By Tracy R. Twyman
Originally written for Dagobert’s Revenge Magazine, Copyright 2001
(Does not necessarily represent author’s current viewpoint.)
For the past year and a half or so, there has been no escaping The Da Vinci Code, the publishing phenomenon second now only to the Bible in book sales (and the paperback isn’t even out yet). Although the success of The Da Vinci Code has spread to author Dan Brown’s two previous novels, Angels & Demons and Digital Fortress, most everyone seems to agree that it is not the author’s storytelling craft which has caused the wildfire of The Da Vinci Code to catch on, but the ideas upon which it is based. The novel is predicated upon the same two premises which served as the foundation for another publishing phenomenon, 1982′s nonfiction bestseller Holy Blood, Holy Grail, by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln.The first premise is that Jesus Christ was married to Mary Magdalene, and with her spawned a child. This child was purportedly raised in Gaul, and was married into a local family that eventually provided the first line of Frankish kings, the Merovingians. It is this bloodline which, the theory asserts, is what the symbol of the legendary “Holy Grail” really stands for. This royal line is officially thought to have died out in the seventh century. However, the second premise upon which both Holy Blood, Holy Grail and The Da Vinci Code are based states that this bloodline — the “sacred Grail bloodline of Jesus” — was purportedly preserved in exile, and that its interests have been represented, since the eleventh century, by an organization called the Priory of Zion, or the Priory of Sion. This secret society credits itself with having chartered the Knights Templar, and with having secretly shaped the politics of Europe for almost a millennium.
The Priory of Sion first began publicizing itself, in modern times, at least, in 1956, when an explosion of written material regarding the Priory, the Templars, and the Merovingians appeared in France. The majority of this material appears to have originated from the same group of people — although credited to divergent and supposedly unrelated authors. Most of these authors appeared to have “inside knowledge” of the Priory’s secrets, and this information was leaked systematically through tantalizing tidbits that served to whet the reader’s appetite, and increase the aura of mystery surrounding the whole affair. In short, it appeared to be “propaganda” which promoted the subject of the Holy Grail and the Merovingian monarchy on the part of this shadowy organization.
According to the “Priory documents,” the Priory of Sion was originally founded as the “Ordre de Sion” in the late eleventh century with the purpose of preserving, supporting, and eventually restoring the Merovingian bloodline to the throne of France. But more than that, they considered the Merovingians to be eligible for many other thrones throughout Europe, as well as that of Jerusalem. This is by virtue of the fact that the Merovingians passed their divine lineage on, though dynastic intermarriage, to most of Europe’s leading royal and noble houses, and most especially to a certain few, including the lines of Blanchefort, Gisors, Saint-Clair/Sinclair, Plantard, Hapsburg, and Lorraine. Indeed, at the time of Sion’s founding in 1090, a Merovingian descendant controlled the Holy Roman Empire, and other Merovingian descendants held the thrones of its member states. In 1095, the Empire launched the First Crusade to capture Jerusalem for Europe, and in 1099 Godfroi de Bouillon passed the seat onto his brother Baudouin I, who is historically credited with having negotiated the constitution of the Knights Templar in 1117, and granting them headquarters on the Temple Mount. The “Priory documents” state that the Templars were actually founded by the Ordre de Sion six years earlier, in 1111, and that Baudouin was working on their behalf.
The authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail found that there was in fact an Ordre de Sion which resided in Jerusalem at least as early as the turn of the twelfth century — a mere ten years after the supposed foundation of Sion, according to the documents, in 1090. Furthermore, their headquarters was the Abbey of Notre Dame du Mont Sion, an Abbey founded by Godfroi de Bouillon. The authors also found evidence that the historical Ordre de Sion had connections to the Templars, including charters bearing the signature of Templar founding member Hughes de Payen, along with those of known members of Sion. Even more convincing, the list of Templar Grand Masters included in Secret Dossiers was even more complete and correct than any previously published list, again as if drawn from “inside information,” and the authors believed that the given founding date of 1111 is more credible than the traditional Templar founding date of 1117.
Baigent, et. al. then discovered further evidence that the group which eventually became the Ordre de Sion had a hand in starting the Crusades in the first place. This group consisted of monks from the Southern Italian region of Calabria who in 1070 migrated to the Ardennes forest, then owned by Godfroi de Bouillon. This same group is mentioned in the “Priory documents” as having been led by the Merovingian “Prince Ursus” (a.k.a. Dagobert II’s descendant, Sigisbert VI). But then in 1108 they vanished completely, and nobody knows where they went. Holy Blood, Holy Grail, however, speculates that they may have followed Godfroi de Bouillon on his crusade to the Holy Land, where “he is known to have been accompanied by an entourage of anonymous figures who acted as advisors and administrators.
After this point, the Ordre de Sion is not mentioned again in history until 1152, when King Louis VII of France brought them ninety-five new members and gave them the priory of Saint-Samson at OrlÃ©ans. In 1188 there was a rift between the Order of Sion and the Order of the Temple. The Templars’ current Grand Master, Gerard de Ridefort, had recently lost the Holy Land to the Saracens, and had also committed some kind of unspecified “treason.” So in that year, during a ceremony called “the Cutting of the Elm,” the Order of Sion officially disavowed the Templars and cut themselves off from them. Following this, the Order de Sion selected a new Grand Master, Jean de Gisors, changed their name to “PrieurÃ© de Sion,” and adopted an odd nickname, “Ormus” with the “M” written as the sign for Virgo, and with the other four letters written inside of the symbol. “Ormus” is also the name of an Egyptian sage from Alexandria, who in A.D. 46 created an initiative order with the Rose Cross as its insignia. It is significant, then, that in that same year of 1188, the Priory of Sion also purportedly adopted the subtitle “Order de la Rose-Croix Veritas” — the “Order of the True Rose-Cross.”
As the years progressed, the Priory of Sion is said to have become the target of Roman Catholic hostilities. In 1619, the Priory of Sion was evicted from their house at Saint-Samsom. They had incurred the wrath of the Pope and the King of France for spending extravagantly, boycotting Catholic services and being generally irreverent towards all authority. From that point on, they disappear from the pages of history, at least apparently, until their reemergence in the twentieth century.
However, where history leaves off, the “Priory documents” continue on. They claim that after the Cutting of the Elm, the Priory of Sion went on to experience the leadership of a number of Grand Masters, called “Nautonniers,” or “Navigators.” Many of these were culled from the ranks of Merovingian-descended nobility, such as the houses of Gisors, Bar and Saint-Claire. Other claimed Navigators include some of history’s most renowned artists, authors, and thinkers, all of whom would appear to have had a fascination with the occult and with esoteric Christianity. The first such Grand Master was alchemist Nicholas Flamel, supposedly installed as helmsman in 1398, who is now known to millions of schoolchildren as a character in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. He was supposedly followed in 1418 by Rene d’Anjou who, in addition to being a Merovingian-descended royal, was also a huge influence on the developing Renaissance movement. He patronized the de Medici family, founded Europe’s first public library, and wrote books on knightly chivalry that became the official sourcebooks on the chivalric code.
In 1483, the new Grand Master is said to have been Sandro Filipepi, otherwise known as Botticelli, famous for his painting of The Birth of Venus. He was followed in 1510 by multi-talented genius Leonardo da Vinci, whose religious-themed paintings are thought to contain clues regarding the Priory of Sion’s secrets — a rumor that inspired The Da Vinci Code. In 1595, the new Nautonnier was supposedly Robert Fludd, another well-known alchemist, and he was allegedly followed in 1637 by Johann Valentin Andrae, author of The Rosicrucian Manifestos and The Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz. During this time, the “Priory documents” assert that the Priory of Sion secretly engaged in a covert war against French King Louis XIV, and his powerful advisor, Cardinal Mazarin, via a front organization, the Compagnie du Saint-Sacrement. Andrae’s supposed Grand-Mastership was followed by famous scientist Robert Boyle, the “father of modern chemistry,” in 1654, and thereafter by none other than Isaac Newton, the “father of physics.”
Beginning in 1727, the Priory is said to have been run by Charles Radclyffe who, along with his brother James, led the so-called “Jacobite movement” to return the throne of England to the Scottish Stuart kings, who were of direct Merovingian descent, leading to the failed attempt to bring Bonnie Prince Charlie back from exile. Both Charles and James ended up getting beheaded, but not before Charles had passed the “rite of Strict Observance,” supposedly of Templar origin, onto Karl Gottlieb von Hund, thus creating Scottish Rite Freemasonry.
After Radclyffe came two Priory Navigators from the House of Lorraine named Charles and Maximilien, both of whom were involved in the patronage and spreading of Freemasonry. They were followed in 1801 by Charles Nodier, a prolific in little-remembered figure in French literature. He was responsible, along with his friends Eliphas Levi and Jean-Baptiste Pitois, of disseminating writings that have formed the basis of the modern Western occult tradition. Pitois and other Nodier proteges were also influential in the nineteenth century’s liberalizing Catholic Modernist Movement. Another protÃ©gÃ© of Nodier’s was playwright Victor Hugo, who purportedly followed him as Grand Master of the Priory in 1844. Hugo was supposedly followed in the role by his own protÃ©gÃ©, composer Claude Debussy, in 1885, and afterwards by a man influenced heavily by both Hugo and Debussy: artist, poet, playwright and filmmaker Jean Cocteau. Like Da Vinci, Cocteau appears to have embedded Priory of Sion secrets into his work, and was also, according to “Priory documents,” responsible for a re-writing of the order’s statutes that led it to reveal itself to the public in the twentieth century.
The “Priory documents” claim that after Jean Cocteau’s death in 1963, there was a power clash within the group, and the Grand Mastership was held by a triumvirate of people, one of whom finally emerged in 1981 as the new leader: Pierre Plantard de Saint-Clair. This man claimed to be the last scion of the Merovingian bloodline, a direct descendant of Dagobert II, and the true claimant to the throne of France. However, even before being elected the Grand Master, Plantard apparently had considerable influence on the activities of the order from the 1950s on. In 1956, supposedly during Cocteau’s leadership, the Priory of Sion had officially registered with the French government, and began disseminating the “Priory documents.” They also took on a new subtitle at this time, “C.I.R.C.U.I.T”: an abbreviation for French words translating to “Chivalry of Catholic Rules and Institutions of the Independent and Traditionalist Union.” This was also the name of a magazine that was published by the Priory and edited by Pierre Plantard.
C.I.R.C.U.I.T. had a circulation of only a few thousand, and was very similar in content to another magazine named Vaincre (Victory), which had been published by Plantard during the years of World War Two. However, Vaincre claimed to be the official publication not of the Priory of Sion, but of something called “the Order of Alpha Galates.” Yet this order had the exact same membership structure, and their magazine concerned itself with many of the same subjects, so the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail concluded that Alpha Galates was just another front for the Priory of Sion. On the surface at least, Vaincre appeared to be a pro-occupationist Vichy government propaganda mouthpiece, containing short diatribes in favor of Marshall Petain and against “Judeo-Freemasonry.” When the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail asked Plantard about this, he claimed that this image had been just a cover, and that Vaincre was actually a secret pro-Resistance journal riddled with code-words to be understood by other members of the underground movement, which Plantard claimed to be a part of. He also claimed that after the war, he had been instrumental in bringing Charles de Gaulle to power, “a claim apparently backed up by a series of contemporary newspaper articles published in Le Monde.
Both Vaincre and C.I.R.C.U.I.T., as well as other “Priory documents,” are largely concerned with the idea of creating a “United States of the West,” not unlike the currently developing European Union. Vaincre even proposed a European flag similar to that used by the EU today. The “Priory documents” indicate that the Priory has somehow been instrumental behind the scenes in the development of the EU. Indeed, several of the people named as members of Alpha Galates or the Priory of Sion, such as Louis de Fur and Hans Adolf von Moltke, have been involved in the European movement. Many more can also be linked to the Anglo-American intelligence community, which has been the real force behind the creation of the EU. But the “Priory documents” state that the Priory has very specific plans for Europe: a collection of monarchies, each controlled by a Merovingian monarch, and themselves under the control of one “Grand Monarch” who is both Priest and King: a true “Holy Roman Empire.” One member of Alpha Galates, Paul le Cour, even wrote about the need for “preparing Knights of the Apocalypse whose head will be Christ when he returns,” indicating that they believe their Merovingian monarchs will be the administrators of God’s kingdom on Earth.
It was during the 1970s that Holy Blood, Holy Grail co-author Henry Lincoln first began studying the Priory of Sion and related mysteries. By this time a cottage industry of books dealing with the subject was flourishing in France. And it was in 1981, shortly before Holy Blood, Holy Grail was published, that Pierre Plantard was reported to have been duly elected as Grand Master of the Priory. But not long after the publication of this best-selling book, just as the subject of the Priory of Sion was becoming a hot topic in popular culture, the order began to unravel. Several of Plantard’s associates, including Louis Vazart, Andre Bonhomme, Philippe de Cherisey, and Jean-Luc Chaumeil, came forward to confess that the whole thing had been made up. They, with Plantard’s direction, had concocted the modern-day Priory of Sion, and its illustrious pedigree going back to the Knights Templar, in the 1950s. Cherisey admitted to forging several of the Priory’s key documents, including the infamous “Rennes-le-Chateau parchments,” supposedly discovered by Berenger Sauniere in a small church in Southern France.
All of this is extensively documented on the website “priory-of-sion.com,” maintained by Paul Smith, who has apparently made “debunking” the Priory of Sion his life’s purpose. He also gleefully recounts episodes from Plantard’s criminal background, including imprisonment for “fraud, embezzlement, and child corruption,” as well as a stint he served for failing to register Alpha Galates with the French government. Paul Smith further claims that the pro-Vichy and anti-Semitic statements in Vaincre were no cover at all. Plantard, and several of his associates, were always, according to Paul Smith, right-wing, Jew-hating extremists.
The public revelations of Philippe de Cherisey and Jean-Luc Chaumeil hurt Pierre Plantard’s image, and in 1985, before Holy Blood, Holy Grail’s sequel, The Messianic Legacy was even published, Plantard had already decided to “resign” from the Priory of Sion. This he announced to Baigent, et. al. in his last meeting with them, which they reported on in The Messianic Legacy. He told them that he had resigned because the group had been infiltrated by an “Anglo-American contingent” of intelligence agents, who were perverting the order’s original purpose. However, Paul Smith claims that Plantard’s hoax had simply blown up in his face, and he needed to escape the limelight.
But in 1989, he was at it again. At this time a new series of Vaincre magazines began to appear, resembling the first edition in many ways, but now openly representing the Priory of Sion, and not Alpha Galates. This edition claimed that Pierre Plantard had been reinstated as Grand Master in 1989, but had quickly passed the title on to his son, Thomas Plantard, who was now the current Grand Master. A new list of Nautonniers was produced, this one claiming that the order had only been created in 1681. They now disavowed any connection with the Knights Templar or the original Ordre de Sion. Despite this attempt at a comeback, there were no results from it, and Thomas Plantard never made himself public. In 1993, Plantard’s name came up in regards to a financial scandal involving his friend, Roger-Patrice Pelat, whom Vaincre had claimed was an interim Grand Master of the Priory between 1985 and 1989. While under questioning about this, Plantard reportedly admitted to police that the Priory of Sion was a product of his imagination.
So is the Priory of Sion story, the inspiration for the best-selling novel of all time, just a hoax? Apparently opinion is still mixed about the matter. For despite the fact that Paul Smith’s revelations are now widely known among Priory of Sion researchers, many conclude that there is still an all-important kernel of truth to the story. They still believe in the idea of the descent of the Merovingian “Grail bloodline” from Jesus and Mary Magdalene, and they still believe that a conspiracy involving this bloodline has been behind various political movements and events throughout history. Certainly, there is evidence that secret societies like the Knights Templar, the Freemasons, and the Rosicrucians have had such influence. And as I explore in my new book, The Merovingian Mythos and the Mystery of Rennes-le-Chateau (Dragon Key Press, 2004), the belief systems upon which these societies are based do seem to include this concept of a divine royal bloodline, and also seem to connect it to the symbol of the Grail. One can, in fact, identify a common thread running throughout world mythology and holy scripture regarding this sacred bloodline, along with the idea of a sacred stone or vessel that is analogous to the Grail. The Priory of Sion claims that there is a physical treasure called the Grail (in addition to the bloodline), and that it is buried in the village of Rennes-le-Chateau, France. In my book, I examine all of the profound evidence indicating this very same notion.
The motivation that has been given for Plantard’s “hoax” so far has been that it was simply an ego trip for him, although one wonders how that could occupy a single individual, and all of his friends, for forty years. Perhaps Plantard really thought that his claim would one day be taken seriously, and that he could secure the throne of France, if not for himself, then for his son Thomas. But unfortunately, although fascinated by all of the mystique and intrigue surrounding the Priory, the French public hasn’t warmed to the idea of reviving the Merovingian monarchy. They’ve had to cut off a lot of heads to get rid of the throne in the name of “liberty, equality, and fraternity.” They’re not about to bring it back.
But phenomena like this one don’t tend to show their full effects until years later. Though hoax it may be, the effect that the Priory of Sion has had on the public consciousness is so broad and sweeping that it might as well have been real. It all serves to soften up the public to the coming changes: a united Europe that will increasingly resemble the Holy Roman Empire; and centralized governments that will increasingly resemble monarchies, run by men from aristocratic families that can all be traced back to European royalty. And in the United States at least, this modern-day nobility has most recently been associated with a modern-day knighthood (the “Knights of Eulogia,” or “Skull & Bones”) which, like the Knights Templar and the Freemasons, embraces the symbol of the Death’s Head. Indeed, the true “Knights of the Apocalypse” may very well be on the horizon, and the form that their works take may be quite different than Pierre Plantard envisioned. Plantard and his associates have released a spirit upon the world that is now well beyond control, and we can only sit back and wait to see what form it will take next.