The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown (Corgi, 2003)

Chapter House, Lincoln Cathedral, Da Vinci Code film set Chapter House, Lincoln Cathedral, Da Vinci Code film set Chapter House, Lincoln Cathedral, Da Vinci Code film set

And the companion of the Saviour is Mary Magdalene. Christ loved her more than all the disciples and used to kiss her often on the mouth. The rest of the disciples were offended by it and expressed disapproval. They said to him, 'Why do you love her more than all of us?' -- Gospel of Philip

And Peter said, 'Did the Saviour really speak with a woman without our knowledge? Are we to turn about and listen to her? Did he prefer her to us?'

And Levi answered, 'Peter, you have always been hot tempered. Now I see you contending against the woman like an adversary. If the Saviour made her worthy, who are you indeed to reject her? Surely the Saviour knows her very well. That is why he loved her more than us.' -- Gospel of Mary Magdalene

Contrary to fanciful allegations in a recent contemporary novel, this is not the vestige of a pagan temple. No mystical notion can be derived from this instrument of astronomy except to acknowledge that God is the master of time. -- St Sulpice, Paris

My view is that the book isn't blasphemous, it doesn't denigrate God in any way, but it is speculative, far fetched and heretical. -- Very Reverend Alec Knight, Dean of Lincoln Cathedral

What is it that makes us want to pick up and read a book? Is it the cover, do the words penetrate through the cover into our minds, making us want to explore further?

I don't know what makes me want to pick up and read a book. Instinct? Communication across the transition zone? Whatever it is, for me it rarely proves to be wrong. I am rarely disappointed. And so it proved to be with The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown.

I don't know what made me want to read The Da Vinci Code. I has seen it in bookstores, my hand had been drawn towards it, I had wanted to pick it up. I resisted the temptation. What proved the clincher was hearing it discussed on the radio. I'd like to think it was BBC Radio 4 Book Club, but I cannot be sure. I heard it covered the Cathars (actually it doesn't), the Holy Grail, Montsegur (actually it doesn't) and encryption and codes, and yes, I had to read it. I was going away and instead of picking up a copy en-route and paying full price, I picked up a copy a few days in advance from a discount bookstore.

The Da Vinci Code is by no means a great work of literature, cf The Monk by Mathew Lewis, nor is it even the plot, riveting as it is, that makes The Da Vinci Code a great read and impossible to put down, it is the contents and the subject matter covered, sufficiently detailed, that it could be a discourse on these topics in its own right, and as a result has made The Da Vinci Code a very controversial novel.

Leonardo Da Vinci, Priory of Sion, Opus Dei, codes, encryption, all figure prominently in the tale expertly woven by Dan Brown.

The Da Vinci Code starts with the murder of a senior and highly respected curator at the Louvre in Paris. In his dying moments, he leaves cryptic clues, which force the police to bring in an expert on symbolism, Robert Langdon, who just happens to be lecturing in Paris on the topic that evening, and just happens to have had an appointment with the dead man that very evening, which makes him a prime murder suspect.

Also drawn into the plot is French cryptologist Sophie Neveu, who also just happens to be the estranged granddaughter of the murdered curator.

A thriller, but nothing like a conventional thriller, a mystery, but nothing like a conventional who-done-it murder mystery.

13 3 2 21 1 1 8 5

O, Draconian devil!

Oh, lame saint!

Langdon read the message again and looked up at Fache.

'What the hell does this mean?'

To say more, would unfold the plot. Not that this would in anyway spoil the plot, but it would reveal the many surprises that are in store for the reader.

The plot, good as it is, is almost an irrelevance. Far more interesting, and certainly far more intriguing, are the historical and archaeological references, the paintings, and the symbolism that ties them all together.

I always think of Leonardo Da Vinci as an engineer, a very talented inventor. To the most people, and especially the art world, he is a very talented artist, the man who created the Mona Lisa, the world's best known painting. In many ways, my thoughts on Da Vinci are correct, he painted purely to earn a living to pursue his other interests.

As the plot unfolds we learn of the symbolism in Da Vinci's paintings, including the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper.

It was the use of codes and encryption that had originally caught my attention, as I had recently been asked to give a presentation on encryption to a group of people in London. Around the same time I had been writing a series of book reviews, and what was strange, if not uncanny, The Da Vinci Code seemed to tie it all together.

I used to do a lot of work on encryption, but had not worked in that area for some time, then, out of the blue, I was asked to do a presentation in London on encryption. I talked of security, encryption, gave simple examples, the need for hard encryption, public key encryption, the use of PGP, a hard (ie military) encryption package that implements public key encryption, practicalities and security aspects of public keys etc. This led to an article which gave an overview of the subject and updated my previous articles on encryption.

What was slightly spooky, was the way The Da Vinci Code was tying all this together cryptography, religion, the Church, Christianity. Even music, it seemed, was not exempt.

What are the chances of flipping through the pages of a novel by a previously unknown writer, the book falls open, and there, staring out at you from the page, are the names of two people you know personally? In my case, one of them had only been in contact with me a few days before I read The Da Vinci Code!

When I tried to find the page again the next day, I could not.

I had recently written about the use of the cross, an instrument of torture and execution, as a fashion icon. I find a familiar discussion in The Da Vinci Code.

Langdon remained silent as he turned the cruciform in his hand, examining it.

'It looks Christian,' Sophie pressed.

Langdon was not so sure about that. The head of the key was not the traditional long-stemmed Christian cross but rather was a square cross with four arms of equal length which predated Christianity by fifteen hundred years. This kind of cross carried none of the Christian connotations of crucifixion associated with the long-stemmed Latin cross, originated by the Romans as a torture device. Langdon was always surprised how few Christians who gazed upon 'the crucifix' realized their symbol's violent history was reflected in its very name: 'cross' and 'crucifix' came from the Latin verb cruciare to torture.

'Sophie', he said, 'all I can tell you is that equal-armed crosses like this one are considered peaceful crosses. Their square configurations make them impractical for use in crucifixion, and their balanced vertical and horizontal elements convey a natural union of male and female, making them symbolically consistent with Priory philosophy.'

'She gave him a weary look. ' You have no idea do you?'

Langdon frowned. 'Not a clue.'

I had been reading and reviewing several books on religion and Christianity. I had noticed many strange coincidences. The Da Vinci Code has a religious theme running through the book a war between two competing religious ideologies Opus Dei, a perverse Catholic Order founded nearly a century ago that has perverted the doctrine of love of Jesus Christ to a doctrine of pain, who see it as a noble end to inflict pain and suffering on their members, who deny care to women in childbirth as it is their duty to suffer for inflicting on Man Original Sin the Priory of Sion, founded nearly a millennium ago, guardians of the Holy Grail, who believe Christianity has a feminine side that has long been suppressed by the Roman Catholic Church and whose chief foe is Opus Dei.

What we are witnessing in The Da Vinci Code is a battle for the truth. A truth that dates right back to the very foundation of Christianity. A truth that by its very nature can never be known. When truth is unknowable it degenerates into faith. The truth becomes whatever we want to believe it to be.

'But you told me the New Testament is based on fabrications.'

Langdon smiled. 'Sophie, every faith in the world is based on fabrication. That is the definition of faith acceptance of that which we imagine to be true, that which we cannot prove. Every religion describes God through metaphor, allegory and exaggeration, from the early Egyptians through modern Sunday school. Metaphors are a way to help our minds process the unprocessible. The problems arise when we begin to believe literally in our own metaphors.'

I was introduced to the Eric Levi Era trilogy by a lovely friend Estie. Era commemorates the Cathars who were persecuted by the Roman Catholic Church. The Cathars mounted a last stand at Montsegur, but following their betrayal, were all massacred by the Catholics. According to legend, Montsegur was a safe place for the Holy Grail.

Whilst reading The Da Vinci Code, I popped into a little record store. There, to my amazement, I found Era II and Era The Mass, the last two parts of the Era trilogy, sitting on the shelves. Amazed, because much as I had tried in the past, I had never been able to find any parts of the Era trilogy anywhere. And today, I was not even looking, I was simply browsing, with no particular end in mind. I asked, and within a few days, they were able to get me Era, the first part of the trilogy. About a week after I had finished reading The Da Vinci Code, I passed through an airport shop, and there on the shelves was Era and Era The Mass, Era The Mass was a special limited edition. When I got home and listened to Era, I found it was a different version to that which my lovely friend Estie had lent me.

The day after my random flipping through the pages of The Da Vinci Code had found reference to two people I know, I tried again, but without success. Not to worry, I thought, I will find them soon enough as I read the book. Later that afternoon, I was sitting on my balcony reading The Da Vinci Code, and I did indeed find them, but earlier that afternoon I was chatting to my friend Anna. In the conversation she mentioned violinist Vanessa-Mae, and a concert she had recently given. Hang on a second, I said, I popped up to my room, and produced for Anna a CD I happened to have with me of Vanessa-Mae, Storm!

Following my chat with Anna, I was sitting on my balcony reading The Da Vinci Code, the sea and bay lay spread out below me. A little further down the coast was the tomb of Lazarus, where I had hoped Anna would take me on her day off as it was not far from her home. I just happened to have with me a CD TimePeace by Terry Callier (someone I had never heard of until a couple of weeks before). The second track is a beautiful, haunting number, which features Lazarus being washed up on the coast!

Sitting on my balcony that afternoon, reading The Da Vinci Code, I once again came across the two people I personally know. But equally amazing, was a brief discourse on public key encryption!

Many people are familiar with secret or conventional encryption, but few, public key encryption. The problem with conventional encryption is that you have a document that because you wish to keep its contents secret as it passes through hostile territory you use encryption. How then do you pass across the secret keys? To overcome this problem, public key encryption was developed. It actually does not solve the problem, simply replaces one problem with another, but I will not pass down that road today.

Only two weeks previous, I had given a presentation on public key encryption and how to resolve the key distribution problem! I then followed this up a week later with an article on public key encryption.

Unbeknown to me, Da Vinci had invented public key encryption 500 years ago.

To explain public key encryption the example of a box is often given. You drop the document to be secured into a box, then close the box. It locks automatically. The only person who can unlock the box is whoever the box is intended for, as only that person has the secret key to unlock the box. Only he or she has the key.

Da Vinci invented something very similar called a cryptex - cryptology for hiding a codex. A long cylinder, with rotating discs, rather like a combination lock cycle chain, or the locks found on cases. You place the document inside, spin the discs, and the cryptex can only be opened by the person who knows the combination. The cryptex is made of marble and brass, inside too, a small phial of vinegar. The document is written on paper-thin papyrus. Any attempt to tamper with the cryptex, or smash it to extract the document, and the document will be turned into a mushy pulp.

When I wrote my article on encryption, I gave The Da Vinci Code as further reading. Little did I know then that it would contain a discussion of public key cryptography!

Whilst I was reading the The Da Vinci Code, I lent my copy of Era to a friend Reni. She said it was excellent, but then surprised me when she said she was familiar with it and had heard it before. Reni, is a friend of my friend Monika. Monika, we had hoped, was going to move in with Estie, who had originally lent me Era. When I gave my presentation on public key encryption, it was to safeguard a project, based in a country from which Reni and Monika are from!

I digress from the plot, but no mean achievement if I do so without revealing or spoiling the plot.

Our two heroes flee to England, fugitives on the run from the French police. They fly in an executive jet to Biggin Hill Executive Airport. It could have been Farnborough Business Airport, if so, they would have flown over my house. No coincidence there then, except, the entire novel is built on duality, yin and yang. Biggin Hill is the business rival to Farnborough for executive flights into London!

Two of our protagonists meet in St James' Park in London. Our heroes go to King's College to query a religious data base.

After I gave my presentation in London, I walked into St James' Park, and until a thunderstorm arrived, passed the rest of the afternoon in St James' Park. As the storm hit, I made my way out of the park into Trafalgar Square. In Trafalgar Square, a big party to celebrate ten years of freedom in South Africa. On the platform, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who had recently finished a tenure as visiting professor at King's College, and whilst there given a very moving sermon, a copy of which he kindly sent me, a sermon which tied together much of which I had recently been working on. Desmond Tutu was a former student at King's. One reason why I was killing time in St James' Park, was that later that evening I was due to meet a friend at King's, currently a post-graduate student at King's. My friend Estie, who introduced me to Eric Levi and the Era trilogy, is South African!

Deepak Chopra (see How to Know God) would have seen these strange coincidences as examples of synchronicity, communication across the transition zone.

A well crafted novel. The plot is as well crafted as the code which forms a centerpiece of the plot. The plot twists and turns, is as convoluted as the codes our heroes are expected to crack. Just when you are beginning to think you understand what is going on, a detour takes you down yet another labyrinthine byway whose existence you had not even noticed.

Not surprisingly, The Da Vinci Code has become an international best seller. And yet in many ways, very surprising due to the complexity of the plot.

Dan Brown superficially may appear to have treated the Roman Catholic Church harshly. I would say not. He has simply highlighted devout believers, who at times become very misguided souls.

In a novel replete with symbolism, I found plenty of symbolism the author never intended.

A few days after I had finished reading The Da Vinci Code, I was sitting on a beach. Sat by me was an attractive girl who I had never met before. She was reading, you've guessed, The Da Vinci Code. I told her this tale, which takes us full circle.

A minor gripe. When most books these days are published in large format, The Da Vinci Code is not. The net result being that it breaks down the spine and falls apart in your hands as you are reading it

Books by Dan Brown to date: Digital Fortress (1998), Angels and Demons (2000), Deception Point (2001), The Da Vinci Code (2003).

For further exploration of the facts behind The Da Vinci Code, try Cracking The Da Vinci Code or Inside The Da Vinci Code, both by Simon Cox. But if you don't want to spoil the plot, read The Da Vinci Code first.

To accompany Cracking The Da Vinci Code, a DVD of the same title has been released. A special collectors edition includes an additional DVD of the works of Leonardo Da Vinci, Da Vinci's Genius. The two DVDs are available as a boxed set. Also included is a booklet covering some of the key points from The Da Vinci Code.

The film documentary Cracking The Da Vinci Code (available on DVD) is well researched and produced. Highly recommended.

The definitive guide to the facts behind The Da Vinci Code has to be Secrets of the Code edited by Dan Burstein.

Secrets of the Code cries out for illustrations. This was resolved by an illustrated special limited edition of The Da Vinci Code published by Bantam Press (2004). A coffee book size version of The Da Vinci Code. Many of the illustrations could though be of better quality.

For a detailed exposition of Mary Magdalene and the early Christian church The Magdalene Legacy by Lawrence Gardner is highly recommended.

The Sion Revelation by Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince delves in some detail into the Priory of Sion. Their earlier book The Templar Revelation looks at the role the Knights Templar played. Dan Brown drew heavily on The Templar Revelation for The Da Vinci Code. Both authors discuss their theories in the film documentary Cracking The Da Vinci Code.

The Da Vinci Code and the Secrets of the Temple (Canterbury Press, 2006) gives an interesting perspective on The Da Vinci Code from the viewpoint of Robin Griffith-Jones, the Master of the Temple, head of Temple Church in Temple, London. In medieval times, the Master of the Temple, head of the Knights Templar in medieval England, was the most powerful man in thirteenth century England.

Within a year of its publication, literally dozens of books had been written about The Da Vinci Code, and many more articles and dissertations. Those mentioned here are some of the better or more interesting ones. No other book has had such an impact. [Open Book, BBC Radio 4, Sunday 12 December 2004]

Typical of the nonsense written on The Da Vinci Code was a piece by self-styled historian A N Wilson in the Daily Mail (6 May 2006). Wilson accuses Dan Brown of writing nonsense, then writes a load of nonsense himself. From his comments on the novel, he appears not to have even read it. He then diverges into a general diatribe and rant against the church child sex abuse, cover-ups by the church, Mass in Latin, gays in the church, liberal values and so on. The only useful snippet in the entire article, is the church is so worried about the impact of The Da Vinci Code, that prior to the release of the film, the church has formed a special task force to counter The Da Vinci Code.

The Da Vinci Code has not only been a publishing phenomena in its own right (40 million copies sold leading up to the release of the film 19 May 2006), but it has also been a publishing phenomena in the books it has spawned, they too becoming bestsellers.

The Da Vinci Code has done more to draw attention to the Church, especially early church history, than anything the Church has ever done. One would expect the Church to be pleased, but the reactionary elements within the church are anything but pleased. But then maybe that is why they are not best pleased, as the last thing the reactionary elements would want is attention drawn to early church history.

Chapter House, Lincoln Cathedral Summer 2005, a scene for The Da Vinci Code, a film staring Tom Hanks as Robert Langdon, was filmed at Lincoln Cathedral. The Chapter House was used to represent a secret part of Westminster Abbey. Christian fundamentalists lodged strong objections to the Cathedral being used for what they saw as blasphemy. The attitude of the Cathedral authorities was 'give us the money', a reputed 100,000 for use of the Cathedral for the shoot. The view of the Dean of Lincoln, the Very Reverend Alec Knight, was that the novel was "balderdash" but allowing the filming was "the right thing to do". A Roman Catholic nun, Sister Mary Michael, staged a 12-hour protest outside the Cathedral in protest against the filming of the book, an action which she regards as blasphemous, and the book to be heresy.

Even stars have to eat. Several of the cast of The Da Vinci Code ate at the Old Bakery whilst filming at Lincoln Cathedral. They autographed a copy of The Da Vinci Code, and added some unique encryptions of their own. This unique copy to be auctioned on eBay for charity when the film is released.

Westminster Abbey refused access for filming, although the Louvre and the Rosslyn Chapel (September 2005) were happy to allow on-location filming.

Rosslyn Chapel may though pay the price for supping with the devil. The concern now is that, with the interest stimulated by the book and film, the visitor numbers will completely overwhelm this tiny little chapel.

The definitive guide to Rosslyn, and the latest to jump on the Da Vinci Code bandwagon, is Rosslyn by Andrew Sinclair, unfortunately the book is so badly written as to make it virtually unreadable.

In what has to be seen as a sop to Christian fundamentalists, the film may depart from the book so as not to cause offence, or may have some form of disclaimer.

The British release date for The Da Vinci Code is scheduled for 19 May 2006.

Synchronicity: Summer 2005, about a year after I first read The Da Vinci Code, a Russian friend Svetlana asked if I had a book she could read, The Da Vinci Code. Abigail and Lee invited me to a wedding that would take place in Washingborough, a little village outside of Lincoln. My friend Christina came down to visit me. We looked around a very old church, sited on a much earlier site, which unusually had a few Celtic crosses. She gave an explanation, to a friend she had brought down from London, of an equal-stemmed cross being a cross of peace.

Apart from the fact that part of The Da Vinci Code was to be filmed in Lincoln Cathedral (doubling as Westminster Abbey), there is another intriguing connection. Sir Isaac Newton (1643-1727) was born at Woolsthorpe just outside Grantham in Lincolnshire and attended school in Lincolnshire before going up to Cambridge. The plot revolves around the Priory of Sion, of which Sir Isaac Newton was reputed to be a leading member. Our heroes are in Westminster Abbey, at the site of Sir Isaac Newton's tomb, to investigate possible clues, one of which is an apple missing from the tomb.

A stained glass window in Lincoln Cathedral itself posed an enigma. Why on the plate in front of Christ, in a scene depicting the Last Supper, was what appeared to be a lamb, not the traditional bread and wine? That it posed an enigma, shows the ignorance of Christians, and only underlines why The Da Vinci Code has stirred up such a controversy. The Last Supper that Christ presided over was the Jewish Passover, the meat served is always lamb, which in this case was also symbolical of Christ being the sacrificial lamb. Easter 2004, this author was invited to Last Supper at St Peter's (the same church I showed my friend around when she commented on equal-stemmed crosses) that was celebrated in the tradition of the Jewish Passover. [Great East Window, fourth panel from the left on the fourth roundel up]

Da Vinci Code tours have become big business across Europe. Chateau de Villette, 25 miles northwest of Paris, is one of the locations visited. In the novel the 17th Cenury chateau is home to Sir Leigh Teabing, an eccentric English expatriate who creates his own little England on the grounds of this 185-acre estate. The chateau has been used for on-location filming, and is now offerering, at a price, a comprehensive six-day tour of the Paris Da Vinci sites, including five nights at the chateau.

Leigh Teabing is an anagram of Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, who, together with Henry Lincoln, were co-authors of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail. Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh were to bring an unsuccesful suit against Dan Brown claiming plagiarism.

Dan Green has jumped on the Da Vanci Code bandwagon with the publication of a book claiming the real links are with Lincoln Cathedral. Coincidentally publicised on 15 August 2005, when filming for The Da Vinci Code started at Lincoln Cathedral. [see The Lincoln Da Vinci Code]

According to Dan Green, the statue of Alfred Lord Tennyson (Tennyson being a leading Priory of Sion member), is a pointer to the location of where Mary Magdalene is buried. That location of course being Lincoln Cathedral.

A long lost medieval manuscript known as a codex. If it exists at all, all that are known of it are a few fragments. But these do not make a lot of sense, as the hero goes of on a quest, dies, then the narrative seems to start again, our hero is alive and starting off on his quest, endless looping back on itself. It does not make a lot of sense, unless we fast forward to the modern day and today's adventure computer games.

A computer game which seems to mirror our hero's quest for the long lost medieval codex.

Codex, the latest novel by Dan Brown? Er, no, a me-too novel by Lev Grossman. If you can plough through the turgid first one hundred pages, it becomes vaguely interesting. So badly written, it could be Dan Brown writing under another name.

Lisa Rogak has written an unofficial biography of Dan Brown Dan Brown: The Man Behind The Da Vinci Code (Robson Books, 2005).

A mysterious old book containing clues as to the whereabouts of the Holy Grail, strange and mysterious symbols of unknown meaning, a labyrinth carved into the rock within a cave in the French Pyrenees. Yet another me-too Da Vinci Code? Labyrinth by Kate Mosse (Orion, 2005).

Ancient manuscripts containing an evil secret. Less a me-too Da Vinci Code, more an updating of the Bram Stoker Dracula legend. Rather unfairly dubbed 'The Dracula Code'. The Late Book on BBC Radio 4 Spring 2005. The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (Little, Brown, 2005).

Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco (Ballantine Press, 1990) predates The Da Vinci Code by a decade.

The Holy Land in the dying days of the Latin Kingdom, Knights Templar, codes, a Medieval decoder, a deadly secret, a life and death search in the modern day. Yet another me-too Da Vinci Code, with a shade of Angels and Demons? Not even the inclusion of the Knights Templar, Holy Grail, the Catholic Church and the Vatican can disguise the fact that this is a badly-written, run-of-the-mill detective novel. But persevere, past the opening pages, and it develops into a page-turning thriller. The Last Templar by Raymond Khoury (Orion, 2005).

Shortly before the release of the film of The Da Vinci Code co-starring Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou Dan Brown was accused of plagiarism and breach of copyright. In a case that baffled most impartial observers, Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, co-authors of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail (the third co-author Henry Lincoln was not party to the case), sued their publisher Random House for plagiarism, because Dan Brown had drawn upon some of their research when writing The Da Vinci Code. The Judge Mr Justice Peter Smith found their claim was without merit and dismissed the case, obliging them to foot the legal bill of around £2 million. [see The Da Vinci Code Case]

In his Easter Address, the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams attacked The Da Vinci Code. [Easter Sunday 2006]

The attack by the Archbishop was part of a wider attack on conspiracy theories, but in reality, a response by the church to people having an inquiring mind. Anything, be it fact or fiction, that causes us to question not accept on blind faith what is promulgated as Christian dogma masquerading as absolute truth, should be welcomed, not attacked.

If the Archbishop wishes to attack conspiracists he would be better advised to focus his attention on people like Nicky Gumbel (and his Alpha course) who distorts the Scriptures for his own self-serving ends. But then a blind eye is turned, because it is bums on seats, as though the church is the same as a supermarket chain, each competing for market share.

Published to take advantage of the release of the film version of The Da Vinci Code, The Da Vinci Code Travel Journal has to be the rip-off of the year.


Books Worth Reading ~ Digital Fortress ~ Angels and Demons
(c) Keith Parkins 2004-2008 -- June 2008 rev 18