Holy Blood, Holy Grail

Authors: Michael Baigent, Henry Lincoln, and Richard Leigh



reviewed by Theresa Welsh

It had been more than ten years since I first read Holy Blood, Holy Grail, and the contents of the book had made a profound impact on my life. I’d searched out and read everything related to the fascinating research of Baigent, Lincoln and Leigh, and I’d read their follow-up book, The Messianic Legacy. Now, due to the huge popularity of Dan Brown’s book, The Da Vinci Code, the central ideas in Holy Blood, Holy Grail are being widely circulated. I decided it was time to reread Holy Blood, Holy Grail and see if the content was as compelling as on my first read.

If anything, I found the path they traced even more convincing, but I also found myself questioning some of their assumptions, and also was left with questions that were not asked and not answered. As the trio of authors readily admit, much of what they report and discuss in the book is necessarily speculation, but speculation based on tangible evidence.

The authors (or specifically Lincoln, who was a documentary producer for the BBC) began with the mystery of Rennes le Chateau (RlC), a small village in France, where a century ago a priest, Berengere Sauniere, discovered some old parchments as he renovated his historic church. These contained code and seemed to date from a previous generation and concerned events at the time of the Cathars (a “heretical” Christian sect wiped out at nearby Montsegur castle in 1244). The priest had subsequently become extremely wealthy and had become part of a circle of prominent people of the time. The conclusion of researchers is that he had discovered a “secret” that, if revealed, would have an explosive effect on society. Presumably someone was paying him to keep silent. But what was the secret? And why would a shadowy organization called the Prieure de Sion (Priory of Sion) be involved in keeping this secret?

For the uninitiated, here are the bare facts as presented in Holy Blood, Holy Grail (and echoed in the fictional work, The Da Vinci Code):

  • The secret of RlC had to do with a bloodline, a geneology that involved many prominant European families
  • The keepers of the secret are an organization known as the Prieure de Sion
  • The Prieure de Sion has existed since before the founding of the Knights Templar, and the two organizations were once led by the same Grand Master until 1188, when they became separate
  • The Knights Templar were organized by the Prieure de Sion to locate "treasure" hidden under the remains of Solomon's Temple in Jeruselem, and they were successful in finding "something."
  • The stories about the holy grail were allegories for the the "treasure" or "secret."
  • The grail and the treasure are the bloodline, and that bloodline is the descendants of Jesus
  • Jesus was married to Mary Magdalen by whom he had children
  • Jesus survived the crucifixion or was never crucified at all - a substitute was used
  • Magdalen and the offspring of Jesus went to the south of France where they intermarried with the Franks and founded the Merovingian dynasty
  • The Merovingians were priest-kings who reigned but did not rule; they were revered and had many ties to the Judaic community which actually had its own self-rule in this part of France
  • The Roman church was based on the teachings of Paul and aimed at a Roman audience; the family of Jesus was never part of it
  • Clovis, a Merovingian king, made a deal with the Roman Catholic Church for co-existance, but Rome went back on the deal when they helped the Carolingians take the throne and the Merovingians went underground, their "bloodline" understood by those in the know
  • The Prieure de Sion has kept alive knowledge of the bloodline and many of its Grand Masters are of that bloodline (but apparently not Leonardo Da Vinci, who was a Grand Master)
  • The Prieure de Sion exists today and is in possession of the "secret" - proof that Jesus had children and that his bloodline exists today in prominant European families (Plantard, Sinclair, Hapsburg, etc); they seek to promote members of that bloodline and unite Europe under its banner

The book is an exciting romp through history, seeking clues and connections. The authors find plenty, and arrive at their conclusions about Jesus from the starting point of RlC. They seemed to underestimate the impact of this conclusion, but their follow-up book, The Messianic Legacy, makes clear the torrent of criticism and abuse they received after the publication of Holy Blood, Holy Grail in 1982. However, in the years that have passed since its publication, new research has made their conclusions more probable and Dan Brown’s best seller (The Da Vinci Code) has greatly increased interest in and knowledge of the evidence for their conclusions.

Both the Nag Hamadi documents and the Dead Sea Scrolls have shed new light on the era of Jesus’ ministry, and they tend to show that “Christian” ideas were around long before Jesus. They also provide information about the cast of characters involved in Jesus’ ministry, including the idea that Jesus had a twin (Judas Thomas). They also confirm a very close relationship between Jesus and Magdalen and we can easily conclude that they were husband and wife. The south of France is full of churches and shrines devoted to Magdalen and more than one claims to have her bones (see my review of The Templar Revelation by Picknett and Prince for more on this).

While much historical content was explored in Holy Blood, Holy Grail, most of the attention the book has received is around the story of Jesus. The authors naively state: “..while we ourselves cannot subscribe to Jesus’ divinity, our conclusions do not preclude others from doing so. Quite simply there is no reason why Jesus could not have married and fathered children while still retaining his divinity.”

They neglect the fact that the doctrines of the Catholic Church are carved in stone and cannot be changed. And the Church teaches that Jesus had no wife or children, and has promoted the ridiculous idea that Mary Magdalen was a prostitute, even though there is not a shred of evidence for it. On the contrary, all the evidence points to Magdalen being of a prominent and possibly royal family, and that Jesus loved her above all his disciples. The Church has followed the Pauline line that diminishes the role and importance of women. (See my review of The Mythmaker, which tells how Paul invented Christianity as we know it today).

Baigent, Lincoln and Leigh conclude that Jesus was a real king, not an allegorical or spiritual king, but was actually “king of the Jews” and continuation of his bloodline would have been very important to the Jews of that era. I guess for me, the importance of geneology was a bit hard to understand, since bloodlines are of little concern in my own country, the United States of America. We are a nation of immigrants and mixed-up bloodlines, and we would hardly unite behind someone because of who his ancestors were, even if he was descended from Jesus himself. However, Europe has become much more united through the European Union; could the Prieure de Sion be involved?

And speaking of Jesus, I wondered why the crucifixion had to happen, or was it just that the Romans had nabbed Jesus and were determined to put him to death? If so, why would anyone agree to be a substitute? The authors concur with another controversial book, The Jesus Scroll, that Jesus’ crucifixion was different from the run-of-the-mill crucifixions of the time, in that it was apparently held in a private “garden” and Jesus’ (or whoever’s) body was released to Joseph of Aramathea and allowed to be buried. The custom was that the body was left on the cross for vultures to eat. I have read The Jesus Scroll by Australian Donovan Joyce  (see my comments on The Jesus Scroll) and find it much more speculative than Holy Blood, Holy Grail, but the parts on the crucifixion are definitely the most well-researched and credible. Joyce had an axe to grind, but his book is still compelling, and he concludes that Jesus died at Masada as an old man of 80. The “scroll” that proves this has been lost, and don’t hold your breath waiting for it to turn up.

All of this is shocking to anyone who has not heard of it before. When I first read Holy Blood, Holy Grail, I was a novice in these ideas, and I was so fascinated that I literally could not put down the book as I  made my way through its pages. It is easy to simply say “none of this can be true” but until you look at the evidence yourself, how can you be sure? Do you trust the word of the Catholic Church, which brought you the Inquisition, which told Crusaders they would go to paradise for killing infidels, which failed to oppose Hitler, and which is reeling from sexual abuse scandals, or do you look elsewhere for truth?  Do you continue to believe that “Jesus died for our sins”? (see my review of Episcopal Bishop Spong’s book, Why Christianity Must Change or Die) You see how the Catholic Church has boxed itself in with its teachings, and any credible evidence that what it teaches is not true would be devastating to an organization that bases its authority on an infallible pope who claims to speak for God.

For some, Christianity offers hope of life after death, but in actuality, the teachings of the Church on immortality are vague and confusing. In fact, a more comprehensive picture of non-corporeal life was available before the Pauline Christians started tinkering with it. Many Jewish and Christian sects believed in reincarnation and the world of the spirit, and that includes the hapless Cathars, whom the Roman church slaughtered during the so-called Albigensian Crusade. There was no need for a resurrected Jesus for mankind to understand its immortal nature.

All Christian churches have clung to the traditional view of Jesus as God almost to the exclusion of God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. For most Christians Jesus is their God. How many would accept a purely human Jesus? And that pretty much torpedoes the trinity (three persons in one God) and the “Jesus died for our sins” doctrine. Isn’t that pretty much the core beliefs for most Christians? Except for a few Unitarians, the concepts that emerge from Holy Blood, Holy Grail and the subsequent books that build on it are, in fact, devastating to Christian belief. Don’t expect any Fundamentalists to sign on to the idea that Jesus is not God.

Ideas as radical as those in Holy Blood, Holy Grail must take effect over a long period of time, as more people become familiar with them. As the ideas become more acceptable, more researchers will seek additional material that makes these conclusions either more or less likely to be true. Or perhaps the Prieure de Sion will show its hand. I surely would like to see the “incontrovertible proof” that they supposedly have.

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