Published in Magonia 87, February 2005
Pierre Plantard was born on 18 March 1920. The next thing we know is that in September 1942, under the name Pierre de France, he began to edit a free monthly magazine named Vaincre. This was stated to be the organ of the ‘Alpha Galates’, a neo-chivalric order which consisted of a Legion and a Phalange. The reader would have had difficulty in discovering exactly what the purpose of the order was, as its intentions were set out at best vaguely, and often contradictorily. The first issue spoke of creating “an agreement among the people, united in a true socialism, banishing forever the quarrels created by the capitalist interest”, yet one contributor was Professor Louis Le Fur, a prominent right winger. Much of the contents dealt with Atlantis, Celtic wisdom, and other esoteric subjects having no obvious bearing on chivalry or practical politics. Decades later, Plantard would declare that it had been a resistance publication, for those capable of reading between the lines.
On 19 November 1942 Au pilori, a pro-Nazi magazine, published an attack on Plantard, Alpha Galates and Vaincre, without making specific allegations. The next issue of Vaincre, published on the 21st, was entirely devoted to replying to the Au pilori attack. In January of the following year, Louis Le Fur praised Alpha Galates’s new Grand Master, Pierre de France-Plantard.
Thus, at the age of twenty-two, Plantard seemed to be making a name for himself. He was editing a fairly high quality publication, which given the war-time shortage of paper indicates that he had money behind him. His contributors included Louis Le Fur, who, though as a supporter of the Vichy regime was discredited after the war, was a name to conjure with during the occupation. He was the Grand Master of the Alpha Galates, whatever exactly that was, and had roused the ire of the pro-Nazis.
Yet contradictions were already apparent. Le Fur said that he had been a member of Alpha Galates for eight years, i.e. since about 1934. But Vaincre stated that Alpha Galates had only been registered in the Journal Officiel - in which all new societies in France must declare themselves – on 27 December 1937. In fact, no such entry can be found, and the Order had never been heard of by the French Ministry of Defence and the Prefecture of Police. But the Grand Master himself was known to the police, however, who wrote in a 1941 report: “Plantard, who boasts of having links with numerous politicians, seems to be one of those dotty, pretentious young men who run more or less fictitious groups in an effort to look important and who are taking advantage of the present trend towards taking a greater interest in young people in order to attract the Government’s attention.”
From what is known of Plantard’s later career, it is virtually certain that he used to pen attacks upon himself as a form of publicity. We may suspect then that he was behind the Au pilori article, hence perhaps the fact that he was able to prepare a complete issue in response in only two days. It is also possible that Professor Le Fur’s name had been borrowed by Vaincre without his knowledge, and once again Plantard did similar things in later years.
In October 1943 Plantard was allegedly interned by the Gestapo in the prison of Fresnes, and tortured, but set free again in February 1944. He married Anne-Lea Hisler in Paris in 1946, and in 1947 apparently moved to near Lake Léman in Switzerland, remaining there for several years, But for this period we are largely dependent on his own word, which is of little value. He may have come into contact with, indeed joined, the Grande Loge Alpina, the central authority for Swiss Freemasonry, as he would later illicitly use their imprint on some of his own publications. He may also have met Leo Schidlof, an Austrian dealer in miniatures then living in Geneva and said to have been a dignitary of this lodge, whose name he would likewise associate with some of these writings.
In the 1950s France was highly unstable politically – a British radio comedy series of the time contained the line “I’ve made arrangements with one of the French governments…” This atmosphere engendered conspiracies, and there arose a network of clandestine ‘Committees for Public Safety’, with whom M. Plantard came to be involved. In May 1956 a magazine entitled Circuit began publication at Sous-Cassan, Annemasse, each issue introduced by Pierre Plantard. They ostensibly dealt with low-cost housing, saying that their housing association “maintains close contact with a network of other housing associations”. Probably these references were meant to be understood to refer to the Committees for Public Safety. There was also an article on astrology which introduces a thirteen sign zodiac, the extra sign being Opiuchus, placed between Scorpio and Sagittarius. This special zodiac would become almost a trade mark of Plantard-inspired publications. Most importantly, it contained minutes of meetings held to draw up the statutes of what would become the Priory of Sion, though that name was not mentioned.
On 25 June 1956 the Priory declared itself to the Sub-Prefecture of Saint-Julien-en-Genevois. Its head office was at Sous-Cassan, where Circuit was published. This is not far from Switzerland and Lake Léman, where Plantard had supposedly lived since 1947. The order was supposed to practise ‘Catholic chivalry’, but its objectives, as usual, were obscure. Like Alpha Galates it had a ‘Legion’ and a ‘Phalange’. There was to be a hierarchy of nine grades, one member at the highest ‘Nautonier’ level, three in the next down, nine in the next, and so on, each level down having three times the number of that above, so that there would be 9841 (1 + 3 + 9 + 27 + 81 + 243 + 729 + 2187 + 6561) members in all. There is no reason to think that, in fact, the membership exceeded a handful, indeed no absolute evidence that it was ever more than one. The Secretary-General was Pierre Plantard; other members of the Council were said to be (though the names have been suspected to be false) Pierre Bonhomme, President, Jean Delaval, Vice-President, and Pierre Defagot, Treasurer. Nothing else is known of these men, except that Defagot’s name appeared as the author of the aforementioned astrology article.
Circuitceased publication that September. Our hero is next heard of two years later, when a communiqué from the Paris Central Committee of Public Safety to the newspaper Le Monde, dated 6 June, called for the people to back General de Gaulle for the Presidency. It was signed ‘Captain Way’, which the paper understood to be a pseudonym; later they identified him as a M. Plantard. On 29 July it was announced that the Central Committee had been dissolved, and succeeded by something called simply the ‘Movement’, of which “Pierre Plantard is secretary and in charge of propaganda”.
Meanwhile, Circuit had resumed publication, describing itself as the ‘Cultural Periodical of the Federation of French Forces’, and giving its address as 116 Rue Pierre Johet, Aulnay-sous-Bois, which in fact was false. Articles on subjects ranging from Atlantis to astrology were signed by both Plantard’s wife Anne-Lea Hisler, and by Plantard himself It continued monthly until at least December. There were repeated references to Vaincre, implying that it was still obtainable. Plantard having presumably been unable even to give away the whole print run.
In the 1960s Plantard and his wife began issuing a large number of books and pamphlets, using a variety of pseudonyms, such as ‘Madeleine Blancasall’ and `Antoine l’Ermite’. Early examples included an essay on the Common Market, and one on a historical mystery, Gisors and its Secret: some years earlier a number of enigmatic subterranean chambers had been discovered there. It has been observed that these tracts were never commercially distributed, and it is even suggested that the copies at the Bibliotheque Nationale may be the only ones in existence. From what I know of the habits of self-publishers, however, I would guess that large numbers were sent gratis to people who might have been interested in their contents, though no doubt most ended up in waste paper baskets.
The scale of such an operation is obviously dependent upon how much money is available and here there are again contradictory claims. It has been said that Plantard owns large tracts of land in the vicinity of Rennes-le-Chateau, implying that he is of the ‘gentry’ class, with plenty of wealth to spare; yet he has also been described as a draughtsman for a stove-fitting firm, who had difficulty paying his rent. In both instances the source of information is unclear.
Anyway, it may have been one of these tracts that brought him into contact with Gérard de Sede, a writer who specialised in popular non-fiction. The first work of their collaboration, signed by de Sede but at least partly inspired by Plantard, with the somewhat enigmatic title The Templars Are Among Us, 1962, dealt, again, with the mediaeval fortress of Gisors. They linked the chambers to esotericism – including the thirteen sign zodiac, enigmati-cally superimposed over a map of France – and hinted that there was more to all this than met the eye. Unlike Plantard’s own writings, de Sede’s were issued by major publishers.
The same year saw the appearance of the popular work Treasures of the World, by Robert Charroux (better known in Britain for his ‘Ancient Astronaut’ writings) which included a chapter on Bérengere Sauniere (left), who from 1885 until his death in 1917 was the priest in the small village of Rennes-le-Chateau in the south of France. Originally poor, at some time in the 1890s he had suddenly acquired a fortune, which he proceeded to spend on building projects, public works and high living. Though the story is fascinating, Charroux made it clear that the essentially mundane explanation was that the priest had uncovered a hoard of mediaeval treasure, which had probably been concealed beneath the floor of the church. In France, treasure trove becomes by law the property of the government, but most finders understandably prefer to sell it clandestinely rather than surrender it to the authorities. For this reason the nature of the hoard is uncertain, though people who knew him agreed that it included thirteenth century gold coins. The story first seems to have come to public attention in January 1956, when the paper Depeche du Midi ran a series of articles about Sauniere, based on interviews with Noel Corbu, who had bought the priest’s old villa.
Pierre Plantard began visiting the area, where he was described, by a local historian, as “a strange person who, from the end of the 1950s, was often seen prowling about in these parts. This man lived in Paris. He had no connections and no known relatives in the area. He was a difficult fellow to place, drab, secretive, cunning, with the gift of the gab, but people who spoke to him said it was hard to follow what he said.” It was also reported that he compiled files about the place, in which he would attribute remarks to respectable people which they had not made.
In the 1960s his publications turned their attention to the mystery. A Merovingian Treasure at Rennes-le-Chateau, by Antoine l’Ermite’, published by ‘Grande Loge Alpina’ turns out to be merely an unacknowledged (and doubtless unauthorised) reprint of the chapter in Charroux’s Treasures of the World. But elsewhere he also made startling new claims, such as that Sauniere’s find had included parchments bearing genealogies and biblical texts with encoded messages in them. He alleged that the village, though now small and remote, had been a large and important town up until about the thirteenth century, and, in particular, for a few years the home of Dagobert II, the exiled king of Austrasie, a territory whose boundaries cut through the borders of several modem countries, including part of north-east France. Dagobert later regained his throne, but was assassinated in 679, leaving, according to conventional history, no descendants, so that the Merovingian dynasty, as it was called, became extinct. The various pseudonyms for Pierre Plantard alleged that, in reality, Dagobert’s son Sigisbert had survived, and his bloodline could be traced down to the present day. Once more the best distributed and known production was that of de Sede, who termed it ‘the accursed treasure’, claiming that several people connected with it had died mysteriously, in the manner of those who entered Tutankhamen’s tomb. He included illustrations of two of the alleged parchments, on one of which it was fairly easy to discover that taking the raised letters in order gave the sentence: A DAGOBERT II ET A SION EST CE TRESOR ET IL EST LA MORT, that is, ‘This treasure belongs to Dagobert II and to Sion, and he is there dead’, though the last phrase was ambiguous, and (more likely, given the ‘accursed’ theme of the book) meant ‘and it is death’.
The intent behind these claims gradually, over the years, became apparent: the last survivor of the Merovingian dynasty, whose return to the throne was anticipated, was Pierre Plantard, who on this basis expected to be proclaimed king, not only of France, but of a United States of Europe. Since it is exceedingly improbable that the proudly republican French would wish to restore the Merovingian or any other monarchy, one had to conclude either that Plantard was barking mad, or that there was a vast complex conspiracy at work. The authors of sensational books usually favour the latter theory.
Leo Schidlof, now resident in London, unwittingly got caught up in the affair. Though he had, according to his daughter, no interest in the Merovingian dynasty or Rennes-le-Chateau, in the 1960s he received numerous letters and telephone calls from individuals in both Europe and the United States who wished to discuss such things with him. My guess is that Plantard had brought Schidlof’s name into his tracts to make it look as if a high-ranking Freemason was involved in his machinations. Schidlof died on 17 October 1966.
A few weeks later appeared a booklet by ‘S. Roux’, The Affair of Rennes-le-Chateau. This began by reproducing a letter, signed Lionel Burros, which had allegedly appeared in the Catholic Weekly of Geneva on 22 October. In fact, Burrus had been killed in a car accident in September; it is likely that his name was attached to a letter forged soon afterwards, in order to keep up the myth of the accursed treasure’. Anyway, Burrus mentioned Schidlof’s death, and said that he used the alias ‘Henri Lobineau’, the name attached to a Genealogy of the Merovingian Kings (supposedly 1956, but probably 1964). Despite his death, he said, Merovingian interests continued to be promoted: to prove this, somewhat bizarrely he cited advertisements for Antar Petrol, whose emblem, a man holding a lily and a circle, he alleged to show a Merovingian king holding the device of his dynasty.
Roux, in the pamphlet, began by attacking Burrus, but like him praised Schidlof, who he said was, to the horror of the Catholic Church, aiming for “a popular monarchy allied to the USSR [?!], and the triumph of Freemasonry – in short the disappearance of religious freedom.” He went on to say that ” … everyone knows that the publicity of Antar Petrol, with a Merovingian king holding a Lily and a Circle, is a popular appeal in favour of returning the Merovingiany to power.”
This symbol – a fleur de lys inside a circle – later appeared on the coat of arms of Pierre Plantard, above the motto ‘Et in Arcadia Ego…’ along with the claim that the arms and motto had been “cited as such as early as 1210 by one Robert, Abbot of Mont-Saint-Michel”. There is no verification of this, which is hardly surprising, since mottoes were not included in blazons of arms until after 1400. Moreover, while ordinaries and subordinaries took many forms, bends, chevrons, and so on, they were never circular. This coast of arms is clearly modern, and most likely copied direct from the logo of Antar Petrol. My friend Michael Bingas has pointed out that ‘Antar’ contains the middle letters of his name, which Plantard had no doubt noticed, and deduced that these advertisements secretly referred to himself.
Meanwhile Plantard, like many founders of secret societies, had got frustrated that it did not have an ancient lineage, and therefore, like so many others, decided to invent one. As seems to be obligatory, he gave it a history which, apart from being of necessity unprovable, was quite obviously false. He stated that the Priory of Sion had begun in 1099 as a group with the Knights Templars, from whom they broke away in 1188. He gave a list of Grand Masters which began with various obscure mediaeval knights, progressing to famous Renaissance men such as Leonardo da Vinci, and concluding with the modern cultural figures Victor Hugo, Claude Debussy and Jean Cocteau. Whilst it would be theoretically possible for a society always to appoint someone famous as their chief, an invariable feature of these posthumously devised lists is that some of them were supposedly made chief before they became well known, as, in this case, Robert Fludd in 1595, at which time he was a 21-year-old student, whose renowned encyclopaedic Hermetic treatises would not appear for another two decades. Even more absurdly, Edouard de Bar is said to have been made Grand Master in 1307, when he was only five!
This material, and much more like it, was deposited at the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris as Dossiers Secrets d’Henri Lobineau, “compiled by Phillippe Toscan du Plantier”, not a book as such, but “a species of folder with stiff covers which contained a loose assemblage of ostensibly un-related items – news clippings, letters pasted to backing-sheets, pamphlets, numerous genealogical trees and the odd printed page extracted from the body of some other work.” Though Lobineau was again stated to have been Schidlof, it has been observed that: “Comparisons with the letterings in Pierre Plantard’s publications, Gisors et son secret … and the cover of Tableaux comparatifs des charges sociales dans les pays du `Marché Commune“, suggest a common authorship with Lobineau’s works.”
The Priory had seemingly shrunk in membership, however, as there were now said to be only seven grades. The factor of three relationship remained, so that there would have been 1093 members in all. Later still, a new set of statutes was published, in which there were said to be only five grades, hence only 121 members.
More `mysterious’ deaths occurred early in 1967, when a small prose poem appeared entitled Le Serpent Rouge – Notes sur Saint-Germain-des-Pres et Saint-Sulpice de Paris, Pontoise. The authors were given as Pierre Feugere, Louis Saint-Maxent and Gaston de Koker. All three men were (separately) found hanged on the 6-7 March. Since Le Serpent Rouge bore the date 17 January, and its deposit slip for the Bibliotheque Nationale was dated 15 February, it would appear that the book had been the death of them. Yet, subsequently, researchers determined that it was only deposited on 20 March, the deposit slip having been deliberately falsified. Moreover, its subject matter – the thirteen sign zodiac – makes it clear that the real author was Pierre Plantard, and another researcher determined that it had been done on the same typewriter as the Dossiers Secrets.
By the 1970s, the Priory was finally beginning to gain public attention. A BBC scriptwriter, Henry Lincoln, had purchased Gérard de Sede’s book on Rennes-le-Chateau whilst on holiday, and was intrigued to discover the hidden message about Dagobert. He suggested the subject to a producer as suitable for a twenty-minute feature, and it was approved. (It may be worth noting that, though he had scripted more than one hundred television dramas, including episodes of the soap Emergency Ward 10, Lincoln had never before worked on a documentary.) In the end he made four full-length programmes and authored or co-authored as many books.
He contacted de Sede, who supplied him with copies of the photographs that had been used in his book, nearly all of which were stamped on the back ‘Plantard’ in purple ink. He also introduced Lincoln to the Bibliotheque Nationale, giving him the titles of some relevant works he had been unaware of, largely the aforementioned Plantard publications, also, La Vraie Langue Celtique, 1886, which had been written by the Abbe Henri Boudet, a friend of Sauniere who had been curé of the neighbouring village of Rennes-le-Bain. The work had been privately printed in an edition of only 500, not all of which were distributed. De Sede stated that there were only two copies of it, one in the B.N. and one in a provincial library, and that both were missing presumed stolen. Nevertheless, Lincoln filled in an application fiche, and, to de Sede’s astonishment, the book was delivered to the reading room. Lincoln thought his bewilderment showed that he was relying on “someone else’s information”. Indeed, since his Accursed Treasure discusses Boudet’s work, complete with a quotation – though he had not himself then seen it – parts of the book must have been the work of this “someone else”, whom we can suppose to have been Pierre Plantard.
In fact, La Vraie Langue Celtique is not quite so rare as one might expect. On returning to England, Lincoln learned that there was a copy in the reference section of Swiss Cottage Library in north London. There is also a presentation copy, signed by the author, in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. And, of course, since the 1970s it has been repeatedly reprinted for Rennes-le-Chateau enthusiasts.
So what bearing does this book have on Rennes-le-Chateau and its treasure? Boudet had the perennial philologist’s dream of recovering the original language of the human race. It is doubtful if, in fact, there was one primeval tongue from which all others are descended, but even if there had been, it would be exceedingly implausible that Adam and Eve, as Boudet believed, spoke English! On this basis he derived the etymology of various biblical names like this: Adam was so called because God added him to Eve, the mother of all living, hence, ‘Add-Dam’. “Abel presents the first image of death, from the crime of his elder brother, to ape … hell.” Noah comes from know-how, since he knew how to build an ark and save his family and the animals … and so on.
Plantard provided a 20-page Preface to the 1978 re-print – the longest work to which he ever set his own name – in which he suggested that Boudet’s true message was concealed rather than overt. He had included a map labelled “Rennes Celtique”, which, Plantard observed, contains fourteen letters, corresponding to the number of days between the new and full moons, and the fourteen stations of the cross on the wall of the church at Rennes-le-Chateau (or anywhere else). There were also (buried) references to the Tarot, the geometry of the landscape, and much more. It is by now apparent that Plantard’s most notable personality characteristic was a tendency to see hidden meanings in everything.
He further alleged that his grandfather, Charles Plantard, had visited Sauniere and Boudet in 1892. As proof he reproduces a dedication, “Hommage respectueux de l’auteur, H. Boudet”, which, he said, Boudet had written on a copy of La Vraie Langue Celtique that he gave to his ances-tor. The authors of The Tomb of God observed that the handwriting matches that on the Bodleian Library copy, and so must be genuine; though, since no name of the recipient is given, there is no reason to accept that it was presented to Plantard’s grandfather.
Returning to Henry Lincoln’s research, he received a `bombshell’ when De Sede revealed the decipherment of the second coded parchment, which gave the message: “Shepherdess, no temptation. That Poussin, Teniers, hold the key; Peace 681. By the cross and this horse of God, I destroy this daemon of the guardian at noon. Blue apples.” This is in fact an anagram of the inscription on an eighteenth-century tomb in Rennes-le-Chateau, which almost certainly predates the ‘encoded’ message, hence the fact that the latter does not quite make sense, the author having to do the best he could with the letters he had. Lincoln did wonder how it could have been cracked; in fact this cannot be done without a plate alleged to come from Eugene Stublein’s Pierres Gravées du Languedoc, supposedly published in 1884 but seen by no one, and in fact derived from an `Antoine l’Ermite’ (i.e. Pierre Plantard) publication of 1966. Moreover, when Lincoln first met Plantard in 1979, the lat-ter informed him in a rare candid moment that the `parchments’ had been faked by his collaborator Phillippe de Chérisey for a television programme. De Cherisey, an actor and comedian, later said that he did so at the instigation of Francis Blanche, a radio producer associated with Signé Furaz, a series that gave its listeners spoof `information’, such as inventing a psychiatric hospital for mad plants.
Lincoln’s first documentary, The Lost Treasure of Jerusalem?, 1972, simply suggested that the Templars had found a vast treasure in the Holy Land and taken it to France, where it was hidden and later found by Sauniere. It provoked a strong public reaction, so he carried on researching and in 1974 made The Priest, the Painter and the Devil, which rather obscurely hinted that Diabolism was at the root of the mystery. His main evidence for this came from a Poussin painting, ‘Les Bergers d’Arcadie’, which shows a tomb closely resembling one that used to stand near Rennes-le-Chateau. The picture’s proportions are based, like much Renaissance art, on the Golden Section, also known as `Pentagonal geometry’; and the (inverted) Pentagram is nowadays a symbol of Satanism, so it follows that Sauniere led a Satanic cult. Later,
he met Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, who were both inter-ested in the Templars, and they began to collaborate in their investigations.
For the third film, The Shadow of the Templars, they wished to contact the Priory of Sion and, if possible, M. Plantard. A Paris-based researcher for the BBC, Jania Macgillivray, made enquiries and found that everyone was confused about the matter: “one journalist warned her, for example, that anyone probing Sion too closely sooner or later got killed. Another journalist told her that Sion had indeed existed during the Middle Ages, but no longer did today. An official of Grande Loge Alpina, on the other hand, reported that Sion did exist today but was a modern organisation – it had never, he said, existed in the past.” By stressing the interest of the BBC, who have rather more prestige on the continent than they do in Britain itself, she was eventually able to arrange a meeting with Plantard and his entourage in a Paris cinema. As you would expect he spoke obscurely, hinting at things rather than stating them, for instance:
Henry Lincoln: “Will the treasure of Rennes-le-Chateau ever be found?”
Pierre Plantard: “Here you are speaking of a material treasure, we are not talking of a material treasure. Let us say, quite simply, that there is a secret in Rennes-le-Chateau, and that it is possible there is something else around Rennes-le-Chateau.”
After three meetings “we were not significantly wiser than we had been before.”
Around this time, Plantard suddenly became Pierre Plantard de Saint-Clair, Count of Saint-Clair and Count of Rhédae. So far as is known. the title Count of Rhédae had become extinct in the thirteenth century. It is hard to see how there could ever have been a Count of Saint-Clair, since there is no such place, though the name does occur in compounds such as Saint-Clair-du-Rhone.
Lincoln seems to have felt that there was one key which would unlock the whole mystery, and this eventually led to The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, 1982, which proposed that the true
secret was that the `San Greal’ (Holy Grail) was really the ‘Sang Real‘: holy blood; that the Merovingian line was regarded as sacred because they were descended from Jesus Christ, thanks to a secret liaison with Mary Magdalene – an idea that must have astonished even Plantard. Since then the field has been wide open for all kinds of ideas, the Rev. Lionel Fanthorpe speculating that the Grail could be “an inexplicable artefact from an ancient or alien technology”. David Wood thought that the geometry of the landscape around Rennes-le-Chateau proved that the Elohim, who came from Sirius, aeons ago established a base on Mars, which they kept supplied by cross-breeding with ape-like earth females, and using the more intelligent offspring as servants to harvest food for them, which was transported from Atlantis to Mars in huge spaceships.
All of these writers display a tendency to see mysteries in things that are actually quite usual. Among these is the Latin saying ‘Et in Arcadia ego‘, which is inscribed on the tomb shown in the aforementioned ‘Les Bergers d’Arcadie’. This is usually translated as ‘And in Arcadia I’, which is not a sentence, leading to suggestions that it might be an anagram or have some other kind of hidden meaning. Plantard’s version, it will be recalled, made it “Et in Arcadia ego… ” implying that it was only the start of a longer statement. (Incidentally, the use of three stops to indicate a lacuna is a fairly modern practice, further proof that his coat of arms is not mediaeval.) Actually, though in Latin et can mean `and’, it can also have the sense `even’, as in Virgil’s famous line timeo Danaos et dona ferentes, meaning `I fear the Greeks even when they bring presents.’ Also, as in many languages, the verb `to be’ is often omitted. The real meaning is ‘Even in Arcadia I am‘. Since this is written on a tomb, it obviously signifies: ‘Even in Arcadia I, death, am present‘. It is a re-minder of human mortality, a common theme in Renaissance painting. In view of Wood’s space theories, it is perhaps surprising that no one has tried to make it ‘E.T. in Arcadia ego’.
People think it very sinister that when Sauniere renovated his church he placed a statue of the demon Asmodeus inside the doorway, and an inscription Terribilis est locus iste (‘This place is terrible’ over the porch. In fact, though it would be unusual in Britain or America, it is I believe quite common in French churches to include a depiction of a devil, hence the apocryphal story of the elderly Frenchwoman who was seen to light a candle in front of an image of Beelzebub, and, when the priest remonstrated with her, replied: “But father, isn’t it good to have friends on both sides?” Terribilis est locus iste is a quotation from the Latin Bible: Jacob, having awoken from his dream of angels ascending and descending a ladder to heaven, says: “How terrible is this place! this is no other but the house of God and the gate of heaven.” (Genesis 28:17, Douay version) The word terribilis, a translation of the Hebrew nora, really signifies ‘awesome’. The church is awesome because it is the house of God, not because it is the centre of an international (or even interplanetary) conspiracy. Accordingly, this verse is spoken as the Introit to the mass for the dedication of a church. (I am grateful to former Catholic priest Colin Hamer for pointing this out to me.)
More strange assertions continued to be made in pseudonymous tracts. The Circle of Ulysses by ‘Jean Delaude’, 1977, stated that since the death of Jean Cocteau in 1963 the Grand Master had been the Abbé Ducaud-Bourget, a controversial Catholic traditionalist who opposed all reform within the Church. Ducaud-Bourget repeatedly denied it. So the assertion was retracted, but in a highly devious way. The Marquis de Chérisey informed Lincoln in a letter that Ducaud-Bourget had not been elected by a full quorum. Later, de Chérisey sent him a French translation of an article by Jania Macgillivray, to which had been added a page not by her (though purporting to be), which said that “since Cocteau’s death, power has been exercised by a triumvirate consisting of Gaylord Freeman, Pierre Plantard and Antonio Merzagora.”
From April 1982, Lincoln had regular meetings with Plantard in Paris. At one, on 17 May 1983, Plantard showed him certain notarised documents from the 1950s concerning four distinguished Englishmen, Captain Ronald Stansmore Nutting, the Right Honourable Viscount Leathers, Major Hugh Murchison Clowes, and Lord Selborne (all by then deceased). These appeared to prove that in 1956 these men had imported to Britain the parchments found by Sauniere, which had been inherited by his niece, Madam James. It was stated that they included genealogies proving that the ‘House of Plantard. Counts of Rhédae’ were the direct descendants of Dagobert II. He provided photographs of the documents, enabling Lincoln and friends to check out their veracity. They eventually demonstrated them to be forgeries.
In mid-December 1983 a flyer was widely circulated throughout France alleging that former Plantard associate Jan-Luc Chaumeil was about to publish a five-volume treatise on the doctrine of the Priory of Sion. It contained highly insulting statements about Plantard and said that since 1981 the Priory had been “directed by an Englishwoman named Ann Evans, the true author of this paranoid fiction!” In fact Ann Evans was Lincoln’s literary agent.
Plantard announced his intention of suing for libel. It is doubtful if he would have succeeded. In the first place, the tract was anonymous and bore no address. Secondly, Plantard told Lincoln, it contained a ‘highly confidential’ fact about himself (that in 1952 he had transferred a quantity of gold from France to Switzerland on behalf of de Gaulle): “How had the writer of the tract learned of it… ?” The most obvious explanation is that Plantard had written it himself, as a twisted form of self publicity.
Early the following year he sent Lincoln a copy of an official Priory of Sion document, dated 17 January 1984, which accused Chaumeil of receiving two boxes of Priory archives, covering 1935 to 1955, stolen from de Chérisey in 1967. It was signed John E. Drick, Gaylord Freeman, A. Robert Abboud and Pierre Plantard. Drick, Freeman and Abboud all proved to have been directors of the First National Bank of Chicago. But Drick had died on 16 February 1982, and Freeman, when interviewed by one of the banks security officers who had become curious about the affair, said that he had never heard of the Priory of Sion or Pierre Plantard.
The same security officer discovered that the signatures of the three Americans on the Priory document were absolutely identical to those on the 1974 Annual Report of the First National Bank of Chicago. This suggested that those on the Priory document were simply a photocopy. But when his secretary tried to photo-copy the 1974 report, the signatures would not take. This was because they were made in light blue ink without graphite content, precisely to prevent such unauthorised use. So how had Plantard got hold of them? Lincoln planned to challenge him on this at their meeting in La Tipia on 30 September 1984, but when he pulled the document from a briefcase, Plantard said: “Those were made with a stamp, you know.” Such stamps are routinely used when a senior figure has to ‘sign’ many copies of the same document. Evidently, this particular stamp had somehow come into the possession of Plantard.
Three weeks later Plantard sent them copies of letters from himself dated 10 and 11 July 1984, addressed to members of the Priory of Sion, in which he announced his resignation as Grand Master, on the grounds of health. Lincoln noted that they “effectively, and very precisely, covered each of the points raised verbally in our meeting three weeks before … It was almost as if the letters of resignation had been composed after this meeting” – as no doubt they were. After that, little more was heard of Pierre Plantard, though soon another tract appeared, The Scandals of the Priory of Sion, by ‘Cornelius’ linking him to the Italian Mafia, the P2 Masonic Lodge, and the death of banker Roberto Calvi, found hanging under Blackfriars Bridge in London in 1982. But it was not the end of the Priory.
Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln’s second book, The Messianic Legacy, included a review of the public response to their first. They complained about many correspondents “who, quite inexplicably, persisted in confronting us with the Shroud of Turin. ‘What about the Shroud of Turin’?’ we were asked repeatedly. (What indeed) Or, ‘How does the Shroud of Turin affect your thesis’?’ It was extraordinary how frequently this non sequitur occurred.” It seems that this passage gave someone the idea of making a connection.
In October 1988 it was announced that carbon dating suggested that the Shroud was a late mediaeval forgery. In the wake of interest, paranormal researcher Lynn Picknett gave interviews about it on London’s LBC radio and the BBC World Service. It was well known in ‘Shroudie’ circles that at that time Picknett was having a relationship with Ian Wilson, the best known defender of the Shroud’s genuineness.
Soon afterwards she received the first of a series of letters signed ‘Giovanni’, which informed her that the Turin Shroud was actually created by none other than Leonardo da Vinci, by means of “a sort of alchemical imprinting”, in other words a primitive form of photography, more than three centuries before Daguerre. He claimed to be a member of a dissident faction of the Priory of Sion, and advised her to read The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail. It may be presumed that, since da Vinci was supposed to have once been their Grand Master, this proved that the Turin Shroud did affect any thesis on the subject. Now, anyone could claim to represent the Priory of Sion, but this man does seem to have been connected to Plantard, since, when she wrote to the latter, his secretary replied that it might be possible to help, but “perhaps you yourselves already have information on this subject?”, a hint that they knew what she had been told. (That da Vinci faked the Shroud had been suggested a few months beforehand by Anthony Harris in The Sacred Virgin and the Holy Whore. Harris’s primary thesis was that Jesus Christ was a woman, hence he had needed to be able to reject the bearded Jesus of Turin as fraudulent.)
Eventually Picknett met Giovanni at the Cumberland Hotel near Marble Arch in London. It appeared from their conversation that he wanted what he had told her to be passed on to Ian Wilson, as the foremost “Shroud scholar”. Unfortunately for him, Wilson had recently finished his affair with her. However, if Giovanni’s final intention was to have his theories publicised, then this happened anyway with the book that Picknett co-authored with Clive Prince, Turin Shroud: In Whose Image?Coming down to the present day, Dan Brown’s 2003 thriller, The Da Vinci Code, is based on the assumption that the Priory of Sion and its great secret are facts. At the time of writing (November 2004) this novel is at the top of the fiction bestseller list in Britain, and has spawned a series of non-fiction works intended to inform readers about its historical background, Breaking the Da Vinci Code, Cracking the Da Vinci Code, The Da Vinci Code De-coded, etc.., at least fourteen so far. Where Plantard sowed, others continue to reap.
I have not attempted to consult all of the primary sources, which would involve a prolonged visit to France. Most of them are conveniently summarised (though amidst much probably irrelevant material in Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh & Henry Lincoln, The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, Cape, 1982, chapters 4 to 8; the same authors’ The Messianic Legacy, 1986, chapters 17 to 23; and John M. Saul & Janice A. Glaholm, Rennes-le-Chateau: A Bibliography, Mercurius Press, 1985. Other books include, in chronological order:
Henri Boudet, La Vraie Langue Celtique of Le Cromleck de Rennes-les-Bains, 1886; reprinted with a Preface by Pierre Plantard, Beffond, 1978.
Gerard de Sede, Les Templiers sont parmi nous ou I’enigme de Gisors, Julliard, 1962.
Robert Charroux, Treasures of the World, translated by Gloria Cantu, Muller, 1966 (1st 1962).
Gerard de Sede, L’Or de Rennes ou La Vie Insolde de Bérenger Sauniere, Julliard, 1967 (paperback edition entitled Le tresor mauit de Rennes-le-Chateau).
Jean-Pierre Deloux & Jacques Bretigny, Rennes-le-Chateau: Capitale secrete de l’histoire de France, Editions Atlas, 1982.
Patricia & Lionel Fanthorpe, The Holy Grail Revealed, Newcastle Publishing, 1982.
Jean Robin, Rennes-le-Chateau: La Colline Envoutee, Editions de la Mairnie, Paris, 1982.
David Wood, Genisis: The First Book of Revelations, Baton Press, 1985.
Roy Norvill, Hermes Unveiled, Ashgrove Press, Bath, 1986.
René Descedeillas, Mythologie du Trésor de Rennes, Editions J.M.Savory, Carcassonne, 1988.
Anthony Harris, The Sacred Virgin and the Holy Whore, Sphere, 1988.
Patricia & Lionel Fanthorpe, Rennes-le-Chateau: Its Mysteries and Secrets, Bellevue Books, 1991.
Henry Lincoln, The Holy Place, Cape, 1991.
Lynn Picknett & Clive Prince, The Templar Revelation, Bantam, 1997.
Marilyn Hopkins, Graham Simmans & Tim Wallace-Murphy, Rex Deus: The True Mystery of Rennes-le-Chateau and the Dynasty of Jesus, Element, 2000.
Bill Putnam & John Edwin Wood, The Treasure of Rennes-le-Chateau: A Mystery Solved, Sutton Publishing, 2003.