabble between my brother and me to be the one at the back and so the furthest from the opening. I however lost and stood there, a shield for my brother behind me, from who, or what, was slowly walking down the stairs towards us. We stood in pitch blackness, did I mention how spooky it was, the footsteps, deliberate in there slowness on each step, an indication on how close they were getting. When the footsteps stopped half way down the last flight of stairs, I could see a faint outline, man or ghost shaped it was hard to define in the dim light, but I knew, flesh and blood or a spectral entity, if it had eyes it was staring straight at me. Suddenly it spoke in a whisper, "Is anyone there?" It was a man's voice, and if he wasn't sure anyone "was there" I wasn't about to confirm it for him. Perhaps we were invisible in the darkness, and if we kept still maybe he would go away. Suddenly a torch beam shone in my face, blinding my enlarged pupils. I guessed now I was far from invisible, however much I wanted to be. I held a hand up to my face to shield my eyes and the well prepared owner of the torch dipped it down and then shone it on his own face so I could see who it was. The face I was looking at wasn't Sauniere's but it was a face I did recognise. It belonged to the man from the restaurant. 'Pete' was obviously still chasing a story for his book.
I said hello, not really a lot else I could say under the circumstances. We had a chat and I explained what we were doing and he asked if he could join us, I said he could. I had to, he was the only one with the torch.
We explored the basement and found what was left of Noel's tunnelling attempt - a bit of a hole and a lot of supports, not really that exciting. We all returned to the hallway above and I told Pete we thought my brother and I were the only ones staying in the hotel tonight. He told me that it was a last minute booking; he had decided to stay an extra day. He asked where my campervan was as he hadn't seen it in the car park, and I told him what had happened, saying it was being picked up from the campsite in Rennes-les-Bains tomorrow. Without asking me again about the cave he said goodnight and went upstairs to his room. I never saw him again.
In the morning I drove to my van to collect some stuff we wanted for the return journey and to await the arrival of the pickup truck. Going to unlock the door I discovered that my van had been broken into. Drawers and cupboard doors were open, but after a quick search I found nothing was missing except for a roll of film from my camera and a tape cassette from my video camera, but strangely, both camera's had been left, discarded on the seat. It had to have been the mysterious stranger, (Pete didn't sound intriguing enough here) who else could it have been? Luckily, I would realise later, I had changed the video tape, the footage of the cave was still tucked in the pocket attached to the back of the driver's seat.

My old Campervan being loaded onto the transporter

When my campervan finally arrived home some weeks later, I had it fixed by a mechanic friend of mine. He told me the brake line seemed to have been cut on purpose.
A couple of weeks later a strange man turned up at my house asking me about Rennes-le-Chateau. He had been told by a friend of his I had found a cave by deciphering some of Sauniere's church clues when I was there recently. He would not give his name or the name of his friend or how he had got my address. Needless to say I shut the door on him without telling him a thing.
A few weeks later while preparing to go back to Rennes-le-Chateau, now I knew a Tomb was there, I wanted to see if there was a way inside or at the very least get some better footage of what was inside. I had just cleaned and vacuumed the van, and leaving the door open to air it out, I took the spare wheel with me and went off to get a new tyre. On my return I found my van surrounded by a fire-engine and a police car. My van, or what was left of it, was on fire. There seemed no reason for the fire to have started but the fire brigade said it was probably an electrical fault. Yeah, right of course it was!
Breaks cut, mysterious strangers and an unexplained fire. As soon as possible I moved house.
I am not by nature a secretive or mysterious person, as anyone who has met me will confirm, but there were a couple of other strange things that have happened to me, including the Scottish meeting I mentioned earlier, also a few threatening emails, so for the safety of my family and myself, I decided to use an alias, and so far it has worked because except for one incident, I have been left alone.

A few of the false stories I have heard about me.
I make astounding discoveries every time I visit the Rennes-le-Chateau area:
I wish this was true but unfortunately it isn't, I have been to Rennes-le-Chateau eighteen times and counting, sometimes for weeks at a time, I have only made discoveries on five visits. The rest of the time it is just boring old research, well, not that boring but it was research. I have walked all over the landscape, up and down the hills, much of the time on my own. I have found it is the only way to find anything. You have to get out there, follow in Sauniere's footsteps, and above all keep your eyes open and investigate everything.
At the Rennes meeting organised by Guy Patton recently, I met Andy Gough who told me there was a rumour going around that I had set fire to my van to kill the evil spirits that dwelled inside. Apparently I had unwittingly picked up these spirit squatters on my travels and mysterious deeds in and around Rennes-le-Chateau... good story but obviously not true. The only spirits in the van that I know of were vodka and whisky, and they didn't stay there long.
Another story is that I have been hired by a secret organisation to bring about the downfall of the Catholic Church... so secret in fact they have never let me know of their plan. Again the story is obviously not true.
Another story is that I am a French researcher posing as an Englishman or an American, depending who's telling the story, giving out false information, why I am really busy looting the tomb and selling off the objects... If I was looting the Tomb, which I am not, there is no way inside, believe me I have looked more than once, why would I say anything to bring attention to it? And why I would have to make out I was not French? Which I am not obviously, well it is to those who have met me. And please check out my ebay listing where I have a nice solid Gold Menorah for sale, starting bid is £10.000.000 with free delivery to anywhere in the UK, overseas postage extra, contact me for a price.

Why me?
I have often been asked why I was able to decipher Saunière's church clues to find something, when everyone else has failed. Even the French researchers and treasure hunters, who have been looking a lot longer than I, have not found anything.
I believe it is because I looked at it with fresh eyes from a different perspective. I ignored the two parchments and the paintings linked to the mystery, instead concentrating on the physical evidence we can see today, Sauniere's church and domain. My thinking was, even if the parchments and paintings had aided the priest in his discoveries, they were probably redundant now, because Sauniere had already found what he had been looking for and in all probability taken steps to ensure they could not be used again.
So concentrating on the church decorations, starting with the Demon and Angel statue just inside the door, as it is the first thing you see when you enter the church, I assumed it was the first step to take in solving the clues, and it worked. A year later I discovered the Tomb, by using only five of the decorations or statues Sauniere placed in his church.
Once you have cracked the code, so to speak, you realise the ingenuity of Sauniere. You don't need all this complicated geometry and ciphers; the answer is there for all to see, staring everyone in the face, literally.. When I finally reveal how I solved Sauniere's clues, people will be kicking themselves, it is so obvious. Perhaps this is why no one has succeeded before, they thought it couldn't be that simple, but believe me, it is.
Let me give you an example: The Demon and Angel statue.
Below the angels is written, 'by this sign you will vanquish, or conquer'. I took this to mean, by using this sign made by the angels, the sign of the cross, you will succeed. One of the angels, if you stand in front of the demon, is staring straight at you, she is also pointing at the sign and the demon below. The whole thing is screaming out, 'I am a clue use me.' And this is what I did, not only to find the Tomb but also the first message.

Sauniere's Demon and Angel Statue
As others have said before I even arrived on the scene, the demon may be linked to the Devil's armchair, situated in Rennes-les-Bains. There is no 'may' about it, it is.
If you trace the hand movement used to make the sign of the cross made by the angels, and then turn it upside down, you get a 4, the demon is resting four of his fingers on his knee. Could this be a clue?
If you join the 4 sign together 4 times you get MM = Mary Magdalene, the name of Sauniere's church.

The Devil on his Armchair
By using the demon, the Angel sign and the four fingers of the demon's hand splayed out on his knee as a measurement for the amount of times the 'sign' had to be used, I discovered the first message.

Close-up of the Demon's hand

The Devil's armchair also appears in the Fleury Tableau - Article here.

The Tomb
Though the original footage was important in notifying me that a Tomb did exist, because I did not know at the time I was filming a Tomb, let alone one was even there, the footage from the camera that fell down the hole and I later retrieved, full story on my website, was disappointing, either out of focus, too dark, grainy, pointed in the wrong direction or just of the rock walls. Below is an image taken from that footage. It shows one of the first glimpses I had of the Tomb and the shrouded body.



Frames grabbed from the original film

The body shape can just be made out under the shroud. The head is next to the round dark object in the top right corner. These were two of the first images I posted on my original website, not surprising really that people were not impressed.

The footage from the second tomb film was a lot better given the filming conditions. Yes the lighting could have been better, but as I could not see what I was filming, and there were a few problems that I had to overcome, I was pleased with the result. I had made a long wooden arm, hinged in places so it would bend through the twisted shaft. The video camera fixed to the end could be turned left and right by pulling on suitably attached cords, below is the result.

Old wooden chests, one of which lays tantalisingly open revealing golden objects inside. What may be scrolls or tubes and other objects lay scattered around the tomb floor, as if the Tomb has been ransacked, maybe even looted.

A slightly clearer image of the head, the hint of eyes and a raised bridge of a nose, perhaps pointing to it being an embalmed corpse and not a skeleton. Or perhaps it is the shape of a mask or helmet we can see in the cloth.
What looks like a bowl sits next to the head, containing liquid, probably water seeping through the rock above.
The large cross, probably too small and flimsy for crucifixion, is probably symbolic. Looking at the different angles on the stem below and above the crossbeam, it seems to have sagged over the years, other than that it looks in remarkably good condition.
What I believe to be parchments or tube like containers, lay scattered around the bottom of the cross. One of them, situated halfway up the wooden cross, has a faint red cross design, a Templar cross to match the one on the shroud perhaps.
Above the head of the body can be seen a chest that seems to be made of some kind of metal, we can only imagine what secrets or treasure it might contain.
When I had finished filming I used expanding foam and layers of rocks to seal the tomb shaft I filmed through.

When I met up with the Bloodline director Bruce Burgess and the 1244 Films crew, and they had filmed me finding some of the 'Sauniere' messages, Bruce decided it was time to film the Tomb again. He supplied me with a tiny camera on the end of a long cable. This would be attached to a monitor so for the very first time I would actually be able to see what I was filming. I attached the camera to the end of some bendy rods that could be lengthened by screwing on extra sections. With a cord attached to the end, I would have some limited control to move the camera around the Tomb.
After uncovering the top of the hole and cutting out the rocks I had sealed in with expanding foam, it was time to lower down the camera.

The camera being fed down the small winding shaft

As you can see there has been a serious rock fall since my last visit, luckily, for now, the shrouded body, which seems to have shifted slightly, has remained intact. With the obvious danger of another rock fall, the body is in serious danger of being destroyed.
The scrolls or tubes, have no doubt already been destroyed, now laying under the fallen rocks.
The cross now lies broken amidst the rubble.
The bowl, once filled with water, looks metallic and is now empty, seeming to have rotted through.
In the top of the image the metal chest can be seen, the shape of an object resting on top can also just be made out.
To see more images of the objects in the tomb, which includes an old book, the open treasure chest and a close up of a metallic looking chest, and more information about the Tomb, visit my website Tomb page or the Bloodline Movie website.
If another major rock fall takes place the secrets in the Tomb are in imminent danger of being destroyed or lost forever, at the very least many of the artefacts will suffer serious damage.
If the whole roof structure collapses this could prevent everything in the Tomb of ever being recovered. This is why my self and the Bloodline team, along with a recognised archaeologist, will shortly be putting together a proposal for an excavation of the Tomb to the French government, (DRAC) With their permission we hope to remove the body and the artefacts to a safe location. Hopefully after they have been examined and any necessary preservation work carried out, they will be placed in a museum so everyone will get the chance to view them.
As they say, only time will tell.
When I first set out on this journey into the mysterious priest Bérenger Saunière and the Rennes-le-Chateau mystery, it was just a bit of fun, nothing more than a hunt for lost treasure, but now it is no longer a game. At the risk of sounding corny, I have been changed by this quest and now realise, looking back, the change started shortly after I first found the Tomb and grew stronger when I realised the significance of the discovery. I no longer look at this as a hunt for gold and jewels but a hunt for the truth. Yes I still want to make some money, and why not? It was me that made the discovery, so please buy a copy of my book when it is published, and it would make an ideal gift so why not buy a copy for your friends as well.
What I would like to see, apart from my book reaching the top of the Non-fiction charts of course, is an official excavation of the Tomb site where I and others who have helped with my discoveries, will be involved. I have often dreamt of being the first to enter the Tomb, to look at the objects, open the chests and pull back the shroud to look at the body, and of course to examine that book. Hopefully in the future this will be a dream of mine that will come true. I would also like the objects to be displayed in a museum and if there is a little card by them saying, 'Discovered by Ben Hammott' that would be really cool.
Ben Hammott

Please visit my website for more information about my Research and Discoveries