Which is the most controversial book you have ever read? Now add some historical evidence to it, throw in a treasure-hunt style thrilling adventure and top it off with a secret of massive, eye-popping proportions. That is what the authors, Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln, present in their book – The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail. The most wonderful bit though? This book is no novel and every bit of it is real, based on historical and contemporary documents, interviews with sources from different walks of life and interpretations based on both evidence and experience.
In the beginning
It begins with an investigation in 1982. The subject of Gérard de Sède’s book published in France and a film by Henry Lincoln that was made for the BBC was what prompted the start of this book.
The root of the story began in 1891, when Bérenger Sauniere, the curé of Rennesle-Château, a village in the Cevennes, discovered something hidden within his church while renovations were going on. He found parchments that were written partly in code and seemed to contain something of great significance. Shortly after this discovery, Sauniere came to great wealth, lived in a mansion and was even called upon by a Hapsburg Archduke shortly before his death who gave him a large amount of money.
What could Sauniere possibly have found out in those documents? Why was he paid such a vast income, unusual for someone of his profession to possess (and by whom)? To find answers to these questions, the authors of this book decided to undertake an investigative journey. Their curiosity led them to medieval times to the Crusades, to a detailed examination of several religious and spiritual sects like the Rosicrucians and Freemasons to the royal Merovingian dynasty and right down to the House of Lorraine and Hapsburgs. Somewhere in between all this, they stumbled upon an explosive secret that rests in the hands of a secret society in France, the Priory of Sion, – the truth about what a Holy Grail really is.
Why is the book so hard to digest?
For the uninitiated, the Holy Grail has long attracted much attention owing to its mysterious existence. According to Wikipedia,
“The Holy Grail is a treasure that serves as an important motif in Arthurian literature. Different traditions describe it as a cup, dish or stone with miraculous powers that provide happiness, eternal youth or sustenance in infinite abundance, often in the custody of the Fisher King. The term “holy grail” is often used to denote an elusive object or goal that is sought after for its great significance.”
It is precisely this, the interpretation that the authors have put down in their book, about what the Holy Grail is, that shocks its readers. If you have read Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, you will be familiar with this sensational piece of information or gossip (depending on how you look at it). Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and they had children together. According to the book, The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail, their children eventually emigrated to France. Over the next few centuries, they married into noble families eventually establishing the Merovingian dynasty. Their claim to the throne of France has been championed throughout history by the Priory of Sion, whose existence itself remains hidden. The Holy Grail in that sense refers both to the Mary Magdalene’s womb and the lineage she gave birth to.
For obvious reasons, the book was considered blasphemous and banned in several Catholic countries upon its publication. What we find about Jesus and his history is nowhere close to what we have been led to believe by the church throughout history. Jesus has been presented as the “priest-king” who never had the chance to reign. He is considered to be descended from David and was his heir, whose attempt to seize the throne ended in his condemnation for treason by the Romans. There is also a part of the book where the authors espouse that Jesus may not really have been crucified after all.
What did the authors have to fight for every day since the book’s release?
Faced by severe scandal and criticism when the book was first released, the authors have been at the center of much attention every day since then. What the authors admit is that their inferences are by no means proven beyond doubt but they are probable. They believe that the Priory of Sion is the one holding the truth and that they alone can provide conclusive proof about Jesus and his surviving lineage. The authors seem to believe that since the Priory had illustrious Grand Masters like Leonardo da Vinci and Isaac Newton presiding over the society, they must have been privy to something exclusive, and something they wanted to keep away from the attention of the general public.
Religious objections aside, even historians and scholars have debated the validity of what the authors present as facts. There is evidence and then there is its analysis. While a lot of things may be true, a lot of inferences about them, may not be.
Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh sued Dan Brown over the publication of his book, The Da Vinci Code in 2006 in which they claimed Brown to have stolen many of their book’s ideas amounting to copyright infringement. The authors, however, lost the case against Brown.
What do you believe?
What you can’t deny is that this book is based on extensive research. The field the authors cover is so vast that the scale of the project in itself makes it difficult for them to arrive at a conclusion with conviction. It does present compelling arguments for an alternate version of history. The authors agree that much of what they say is speculation but is based on concrete evidence. There are all sorts of possibilities of course but the question you have to ask yourself is – if these are indeed truths, why hasn’t more academic, scholarly work been done around them?
What you can appreciate the book for is that it is written brilliantly. This is not a book with mere evidence presented and stitched together to form a sensational story. There is an order to things. Each stage of the argument is supported by something that precedes it. It is a mix of fact, tradition, and beliefs. Of course, the conclusions remain speculative so what you believe, is whatever you want to believe. It remains a thrilling read despite all the negative publicity it has attracted.
Read this book out of curiosity. You will either love it or not, depending on how seriously you look to it for providing you with a lesson on history. You can digest every tiny bit of detail, every last piece of the fantastical even though at times you may wonder if it is the truth or just wishful thinking – seeing things the way the authors wanted to see them.