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Secrets

of the
Da Vinci Code
6 20 30

Secrets of the All About Mary History’s


Da Vinci Code Greatest
Coverup?
CONTENTS Decoding the Da Vinci Saint … or Sinner? | 23 The Treasure of Nag
Phenomenon | 7 There’s far more to Mary than Hammadi | 32
Dan Brown’s novel is not only the official penitent—and The so-called Gnostic Gospels
a record bestseller; it has ig- prostitute—of church history. have cast new light on the
nited a firestorm of discus- early days of Christianity.
sion about religious history, The “Sacred
sex, and the Catholic Church. Feminine” | 28 Christianity’s Untidy
Long overlooked, the links be- Start | 39
The Man Behind the tween Christianity and an-
Mystery | 16 cient goddesses and fertility The Church
Dan Brown himself is one big cults are now being explored. Triumphant | 42
riddle. And he likes it like that. Did the early Church fathers
suppress the opposition?

Secrets of the Code


Much of this special Collector’s Edition of U.S. News & World Report is excerpted from the bestselling book SECRETS
OF THE CODE: THE UNAUTHORIZED GUIDE TO THE MYSTERIES BEHIND THE DA VINCI CODE. Edited by Dan
Burstein, Secrets of The Code explores, through the eyes and opinions of the experts—archaeologists, theologians, art
historians, philosophers, and scientists—the major themes and questions raised in Dan Brown’s novel, from who was
Mary Magdalene to whether Leonardo encrypted secret messages in his art. Burstein also wrote several of the
articles that appear here, including introductions to various chapters. The editors would like to thank him and Arne de
Keijzer, the book’s managing editor, for their help and cooperation in producing this project.

From Secrets of the Code: The Unauthorized Guide to the Mysteries Behind The Da Vinci Code, edited by Dan
Burstein and published by Client Distribution Services, Inc. Copyright © 2004 by Squibnocket Partners LLC.

COVER: LEONARDO DA VINCI, THE LAST SUPPER. ALINARI / ART RESOURCE. TITLE PAGE: LEONARDO DA VINCI, PORTRAIT OF A BEARDED MAN,
POSSIBLY A SELF-PORTRAIT, BIBLIOTECA REALE, TURIN, ITALY / BRIDGEMAN ART LIBRARY. GRAPHIC (PAGES 4-5): LASZLO KUBINYI FOR USN&WR
48 60 75 82

Leonardo The Netherworld The Origin Resources


and His Secrets of Conspiracies of the Hoax

A Feast for All Eyes | 51 Knights of Mystery | 63 The Da Vinci Con | 76 In the Footsteps of
Leonardo da Vinci hovers Lovers of conspiracies will de- The ever-rising tide of sales The Da Vinci Code | 82
over The Da Vinci Code from light in the murky Priory of of the Code has lifted some Our armchair guide to the hot
the first moment in the Lou- Sion and the equally mysteri- pretty odd boats, and none spots in the novel, from the
vre to the last. Did he inte- ous Knights Templar, a curi- odder than the dodgy yet blood-soaked Louvre and
grate a secret coded message ous body of medieval soldier- magisterial Holy Blood, Holy looming Saint-Suplice to
into The Last Supper? And monks of sinister reputation Grail, a 1980s bestseller that Scotland’s Rosslyn
why is Mona Lisa smiling? who—reputedly—were the underlies the novel. Chapel. Don’t leave home
guardians of a great secret. without it.
The Last Supper | 52 The French Confection | 78
Could it really be Mary Mag- The Enigma Beginning in the 1950s, a If You Loved
dalene sitting next to Jesus? of Opus Dei | 68 small group of men with neo- the Novel … | 85
A close look at the disputed The most controversial group chivalric and nationalist lean- What do you read next? Our
painting. in the Catholic Church today, ings was able to perpetrate suggestions of books,
it is seen by some as a cult- what is almost certainly a movies, and websites for fur-
Inside the Mind like organization—and by oth- marvelously intricate hoax— ther exploration.
of a Genius | 56 ers as doing God’s work. the Priory of Sion.
From age 30 on, Leonardo Dan Brown’s
produced more than 5,000 The Riddles Have It | 70 Next Caper | 87
remarkable manuscript pages The Da Vinci Code is an artful For Robert Langdon, all clues
of notes, ideas, and drawings. web of mysterious codes and to his next adventure seem to
secret symbols that must be be pointing in one direction:
solved by Robert Langdon at Washington, D.C., home of
breakneck speed—or else. many Masonic mysteries.

FROM LEFT: AKG; DAGLI ORTI—GALLERIA SABAUDA TURIN / THE ART ARCHIVE; GIRAUDON / ART RESOURCE; U S N &W R S P E C I A L E D I T I O N 3
ALINARI / ART RESOURCE (2); ANTONIO RIBEIRO—GAMMA; STEFANO DE LUIGI—CONTRASTO / REDUX
16

At 10:46 Friday night, following orders from a myste-


rious figure, Silas shoots curator Jacques Saunière in
the Louvre Museum in Paris. Before dying, Saunière
leaves a trail of coded messages in blood and black-
light ink throughout the Grand Gallery of the Louvre.
SATURDAY
l1 12:32 AM Bezu Fache, head of Paris police, sum-
mons Robert Langdon from the Ritz Hotel to the
bizarre crime scene in the Louvre.
l2 1:10 AM Sophie Neveu interrupts them.

l3 1:13 AM Silas searches St. Sulpice for Grail keystone. 11


l4 1:47AM Secret message near the Mona Lisa, and
a hidden key, reveal Saunière belonged to the
Priory of Sion.
l5 1:56 AM Neveu and Langdon sneak out of the
Louvre, foiling police.
l6 3:35 AM Neveu and Langdon remove the precious
keystone from bank vault in Rue Haxo, Paris.
l7 4:45 AM At his chateau in Villette (near 12
Versailles), Sir Leigh Teabing tells Neveu the Holy
13
Grail is Mary Magdalene, Jesus’s wife and successor.
14
l8 5:00 AM Silas knocks out Langdon in Sir Leigh's
drawing room while attempting to steal the key- 15
stone for Opus Dei.
l9 5:43 AM Neveu, Langdon, Sir Leigh, and his ser-
vant, Rémy, tie up Silas and escape to England,
unlocking keystone's cryptex en route.
l
10 6:30 AM Bezu Fache, in pursuit, misses them as
they land in Kent, England.
l11 7:40 AM Silas nearly steals the second cryptex
at London's Temple Church.
l
12 8:20 AM Mysterious plotter who ordered Sauni-
ère's murder hides in London’s Westminster Abbey.
l
13 8:25 AM Silas’s shootout with police at Opus Dei in
London.
l
14 8:30 AM Langdon and Neveu hunt for clues in the
abbey to the code that will open the second cryptex.
l
15 8:45 AM In the abbey’s Chapter House, Teabing
admits to ordering Saunière’s
murder, Langdon deciphers the
keystone, and Bezu Fache
arrests Teabing.
l
16 7:00 PM Neveu finds her true
identity at Rosslyn Chapel—and
the trail leads back to Paris.
Robert Langdon Sophie Neveu Jacques Saunière Sir Leigh Teabing Silas
A professor of “religious A young, pretty The curator of the Not only is Sir Leigh a An albino monk and a
symbology”—a field of cryptographer, Neveu Louvre, Saunière is also former “British Royal member of the Catholic
study that exists only in becomes Langdon’s ally Grand Master of the Historian”—a title that group Opus Dei, Silas is
Dan Brown's mind—Lang- in the search for the Priory of Sion. As the
don arrives in Paris to does not exist; he is the an orphan who is given
truth about the murder novel begins he is found
give a lecture on pagan of Saunière, her dead—naked, and spread- world's most renowned orders from an individ-
symbolism. estranged grandfather. eagled on the floor of living expert on the ual known as “The
Langdon, who was first Sofia, in Greek, the Grand Gallery—with a Holy Grail. His hench- Teacher” to murder
introduced in Brown's means wisdom. Her last pentacle scrawled in man is a manservant Saunière. He is known
earlier novel, Angels & name, Neveu, is a blood on his torso. named Rémy. for his deft practice
Demons, is his tribute to homonym of the French His name is derived In creating the enig- of corporal mortifica-
John Langdon, author of word nouveau, or new. from that of a French
Wordplay: Ambigrams matic Teabing, Dan tion, which involves at-
Combined, the full name priest, Abbé Bérenger
and Reflections on the adds up to “New Saunière, who, according Brown was paying trib- taching a spiked chain
Art of Ambigrams, one of Wisdom.” At the center to legend, discovered ute to the conspiracy called a cilice to his
Brown's favorite books. of the name Neveu is mysterious parchments theorists whose work thigh.
the word “Eve,” pointing hidden in a pillar at the preceded his own— Besides being a hom-
to Sophie’s possibly church of St. Mary specifically, the authors onym for the word cilice,
unique position in the Magdalene in Rennes-le- of Holy Blood, Holy the name Silas appears
world as the chalice Château in 1885. The
carrying Christ’s blood. papers traced a bloodline
Grail, a controversial to have been taken from
descended from Jesus book published in 1982. a Biblical character who
Christ and Mary One of the authors is escaped from jail during
Magdalene—and turned Michael Baigent (Tea- a God-willed natural dis-
Saunière into a rich man. bing is an anagram of aster—described by lat-
Baigent) and another is ter-day scholars as ei-
Richard Leigh. ther an earthquake or a
hurricane.

9
10 8
7

6
1
2
4 5

3
BY WRITER NAME

6 USN&WR SPECIAL EDITION PHOTOGRAPH CREDIT GOES HERE


BEHIND THE CODE

Decoding the DaVinci


Phenomenon
... OR HOW A 24-HOUR THRILL RIDE THROUGH PSEUDO-HISTORY BECAME A SENSATION
BY AMY D. BERNSTEIN

t the beginning of The Da Vinci finale: Dan Brown has led his readers on a clas-
Code, Robert Langdon, “Harrison sic wild goose chase.
Ford in Harris tweed” and distin- Widespread readership of an intriguing thriller
guished professor of symbology at is nothing unusual, but The Da Vinci Code is
Harvard, is summoned to the something else again. In the almost two years
Louvre to examine the corpse of the curator, since its publication, the novel has become a
Jacques Saunière, victim of an apparent ritual record bestseller, with 7.35 million copies in print.
murder. The scene is film noir-esque: But it has also managed to ignite a firestorm of
discussion about religion and sex, core doctrines
“The bloody star, centered on Saunière’s navel, of the Catholic Church, Renaissance art, symbols,
gave his corpse a distinctly ghoulish aura. ... codes, and even the history of the Western World SWEET SMILE
He did this to himself. … as we know it. Despite its patently fictional con- OF SUCCESS.
‘It’s a pentacle’, Langdon offered, his voice feel- tent and glaring factual inaccuracies, The Da Vinci Leonardo’s
ing hollow in the huge space. ‘One of the oldest sym- Code has been the subject of endless cocktail party Mona Lisa has
bols on earth. Used over four thousand years before chatter and water-cooler discussions. It has even captivated an
Christ.’ been deemed worthy of an online Ivy League international
‘And what does it mean?’ course: “The Da Vinci Code Demystified: A Schol- audience. So
Langdon always hesitated when he got this ques- arly Perspective,” co-authored by Harold Attridge, has the book.
tion. Telling someone what a symbol ‘meant’ was dean of the Divinity School at Yale Uni-
like telling them how a song should make them versity, and two Yale colleagues—not some-
feel—it was different for all people.” thing that normally happens after the pub-
lication of, say, a John Grisham novel. Dean
Eerie and mysterious, the pentacle is one of the Attridge says he proposed the online sem-
central symbols in The Da Vinci Code, the phe- inar after his talks on The Da Vinci Code
nomenally bestselling thriller that—remarkably— had drawn record turnout at events all over
has an academic for its hero, makes knowing ref- the country. “Though you gag at the his-
erence to Renaissance art and is filled with torical claims in it,” he says, he spoke on
historical allusions to everything from the early every occasion to packed houses of Yale
Christian Church to the Crusades. Within min- alumni “who sat with rapt attention.”
utes of seeing the corpse, Robert Langdon and Why the rapt attention from Ivy League
Agent Sophie Neveu, a beautiful and gifted young graduates, no less? The secret lies in the
cryptanalyst, set off on a fast-paced, 24-hour trea- novel’s potent convergence of elements
sure hunt through France and England, aided by that entertain, enlighten, and empower the
a series of clues and puzzles that eventually lead reader. A succession of seemingly complicated
them to Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland. Several codes, pregnant symbols, and clues promises to
corpses later in this twenty-first-century retelling lead to a hidden “truth”— which in turn promis-
of the Holy Grail legend, the murders are solved. es a seismic shift in nothing less than the bedrock
But the final resting place of the Grail comes only beliefs of Christianity itself. Mixing reality and
in the Epilogue, in an oh-yes-I-forgot-to-tell-you- fantasy, Brown has challenged the idea that re-

AKG USN&WR SPECIAL EDITION 7


CRIME SCENE. Leigh, Lincoln produced three very successful doc-
I. M. Pei’s bold umentaries about the story in the 1970s that led
glass pyramid at in turn to the book. At the center of the docu-
the Louvre leads mentaries and book was a small, hilltop town in
to the galleries rural southwestern France, Rennes-le-Château.
where the deed It was home to an obscure village priest, Bérenger
was done. Saunière, who is said to have made an earth-
shaking discovery at the end of the nineteenth cen-
tury involving a trove of parchments hidden in the
local Church of Saint Mary Magdalene. On the ad-
vice of his Bishop, the story goes, Saunière took
the documents to the church of Saint-Sulpice in
ceived notions of the Bible and the Church are Paris, and, upon his return home, became sud-
a relevant mirror for our twenty-first-century cul- denly and unaccountably rich. This story was later
ture. At a time when the Catholic Church is in revived in the 1950s by Pierre Plantard, a right-
crisis, he is offering new meaning through the wing, neo-chivalric intriguer, who used it to per-
cryptic symbols and coded messages of ancient petrate an elaborate hoax involving the rediscov-
philosophies and pagan religions. As Catholic ery of Saunière’s parchments in the Bibliothèque
writer Sandra Miesel notes of Dan Brown’s book Nationale in Paris. The “dossiers secrets” pur-
in her review in Crisis Magazine, “The Da Vinci portedly proved that the medieval French Mer-
Code takes esoterica mainstream.” ovingian royal dynasty still existed, and the fam-
The main source for The Da Vinci Code is the ilies St. Clair and Plantard, living descendants of
“nonfiction” bestseller Holy Blood, Holy Grail, the Merovingians, were Christ's direct bloodline.
which was first published in 1982 and is conspir- A secret society called the Priory of Sion had al-
acy-theory writing at its most deft. The project was legedly been guarding the truth for centuries.
originally the brainchild of Henry Lincoln, who In Holy Blood, Holy Grail, Lincoln, Leigh, and
had become intrigued with the story of Mary Mag- Baigent further elaborated the story of Rennes-le-
dalene’s enigmatic fate after picking up an obscure Château and used the secret of its church of Saint
book, Le Trésor Maudit (1968), by Gérard de Sède, Mary Magdalene to bolster the conspiracy theory
one summer on the way to a rental house in that Christ may not only have been married to
France. Along with Michael Baigent and Richard Mary Magdalene and fathered a child with her,

8 USN&WR SPECIAL EDITION FROM TOP: BRUNO BARBEY—MAGNUM; GILLES BASSIGNAC—GAMMA


BEHIND THE CODE

but may have even survived the Crucifixion. While


the Rennes-le-Château enigma and the related At a time when the Catholic Church is in
Priory of Sion documents were conclusively
proven in the 1990s to have been part of an elab- crisis, Dan Brown is offering new meaning
orate hoax, and the BBC later aired a program through the cryptic symbols of ancient
largely disclaiming their earlier documentaries,
the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail have con- philosophies and pagan religions.
tinued to publish their unchanged version as a
true story.
Enter Dan Brown, who, imitating their tech- now used as a figure of speech to describe any near-
nique, has drawn many of his ideas, so-called impossible search. It was even lampooned in a pop-
“facts” and conjectures directly from Holy Blood, ular 1975 film, Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Holy Grail, as well as from The Templar Revela- In the process, more than a few people have taken
tion: Secret Guardians of the True Identity of the story of the Grail seriously.
Christ, a related Grail conspiracy theory account Few, however, have taken it as seriously as Dan
by Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince that was pub- Brown and his immediate predecessors. And they,
lished in 1998. Though rooted in Celtic mytholo- in turn, have kicked off a new frenzy of Grail hunt-
gies, the Holy Grail has been a part of written lit- ing. After reading The Da Vinci Code, some peo-
erature since the Middle Ages, when it first ple are imitating Langdon and Neveu, and em-
appeared in Chrétien de Troyes’s Perceval ou le barking on their very own search for the Holy
Conte du Graal in the late twelfth century. In the Grail—redefined in the novel as Mary Magdalene
nineteenth century in particular, when there was and the bloodline from her and Jesus. In a dis-
a revival of interest in medieval and folk legends, a patch last summer, The New York Times noted
plethora of poetry and visual art and even an opera that Rosslyn Chapel, six miles from Edinburgh,
based on the Holy Grail legends again appeared has had a 56 percent increase in visitors since the
(see Page 14). As a result, the Holy Grail became so appearance of the bestseller, with tourists coming
much a part of Western cultural reference that it is to see the chapel covered with symbols and trying

THE CLUES
START HERE.
The Louvre
curator’s body
lies spread-
eagled on the
floor as the
Mona Lisa
Louvre cutaway art stares down
enigmatically
from the wall.

ILLUSTRATION BY LASZLO KUBINYI FOR USN&WR USN&WR SPECIAL EDITION 9


THE SECRETS OF THE DA VINCI CODE

their hand at a little decoding. “Many of the


tourists seem not only inclined to take The Da
Vinci Code literally, but also to have read it with-
out proper attention to detail,” noted the Times—
since they never read the epilogue, where it is re-
vealed that the Holy Grail is allegedly hidden in
the Louvre.
The Da Vinci Code has created other pilgrim-
age sites, too, ones central to the action of the
book. The Louvre itself and Saint-Sulpice in
Paris are star attractions on Da Vinci Code
tours. Rennes-le-Château has also attracted
code enthusiasts for some time, thanks to yet
another book written in 1997 by Henry Lincoln,
Key to the Sacred Pattern, which contains many
BEWARE THE of the symbols and clues used in Brown’s book,
ALBINO MONK. such as the hidden significance of points on the
Saint-Sulpice zero meridian.
Church in Paris Like Henry Lincoln, Brown bolsters his claims
(right and in true conspiracy-theorist style by using codes
below). Silas’s and puzzles to create a sense both of mystery and
murder of a nun authenticity. As Michelle Delio writes in Wired
there (he uses a News, “Where The Da Vinci Code does shine—bril-
candle stand) liantly—is in its exploration of cryptology, par-
has put the ticularly the encoding methods developed by
Baroque Leonardo da Vinci, whose art and manuscripts are
masterpiece on packed with mystifying symbolism and quirky
the tourist map. codes.” With a sense of mastery generated by solv-

10 USN&WR SPECIAL EDITION FROM TOP; LEONARD DE SELVA—CORBIS; SUPERSTOCK


BEHIND THE CODE

ing the puzzles and codes in The Da Vinci Code—


which Brown makes easy enough for the average
high school student to understand—readers have
been breathlessly searching for meaning in geo-
Heresy ... or History?
metrical patterns and number sequences, and In The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown is not shy about ques-
even in the characters’ names. Leigh Teabing, it tioning the beliefs of conventional Christianity, or posing
happens, is a composite (in one case, an anagram) radically different reinterpretations of Church history,
of the surnames of Holy Blood, Holy Grail authors writes Dan Burstein in Secrets of the Code. Among the
Richard Leigh and Michael Baigent. The Da Vinci central questions raised by the novel:
Code website offers further puzzles to solve.
Being a modern-day knight-errant, Langdon must n What do we really know about Mary Magdalene? Was
prove not his physical but his mental prowess, con- she a prostitute, as Christian tradition has portrayed
quering symbols and cracking codes throughout the her? If she was not, why was she portrayed as such for so
novel. The pentacle etched on Saunière’s abdomen long in Church history, and why did the Vatican change
has a starring role in the symbology of The Da Vinci its mind in the 1960s?
Code. According to Langdon,
n Is there real evidence that Jesus and Mary Magdalene
“… [It] is a pre-Christian symbol that relates to Na- were married? When Gospel accounts in the New Tes-
ture worship. … This pentacle is representative of tament speak of a woman anointing Jesus with luxuri-
the female half of all things—a concept religious ous aromatic oils from an alabaster jar and drying his
historians call the ‘sacred feminine’ or the ‘divine feet with her hair,was this Mary Magdalene or a dif-
goddess.’ ... The pentacle was altered by the early ferent Mary, who may have actually been a reformed
Roman Catholic Church. As part of the Vatican’s prostitute?
campaign to eradicate pagan religions and convert
the masses to Christianity, the Church launched n Does the Gospel of Philip found in an earthenware jar
a smear campaign against the pagan gods and god- near the Egyptian town of Nag Hammadi really say that
desses, recasting their divine symbols as evil.” Jesus frequently kissed Mary Magdalene on the mouth—
and if we have the right translation and the right words,
he pentacle and related symbols, Lang- is this a metaphor? Or is it an actual reference to a ro-
don tells us, from the pentagram and the mantic relationship?
Star of David to the rose and Leonardo’s
Vitruvian man, are part of the symbology of the n Is it possible that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had a
“sacred feminine.” child and that they fostered a bloodline that continued
Along with his claims about the hidden mean- into recent times?
ings to be found in symbols and codes, Brown
uses paintings as fertile territory for his con- n How valid are the many legends about Mary Magda-
spiracy theories. Leonardo da Vinci, an alleged lene’s escape to France? Could her progeny have been
Grand Master of the mysterious Priory of Sion, the basis for the Merovingian kings?
and his paintings are at the heart of Brown’s
story, starting with an overt reference to Leonar- n Was the historical Jesus essentially a Jewish rabbi,
do’s Vitruvian Man in the opening murder, and teacher, or spiritual leader and, as such, would it be like-
in his subsequent use of The Last Supper, ly and even probable that he would be married?
The Madonna of the Rocks, and the Mona Lisa
to “prove” Leonardo’s interest in the “Sacred n Is it possible that Mary Magdalene was an important
Feminine.” (In this respect Brown borrows, and spiritual figure in her own right, the romantic compan-
then diverges, from Plantard’s hoax, since Plan- ion or wife of Jesus, and the person whom he wished to
tard preferred to bury his clues in a French lead his movement after his death?
painting by Nicolas Poussin, Les Bergers d’Ar-
cadie, and another by David Teniers.) n Are the Gnostic Gospels and other alternative scrip-
Brown’s emphasis on the hidden symbolism in tures credible, or at least as credible as the main-
Leonardo’s paintings is an interesting one, given stream, traditional Gospels? Do they really tell a sig-
the rich tradition dating back to the Middle Ages nificantly different story?
in which nearly every detail in a church façade,
mural or painting had some deeper spiritual sig- n Did leaders of the Roman Church, from Constantine to
nificance. As with his symbols, Brown offers new Pope Gregory, carry out a concerted attack on alterna-
interpretations of da Vinci’s art throughout the tive beliefs and scriptures? Did they edit what became
novel. Mary Magdalene, he claims, not the beloved the accepted canon for political purposes?
disciple John, is pictured at Christ’s right hand in

USN&WR SPECIAL EDITION 11


SECRETS OF THE DA VINCI CODE

The Last Supper—their bodies touching in such tional Florentine depictions of the Last Supper,
ways as to indicate that she was part of the inner stressing the betrayal and sacrifice of Jesus
circle, and, most likely, his wife. He finds cor- rather than the institution of the Eucharist and
roboration for Leonardo’s ambiguous life, and the chalice,” and that “St. John was invariably
supposed interest in hermaphroditism, in the an- represented as a beautiful young man whose spe-
drogynous looks of the Mona Lisa. Throughout cial affinity with Jesus was expressed by his
the novel, Brown aims at subversion, and the am- being seated at Jesus’s right.”
biguous Leonardo is his perfect artistic alter ego.
As any art scholar knows, however, Brown’s y marshalling his own unique set of
characterizations of Leonardo’s work are free- facts, however, Brown does give us an
form creativity and bear little resemblance to se- exhilaratingly original history of the
rious thinking in the field, revealing a stunning European Christ-
lack of careful knowledge concerning Leonardo’s ian Church, just
name, output, materials, and even sexual ori- as, in the book, So-
entation (Brown calls him a “flamboyant homo- phie (whose name
sexual,” which has no historical foundation). As could be stretched
art historian Bruce Boucher points out, in ref- to mean Sofia, or
erence to Brown’s theories concerning The Last “new wisdom”) is
Supper, “Leonardo’s composition points, in fact, given a crash course
in another direction, for it conforms to tradi- in Mary Magda-

What the French Are Saying


t looks like French him a “virtuoso at stag- Clichés and “tricks” to
readers have joined ing” who has produced keep the reader breath-
American Da Vinci an “intelligent entertain- lessly turning pages, she The Ritz Hotel in Paris, where
Code devotees who genu- ment and not a pure noted, “risk ruining the Robert Langdon stayed
flect by the Louvre muse- marketing ploy.” The pleasure of a well-bal-
um’s inverted pyramid. leading weekly magazine anced plot.” Peras quotes poet-playwright Jean
Within a week of the Le Point declared that Montpellier bookseller Cocteau might have been
thriller’s March 2004 re- France would be able to François Huet, saying he entwined with secret so-
lease, it was the country’s judge for itself now, hav- put down the book, find- cieties.The importance to
number-three bestseller, ing watched the book’s ing it written “with a the French of the Louvre
and sales of the novel phenomenal rise abroad. spatula”—meaning in a as a historic royal
have hardly slowed since. Anne Berthod of the in- slapdash manner. residence and the coun-
The alluring French cover fluential weekly L’Ex- Still, the book’s literary try’s foremost museum
shows the Mona Lisa press applauded the merits are a secondary of fine art also can’t be
peering from behind a “Machiavellian plot and consideration. Public in- exaggerated.
torn scarlet background. infernal pacing,” calling terest in Opus Dei, the A secular republic of
Frenchmen and the book an “erudite Knights Templar, the Pri- about sixty million inhabi-
women expecting critics crime novel” that entices ory of Sion, and the mari- tants, France is home,
to dismiss the book out- you to take another look tal status of Jesus and nonetheless, to large
right or lambaste its fan- at da Vinci’s Last Supper. Mary Magdalene has numbers of Catholics and
ciful interpretation of But few French review- proved remarkably wide- Protestants and some five
Parisian topography, ers consider Dan spread, giving rise to million Moslems, and is
French culture, and lin- Brown’s thriller a work earnest discussions on struggling with church-
guistics, must have been of literature, preferring street corners and in so- versus-state issues involv-
surprised by the general- to class it as genre fic- called “philosophy cafés.” ing the freedom to display
ly positive reviews and tion. Delphine Peras, What appears to fasci- religious symbols in pub-
skyrocketing sales. The writing in the daily nate French readers most lic. And then along comes
highbrow Lire, while France Soir, had faint is the tantalizing Robert Langdon ...
scolding Brown for praise: “I’m not saying prospect put forward in —David Downie is an Amer-
sounding like a high- it’s a bad book, it’s the the book that former ican journalist based in
school lecturer on pre- perfect vacation read ... a president François Mit- Paris. Copyright © 2004 by
Christian symbols, called vending-machine book.” terrand and surrealist David Downie.

12 USN&WR SPECIAL EDITION ZAMBOUNIS—PICADAS—GAMMA


BEHIND THE CODE

lene, the early Church, and even earlier religions.


As his mad dash of a plot unfolds, Brown alludes
to a number of important controversies that beset
the Church over time, and offers his own alterna-
tive, anti-Catholic interpretation of them. “When
two cultures clash, the loser is obliterated and the
winner writes the history books—books which glo-
rify their own cause and disparage the conquered
foe,” Langdon tells Sophie, explaining why Mary
Magdalene was denigrated by the early Church.
This deconstructionist, postmodern view of his-
tory is spurring discussions across a very broad
spectrum. In the United States, where the Pew Re-
search Center recently published a report an-
nouncing that six in ten people (59 percent) say re-
ligion plays a very important role in their lives, it
has also prompted a lively discussion of what peo-
ple are choosing to believe in, something which has
changed radically in the last half century.
Brown’s timing in questioning the Church could
not be better. In a fortieth anniversary address
at Seattle University’s School of Theology and
Ministry in 2002, John J. Markey, O.P., Ph.D., de-
scribed the impact of Vatican II as “one of the two
or three most revolutionary events in the histo-
ry of the Christian Church.” This council of bish-
ops overturned a system that relied on authori-
tarian, hierarchical figures (priests, bishops) to
dispense God’s grace through the sacraments, and
decreed that “Grace is something that is available
to all people of all cultures, faiths, and times—and
even to unbelievers.” By the time it ended in 1965,
Vatican II had transformed an essentially Euro-
centric Church into a global, ecumenical body, and
opened the floodgates for a new brand of Catholi-
cism. With the rise in numbers of college-educated
and affluent people in this country, and the emer-
gence of the Internet as well, more people have
begun to question the authority of their parish
priests, as well as other aspects of their faith, in-
cluding women’s roles in the church. From 1960-
2001, the defection rate of Catholics from the
Church had held steady at 15 percent, but the re-
cent sexual abuse scandals have further discred-
ited the institution and alienated many people
from the established Church. IF THESE
Several other key factors have also influenced WALLS COULD
religious attitudes in the last forty years, affecting SPEAK ...
Christians of all denominations—which, of course, Rosslyn Chapel,
is fodder for Dan Brown’s skepticism. One was the whose design is
discovery of fifty-two texts, now known as the reputedly based
Gnostic Gospels, at Nag Hammadi in December on the ancient
1945. In them, previously unheard voices—those Temple of
of Thomas, Philip, and Mary Magdalene—pre- Solomon, is
sented a very divergent view from the canonical adorned with
gospels of early Christian thought. Until then, innumerable
Gnostic beliefs were known mostly through the carvings (story,
second-century writer Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyon, Page 84).

FROM TOP: SANDRO VANNINI—CORBIS; MICHAEL SCHOFIELD—WORLD PICTURE NEWS USN&WR SPECIAL EDITION 13
SECRETS OF THE DA VINCI CODE

search, but draws much of its material from one


The book is very disturbing to many particular new-age writer. On Page 253 of the
novel, Brown includes a list of books in Sir Leigh
because Dan Brown is not so covertly Teabing’s house, where Langdon and Sophie
attacking the foundations of Christianity, flee. It is a sly reference to his novel’s sources.
Two volumes are by Margaret Starbird, a lapsed
and in particular the divinity of Christ. Catholic and self-proclaimed heretic who com-
bines in The Goddess in the Gospels: Reclaim-
ing the Sacred Feminine and The Woman With
who wrote a famous work, titled Against Here- the Alabaster Jar: Mary Magdalene and the
sies, decrying the alternate gospels. Broadly Holy Grail neo-Gnostic ideas with Goddess wor-
speaking, Gnosticism denied the divinity of ship. In a passage from The Da Vinci Code,
Christ and stressed individual knowledge as the Langdon parrots some of Starbird’s ideas:
means of achieving salvation—a radically alter-
native vision of religious reality. When Elaine “The power of the female and her ability to pro-
Pagels published The Gnostic Gospels in 1979 duce life was once very sacred, but it posed a
about the long-lost texts and tradition, it became threat to the rise of the predominantly male
an immediate bestseller. Church, and so the sacred feminine was demo-
Coinciding with the growing feminist move- nized and called unclean. It was man, not God,
ment in this country, the Gnostic Gospels—es- who created the concept of ‘original sin,’ where-
pecially the gospel of Philip, which depicted by Eve tasted of the apple and caused the down-
Mary Magdalene as a favorite of Christ—showed fall of the human race. Woman, once the sacred
an early Church in which women had wielded giver of life, was now the enemy.”
considerably more power than had been pre-
viously understood. The discovery opened new proponent of the Jungian concept of
areas of research to feminist scholars such as “synchronicity,” Starbird favors an in-
Harvard Divinity School Professor Karen King, stinctive religious response, which is
who has since written extensively on the sub- open to the “coincidence between mind and mat-
ject of Mary Magdalene, most recently in The ter,” or what she describes as the “paranormal.” It
Gospel of Mary of Magdala (2003). The gospel, allows her to search for meaning and confirma-
she says, “Shows us there was a tradition of tion in everything, a practice favored by conspir-
Mary Magdalene as an important apostle of the acy theorists as well.
Church after the resurrection.” Another factor that has spurred interest in a
The Da Vinci Code acknowledges this re- personal religious quest for Jesus is the creation

THE ONCE AND


FUTURE LEGEND
The Holy Grail story, based on
Geoffrey of Monmouth’s chroni-
cle of King Arthur and Merlin,
has been part of the Western
imagination since the twelfth
century. Along the way, it has
morphed from adventure story
to religious myth to pop cultural
icon. An inspiration for Wagner
and Tennyson in the nineteenth
century, in the twentieth it be-
came a symbol of New Age spiri-
tualism—and a movie staple.
A knightly take on the Grail tale: A Last Supper from an earlier
an illustration from a poem by century: a detail from the
Wolfram von Eschenbach, dating manuscript of Sir Percival and
back eight hundred years the Holy Grail of 1286

14 USN&WR SPECIAL EDITION FROM LEFT: MARY EVANS PICTURE LIBRARY; CORBIS BETTMANN
BEHIND THE CODE

of the Jesus Seminar in 1985. An outgrowth of the tury A.D., but it was refined in the fourth centu-
Evangelical movement, it was founded by a pro- ry at Nicea,” says Yale School of Divinity dean
fessor of religion, Robert W. Funk, as an ambi- Harold Attridge. Sometimes Brown seems re-
tious collaborative attempt to study and think markably unaware of the anomalies in his fictions.
about the historical Jesus. Avowedly open and de- His claims that Jesus was married are dismissed
mocratic in character (though many of its par- not only by Christians, but are also anathema to
ticipants are eminent Biblical scholars) it was Gnostics. As Byron Barlowe of Leadership Uni-
meant to dismantle the hierarchies of past teach- versity puts it, “Gnosticism would be repulsed by
ing about Jesus, and to disseminate learning and the idea of physical relations between Mary Mag-
spur discussion among a wide audience. Though dalene and Jesus”—something Brown asserts with-
enthusiasm for Evangelism has spread, the level out hesitation.
of sophisticated inquiry has remained low—which In fact, a veritable phalanx of scholarly and re-
explains both the fervent interest that has greet- ligious writers has risen up to refute The Da Vinci
ed The Da Vinci Code and its uncritical acceptance Code, point by point, on television and on the In-
as truth. “America is a Jesus-haunted culture, but ternet, and has created a minor book industry as
at the same time, it’s a biblically illiterate culture,” well. USA Today notes that there are now over
says Evangelical author Ben Witherington III. ninety titles in print that are related in subject
“When you have that combination, almost any- matter to The Da Vinci Code, spawning even more
thing can pass for the historical Jesus.” reviews and commentary. Through it all, Dan
Most important, however, the book is very dis- Brown remains unrepentant. As he says on his
turbing to many because Dan Brown is not so own website, “… the dialogue itself is a deeply em-
covertly attacking the foundations of Christianity, powering and positive force for everyone involved.
and in particular the divinity of Christ. Darrell Suddenly, enormous numbers of people are pas-
Bock, a professor at the Dallas Theological Semi- sionately debating important philosophical top-
nary, says Dan Brown’s book isn’t so innocent: “At ics, and regardless of the personal conclusions
its very core it is an attempt to reshape our culture that each of us draws, the debate can only help
and Christian beliefs.” As in Holy Blood, Holy to strengthen our understanding of our own faith.”
Grail, there are many assertions that do not square For while all the plot inventions in The Da Vinci
with the broad scholarly consensus on the histor- Code add up to a reckless joy ride through pseu-
ical Christ. The notion that Constantine imposed do-history, those in possession of the actual facts
the doctrine of the divinity of Christ on his bishops will continue to present him with some hefty
at the Council of Nicea in 325 is flatly disavowed speeding tickets. But Dan Brown already knows
by historians and scholars. “Christians were pro- that the revenue derived from his book sales will
claiming the divinity of Christ since the first cen- certainly pay for them. l

One of Julia Margaret Cameron’s A 1914 postcard advertising a Richard Harris plays King Arthur
1874 photos illustrating Idylls of production of Wagner’s opera in Camelot (1967), a film
the King and other poems by her Parsifal, which includes a com- adaptation of T. H. White’s The
friend Alfred, Lord Tennyson memoration of the Last Supper Once and Future King (1958)

FROM LEFT: JULIA MARGARET CAMERON—HULTON—DEUTSCH USN&WR SPECIAL EDITION 15


COLLECTION / CORBIS; AKG; KOBAL COLLECTION
SECRETS OF THE DA VINCI CODE

The Man Behind


the Mystery
DAN BROWN LOVES CREATING RIDDLES AND
CODES—INCLUDING THE RIDDLE OF HIMSELF
BY STEPHEN MEREDITH

ecrets interest us all, I think,” Dan


Brown opines on his website, point-
edly sidestepping the obvious fact
that The Da Vinci Code yarn spinner
himself has become one of the cu-
riosities of our time. For unlike most commer-
cially minded craftsmen of modern fiction, the
39-year-old former New England high school
teacher remains an elusive creature, less Tom
Clancy or Stephen King—who at least have looked
Larry King in the eye—than a true recluse-in-
training, a J. D. Salinger or, well, Howard Hugh-
es or Greta Garbo.
Not that Brown is a total TV ghost. He was
there, wisely, last November to help plug an ABC
special titled Jesus, Mary and Da Vinci, and to
show up on that day’s Good Morning America. But
that was to promote the program, not himself.
Oprah, can you help us here?
In fact, so little is known about this preppy-
looking sphinx with a dimpled chin (paging Graduated from Amherst College, also studying
Michael Douglas for the eventual biopic) that the art history at Spain’s University of Seville, which
BBC failed miserably at Decoding The Da Vinci offered insights into “the mysteries of Da Vinci’s
Code Author, as it called its 2004 profile. The only paintings.” By his own admission, he grew up “sur-
nugget: that it was while on vacation that Brown rounded by the paradoxical philosophies of sci-
read a Sidney Sheldon novel and felt so strongly ence and religion” in the ivory-tower atmosphere
that he could do better that he finally turned his of East Coast prep schools and the Ivy League,
back on his day job. “with all of their little fraternities and eating clubs
Facts: Brown was born in New Hampshire. Fa- and secret societies.” These helped spark Brown’s
ther, a celebrated math teacher at Phillips Exeter unquenchable interest in the clandestine, as did
Academy (also attended by Dan). Mother, a pro- his “associations early on with people from the Na-
fessional musician, specializing in sacred music. tional Security Agency,” as he told online book re-

16 USN&WR SPECIAL EDITION


viewer C. M. McDonald (although what, specifi- les music producer Barry Fasman told the Boston PUZZLE MAN.
cally, those associations might have been he has Globe. “Real accessible mainstream.” Among Brown’s
not cared to elucidate). A visit to the Vatican, So mainstream was his music that one Brown inspirations
thanks to “a connection, very high,” further ex- ditty, “Peace in Our Time,” made its way to the were the eating
erted its influence. Summer Olympics in 1996—by which time the clubs and secret
Not one to know exactly what he wanted to do composer was already three years into his stint societies of the
in life, Brown pursued several different careers teaching English at the same school where his fa- Ivy League.
after college. First he tried following in his moth- ther had been. The younger Brown taught
er’s footsteps, though in a more popular vein. He Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey, Of Mice and
headed to California to sing, play the piano, write Men by Steinbeck (whose descriptions Brown says
songs, and produce four CDs, by now largely for- he tries to emulate) and “anything by Shake-
gotten. “It was his own brand of pop,” Los Ange- speare” (whose wordplay Brown attempts to fol-

PAULA LERNER—AURORA USN&WR SPECIAL EDITION 17


SECRETS OF THE DA VINCI CODE

bogs down.” (One mystery about 187 Men: Its au-


Dan Brown’s first three books sold roughly thorship was ascribed to Dan and Danielle
Brown, not to Dan and Blythe. Curiouser and cu-
20,000 copies combined. Any way you riouser, unless it was not deemed worthy of car-
decode it, at no point did a megaselling rying her real name.)
More significantly, 1996 was the year Brown
author appear to be in the making. quit teaching at Exeter for good and began writ-
ing novels full time. His first, Digital Fortress,
low). Though he no doubt never conducted a which was published by Simon & Schuster’s Pock-
course on Robert Ludlum, Brown does tip his hat et Books in 1998, was set in the National Security
to that mystery writer’s plotting as well. Agency. Pocket Books also published Brown’s
While he was teaching, Brown also published next two novels. Angels & Demons, which ap-
his first book—one far from his eventual mys- peared in 2000, was the first Robert Langdon ad-
teries. 187 Men to Avoid: A Survival Guide for venture. It not only introduced the dashing sym-
the Romantically Frustrated Woman, which was bologist from Harvard but presaged, with its tale
published amid zero fanfare in 1995, was billed of intrigue in the Vatican, The Da Vinci Code’s
as a resource “for women of all ages and stages quasi-academic mix of art, religion, codes, and se-
… in the never-ending search for Mr. Right.” It cret societies. Deception Point, a thriller involving
was written in collaboration with Brown’s wife, the White House, NASA, and possible life on other
Blythe, a painter and art historian described by planets, came a year later. The three sold rough-
her husband—especially in regard to The Da ly 20,000 copies combined, with the middle book
Vinci Code—as “an enormous influence [whose] being the most successful (though any way you de-
knowledge and passion for the subject matter code it, at no point did a megaselling author ap-
certainly buoys the [writing] process when it pear to be in the making.)

The Billion-Dollar Publishing Bonanza


an Brown may (to date, zilch). Its ascen- Thanks to the sudden po- despite Brown’s descrip-
not feel as pos- dancy to the top of the tency of his name, tion in his book of hero
sessive of the bestseller list was more or Brown’s pre-Da Vinci Robert Langdon, Harvard
Mona Lisa as Walt Disney less assured when The oeuvre—the novels De- professor of symbology, as
was about Mickey Mouse. New York Times reviewer ception Point, Digital resembling Indiana Jones
But that’s not to stop the Janet Maslin wrote, “Mr. Fortress and, the most in tweed—which nakedly
New Hampshire-based Brown takes the formula commercial of the lot, points to a casting request
recluse from being well on he has been developing ... Angels & Demons—are for Harrison Ford.
his way to creating his and fine-tunes it to producing an additional “One of the beauties of
own empire—one whose blockbuster perfection.” $60 million at the cash the reading experience is
worth is likely to soar to Brown’s own stunned re- register. Industry ob- that everybody pictures
ten figures within the next action: “People called and servers predict $10 mil- Langdon in his or her
twenty-four months. said, ‘Is Janet Maslin your lion more will pour in perfect way,” Brown told
So far, the controversial mother, because she never from the audio versions interviewer C. M. Mc-
but unstoppable Da Vinci says stuff like that’? She in- of Da Vinci and an up- Donald in a rare Q&A.
Code has seen hardcover voked the holy name of coming, illustrated col- “The second you slap a
sales of $210 million in Harry Potter.” lectors’ edition. character [into a movie],
America and a dozen for- While even Robert The biggest bonanza, no matter how you de-
eign countries with an ad- Langdon cannot match however, is likely to come scribe Langdon or any
ditional $75 million antici- the fabled Harry Potter— from next year’s Sony Pic- other character, they pic-
pated from an eagerly to date, Da Vinci has tures version, which will ture Ben Affleck or Hugh
awaited soft-cover version. more than seven million be produced by Brian Jackman or whoever it
Only don’t hold your copies in print, compared Grazer and directed by happens to be.”
breath for that: Publisher with eighty million in cir- Ron Howard, the Oscar- Whatever name does
Doubleday has that edition culation for the five titles winning team behind A end up on the marquee,
on hold, pending any signs in J. K. Rowling’s boy- Beautiful Mind. Details about $450 million in
that interest in the hard- wizard series—the brisk regarding it remain as revenue can be counted
cover is starting to wane sales just keep going. well-guarded as Opus Dei, upon once Da Vinci, The

18 USN&WR SPECIAL EDITION


BEHIND THE CODE

Where Brown lucked out was that his editor smart, preppy … extremely charming” (so says
for all three books, Jason Kaufman, liked them Rubin) academic-turned-author might resemble
and him—so much so that when Kaufman his hero, Robert Langdon. In his website portrait,
jumped ship to Doubleday, he told president and Brown looks as tweedy as he describes Langdon
publisher Stephen Rubin there was an author he as being, about the same age (in The Da Vinci
should meet. “We said, ‘Who’s Dan Brown?’ ” Code Langdon is forty), and as caught up in his
Rubin recalled to the Globe. Doubleday initial- own little eccentricities as one might expect from
ly anticipated respectable sales of between a world-traveling educator. Rubin likens Brown
20,000 and 50,000 copies for The Da Vinci to “the college professor you never had. He’s im-
Code, billed as “a thriller for people who don’t possible not to like.”
like thrillers.” Then the manuscript made the Brown insists upon being at his desk every
rounds of the publishing house. “Everyone went morning at four to begin writing, using an an-
bat shit,” Rubin told Fortune magazine, ex- tique hourglass to signal when it’s time for him
plaining the company’s heady gamble to get ad- to break to do sit-ups, stretches, and push-ups.
vance reader copies into the hands of 5,000 crit- “I find this keeps the blood (and ideas) flowing,”
ics and book buyers such as Barnes & Noble, he says, instructively. Gravity boots also help
which responded by boosting its first order from him “solve plot challenges by shifting my entire
15,000 copies to 30,000 and eventually to perspective.”
80,000. Brown was on his way; Da Vinci’s first As for how Brown’s own worldview has
printing, originally set for 60,000, was increased changed now that his world’s been turned upside
to 230,000. “I was terrified,” said Rubin. down by success, he remains, according to Kauf-
What nobody has come out and said directly— man, the same person he always was: “It’s hard-
not Kaufman, not Rubin, not even Brown—is how er for him to walk down the street, but he is re-
closely the “fairly shy” (so say colleagues), “very markably levelheaded about his life.” l

Movie hits—though that novel’s key murder takes


also takes into account place, or the $35 DVD of
monies from potential four Brigham Young
screen adaptations of De- University lectures on
ception Point, Digital the theological principles
Fortress, and Angels & set forth by Brown. In
Demons. (It also supposes the department of imita-
that, once Da Vinci goes tion is the sincerest form
Hollywood, it doesn’t de- of flattery, there are now
volve into a catastrophe available some ninety re-
like The Bonfire of the lated books, ranging
Vanities. ) from critiques like The
But wait, there’s more: Da Vinci Hoax: Expos-
Brown has promised he ing the Errors in the Da
will write more novels Vinci Code to backlisted
about Langdon; the next titles (including Holy
one, reportedly set in Blood, Holy Grail, the
Washington, D.C., is due conspiracy book men-
next year. That franchise tioned in the Brown
will bring home another novel). Together, they
$220 million or so. Any constitute an entire Code
way you fry it, that’s a (or decode) information
heck of a lot of pork rinds. industry, good for anoth-
And that doesn’t even er $20 million in some-
count the spinoffs, such body else’s pocket.
as royalties from a $130 Characteristically for a
A Barnes & Noble employee keeps the shelves full of the Code Da Vinci-related tour of recluse, Brown has no
and stacks of related books at a store in Washington, D.C. the Louvre, where the comment. –S.M.

JEFFREY MACMILLAN FOR USN&WR USN&WR SPECIAL EDITION 19


SECRETS OF THE DA VINCI CODE

All About
Mary
Mary Magdalene is, in many ways, the star her to illustrate traditional Christian prin-
of The Da Vinci Code. But who was this ciples about sin, forgiveness, penance, and
woman who plays such a key role at criti- redemption? Or was she not a prostitute
cal moments in the traditional Gospels? at all but a wealthy financial patron and
She is clearly one of the closest compan- supporter of the Jesus movement who was
ions of the itinerant Jesus. She is men- later declared by Pope Gregory in the sixth
tioned twelve times by name in the New century to be identical to a different Mary
Testament. She is among the only follow- in the Gospels who was, indeed, a prosti-
ers of Jesus to be present at his crucifixion and she tute? And when Pope Gregory conflated three different
attends to him after his death. She is the person who re- Marys in the Gospels into one, did he do this deliberate-
turns to his tomb three days later and the person to ly to brand Mary Magdalene with the stigma of prosti-
whom the resurrected Jesus first appears. When he ap- tution? Was it a stratagem to ruin Mary Magdalene’s rep-
pears, he instructs—indeed, he empowers—her to spread utation and, by doing so, destroy the last influences of
the news of his resurrection. pagan goddess cults on early Christianity?
All of that is according to statements made in the of- Did it go even further? When Pope Gregory placed the
ficially accepted New Testament accounts. If you study scarlet letter of prostitution on Mary Magdalene—who
the alternative accounts—various lost scriptures and the would remain officially a reformed prostitute for the
Gnostic Gospels—you find hints that Mary Magdalene and next fourteen centuries—was it the beginning of a cover-
Jesus may have had an extremely close relationship, an up to deny the marriage of Jesus and Mary Magdalene
intimate relationship of man and wife. She may have and, ultimately, the sacred bloodline of their offspring?
been caught up in a jealous rivalry among the other apos- Their offspring? Well, yes. If Jesus and Mary Magdalene
tles, some of whom, notably Peter, may have disdained were married or at least had an intimate relationship,
her role on the basis of her gender and found her rela- there might well have been a child or children.
tionship with Jesus problematic. She may have repre- Every issue that could be debated has come into the
sented a more humanistic, individualized philosophy, per- modern debate about Mary Magdalene, and Dan Brown
haps closer to that which Jesus actually preached than has done quite a job in The Da Vinci Code of alluding
to what became accepted in the time of Constantine as to many of them. One can see why The Da Vinci Code
official Christian thinking. has people talking, however improbable some aspects
She is perhaps best known in history as a prostitute. of the plot may be and however rewoven or spun out of
But was she ever a prostitute? Did Jesus simply forgive whole cloth the religious history may be. —Dan Burstein

FALLEN WOMAN? Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s The Holy Grail (opposite); above, the unguent jar, symbol of the Magdalene

20 USN&WR SPECIAL EDITION FROM LEFT: FRESCO DEPICTING SAINT MARY MAGDALENE
BY GIANFRANCESCO DA TOLMEZZO: ELIO CIOL—CORBIS; SOTHEBY'S / AKG
BY WRITER NAME
ALL ABOUT MARY

Saint…or Sinner?
THERE’S FAR MORE TO MARY MAGDALENE THAN THE OFFICIAL PENITENT OF HISTORY

The Magdalene Myth ers as supporters and witnesses during the events of
BY SUSAN HASKINS that first Easter. Their faith and tenacity were ac-
knowledged by early Christian commentators, but
Susan Haskins is an author, editor, researcher, later cast into the background as new emphases and
and translator. This excerpt is taken from her Mary interpretations increasingly reduced their impor-
Magdalen: Myth and Metaphor (the name is the tance. The true significance of their witness was for
author’s preferred spelling). Copyright © 1993 by the most part ignored, while Mary Magdalen her-
Susan Haskins. Used by permission. self was in the late sixth century recreated as an en-
tirely different character to serve the purposes of the
e know very little about Mary Mag- ecclesiastical hierarchy. This refashioning by the
dalen. The predominant image we early Church Fathers has distorted our view of Mary
have of her is of a beautiful woman Magdalen and the other women; we need therefore
with long golden hair, weeping for her sins, the very to turn again to the Gospels in order to see them
incarnation of the age-old equation between femi- more clearly.
nine beauty, sexuality, and sin. For nearly two thou- Mark tells us that Mary Magdalen was among HANDMAIDEN
sand years, the traditional conception of Mary Mag- the women who when Christ was in Galilee “fol- TO HISTORY?
dalen has been that of the prostitute who, hearing lowed him and ministered unto him” (my italics; Mary Magdalene
the words of Jesus Christ, repented of her sinful past 15:41; see also Matt. 27:55). “To minister” is trans- in Paolo
and henceforth devoted her life and love to him. She lated from the Greek verb diakonein, to serve or Veronese’s Meal
appears in countless devotional images, scarlet- to minister. It is also the root of the word “deacon,” at the House of
cloaked and with loose hair, kneeling below the which establishes the important function given to Simon (Left).
cross, or seated at Christ’s feet in the house of Mary the women within the group of both female and Below, some of
and Martha of Bethany, or as the beauteous pros- male disciples. Luke, from whom we also hear that her possible
titute herself, sprawled at his feet, unguent jar by her the group has been part of Christ’s entourage for places of origin.
side, in the house of the Pharisee. Her very name some considerable time
evokes images of beauty and sensuality, yet when we before the crucifixion (8:1-
Migdal
look for this creature in the New Testament, we look 4), corroborates their min-
for her in vain. All we truly know of her comes from istering role, and amplifies Megiddo
the four Gospels, a few brief references which yield it with the words “of their
an inconsistent, even contradictory vision. These own substance” (v. 3). This Jerusalem
shifting reflections converge, however, on four role has often been as-
salient aspects: that Mary Magdalen was one of sumed to have been do-
Christ’s female followers, was present at his cruci- mestic, as women’s lives in
fixion, was a witness—indeed, according to the Jewish society of the first
Gospel of St. John, the witness—of his resurrection, century A.D. were circum-
and was the first to be charged with the supreme scribed within their tradi- Amba
ministry, that of proclaiming the Christian message. tional household environ- Maryam
She brought the knowledge that through Christ’s ment. They carried out
victory over death, life everlasting was offered to such tasks as grinding
all who believe. ... flour, baking and laun- Addis
One of the most striking aspects about the Gospel dering, feeding children, Ababa
accounts is the role given to Christ’s female follow- bed-making and wool-

FROM LEFT: DAGLI ORTI—GALLERIA SABAUDA TURIN / THE ART ARCHIVE; USN&WR SPECIAL EDITION 23
ROB CADY—USN&WR
SECRETS OF THE DA VINCI CODE

working. Until modern times the role of the a whole, in that they donated their own property
women amongst Christ’s followers has also been and income to provide Christ and the male dis-
taken to have been merely domestic, and there- ciples with the means to live as they travelled
fore less important, an assumption which has around the countryside preaching and healing.
only recently been questioned by scholars. But This, in turn, sheds further light on the women,
“of their own substance” indicates that the since their ability to dispose of their money pre-
women contributed the means to enable the supposes their financial independence, and pos-
travelling preachers to carry out their work. sibly their maturity, which is corroborated by
Whilst women are known to have supported the statement that one of the Marys is the
rabbis with money, possessions, and food, their “mother of James,” presumably referring to the
participation in the practice of Judaism was apostle (Mark 15:40 and 16:1). Even more im-
negligible. Although they were allowed to read portant is the recent suggestion that, contrary
the Torah at congregational services, they were to a general assumption that the women disci-
forbidden to recite lessons in public in order ples did not preach, and in this way differed
to “safeguard the honor of the congregation.” from their male counterparts, they may well
It is in this context that Luke’s phrase has a have done so, since the term “to follow” as used
special significance, as it suggests that Christ’s by Mark to describe those at the crucifixion—
women followers were central to the group as “who also when he was in Galilee followed him,

The French Connection


here are several legends est disciples of Jesus and the first
about Mary Magdalene bishop of Provence.”
travelling to France (or By the twelfth and thirteenth
Gaul as it was then) after the cruci- centuries, according to Susan
fixion,” writes Lynn Picknett in Haskins, “huge pilgrimages grew
Mary Magdalene, “together with a around the more famous shrines”
varied assortment of people, includ- in the south of France, with “vast
ing a black servant girl called Sarah, crowds in the hope of cures, deliv-
and Mary Salome and Mary Jaco- erance from demons, and other
bi—allegedly Jesus’s aunts—besides such manifestations of divine inter-
Joseph of Arimathea, the rich man vention. ... Pilgrims flocked from
who owned the tomb in which all over France to touch the tomb
Christ was laid prior to the resur- of Mary Magdalen at Vézelay.” Al-
rection, and St. Maximin (Max- though Papal bulls were issued by
imus), one of the seventy-two clos- Lucius III, Urban III, and Clement
III, confirming that Mary Magda-
PICTURE lene’s body was, indeed, in Vézelay,
no one could explain how it had
DV46 gotten there.
No matter: The veneration contin-
ued, and Mary Magdalene became a
powerful figure in the pantheon of
saints. “And the movement founded
in her name in Germany in 1225 for
the moral relief of prostitutes and
fallen women,” writes Haskins,
“which grew to enormous propor-
tions throughout the Middle Ages,
and lasted in various forms until
early in the twentieth century, might
never have existed had it not been for
Vézelay’s claims to have in its posses- A Black Madonna (above) from Aurillac,
sion the relics of Christianity’s most France; left, the Basilica of the Holy
loved and illustrious penitent.” Magdalene at Vézelay in Burgundy

24 USN&WR SPECIAL EDITION FROM LEFT: ALAIN LE BOT—GAMMA; ERICH LESSING—ART RESOURCE
ALL ABOUT MARY

and ministered unto him” (15:41)—was used


technically to imply their full participation, both But Christ loved her more than all the
in belief and in the activities of the travelling
preachers, as is borne out by the accounts in disciples and used to kiss her often on the
Acts and in Paul’s letters of the women’s in- mouth. The rest of the disciples were
volvement. Nowhere in the texts is there any in-
dication that Christ regarded the women’s con- offended by it. —THE GOSPEL OF PHILIP
tribution as inferior or subsidiary to that of his
male disciples. ...
gested that Peter’s antagonism towards Mary Mag-
Companion of the Savior dalen may reflect the historical ambivalence of the
Mary Magdalen’s close relationship to Christ is leaders of the orthodox community towards the
emphasized in the Gospel of Philip where she is participation of women in the Church. But by the
depicted as one of the “three who always walked end of the second century, the egalitarian princi-
with the Lord: Mary his mother, her sister, and ples defined in the New Testament, and adhered
Magdalene [sic], the one who was called his com- to in this context by St. Paul, had been discarded
panion. His sister and his mother and his com- in favor of a return to the patriarchal system of Ju-
panion were each a Mary. And the companion of daism which had preceded them. Thus at the level
the Savior is Mary Magdalene.” The Greek word of historical interpretation, the Gnostic texts may
koinonos used to describe Mary Magdalen, whilst have referred to a political tension in the early
often rendered as “companion,” is more correct- church. It is a situation inferred in the synoptics ...
ly translated as “partner” or “consort,” a woman namely the suppression of the feminine element
with whom a man has had sexual intercourse. Two within the Church which had gradually been tak-
pages on is another passage, which amplifies in ing place from the second century. l
sexual imagery the relationship already described:
Sacred Sex and Divine Love
But Christ loved her more than all the disciples and BY LYNN PICKNETT
used to kiss her often on the mouth. The rest of the dis-
ciples were offended by it and expressed disapproval. Lynn Picknett is a writer and lecturer on the occult
They said to him, “Why do you love her more than all and historical and religious mysteries. This excerpt is
of us?” The Saviour answered and said to them, “Why taken from her book Mary Magdalene. Copyright ©
do I not love you like [I love] her?" Lynn Picknett 2003. Appears by permission of Car-
roll & Graf Publishers, an imprint of Avalon Pub-
Erotic love has often been the vehicle used to ex- lishing Group.
press mystical experiences, perhaps most notably in
that great spiritual epithalamium, the Canticle of ho was the mysterious Mary Magda-
Canticles, or Song of Songs, which describes in the lene, so carefully squeezed to the very
most sensual and voluptuous imagery what the rab- outside edge of the New Testament
bis were to read as an allegory of Yahweh’s love for by the Gospel writers? Where did she come from,
Israel, and early Christian commentators to inter- and what made her so threatening to the men of
pret as Christ’s love for the Church, for the Christ- the emergent Roman Church?
ian soul—sometimes in the person of Mary Mag- In The Templar Revelation I write about the en-
dalen—and for the Virgin Mary. In the Gospel of during controversy surrounding this pivotal bib-
Philip, the spiritual union between Christ and Mary lical character:
Magdalen is couched in terms of human sexuality;
it is also a metaphor for the reunion of Christ and The identification of Mary Magdalene, Mary of
the Church which takes place in the bridal chamber, Bethany (Lazarus’ s sister) and the “unnamed sin-
the place of fullness or pleroma. ... ner” who anoints Jesus in Luke’s Gospel has always
The sequence in the Gospel of Philip can be seen been hotly debated. The Catholic Church decided at
at two different levels, one symbolic of the love of an early date that these three characters were one
Christ for the Church—in the person of Mary Mag- and the same, although it reversed this position as
dalen—and the other as representing an historical recently as 1969. Mary’s identification as a pros-
situation in which she symbolizes the feminine el- titute stems from Pope Gregory I’s Homily 33, de-
ement in the Church. As we have seen, the pref- livered in 591 C.E. in which he declared:
erential treatment that Mary Magdalen receives
from Christ in both the Gospel of Mary and the “She whom Luke calls the sinful woman, whom John
Gospel of Philip gives rise to jealousy among the calls Mary, we believe to be Mary from whom seven
other disciples, notably Peter. … It has been sug- devils were ejected according to Mark. And what did

USN&WR SPECIAL EDITION 25


SECRETS OF THE DA VINCI CODE

these seven devils signify, if not all the vices? . . . It


is clear, brothers, that the woman previously used the
Was Jesus Married? unguent to perfume her flesh in forbidden acts.

ATheologian Speaks Out The Eastern Orthodox Church has always treat-
ed Mary Magdalene and Mary of Bethany as sep-
Father Richard McBrien, a professor of theology at the University of arate characters.
Notre Dame, appeared on the ABC program “Jesus, Mary and Da The Catholic Church has always been canny in
Vinci” in 2003, triggering some controversy over his logical explana- its presentation of the Magdalene, recognizing her
tion of why Jesus could well have been married: value as role model for the hopeless women under
their control, such as the Magdalene laundresses.
What do you think of the possibility that Mary As David Tresemer and Laura-Lea Cannon write
Magdalene is depicted in The Last Supper? in their preface to Jean-Yves Leloup’s 1997 trans-
I'm open to it. There is no evidence in the New Testament lation of the Gnostic Gospel of Mary Magdalene:
that she was present. The question is whether Da Vinci put
her there. That’s at least arguable, given the highly femi- Only in 1969 did the Catholic Church officially re-
nine features of the one resting her/his head against Jesus. peal Gregory’s labeling of Mary as a whore, there-
by admitting their error—though the image of
Why did the church depict Mary Magdalene as a Mary Magdalene as the penitent whore has re-
prostitute for so many years? mained in the public teachings of all Christian de-
Perhaps it’s because some church leaders couldn’t face up nominations. Like a small erratum buried in the
to the fact that she was one of Jesus’s main disciples, a back pages of a newspaper, the Church’s correction
close friend, and a primary witness of the resurrection. goes unnoticed, while the initial and incorrect ar-
ticle continues to influence readers.
In "Jesus, Mary and Da Vinci," you mention that it
would not have compromised the divinity of Jesus Yet perhaps it would be unduly hasty to disso-
for him to have been married. Can you explain why? ciate her from all suspicion of “prostitution” in an
I don’t mean to be flippant, but why not? The Epistle to the excess of modern zeal to rehabilitate her. Sever-
Hebrews (4:15) says that Jesus was like us in all things ex- al researchers have pointed out that the “seven
cept sin. Is it sinful to engage in sexual relations within devils” that were allegedly cast out of her may be
marriage? a garbled reference to the seven underworld gate-
keepers of the pagan mysteries, and may provide
You also said that if Jesus was married, it’s just "a a valuable clue about her real background. Indeed,
short putt" to Mary Magdalene. Why to her? in the pagan world there were the so-called “tem-
Because she was the female disciple closest to him during ple prostitutes,” women who literally embodied
his life. Unlike the cowardly males, she and other women and passed on the sacred “whore wisdom” through
stuck by him to the end. She is the one who, according to at transcendental sex: Clearly, outside their own cul-
least three traditions in the New Testament, was the first to ture they would be viewed as little more than
see him after his resurrection. streetwalkers, especially among the male disci-
ples, imbued with the moral and sexual strictures
Would all the leading religious figures of the time of the Judaic Law, in the Holy Land. ...
have been married? Luke’s choice of words in describing her moral
Perhaps not all, but certainly most. It is clear that some of status is very interesting: It is harmartolos, mean-
the apostles were married, including Peter. ing one who has committed a crime against the Jew-
ish law, although this does not necessarily imply
Why do so many people find Mary Magdalene such a prostitution. It is a term taken from the sport of
compelling character today? archery, meaning missing the target, and may refer
Perhaps because they have been so alienated from the to someone who for whatever reason does not keep
church for its negative, rigid, and censorious views on the religious observances—or does not pay the taxes,
human sexuality. If Jesus had been married, that would un- possibly because she was not actually Jewish.
dermine centuries of bias against sexual intimacy. Mary of Bethany is also described as having un-
bound or uncovered hair, which no self-respect-
To what do you attribute the renewed interest in ing Judaean Jewish woman would do, for it rep-
Mary Magdalene? resented sexual license, as it does to Orthodox
Recent writings by reputable scholars and the women’s move- Jews and Muslims in today’s Middle East. ...
ment have been influential. But obviously nothing has done A woman could even be divorced on the
more to draw attention to her than The Da Vinci Code. grounds of appearing in public with unbound
hair—so heinous was the sin—and here Mary of

26 USN&WR SPECIAL EDITION


ALL ABOUT MARY

Bethany, a harmartolos woman, one who some- with their arrogant and hypocritical puritanism MARY, MARY.
how misses the Jewish mark or is outside the re- and sexual repression, this should not surprise Three different
ligious law, seems utterly oblivious to the outcry us—although the original term for the priestess takes: From left,
her actions would cause. More significantly, not involved was hierodule, or “sacred servant.” It was The King of
only does Jesus not rebuke her for flouting the Ju- only through her that a man could achieve knowl- Kings, Jesus
daic law, but he tacitly encourages her by turning edge of himself and of the gods. In the epitome Christ Super-
on those who criticize her behavior. of the sacred servant’s work, the hieros gamos, the star, and The
Both of them are behaving like foreigners in a king is sanctified and set apart—and of course im- Last Temptation
strange land: No wonder they are not understood, mediately after the biblical anointing, Judas be- of Christ
particularly by the Twelve who, time after time, trays Jesus and the machinery for his ultimate
we are told, fail to understand Jesus’s teaching or destiny through the crucifixion is set in motion. ...
the whole point of his mission. Mary of Bethany The sacred marriage was a familiar concept to pa-
may be an outsider, but she appears to share some gans of Jesus’s day: Versions of it were commonly
kind of private secret with Jesus—and they are performed by the devotees of various other dying-
both outsiders. and-rising god cults, such as that of Tammuz (to
If the anointing were not a Jewish custom, then
to what tradition did it belong? In their time there
was a sublimely sacred pagan rite that involved a
The concept of the sacred marriage is
woman anointing a chosen man both on the head essential to the understanding of Jesus
and feet—and also on the genitals—for a very spe-
cial destiny. This was the anointing of the sacred and his mission and his relationship with
king, in which the priestess singled out the cho-
sen man and anointed him, before bestowing his the most important woman in his life.
destiny upon him in a sexual rite known as the hi-
eros gamos (sacred marriage). The anointing was whom there was a temple in Jerusalem at that time),
part of the ritual preparation for penetration dur- and the Egyptian god Osiris, whose consort Isis
ing the rite—which did not have the same emotional breathed life into his dead body long enough for her
or legal ramifications as the more usual form of to conceive the magical child, the hawk-headed god
marriage—in which the priest-king was flooded of courage, Horus. Indeed, Tresemer and Cannon
with the power of the god, while the priestess-queen state unequivocally that: “Her appearances with spe-
became possessed by the great goddess. cial oils to use in anointing Jesus Christ place her in
The concept of the sacred marriage is essen- the tradition of priests and priestesses of Isis, whose
tial to the understanding of Jesus and his mission, unguents were used to achieve the transition over
and his relationship with the most important the threshold of death while retaining conscious-
woman in his life—not to mention two highly sig- ness.” Indeed, this places her in the specific con-
nificant men. ... The persistent image of Mary of text of the shamanic tradition of Egypt, which is only
Bethany/Mary Magdalene as a whore begins to now being acknowledged. ...
make sense when it is realized that this ritual is Clearly, this woman who anointed Jesus was
the ultimate expression of what the Victorian his- very special, a great priestess of some ancient
torians called “temple prostitution”—of course pagan tradition. l

FROM LEFT: EDWARD STEICHEN—CONDE NAST ARCHIVE / CORBIS; FOTO FANTASIES (2) USN&WR SPECIAL EDITION 27
SECRETS OF THE DA VINCI CODE

The ‘Sacred Feminine’


TRACING THE LINKS BETWEEN CHRISTIANITY AND ANCIENT FERTILITY CULTS
BY MARGARET STARBIRD

Margaret Starbird has studied at Vanderbilt Divinity the French king, the pope mounted a crusade
School and has written extensively on the concept of the against the Albigensian heretics, a bloody war
sacred feminine. This is excerpted from The Goddess in that lasted for a generation, wiping out whole
the Gospels: Reclaiming the Sacred Feminine. Copy- towns and destroying the cultural flowering of
right © 1998 by Margaret Starbird. Reprinted by per- the region known as the Languedoc.
mission of Bear & Company, a division of Inner Tradi- During this same era, beautiful and important
tions International, www.InnerTraditions.com. epithets that once belonged to the Magdalene
were shifted to the Blessed Virgin Mary and
arly Christian renderings of the Vir- churches built to “Our Lady” ostensibly honored
gin and her child were modeled on the mother of Jesus as the preeminent bearer of
the far more ancient images of the the archetypal feminine—“alone of all her sex.”
Egyptian goddess Isis, the Sister- Statues and effigies of the Virgin proliferated,
Bride of Osiris, holding the sacred most often with her child on her lap, reminis-
child Horus, god of light, on her lap. Ritual po- cent of the Egyptian statues of Isis and Horus.
etry from the cult of Isis and Osiris parallels the After the mid-thirteenth century, the “voice of
Song of Songs, in some places word for word. Both the Bride” was effectively silenced, although it
lunar and Earth goddesses of the ancient world is whispered that the masons of Europe kept the
were often rendered dark to represent feminine true faith and built its symbols into the very
principle in juxtaposition to the solar/mascu- stones of their Gothic cathedrals ...
line, a dualism common in the early civiliza- The anointing of Jesus in the Gospels is an en-
tions of the Mediterranean. Numerous god- actment of rites from the prevailing fertility cult
desses were rendered black: Inanna, Isis, of the ancient Middle East. In pouring her pre-
Cybele, and Artemis, to name only a few. cious unguent of nard over the head of Jesus, the
For the earliest Christians, the goddess in woman whom tradition has identified with “the
the Gospels was Mary Magdalene, whose ep- Magdalene” (“the Great”!) performed an act
ithet meant “elevated” or “watch-tower/ identical to the marriage rite of the hieros
stronghold.” ... gamos—the rite of the anointing of the chosen
After peaking in the twelfth cen- Bridegroom/King by the royal representative of
tury, the unique importance of the the Great Goddess!
Magdalene in Western Europe was Jesus recognized and acknowledged this rite
gradually downgraded from around the himself, in the context of his role as the sacri-
mid-thirteenth century—a date that cor- ficed king: “She has anointed me in prepara-
responds rather dramatically with the Al- tion for burial” (Mark 14:8b). Those who heard
bigensian crusade against the Cathars [a the Gospel story of the anointing at the feast
heretical sect that believed that the world was in Bethany would certainly have recognized the
created by an evil god] and the adherents of the rite as the ceremonial anointing of the Sacred
FEMALE “Church of Love.” The rise of the Inquisition in King, just as they would have recognized the
ARCHETYPES. the thirteenth century was especially virulent in woman, “the woman with the alabaster jar,”
Demeter stands southern France in response to several Gospel- who came to the garden sepulcher on the third
in a long line of oriented versions of Christianity, popular hereti- day to finish the anointing for burial and to la-
ancient symbols cal sects that severely threatened the hegemony ment her tortured Bridegroom. She found an
of fertility. of the Church of Rome. With collaboration from empty tomb…. l

28 USN&WR SPECIAL EDITION DAGLI ARTI / THE ART ARCHIVE; SCALIA / ART RESOURCE
FERTILE BEGINNINGS. A fresco from Herculaneum portrays a ritual from an Isis cult that was prevalent during the Roman empire.

The God and the Goddess


In the much-read books Timothy Freke has a degree phone. The original conceives and witnesses
Jesus and the Lost Goddess: in philosophy. Christians adapted this the flow of life.
The Secret Teaching of the into their myth of
Original Christians, as well How important was Sophia, the Christian But the Goddess is
as The Jesus Mysteries, Tim- Goddess worship in Goddess whose name not always portrayed
othy Freke—who co-wrote pagan cultures? means “wisdom.” in only one light.
both books with Peter Along with the myth of Pagans and Christians
Gandy—argues that the early the dying and resurrect- What is so “feminine” describe the Goddess
Christian movement's beliefs ing Godman, the pagan about Sophia? as having two aspects,
in the Gnostic experience of mysteries told a myth of The Goddess represents symbolized by a virgin
mystical enlightenment and the lost and redeemed the All, the universe, all mother and redeemed
the mystical union of the Goddess. This was an al- that we sense, all that prostitute. In the gospel
Godman (Jesus) and the God- legory about the fall and we imagine. God, the story these two aspects
dess (Mary Magdalene) were redemption of the soul. male archetype, repre- of the Goddess are repre-
so threatening to the Roman The most famous pagan sents the One, the myste- sented by Mary, Jesus’s
church's vision that they had version of this myth is rious source of all, con- mother, and Mary Mag-
to be brutally suppressed. Demeter and Perse- sciousness which dalene, his consort.

USN&WR SPECIAL EDITION 29


SECRETS OF THE DA VINCI CODE

History’s Greatest
Coverup?
The religious girders that frame the edifice of Dan orthodoxy of the New Testament. More explosively, they
Brown's plot are built upon the foundations of early suggest a much more important role for Mary Magdalene
Christian history and, in particular, the set of Gnostic as a disciple and close companion of Jesus. They also sug-
Gospels found in 1945 near the Egyptian town of Nag gest more interest in seeking inner knowledge and self-
Hammadi. These documents, which have led to re- development than what we traditionally understand as
markable discoveries about an al- New Testament philosophy. And the
ternate tradition later suppressed, “What I find interesting about Gnostics of Nag Hammadi seemed to
form the backdrop of another artful Dan Brown’s book is that it feel less need for churches and priests.
blending of fact and fiction in The Da raises a very important They seemed perfectly comfortable in-
question: If they—meaning the
Vinci Code. In Chapter 58, which leaders of the church— terpreting their own Gospels and sa-
takes place in Leigh Teabing's sump- suppressed so much of early cred books without intermediation—
tuous study, Sophie Neveu and Christian history, what else an idea institutionalized Christianity
don’t we know about? What
Robert Langdon are handed a copy would find threatening.
else is there to be known? And
of these lost Gospels in a “leather- as a historian, I think it’s a The search for the meaning and im-
bound … poster-sized” edition to really important question plications of these lost Gospels con-
demonstrate irrevocably that “the because the answer means a tinues to this day. Certainly they seem
great deal.”
marriage of Jesus and Mary Magda- to emphasize a balance between the
lene is part of the historical record.” —Professor Elaine Pagels masculine and the feminine, the good
As the following excerpts and in- and the evil in mankind, and the im-
terviews with some of the world's leading experts elabo- portance of Mary Magdalene as an apostle. Beyond that,
rate, there is no doubt the Nag Hammadi texts have yield- did the word companion imply marriage or simply
ed a treasure trove of documents permitting a richer, more indicate a fellow traveler? What of the seemingly explic-
nuanced, and, perhaps, even more radical interpretation it reference in the Gospel of Philip to Jesus’s kissing Mary
of the words of Jesus, the role of his followers, and the in- Magdalene frequently on the mouth? Factual description
terpretation of early Christianity. They shed light on a time or metaphor? And if metaphor, metaphor for what? Are
when the many contending schools of Christian worship the Gnostic Gospels really telling us that an emphasis
were interwoven and the definitive canon had not yet been on the “spirit within” and a strongly anti-authoritarian,
created. Specifically, they give our era a glimpse into a dif- pro-feminine tradition existed that was purposely mar-
ferent tradition—the Gnostic Tradition—that conflicted with ginalized and shoved aside as heresy by history's Chris-
the interpretation of Jesus's preaching found today in the tian “winners”? —Dan Burstein

IN THE BEGINNING. A fragment from the Gospel of Philip, part of the find at Nag Hammadi a half century ago

30 USN&WR SPECIAL EDITION INSTITUTE FOR ANTIQUITY AND CHRISTIANITY, CLAREMONT, CALIFORNIA
SECRETS OF THE DA VINCI CODE

The Treasure of
Nag Hammadi
MANUSCRIPTS HIDDEN FOR OVER 1,500 YEARS
ARE REDEFINING EARLY CHRISTIANITY
BY ELAINE PAGELS

Elaine Pagels is Harrington Spear Paine Professor of


Religion at Princeton University and author of the
bestselling Beyond Belief as well as The Gnostic Gospels,
which won the National Book Critics Circle Award
and the National Book Award. Excerpted from The
Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels. Copyright © 1979
by Elaine Pagels. Used by permission of Random House,
Inc. Information about other Random House books
and authors is available online at http://www.random
house.com.

n December 1945 an Arab peasant made


an astonishing archaeological discovery
in Upper Egypt. Rumors obscured the
circumstances of this find, perhaps be-
cause the discovery was accidental and
its sale on the black market illegal. For years even
the identity of the discoverer remained unknown.
One rumor held that he was a blood avenger; an-
other, that he had made the find near the town
of Naj ‘Hammadi at the Jabal al-Tarif, a mountain
honeycombed with more than 150 caves. Origi- mad ‘Ali hesitated to break the jar, considering
nally natural, some of these caves were cut and that a jinn, or spirit, might live inside. But real-
painted and used as grave sites as early as the sixth izing that it might also contain gold, he raised his
dynasty, some 4,300 years ago. mattock, smashed the jar, and discovered inside
Thirty years later the discoverer himself, thirteen papyrus books, bound in leather. Re-
Muhammad ‘Ali al-Samman, told what happened. turning to his home in al-Qasr, Muhammad ‘Ali
Shortly before he and his brothers avenged their dumped the books and loose papyrus leaves on the
father’s murder in a blood feud, they had saddled straw piled on the ground next to the oven.
their camels and gone out to the Jabal to dig for Muhammad’s mother, ‘Umm-Ahmad, admits that
sabakh, a soft soil they used to fertilize their crops. she burned much of the papyrus in the oven along
Digging around a massive boulder, they hit a red with the straw she used to kindle the fire.
earthenware jar, almost a meter high. Muham- A few weeks later, as Muhammad ‘Ali tells it, he

32 USN&WR SPECIAL EDITION FROM TOP: INSTITUTE FOR ANTIQUITY AND CHRISTIANITY,
CLAREMONT, CALIFORNIA; ROB CADY—USN&WR
and his brothers avenged their father’s death by
murdering Ahmed Isma’il. Their mother had
warned her sons to keep their mattocks sharp: Alexandria LUCKY FIND.
When they learned that their father’s enemy was Muhammad ‘Ali
nearby, the brothers seized the opportunity, “hacked Cairo al-Samman was
off his limbs ... ripped out his heart, and devoured it looking for
among them, as the ultimate act of blood revenge.” fertilizer, not
Fearing that the police would search his house lost gospels,
and discover the books, Muhammad ‘Ali asked the when he found
priest, al-Qummus Basiliyus Abd al-Masïh, to Nag the earthen-
keep one or more for him. During the time that Hammadi ware jar near
Muhammad ‘Ali and his brothers were being in- Nag Hammadi.

USN&WR SPECIAL EDITION 33


SECRETS OF THE DA VINCI CODE

French scholar, Jean Doresse, had identified the


He hurried back to his hotel with the text. opening lines with fragments of a Greek Gospel of
Thomas discovered in the 1890s. But the discovery
Tracing out the first line, he was startled, of the whole text raised new questions: Did Jesus
then incredulous, to read: “These are the have a twin brother, as this text implies? Could the
text be an authentic record of Jesus’s sayings? Ac-
secret words which the living Jesus spoke.” cording to its title, it contained the Gospel Accord-
ing to Thomas; yet, unlike the Gospels of the New
Testament, this text identified itself as a secret
terrogated for murder, Raghib, a local history gospel. Quispel also discovered that it contained
teacher, had seen one of the books, and suspect- many sayings known from the New Testament; but
ed that it had value. Having received one from al- these sayings, placed in unfamiliar contexts, sug-
Qummus Basiliyus, Raghib sent it to a friend in gested other dimensions of meaning. Other pas-
Cairo to find out its worth. sages, Quispel found, differed entirely from any
Sold on the black market through antiquities known Christian tradition: The “living Jesus,” for
dealers in Cairo, the manuscripts soon attracted the example, speaks in sayings as cryptic and com-
attention of officials of the Egyptian government. pelling as Zen koans:
Through circumstances of high drama, as we shall
see, they bought one and confiscated ten and a half “Jesus said, ‘If you bring forth what is within you,
of the thirteen leather-bound books, called codices, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not
and deposited them in the Coptic Museum in Cairo. bring forth what is within you, what you do not
But a large part of the thirteenth codex, containing bring forth will destroy you.’ ”
five extraordinary texts, was smuggled out of Egypt
and offered for sale in America. Word of this codex What Quispel held in his hand, the Gospel of
soon reached Professor Gilles Quispel, distin- Thomas, was only one of the fifty-two texts dis-
guished historian of religion at Utrecht, in the covered at Nag Hammadi. Bound into the same
Netherlands. Excited by the discovery, Quispel volume with it is the Gospel of Philip, which at-
urged the Jung Foundation in Zürich to buy the tributes to Jesus acts and sayings quite different
codex. But discovering, when he succeeded, that from those in the New Testament:
some pages were missing, he flew to Egypt in the
spring of 1955 to try to find them in the Coptic Mu- “ ... the companion of the [Savior is] Mary Mag-
seum. Arriving in Cairo, he went at once to the mu- dalene. [But Christ loved] her more than [all] the
seum, borrowed photographs of some of the texts, disciples, and used to kiss her [often] on her
and hurried back to his hotel to decipher them. [mouth]. The rest of [the disciples were offended.]
Tracing out the first line, Quispel was startled, then ... They said to him, ‘Why do you love her more than
incredulous, to read: “These are the secret words all of us?’ The Savior answered and said to them,
which the living Jesus spoke, and which the twin, ‘Why do I not love you as [I love] her?’ ”
Judas Thomas, wrote down.” Quispel knew that his
colleague H.-C. Puech, using notes from another Other sayings in this collection criticize com-

COLLECTED
WORKS.
Some of the
leather-bound
manuscripts
found at Nag
Hammadi

34 USN&WR SPECIAL EDITION INSTITUTE FOR ANTIQUITY AND CHRISTIANITY, CLAREMONT, CALIFORNIA
HISTORY’S GREATEST COVERUP?

mon Christian beliefs, such as the virgin birth or


the bodily resurrection, as naïve misunderstand-
ings. Bound together with these gospels is the
Apocryphon (literally, “secret book”) of John,
A Reading from Philip
which opens with an offer to reveal “the myster- he Gospel of Philip is a compilation of statements
ies [and the] things hidden in silence” which pertaining primarily to the meaning and value of
Jesus taught to his disciple John. sacraments. To be sure, it does provide the occa-
Muhammad ‘Ali later admitted that some of the sional word or deed of Jesus. But these few sayings and sto-
texts were lost—burned up or thrown away. But ries about Jesus are not set in any kind of narrative frame-
what remains is astonishing: some fifty-two texts work like one of the New Testament Gospels. In fact, the
from the early centuries of the Christian era, in- gospel is not organized in a way that can be conveniently
cluding a collection of early Christian gospels, pre- outlined. Although some continuity is achieved through an
viously unknown. ... association of ideas, a series of contrasts, or by catchwords,
What Muhammad ‘Ali discovered at Nag Ham- the line of thought is ram-
madi, it soon became clear, were Coptic transla- bling and disjointed. Com-
tions, made about 1,500 years ago, of still more plete changes of subject
ancient manuscripts. The originals themselves are common.
had been written in Greek, the language of the
New Testament: As Doresse, Puech, and Quis- ... Christ came to ransom
pel had recognized, part of one of them had been some, to save others, to re-
discovered by archaeologists about fifty years ear- deem others. He ransomed
lier, when they found a few fragments of the orig- those who were strangers
inal Greek version of the Gospel of Thomas. and made them his own.
About the dating of the manuscripts themselves And he set his own apart,
there is little debate. Examination of the datable pa- those whom he gave as a
pyrus used to thicken the leather bindings, and of pledge according to his
the Coptic script, place them about A.D. 350-400. plan. It was not only when
But scholars sharply disagree about the dating of the he appeared that he volun-
original texts. Some of them can hardly be later than Saint Philip, deep in prayer tarily laid down his life,
about A.D. 120-150, since Irenaeus, the orthodox but he voluntarily laid
Bishop of Lyon, writing about 180, declares that down his life from the very day the world came into being.
heretics “boast that they possess more gospels than Then he came first in order to take it, since it had been
there really are” and complains that in his time such given as a pledge. It fell into the hands of robbers and was
writings already have won wide circulation, from taken captive, but he saved it. He redeemed the good people
Gaul through Rome, Greece, and Asia Minor. in the world as well as the evil.
Quispel and his collaborators, who first pub-
lished the Gospel of Thomas, suggested the date of Light and darkness, life and death, right and left, are brothers of
about 140 for the original. ... But recently Professor one another. They are inseparable. Because of this neither are
Helmut Koester of Harvard University has sug- the good good, nor evil evil, nor is life life, nor death death. For
gested that the collection of sayings in the Gospel of this reason each one will dissolve into its earliest origin. But
Thomas, although compiled about 140, may include those who are exalted above the world are indissoluble, eternal.
some traditions even older than the Gospels of the
New Testament, “possibly as early as the second As for the Wisdom who is called “the barren,” she is the mother
half of the first century” (50-100)—as early as, or [of the] angels. And the companion of the [...] Mary Magdalene.
earlier, than Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John. ... [... loved] her more than [all] the disciples, [and used to] kiss
Why were these texts buried—and why have they her [often] on her [...]. The rest of [the disciples ...]. They said to
remained virtually unknown for nearly 2,000 years? him “Why do you love her more than all of us?” The Savior an-
Their suppression as banned documents, and their swered and said to them, “Why do I not love you like her? When
burial on the cliff at Nag Hammadi, it turns out, a blind man and one who sees are both together in darkness,
were both part of a struggle critical for the forma- they are no different from one another. When the light comes,
tion of early Christianity. The Nag Hammadi texts, then he who sees will see the light, and he who is blind will re-
and others like them, which circulated at the be- main in darkness.”
ginning of the Christian era, were denounced as
heresy by orthodox Christians in the middle of the Translated by Wesley W. Isenberg. From the book The Nag
second century. We have long known that many Hammadi Library edited by James M. Robinson. Copyright
early followers of Christ were condemned by other © 1977, 1988 by E. J. Brill, Leiden, The Netherlands. Pub-
Christians as heretics, but nearly all we knew about lished by arrangement with HarperSanFrancisco.
them came from what their opponents wrote at-

GEORGES DE LA TOUR, SAINT PHILIP, ERICH LESSING—ART RESOURCE USN&WR SPECIAL EDITION 35
SECRETS OF THE DA VINCI CODE

tacking them. Bishop Irenaeus, who supervised the became an officially approved religion in the
church in Lyon about 180, wrote five volumes, en- fourth century, Christian bishops, previously vic-
titled The Destruction and Overthrow of Falsely So- timized by the police, now commanded them. Pos-
called Knowledge, which begin with his promise to session of books denounced as heretical was made
“set forth the views of those who are now teaching a criminal offense. Copies of such books were
heresy ... to show how absurd and inconsistent with burned and destroyed. But in Upper Egypt, some-
the truth are their statements. ... I do this so that one, possibly a monk from a nearby monastery
... you may urge all those with whom you are con- of St. Pachomius, took the banned books and hid
nected to avoid such an abyss of madness and of them from destruction—in the jar where they re-
blasphemy against Christ.” mained buried for almost 1,600 years.
He denounces as especially “full of blasphemy” But those who wrote and circulated these texts
a famous gospel called the Gospel of Truth. Is Ire- did not regard themselves as “heretics.” Most of
naeus referring to the same Gospel of Truth discov- the writings use Christian terminology, unmis-
ered at Nag Hammadi? Quispel and his collabora- takably related to a Jewish heritage. Many claim
tors, who first published the Gospel of Truth, argued to offer traditions about Jesus that are secret, hid-
that he is; one of their critics maintains that the den from “the many” who constitute what, in the
opening line (which begins “The gospel of truth”) is second century, came to be called the “catholic
not a title. But Irenaeus does use the same source as church.” These Christians are now called Gnos-
at least one of the texts discovered at Nag Hamma- tics, from the Greek word gnosis, usually trans-
di—the Apocryphon of John—as ammunition for his lated as "knowledge." ... As the Gnostics use the
own attack on such “heresy.” Fifty years later Hip- term, we could translate it as “insight,” for gno-
polytus, a teacher in Rome, wrote another massive sis involves an intuitive process of knowing one-
Refutation of All Heresies to “expose and refute the self. And to know oneself, they claimed, is to know
wicked blasphemy of the heretics.” human nature and human destiny. ...
This campaign against heresy involved an in- What Muhammad ‘Ali discovered at Nag Ham-
voluntary admission of its persuasive power; yet madi is, apparently, a library of writings, almost
the bishops prevailed. By the time of the Emper- all of them Gnostic. Although they claim to offer
or Constantine’s conversion, when Christianity secret teaching, many of these texts refer to the

“The Gnostics were more liberated”


INTERVIEW WITH tually the oldest example we have married or unmarried. Companion is
JAMES M. ROBINSON of leather-bound books. not necessarily a sex-related term.
The writer of the Gospel of Philip
James Robinson is general editor What do we know about how clearly disdains physical sex as beast-
of The Nag Hammadi Library. these texts were written? ly. And too much has been made out
They were most likely written by dif- of this kiss. There is another Nag
How would you characterize ferent people at different times. If Hammadi text in which Jesus kisses
the Nag Hammadi texts? they were written in the second and James on the mouth. Does that make
The canonical Gospels—Matthew, third centuries, the authors would him homosexual? And given both
Mark, Luke, and John—are a sort of likely have been Gnostics, part of a kisses, does that make him bisexual?
theological biography of Jesus. By movement that was almost compet-
contrast, only one of the four Nag ing with emerging orthodox Chris- Still, would you agree that
Hammadi “Gospels” should be tianity. They thought the dominant whoever wrote the Gnostic
called a gospel at all, if by that term church of the day was too earth- Gospels was more sympa-
one means information about bound, too worldly, too materialistic, thetic to women than was
Jesus. For only the Gospel of and too physical and had missed the the case with the orthodox
Thomas tells about Jesus. And, spiritual, allegorical, higher, heaven- tradition?
rather than telling the stories about ly secret meaning of Christianity. Yes, certainly. I think the Gnostics
him, it only quotes 114 sayings as- were more liberated, to use a modern
cribed to Jesus. Does the word companion in term. Their view of women in the
Dan Brown refers to the Nag the Gospel of Philip imply that church was based more on the per-
Hammadi find as “scrolls,” but they Jesus and Mary were married? ceived quality of their religious expe-
are not. They are codices—books And even that they kissed? rience than on the relationship be-
with individual pages. They are ac- No, it doesn’t automatically mean tween bishop and supplicant.

36 USN&WR SPECIAL EDITION


HISTORY’S GREATEST COVERUP?

Scriptures of the Old Testament, and others to the


letters of Paul and the New Testament Gospels. We may have to recognize that early
Many of them include the same dramatis personae
as the New Testament—Jesus and his disciples. Christianity is far more diverse than
Yet the differences are striking. nearly anyone expected before the
Orthodox Jews and Christians insist that a chasm
separates humanity from its creator: God is whol- Nag Hammadi discoveries.
ly other. But some of the Gnostics who wrote these
gospels contradict this: Self-knowledge is knowl-
edge of God; the self and the divine are identical.
Second, the “living Jesus” of these texts speaks
of illusion and enlightenment, not of sin and re-
pentance, like the Jesus of the New Testament. In-
stead of coming to save us from sin, he comes as a
guide who opens access to spiritual understanding.
But when the disciple attains enlightenment, Jesus
no longer serves as his spiritual master: The two
have become equal, even identical.
Third, orthodox Christians believe that Jesus is
Lord and Son of God in a unique way: He remains
forever distinct from the rest of humanity whom
he came to save. Yet the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas
relates that as soon as Thomas recognizes him,
Jesus says to Thomas that they have both received
their being from the same source:

“Jesus said, ‘I am not your master. Because you


have drunk, you have become drunk from the bub-
bling stream which I have measured out. ... He who
will drink from my mouth will become as I am: I HERETIC
myself shall become he, and the things that are hid- HUNTER.
den will be revealed to him.’ ” ... Irenaeus led the
church’s early
Ideas that we associate with Eastern religions campaign
emerged in the first century through the Gnostic against heresy.
movement in the West, but they were suppressed
and condemned by polemicists like Irenaeus. Yet
those who called Gnosticism heresy were adopting—
consciously or not—the viewpoint of that group of
Christians who called themselves orthodox Chris-
tians. A heretic may be anyone whose outlook some-
one else dislikes or denounces. According to tradi-
tion, a heretic is one who deviates from the true faith. tians of every persuasion look back to the prim-
But what defines that “true faith”? Who calls it that, itive church to find a simpler, purer form of
and for what reasons? Christian faith. In the apostles’ time, all members
We find this problem familiar in our own ex- of the Christian community shared their money
perience. The term “Christianity,” especially since and property; all believed the same teaching, and
the Reformation, has covered an astonishing worshiped together; all revered the authority of
range of groups. Those claiming to represent the apostles. It was only after that golden age that
“true Christianity” in the twentieth century can conflict, then heresy emerged: so says the author
range from a Catholic cardinal in the Vatican to of the Acts of the Apostles, who identifies himself
an African Methodist Episcopal preacher initi- as the first historian of Christianity.
ating revival in Detroit, a Mormon missionary in But the discoveries at Nag Hammadi have upset
Thailand, or the member of a village church on this picture. If we admit that some of these fifty-two
the coast of Greece. Yet Catholics, Protestants, texts represent early forms of Christian teaching,
and Orthodox agree that such diversity is a recent we may have to recognize that early Christianity
and deplorable development. According to Chris- is far more diverse than nearly anyone expected be-
tian legend, the early church was different. Chris- fore the Nag Hammadi discoveries. l

DAGLI ORTI / THE ART ARCHIVE USN&WR SPECIAL EDITION 37


HISTORY’S GREATEST COVERUP?

Christianity’s Untidy Start


THE DA VINCI CODE IS SHINING A NEW LIGHT ON WHAT REALLY HAPPENED LONG AGO
BY DAN BURSTEIN

One form of Christianity ... emerged as victorious considerable doses of what in today’s political ver-
from the conflicts of the second and third centuries. nacular might be called “spin.” As it turns out, the
This one form of Christianity decided what was the history of Christianity is primarily one of widely
“correct” Christian perspective; it decided who could and sometimes wildly differing understandings of
exercise authority over Christian belief and practice; what correct Christian belief is, and considerable
and it determined what forms of Christianity would zeal in the identification and persecution of those
be marginalized, set aside, destroyed. It also decided thought not to believe correctly. These divergences,
which books to canonize into Scripture and which diversities, and differences may even go back to the
books to set aside as “heretical,” teaching false ideas. ... very first moments of the Jesus movement. The dif-
—Bart D. Ehrman, ferences between Peter and others, the question of
Professor of Religious Studies, Mary Magdalene’s role, and the inner questions
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and doubts of Jesus himself are all becoming far
more apparent given today’s scholarship, textual
n the beginning, there was not one analysis, and archaeology, than they were at any
Christianity, but many. And among time in the last sixteen hundred years or so.
them was a well-established tradition of Scholars have long known that there is rough-
Gnosticism, one of the key “heresies” ly a forty-year gap (maybe less, but maybe much POINT MAN.
upon which Dan Brown builds the plot more) between the death of Jesus and the writing St. Paul had his
of The Da Vinci Code. of the first Gospel. During that period the fol- own views on
Sacred roots and twenty centuries of primacy lowers of Jesus were consolidating their beliefs Christianity,
in the Western world have led to the generally through oral tradition, and deciding who Jesus but there were
dominant view that modern Christianity evolved was and what his life and death meant. Each plenty of other
more or less linearly and directly from the teach- Gospel was an evangelist’s telling of the story from versions.
ings of Jesus. The snapshot Western civilization a somewhat different point of view, based on the
has tended to see is a natural progression: start- teller’s own circumstances and audience. Even-
ing with Jesus and followed by the preaching of tually, four Gospels and twenty-three other texts
the apostles as depicted in the New Testament, on were canonized into a Bible. This did not occur,
through the establishment of the church by Peter, however, until the sixth century.
brought under the wing of Constantine and the There was so much ferment in Judaism in those
Council of Nicea, and from thence throughout the days—different cults, sects, clans, tribes, prophets,
Roman Empire, Europe, and on into the modern false prophets, rabbis, teachers, the Greek-influ-
world. If we think about debate, conflict, and enced, the Roman-influenced—that the Jesus
heresy in Christian thought, our history and hu- movement may not have appeared as anything
manities classes tend to emphasize the compar- shockingly new or different when it first emerged.
atively recent experience of the Reformation. The Jewish communities scattered across Egypt,
Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code wants to ac- Turkey, Greece, Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere all had
quaint the reader with the lesser known, even their own traditions of modified beliefs and in-
“hidden” side of the story, the unanswered ques- fluences drawn from their surrounding cultures.
tions about the early history of Christianity. Judaism in those days was a big tent even if under
Early Christian history proceeds to an untidy it, things were often unruly, fractious, and bit-
story punctuated by loose ends, unknowns, in- terly—even fatally—divided.
trigues both political and personal, ironies, and What became Christianity was initially Jews

GIRAUDON / ART RESOURCE USN&WR SPECIAL EDITION 39


SECRETS OF THE DA VINCI CODE

circumcised, and that following Jewish law was not


For a long time after the death of Jesus, his necessary, thereby setting up one of the earliest
Christian conflicts. Paul concentrated his efforts on
followers were not necessarily perceived as converting gentiles, while others attempted to con-
believers in a religion that was vert from within the Jewish community.
The spread of Christianity was a protracted,
fundamentally different from Judaism. complicated, and decidedly messy process that
must be viewed within the context of the polit-
ical world in the early centuries of this era. As
preaching an increasingly different form of Judaism the Roman Empire spread geographically, it in-
to other Jews. Sometimes called Nazareans by Jews corporated populations whose religious beliefs
and Christians by gentiles (non-Jews), some of the were primarily pagan and naturalistic, tied to
circles of Jesus’s followers required that males be Greek and Egyptian mythology. These existed
circumcised and that the Jewish ritual and dietary side by side, with the state taking no side.
laws be followed, yet they professed belief that Jesus Against the dominant polytheistic religions,
was the Son of God and the sole path to salvation— Christianity and Judaism were monotheistic,
beliefs inconsistent with Jewish orthodoxy. Saul, a teaching an entirely different relationship of
Greek Jew, was strongly opposed to the Nazareans, man to God (as opposed to man to gods), and
but on the road to Damascus he had a vision in a decidedly different path to salvation. Along
which Jesus told him to spend the remainder of his the way, many diverse interpretations of the
life spreading the gospel to the gentiles. Saul Christian belief system arose, some borrowing
changed his name to Paul. His beliefs differed in elements from the surrounding pagan traditions
significant ways from those of the others of the (see below) and others simply having alternate
groups then emerging from the Jewish tradition: interpretations of key doctrinal beliefs.
Paul felt that male converts should not have to be Yet another trend to emerge—one especially

The Pagan Mysteries Behind Early Christianity


BY TIMOTHY FREKE which showed the parti- ranean, inspiring the “the same anatomy.”
AND PETER GANDY san and capricious nature greatest minds of the The more we studied
of the Olympian gods and Pagan world, who regard- the various versions of the
e had shared goddesses. All in all, Pa- ed them as the very myth of Osiris-Dionysus,
an obsession ganism seemed primitive source of civilization. the more it became obvi-
with world and fundamentally alien. At the heart of the Mys- ous that the story of Jesus
mysticism all our lives After many years of study, teries were myths con- had all the characteristics
which recently had led us however, our understand- cerning a dying and resur- of this perennial tale.
to explore spirituality in ing has been transformed. recting godman, who was Event by event, we found
the ancient world. Popu- Pagan spirituality was known by many different we were able to construct
lar understanding in- actually the sophisticated names. In Egypt he was Jesus’s supposed biogra-
evitably lags a long way product of a highly devel- Osiris, in Greece Diony- phy from mythic motifs
behind the cutting edge of oped culture. The state sus, in Asia Minor Attis, previously relating to
scholarly research and, religions, such as the in Syria Adonis, in Italy Osiris-Dionysus:
like most people, we ini- Greek worship of the Bacchus, in Persia Osiris-Dionysus is God
tially had an inaccurate Olympian gods, were lit- Mithras. Fundamentally made flesh, the savior and
and outdated view of Pa- tle more than outer pomp all these godmen are the “Son of God.”
ganism. We had been and ceremony. The real same mythical being.We His father is God and
taught to imagine a primi- spirituality of the people will use the combined his mother is a mortal
tive superstition, which expressed itself through name Osiris-Dionysus to virgin.
indulged in idol worship the vibrant and mystical denote his universal and He is born in a cave or
and bloody sacrifice, and “Mystery religions.” At composite nature. humble cowshed on De-
dry philosophers wearing first underground and The various myths of cember 25 before three
togas stumbling blindly heretical movements, the different godmen of shepherds.
toward what we today call these Mysteries spread the Mysteries share what He offers his followers
science. We were familiar and flourished through- the great mythologist the chance to be born
with various Greek myths, out the ancient Mediter- Joseph Campbell called again through the rites

40 USN&WR SPECIAL EDITION


HISTORY’S GREATEST COVERUP?

relevant to those interested in the real back- ongoing controversy with the followers of Arius
ground of The Da Vinci Code’s version of his- (Arians) who disputed the notion that Jesus was
tory—was Gnosticism. Gnostics sought knowl- of the same substance as the Father. Only the Fa-
edge in a mystical, cosmological, and secret ther was God, said Arius and his followers;
sense. They tended to fuse Christianity as a phi- Christ was not a deity. Constantine wanted the
losophy with more Greek, Egyptian, mythic, and matter settled, and so in 325 convened the Coun-
even Eastern elements. Gnostics seem to have cil of Nicea, which declared Arianism a heresy.
been highly literate and to have inherited a mix What did and didn’t happen at the Council of
of the Greek and rabbinic traditions of form- Nicea is a subject of debate between Dan Brown
ing schools to share knowledge and discussion. in The Da Vinci Code and what many religious
Representing a variant of Christianity at sharp practitioners and scholars believe. But Brown’s
odds with the increasingly dominant Pauline version is highly compelling in this key sense:
Christians, the Gnostics were declared to be This was a power struggle over the intellectual
heretics to be opposed and suppressed. infrastructure that would rule much of European
Over the first two centuries, Christianity politics and thought for the following thousand
morphed from belief taught by itinerant evange- years. Nicea was not about truth or veracity of
lists to small communities of believers organized religious or moral vision. Ruling some ideas in
in local churches—each with its own leaders, writ- and others out was fundamentally about politics
ings, and beliefs—with no overarching authority and power. From Constantine at Nicea to Pope
or hierarchy. Slowly at first, then with increas- Gregory nearly three hundred years later (and
ing rapidity, a formal hierarchy came about, and much in between) turns out, at least in retro-
with it a need for doctrinal uniformity. Bishops spect, to have been all about developing the in-
met in synods to declare what was doctrinally cor- tellectual and political infrastructure of Europe
rect. Other views were heresies to be eradicated. for the next thousand years. You might say it was
A major thorn in Constantine’s side was the about codification of the code. l

of baptism. tween the tales of Osiris-


He miraculously turns Dionysus and the biogra-
water into wine at a mar- phy of Jesus. Why are
riage ceremony. these remarkable similar-
He rides triumphantly ities not common knowl-
into town on a donkey edge? Because, as we
while people wave palm were to discover later, the
leaves to honor him. early Roman Church did
He dies at Eastertime everything in its power to
as a sacrifice for the sins prevent us perceiving
of the world. them. It systematically
After his death he destroyed Pagan sacred
descends to hell, then literature in a brutal pro-
on the third day he gram of eradicating the
rises from the dead Mysteries, a task it per-
and ascends to heaven formed so completely that
in glory. today Paganism is regard-
His followers await his ed as a “dead” religion.
return as the judge dur-
ing the Last Days. From The Jesus Mysteries
His death and resur- by Timothy Freke and Peter
rection are celebrated by Gandy, copyright © 1999,
a ritual meal of bread and by Timothy Freke and Peter
wine, which symbolize Gandy. Used by permission
his body and blood. of HarperCollins Publishers
These are just some of Ltd. Http://www.fireand
Osiris: Death and resurrection are a common religious motif. the motifs shared be- water.co.uk.

ERICH LESSING—ART RESOURCE USN&WR SPECIAL EDITION 41


SECRETS OF THE DA VINCI CODE

The Church Triumphant


WAS THERE A COVERUP, OR JUST A GREAT THEOLOGICAL DEBATE?
BY DAN BURSTEIN

hat modern philosopher-theologian ies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel


Yogi Berra once said, “When you come Hill, notes, “Once Constantine converts to Chris-
to the fork in the road, take it.” The tianity, he converts to an orthodox form of Chris-
metaphorical junction of Christian the- tianity, and once the state has power, and the state
ology and the struggle for control of the is Christian, then the state starts asserting its in-
church presented itself as a series of forks in the road fluence over Christianity. So by the end of the
during the first six hundred years after the death fourth century, there’s actually legislation against
of Christ. Where these roads led, how they clashed, heretics. So the empire that used to be complete-
and what the overt and covert meaning of the out- ly anti-Christian becomes Christian, and not just
come was, is discussed in the following pages. becomes Christian, but tries to dictate what shape
To achieve primacy, the early church fathers Christianity ought to be.”
from the time of Constantine onward believed The struggle against the alleged heretics can be
they needed to turn Christianity into a force to found in the writings of some of the most influ-
unite and strengthen the Roman Empire, con- ential writers of the second and third centuries:
sistent with the empire’s values, politics, and so- Tertullian, Irenaeus, and Eusebius.
cial and military infrastructure. Those who led These individuals were real, historically well-
the empire in this pursuit believed that a key task documented figures of the early church. They
was to distill a core ideology and cosmology out played a critical, if sometimes inadvertent, role in
of all the various ideas that made up the Christ- selecting which Gospels and which texts would be-
ian and other competing messages of the era. In come the New Testament and the modern Chris-
doing so, they chose to glorify certain Gospel ac- tian canon, as well as in destroying—intellectu-
counts that reinforced their version of Christen- ally, ideologically, and physically—the “heretical”
dom’s message—even to select those to be in- Christian movements. Although their names are
cluded in the Bible and in what order—at the scarcely known today to the average person of
same time as they vigorously rejected as hereti- Christian faith, they wielded extraordinary power
cal anything seen as politically or textually de- over determining the ultimate content of modern
viating from the mainstream. Christianity. They were the editors, so to speak, of
The Gnostics, far from the centers in Rome and the Bible. Reacting as they were to the severe re-
Constantinople, ended up on the defensive in this pression of Christians they had witnessed, these
battle. The church systematically eliminated church leaders developed their own biases and
Gnostic and other “heretical” influences, even have to be understood in their own context. If you
those that may have been closer to the beliefs and read some of their original pronouncements, you
practices of the original revolution Jesus had start- will understand just how dark and fearful the age
ed, in favor of those that served the cause of con- was in which they lived and worked.
solidating a standardized, hierarchical, power- With the benefit of more than sixteen hundred
ful church. Down one path lay mystics having years of hindsight, some experts now see those
ecstatic experiences in the desert; down the other Gnostic “heretics” denounced by early church of-
lay strong popes, central cathedrals, peasants ar- ficialdom as having been on a more humanist, more
ranging their lives against the backdrop of heav- philosophical, more feminist, and more “Christian”
en and hell, and motivated Christian soldiers pre- spiritual path than those who ultimately triumphed.
pared to march forward. If ever there were a case of the winners getting to
As Bart Ehrman, professor of religious stud- write history the way they saw it, this is it. Out of

42 USN&WR SPECIAL EDITION


this epoch-defining process came a small number ian origins into an industrial-strength pablum TURNING
of Gospel truths on one side and a great many as the destruction of the feminine side of the con- POINT.
heretical documents on the other. tinuum, a deracinating break with the collective The Council of
The extreme extension of the church’s argu- unconscious and the collective past. “Some of the Nicea met in
ments against the heresies of sixteen hundred things that we put in Jesus’s Word were actually 325 A.D. under
years ago would be recycled a thousand years later words that were originally in the goddess’s Constantine’s
in the Inquisition. Malleus Maleficarum, pub- mouth,” they say. watchful eye.
lished in 1486 as the political platform of the In- Other scholars of religion, such as Elaine Pagels
quisition, has its roots in the earlier battles against and Bart Ehrman, provide a very different per-
alleged heresies. spective on this struggle of interpretation. Most
The theological and passionate cry of “foul” put serious scholars are likely to see Jesus as a real his-
forward by those who took the second road—ex- torical character, of and in his times. For exam-
pressed primarily in Gnosticism—can be found in ple, in her bestselling book Beyond Belief, Elaine
the writings of Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy Pagels looks at how the Word of God became the
(excerpted on next page), among many other post- Word of man through the selection of the Gospels
modern commentators. Freke and Gandy see the to be included in the Bible. Professor Ehrman,
deeply spiritual, mythical, poetic, romantic, God- in his book Lost Christianities, surveys the “other
dess-cult, sacred feminine roots of Christianity Christianities” and probes the religious, political,
being stamped out by these virulent antiheresy and cultural implications of the church’s victory
campaigns. They go so far as to argue that “there and the Gnostics’ loss. (An excerpt from an in-
was no evidence that Jesus ever lived” (see inter- terview with Professor Ehrman appears on Page
view, Page 45.) For them, it is the meaning of the 46.) Enter Dan Brown of The Da Vinci Code, who
myth that matters, not the man. They argue Jesus is determined to provoke new questions about this
was another in a long line of mythic god-man fig- great historical debate. As Brown’s character
ures, who was supposed to exist in harmony with Leigh Teabing tells Sophie Neveu, what, in fact,
the goddess. They see the efforts to select the unfolded several centuries after Christ’s death was
Gospel truths and edit the rich history of Christ- “the greatest coverup in human history.” l

DAGLI ORTI—ROGER CABAL COLLECTION / THE ART ARCHIVE USN&WR SPECIAL EDITION 43
SECRETS OF THE DA VINCI CODE

If this was so, then the Jesus story was not a bi-
ography at all but a consciously crafted vehicle for
encoded spiritual teachings created by Jewish
Gnostics. As in the Pagan Mysteries, initiation into
the Inner Mysteries would reveal the myth’s alle-
gorical meaning. Perhaps those uninitiated into the
Inner Mysteries had mistakenly come to regard the
Jesus myth as historical fact and in this way Lit-
eralist Christianity had been created. Perhaps the
Inner Mysteries of Christianity, which the Gnostics
taught but which the Literalists denied existed, re-
vealed that the Jesus story was not a factual account
of God’s one and only visit to planet Earth, but a
mystical teaching story designed to help each one
of us become a Christ.
The Jesus story does have all the hallmarks of a
myth (see The Pagan Mysteries Behind Early Chris-
tianity, Page 40), so could it be that that is exactly
what it is? After all, no one has read the newly dis-
covered Gnostic Gospels and taken their fantastic
stories as literally true; they are readily seen as
myths. It is only familiarity and cultural prejudice
that prevent us from seeing the New Testament
Gospels in the same light. If those Gospels had also
The Origins of the Coverup been lost to us and only recently discovered, who
BY TIMOTHY FREKE AND PETER GANDY would read these tales for the first time and believe
they were historical accounts of a man born of a vir-
From The Jesus Mysteries by Timothy Freke gin, who had walked on water and returned from
and Peter Gandy, copyright © 1999, by Timothy the dead? Why should we consider the stories of
Freke and Peter Gandy. Used by permission of Osiris, Dionysus, Adonis, Attis, Mithras, and the
HarperCollins Publishers Ltd. Http://www.fireand other Pagan Mystery saviors as fables, yet come
water.co.uk. across essentially the same story told in a Jewish
context and believe it to be the biography of a car-
he traditional version of history bequeathed penter from Bethlehem?
to us by the authorities of the Roman We had both been raised as Christians and were
Church is that Christianity developed from surprised to find that, despite years of open-mind-
the teachings of a Jewish Messiah and that Gnos- ed spiritual exploration, it still felt somehow dan-
IMPERIAL ticism was a later deviation. What would happen, gerous to even dare think such thoughts. Early in-
POLITICS: we wondered, if the picture were reversed and Gnos- doctrination reaches very deep. We were in effect
The baptism of ticism viewed as the authentic Christianity, just as saying that Jesus was a Pagan god and that Chris-
the Emperor the Gnostics themselves claimed? Could it be that tianity was a heretical product of Paganism! It
Constantine just orthodox Christianity was a later deviation from seemed outrageous. Yet this theory explained the
before he died. Gnosticism and that Gnosticism was a synthesis of similarities between the stories of Osiris, Diony-
Judaism and the Pagan Mystery religion? This was sus, and Jesus Christ in a simple and elegant way.
the beginning of the Jesus Mysteries Thesis. They are parts of one developing mythos.
Boldly stated, the picture that emerged for us was The Jesus Mysteries Thesis answered many
as follows. We knew that most ancient Mediter- puzzling questions, yet it also opened up new
ranean cultures had adopted the ancient Myster- dilemmas. Isn’t there indisputable historical ev-
ies, adapting them to their own national tastes and idence for the existence of Jesus the man? And
creating their own version of the myth of the dying how could Gnosticism be the original Christian-
and resurrecting godman. Perhaps some of the ity when St. Paul, the earliest Christian we know
Jews had, likewise, adopted the Pagan Mysteries about, is so vociferously anti-Gnostic? And is it re-
and created their own version of the Mysteries, ally credible that such an insular and anti-Pagan
which we now know as Gnosticism. Perhaps ini- people as the Jews could have adopted the Pagan
tiates of the Jewish Mysteries had adapted the po- Mysteries? And how could it have happened that
tent symbolism of the Osiris-Dionysus myths into a consciously created myth came to be believed as
a myth of their own, the hero of which was the Jew- history? And if Gnosticism represents genuine
ish dying and resurrecting godman Jesus. Christianity, why was it Literalist Christianity that

44 USN&WR SPECIAL EDITION JACOPO VIGNALI, THE BAPTISM OF CONSTANTINE, SCALA / ART RESOURCE
HISTORY’S GREATEST COVERUP?

came to dominate the world as the most influen-


tial religion of all time? All of these difficult ques-
tions would have to be satisfactorily answered be-
fore we could wholeheartedly accept such a radical
Was Jesus Real?
theory as the Jesus Mysteries Thesis. INTERVIEW WITH TIMOTHY FREKE

The Great Coverup In your opinion, is there any evidence that


Our new account of the origins of Christianity only Jesus lived?
seemed improbable because it contradicted the re- None at all. The only evidence we have is fake. There is
ceived view. As we pushed farther with our research, no evidence at all for the historical Jesus, but loads to
the traditional picture began to unravel complete- suggest that the Gospel story is a myth. If someone
ly all around us. We found ourselves embroiled in found the Jesus story in a cave, like the Nag Hammadi
a world of schism and power struggles, of forged texts were found, and said, “Look I’ve got this story of a
documents and false identities, of letters that had man, he’s born of a virgin, walks on water, teaches these
been edited and added to, and of the wholesale de- amazing spiritual insights, and then dies and comes
struction of historical evidence. We focused foren- back from the dead,” I think everyone would go, “Well,
sically on the few facts we could be confident of, as this is clearly another myth, there’s loads of them like
if we were detectives on the verge of cracking a sen- this.” It’s only because we’re so familiar with it that we
sational whodunit, or perhaps more accurately as if can’t see the obvious. One
we were uncovering an ancient and unacknowl- hundred fifty years ago
edged miscarriage of justice. For, time and again, people thought the story of
when we critically examined what genuine evidence Adam and Eve was true—
remained, we found that the history of Christiani- some people still do. But
ty bequeathed to us by the Roman Church was a the educated amongst us
gross distortion of the truth. Actually the evidence know that it’s actually an
completely endorsed the Jesus Mysteries Thesis. allegorical myth about a
It was becoming increasingly obvious that we had transformation. So is the
been deliberately deceived, that the Gnostics were Jesus story. The early
indeed the original Christians, and that their an- Gnostic Christians be-
archic mysticism had been hijacked by an authori- lieved that Jesus was a
tarian institution which had created from it a dog- mythical figure. When
matic religion and then brutally enforced the they were destroyed in the
greatest coverup in history. fourth century, their
teachings survived in un-
The Jesus Mysteries derground societies, as
One of the major players in this coverup operation El Greco’s Christ Blessing Dan Brown says. But the
was a character called Eusebius who, at the begin- secret these societies were
ning of the fourth century, compiled from legends, keeping alive had nothing to do with a blood lineage of
fabrications, and his own imagination the only early kings and queens. The real secret was the gnosis, the
history of Christianity that still exists today. All sub- Gnostic teachings of mystical enlightenment.
sequent histories have been forced to base them-
selves on Eusebius’s dubious claims, because there You brand the wing of Christianity that survived and
has been little other information to draw on. All thrived Literalist. What has been the result of this
those with a different perspective on Christianity Literalist reading of the Jesus story?
were branded as heretics and eradicated. In this way Whereas Gnostic Christians taught that Jesus was the hero
falsehoods compiled in the fourth century have come of an allegorical myth, Literalists believed that Jesus was a
down to us as established facts. real historical man.When Literalist Christianity was adopt-
Eusebius was employed by the Roman Em- ed as the religion of the brutal Roman Empire it viciously
peror Constantine, who made Christianity the stamped out Gnosticism and destroyed the wonders of the
state religion of the Empire and gave Literalist ancient Pagan world, bringing about the misery of the Dark
Christianity the power it needed to begin the Ages. The Gnostics were well known for treating women as
final eradication of Paganism and Gnosticism. equals, but the Literalists were misogynists who eradicated
Constantine wanted “one God, one religion” to the Goddess from Christianity. Literalist Christianity was
consolidate his claim of “one Empire, one Em- and is a very negative version of life. Literalists ignored the
peror.” He oversaw the creation of the Nicene Gnostic teachings of universal love and created an authori-
creed, the article of faith repeated in churches to tarian religion which gave us the horrors of the Crusades,
this day, and Christians who refused to assent to the Inquisition and the mass burning of witches.
this creed were banished from the Empire or oth-

GIRAUDON / ART RESOURCE USN&WR SPECIAL EDITION 45


SECRETS OF THE DA VINCI CODE

god of the Old Testament, who was not the true God.
Constantine could now decide what was The Gnostics held to the belief that there were a
number of different gods.
acceptable and what wasn’t. Suddenly, All of these groups claimed to go back to Jesus,
everything relative to the church became a which means they probably originated soon after
Jesus’ death and resurrection, or within a few
political issue as well as a religious one. decades at least. For example, the Ebionites claim
that their teachings were derived from James the
Just, who was the brother of Jesus, and who bet-
erwise silenced. ter to know what Jesus taught than his own broth-
This “Christian” Emperor then returned home er? And they may have been right—they may have
from Nicea and had his wife suffocated and his son been propounding beliefs that James taught. Their
murdered. He deliberately remained un-baptized faith did not spread widely, however, perhaps in part
until his deathbed so that he could continue his because their belief that people who were Gentiles
atrocities and still receive forgiveness of sins and a had to become Jewish to be Christian meant that
guaranteed place in heaven by being baptized at the men had to become circumcised, which means they
last moment. Although he had his “spin doctor” Eu- probably didn’t win too many converts.
sebius compose a suitably obsequious biography for
The Ebionites emphasized the Jewishness of
him, he was actually a monster just like many
Christianity. How about the Marcionites?
Roman Emperors before him. Is it really at all sur-
prising that a “history” of the origins of Christiani- The Marcionites were followers of the mid-second-
ty created by an employee in the service of a Roman century Greek philosopher and teacher Marcion,
tyrant should turn out to be a pack of lies? who had spent about five years in Rome working out
History is indeed written by the victors. The cre- his theological system. He believed the apostle Paul
ation of an appropriate history has always been had the true insight into Christianity because Paul
part of the arsenal of political manipulation. l differentiated between the law and the Gospel. Mar-
cion pushed that view to an extreme, maintaining
How the Battle for Scripture Was Won that if there is a separation between law and Gospel
INTERVIEW WITH BART D. EHRMAN they must have been given to humankind from two
different gods—the god who gave the law is the god
Bart D. Ehrman chairs the Department of Religious of the Old Testament, whereas the god who saved
Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel people from the law is the god of Jesus. Similarly, the
Hill. An authority on the early church and the life of wrathful god of the Old Testament is the god who
Jesus, his most recent book is Truth and Fiction in The created this world, and chose Israel, and gave them
Da Vinci Code: A Historian Reveals What We Really his law, whereas the god of Jesus is the one who saves
Know About Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Constantine. people from this god by dying for their sins.
In this interview, he presents a view different from that Marcion had a huge following even after he was
advanced by Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy about how excommunicated (he may have been the first per-
modern Christianity emerged. son to suffer this fate), going to Asia Minor, in mod-
ern-day Turkey, to establish churches. In truth, Mar-
major notion of The Da Vinci Code is cionite Christianity was a real threat to the other
that a major alternate tradition to the forms—it almost took over Christianity as a whole.
Catholic Church—a side of the argu-
How about the Gnostics?
ment over the meaning of Jesus’s life—has
been lost to us for two thousand years. How All sorts of groups, very different from each other,
do you look at this question? are classified today by scholars as Gnostics. They
were so different from each other that some schol-
There were actually a lot of different sides to the ars like the historian Elaine Pagels wonder whether
alternate tradition in Christianity, but perhaps the we should even call them Gnostic anymore. Gnos-
best examples can be found by looking at three of tics as a rule believed that this material world we live
the variant forms of early Christianity: the Ebion- in is a cosmic catastrophe and that somehow sparks
ites, the Marcionites, and the Gnostics. They are of the divine have become entrapped in this mate-
all sects within Christianity, but they are very dif- rial world and need to escape, and they can escape
ferent from each other. when they acquire true knowledge of their situation.
The Ebionites were these Jewish Christians who The Gnostic system provides them with the knowl-
emphasized the importance of being Jewish as well edge they need for escape, so salvation comes by get-
as Christian. The Marcionites were anti-Jewish, and ting the true knowledge necessary for salvation.
believed that all things Jewish actually belong to the Where the Gnostics come from intellectually is

46 USN&WR SPECIAL EDITION


HISTORY’S GREATEST COVERUP?

difficult to determine. They appear to represent a have been subservient to the Father; after all, he
kind of amalgam of a variety of different religions, prays to the Father and does the Father’s will.
including Judaism and Christianity and Greek phi- Therefore, he’s a subordinate deity. But the Ar-
losophy, especially Platonic philosophy, and they ap- ians were defeated by the Christians who main-
pear to have taken elements of these various reli- tained that Christ is not a subordinate deity, but
gions and philosophies and combined them together that he’s been divine from eternity past, that he’s
into a major religious system. We know that there always existed in relationship to God. And so
was a full-blown Gnostic system in the second cen- Christ isn’t a divine being who comes into exis-
tury, probably early- to mid-second century, which tence—he’s always been divine, and of the same
is right around the time of Marcion. It’s hard to substance as God the Father himself.
know if Gnosticism began in Alexandria or if it The shifts in theology weren’t as important as an-
began in Palestine, or where exactly, but we have ev- other shift that took place when Constantine be-
idence of Gnostics in Syria and Egypt. Eventually came a Christian. Now he, an authoritarian polit-
they make their way to Rome. ical leader, could decide what kind of Christianity
was acceptable and what kind wasn’t. Suddenly
So what finished the Gnostics and these
everything related to the church became a political
other sects? Did they just die out?
issue as well as a religious one. Some people think
Although there were a variety of historical and cul- that Constantine converted to Christianity precisely
tural reasons, most of these groups probably died because he thought the church might be able to help
out because they were attacked—successfully, on unify the empire because unlike paganism, which
theological grounds—and they weren’t nearly as ef- worshipped lots of different gods in lots of differ-
fective in their own propaganda campaigns. They ent ways, Christianity insisted on one god, and one
failed to recruit new converts even while the ortho- way. That is why Constantine may have called the FIRST DRAFT.
dox groups created a strong structure. Council of Nicea—if the church was going to play Eusebius wrote
But what really secured the victory was that the the role of unifying the empire, the church itself the original
Roman emperor Constantine converted to Chris- must be unified. That is the when, why, and how history of the
tianity. Naturally, he converted to the kind of Chris- it became a political issue. l early church.
tianity that was dominant at that time. Once
Constantine converts to an orthodox form of Chris-
tianity, and once the state has power, and the state
is Christian, then the state starts asserting its in-
fluence over Christianity. So by the end of the fourth
century, there’s actually legislation against heretics.
So the empire that used to be completely anti-Chris-
tian becomes Christian, and not just becomes Chris-
tian, but also tries to dictate what shape Christian-
ity ought to be.
The ramifications of this change of events are
enormous, of course. It changed the entire way the
Western world understands itself, and how peo-
ple understand something. Think of the concept
of guilt alone: If some other groups had won,
things might have been completely different.
So did the debates stop once the church had
unified itself at the Council of Nicea?
The debates didn’t end, but shifted. By the time
you get to the Council of Nicea, you just don’t
have large groups of Gnostics anymore, or Mar-
cionites, or Ebionites. But it didn’t stop the de-
bates. They just became more refined, and more
heated. As an example, the Council of Nicea was
about a form of Christianity called Arianism,
which by second- or third-century standards was
completely orthodox. By the time you get to the
fourth century, however, and the theologians
have refined their beliefs, Arianism becomes a
major heresy. These Arians believed Jesus must

MARY EVANS PICTURE LIBRARY USN&WR SPECIAL EDITION 47


SECRETS OF THE DA VINCI CODE

Leonardo
and His Secrets
Leonardo da Vinci hovers over The Da Vinci hundreds of years ahead of the world’s lead-
Code from the first moment in the Louvre ing-edge thinkers and inventors?
to the last moment in the Louvre. He is every- There are many mysteries about Leonardo,
where in Dan Brown’s novel, looking over the and food for many more thrillers and flights
shoulder of the plot with the Mona Lisa eyes of postmodern imagination to come long after
that gaze out from the cover. Did he integrate The Da Vinci Code has become the answer
a secret coded message into The Last Sup- to a trivia game question.
per? And if he did, was it about Mary Mag- In the pages that follow, we have tried to
dalene and her marriage to Jesus? Was it illustrate two basic schools of thought. The
more generally about women and sexuality? Was it a mainstream view, held by most Leonardo scholars and
heretical in-joke? Was it a secret gay message? Or was it art historians, suggests that while there are innumer-
something even more obscure to us today about the rel- able mysteries and questions in the life and work of
ative importance of John the Evangelist and Jesus Christ? Leonardo, there is no evidence to support conclusions
Was Leonardo a secret devotee of the Templars and pos- as far afield as the thinking that the John character
sibly a grand master of the Priory of Sion? Did he know in The Last Supper is really Mary Magdalene, or that
anything about the Holy Grail beyond what other so- Leonardo presided over the Priory of Sion, or that he
phisticated Renaissance men knew? Did he believe the was leaving coded messages behind in his art works to
Holy Grail was not literally a chalice but the metaphorical be interpreted in later eras.
or real womb of Mary Magdalene? The other view—well expressed here by Lynn Picknett
Did he believe in the cult of the sacred feminine? Did and Clive Prince, and documented much more extensively
he, as several quotes attributed to him suggest, ascribe in their books—is certainly much more interesting, even
a feminine character to wisdom and knowledge, much if the evidence is thin. Their view offers fascinating an-
as the Gnostics did. swers to some of what the more established experts can
Why did he write in codes? Who was the Mona Lisa— only point to as a long list of questions. This type of think-
or was the painting actually a self-portrait? What hap- ing about Leonardo may turn out to have little basis in
pened toward the end of his life when he moved to fact. But it may have a lot to offer metaphorically and con-
France? Why did this greatest of all painters paint so few ceptually. Reading Picknett and Prince, you can see the
paintings? Where did he get his insights into physics, wheels turning in Dan Brown’s mind as he says to himself,
anatomy, medicine, the theory of evolution, chaos the- “Now, what if I took a bit of this thread and a bit of that,
ory, aviation, and other subjects on which his thinking was and wove a plot together like this ... .” —Dan Burstein

ART OR ARTIFICE? Leonardo’s Madonna Litta. To what extent should we look for coded messages in what is clearly a work of art?

48 USN&WR SPECIAL EDITION ABOVE: PORTRAIT OF A BEARDED MAN, POSSIBLY A SELF-PORTRAIT, BIBLIOTECA
REALE, TURIN, ITALY / BRIDGEMAN ART LIBRARY; RIGHT: SCALA / ART RESOURCE
LEONARDO AND HIS SECRETS

A Feast for All Eyes


THE HIDDEN AND NOT-SO-HIDDEN MESSAGES IN LEONARDO’S GREATEST PAINTINGS

Leonardo’s Secret Code Revealed newcomers to the painting might be forgiven for har-
BY LYNN PICKNETT AND CLIVE PRINCE boring curious uncertainties about the so-called St
John. For while it is true that the artist’s own predilec-
Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince are London-based writ- tions tended to represent the epitome of male beau-
ers whose books figured prominently in Dan Brown’s ty as somewhat effeminate, surely this is a woman
research. From The Templar Revelation by Lynn Pick- we are looking at. Everything about “him” is star-
nett and Clive Prince. Copyright © 1997 by Lynn Pick- tlingly feminine. Aged and weathered though the
nett and Clive Prince. Reprinted by permission of fresco may be, one can still make out the tiny, grace-
Touchstone, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc., N.Y. ful hands, the pretty, elfin features, the distinctly
female bosom, and the gold necklace. This woman,
o begin our story proper we have to look for surely it is such, is also wearing garments that
at Leonardo’s Last Supper with new eyes. mark her out as being special. They are the mirror
This is not the time to view it in the con- image of the Redeemer’s: Where one wears a blue
text of the familiar art-historical assumptions. robe and a red cloak, the other wears a red robe and
This is the moment when it is appropriate to see a blue cloak in the identical style. No one else at the
it as a complete newcomer to this most familiar of table wears clothes that mirror those of Jesus in this
scenes would see it, to let the scales of precon- way. But then no one else at the table is a woman. BEYOND THE
ception fall from one’s eyes. ... Central to the overall composition is the shape CANVAS.
The central figure is, of course, that of Jesus, that Jesus and this woman make together—a giant, Some see
whom Leonardo referred to as “the Redeemer” in spreadeagled “M,” almost as if they were literally concealed clues
his notes. ... He looks contemplatively downwards joined at the hip but had suffered a falling out, or in Leonardo’s
and slightly to his left, hands outstretched on the even grown apart. To our knowledge no academic The Virgin of
table before him as if presenting some gift to the has referred to this feminine character as anything the Rocks.
viewer. As this is the Last Supper at which, so the other than “St. John,” and the M shape has also
New Testament tells us, Jesus initiated the sacra- passed them by. ... Yet Leonardo must have hoped
ment of the bread and wine, urging his followers that perhaps others who shared his unusual inter-
to partake of them as his “flesh” and “blood,” one pretation of the New Testament message would rec-
might reasonably expect some chalice or cup of wine ognize his version, or that someone, somewhere,
to be set before him, to be encompassed by that ges- some objective observer, would one day seize on the
ture. ... Yet there is no wine in front of Jesus (and image of this mysterious woman linked with the let-
a mere token amount on the whole table). Could it ter “M” and ask the obvious questions. Who was this
be that those spread hands are making what, ac- “M” and why was she so important? ...
cording to the artist, is essentially an empty gesture? Whoever she is, her own fate appears to be less
In the light of the missing wine, perhaps it is than secure, for a hand cuts across her gracefully
also no accident that of all the bread on the table bent neck in what seems to be a threatening gesture.
very little is actually broken. As Jesus himself The Redeemer, too, is menaced by an upright fore-
identified the bread with his own body which was finger positively thrust into his face with obvious ve-
to be broken in the supreme sacrifice, is some sub- hemence. Both Jesus and “M” appear totally obliv-
tle message being conveyed about the true nature ious to these threats, each apparently lost in the
of Jesus’s suffering? world of their own thoughts, each in their own way
This, however, is merely the tip of the iceberg of serene and composed. But it is as if secret symbols
the unorthodoxy depicted in this painting. … [F]or are being employed, not only to warn Jesus and his

REUNION DES MUSEES NATIONAUX / ART RESOURCE USN&WR SPECIAL EDITION 51


What Some People See in The Last Supper
1. A knife hangs in the air, 3. Peter’s hand, slicing suggests a “V”—said in 6. At the center of the
seemingly tinged with through the air in a The Da Vinci Code to be painting, the garments
symbolic meaning, as it is menacing way in “Mary the archetypal symbol of worn by Jesus and “Mary”
disassociated from the Magdalene’s” direction, the chalice, the vagina, are mirror images of each
rest of the image. could be a gesture the womb, and female other’s red and blue
reinforcing Peter’s rivalry sexuality. fabrics.
2. In The Da Vinci Code, Sir with Mary Magdalene for
Leigh Teabing suggests control of Jesus’s 5. The line that outlines 7. The blue color denotes
that the character to movement after his death, Jesus and “Mary spiritual love, fidelity, and
Jesus’s right, generally and Peter’s jealousy over Magdalene” traces the truth. Red and blue are
thought to be John, is the important place in the shape of an “M.” seen as the royal colors, in
really female, not male. movement Jesus may According to another this case possibly
The idea is that this is have given to Mary. argument advanced in The suggesting the “royal
Leonardo’s vision of Mary Da Vinci Code, again by blood” theme and the
Magdalene, sitting in the 4. The 90-degree-angle Teabing, this “M” could alignment of the royal
most important place next space between Jesus and connote either Mary House of Benjamin (from
to Jesus. “Mary Magdalene” Magdalene or Matrimony. which Mary is said to be

52 USN&WR SPECIAL EDITION


descended) and the
House of David (from
which Jesus is said to be 4
descended).

8. There is no central chalice


or wine goblet in The Last 3
5
Supper despite the popular
preconception that there 2
is. Instead, each person at 6
1 7
the table has a small
glass cup of his or her
own. The Da Vinci Code
8
jokes that Leonardo
somehow seems to have
forgotten to paint the Holy
Grail itself.

ALINARI / ART RESOURCE USN&WR SPECIAL EDITION 53


SECRETS OF THE DA VINCI CODE

do not. What do you see when you look at


Is Leonardo using this painting to convey this painting?
some private belief that it would have been What Leonardo presents us with in his painting
insane to share more openly? And could of The Last Supper is what he does primarily
throughout all of his art—the humanizing of art.
this belief have a message for us today? This is one of his biggest appeals. From my way of
reading Christian art, this painting is icono-
graphically important because Leonardo changes
female companion of their separate fates, but also the focus of the iconography.
to instruct (or perhaps remind) the observer of some What Leonardo does is portray the announce-
information which it would otherwise be dangerous ment, “I am going to be betrayed,” and the aftermath
to make public. Is Leonardo using this painting to of that moment. The disciples are in shock. They
convey some private belief which it would have been look at each other, pointing with exaggerated ges-
little short of insane to share with a wider audience tures as if to say, “It can’t be me, it must be you, but
in any obvious fashion? And could it be that this be- who could it be, how could it be any of us?” And
lief might have a message for many more than his Jesus is saying, not only, “I know I will be betrayed,”
immediate circle, perhaps even for us today? but also, “I know which of you is going to do it.”
There is more. An anomalous hand points a The Jesus figure is set off in a particular way be-
dagger at a disciple’s stomach one person away cause the others are stunned. He is both the an-
from “M.” By no stretch of the imagination could nouncer and the betrayed.
the hand belong to anyone sitting at that table be-
What do you think, specifically, about the
cause it is physically impossible for those near-
supposition that the “John” character is re-
by to have twisted round to get the dagger in that
ally Mary Magdalene?
position. However, what is truly amazing about
this disembodied hand is not so much that it ex- Initially, my response was this is a very interest-
ists, but that in all our reading about Leonardo we ing interpretation, to say that there was a woman
have come across only a couple of references to it, at the table. It fits nicely with feminist theology.
and they show a curious reluctance to find any- However that doesn’t make it true.
thing unusual about it. Like the St. John who is If you look at the history of the Last Supper in
really a woman, nothing could be more obvious— Christian art, you see the figure of Jesus, sometimes
and more bizarre—once it is pointed out. ... seated at the center of a table, other times at an end
We have often heard it said that Leonardo was of a table. The table may be round, square, or rec-
a pious Christian whose religious paintings re- tangular depending upon social custom as much as
flected the depth of his faith. As we have seen so for artistic spacing. Simultaneously, you see regu-
far, at least one of them includes highly dubious larly the figure of John the Evangelist, in closest
imagery in terms of Christian orthodoxy, and our proximity to Jesus. There is a tradition of John being
further research reveals that nothing could be fur- seen in our eyes as soft, feminine, and youthful.
ther from the truth than the idea that Leonardo However, if you look carefully at the Leonardo
was a true believer—a believer, that is, in any ac- painting, you will notice other disciples who do not
cepted, or acceptable, form of Christianity. ... What have beards or who could be construed as possess-
we are looking at in The Last Supper and his other ing feminine features. Gender is a culturally and so-
works is the secret code of Leonardo da Vinci. ... l cially conditioned concept. What we accept today as
being masculine or feminine is most likely not what
“No, I do not believe there is would have been accepted in Florence during the fif-
a woman in The Last Supper ...” teenth century. If you look carefully at Christian art,
INTERVIEW WITH DIANE APOSTOLOS- in particular at the depictions of male and female
CAPPADONA bodies, faces, and gestures, then The Last Supper
is not such an extraordinary presentation!
Diane Apostolos-Cappadona is Adjunct Professor of
Can you be more specific?
Religious Art and Cultural History at the Center for
Muslim-Christian Understanding and Adjunct Pro- I do not believe that there is a woman in The Last
fessor and Core Faculty in Art and Culture in the Lib- Supper and I do not believe in any way that it’s
eral Studies Program, both at Georgetown University. Mary Magdalene. I think that the V that’s there—
the one Dan Brown defines as a symbol of femi-
As you know, some people, including Dan
ninity—is there, first of all, to emphasize the Christ
Brown, seem to see all sorts of things in The
figure and to emphasize the reality of the per-
Last Supper that traditional art historians
spective within that fresco.

54 USN&WR SPECIAL EDITION


LEONARDO AND HIS SECRETS

What role do artistic form and perspective


play in this?

Perspective is extraordinarily important in Renais-


Why is This Woman
sance art, and in Leonardo’s art in particular. The
apostles are all grouped into triangular formations.
Smiling?
For example, there is the triangle composed of the BY LYNN PICKNETT
so-called Mary Magdalene-John figure, the gray-
bearded figure behind [who is Judas], and the fore- ho was the Mona Lisa? Why is she smiling or
ground figure [who is Peter]. Dan Brown has omit- smirking? Indeed, is she smiling or smirking, or
ted any discussion of pyramidal composition in is the impression simply due to the genius of
Leonardo’s oeuvre, of the four triangular groupings Leonardo’s unique brushwork, which creates a subtle effect,
which are important to form the compositional bal- almost of shifting light? And if it was a portrait of some Ital-
ance for the central triangular figure who is Jesus. ian or French lady, why was it never claimed by her family?...
It is this pyramidal composition that is one of The Mona Lisa, it seems, was a self-portrait. ...This star-
Leonardo’s great gifts to Western art. l tling—and, on the face of it, sensational and unlikely—hy-
pothesis was put forward in the 1980s by two researchers
Da Vinci’s Not-So Secret Code working independently: Dr. Digby Quested, of London’s
INTERVIEW WITH DENISE BUDD Maudsley Hospital, and Lillian Schwartz, of Bell Laboratories
... both noticed that the features of the “female” face of the
Denise Budd is a Columbia University Ph.D. who Mona Lisa were exactly the same
wrote her doctoral dissertation on Leonardo da Vinci as those of the 1514 self-portrait of
the artist as an old man, drawn in
Leonardo is known for peppering his works
red chalk, now in Turin. ...
with symbolism and, some say, heretical
If, as seems to be the case,
ideas, in his Virgin of the Rocks paintings,
Leonardo was both the Mona
for example. Do you agree?
Lisa and the face on the Shroud,
No, I don’t. The Virgin of the Rocks (see Page 50) then he had achieved a double
was a religious commission for the Confraternity coup: He not only became the
of the Immaculate Conception for the church of universally recognized image of
San Francesco Grande in Milan—not for nuns, as the Son of God, but also the
Brown says. Leonardo da Vinci got the commis- “Most Beautiful Woman in the
sion in 1483. One of the reasons that Dan Brown World”—no wonder “she” was
argues that the painting is heretical is because he smirking mysteriously!
misreads the work, confusing the figure of St. John Over the years, it has been sug-
the Baptist with Christ. The composition shows gested, sometimes even seriously, that the Mona Lisa was in
Mary—with her hand suspended over her son, cre- fact a portrait of Leonardo’s unknown female lover, which is
ating a dominant axis—embracing Christ’s cousin considerably more unlikely than the self-portrait theory, on
St. John, who kneels in reverence. The Baptist is the grounds that he was almost certainly homosexual. ...
the first to recognize Christ’s divinity, which he If the elusive image of the enigmatic woman was indeed
does in the womb, so this composition falls com- a self-portrait, why did he do it, and why did he keep it
pletely within the norms of tradition. with him until his dying day? Perhaps the answer is simply
With the added element of the angel Uriel, that he thought he had produced a masterpiece. Perhaps
Leonardo is actually combining two separate mo- he liked the look of himself as a woman, beardless and in
ments: this scene, from Christ’s infancy, with the drag. ... Yet there are reasons to consider that, like every-
scene when the Baptist visits the holy family on the thing else he did, there was also a deeper reason … .
flight into Egypt. Leonardo guides us through the Like Mary Magdalene, the illegitimate Leonardo was an
composition by the play of hands, which relate the outsider, a tormented genius without much formal educa-
figures to one another. Presumably, the subject tion, humored and flattered in the courts of the great, but
would have been worked out with the confraterni- always dependent on patronage, always the artistic prosti-
ty, and it would have played an important role in es- tute. As an outsider, he reached out across the dark cen-
tablishing the iconography, which likely refers to the turies to another: Perhaps the dragged-up Leonardo was
issue of Mary’s immaculate conception, which was supposed to represent the Magdalene herself.
not yet a matter of settled church doctrine. During
the Renaissance, an artist was not generally given From the book Mary Magdalene by Lynn Picknett by
free rein on important commissions. There would permission of Constable & Robinson Ltd, London.
have been specific guidelines. And presumably, Copyright © Lynn Picknett 2003.
Leonardo worked within that framework. l

AKG USN&WR SPECIAL EDITION 55


SECRETS OF THE DA VINCI CODE

Inside the Mind


of a Genius
FROM THOUSANDS OF PIECES OF PAPER,
A PORTRAIT OF A MASTER AT WORK
BY SHERWIN B. NULAND

Sherwin Nuland is Clinical Professor of Surgery at Yale


University, where he also teaches medical history and
bioethics. From Leonardo da Vinci by Sherwin B. Nu-
land, copyright © Sherwin B. Nuland, 2000. Reprinted
by arrangement with Viking Penguin, a division of Pen-
guin Group (USA) Inc. and Lipper Publications, L.L.C.
All rights reserved.

his is the way I understand Leonar-


do da Vinci’s intent, over the ap-
proximately thirty-five years during
which he scrawled the more than five
thousand manuscript pages of his ex-
tant writings, as well as those many undoubted-
ly lost. Beginning in Milan sometime after his thir-
tieth year, he began a process that amounts to
setting down on paper a long series of notes to separated and arranged in pages, in such a way
himself, some of which were random and brief, that the original juxtaposition was confused.
and some of which were well-constructed studies Almost always, an observation is complete on
of one or another problem of an artistic, scien- the page where it appears, although there are a
tific, or philosophical nature, usually accompa- very few instances, in bound volumes of numbered
nied by either elaborate or simple drawings. In pages, where one finds the instruction “turn over,”
fact, it would be more correct to say that the draw- and “this is the continuation of the previous page.”
ings, left in various stages of completion, are ac- There is no punctuation, no accenting, and a pro-
companied by notes, since the former are of far clivity toward running several short words to-
greater significance. The sizes of the manuscript gether into one long one. Just as likely to be en-
pages vary from quite large, as most of them were, countered is the division of a long word into
to as small as three and a half by two and a half halves. And once in a while, one comes across
inches. More than half of the material is on loose words or proper names in which the order of the
sheets and the rest is in notebooks of various letters is scrambled, as though in great haste.
kinds. To add to the jumbling, Leonardo some- Some of the letters and numbers are written ac-
times used folded sheets of paper which he later cording to Leonardo’s own sometimes inconsis-

56 USN&WR SPECIAL EDITION ART RESOURCE


tent orthography, and they are at first difficult to sketch all together in a completely lucid arrange- VISIONARY.
decipher until one learns to recognize them, as ment. When seemingly irrelevant notes and draw- A manuscript
well as to decipher certain shorthand terminol- ings are placed on some particular page, they are page from a
ogy. In all, these are the personal idiosyncrasies not infrequently found, when carefully scrutinized treatise on
of a personal note taker. by experts, to be not irrelevant at all, but to have optics, in the
And then there is the so-called mirror writing. either direct or indirect applicability to the rest of artist’s classic
Leonardo wrote from right to left, adding con- the nearby material. scribble
siderably to the difficulty of transliterating his Although there is the volume that has been
manuscripts. It is probably because of the mir- called since shortly after Leonardo’s death the
ror writing that he sometimes turned the pages of Treatise on Painting, its unity is the work of an
his notebooks in the reverse order, so whole sec- unknown compiler who brought what he consid-
tions can be found running back to front. A page ered to be the appropriate pieces together into a
of his scrawl is likely to contain a scientific dis- unified form. The codex On the Flight of Birds
cussion alongside a personal notation concerning does have something of a completeness about it,
daily household doings, and perhaps a sketch but other of the studies on flight are scattered
without text or text without a sketch or text and through Leonardo’s pages as well. In all of the

USN&WR SPECIAL EDITION 57


SECRETS OF THE DA VINCI CODE

liberately record his thoughts in such a way that


It was unpredictable nature that Leonardo they would be indecipherable to any but those so
determined to understand them as to be will-
saw as the creator of the earth’s wonders. ing to devote long hours to the process. Vasari
There is no mention here of God, and wrote that he had been a heretic, and more a
philosopher than a Christian; some must have
certainly no room for the Creation story. thought him a crypto-atheist; not a few of his no-
tions were far from those of the Church. This is
the man, it will be recalled, who wrote, long be-
manuscripts, there is not a single whole work as fore Galileo was accused, “The sun does not
we conceive of it. What we have been left by move.” And this is the man also who saw evi-
Leonardo are the equivalent of thousands of those dence everywhere, whether in the form of fossils,
pieces of paper on which we have all recorded ur- rock formations, or the movements of water, of
gent messages to ourselves. Unfortunately, many the great age of the earth and of the constantly
of them are lost. changing character of its geologic and living
Certain of Leonardo’s pages were not only never forms. ... Leonardo depicted that testimony in
lost, however, but actually were revisited again some of his paintings, specifically in The Virgin
and again. He might return to a particular sheet of the Rocks, the St. Anne, and the Mona Lisa. In
at intervals of weeks, months, or even many years the background of each can be seen the primeval
in order to add drawings or notes as he learned world as he must have imagined it was before
more about a topic. ... it evolved (I choose the word advisedly—he came
Although demanding to read, writing as though close to describing the theory of evolution) into
seen in a mirror is far less difficult than might be its modern form.
supposed. Left-handed people in general find it As a man who more than once proclaimed
quite easy, and it may in fact be more natural to that everything is part of everything else, he
them than standard script. ... From all of these surely related the generation of the world to the
considerations, it would appear that there is no generation of a human being. His fascination
mystery in Leonardo’s motives for writing as he with the one was of a piece with his fascination
did. He was almost certainly a lefty keeping notes, with the other.
scribbling them as fast as he could because his It was unpredictable nature that Leonardo saw
hand was unable to keep up with the quickness of as the creator of the ever-changing wonders of the
earth, and he did not hesitate to say so: “Nature,
being inconstant and taking pleasure in creating
and continually producing new forms, because she
knows that her terrestrial materials are thereby
augmented, is more ready and more swift in her
creating than is time in his destruction.” There
is no mention here of God, and certainly no room
for the biblical Creation story. Regardless of my
own conviction to the contrary, perhaps consid-
erations like these should be factored into any the-
ory attempting to understand the totality of why
Leonardo should have chosen to write so inac-
cessibly. The dangers of easily discovered heresy
in that Church-dominated time cannot be under-
estimated, as we know all too well from the treat-
AHEAD OF his mind. What some have thought a code seems ment not only of Galileo, but of others too, who
THE CURVE. to have been merely the personal scrawl of a man dared to question doctrine. ...
Leonardo’s whose stylistic idiosyncrasies were a kind of short- Had Leonardo set out to record a volume of the
drawing of a hand to enable him to put things down on paper principles by which he lived his life, or a book of
cannon in action, as quickly as possible. There is plenty of evidence aphorisms for which he wished to be remembered,
from the Codex from various of his comments that he intended or a compendium of his interpretations of the uni-
Atlanticus eventually to collate much of this material, which verse and its relationship to mankind—had any of
would have been just as accessible to him as these been his intention, he could not have ac-
though he had written it in the standard way, even complished them more effectively than he did in
if to no one else. what would appear to be a scattershot miscellany
As convincing as the foregoing might be, it still of random thoughts sprayed over the pages of his
remains possible that Leonardo did indeed de- loose sheets and notebooks, amid sketches, ar-

58 USN&WR SPECIAL EDITION ART RESOURCE


LEONARDO AND HIS SECRETS

chitectural plans, scientific observations, math-


ematical constructs, quotations from other au-
thors, and records of daily life. He exposes at once
his innermost musings and the overt thrust of the
message he devoted his life to transmitting: That
a human being can be understood only by turning
toward nature; that the secrets of nature are dis-
coverable by observation and experiment free of
preconception; that there are no bounds to the
possibilities of man’s understanding, that there is
a unity between all elements in the universe; that
the study of form is essential, but the key to un-
derstanding lies in the study of movement and
function, that the investigation of forces and en-
ergies will lead to the ultimate comprehension
of the dynamics of nature; that scientific knowl-
edge should be reducible to mathematically
demonstrable principles; that the ultimate ques-
tion to be answered about all life and indeed all
nature is not how, but why. ...
Some of the aphorisms in Leonardo’s writings
have the soaring quality of biblical verse, and even
parallelism, reminiscent of Proverbs, Psalms, or
Ecclesiastes. Here is the Leonardo who famous-
ly wrote, “Beauty in life perishes, not in art,” ex-
pressing his certainty that painting is art’s high-
est form: “Thirst will parch your tongue and your
body will waste through lack of sleep ere you can
describe in words that which painting instantly
sets before the eye. ... ”
Of course, many of the notations are far from
being so lofty. There were lists of books to read or
acquire; and there were recordings of the mun-
dane activities involved in caring for a large house-
hold and directing a workshop of artists and ar-
tisans; and there were letters to various patrons
complaining of nonpayment. ...
Every once in a great while, the reader encounters
a statement so prescient that it is necessary to stop
and read it again and then yet again, to be certain mentation in elucidating the general laws of nature: BACKPEDAL.
that it is being interpreted correctly. Leonardo in- Leonardo
troduced so many new concepts that there is a ten- “First I shall make some experiments before I pro- typically used
dency to credit him with more than he actually de- ceed further, because my intention is to consult ex- mirror writing;
serves, and one must be cautious lest there be perience first and then by means of reasoning show whole notebook
overinterpretation of some of his statements. But it why such experiment is bound to work in such a sections run
is nevertheless not possible to avoid the thought that way. And this is the true rule by which those who back to front.
he is in the following passage elucidating the basis analyze natural effects must proceed; and although
of the evolutionary principles that in numerous nature begins with the cause and ends with the ex-
other manuscript pages he undoubtedly expresses perience, we must follow the opposite course, name-
in his observation of geological formations, waters ly (as I said before), begin with the experience and
and fossils. “Necessity is the mistress and the teacher by means of it investigate the cause.”
of nature,” he writes. “It is the theme and the in-
spiration of nature, its curb and eternal regulator.” Such a way of proceeding was unheard of in
The necessity is the need to stay alive—it is the cat- Leonardo’s day. It was seventeenth-century think-
alyst for the evolutionary process. ing at a time when the great mass of philosophical
In like fashion, he seems to have understood the men were doing just the opposite, namely, ex-
principles that would in later centuries come to be pounding overarching theories to explain their ex-
called inductive reasoning, and the role of experi- periences and observations. l

BIBLIOTHEQUE DE L’INSTITUT DE FRANCE, PARIS / BRIDGEMAN ART LIBRARY USN&WR SPECIAL EDITION 59
SECRETS OF THE DA VINCI CODE

In the Netherworld of
Conspiracies
Like a good spy thriller, the plot of The Da Vinci Code they believed the Holy Grail had anything to do with
moves from one stunning secret to another, from one Mary Magdalene’s womb and the royal bloodline of the
coded message to the next, from an ancient conspira- offspring she may or may not have had.
cy to a modern one, exploring all the while some of the The Priory of Sion, while interesting to speculate
most fundamental secrets of the archaic past and even about, may never have really existed as anything more
archaic areas of the brain itself, where secret fears, than a minor political arm of the Templars during their
compulsions, and ancient traumas reside. heyday. As for the modern era, the Priory may be a com-
Dan Brown has said that Robert Ludlum is among his plete canard in its twentieth-century incarnation.
favorite writers, and you can see in The Da Vinci Code Opus Dei is certainly wealthy, powerful, and secretive.
a touch of vintage Ludlum. Start with compelling and It may well be pledged to a religious philosophy and even
powerful secrets, throw an ordinary man (and a beau- a set of political goals that many find anathema. But
tiful woman) into fast-paced, high-stakes action to fig- it is not dispatching albino monks to the streets of Paris
ure out these secrets against the ticking clock of a to murder people over ancient religious secrets.
threat to civilization, confront the characters with dark, That is not to deny the concerns and fears some peo-
powerful secret societies and conspiracies, and wrap ple may have about this or any other secretive group or
it all into action fast-paced enough to make the read- conspiracy. “At the end of an exhausting century,”
er forget the cardboard characters and the plot holes. wrote Newsweek recently, “conspiracy is a comfortable
The role of secret societies in such plots is not to be way to make sense of a messy world. One-stop shop-
understated. And, as the novel points out, everyone ping for every explanation. Things don’t just fall apart.
loves a good conspiracy. In the case of the three most Somebody makes them fall apart.”
prominent secret societies in The Da Vinci Code—the The public also wants heroes and heroines like Lang-
Templars, the Priory, and Opus Dei—each one is a fas- don and Neveu. Given all the crazy and conflicting in-
cinating world unto itself, although the novel exagger- formation coming at us in our daily lives, we all wish we
ates greatly each one’s power, influence, and history. could be like these New Age superheroes, acting intel-
The Templars, for example, may have had some cult- ligently and heroically—mentally and physically—to solve
like practices in medieval days that could be construed problems and avert disaster. They must crack the code
as sacred sex rites. Mary Magdalene may have figured before it is too late!
more prominently in their culture than in contempo- Welcome to the netherworld of The Da Vinci Code.
raneous Christianity. But it is extremely doubtful that –Dan Burstein

CROSS OF GOLD. François-Marius Granet’s nineteenth-century idealization of a knight taking the Templar oath

60 USN&WR SPECIAL EDITION DAGLI ORTI—MUSEE CALVET AVIGNON / THE ART ARCHIVE
IN THE NETHERWORLD OF CONSPIRACIES

Knights of Mystery
IS THERE A LINK BETWEEN THE MEDIEVAL TEMPLARS AND THE MODERN PRIORY?
BY LYNN PICKNETT AND CLIVE PRINCE

The following excerpt is from Lynn Picknett and Clive State. The Priory of Sion, sometimes known as
Prince’s The Templar Revelation, the original source of a the Order of Sion or the Order of Our Lady of Sion
number of The Da Vinci Code’s theories about Leonardo, as well as by other subsidiary titles, claims to have
the Templars, and the Priory of Sion. Copyright © 1997 been founded in 1099, during the First Crusade—
by Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince. Reprinted with the and even then this was just a matter of formal-
permission of Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group izing a group whose guardianship of this explo-
from The Templar Revelation by Lynn Picknett and sive knowledge already went back much further.
Clive Prince. Picknett and Prince are London-based They claimed to be behind the creation of the
writers, researchers, and lecturers on the paranormal, Knights Templar—that curious body of medieval
the occult, and historical and religious mysteries. soldier-monks of sinister reputation. The Prio-
ry and the Templars became, so it is claimed, vir-
he names of Leonardo da Vinci and tually the same organization, presided over by the
Jean Cocteau appear on the list of same Grand Master until they suffered a schism
the Grand Masters of what claims to and went their separate ways in 1188. The Priory
be one of Europe’s oldest and most continued under the custodianship of a series of
influential secret societies—the Grand Masters, including some of the most il-
Prieuré de Sion, the Priory of Sion. Hugely con- lustrious names in history [see Page 65], among KNIGHT
troversial, its very existence has been called into them Leonardo da Vinci, who, it is alleged, CRUSADER.
question and therefore any of its alleged activities presided over the Priory for the last nine years of Godfrey of
are frequently the subject of ridicule and their im- his life. Among its more recent leaders were Vic- Bouillon
plications ignored. At first we sympathized with tor Hugo, Claude Debussy, and the artist, writer, captured
this kind of reaction, but our further investiga- playwright and filmmaker Jean Cocteau. And al- Jerusalem in
tions certainly revealed that the matter was not as though they were not Grand Masters, the Prio- 1099. Nineteen
simple as that. ry has, it is claimed, attracted other luminaries years later, his
The Priory of Sion first came to the attention over the centuries, such as Joan of Arc, Nos- brother founded
of the English-speaking world as late as 1982, tradamus (Michel de Notre Dame) and even Pope the Templars.
through the best-selling Holy Blood, Holy Grail John XXIII.
by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Apart from such celebrities, the history of the
Lincoln, although in its homeland of France re- Priory of Sion allegedly involved some of the great-
ports of its existence gradually became public est royal and aristocratic families of Europe for
from the early 1960s. It is a quasi-Masonic or generation after generation. These include the
chivalric order with certain political ambitions d’Anjous, the Hapsburgs, the Sinclairs, and the
and, it seems, considerable behind-the-scenes Montgomeries. The reported aim of the Priory is
power. Having said that, it is notoriously difficult to protect the descendants of the old Merovingian
to categorize the Priory, perhaps because there dynasty of kings in what is now France, who ruled
is something essentially chimerical about the from the fifth century until the assassination of
whole operation. ... Dagobert II in the late seventh century. But then,
The underlying power of the Priory of Sion is critics claim that the Priory of Sion has only ex-
at least partly due to the suggestion that its mem- isted since the 1950s and consists of a handful of
bers are, and always have been, guardians of a mythomaniacs with no real power—royalists with
great secret—one that, if made public, would unlimited delusions of grandeur.
shake the very foundations of both Church and So on the one hand we have the Priory’s own

ALINARI / ART RESOURCE USN&WR SPECIAL EDITION 63


SECRETS OF THE DA VINCI CODE

IT’S OFFICIAL! claims for its pedigree and raison d’être and on visited England in 1129, when he founded the first
Pope Honorius II the other the claim of its detractors. … Templar site in that country, on the site of what is
recognizes the Any mystery connected with the Priory of Sion now London’s Holborn Underground Station.
Templars at the also involves those warrior-monks [the Templars], Like all other monks, the knights were sworn to
Council of and so they are an intrinsic part of this investigation. poverty, chastity, and obedience, but they were in the
Troyes in 1128. A third of all the Templars’ European prop- world and of it and pledged to use the sword if nec-
erty was once found in the Languedoc, and its essary against the enemies of Christ—and the image
ruins only add to the savage beauty of the re- of the Templars became inseparably linked with the
gion. One of the more picturesque local legends crusades that were mounted in order to drive the in-
has it that whenever October thirteenth falls on fidel out of Jerusalem, and to keep it Christian.
a Friday (the day and date of the Order’s sudden It was in 1128 that the Council of Troyes of-
and brutal suppression) strange lights appear ficially recognized the Templars as a religious
in the ruins and dark figures can be seen mov- and military order. The main protagonist be-
ing among them. Unfortunately on the Fridays hind this move was Bernard of Clairvaux, the
when we were in that area, we saw and heard head of the Cistercian Order, who was later can-
nothing except the alarming snufflings of wild onized. But as Bamber Gascoigne writes in
boars; but the story shows how much the Tem- The Christians:
plars have become part of local legend. ...
The main facts concerning the Knights Templar He was aggressive, he was abusive ... and he was
are simple. Officially known as The Order of the a devious politician who was quite unscrupulous
Poor Knights of the Temple of Solomon, they were in the methods he used to bring down his enemies.
formed in 1118 by the French nobleman Hugues
de Payens as knightly escorts for pilgrims to the Bernard actually wrote the Templars’ Rule—
Holy Land. Initially there were just nine of them, which was based on that of the Cistercians—and
for the first nine years, then the Order opened it was one of his protégés who, as Pope Innocent
up and soon it had established itself as a force to II, declared in 1139 that the Knights would be an-
be reckoned with, not only in the Middle East, but swerable only to the papacy from that time on-
also throughout Europe. wards. As both the Templars and the Cistercian
After the recognition of the Order, Hugues de Orders developed in parallel, one can discern a
Payens himself set out on a European trip, solicit- certain amount of deliberate co-ordination be-
ing land and money from royalty and nobility. He tween them—for example, Hugues de Payens’s

64 USN&WR SPECIAL EDITION REUNION DES MUSEES NATIONAUX / ART RESOURCE


IN THE NETHERWORLD OF CONSPIRACIES

lord, the Count of Champagne, donated to St.


Bernard the land in Clairvaux on which he built
his monastic “empire.” And significantly, André
de Montbard, one of the nine founding knights,
The Dossiers secrets and
was Bernard’s uncle. It has been suggested that
the Templars and Cistercians were acting together
the Murky Priory of Sion
according to a pre-arranged plan to take over n the 1960s, a number of mysterious documents
Christendom, but this scheme never succeeded. began to be deposited in the Bibliothèque Na-
It is hard to exaggerate the prestige and finan- tionale in Paris “in a thin, nondescript volume, a
cial power of the Templars when they were at the species of folder with stiff covers that contained a loose
height of their influence in Europe. There was assemblage of ostensibly unrelated items,” write
hardly a major centre of civilization where they Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln in
did not have a preceptory—as, for example, the Holy Blood, Holy Grail, the grand conspiracy theory tale
wide scatter of such place names as Temple For- that underlies The Da Vinci Code. The documents, which
tune and Temple Bar (London) and Temple included pamphlets, letters, news articles, and “numer-
Meads (Bristol) in England still shows. But as ous genealogical trees,” purported to establish the exis-
their empire spread, so their arrogance grew and tence of the Prieuré de Sion, or Priory of Sion, a secret
began to poison their relations with both tempo- society dating back to the time of the Knights Templar,
ral and secular heads of state. and one pledged to keeping alive the great religious se-
The Templars’ wealth was partly a result of their crets supposedly held by that powerful and shadowy
Rule: All new members had to hand over their prop- group. Among the eye-popping list of “Grand Masters”
erty to the Order, and they also gained a consider- who allegedly headed the organization over the cen-
able fortune through massive donations of land and turies: the celebrated medieval alchemist Nicolas
money from many kings and nobles. Their coffers Flamel, whose term is listed in the dossiers secrets, as the
were soon overflowing, not least because they had papers are known, from 1398 to 1418; Sandro Filipepi
also amassed impressive financial astuteness, which (Botticelli), whose dates are given as 1483-1510; Leonar-
had resulted in them becoming the first interna- do da Vinci (1510-1519); Isaac Newton (1691-1727); and,
tional bankers, upon whose judgment the credit rat- more recently, three famous Frenchmen: Victor Hugo
ings of others depended. It was a sure way of es- (1844-1885), Claude Debussy (1885-1918), and Jean
tablishing themselves as a major power. In a short Cocteau (1918-1963).
space of time their title of “Poor Knights” became
a hollow sham, even though the rank and file might
well have remained impecunious.
Besides their staggering wealth, the Templars
were renowned for their skill and courage in bat-
tle—sometimes to the point of foolhardiness. They
had specific rules to govern their conduct as fight-
ers: For example, they were forbidden to surren-
der unless the odds against them were greater
than three to one, and even then had to have their
commander’s approval. They were the Special Ser-
vices of their day, an élite force with God—and
money—on their side.
Despite their finest efforts, the Holy Land fell to Sandro Botticelli Isaac Newton
the Saracens bit by bit until in 1291 the last Chris-
tian territory, the city of Acre, was in enemy hands.
There was nothing for the Templars to do but to
return to Europe and plot their eventual reconquest,
but unfortunately by then the motivation for such a
campaign had disappeared among the various kings
who might have financed it. Their main reason for
existing dwindled to nothing. Lacking employment,
but still rich and arrogant, they were widely resent-
ed because they were exempt from taxation and their
allegiance was to the Pope and to him alone.
So in 1307 came their inevitable fall from
grace. The supremely powerful French king, Victor Hugo Jean Cocteau
Philip the Fair, began to orchestrate the down-

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: SCALA / ART RESOURCE (2); USN&WR SPECIAL EDITION 65
EXPLORER / GAMMA; WILLY RIZZO—GAMMA
SECRETS OF THE DA VINCI CODE

Researching History’s Most Shadowy Societies


INTERVIEW WITH LYNN PICKNETT AND CLIVE PRINCE

The Templar Revelation, by Lynn a network of related secret societies What made the Templars so
Picknett and Clive Prince, was a best- and esoteric orders that do have a famous? What secret infor-
seller in its own right. The authors’ genuine pedigree. There’s a close mation are they supposed to
further thoughts on the Templars, the connection between the modern be guarding?
Priory of Sion and the Dossiers Priory of Sion and secret societies Historically, it is accepted that the
Secrets: that claim descent from the me- Templars were unusually skilled
dieval Templars. These neo-Tem- in the fields of medicine, diploma-
What are the Dossiers Se- plar groups can all be traced back to cy, and the military arts—being
crets in the Bibliothèque an eighteenth-century society called the elite forces of their day. They
Nationale in Paris, and why the Strict Templar Observance, acquired much of this knowledge
does Dan Brown give them which claimed—with some justifica- on their travels, especially in the
such prominence in The Middle East, and a good
Da Vinci Code? deal from their enemies,
Dossiers Secrets is a conve- the Saracens, who were par-
nient term, coined by ticularly renowned for their
Baigent, Leigh, and Lincoln scientific knowledge. (One
in Holy Blood, Holy Grail, reason why the Saracens
for a set of seven related were so far ahead of the Eu-
documents of varying ropeans is that all scientific
lengths—in total, less than a experimentation was
hundred pages—deposited banned by the church.)
in the library between 1964 There’s no doubt the Tem-
and 1967. plars also sought esoteric
The purpose of the docu- and spiritual knowledge—al-
ments is to establish the though you won’t find much
existence of the Priory of about that aspect of their rai-
Sion and its role as son d’être in standard history
guardian of historical and texts. The Templars were so
esoteric secrets, but Templars’ cross from the order’s church in Treviso, Italy secretive that nothing is
Dossiers Secrets only drops known for certain about
hints as to their nature. their hidden agendas: It’s a
There’s no doubt the Templars matter for informed specula-
What is the direct con- tion. They’ve been linked to
nection between the
also sought esoteric and everything from the Ark of
Knights Templar and spiritual knowledge—although the Covenant and the Holy
the Priory of Sion? Grail to the lost Gospels and
The central paradox of the you won’t find much about that the Shroud of Turin. Nobody
Priory of Sion is that there’s really knows for sure.
no evidence of its existence in standard history texts.
before 1956, yet it claims Who is Pierre Plantard?
that it’s been around since the tion—to be the authentic heir of the Pierre Plantard was grand master
Middle Ages. In recent years, medieval Templars’ secrets. And the of the Priory of Sion until his
though, it’s changed its story, organization led by Pierre Plantard death in 2000. He was their pub-
claiming to have been founded in [reputed grand master of the Priory lic face. With him, the Priory of
the eighteenth century. of Sion in more recent times] acts Sion emerged into the public do-
The conclusion that we’ve come as a front for these groups. The net- main, mainly through the inter-
to since writing The Templar Reve- work of orders behind the Priory of views he gave to Baigent, Leigh,
lation is that the Priory of Sion that Sion is closely entwined with cer- and Lincoln. Who the grand mas-
declared itself to the world in 1956 tain forms of Freemasonry, such as ter is now, or even if there is one,
was invented then, but as a front for the Rectified Scottish Rite. is a matter of conjecture.

66 USN&WR SPECIAL EDITION DAGLI ORTI—THE ART ARCHIVE


IN THE NETHERWORLD OF CONSPIRACIES

fall of the Templars with the connivance of the


Pope, who was in his pocket anyway. Secret or- One is left with the idea that the entire
ders were issued to the king’s aristocratic rep-
resentatives, and the Templars were rounded up order met its horrible doom long ago, and
on Friday the thirteenth of October 1307, ar- that the Templars were effectively wiped
rested, tortured, and burnt.
That, at least, is the story as told in most stan- out. Yet that is nowhere near the truth.
dard works on the subject. One is left with the idea
that the entire Order met its horrible doom on that
day long ago, and that the Templars were effec-
tively wiped off the face of the earth forever. Yet
that is nowhere near the truth.
For a start, relatively few Templars were actu-
ally executed, although most who were captured
were “put to the question”—a well-worn eu-
phemism for suffering excruciating torture. Rel-
atively few faced the stake, although notably their
Grand Master Jacques de Molay was slowly roast-
ed to death on the Ile de la Cité, in the shadow of
Notre-Dame Cathedral, in Paris. ...
The accounts of Templar confessions are col-
orful, to say the least. We read of their having
worshipped a cat or indulging in homosexual or-
gies as part of their knightly duties, or vener-
ating a demon known as Baphomet and/or a
severed head. ... This is hardly surprising—not
many victims of torture manage to grit their
teeth and refuse to agree with the words put in
their mouths by their tormenters. But in this
case there is more to the story than meets the
eye. On the one hand, there have been sugges- conspiracy about the conception of the Templars. A MIGHTY
tions that all the charges levelled against the Common sense suggests that it would have taken FORTRESS.
Templars were trumped up by those envious of more than just the original nine knights to protect Monzón Castle
their wealth and exasperated by their power, and provide refuge for all the pilgrims who visited in Aragon, given
and that they provided a good excuse for the the Holy Land, especially for nine years; moreover, to the Knights
French king to extricate himself from his cur- there is little evidence that they ever made much Templar in their
rent economic difficulty by seizing their wealth. of a serious attempt to do so. ... glory days
On the other hand, although the charges may Another mystery connected with their beginnings
not have been strictly true, there is evidence that centres on the fact that there is evidence that the
the Templars were up to something mysterious Order actually existed well before 1118, although why
and perhaps “dark” in the occult sense. ... the date was falsified remains unclear. Many com-
Much ink has been spilt on the debate over mentators have suggested that the first account of
the charges made against the Templars, and their creation—by William of Tyre, and written a full
their confessions. Had they actually committed fifty years after the event—was simply a cover story.
the deeds to which they confessed, or did the In- (Although William was deeply hostile to the Tem-
quisitors invent the charges in advance and sim- plars, he was, presumably, recounting the story as
ply torture the knights until they agreed with he understood it.) But once again, just what it was
them? (Some knights had testified that they had covering up is a matter for speculation.
been told that Jesus was a “false prophet,” for Hugues de Payens and his nine companions all
example.) It is impossible to say one way or the came from either Champagne or the Languedoc
other conclusively. ... ... and it is quite apparent that they went to the
Certainly the Priory of Sion claims to have been Holy Land with a specific mission in mind. Per-
the power behind the creation of the Knights Tem- haps, as has been suggested, they were search-
plar: If so, then this is one of the best-kept secrets of ing for the Ark of the Covenant, or for other an-
history. Yet it is said that the two Orders were vir- cient treasure or documents that might lead
tually indistinguishable until their schism in 1188— them to it, or for some kind of secret knowledge
after which they went their separate ways. If noth- which would give them mastery of people and
ing else there does seem to have been some kind of their wealth. ... l

BRIDGEMAN ART LIBRARY USN&WR SPECIAL EDITION 67


SECRETS OF THE DA VINCI CODE

The Enigma of Opus Dei


TO SOME IT IS A CULT-LIKE ORGANIZATION. TO OTHERS, IT IS DOING THE WORK OF GOD
BY JAMES MARTIN, S.J.

James Martin, S.J., is an associate editor at the one in the church. In other words, it operates ju-
Catholic magazine America and a priest at St. Ig- ridically much as religious orders do, without
natius Loyola Church in Manhattan. “Opus Dei in the regard for geographical boundaries. Today Opus
United States” was originally published in America Dei counts 77,000 members (including 1,500
on February 25, 1995. Copyright © 1995 by America priests and 15 bishops) in over 80 countries.
Press. All rights reserved. For subscription informa- There are over 3,000 Opus Dei members in the
tion, visit www.americamagazine.org. United States, with 64 centers, or residences for
members, in 17 cities.
pus Dei is the most controversial Further evidence of Vatican favor—and added
group in the Catholic Church legitimacy—came in 1992 when Escrivá was be-
today. To its members it is nothing atified in a ceremony attended by 300,000 sup-
less than The Work of God, the in- porters in St. Peter’s Square.
spiration of Blessed Josemaría Es-
crivá, who advanced the work of Christ by promot- Secrecy and Privacy
ing the sanctity of everyday life. To its critics it is a It is difficult to read anything about Opus Dei with-
powerful, even dangerous, cult- out running across accounts of its alleged secrecy.
like organization that uses secre- (“Pope Beatifies Founder of Secretive, Conservative
cy and manipulation to advance Group” ran a New York Times headline in 1992.) In-
its agenda. At the same time, deed, while a few members of Opus Dei are well
many Catholics admit knowing known, most are not. Critics also point out that most
little about this influential group. of Opus Dei’s organizations are not clearly identi-
Any look at Opus Dei must fied as being affiliated with Opus Dei.
begin with Msgr. Josemaría Es- Opus Dei denies all this. “It’s not secret,” says
crivá de Balaguer, the Spanish communications director Bill Schmitt, “it’s pri-
priest who founded the group on vate. Big difference.” He describes the vocation to
October 2, 1928. On that day, ac- Opus Dei as a personal relationship with God. But
cording to Opus Dei’s literature, most critics are not concerned about whether
while on a retreat in Madrid, members publicly announce their affiliation with
“suddenly, while bells pealed in Opus Dei. When critics speak of “secrecy,” they
a nearby church, it became refer instead to frustration in their efforts to get
clear: God made him see Opus answers about the basic corporate activities and
Dei.” Monsignor Escrivá, in- practices of Opus Dei.
TOWERING variably referred to as the Founder by members, Ann Schweninger is a 24-year-old former Opus
SECRETS. envisioned Opus Dei as a way of encouraging lay Dei member now living in Columbus, Ohio, where
Opus Dei’s U.S. people to aspire to sanctity without changing their she works with the Diocese of Columbus. “Opus
headquarters state of life or occupation. Dei plays by its own rules,” she said. “If they don’t
on Lexington His group grew rapidly, spreading from Spain want to have something out in the open, they
Avenue in New to other European countries. Over the next two won’t make it accessible.” According to Ms.
York City decades the Work, as members call it, moved Schweninger, the only official document available
into Latin America and the United States. In is the catechism of Opus Dei, which even mem-
1982 Pope John Paul II granted Opus Dei the bers can read only with the permission of the
unique status of “personal prelature”—the only house director. “It’s kept under lock and key.”

68 USN&WR SPECIAL EDITION RICHARD B. LEVINE


Lay Institution Schmitt if women had a problem with this. “No. HOMAGE TO
To encounter Opus Dei is to encounter dedicated, Not at all.” ESCRIVA.
energetic Catholics engaged in a variety of occu- Pilgrims pack a
pations. It is also to encounter a sometimes be- Casting a Wide Net prayer service
wildering array of priests, numeraries, supernu- Traditionally, Opus Dei’s effort to attract new mem- for Opus Dei’s
meraries, cooperators, associates, directors, and bers has led them to colleges and universities. It has founding father.
administrators. sometimes led them into conflict with other groups.
Numeraries are single members who pledge One man who attended Columbia University in
a “commitment” of celibacy and normally live the early 1980s, who asked not to be named, de-
in “centers.” Numeraries turn over their income scribed the process of being recruited. “They had
and receive a stipend for personal expenses. someone become my friend,” he said bluntly. After
Numeraries (accounting for roughly 20 percent Mass one day he was approached by another stu-
of the membership) follow the “plan of life,” a dent. Eventually he was invited to the Riverside
daily order that includes Mass, devotional Study Center near Columbia’s campus. He was not
reading, private prayer, and, depending on certain exactly what it was. “I thought it was a group
the person, physical mortification. There of students that were a think tank or something.”
are separate centers for men and women, After becoming more involved, he decided to in-
each with a director. vestigate on his own. He spoke with a few priests
Most members are supernumeraries, married and professors and was surprised at how little he
persons who contribute financially and some- really knew. At the next circle meeting he raised
times serve in corporate works like schools. As- some questions about issues that troubled him—
sociates are single people who are “less for example, women and minority presence in
available,” remaining at home because of other Opus Dei. “They really didn’t have any answers
commitments. According to two former nu- and asked me not to return.” And more disturb-
meraries, women are required to clean the ing for him: “I never heard from my friend again.
men’s centers and cook for them. I asked Bill I was totally cut off.” l

ERIC VANDEVILLE—GAMMA USN&WR SPECIAL EDITION 69


SECRETS OF THE DA VINCI CODE

The Riddles Have It


THE DA VINCI CODE IS AN ARTFUL WEB OF MYSTERIOUS CODES AND SECRET SYMBOLS

Da Vinci: Father of Cryptography phone call: The elderly curator of the Louvre has
BY MICHELLE DELIO been murdered inside the museum.
Near the body, police have found a secret mes-
Michelle Delio, who wrote this article for the April sage. With the help of a gifted cryptologist, Lang-
2003 issue of Wired magazine, is a journalist who don solves the enigmatic riddle. But it’s only the
has frequently written about encryption, Internet se- first signpost along a tangled trail of clues hidden
curity, hackers, spam, privacy, and related topics. in the works of Leonardo da Vinci. If Langdon
Reprinted from Wired News, www.wired.com. Copy- doesn’t crack the code, an ancient secret will be
right © 2004 Wired Digital Inc., a Lycos Network lost forever.
Company. All rights reserved. The book’s publicity hints darkly that the story
lays bare “the greatest conspiracy of the past 2,000
ost of all The Da Vinci Code is years.” Perhaps, but anyone who is interested in con-
about the history of encryption— spiracy theories won’t find anything new here.
the many methods developed over Where The Da Vinci Code does shine—brilliant-
time to keep private information from prying eyes. ly—is in its exploration of cryptology, particularly
The novel begins with Harvard symbologist the encoding methods developed by Leonardo da
Robert Langdon receiving an urgent, late night Vinci, whose art and manuscripts are packed with
mystifying symbolism and quirky codes.
THINK PAD. Brown, who specializes in writing readable
Leonardo was books on privacy and technology, cites da Vinci as
bursting with an unheralded privacy advocate and encryption
ideas, and his pioneer. His descriptions of da Vinci’s cryptology
notebooks are a devices are fascinating.
jumble of visual Throughout history, entrusting a messenger
expressionism. with a private communication has been rife with
problems. In da Vinci’s time, a major concern
was that the messenger might be paid more to
sell the information to adversaries than to de-
liver it as promised.
To address that problem, Brown writes that da
Vinci invented one of the first rudimentary forms
of public-key encryption centuries ago: a portable
container to safeguard documents.
Da Vinci’s cryptography invention is a tube with
lettered dials. The dials have to be rotated to a
proper sequence, spelling out the password, for
the cylinder to slide apart. Once a message was
“encrypted” inside the container only an individ-
ual with the correct password could open it.
This encryption method was physically un-
hackable: If anyone tried to force the container
open, the information inside would self-destruct.

70 USN&WR SPECIAL EDITION SETH JOEL—CORBIS


IN THE NETHERWORLD OF CONSPIRACIES

Da Vinci rigged this by writing his message on


a papyrus scroll, and rolling it around a delicate
glass vial filled with vinegar. If someone at-
tempted to force the container open, the vial A TREASURE
would break, and the vinegar would dissolve the TRAIL OF CLUES
papyrus almost instantly. The Da Vinci Code may
Brown also brings readers deep into the Cathe- throw out more tantalizing
dral of Codes, a chapel in Great Britain [Scotland’s re-readings of art, history, religion, and
Rosslyn Chapel; see Page 84] with a ceiling from Western beliefs than a score of other
which hundreds of stone blocks protrude. Each bestsellers combined. But at heart it’s an
block is carved with a symbol that, when combined, old-fashioned thriller whose characters
is thought to create the world’s largest cipher. must decode the clues before it’s too
“Modern cryptographers have never been able late. A few of the riddles along the trail:
to break this code, and a generous reward is of-
fered to anyone who can decipher the baffling The Vitruvian Man. Jacques Saunière
message,” Brown writes on his site. replicates Leonardo da Vinci’s design
“In recent years, geological ultrasounds have re- with his dead body. Along with the
vealed the startling presence of an enormous sub- anagram he scrawls, it’s a clue to
terranean vault hidden beneath the chapel. This where he has hidden an all-
vault appears to have no entrance and no exit. To important key for Sophie.
this day, the curators of the chapel have permit-
ted no excavation.”
Brown specializes in literary excavation. His The Fibonacci Sequence.
previous books have all involved secrets—keeping When unscrambled, the
numbers Saunière scrawls
them and breaking them—and how personal pri-
on the Louvre floor reveal
vacy slams up against national security or insti-
math’s famous sequence—
tutional interests. and the code to enter
“My interest in secret societies sparks from Saunière’s bank box.
growing up in New England, surrounded by the
clandestine clubs of Ivy League universities, the
Masonic lodges of our Founding Fathers and the
hidden hallways of early government power,” The Rosewood Box.
Brown said. “New England has a long tradition of Inside the box lies
elite private clubs, fraternities, and secrecy.” l the cryptex, a
container designed
Deciphering the Symbols to carry secrets. If
forced open, it will
INTERVIEW WITH DIANE APOSTOLOS- self-destruct. The
CAPPADONA inlaid rose pops out,
revealing the next clue.
Diane Apostolos-Cappadona is Adjunct Professor of
Religious Art and Cultural History at the Center for
Muslim-Christian Understanding and Adjunct Pro-
fessor and Core Faculty in Art and Culture in the
Liberal Studies Program, both at Georgetown Uni-
versity. She is about as close as one can get to being
a real-life professional symbologist.

What is the importance of symbols in Chris- The Codex Leicester.


tianity—and in religion in general? Mimicking Leonardo’s famous
code, the message beneath
Symbols are a form of communication that op- the inlaid rose is written
erates on a variety of levels. They do such “sim- backwards. All it takes to
ple things” as teach the ideas or the history of a decipher it is holding it up to a
mirror to read it—once the The Atbash Cipher. The key to
faith or tradition, teach the stories of religious
riddle is solved. unlocking the cryptex uses this
or societal traditions, teach religious doctrine, ancient Jewish substitution
and explain how one is to gesture and posture code: The first letter is sub-
and stand during liturgical services. There is the stituted for the last letter, the
further understanding that symbols—and this second for the next, and so on.
principle is at work for all world religions, not

ILLUSTRATIONS BY ROB CADY AND DOUG STERN—USN&WR USN&WR SPECIAL EDITION 71


SECRETS OF THE DA VINCI CODE

specifically Christianity—are a way of commu- women who anointed the feet and the head of
nicating an embodied identity of knowledge. Jesus before the crucifixion. The female anoint-
er who cared for—that is, washed, anointed, and
Do the meanings of symbols tend to change
dressed—the body of the deceased was a common
over time?
practice in Mediterranean cultures. These anoin-
Yes, the meanings of symbols can change because ters were always women.
of shifts in theology, doctrine, art styles, politics,
What about the pentacle, which is used as
and economic situations.
an important symbol in The Da Vinci Code?
What’s a Christian symbol that’s changed
The pentacle has five sides. The symbolic mean-
over time?
ing is related to numbering, numerology, and the
The fish has had multiple connections and significance of the number five. In Christianity,
meanings, from the Last Supper to the risen five is the number of wounds of the crucified Jesus
Christ. The fish was found in original depictions (his two hands, his two feet, and his pierced side).
of the Last Supper. The fish had many meanings Five relates fundamentally to the concept of "the
in early Christianity; then, it basically disap- human"—two arms, two legs, and a head. Num-
peared from the Christian consciousness ... only bers have meanings. There are mystical numbers,
to return in the late twentieth century when the normally odd numbers, and therefore indivisible.
ichthys was retrieved, or rediscovered, as a sym- Seven, for example, is the number of fulfillment;
bol. It, not the cross, was the first symbol of there are seven days in the creation story.
Christian identity. The fish, from the Greek
Then there’s the fleur-de-lis, which plays a
ichthys, as it is transliterated into English, is re-
prominent role in Dan Brown’s book.
lated as an anagram of the earliest prayer of the
Christian tradition. Taking the first letter of The fleur-de-lis is a symbol of both France and
each word from the prayer “Jesus Christ, Son of the city of Florence. It’s a lily—a flower that in
God and Savior,” the Greek letters spell Christianity signifies the trinity. According to
ICHTHYS—that is, the fish. tradition, King Clovis—whose baptism made
him the first Christian king of France—initiat-
What symbols historically have been con-
ed the use of the fleur-de-lis as the sign of pu-
nected to Mary Magdalene?
rification for both his own personal spirituality
The most important one is the unguent jar, which (that is, when he was baptized) and the purifi-
relates to her being the anointer and connects her cation of France. It became the emblem of
symbolically, if not metaphorically, to the other French royalty, and later an attribute of many
women anointers in the scripture, including the French saints, including Charlemagne. It’s im-

WHEN A ROSE IS
NOT JUST A ROSE
From the first artistic renderings of the
human sense of the sacred that were paint-
ed on prehistoric cave walls, to the temple
statuary of ancient Egypt and Greece, to
the magnificent stone carvings in Europe’s
Gothic cathedrals, visual signs and symbols
have played a key role in our sense of the
divine, the ritualistic, and the religious.
Along with its fast-paced plot and in- The Pentacle The Fleur-de-Lis The Chalice
triguing historical allusions, The Da Vinci One of the oldest A symbol that In Christian art the
Code also offers readers a treasure trove of symbols known to man, represents both the chalice signifies the
its origins are shrouded French monarchy and Last Supper and the
Christian and pre-Christian cosmology, with
in mystery. In the novel, Christianity’s Holy sacrifice of Jesus. But
symbologist and hero Robert Langdon ex-
Jacques Saunière Trinity, the fleur-de-lis as Robert Langdon
plaining the significance of the religious paints a pentacle—a appears in The Da Vinci explains to Sophie in
iconography every step of the way—and, pentagram in a circle— Code on the key that is the novel, it is also a
not incidentally, making a case for the “sa- on his stomach just given to Sophie Neveu symbol of the feminine,
cred feminine” that preceded Christianity. before he dies. by her grandfather. and of the womb.

72 USN&WR SPECIAL EDITION ILLUSTRATIONS BY ROB CADY—USN&WR


IN THE NETHERWORLD OF CONSPIRACIES

portant in The Da Vinci Code because the key Do you believe that the Holy Grail is a
shaped in a fleur-de-lis would connect to the pu- metaphor or a real object ... or both?
rification of France.
In some instances, like this one, Dan Brown I believe that there has been—and always will be—
uses symbols very well. Those are the elements a perpetual mythology about the Holy Grail. Fur-
that make The Da Vinci Code both believable to ther, there is a history of an understanding that
someone who has symbolic knowledge and ab- the Grail was a true physical object that could
solutely fascinating to those who don’t have any be touched, to which Christians would have had
idea what these signs were about. The fleur-de- great devotion, and which for some reason dis-
lis connects visually to the lily, which in turn has appeared. According to certain legends and pop-
multiple meanings in Christianity, particular- ular traditions, the Grail disappears and then
ly in relation to women, from purity to inno- reappears in England, reputedly brought there
cence to royalty. It was sacred traditionally to by Joseph of Arimathea. The place in England
the virgin and mother goddesses throughout the where the Grail reappears is at the site we would
Mediterranean world prior to Christianity. identify as Camelot.
Then, it became a significant symbol for Mary. Of course, the important principle is that the
Weave all of those meanings together, add the concept of the Grail is a metaphor for the spiritual
relevance of this symbol to French history, and quest. So to be honest, I suppose my answer is that
Brown has a powerful symbol to use. it’s both—both a metaphor and a real object.
That raises the question of Mary Magda- What about the idea put forth in The Da
lene’s alleged French connection. Vinci Code that the Holy Grail is actually
Mary Magdalene?
There are several legends and traditions about
the Magdalene being the missionary to France, That’s a very Jungian reading of Mary Magdalene—
the patroness of France, saving France, Chris- women as receivers and containers, women as ves-
tianizing France, spending her last days in sels. But historically this is a connection that is older
France, and being buried in France. You have than Jung. You find this symbolism in classical
your choice; you can go to the Dominicans or the mythologies. There are a variety of metaphors here.
Benedictines, to Vézelay or Aix-en-Provence. The mysterious connection in terms of sexual in-
You have that whole tradition, even down tercourse is the one that matters most. Women re-
to the making of madeleine cookies, which ceive the male during sexual intercourse. They
used to be served only on the twenty-second thereby conceive a child and hold that child in their
of July—that is, her feast day on the Roman sacred vessel, and then expel the child from their
calendar. sacred vessel.

The Star of David The Rose The Fish The Cross Tarot Cards
The opposite symbol The rose represented An early symbol of The best known of all Scholars trace the
from the chalice is the beauty and love in the Christianity was the fish, Christian symbols, the origins of Tarot back to
blade, which represents Greco-Roman culture. an anagram that forms cross—as Robert fifteenth-century Italian
a phallus or spear. Sir Leigh Teabing says it the Greek word ichthys. Langdon points out in card games. But occult-
When united, the two symbolizes “the five The first letter of each the novel—existed as a ists believe that Tarot
form the Star of David, stations of female life— word of the prayer key symbol long before cards date back to
which Langdon birth, menstruation, “Jesus Christ, Son of the crucifixion. There ancient Israel or Egypt
identifies with the union motherhood, meno- God and Savior” spells are over 400 variations and are encrypted with
of male and female. pause, and death. “ ICHTHYS—the fish. on the cross. mystical secrets

USN&WR SPECIAL EDITION 73


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The Hoax
Behind It All
The spectacular publishing success of The Da began to be heard from. They wrote long
Vinci Code has generated millions of satisfied commentaries, responding to every idea in
readers and fans, on the one hand, and a wide the book that they believed to be erroneous.
variety of critics on the other. In some cases, they were right about their
Calling it a “gleefully erudite suspense facts, and Dan Brown was wrong—on matters
novel” and a “riddle-filled, code-breaking, ex- like when the Dead Sea Scrolls were discov-
hilaratingly brainy thriller,” Janet Maslin of ered or some of the details of what happened
The New York Times added, “Even if he had at the Council of Nicea. But in many ways, the
not contrived this entire story as a hunt for religious critics were proving Dan Brown’s
the Lost Sacred Feminine essence, women in point: They were so frightened by the novel’s
particular would love Mr. Brown.” Patrick Anderson, popularity that they felt they had to engage in polemics
writing in The Washington Post, called it a “consider- with a writer of popular fiction.
able achievement” to write “a theological thriller that The notion of Brown doing meticulous research also
is both fascinating and fun.” began to come under attack a few months after the pub-
Even many religious groups responded positively—if lication of the book. Some saw The Da Vinci Code as
not to everything in the book, then to the opportunity highly derivative of books like Holy Blood, Holy Grail and
it afforded them to introduce their own commentary on The Templar Revelation—books Brown cited by name in
the same subjects that Dan Brown was addressing. On the text of The Da Vinci Code and credited on his web-
the website explorefaith.org John Tintera wrote, “De- site as important to his research. As various writers
spite being somewhat simplistic, if not outright false, have pointed out, Holy Blood, Holy Grail, which has been
I think the religious content of The Da Vinci Code offers circulating widely since its publication more than twen-
a timely wake up call to the Christian church. In doing ty years ago, has its own credibility issues: It is gener-
so, it invites Christians to take a fresh look at our ori- ally considered to be an occult stew of myth, legend,
gins and our history, both the good and the bad, which and outright hoax, mixed in with some very intriguing
is something we don’t do often enough.” historical details. Finally, the secret sect that first start-
Soon, however, even as the reading public continued ed it all off, the Priory of Sion, has been exposed as a
to lap up the novel, critics who don’t usually write book fraud. But as Dan Brown would argue, The Da Vinci Code
reviews started to comment. Religious groups that took is a novel, after all; and besides, there are enough other
deep offense at what they believed was Dan Brown’s historical issues, controversies, and implied secrets to
desire to attack or defame Catholicism or Christianity keep most readers satisfied anyway. —Dan Burstein

SYMBOL OF THE PRIORY OF SION


SECRETS OF THE DA VINCI CODE

The Da Vinci Con


BEFORE DAN BROWN, THERE WAS THE BESTSELLER HOLY BLOOD, HOLY GRAIL
BY LAURA MILLER

From The New York Times Book Review. leads sleuths to vaster and more sinister in-
Copyright © 2004 The New York Times trigues. In Brown’s novel, it’s the murder of a
Company. Reprinted with permission. curator at the Louvre; in Grail, it’s the unusu-
al affluence of a priest in a village in the south
he ever-rising tide of sales of The Da of France. In the late 1960s, Henry Lincoln, a
Vinci Code has lifted some pretty British TV writer, became interested in Rennes-
odd boats, and none odder than the le-Château, a town that had become the French
dodgy yet magisterial Holy Blood, equivalent of Roswell or Loch Ness as a result
Holy Grail, by Michael Baigent, of popular books by Gérard de Sède. De Sède
Richard Leigh, and Henry Lin- promulgated a story about
coln. A bestseller in the 1980s, parchments supposedly found
Grail is climbing the paperback in a hollowed-out pillar by the
charts again on the strength of town priest in the 1890s,
its relationship to Dan Brown’s parchments containing coded
thriller (which has, in turn, in- messages that the priest some-
spired a crop of new nonfiction how parlayed into oodles of
books, from Breaking the Da cash. Lincoln worked on sev-
Vinci Code to Secrets of the Code: eral Unsolved Mysteries-style
The Unauthorized Guide to the documentaries about Rennes-
Mysteries Behind The Da Vinci le-Château, then enlisted
Code). The Da Vinci Code is one Baigent and Leigh for a more
long chase scene in which the in-depth investigation.
main characters flee a sinister What eventually emerges
Parisian policeman and an albi- from the welter of names, dates,
no monk assassin, but its rudi- maps, and genealogical tables
mentary suspense alone could- crammed into Holy Blood, Holy
n’t have made it a hit. At regular Grail is a yarn about a secret
intervals, the book brings its pell-mell plot to a and hugely influential society called the Priory of
screeching halt and emits a pellet of information Sion, founded in Jerusalem in 1099. This cabal is
concerning a centuries-old conspiracy that pur- said to have guarded documents and other proof
ports to have preserved a tremendous secret about that Mary Magdalene was the wife of Jesus (who
the roots of Christianity itself. This “nonfiction” may or may not have died on the Cross) and that
material gives The Da Vinci Code its frisson of au- she carried his child with her when she fled to
thenticity, and it’s lifted from Holy Blood, Holy what is now France after the Crucifixion, be-
Grail, one of the all-time great works of pop pseu- coming, figuratively, the Holy Grail in whom
do-history. But what seems increasingly clear (to Jesus’s blood was preserved. Their progeny in-
cop a favorite phrase from the authors of Grail) is termarried with the locals, eventually founding
that The Da Vinci Code, like Holy Blood, Holy the Merovingian dynasty of Frankish monarchs.
Grail, is based on a notorious hoax. Although deposed in the eighth century, the
The back story to both books, like most con- Merovingian lineage has not been lost; the Pri-
spiracy theories, is devilishly hard to summa- ory has kept watch over its descendants, await-
rize. Both narratives begin with a mystery that ing an auspicious moment when it will reveal the

76 USN&WR SPECIAL EDITION


THE HOAX BEHIND IT ALL

astonishing truth and return the rightful tard’s confederates had admitted to helping him
monarch to the throne of France, or perhaps even fabricate the materials, including genealogical ta-
a restored Holy Roman Empire. bles portraying Plantard as a descendant of the
All the usual suspects and accouterments of Merovingians (and, presumably, of Jesus Christ)
paranoid history get caught up in this thousand- and a list of the Priory’s past “grand masters.” This
year jaunt. The Cathar heretics, the Knights patently silly catalog of intellectual celebrities
Templar, the Rosicrucians, the Vatican, the stars Botticelli, Isaac Newton, Jean Cocteau, and,
Freemasons, Nazis, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the of course, Leonardo da Vinci—and it’s the same
Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the Order of the list Dan Brown trumpets, along with the alleged
Golden Dawn—everyone but the Abominable nine-century pedigree of the Priory, in the front
Snowman seems to be in on the game. Holy matter for The Da Vinci Code, under the heading
Blood, Holy Grail is a masterpiece of insinua- of “Fact.” Plantard, it eventually came out, was an
tion and supposition, employing all the tech- inveterate rascal with a criminal record for fraud
niques of pseudohistory to symphonic effect, and affiliations with wartime anti-Semitic and
justifying this sleight of hand as an innovative right-wing groups. The actual Priory of Sion was
scholarly technique called “synthesis,” previ- a tiny, harmless group of like-minded friends
ously considered too “speculative” by those formed in 1956.
whose thinking has been unduly shaped by the Plantard’s hoax was debunked by a series of (as
“so-called Enlightenment of the 18th century.” yet untranslated) French books and a 1996 BBC
Comparing themselves to the reporters who un- documentary, but curiously enough this set of
covered the Watergate scandal, the authors shocking revelations hasn’t proved as popular as
maintain that “only by such synthesis can one the fantasia of Holy Blood, Holy Grail, or, for that
discern the underlying continuity, the unified matter, as The Da Vinci Code. The only thing more
and coherent fabric, which lies at the core of any powerful than a worldwide conspiracy, it seems,
historical problem.” To do so, one must realize is our desire to believe in one. l
that “it is not sufficient to confine
oneself exclusively to facts.” PLANTING
Thus liberated, Lincoln et al. con- THE SEEDS.
coct an argument that is not so much Colleagues of
factual as factish. Dozens of credi- Pierre Plantard
ble details are heaped up in order to (left) admitted
provide a legitimizing cushion for assisting in his
rank nonsense. Unremarkable leg- fabrications.
ends (that Merovingian kings were Below, the
thought to have a healing touch, for “official” letter
example) are characterized as sug- creating the
gestive clues or puzzles demanding "Priory of Sion"
solution. Highly contested interpre-
tations (that, say, an early Grail ro-
mance depicts the sacred object as
being guarded by Templars) are pre-
sented as established truth. Sources
such as the New Testament are qual-
ified as “questionable” and derivative
when they contradict the conspira-
cy theory, then microscopically scru-
tinized for inconsistencies that might
support it. The authors spin one gos-
samer strand of conjecture over an-
other, forming a web dense enough
to create the illusion of solidity. Though bogus,
it’s an impressive piece of work.
Finally, though, the legitimacy of the Priory of
Sion history rests on a cache of clippings and pseu-
donymous documents that even the authors of
Holy Blood, Holy Grail suggest were planted in
the Bibliothèque Nationale by a man named
Pierre Plantard. As early as the 1970s, one of Plan-

TOP: PYGMALION
SECRETS OF THE DA VINCI CODE

The French Confection


THE TALE OF RENNES-LE-CHATEAU MAKES FOR GREAT READING. ONLY IT’S NOT FACT
BY AMY D. BERNSTEIN

Amy Bernstein, with a doctorate from the University In 1885, the abbé Bérenger Saunière, an edu-
of Oxford, is an expert on French Renaissance poetry. cated young man from a local bourgeois family,
Her dissertation comprised a new edition of the son- became the parish priest of the church of Saint
nets of Jacques de Billy de Prunay, a Benedictine Mary Magdalene in Rennes-le-Château, an iso-
monk as well as an author and translator. lated town in the department of Aude in south-
western France, not far from Le Bezu, a local
ike a perfect île flottante, which mountain peak (from which was undoubtedly de-
upon tasting reveals itself to be rived the name of the judicial police chief, Bezu
mostly air, the Rennes-le-Château- Fache, in The Da Vinci Code).
Prieuré de Sion (Priory of Sion) The year of Abbé Saunière’s appointment as
story is a magnificent French con- parish priest was also marked by national polit-
fection of pseudo-history built on a ical elections, with candidates taking an obliga-
delicately thin substructure of truth. Many peo- tory position on whether France should return
ple have analyzed the set of facts and legends in- to a pro-Catholic monarchy or remain a repub-
volved in this story. My conclusion from review- lic with a constitutional separation of church and
ing the most credible among state. During the election period, Bérenger
them is that beginning in the Saunière became embroiled in this debate, earn-
1950s, a small group of men ing a reputation as a fiery preacher supporting the
with neo-chivalric, nationalist, return to a pro-Catholic monarchy. As a result, he
and sometimes anti-Semitic gained the protection of the Countess of Cham-
leanings was able to perpetrate bord (widow of the pretender to the throne of
what is almost certainly a mar- France), who is said to have given him 3,000 livres
velously intricate hoax that still to renovate his church.
draws people in today. In the late 1880s, during the course of the ren-
It is no surprise, then, that ovation of his dilapidated church, Saunière is said
The Da Vinci Code draws heav- to have discovered some coded parchments hid-
ily from details of the Priory of den in a hollow pillar supporting the church’s al-
Sion-Rennes-le-Château affair tarpiece. Advised by his bishop, Félix-Arsène Bil-
described in the 1982 bestseller liard, Saunière reportedly brought the parchments
Holy Blood, Holy Grail. By in- to Paris to show them to experts. While in Paris,
troducing murdered museum he is reported to have made the acquaintance of a
curator Jacques Saunière in the circle of occultists and esoterics, among them
first chapter of The Da Vinci Emma Calvé (with whom he supposedly had an
PARISH Code—a character who shares the same surname affair). Upon his return from Paris, he sudden-
PRIEST. A as the central figure in the Rennes-le-Château ly, and for no apparent reason, gained access to
statue of Abbé enigma—Dan Brown picks up where the original large sums of money with which he financed a
Saunière at the tale leaves off. In doing so, he is just one more number of building projects. These included the
church in of the many in France and England who have renovation of his ancient parish church and the
Rennes-le- made a cottage industry out of an obscure provin- construction of a large house (the Villa Bethania)
Château. cial drama that took place over a hundred years and a tower (the Tour Magdala) which he used as
ago. Here are the basic outlines of the original his study and library for his increasingly large col-
Rennes-le-Château-Prieuré de Sion story. lection of books. He was able to maintain a lavish

78 USN&WR SPECIAL EDITION DAGOBERT'S REVENGE MAGAZINE


living style, despite the meagerness of his priest- 1930s with anti-Masonic and anti-Semitic nation- INTO THIN AIR.
ly income. It was rumored, but never proven, that alist organizations. He first attempted to establish The Tour
he had found treasure hidden in various spots an association, called The French Union, in 1937, Magdala at
within the church precincts. “to engage in purifying and renewing France.” His Rennes-le-
Eventually it came out that the abbé Saunière shadowy activities with right-wing and nationalist Château, which
was selling mass indulgences by mail all over Eu- organizations continued after the war up to the Saunière built
rope, which offered a plausible explanation for his founding of the Priory. During all that time, he did as his study.
wealth. He was removed from his position as not seem to have had any means of employment. He
parish priest and prohibited from saying mass, served four months in Fresnes prison in the early
and later tried and convicted for trafficking in 1950s, convicted of fraud and embezzlement.
masses by the diocesan authorities in Carcas- At the beginning of the 1960s, Plantard
sonne. He died on 22 January, 1917. Interest in launched a concerted effort to forge a trail of doc-
the local legend of the buried treasure endured, umentation to support his bogus claim of being
however, and an article about it appeared in the a descendant of the Merovingian royal line, and
newspaper daily, La Dépêche du Midi, in 1956. to establish the bona fides and pedigree of the Pri-
ory of Sion. The story of Rennes-le-Château was
Enter the Priory of Sion little known at that time but it dovetailed conve-
In that same year, in another part of France, a niently with his own fictions, given the abbé
small group of friends formed a recreational club Saunière’s right-wing political leanings and his
on 25 June, 1956, in Annemasse, Haute-Savoie, links with an occult circle in Paris. In fact, it served
which called itself the Priory of Sion. It was dis- as a convenient point of departure for Plantard’s
banded the following year but soon morphed into fertile imagination.
a second, politicized incarnation under the di- During the 1960s, a number of fake documents
rection of Pierre Plantard. Drawing on the neo- were deposited at different times in the Biblio-
chivalric, utopian, nationalist, and anti-Semitic thèque Nationale in Paris by Pierre Plantard and
principles of Paul Le Cour, who had exercised a his associates under various pseudonyms. The
major influence on Pierre Plantard in the 1930s first set, composed in 1965 and fabricated by his
and ’40s, the Priory of Sion began publishing a pe- accomplice, Philippe de Chérisey, included parch-
riodical called Circuit, which appeared on and off ments supposedly found by Bérenger Saunière in
during the 1950s and 1960s. Rennes-le Château, as well as other documents
Plantard had a history of involvement since the concerning the Priory of Sion and genealogical

ANTONIO RIBEIRO—GAMMA USN&WR SPECIAL EDITION 79


SECRETS OF THE DA VINCI CODE

claiming that the secret dossiers were a hoax.


After a fight over royalties, Plantard and de As interest in Rennes-le-Château deepened, re-
plete with secret symbolic codes in the paintings
Chérisey began to tell people quietly that of Poussin and Teniers and clues to the location
the parchments planted in Paris had been of the Holy Grail, historians and journalists began
to dispute other parts of the story as well. In 1974,
faked. But the word leaked out very slowly. René Descadeillas, a bona fide historian, began
the debunking of the story of the treasure of
Rennes-le-Château in a book entitled
Mythologie du trésor de Rennes, ou l’his-
toire véritable de l’abbé Saunière curé de
Rennes le Château, saying that Saunière
had amassed his wealth through traffick-
ing in mass indulgences.
A British film producer, Henry Lin-
coln, became interested in the Rennes-le-
Château story and did a series of three
documentaries for BBC-TV: The Lost
Treasure of Jerusalem (1972), The Priest,
the Painter, and the Devil (1974), and The
Shadow of the Templars (1979). None of
these dealt seriously with the possibili-
ty that the Priory of Sion documents were
an elaborate hoax, even though by then
their authenticity was subject to wide-
spread questioning as well as allegations
of out-and-out fraud. As a result of the
enormous interest engendered by the
BBC programs, Henry Lincoln and two
others involved in the documentaries
(Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh)
CROSSROADS documents of the Merovingian kings. Members of came out with their book, Holy Blood, Holy
OF MYSTERY. the Priory of Sion were listed, including figures Grail, which discussed not only the mysteries
Rennes-le- such as Leonardo da Vinci, Isaac Newton, and surrounding Rennes-le-Château, but also the
Château has Jean Cocteau. The next part of the hoax was to claim that the Merovingian kings of France were
proved the ruin spin and disseminate the fairy tale. the descendants of Jesus and Mary Magdalene.
of many a con- One of the authors whose services were en- The book went on to become a bestseller and an
spiracy theory. listed to tell the fabulous story was named enduring international sensation.
Gérard de Sède, who, it seems, was a willing Back in France during the late 1970s and ’80s,
pawn of the Priory. He published two books con- the early debunkers of the parchments came out
cerning the dossier’s secrets and the tales of with their own clarifications. Jean-Luc Chaumeil,
Rennes-le-Château: L’Or de Rennes ou la vie in- in Le Trésor du Triangle d’Or, included de
solite de Bérenger Saunière, curé de Rennes-le Chérisey’s confession that his parchment forgeries
Château, and in expanded form, Le Trésor mau- were copied from an ancient text found in the Dic-
dit. After these books were published, howev- tionnaire d’archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie.
er, Plantard and de Sède had a fight over royal- Long after the unmasking of the hoax, Gérard
ties from L’Or de Rennes, and Plantard and de de Sède finally came out with his book, Rennes-le-
Chérisey began to tell people quietly that the Château: Le dossier, les impostures, les phan-
parchments had been faked. But the word leaked tasmes, les hypotheses, in which he essentially ad-
out very slowly. About this time, Robert Char- mitted that the dossiers were forged and that the
roux participated in the filming of a documen- Merovingian line does not exist today. In 1997,
tary for ORTF (the French National Film Orga- BBC-TV also produced another program admit-
nization), and in 1972 published a book about ting that the story was not true. But the myth lives
Rennes-le-Château, entitled Le Trésor de Rennes- on, mostly because people want it to; and the list
le-Château, which continued the fiction about of French books on Rennes-le-Château and re-
the parchments. By 1973, however, Jean-Luc lated subjects—not to mention the burgeoning
Chaumeil, a journalist who had become deeply bookshelf and Internet world of English-language
involved with Pierre Plantard, wrote a story commentaries—continues to grow. l

80 USN&WR SPECIAL EDITION ANTONIO RIBEIRO—GAMMA


THE HOAX BEHIND IT ALL

Even the Facts are Fiction


“FACT: The Priory of Sion—a Eu- FICTION | Page 26 ian art ... . Accepting hundreds of lu-
ropean secret society founded in Brown says the Louvre security crative Vatican commissions, Da
1099—is a real organization. In cameras are all fake, and most large Vinci painted Christian themes not
1975 Paris’s Bibliothèque Na- museums use “containment securi- as an expression of his own beliefs
tionale discovered parchments ty.” True? but rather as a commercial ven-
known as Les Dossiers Secrets, False. The concept of the gates ture—a means of funding a lavish
identifying numerous members of that drop down and trap a thief lifestyle." True?
the Priory of Sion, including Sir comes from Pink Panther or The Not true. Leonardo’s output was
Isaac Newton, Botticelli, Victor Thomas Crown Affair-type not enormous. He characteristically
Hugo, and Leonardo da Vinci. ... movies, not from reality. The Lou- had trouble finishing works and
All descriptions of artwork, archi- vre not only believes in security they would drag on for long periods.
tecture, documents, and secret rit- cameras, but recently made a The number of paintings he fin-
uals in this novel are accurate.” major upgrade of its security sys- ished is extremely small compared
—THE DA VINCI CODE tem. Thales Security & Supervi- to most great figures in art history.
sion is managing “a total of 1,500
The above statement from Dan proximity access control readers, FICTION | Page 98
Brown has wielded an enormous 10,000 contactless secure badges, Brown says, "French kings through-
power of suggestion over readers. 800 video surveillance cameras, out the Renaissance were so con-
The Da Vinci Code, after all, is a including 195 with digital record- vinced that anagrams held magic
novel—not every detail is supposed ing systems, and more than 1,500 power that they appointed royal ana-
to be factual and accurate. Yet, intrusion alarm points,” according grammatists to help them make bet-
somehow, readers take this partic- to the company. ter decisions by analyzing words in
ular work of fiction as seriously as important documents."
if it were a work of nonfiction. FACT | Page 29 Louis XIII, who reigned from
Indeed, separating fact from fic- Brown says Opus Dei founder Escrivá 1610 to 1643, ascending to his
tion has turned deciphering the published The Way in 1934, with 999 throne at age nine, was famous be-
Code into its own Holy Grail hunt. points of meditation for doing God’s cause he appointed a royal ana-
Here, journalist David Shugarts, work in one’s life. He says there are grammatist, Thomas Billon. But
attempts to sort out the truth from now over four million copies in circu- there’s not much evidence to sug-
the fantasies. lation in forty-two languages. gest Billon had a big role in deci-
Page numbers refer to the U.S. Generally accurate. Actually, the sion making. His function was “to
English-language hardcover edi- original title in 1934 was Spiritual entertain the court with amusing
tion of The Da Vinci Code, pub- Considerations. It was revised a anagrams of people’s names.”
lished in 2003. number of times. According to an
Opus Dei website (www.josemaria FICTION | Page 106
FICTION | Page 18 escriva.info), the book “has been Brown says, "Long before the estab-
It would take a visitor an estimated translated into forty-five different lishment of Greenwich as the prime
five weeks to “properly appreciate languages and has sold more than meridian, the zero longitude of the en-
the 65,300 pieces of art in this 4.5 million copies worldwide.” The tire world had passed directly through
building" (the Louvre). Way does indeed have 999 points. Paris, and through the Church of
If you spent an average of one Saint-Sulpice.The brass marker in
minute per piece of art, and did FICTION | Page 36 Saint-Sulpice was a memorial to the
not sleep, it would still take forty- Langdon says the pentacle is "rep- world’s first prime meridian … ."
five days of twenty-four hours resentative of the female half of all The first known attempt to es-
each. Luckily, not all 65,000 things—a concept religious histori- tablish a prime meridian came in
pieces are on display, so you don’t ans call the ‘sacred feminine’ or the the second century B.C., when
have to try. The number on display ‘divine goddess’." True? Hipparchus of Rhodes proposed
is nonetheless formidable—ap- No. The pentacle represents that all distances be measured
proximately 24,400 works. If you both male and female. from a meridian running through
put in six eight-hour days a week the island of Rhodes. A stronger
looking at one piece of art per FICTION | Page 45 attempt was made by Ptolemy,
minute, this would still be more Brown says Leonardo had an "enor- whose prime meridian went
than eight weeks. mous output of breathtaking Christ- through the Canary Islands.

USN&WR SPECIAL EDITION 81