Sunday, September 23, 2012

Holy Blood, Holy Fraud

Holy Blood, Holy Fraud: 

What happens when you mix a tourist trap, a pro-Nazi con artist, and a credulous public

With the emergence of the much-publicized "Gospel of Jesus' Wife" in the past week, it may be helpful to review some of the facts surrounding the Holy Blood Holy Grail/Da Vinci Code hoax.

For the record, as a Valentinian Christian I am favorably disposed towards the idea that Jesus was married, likely to Mary Magdalene.  Unlike some other Gnostic schools, the Valentinians had a very favorable view of marriage; the Gospel of Philip says "Great is the mystery of marriage! For without it, the world would not exist", and refers to the Magdalene as the "companion" of Jesus, whom he used to kiss frequently.

And to be fair, Professor Karen L. King has made a point of distancing her find from the pseudo-histories and conspiracy theories found in HBHG and the Da Vinci Code.  But with this story in the headlines, many will view it as a vindication of these tales, so I wanted to take the opportunity to re-post excerpts from a piece I wrote during the height of the the Da Vinci Code craze:

The "Priory of Sion"

The purported organization behind this hoax is the Priory of Sion (Prieuré de Sion), which was founded in 1956 by Pierre Athanase Marie Plantard, who was born in Paris in 1920, the son of a butler and a cook.  The creation of the Priory followed earlier attempts by Plantard to create secret societies, which largely existed only in his head.

The first organization created by Plantard was called "The French Union."  According to Amy Bernstein, it was Plantard's "involvement...with anti-Masonic and anti-Semitic nationalist organizations" that led him to create the group, whose stated purpose was "to engage in purifying and renewing France."

In 1940, following the German conquest of France, Plantard organized another secret society called Alpha Galates.  The society had 12 degrees, the highest being "Druidic Majesty", a position held by Plantard, of course.  The society published a periodical called Vaincre ("Conquer") that supported the pro-Nazi Vichy regime and printed Nazi and anti-Semitic propaganda.
He was arrested in 1941 for organizing a secret society without government approval.  Below is a copy and a translation of the police report,, which dismiss him as a crank with a tendency to create fictitious organizations:

May, 1941 police report on Plantard


Monsieur PLANTARD, Pierre Athanase Marie, otherwise known as 'Pierre de France', otherwise known as 'Varran de Verestra', born on 18 March 1920 in Paris (7th arrondissement), son of the late Pierre and RAULO Amélie, is married and has a daughter aged about three.

Before his marriage he had lived with his mother since 1942 at 10 Rue Lebouteux (17th arrondissement). His mother, who had heard nothing from him since May 1951, states that he is currently residing in the Annemasse region (Haute Savoie).

Monsieur PLANTARD calls himself a journalist but, in fact, he was supported until his marriage entirely by his mother, who is entitled to a pension that was granted to her following her husband's accidental death.

He is regarded by his peer group as a pretentious young man, without very much in the way of education who, from the onset of the Occupation tried, by creating more or less fictitious organisations, to acquire sufficient importance to win the consideration and support of the Government.

Anti-Semitic and anti-Masonic, he announced his aim during the Occupation as being 'the purification and renewal of France'.

It was in this spirit that on 16 December 1940 he sent a letter to ex-Field Marshal Pétain in which he exposed an alleged Jewish/Gaullist conspiracy which, as the subsequent enquiry showed, never actually existed. He also founded, in May 1941, a group called 'Rénovation Nationale Française', which was never active, as in September 1941 the German authorities refused to issue the necessary authorisation that would allow this organisation to function.

On 24 October 1942 Monsieur PLANTARD also formed the subject of an investigation at the request of the German authorities for having requested permission to establish the association known as 'Alpha Galatès', permission for which was also refused.

Pierre Plantard, His "Druidic Majesty"
On the subject of the arrest of Monsieur PLANTARD, his mother states: 'My son was arrested by the Germans on a date that I am unable to recall precisely, as I suffer from amnesia. His apartment was not searched by the French police but by German gendarmes accompanied by German civilians. My son remained in Fresnes Prison for 4-5 months where he was subjected to numerous physical abuses'.

Checks made with the various departments of the Prefecture of Police have not revealed any trace of the arrest of Monsieur PLANTARD.

He does not have a criminal record.
Other than his four month prison stay, Plantard spent the war years working as a sexton at a Catholic church and completing correspondence lessons from the AMORC, the Ancient Mystical Order Rosae Crucis.

On a '60 Minutes' program, Claude Charlot of the Paris Prefecture of Police stated that the Alpha Galates "had only four regular members". A 1945 police report on the organization stated that the organization had at most 50 members, who resigned one after the other as soon as they sized up Plantard and realized that Alpha Galates existed mostly in his imagination. 

The Priory of Sion was launched in 1956 as a new incarnation of Alpha Galates.  As with the earlier organization, for most of its history Plantard was the only member of the Priory.  This didn't prevent Plantard from claiming that the Priory was a large and powerful organization and selling initiations to high degrees for enormous sums, which landed him in prison following a conviction for fraud.

This imprisonment did not hinder Plantard's public relations campaign on behalf of the Priory.  During the crisis of 1958, he issued statements claiming that the Priory was the secret hand behind the Committees of Public Safety that restored General Charles de Gaulle to power.

The "Rennes-le-Chateau Mystery"

Failing to convince the public of his and the Priory's importance, Plantard took another angle, capitalizing on the efforts of businessman Noel Corbu to publicize his restaurant.

François Bérenger Saunière
Corbu had opened a restaurant in Rennes-le-Chateau in the 1950's in a stone tower that had been built by a priest named François Bérenger Saunière (11 April 1852 – 22 January 1917).  As a publicity stunt, Corbu fabricated a story about a mysterious hidden treasure discovered by Saunière and turned this small town priest into a mysterious figure with international connections to leading figures in the occult revival of the 19th century.  None of the elements of this story can be traced back further than a magazine article written in 1956, for which Corbu was the only source.

Plantard appropriated these stories to create a fictional history and origin for his Priory, tracing it back through the Cathars and the Knights Templar to the Merovingian dynasty, a family of kings whose descendant and heir he claimed to be.  He added "de St. Clair" to his name to indicate a link to the Scottish Sinclair family.  He also created a list of "Nauonniers" of the Priory which included well known figures such as René d'Anjou, Léonard de Vinci, Isaac Newton, Victor Hugo and Claude Debussy.

With the help of radio humorist Philippe de Chérisey, Plantard began placing documents into the Bibliothèque Nationale that supported the fabricated origin of the Priory.   In 1965, he published a book that publicized the "Rennes-le-Chateau mystery."  Plantard later had a falling out with his collaborators on the book, and in the resulting legal battle, admitted that the documents placed in historical archives were all forgeries.

The Real Bérenger Saunière

Abbe Saunière did have access to large sums of money, but it wasn't from finding a mysterious treasure linked to the Templars, Cathars, and Plantard's Priory.  He made his money selling masses.

Finding himself in a small, remote parish on a diminishing stipend, Saunière began an advertising campaign, placing ads in magazines and writing to religious communities.  Requests for masses began to flow in - more than 200,000 mass-intentions over a period of almost twenty years; Saunière's notes indicate that he received sometimes as much as 400 francs daily, a good bit of money at the time.

One of many letters requesting Masses from Saunière

Monsieur Abbé,

In my last letter I asked you if you would be so kind, after the expiry of the Thirty Masses which I requested from you, to continue them without interruption until the end of March.

I am therefore settling the amount owed by enclosing a postal order for 45 francs.
Using his new-found source of income, Saunière built the famous villa and tower, the Villa Béthanie and the Tour Magdala.  At some point, he transferred ownership of the property to Marie Dénarnaud, his maid and confidant.

Upon receiving numerous reports of Saunière's trafficking in masses, the local Bishop, Monseigneur de Beauséjour ordered Saunière to cease his requests for mass-fees outside the Diocese.  Saunière refused, and the Bishop responded by transferring him to Coustouge.  Saunière refused the transfer, citing health reasons.

The Bishop then summoned Saunière to a Court of the Officialty charging him with trafficking in masses, disobedience to the Bishop, and excessive and unjustified expenditure. When Saunière refused to disclose his financial records, he was suspended a divinis, which prohibited him from functioning as a priest.

This deprived Saunière of his steady income of mass-fees, and his finances were seriously affected, forcing him to sell most of his furniture and all of his library as his health declined.  When he died in 1917, he was on the verge of financial ruin.

Holy Blood, Holy Grail

In 1969, English actor Harry Soskin, who used the pen name Henry Licoln, ran across a book about Rennes-le-Chateau by Gérard de Sède.  Intrigued, he began to pursue the story, later enlisting the help of two other writers, Richard Leigh and Michael Baigent. 

Even though the Priory story had been publicly exposed as a hoax, the three moved forward with their book; in addition to the now-discredited claims of Plantard, they added their own fabrications, claiming that Plantard was a descendent of Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene, and that the true purpose of the Priory was to protect the bloodline.  Plantard, a conservative devout Catholic, rejected this claim outright, but this did not slow the sales of their book, Holy Blood, Holy Grail.

In addition to the sacred bloodline theory, early versions of the book endorsed the "sacred mushroom" theories of eccentric scholar John Allegro.

Jesus' Wife?

All this

See Also:

The Davinci Hoax

Holy Blood, With Fries

History vs. the Da Vinci Code

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