Fact: The Priory of Sion - a European secret society founded in 1099 - is a real organization.
These are the opening words of The Da Vinci Code (on a preliminary page before the novel begins), and the Priory of Sion (Prieuré de Sion in French) plays a central role throughout the novel. Is it a real society with famous members, as Brown claims?
In The Da Vinci Code
The Da Vinci Code tells us the following about the Priory of Sion:
- "In 1975 Paris's Bibliotheque Nationale discovered parchments known as Les Dossiers Secrets, identifying numerous members of the Priory of Sion, including Sir Isaac Newton, Sandro Botticelli, Victor Hugo and Leonardo da Vinci." ("Fact" page)
- The Priory of Sion is one of the oldest secret societies and had members like Leonardo and Victor Hugo. It is the pagan goddess worship cult. (Ch. 23)
- The Priory of Sion was founded in 1099 by a French king who charged them with keeping his family secret, which included hidden documents. (Ch. 37)
- Les Dossiers Secrets prove the existence of the Priory of Sion and have been authenticated by experts. (Ch. 48)
Overview of the Facts
- Partly true. The documents were "discovered" in 1975, but not by the library. The Dossiers do identify members of the Priory of Sion, including Leonardo da Vinci.
- False. The Priory is almost certainly a 20th-century fraud; even the fake society was not interested in goddess worship.
- False. The Priory was not founded in 1099, but in the 1950s.
- False. Experts regard the Dossiers Secrets as a fraud.
Nearly all scholars, experts and commentators agree that the Priory of Sion is a modern fraud and not an ancient secret society. The only two sources that believe in its authenticity are the three British authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail, and possibly Dan Brown (certainly his characters in The Da Vinci Code believe it). None of these sources are academic or expert in any way.
But among those who otherwise accept the Priory of Sion as a hoax, there are few that argue the hoax itself is significant. The main source for this is The Sion Revelation by Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince, who are not scholars or experts. They suggest that behind the hoax is a network of European esoteric societies whose goal is a single, centralized European state.
Documents and Historical Evidence
Claims of the authenticity of the Priory of Sion depend on the Dossiers Secrets as well as various other pieces of evidence weaved together in a complex way difficult to summarize.
Claims that the Priory of Sion is a fraud, which are in the majority, depend mainly on: (1) the lack of evidence for the society before the 1950s; (2) the consensus of academics and experts that the Dossiers Secrets are a hoax; and especially (3) the confession of fabrication, home search, and discrediting of Pierre Plantard in 1993.
More information on the evidence on both sides can be found in the excerpts below and the linked resources.
Secondary Sources and Comments
Holy Blood, Holy Grail, the main source for the central theory of The Da Vinci Code, includes the following information about the Priory of Sion:Of all the privately published documents deposited in the Bibliotheque Nationale, the most important is a compilation of papers entitled collectively Dossiers secrets (Secret Dossiers). Catalogued under Number 4° 1m1 249, this compilation is now on microfiche. Until recently, however, it comprised a thin, nondescript volume, a species of folder with stiff covers that contained a loose assemblage of ostensibly unrelated items - news clippings, letters pasted to backing sheets, pamphlets, numerous geneaological trees, and the odd printed page apparently extracted from the body of some other work. Periodically some of the individual pages would be removed. At different times other pages would be freshly inserted.... The bulk of the Dossiers, which consist of genealogical trees, is ascribed to one Henri Lobineau, whose name appears on the title page. (p. 99) On the basis of our own research we had concluded that the list of Templar grand masters in the Dossiers secrets was accurate - so accurate, in fact, that it appeared to derive from inside information. (p. 149)
The relatively supportive book Cracking the Da Vinci Code by Simon Cox includes the statement:"the existence of the Priory of Sion continues to be an elusive mystery, even today..."
The Templar Revelation (1997) by Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince, states:Hugely controversial, its [the Priory's] very existence has been called into question and therefore any of its alleged activities are frequently the subject of ridicule and their implications ignored. At first we sympathized with this kind of reaction, but our further investigations certainly revealed that the matter was not as simple as that.
The Sion Revelation by Clive Prince and Lynn Picknett, states:Even this short paragraph [Brown's "Fact" statement] contains some startling errors. In fact, far from being romantic old parchments, many of the Dossiers Secrets are actually typewritten! The Bibliotheque Nationale did not "discover" them: the documents were deposited there by their creatros, to be found later by researchers — and even then they were more or less directed to them. And this happened in the 1960s, not 1975. ...superficially at least, there is a good case that the Dossiers Secrets are an elaborate fabrication - in other words, that the Priory of Sion is a hoax. But, as we shall see, nothing is certain about that tricky organization, which still has the power to surprise or even shock. ...while the skeptics do undoubtedly have the weight of evidence on their side, in our view it is a serious mistake to dismiss the Priory for that reason alone - at least until certain major questions have been answered. First and most obvious is simply why the perpetrators expended so much effort on their hoax. (pp. 8-9) [Publishers Weekly synopsis of this book's main thesis: "In this book, they argue that the Priory is a hoax, but one that is carefully designed in the manner of misinformation leaked by intelligence agencies to achieve specific goals. Behind the hoax, they say, is a network of European esoteric societies driven by the principle of "synarchy" and influencing the coalescence of the European Union, perhaps at the expense of democracy."]
Paul Smith, who runs a website extensively documented the Priory of Sion, writes:Pierre Plantard was a lifelong charlatan and confidence trickster – his 1937-1954 activities involving confidence trickery, anti-semitic and anti-masonic activities are provided in File Ga P7 which is available for public inspection at the Paris Prefecture of Police, 9 Boulevard du Palais, 75195 Paris. References to Pierre Plantard’s criminal convictions are available for public inspection at the Sub-Prefecture of Saint Julien-en-Genevois, 4 Avenue de Geneve, 74164 Saint Julien-en-Genevois, Haute-Savoie (Monsieur Serge Champanhet, is the Secretary General of the Sub-Prefecture, for written enquiries – the letter dated 8 June 1956 by the Mayor of Annemasse to the Sub Prefect contained in File Number KM 94550 which holds the 1956 Priory of Sion Registration Documents must be cited in the written enquiry). Pierre Plantard’s Judicial Archives are held in the Tribunal de Grand Instance de Thonon-les-Bains. But these unfortunately are not available for public inspection due to the French Privacy Law. (priory-of-sion.com, scroll down) The version of the "Priory of Sion" involving Godfrey de Bouillon, the Knights Templars and the Merovingians was a figment of Pierre Plantard’s imagination dating from the early 1960s when he first met Gérard de Sède and began collaborating with him on the Gisors story, that was first begun by Roger Lhomoy (Lhomoy was Gérard de Sède’s pig-farmer at the time). This romantic fabrication was concocted by Plantard at that time in order to make money and nothing else – no "hidden esoteric secrets" were involved. The Rennes-le-Château "connection" was introduced sometime later. The real Priory of Sion was formed in 1956, and it terminated during the same year. It was named after the Col du Mont Sion located outside the town of Annemasse where Plantard lived during the 1950s. It was an organisation devoted to the promotion of Low-Cost Housing, attacking the property developers of Annemasse and supporting the local opposition candidate to the local Government authority as outlined in the pages of its journal, Circuit. (link, scroll down)
The Rough Guide to The Da Vinci Code includes the following summary:The Priory is a nonsense invented by a disagreeable little French fascist called Plantard in the 1950s. As any sort of organisation has to be registered with the government in France, Plantard registered his as a social club, though it was never very social as he was the only member [note: other sources say there were a few members]. But then the claim was made that papers purporting to trace various genealogies supporting the Jesus bloodline thesis had been 'discovered' at the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, where they are catalogued as les Dossiers Secret under Number 4° 1m1 249. A visit to the Bibliotheque, however, or checking its catalogue online, reveals that no such dossier exists. Needless to say, the list of Grand Masters of the priory is likewise bogus, meaning that you have to strike Leonardo da Vinci... and all the others, right down to Jean Cocteau, from membership. Which rather puts paid to The Da Vinci Code's 'Fact:' statement preceding the novel. (p. 93-94)
An online article from CESNUR (Center for the Study of New Religions, based in Italy) concludes:Millions of readers of popular books about Rennes-le-Château took the story quite seriously, however, and many in the esoteric milieu were happy to join the Priory of Sion after Plantard legally established it in 1956, and the more so after secret documents able to confirm the story allegedly surfaced from the National Library of Paris in 1975. The documents, however, were not discovered by the Library staff, as The Da Vinci Code seems to imply, but by confederates of Plantard, i.e. by the same people who had planted them in the Library in the first place. No serious scholar has ever regarded the documents as anything else than a 20th century fabrication. (link)
Priory-of-Sion.com - a large collection of resources and original documents relating to the Priory of Sion (which the author regards as an obvious hoax)
Video: Robin Griffith-Jones on the Priory of Sion - the Master of the Temple Church explains the real history of the Priory in an online video for Beliefnet
Maknap.com - "Les Dossiers Secrets" - details of the contents of the dossiers
Center for the Study of New Religions - "Beyond "The Da Vinci Code": What is the Priory of Sion?" by Massimo Introvigne
"The Priory of Sion Hoax: an A-Z" - an extensive dictionary of Priory of Sion people and concepts