Et In Arcadia Ego

It’s true I’ve been reading Holy Blood, Holy Grail, cited in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code by character Leigh Teabing (a lifelong student of Grail legends) as a book whose authors “made some dubious leaps of faith in their analysis, but their fundamental premise is sound, and to their credit, they finally brought the idea of Christ’s bloodline into the mainstream” (254).

It’s interesting. Fascinating even. But it’s been bugging me for several reasons. First of all, Leigh Teabing insists in The Da Vinci Code that Grail scholars have either a) come to believe the Grail represents a woman or b) ignore this fact because it shakes the foundations of history and faith. What? Listen, I consider myself a fairly well-versed Arthurian scholar, and I never heard that. That was the first thing that made me pause. If anything, I think it’s more accurate to say that Christianity was grafted on to Grail legends, because similar objects appear in ancient Celtic stories collected in such works as The Mabinogion. After all I’ve read, all of sudden here’s something I’ve never heard? Well, of course, I am not an expert, so I determined to read Holy Blood, Holy Grail to find out what this theory is all about.

The second thing that bothered me about the book was the list of eminent men involved in the Priory of Sion. How oddly coincidental would it be if all those great names, however interested in esoterica some of them might have been, had all been members of a secret society that managed to stay hidden until uncovered by researchers in the 20th century?

As I began reading Holy Blood, Holy Grail to find out more, warning bells went off. The authors keep quoting rare material they insist can be found in France’s Bibliothèque Nationale, but are extremely hard to obtain from grumpy archivists working in the library. There are lots of genealogical tables, but as only an amateur genealogist, I can tell you that being able to prove genealogical trees as far back in history as they have is impossible. I’d like to be able to prove some genealogical lines in my own family tree, but I can’t. The reason why is that right around 1500-1600, there is always some sort of breakdown. Go back that far, and you’ve got birth, death, and marriage records. Before that, records were not routinely kept unless the family was nobility.

I examined the charts in some detail. The skeptic bells were ringing even more loudly. Here were genealogical charts going back to the 400s. Okay, assuming even that these were completely accurate, the authors never offered a chart going all the way back to Christ and Mary Magdalene, which is the crux of their thesis. Why? Because there is no such thing, nor has there ever been. I have personally seen genealogical charts on the Internet that include legendary figures from Norse mythology. Are you going to tell me some people are ignorant enough to believe they can trace their family tree back to Odin or Thor? Even assuming Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and had children, no one would ever be able to prove they descended from such a line. It was too long before reliable records were kept. There is a story in my own family that an ancestor of mine, Joseph Anthony, whose father was a Mark Anthony from Italy, had a genealogical chart that detailed his descent from none other than THE Mark Antony of ancient Roman history. His Quaker in-laws burned the chart because it was “vanity.” When I read about that story, I laughed. I know a good many of my distant cousins probably believe such a chart really existed. I prefer to think of it as an apochryphal family joke. I can’t be the first person who noticed that the name Mark Anthony was interesting.

We like to believe conspiracy theories. I still have lots of questions. I don’t understand why some gospels are biblical canon and others are heretical apochrypha. I also admit I haven’t really researched it. If I do, I suspect the answer to this question might be clarified.

Here is what I have been able to learn with only a little bit of sleuthing.

  • The Priory of Sion didn’t exist until 1956, and no one can prove it existed any earlier than that. A history was invented for it by a crackpot convicted criminal and anti-Semite known as Pierre Plantard, who is, I might add, described very differently in Holy Blood, Holy Grail. He himself admitted he made it up in the 1990s.
  • Jean-Luc Chaumeil, who is an author cited frequently in Holy Blood, Holy Grail, publically outed Pierre Plantard as a fraud, exposed the Dossiers secrets upon which Holy Blood, Holy Grail is based as pure fabrication, and told the press upon publication of Holy Blood, Holy Grail that “I explained to Henry Lincoln that this whole business was a deception.” (from May 15, 2004 issue of Le Temps a Swiss newspaper)
  • Bérenger Saunière’s wealth was not a result of hush money paid to him to keep the secret of Christ’s bloodline, but “trafficking in masses,” for which he was “suspended from his duties by ecclesiastical authorities.” (from May 15, 2004 issue of Le Temps a Swiss newspaper)

Surely Dan Brown must be aware in the 20+ years since the publication of Holy Blood, Holy Grail, there has been ample opportunity to prove the authors wrong, or at least guilty of spurious scholarship. In fact, it only took me a minute’s search in Google to find Priory of Sion: The Pierre Plantard Archives, 1937-1993, a site devoted to debunking the myths Pierre Plantard created, which were the basis for Holy Blood, Holy Grail.

Even if you don’t believe the information on the website, based on scholarship more easy to check than that of Holy Blood, Holy Grail, why don’t you do as I did — research it. See what you find. I’m much mistaken if you’ll find any respectable scholars who hold to the theory professed in Holy Blood, Holy Grail. You will find quite a few folks interested in conspiracy theories, the occult, and esoterica who believe. It’s because they want to, though. Not because the truth is out there.

So having said all this, am I going to stop reading Holy Blood, Holy Grail in the middle? No. It’s interesting, and I’ve already invested too much time in it to ditch it. Do I think The Da Vinci Code sucks because Dan Brown based it on shoddy research? Nah. It was a great book. And I am glad it interested me enough to question.