The incredible success of The Da Vinci Code is bringing tens of thousands of Grail-seekers to Rosslyn Chapel, but what is the real story of Scotland and the Holy Grail?
In summer 2000, Dan Brown began work on his latest thriller. Its hero was Robert Langdon, the symbologist professor he had introduced in Angels and Demons. Brown's new book combined his love of codes and ciphers, and his fascination with secret symbols within the paintings of Leonardo Da Vinci, has become a global phenomenon. One of the most popular novels of all time, it has sold over 50 million copies worldwide, has been translated into more than 40 languages, and spawned over a 100 non-fiction guides, travel books and parodies.
The Hollywood movie adaptation, helmed by Oscar-winning director Ron Howard and starring A-list star Tom Hanks and Audrey Tatou, is set to be one of the biggest blockbusters of 2006. The $125 million movie was shot on location in Paris, London and Scotland.
Dan Brown's own story began far from multimillion bestsellers, Hollywood movies and global controversy. He started out as an English teacher in New Hampshire but his first love was music. He produced a collection of songs for children, including Happy Frogs, and tried to carve out a career as a romantic singer-songwriter, releasing a self titled album of love songs in 1993. When his singing career failed to take off Brown decided to try writing novels.
For Brown wove together the legends of the Holy Grail, the mysteries of the Knights Templar and the dark secrets of the Priory of Sion. In the last twenty years alternative history writers have theorised that an ancient secret society called the Priory of Sion has been guarding the truth about the marriage of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. It has been said that Leonardo Da Vinci was a Grand Master of the Priory and that he kept the secret that the Holy Grail symbolised the womb of Mary Magdalene. But what is the truth?
In the late 1960s an English writer named Henry Lincoln picked up a paperback book while he was on holiday in the south of France. Lincoln read about Brenger Saunire, the priest of the village of Renne-le-Chteau, and the vast treasure he was said to have discovered. After ten years of research and writing, Lincoln, Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, released The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail. It became an international bestseller and one of the most controversial books of the 20th century.
In the book, the murdered curator of the Louvre museum is named Jacques Saunire after the priest of Renne-le-Chteau. Brown also named his distinguished Grail scholar Sir Leigh Teabing, adding Richard Leigh's surname to an anagram of Baigent.
Baigent, Lincoln and Leigh have never claimed that their book was a straightforward work of history. They presented their evidence as a hypothesis, theorising that it was plausible that Jesus may have been married to Mary Magdalene and that they could have had children. They left it to their readers to decide what to believe.
The phenomenal success of has led to an unprecedented response from Christian theologians, historians and the Vatican. Evangelical Christians and devout Catholics have been outraged by Browns novel and have fought back in hundreds of books, articles, webpages, TV documentaries, DVDs and public lectures. Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Archbishop of Genoa, said, It astonishes and worries me that so many people believe these lies.
While researching and The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown and his wife Blyth visited the Vatican, the Louvre, London and Edinburgh. Blyth helped her husband by researching the sacred feminine, renaissance art and secret history. She is also an enormous fan of Leonardo Da Vinci.
Did Leonardo really paint a woman sitting by Jesus in the Last Supper? Academics, art historians and alternative history writers argue over the identity of the figure is it Mary Magdalene or John the beloved disciple? The features are certainly feminine but Leonardo often painted beautiful androgynous figures, both male and female.
In 1483 Leonardo was commissioned by the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception to paint The Virgin of the Rocks. In Scotland, that same year, the masons, carvers and carpenters were about to finish work on Rosslyn Chapel.
In the last few years a series of writers have tried to connect Rosslyn Chapel and the Holy Grail with the Knights Templar. Rosslyn Chapel was actually founded by Sir William St Clair. His family were powerful Scots nobles, Earls of Orkney and ambassadors to the French court. St Clair brought masons and artisans from across Europe to work at Rosslyn, building a wondrous House of God.
The Templars were a monastic military order that was formed in Jerusalem to guard the pilgrim routes in the Holy Land. In the 12th century, the Scottish King, David I, gave the knights land and money and was said to have surrounded himself with Templars. The Templars built their Scottish headquarters at Balantrodoch, a few miles from Rosslyn.
When the Templars were brought to trial in Edinburgh for heresy and impropriety in 1309, the St Clairs of Rosslyn testified against them. Today the ruins of a Knights Hospitaller church, built on the site of the Templar headquarters, can be seen in the tiny village of Temple.
Knights of a completely different kind rode around Scotland in the 1970s. Monty Python and the Holy Grail was made for a miniscule $260,000, partially raised with donations from rock bands including Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. The movies whole budget was less than 1/400th of the budget for The Da Vinci Code! They had to use half coconut shells instead of real horses. Most of the movie was shot in Scottish locations including Doune Castle, Glen Coe, and Rannoch Moor. Doune Castle near Stirling appeared as Camelot, Castle Anthrax and Swamp Castle.
To mark the 30th anniversary of the movies release Historic Scotland held a special Monty Python day at Doune Castle. Over 1000 Python fans invaded the castle dressed as knights, damsels and killer rabbits. Nick Finnegan, Historic Scotland events manager, noted, It was fantastic and nuts at the same time. The Doune Castle Monty Python day is now, by popular demand, an annual event. Half coconuts are provided.
Scotland has always been linked to the Holy Grail. In the earliest Grail romance, written by Chrtien de Troyes in the 12th century, we find Scottish locations. In Chrtiens Story of the Grail he tells us that the knights questing for the Grail travelled to the Lothians, by the Firth of Forth.
The Lothians are named after the legendary King Loth, grandfather of Sir Gawain. Gawain was one of the Knights of the Round Table most associated with the Grail quest. Chrtien says that Sir Gawain bore Arthurs sword Excalibur as he searched for the Grail.
There are Arthurian locations all around Rosslyn. Edinburgh Castle is built on the volcanic castle hill, the legendary site of Morgan le Fays Castle of Maidens. Arthurs Seat is said to be a haunt of King Arthur and the Fairy Queen. To the south of Rosslyn, Arthur and his Knights are said to sleep in the hollow Eildon hills by the Borders town of Melrose. The real life Merlin is thought to have lived wild in the Caledonian forest in southern Scotland.
So, what is the real story of Rosslyn and the Grail? It is said that Rosslyn holds a secret treasure worth many millions of pounds. The treasure, like the Grail, is guarded by a radiant white lady dressed in fine clothes, gold and precious jewels. Sir William St Clairs life was filled with tales of Camelot, King Arthur and the Quest for the Grail. He even named one of his children Arthur.
You may not find the Holy Grail when you visit Rosslyn but you will discover one of Scotland's most precious treasures; Rosslyn Chapel.