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FT 210

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Da Vinci Decoded

It’s not often that a novel with fortean subject matter takes the world by storm, but The Da Vinci Code has done just that. Gordon Rutter attempts to unpick the fact from the fiction in Dan Brown’s best-seller. All photos are by the author.

Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code is a publishing phenomenon. It has sold over 17 million copies, been translated into over 40 languages and topped best-seller lists around the world. It’s also about to be made into a Hollywood movie directed by Ron Howard and starring Tom Hanks as hero Robert Langdon and (possibly) Kate Beckinsale as fellow sleuth and love interest Sophie Neveu. Why has this book caught the imagination of the world? Why has it achieved notoriety amongst certain circles? And why has it spawned a host of explanatory guides, articles and websites?

Firstly – if you haven’t read it and you want to save all the surprises for the book or the film, go and read a different article – there are spoilers aplenty below.

It’s probably best to begin with a quick summary of the book’s specific mythology or back-story, as it is this, in particular, that will be of greatest interest to the fortean reader. It runs something like this:

Before his death on the cross, Jesus had married Mary Magdalene; a union that had produced offspring. The descendents of Jesus and Magdalene bred with the French Merovingian dynasty. An organisation called the Priory of Sion (PoS) was founded to protect this Holy Blood Line, and the PoS, in turn, founded the Knights Templar. Both of these organisations protected the descendants of Jesus and Magdalene, and passed on the secret knowledge of their existence from generation to generation. After the (possible) dissolution of the Knights Templar, the PoS continued this mission alone. Over the years, the Priory’s leaders have consisted of the great and the good – Newton, Robert Fludd, Jean Cocteau… and, of course, a certain Leonardo Da Vinci. Da Vinci inserted coded references to the truth protected by the PoS into many of his most famous works, and it is these codes that launch our heroes on their quest.

Oh yes, and the Catholic Church has always known about the ‘truth’, but suppressed this knowledge because of internal schisms within the early Church.

Now a lot of this material is not necessarily new to forteans (having been the subject of a great many books over the years), but to the general public, who don’t necessarily read the same books we do, it all appears to be Earth-shattering. At the start of the book, Brown sets out the following claim: “All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents and secret rituals in this novel are accurate”.

But are they? What is the real truth behind the “Da Vinci Code”?

So sue me

One truth about The Da Vinci Code is that, as well as praise, it has attracted a fair bit of notoriety. For example Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln (authors of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, 1982) and David Wood (Genisis, 1986) are all suing Brown for infringement of their ideas. Wood was the first person to use the phrase “The Da Vinci Code” in the context that it is used in Brown’s book. This, apparently, gives him the right to sue Brown. Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln claim that the theories expounded in Brown’s book derive directly from their own, as set out in HBHG, and that this gives them grounds to sue Brown – but surely the whole point of their book is that it’s history, and how can anyone claim exclusive rights to that?

An American friend first introduced me to The Da Vinci Code. Whilst visiting the UK, he mentioned that the book was becoming quite popular in the States. My next encounter was at the Edinburgh Fortean Society, where Scott Russell recommended it during his talk on Rennes-le-Château.

I decided to pick up a copy to read over the summer, and found that – quite coincidentally – all of the major locations in the book, with one exception, were destinations on my own itinerary. I would have, it seemed, a perfect opportunity to discover the truth behind the Da Vinci Code as well!

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From FT 193
February 2005

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Gordon Rutter is a freelance writer and lecturer based in Edinburgh, where he organisies the Edinburgh Fortean Society. He is a regular contributor to FT, and can stick a teaspoon up his nose.



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