Immediately prior to the Prologue in The Da Vinci Code, author Dan Brown makes a point of confirming the authenticity of the Priory of Sion.
It was, he says, a European secret society founded in 1099. Another source gives the date as 1090, the place as the Holy Land, and the founder as Godfroy de Bouillion, who captured Jerusalem in 1099. After the fall of Jerusalem to the Crusaders, Godfroy ordered that an abbey, the Abbey of Notre-Dame du Mont de Sion, be built on the site of a ruined Byzantine church to house his personal canons (members of a cathedral chapter) who, according to Priory records, later became involved in helping to create the Knights Templar to “serve as the Order of Sion’s military and exterior administrative arm”. (Cracking the Da Vinci Code, p. 130)
In 1152, a number of monks from the Abbey of Notre-Dame du Mont de Sion travelled to France in the company of the French king, Louis VII, and were settled in Orleans, where some of them were accommodated at “the little priory of the Mount of Sion”. From this small body, according to (now dubious) Priory records, grew the secret order that became known as the Priory of Sion.
It is claimed that the Knights Templar co-operated with the Priory of Sion until 1188 when the two bodies were unable to resolve a major dispute and officially abandoned their alliance. While the Templars continued to operate publicly until their order was dissolved by Pope Clement V in 1307, the Priory of Sion apparently became an underground movement under the name of the Order of the Rose-Cross Veritas. By association of terms, it seems that the still-existing movement known as the Rosicrucians had its roots in this order.
Dan Brown records that in 1975 the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris discovered parchments known as Les Dossiers Secrets which identified well-known personages as being among the members of the Priory of Sion. Included were the names of Sir Isaac Newton, Sandro Botticelli, Victor Hugo and Leonardo da Vinci. Dates of this discovery vary.
It seems that the real purpose of the dossiers was to establish an illustrious background for one Pierre Plantard and attempted to show that he was the only living descendant of King Dagobert II and therefore the legitimate king of France. This also placed him in the bloodline claimed to have been that of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. In fact, the Dossiers contain a wide variety of material that has not been substantiated by any other source. Moreover, some pieces of information have been definitively proved by experts to be false.
With a special card issued on request to researchers, anyone can study any records in the entire library. Although frequently described as ‘secret’, they are in fact available for scrutiny.
Leadership of the Priory of Sion is claimed to have originally passed on via a family bloodline, but the position was later said to be held by people of particular distinction. Author Simon Cox mentions a list dated 1956 which was contained in the Les Dossiers Secrets and which gives the names of all the “Grand Masters of the Priory of Sion”. According to this record, Jean Cocteau was “Navigator” (Grand Master) from 1918 to 1963. The name of his successor has apparently not been established, but leadership subsequently passed to Pierre Plantard, who held the title until his resignation in 1984.
Pierre Plantard was apparently a major source of information for the authors of the best-selling Holy Blood, Holy Grail, the book that first drew the attention of the reading public to the Priory of Sion.
The glossary item on the Priory of Sion in Secrets of the Code (see Further Reading at the end of this book) introduces a note of caution about the claims of Pierre Plantard, the spokesperson for most of the modern history of the Priory of Sion. Plantard died on 3 February 2000. The editor of Secrets of the Code points out that documentary evidence relating to the activities of the Priory of Sion is available only from 1956 and that anything before that is sketchy and confusing. He comments that many authors “have projected their speculations and theories regarding the Priory and its place in history”.
True, but ultimately The Da Vinci Code is a work of fiction. What makes it so compelling a novel is the fact that its fictional elements play out against a well-researched background that seems persuasively real, whether it is in fact so or not.
Truth, after all, depends largely on perspective. A novel writer wanting to present background material that can be accepted by readers as being as authentic as possible therefore has to make choices based on research that seems to him to offer him the best opportunity for creating a believable and coherent context for his story.
The author of The Da Vinci Code states that all descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents and secret rituals in the novel are accurate. It is important that one temporarily accepts this credo if one is to participate fully in the events of the novel and take in a great deal of fascinating historical material that one might care to pursue further afterwards if one wishes.
The book therefore opens doors to much further exploration beyond the fiction which it presents. The avid interest raised by the background to The Da Vinci Code is a clear indication of the delight many readers take in digging beyond the telling of the story.
The role played by the supposedly centuries-old Priory of Sion is a case in point. Jacques Saunière, Sophie Neveu’s grandfather in the novel, is found to be the Grand Master of the Priory of Sion and one of four people to hold the Priory’s grand secret that must at all costs be prevented from falling into the hands of the Opus Dei. The incorporation of complex historical detail – including detail about which there is much speculation and controversy – adds a dimension not usually found in thrillers.
An interesting note is that a Catholic Order called the Priory of Sion did exist in the Middle Ages, although it had nothing to do with the Merovingians or any alternative history of Jesus and Mary Magadalene. Nor does it appear to have had any relationship to the Priory of Sion of Dan Brown’s novel.
Many people joined the Priory of Sion after 1956, and more followed when the finding of Les Dossiers Secrets (not by library staff, but by members of Pierre Plantard’s group) was announced.
Today, despite Pierre Plantard’s documentary evidence being regarded as highly suspicious and probably fraudulent, the Priory of Sion continues to exist as a small occult group, focusing on themes and rituals which it has in common with several other older orders.
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