Priory of Sion

The assertion that the Priory of Sion doesn't exist frankly amuses me, to our knowledge, one can count at least eleven around the world. -- Gino Sandri, Priory of Sion general secretary

The real question is whether the Priory is important. Does it really posses age-old secrets that would, if revealed, fundamentally change our view of Christianity and even our basic concept of its founder? And does the Priory have any real influence in the world today, as it claims? -- Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince

Given what we know of Plantard's pre-1956 career – and his involvement in the dramatic events of 1958 – if we were asked to assess the raison d'etre of the Priory of Sion in, say, 1960, we would have to conclude it was a front for those who had plotted de Gaulle's return to power. -- Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince

In the Soho district of London, Cocteau's murals for the Church of Notre-Dame de France include certain curious bits of iconography, such as a black sun emitting black rays, that are sometimes associated with the Prieuré de Sion, a secret religious society in which Jean Cocteau was purported to have been Grand Master. -- Arthur King Peters

Dan Brown in his best-selling novel The Da Vinci Code has focused attention on the Priory of Sion.

According to Dan Brown, the Priory of Sion is a secret society, the inner sanctum of the Knights Templar. He goes on to assert that this is fact.

The existence of the Priory of Sion, Prieuré de Sion, as an ancient order is based on documents found in a French library. These documents were later found to be fake, crude forgeries.

What if though the documents were intended to be discovered, that they were deliberate crude forgeries? The Priory of Sion is then dismissed as an elaborate hoax, anyone who insists otherwise is seen as a dupe, the real Priory of Sion sinks back into obscurity.

This is the view put forward by Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince in The Sion Revelation. They do not believe the Priory of Sion to be an ancient order, although it may be drawing on ancient traditions, they believe its purpose to be far more sinister than that put forward by Dan Brown.

Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince [in The Sion Revelation]:

The Priory of Sion takes centre stage in The Da Vinci Code as the underground order whose astounding secrets are threatened by powerful enemies, and which the heroic Robert Langdon and Sophie Neveu must prevent from falling into the wrong hands. Despite the acclaim, astonishment and downright horror – depending on one's point of view – which greeted these secrets worldwide, basically Brown's thriller merely revives an old controversy. In fact everything about the shadowy Priory of Sion – even its very existence – has been hotly debated in English-speaking world since the early 1980s, and in its homeland in France for at least a decade before that.

What has possibly turned The Da Vinci Code into a worldwide best-seller is that Dan Brown has reopened a debate that the Church, meaning the Roman Catholic Church, thought it had closed down a couple of hundred years after the death of Jesus Christ, namely are we capable of communicating with God ourselves (the Cathar tradition) or do we need the help of priests, and all that implies with an authoritarian church that stands behind them. No small wonder then that The Da Vinci Code has met with such a hostile reception from the Church, and not just the Catholic Church. For his Easter Address in 2006, the Archbishop of Canterbury chose to attack The Da Vinci Code.

Added to this heady mix is the fact that Pierre Plantard, the Priory of Sion's self-claimed Grand Master, was also a self-confessed conman and in a sworn statement, admitted that he had forged the Dossiers Secrets and planted them in the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris, awaiting 'discovery'.

The purpose of the Dossiers Secrets or secret dossiers, was to give the Priory of Sion an ancient lineage and a hint of legitimacy.

Many years later, Pierre Plantard was to repudiate the Dossiers Secrets.

Was it all a hoax? If so why, as whoever set it all up went to an awful lot of trouble? And if it wasn't, then what was it all about?

Pierre Plantard was a conman, and yet he did nothing to profit from the secret society, the Priory of Sion, that he and his associates had taken so much trouble to establish. Even after Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln had fallen for his story hook, line and sinker, in The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail and its sequel The Messianic Legacy, Plantard made no attempt to profit from the deception, indeed, he was to distance himself from what they reported.

That the Priory of Sion exists in its modern form is not in dispute, an organisation of that name was registered in France in 1956. Anyone could set up a Priory of Sion. Three people could get together and call themselves the Priory of Sion, the general secretary of what is today recognised as the Priory of Sion, has drawn attention to the existence of several such 'Priories'.

The big question is what does it do, what if any are its ancient antecedents? Possibly it was a front for other secret societies, maybe it had secret societies acting as a front for itself.

Before the 1970s, the Priory of Sion was unknown to writers in the field, but then maybe it was just very adept at being a secret society.

It is here that Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince urge caution. They say the Priory of Sion appears to be one big hoax, and yet, the Priory make themselves known when they want to be known, they seem to have access to 'hidden' sources of information, which when checked, proves to be correct.

Evidence appears, researchers are approached with compelling stories.

Pierre Plantard planted 'evidence' in the National Library in France. He approached Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln with 'insider' information, and they ran with his story. Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince were approached by someone who at first they were tempted to dismiss as a nutter, until information provided proved to be verifiable.

One of the villains in The Da Vinci Code, Sir Leigh Teabing, a seriously deluded individual, is an anagram of two of the authors of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh. Was Dan Brown dropping strong hints that he thought they had been duped? If so, then was he not duped too, as their theories form the basis of his plot?

The question to ask is less of the existence of the Priory of Sion, but whether its existence is important.

In France, and for that matter Italy, the existence of secret societies is taken seriously (they also like to dabble in the occult or esoteric as they prefer to call it). Unlike the UK or US where secret societies are seen as something of a joke. Although we should not overlook the presence of Freemasons and the corrosive and corrupting influence that they have in the police and local government. In France, no self-respecting secret society could exist without a link, real or imaginary, to the Knights Templar.

P2, was an example of a powerful secret society in Italy. There has been similar murky organisations in France. Labyrinth, a novel by Kate Mosse set in France, has at its core, a secret society involving powerful people.

The Knights Templar was formed to protect pilgrims in the Holy Land, at least that was its official reason for existence. It was a very powerful and very secretive organisation. What was its real mission, what was the source of its wealth and power?

Two hundred years into their existence, the Knights Templar were brutally suppressed. Did they then simply go underground, do they still exist today?

The Knights Templar, were believed, amongst other things, to be the guardians of the Holy Grail. What happened to the Holy Grail and their vast treasures when they were brutally suppressed?

From the very founding of the 'official' Priory of Sion in 1956, it was something of a paradox. It had as its aims promoting Catholic chivalry, raised the possibility of establishing a monastic order on a nearby mountain, conveniently called Sion, and yet produced a fairly mundane publication called Circuit dealing with the problems of council house tenants! Hardly the stuff of secret societies with links to the Knights Templar.

Unless, as postulated by Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince, Circuit was a cover for the transfer of information, and they draw a comparison with war-time publications of the French Resistance. The Priory of Sion in turn being a cover for Circuit.

Later issues of Circuit were to turn to more esoteric matters. Either there was no longer an interest in council housing or Circuit had served its purpose as a means of disseminating information.

The conman Pierre Plantard, one of the four founders of the 'official' Priory of Sion in 1956, was himself something of an enigma. As befits a conman, he had numerous aliases, one of which was Pierre Plantard de Saint-Clair, or Comte de Saint-Clair. This would link him to the Scottish St Clair/Sinclair family, founders of Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland and direct descendants of Norman knights.

To give Pierre Plantard his full title (whether legitimate or not the jury is still out), Comte de Saint-Clair et Comte de Rhedae. Rhedae was an ancient Visigoth town in the Langedoc area of what is now southern France (an area closely associated with the Cathars) and possibly the site of the present day Rennes-le-Château.

Rennes-le-Château became infamous through a lowly parish priest Bérenger Saunière (1852-1917) who, seemingly overnight, became very wealthy. From where did he acquire his wealth? This was unearthed by Henry Lincoln, then gained widespread infamy in The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail which Lincoln co-authored with Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh.

The Da Vinci Code does not feature Rennes-le-Château, but Dan Brown has made use of the name of the parish priest, transforming his name into the name of the curator of the Louvre, Jacques Saunière, found ritually murdered in Louvre. A man we later learn was the Grand Master of the Priory of Sion.

As a result of this exposure, Rennes-le-Château now attracts large numbers of visitors bent on a search for hidden treasures. In September 2004, the mayor of Rennes-le-Château exhumed Saunière's corpse from the church graveyard and reburied it in a concrete sarcophagus to protect it from grave-robbers!

Although Dan Brown does not feature Rennes-le-Château, it is featured by other writers.

Die Ketzerin vom Montségur (The Heretic of Montsegur) and Die Erbin des Grals (The Grail's Heiress) by the German author Helene Luise Köppel retells the Rennes-le-Château myth. The first tells the tale the Cathars and the discovery of the Grail in Rennes-le-Château. The sequel tells the fictional tale of Bérenger Saunière's housekeeper and lover, Marie Dénarnaud, who knows the secret of the treasure he found in Rennes-le-Château,.

The Labyrinth by Kate Mosse is set in Langedoc in the foothills of the Pyrenees and features the Cathars.

Alain Féral, a protégé of Jean Cocteau (allegedly a Priory of Sion Grand Master), had his studio in Rennes-le-Château.

Jean Cocteau painted a mural in the Church of Notre-Dame de France (Leicester Place, off Leicester Square in Soho) featuring a black sun with black rays. The mural has the same symbolism as The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci. In a poem Homage to Leonardo, Jean Cocteau has explicit reference to St John the Baptist, and in a contribution to a book on Leonardo, Cocteau repeats the last two stanzas of the poem with the comment: 'They say better than this short piece what Leonardo inspires in me an the fraternal love I bear for him'.

Five hundred years earlier, Leonardo da Vinci was another alleged Grand Master of the Priory of Sion.

As a young man during the Nazi occupation of French, Pierre Plantard moved in an illustrious circle of movers and shakers, albeit of the far right who dabbled in the occult. But, we only have Plantard as the source.

Post-WWII, Pierre Plantard was involved in various plots, including the plot that brought General de Gaulle to power in 1958 (two years after the registration of the 'official' Priory of Sion). But again, our sources are Plantard himself.

The Priory of Sion, created as it was in 1956, may have been one of many organisations created to return de Gaulle to power in 1958, its journal Circuit the means to disseminate information to cells around the country, Pierre Plantard the front man for more powerful men hidden behind the scenes.

Following his activities in the 1950s, Pierre Plantard turned his attention to Rennes-le-Château and the activities of its parish priest Abbé Bérenger Saunière. That Plantard spent some time in the isolated hilltop village in the Languedoc talking to people who were acquainted with the parish priest is confirmed by the curator of the nearby Carcassonne library. Quite what what Plantard was up to is again not known.

In the 1950s, The Priory of Sion was not solely the province of French activists. According to Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln (in The Messianic Legacy), four Englishmen with links to the City and wartime intelligence service were also (allegedly) involved. Unfortunately their source was Pierre Plantard and they were able to show that part of the documentation he produced was forged. But how did Plantard happen upon four Englishmen with intelligence connections? Either he or someone he knew, had access to very sensitive files, and if the latter, why would they communicate that information to Plantard, or alternatively Plantard knew them or had come across them in his various activities.

It is these tantalising glimpses, of what we can never be sure of the truth, that makes Pierre Plantard and the Priory of Sion such an enigma.

A theme that does emerge, if there is any theme at all, is an interest in mysticism, resurrection of chivalric orders, and establishment of some form of European Order or United States of Europe (today's EU?).

Entering the Priory of Sion is like peeling back the layers of an onion or opening up one of those little Russian dolls. There is always another layer beneath. There are tantalising glimpses of reality, or what appear to be reality, but one can never be sure as to whether what one is seeing is information or misinformation.

Religion and Symbolism
(c) Keith Parkins 2006 -- May 2006 rev 1