CESNUR - Centro Studi sulle Nuove Religioni diretto da Massimo Introvigne

The Priory of Sion: The End of the Hoax?

by Massimo Introvigne

After several decades, is this the end of the Priory of Sion hoax? In fact, the hoax should have ended in the late 1980s, when all the parties involved confessed in writing that the Dossiers Secrets (which Dan Brown maintains are real historical documents, substantiating what The Da Vinci Code claims about the Priory of Sion) had been fabricated in the 1960s, as summarized in this Web site and detailed in my own book (in Italian, with French and Spanish translations also published) Gli Illuminati e il Priorato di Sion.

In the movie The Da Vinci Code, whose script was reviewed by Dan Brown, there is an exchange, not included in the novel, where Langdon tells the Master that the French marquis Philippe de Chérisey (1925-1985) admitted that the documents about the Priory of Sion were part of a hoax. The Master answers that de Chérisey was either intimidated or paid by the Vatican. What Dan Brown did not know was that de Chérisey left a manuscript on the whole story, Pierre et papier (“Rock and paper”), stipulating that it had to be published only 20 years after his death (which occurred in 1985). The marquis left both the manuscript and the original parchments, which are the key elements of the hoax, to Jean-Luc Chaumeil, a curious character and a journalist-cum-esotericist himself. He has now published the manuscript in his Rennes-le-Château – Gisors – Le Testament du Prieuré de Sion. Le Crépuscule d’une Ténébreuse Affaire (Villeneuve de la Raho: Pégase, 2006). We would not recommend this book to those who are not familiar with the whole complicate story of the Priory of Sion hoax, and in fact it has been originally published in only 250 numbered copies. The lay reader will easily lose himself or herself between old interviews where Chaumeil still believed (or claimed to believe) in the hoax as told by his main perpetrator, Pierre Plantard (1920-2000), texts by Plantard and de Chérisey published with little comment, and expositions of the esoteric ideas of Chaumeil himself.

However, Chaumeil does publish both in facsimile and in transcript Chérisey’s Pierre et Papier, a crucial text where, after having discussed the Priory of Sion documents for several pages as if they were genuine, the marquis suddenly changes his prose and argues that the small mistakes in the documents are in fact “the segnature of the artist who produced the best word game of all the world literature and just proposed a fancy interpretation of it to you, my friend the reader: i.e. myself, Philippe de Chérisey”, the material author of what he calls “a huge farce”. Chérisey explains that all hoaxers do not resist the temptation to “sign” their fakes, and that the references in the Dossiers Secrets to a mysterious “God’s horse”, variously commented by the true believers in the Priory of Sion, are in fact “my signature. My first name is Philippe and my last name is Chérisey, two words which mean respectively ‘friend of horses’ [Philhippos, in Greek] and ‘friend of the Gods’ [a questionable etymology]”. The Dossiers are also chock-full of hidden references to de Chérisey’s career as an actor and author of novels, all explained in detail in Pierre et Papier. Since this text was intended to be published 20 years after the death of the author, it would be difficult to explain it away, à la Dan Brown, as the product of a Vatican blackmail.

Chaumeil’s book is loosely organized and difficult to read, but also includes previously unknown details about Pierre Plantard. While we await a biography of this strange character (announced by another French scholar for publication in 2007 or 2008), Chaumeil documents Plantard’s turning from Catholicism to an extreme anti-Catholicism, evidenced in a series of lectures of the 1960s but in fact already evident in an early text of the 1940s. According to Chaumeil, this was due to the frustration experienced by Plantard when he was working as a sexton in the Paris parish of Saint-Louis-d’Antin, and tried without success to be admitted into a Catholic seminary in order to become a priest. Another interesting point made by Chaumeil concerns the influence on Plantard of the news published in the French media in the 1950 about an alleged “treasure of the Essenes” buried in Palestine. This led both Plantard and other character later to play a role in the Priory of Sion hoax to launch two preliminary hoaxes about fictional hidden treasures to be found first in Gisors an then in Rennes-le-Château. Chaumeil claims that without the emotion caused in France by the media reports about the “treasure of the Essenes” it is impossible to fully understand the incident of Gisors, and without Gisors it is in turn impossible to fully understand how the whole hoax about Rennes-le-Château and the Priory of Sion was created.

Other new information offered by Chaumeil includes Plantard’s plagiarism of ideas and symbols used by the medium Geneviève Zaepffel (1892-1971), a popular character in Paris in the 1930s, and the psychological explanation of several incidents in the saga of the Priory of Sion hoax with the complicate relationship between de Chérisey and Plantard. The latter, the son of a butler, was always uncomfortable in associating himself with a genuine marquis, and overcame his uneasiness by proclaiming himself not only a nobleman but a king as descendant of the Merovigians. It is also worth noting that the only organization among the many which today claim the name Priory of Sion really dating back to Plantard’s original creation, the one whose secretary is Mr. Gino Sandri, tried to reconstruct itself as a working organization (it existed at that stage mostly on paper only) by sending circular letters signed by Plantard (i.e. his spirit, since he died in 2000) with Dan Brown-style references to the priority of the feminine principle precisely between the end of 2002 and the beginning of 2003. This was the same time when thousands of advance reading copies of The Da Vinci Code were being distributed to American booksellers. Although Chaumeils’ conclusions require further evidence, the idea that Dan Brown (or his wife who, as Brown testified in London, did most of the “research” on the Priory of Sion) had some relations with the remnant of Plantard’s Priory of Sion is not completely unbelievable.

Be it as it may be, Chaumeil’s book should be the nail in the coffin of the idea that the Priory of Sion existed before Plantard founded it in 1956 and that The Da Vinci Code is based on historical documents. But readers have little patience with original documents and often regard fake documents as much more entertaining. The saga will thus, most probably, go on.