The Truth About ‘The Da Vinci Code’

Finally, the novel’s hidden legacy is revealed.

Book cover of 'The Da Vinci Code.'
Book cover of 'The Da Vinci Code.' (photo: Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain )

LONDON — Twenty years ago, a best-selling work of fiction seemed — to some readers at least — to undermine the foundations of the 2,000-year-old religion. 

The book was The Da Vinci Code (DVC).

And yet, two decades since DVC’s publication, the then reaction to its appearance in 2003 seems even more surreal, more bizarre, than any fantastic plot line. 



Missing Links

The novel recalls Leonardo da Vinci, whose art is linked by the plot to what can only be described as the theological equivalent of Darwin’s “missing link.” This tale tells of cryptic codes concealed in Da Vinci’s paintings, supposedly missed by art historians for centuries, and which point to the greatest cover-up of all time: one that exposes finally the definitive “truth” about the Catholic faith. 

Even if I had lacked formation in that faith, I was immune to the “revelations” of DVC. Some twenty-odd years previously, there had been another, not dissimilar, craze. Published in 1982, The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail (HBHG) had been released to similar claims presenting “earth-shattering conclusions.” 

In that book, Christianity was all a fraud. A Frenchman in Paris named Plantard had said so; and he had discovered some documents in the Bibliothèque Nationale that proved this and linked him to the Merovingian dynasty, arcane French monarchs. This, naturally, led to an enigmatic “treasure” buried beneath a church at Rennes-le-Château, which, in turn, led to St. Mary Magdalene. Her appearance, obviously led to devastating conclusions about the foundations of the faith. Thereafter, using moth-eaten Gnostic texts and the overheated imagination of fantasists, an unholy brew of doubt, suspicion and conjecture was concocted before being spewed over orthodox Christian doctrine and articles of faith. 

Of the claims of HBHG, a later examination was to show that the self-proclaimed regal pretender Plantard proved to be a convicted fraudster. The “discovered” documents in the Bibliothèque Nationale about the mysterious “Priory of Sion” were not only altogether fake but had been planted there by Plantard — all attested to before his death. The “treasure” under the Rennes-le-Château church was no such thing; instead, any monies there had resulted from a priest turning what should have been a good and holy thing — saying Mass for the dead — into a grubby financial racket.

There was, however, a decidedly thin veneer to HBHG’s purported “hidden history” that so dazzled ill-informed minds back then. An example of this was what its authors made of the Latin inscription over the Rennes-le-Château church’s door: Terribilis est locus iste. It was deemed conclusive evidence that some terrible secret was held there, whereas that inscription comes from the Latin Introit for the Common of the Dedication of a Church: Terribilis est locus iste; it concludes: Haec domus Dei est, et porta coeli: et vocábitur aula Dei. (“How terrible is this place! This is no other but the house of God, and the gate of heaven” Genesis 28:17). As it turned out, the second part of this Introit was discovered on nearby columns by the door of the church at Rennes-le-Château, something the authors of the HBHG had conveniently overlooked or not known. In sum, such an inscription is no occult warning, but instead taken from part of the ancient liturgy of the dedication of a church. 

Looking back, the premise of the whole book was risible. Today, one wonders how such nonsense ever got into the mainstream; but, perhaps, we should never underestimate the underlying power of confusion and the forces that orchestrate it. And, remember, it was not a “belief” that was being planted in impressionable minds then but rather the seed of doubt later to sprout its rotten fruit in apostasy. Subsequently, Dan Brown’s work would mix ancient anti-Christian legends, recycled through this more recent pseudo-history, to be served up to great effect in a fiction for an even more gullible audience than HBHG garnered.

By way of illustration, a vignette from 20 years ago involving a train packed with passengers bound for London. It had been a long journey with books and magazines competing with the scenery for attention. On British trains it is common to have pairs of seats facing each other. In one compartment there were sitting four fellow passengers, all reading intently, absorbed in the text; and, yes, all were reading DVC. As the train pulled into London, one of the four raised her head from the printed page, exclaiming to all present: “Why weren’t we told?” Why indeed had her generation been denied knowledge of the secret codes scattered in famous paintings? Codes with meanings that reveal so much. Now, however, thanks to a close reading of a mass-market paperback, an “epiphany” came to this woman, and doubtless many other DVC readers, allegedly bringing them to a new understanding of the truth of the world around them, a new understanding that subverted the very foundations of Western civilization and indeed the whole of Christendom. 

It is easy to forget how widespread this DVC “mania” spread. On the airwaves there was many a “serious discussion” about the contents and claims of DVC.  How easily they seemed to forget that this was a novel, labeled a “thriller,” an airport paperback, a “beach read.”

Was one to laugh or weep?


Lasting Legacy  

Nevertheless, in the intervening years, one is able to see clearly that Brown’s creation has left a lasting legacy. 

Soon after publication, DVC was the most donated book to U.K. charity shops (thrift stores). By 2017, that flow had become a flood, as signs were seen in British charity shops begging the public to refrain from donating any more copies of DVC. 

For years now, seemingly in every charity shop across the length and breadth of the United Kingdom, shelves are groaning with a text that was once popular, a best-seller, in fact; a text discarded now with a wry smile and perhaps the query: “Why weren’t we told …? What utter rubbish!”

Twenty years on since the DVC, and despite its claims, the Catholic Church continues to grow, welcoming new converts month after month, year after year, as this world hurtles onward to the final encounter with Truth in the coming Parousia. 

In the meantime, buried in British charity shops from Land’s End to John o’ Groats, the dust grows thicker daily upon copies, too many to count, of The Da Vinci Code.