The facts Behind Channel Four's Documentary 'The Real Da Vinci Code'

Broadcast on Thursday, 3 February 2005.


Tonight Channel Four broadcast a mammoth two-hour documentary that claimed to reveal the truth behind Dan Brown's multi-million blockbuster THE DA VINCI CODE. Presented by television broadcaster and actor Tony Robinson, it systematically dispelled any notion that the fabulous claims made in the book were based on any kind of historical reality. Everything from the Holy Grail, to the mysteries of the Cathars, Knights Templar, Rosslyn Chapel, Rennes-le-Chateau and the Priory of Sion were systemically built up before being dismissed as nonsense by academic historians wheeled out for the purpose. At the end of the day, the documentary's conclusions were that the book is little more than fanciful imagination masquerading as historical truth. This is despite the fact that THE DA VINCI CODE is a novel, and an entertaining one at that.

As I struggle to understand the motivations behind the making of the documentary, I would like to present you with a few truths about the subject matter of the book which the makers either dismissed, ignored or darn-right suppressed to present a cohesive picture suitable for their requirements, whatever that might have been, worthy or otherwise.


Amusingly, Tony Robinson started his own search for the Holy Grail by examining the Marian Chalice, which features prominently in my own book TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY GRAIL (Virgin, 2004). My friend and colleague Graham Phillips was interviewed, and the history of the tiny green alabaster cup given to camera. It was concealed, Tony Roninson said, inside a cave grotto at Hawkstone Park in Shropshire during the early nineteenth century by local historian Thomas Wright. Here it remained until the vessel's chance discovery by workmen in 1920 (it was actually 1917). Graham explained that the tiny cup, linked by Graham and I with the vessel used by the Magdalene to anoint Jesus, has been identified as a Roman scent jar used to contain expensive oils. Inevitably, Tony Robinson felt no holy vibes coming from it, and so dismissed it as a true candidate for the title 'Holy Grail'.

What astounded me was that they then brought in Grail heavyweight Richard Barber, one of the world's top academics on the subject, to comment on what they referred to as the 'Hawkstone Grail'. He said that Thomas Wright makes no mention of this item in his works, and that the cup must therefore have been concealed as part of some kind of pseudo-medieval prank echoed by the construction of the grotto itself.

As Graham pointed out, if the whole exercise was meaningless why go to so much trouble to conceal a Roman scent jar made of rare green alabaster, when a more decorative medieval chalice would have been more appropriate? Then there is the rather overlooked fact that the egg- cup like vessel was concealed behind a statue of an eagle representing John the Evangelist, a patron of eighteenth and nineteenth century Templar revivalists?

Tony Robinson then journeyed to Valencia cathedral in Spain where he examined the Sacra Calice, a holy vessel of onyx said to be the cup of the Last Supper, brought to Rome by St Peter for use in Holy Communion. It looks impressive, and according to Catholic historians who have examined the relic it does date to the right time period. More than this, it is the only 'Grail' authenticated by the Vatican.

Yet the documentary makers were unimpressed, simply because with the aid of various Grail experts, including Richard Barber, the concept of the Holy Grail as a historical artefact was dismissed, since they said it is a product of medieval romances composed from the end of the twelfth century onwards. Thus any modern-day claimant to the title Grail must be dismissed as at best wishful thinking.

This is where I began to get annoyed, for the vessel on which the Grail cup was based does pre-date the twelfth century. In TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY GRAIL I ably demonstrate that traditions regarding the collecting of Christ's blood in a holy vessel as his body hung of the Cross, the earliest explanation for the Grail vessel, go back to the ninth century at least, and arguably much earlier. Furthermore, the belief in the existence of a cup associated with Mary Magdalene and said to have contained a blood relic belonging to Christ goes back to the second century AD. What is more, it can be shown that the French word graal, as found for the first time in the romances, derives not as is popularly believed from the Low Latin gradale, which means 'in stages', as in the dishes used to serve different courses at a medieval banquet, but from the Languedoc word grasal, used to describe a pot in which to put liquid. This would be an apt description of a vessel in which a blood relic might have been contained.

I also demonstrate in TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY GRAIL that the concept found in the Gospels of using a cup as a metaphor for the inevitable martyrdom that awaited early Christians following baptism and the taking of the Holy Communion was also a major influence on the foundation of the Grail legend. If correct, then we can look towards the Franks Casket, a highly-decorated whale bone box of Anglo-Norse origin dating to c. 700-750 BC, as displaying the earliest known representation of the Grail cup. Here it appears clasped in the hand of a seated figure which I identify as Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane.


After dismissing the historical authenticity of the Grail, the programme turned its attentions to stories suggesting that the Cathars, the medieval heretics of Europe, whose powerbase was the Languedoc in southern France, possessed the Holy Grail. The story goes that on the night before the fall of Montsegur, where the Cathars made their last stand against the Crusaders during the spring of 1244, four individuals abseiled down the sheer rock face carrying with them the treasures of the sect, which some, including the Nazis, came to believe included the Holy Grail.

The documentary managed to get a Cathar historian to admit that the story is essentially true - four men did escape on the final night of the siege at Montsegur. However, he dismissed any notion that anyone today was capable of guessing what they might have been carrying to safety. It was the first plus point of the programme, even though Tony Robinson dismissed any thought that the Cathars possessed the Grail.


Next on the list for demolition was the Knights Templar, or at least any thought that they were heretics who might have found the Grail during excavations beneath Jerusalem's Temple Mount during the early twelfth century. Two things here - firstly, there is ample evidence that the Knights Templar had an inner order known as the Templi Secretum, which practised Gnostic-inspired, and thus heretical, rituals behind closed doors, and that this is what eventually got them into trouble with the Church. Secondly, although there is no hard evidence to prove that the Templars excavated beneath the Temple Mount, there is evidence that someone was searching for something down there around the right time. This derives from the discovery during the late nineteenth century by a group of modern-day Templar Masons of various medieval artefacts, including a broadsword, in tunnels hollowed out during medieval times. I know this because the artefacts are housed today in a Templar museum in Scotland, yet peculiarly none of this was deemed worthy of broadcast, even though the curator of that museum, Robert Brydon, was interviewed in connection with Rossyln Chapel (see below).

I found it strange also that although the historians consulted for the programme dismissed any connection between the Knights Templar and the Holy Grail, they failed to mention the somewhat relevant fact that in Wolfram von Eschenbach's Grail romance entitled Parzival, written some 20 years after the first such romance by French poet and possible troubador Chretien de Troyes , the Grail is said to have been guarded in a castle by 'Templiers'. Despite the fact that medieval historians state that this word has no connection with the military fighting order with a similar sounding name, I demonstrate in TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY GRAIL that 'Templiers' is a variation of the term Templars found in the Gascony language of northern Spain, which is itself a form of the langue d'Oc, the language of southern France.


Time was spent at Rosslyn Chapel, the fifteenth-century edifice near Edinburgh built as a collegiate church in the mid fifteenth century by the enigmatic Sinclair family, the hereditary grand masters of Scottish Freemasonry.

The programme treated us to useful interviews with Rosslyn historian Robert Brydon and Sinclair historian Andrew Sinclair, author of THE SECRET SCROLL, complete with archive footage of the latter's professional attempts to enter the chapel's underground vaults. However, the viewer was then informed that there are no connections whatsoever between Rosslyn Chapel and the Grail, or the Knights Templar, since their order was suppressed nearly 150 years before its construction, and no Templar could have survived that long! Ha, ha, ha!

What utter crap. No one would ever suggest that the Templars had discovered the Elizir of Life. What can be argued, however, is that rebel Templars formed underground enclaves which preserved knowledge and wisdom that inspired the symbolism presented in stone within Rossyln Chapel. It would have been for this reason that Scottish Freemasonry, as lineal descendants of the rebel Templars, adopted the building as an expression of their spiritual ideals.


Next up for demolition was the Priory of Sion, the secret organisation that claims to have been founded in 1099 to protect a royal bloodline that originated among the Merovingian kings of Dark Age France. It is a story which first came to light with the broadcast in the 1970s of a series of documentaries on the mysteries of Rennes-le-Chateau fronted by charismatic English broadcaster Henry Lincoln, who would go on to become one of the authors of THE HOLY BLOOD AND THE HOLY GRAIL, a book that inspired the writing of THE DA VINCI CODE.

I must say that I loved those documentaries, which I caught for the first time shortly after Graham Phillips and I participated in the Green Stone quest in October 1979. There is no question that they inspired my writing career, especially Henry Lincoln's sheer dedication at getting to the heart of a mystery.

Yet I have known for many years that the Priory of Sion was created as recently as 1956 by two men, the illusive Pierre Plantard and aristocrat Philippe de Cherisey. They composed a series of strange documents which they deposited in Paris's Biblioteque Nationale, in the hope that they would be rediscovered by an innocent party at some future point. These contained false pedigrees going back 1,500 years, as well as lists of secret grand masters spanning an entire millennium of activity. They created also ciphered messages on parchaments which they claimed had been found in the church at the village of Rennes-le-Chateau at the foot of the French Pyrenees, based on existing claims that something of immense importance had been discovered there in the late nineteenth century by the priest Berengier Sauniere. In addition to all this, the Priory put claim to the foundation of the Knights Templar in 1118, which it severed any connections with in 1188.

The documentary had a field day exposing the Priory of Sion as a hoax concocted as a surrealist experiment by Plantard and de Cherisey, with the help of French writer Gerard de Sade. He was the first to bring the subject to the public's attention in a French language book back in 1967 (and from which Henry Lincoln got the idea for his documentaries).

Yet what was not made clear is that there are a number of unanswered questions with respect both to the mystery of Rennes-le-Chateau and the Priory of Sion. For instance, what was it that inspired Pierre Plantard to create the Priory in 1956? Where did he get all his masses of historical inspiration from, much of it of totally obscure origin? In addition to this, what were his links with secret societies and occultists prior to 1956, and what was their interest in the subject matter of the so-called 'dossier secrets'? And on the subject of Rennes-le-Chateau, what did Sauniere really find in his church at Rennes-le-Chateau? Was it linked with existing legends in the area concerning the concealment of treasure belonging to the Merovingians, the Cathars, the Templars and even the Visigoths, the Germanic Dark Age tribe who sacked Rome and carried off the treasure of the Jerusalem Temple to southern France? And finally, why did the Templars of Rousillon and Aragon take such an interest in the Aude Valley, where Rennes-le-Chateau is located, especially since it was under the control of the Templars of northern France?

I will admit that I thoroughly enjoyed this part of the documentary, especially the archive footage of Henry Lincoln at Rennes-le-Chateau, and the interview with Pierre Plantard for French television. Great stuff!


Next under the hammer was the idea first popularised in the Baigent, Lincoln and Leigh bestseller THE HOLY BLOOD AND THE HOLY GRAIL (1982), and found also in THE DA VINCI CODE, that the Grail is in fact the womb of Mary Magdalene, which carried the fruits of her marriage to Jesus Christ. According to the story, Jesus survived the Crucifixion and went on to wed Mary Magdalene, who left Palestine for southern France bringing the child with her. It is from his descendants that the sang real, the 'blood royal', ran through into the veins of the Merovingian royal house. By the way, sang real is a late medieval confusion of the term san graal, 'Holy Grail', and has no existence anywhere prior to this time.

I must say that although I was pretty convinced by the theory that the Holy Grail was the womb of the Magdalene when I first read THE HOLY BLOOD AND THE HOLY GRAIL (which, by the way, is one of my favourite books of all time), detailed research into the origins of the Holy Grail and the Magdalene's associations with France have left me in no doubt that it is completely false. Although I wanted to believe it, I discovered that the concept of the Magdalene's journey to France is a medieval creation, conceived of by wily French monks to justify the presence in rival monasteries of human remains which they claimed were those of the Magdalene. Indeed, prior to the late eleventh century, when Mary first becomes associated with southern France, her only cult centre was Ephesus in Asia Minor (modern Turkey). He was said to have spent her final days in the company of her close companion John the Evangelist. Traditionally, he is the writer of the Fourth Gospel, as well as the author of Revelations, which he wrote while imprisoned by the Romans on the Greek island of Patmos.

There is nothing in any medieval text to suggest that the Magdalene came to France bringing with her a child - this only appears for the first time in the nineteenth century.

Naturally, the documentary highlighted these shortcomings, even though it did acknowledge that the discovery in 1945 of the so-called Gnostic Gospels at Nag Hammadi in southern Egypt has brought to light the Magdalene's key role in the foundation of the Early Church, something that was utterly suppressed by the male-dominated Church of Rome. It also admitted that Mary was extremely close to Jesus, so much so that the other disciples despised her.

The documentary included an interview with Michael Baigent, one of the co-authors of THE HOLY BLOOD AND THE HOLY GRAIL. His admission that there was no hard evidence at all to support the notion that the Magdalene bore Jesus's child was not enough. Tony Robinson had a field day, making Michael look foolish indeed.


Last up was the start point of Dan Brown's book - the mystery concealed in the art of Leonardo da Vinci, and in particular his famous fresco of the Last Supper in Florence. Did it show Jesus with a woman at his side? Did the manner in which the two of them lean away from each other suggest that Leonardo was implying that they were joined at the hip, i.e. lovers? Did the shape of their bodies purposely produce the outline of the letter M, signifying that the woman was in fact Mary Magdalene?

Even though the producers had already booked an art historian to debunk the whole notion, Tony Robinson made it clear that he and members of the film crew were in no doubt that the figure next to Jesus was indeed a woman, even though it is meant to represent the Beloved Disciple, John the Evangelist, who sat next to Jesus at the Last Supper. Even after listening to the dismissals of the historian, Robinson said that he was now split down the middle with regards his personal opinions on the mystery.

What wasn't mentioned is that the makers of the documentary had filmed an interview with Lynn Picknett, one of the two authors who brought the whole matter of the da Vinci code mystery to the public's attention with the publication of their book THE TEMPLAR REVELATION, back in 1995. However, because she would have provided even greater evidence that Leonardo's fresco does indeed show a woman in place of John the Evangelist, the cutting-room editors conveniently decided to drop her interview. It makes you wonder how many other interviews were left on the cutting room floor because they showed the mysteries presented in THE DA VINCI CODE in a more positive light.


As readers of TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY GRAIL will know, I attempt to demonstrate that the character identified as a woman in Leonardo's Last Supper fresco is in fact an androgynous form of the Beloved Disciple, who embodied both the Magdalene and John the Evangelist, which were often linked together in early Christian tradition. Moreover, both were identified, either in the Canonical or Gnostic Gospels, as Jesus's Beloved Disciple, leading to speculation among some Catholic scholars that Mary and not John was the author of the Fourth Gospel. In addition to this, both Mary and John are the two most authentic Grail bearers of early Christian tradition. There is good evidence that the person who ordered the collection of Christ's blood was Mary Magdalene, and that it was her humble scent jar which went on to become the Grail of myth and legend. And this brings us nicely back to where the documentary started, interviewing Graham Phillips and telling the story of the 'Hawkstone Grail'. In my opinion, this is the most authentic Grail cup existing today, although not as the chalice or dish of the last Supper, but as the cup, or ointment jar, of the Magdalene. It dates to the right period, was made in the right region, is fashioned from green alabaster, and is a scent jar once used to contain expensive oils. Although there is no hard evidence to say that it is the Holy Grail, simply a Grail, the fact that it was concealed behind a statue symbolising John the Evangelist, Mary's companion and guardian after the Crucifixion, cannot be ignored.

As for the documentary, I am still suspicious of its motives. Why spend so much money, time and effort destroying Dan Brown's THE DA VINCI CODE? What does its makers have against it? It is a ripping good yarn, which introduces its readers to the mysteries of Christianity. So why the hatchet job? It cannot simply be because they do not want people to be taken in by its imaginary storyline masquerading as factual history, and so we must look for more personal motivations. Yet what can they be? Are the individuals behind the documentary to be compared with those sceptics who fiercely denounce anything psychic or paranormal? Are the contents of the book contrary to their own spiritual beliefs, whatever they might be? On the other hand, it could simply be that they detest the immense amount of money that Dan Brown is coining in as a result of the popularity of his best-selling novel. Who knows? I shall leave the reader to decide.