Investigating the Priory of Sion and the Knights Templar

SPECIAL INVESTIGATION: THE PRIORY OF SION

Priory_of_Sion_LogoOne of the great mysteries and contentious discussion points about the Knights Templar is whether the order was established by an already existing secret society called the Priory of Sion. This, as you will know, forms the basis of the story behind Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. The story goes that the priory was formed to protect the sacred bloodline of Jesus Christ from the Catholic church, which feared the threat to its power and the terrible truth that would fatally undermine the papacy’s authority and fabulous wealth.

The Messiah had conceived at least one child with Mary Magdalene, who had fled to France after the crucifixion. Her descendants were the Merovingian kings overthrown in the eighth century CE who ruled over a large part of modern France, Germany and Switzerland.

The priory’s aim was to reinstate the dynasty and establish a Christian theocracy over Europe ruled by the descendants of Jesus. The Knights Templar had been formed by the priory to achieve this objective, whatever the official reasons given for their creation.

Subsequent centuries had seen a secret battle played out between different forces including the priory, the Templars, the church and Freemasons. They were fighting and scheming for control of the Holy Grail. But what exactly was the Grail? A physical object like a cup used at the Last Supper or the bloodline of Jesus Christ? The so-called Sang Real?

This is all of course discounted by mainstream medieval historians as hokum. The history of the Knights Templar, in their view, does not require additional layers of fantasy to be fascinating. The Priory of Sion is utter nonsense invented by con artists and spread by the credulous. Well, below, we’re going to examine the case for the existence of the Priory of Sion and the case for the prosecution.

First – let’s hear from the defence – those who believe the Priory of Sion was very real.

Case for the Defence

  • Incredible_Facts_Templars_knights_crusades_7The Priory of Sion was founded in Jerusalem after the First Crusade resulted in the capture of the city by Christian forces in 1099. It was based on the site of the Byzantine Hagia Sion, which subsequently housed a monastic order called the Abbey of Our Lady of Mount Zion. The Priory and Abbey were one and the same thing. This church was the site of the bodily and spiritual “assumption” of the Virgin Mary into heaven (in Catholic dogma). It’s now under the control of the Benedictines.
  • The Priory of Sion founded the Knights Templar to achieve its hidden objectives. This was to protect the bloodline of Jesus – the real Holy Grail. The term Holy Grail means “Sang Real” or Royal Blood. The Templars were the Grail Knights spoken of in legend. It was their role and destiny to defend the Grail, the bloodline, at all costs. This they would do until the time came to make the bloodline known to humanity.
  • Saunière1852-1917A 19th century French priest François-Bérenger Saunière discovered the truth about the Priory of Sion after being sent to run a church in the French village of Rennes-le-Château. The church was dedicated to Mary Magdalene, wife of Jesus Christ, who had fled to France after the crucifixion. While in this role, Saunière installed the statue of the Virgin Mary at Lourdes, the hugely popular pilgrimage site. He was a pious cleric who believed he had stumbled on a great truth.
  • Saunière seemed to become very rich, very quickly. He built a large estate between 1898 and 1905 that included the Rococo-style edifice, Villa Bethania and the Tour Magdala with an orangery. The 1998 novel Menorah conjectures that Saunière had found the seven-branched candelabra of the Temple of Jerusalem, destroyed and sacked by the Romans.
  • 71mFQClUroL._SL1260_In the 1982 book The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail it was pointed out that Rennes-le-Chateau was located close to the ancestral home of Bertrand de Blanchefort, fourth Grand Master of the Knights Templar. The three authors of the book wondered if Blanchefort had buried Templar treasure in the vicinity. They believed that during the second world war, German soldiers had very likely excavated the area. Why? Because the Nazis, obsessed with the occult, were aware that their favourite composer Richard Wagner had visited Rennes-le-Château and shortly afterwards written his opera Parsifal, based on a medieval Grail quest story of the same name. Wagner knew that Rennes-le-Château was concealing a Grail mystery.
  • The book detailed how in 1891, Saunière had the altar stone removed in his church and inside one of two Visigothic pillars supporting it, discovered four parchments in sealed wooden tubes dating from between 1244 to the 1780s.
  • The 1780s parchments were the most interesting authored by a priest called Antoine Bigou who was the chaplain to the Blanchefort family just before the 1789 French Revolution. They appeared to be texts from the New Testament in Latin but were written rather oddly and clearly contained coded messages. They became the subject of three documentaries made for the BBC in the 1970s by one of the authors of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, Henry Lincoln. It referred to the last Merovingian king, Dagobert II, as follows once decoded: “To Dagobert II, king, and to Sion belongs this treasure and he is there dead.”
  • Another parchment contained the enigmatic message: “Shepherdess, no temptation. That Poussin, Teniers hold the key. Peace 681. By the cross and this horse of God. I complete this daemon of the guardian at noon. Blue apples.”
  • Nicolas_Poussin_-_Et_in_Arcadia_ego_(deuxième_version)Saunière made the discovery of the parchments known to the bishop of Carcassonne who, realising their importance, sent him to Paris straight away. While there, visiting clerics and mixing with society people, he went to the Louvre to acquaint himself with the Poussin painting The Shepherds of Arcadia, long believed to include a Templar related secret message.
  • Asmodeus / Devil at Rennes-le-ChateauSaunière returned to Rennes-le-Château and embarked on a bizarre redecoration of his church that included a representation of the demon Asmodeus who, in Talmudic legends, built the Temple of Solomon. In Kabbalistic circles, Asmodeus was the offspring of King David and the queen of the demons, Agrat bat Mahlat.
  • On 22 January, 1917, Saunière suffered a stroke and died. The huge estate he had built was passed to his long serving housekeeper Marie Denarnaud. Gradually sliding in to genteel poverty after the second world war, Denarnaud sold the estate to a businessman called Noël Corbu (1912-1968). She promised to confide a secret to Corbu that would make him rich and powerful but tantalisingly died before she could impart this knowledge.
  • The author Dan Brown took the story of these hidden parchments and brought the story of the Priory of Sion back to public prominence with his book The Da Vinci Code. The adventure starts with the murder of a curator at the Louvre called Jacques Saunière (same name as the priest who served at Rennes-le-Château) , who also happens to be the Grand Master of the Priory of Sion. His killer is a Catholic monk under the direction of a “teacher” who wants to use the secret of the Holy Grail to destroy the Vatican. The real meaning of the Holy Grail is the bloodline of Christ and it leads the book’s hero to the sarcophagus of Mary Magdalene, located under the Louvre.
  • Dan Brown has asserted strongly that the Priory of Sion is fact and not fiction.

Case for the Prosecution

  • davinci-code_0004The Prioriy of Sion was an invention of a French convicted fraudster called Pierre Athanase Marie Plantard (1920-2000). In 1953, he served a six-month prison sentence for fraud. This was revealed in a BBC2 programme called The History of a Mystery, part of the “Timewatch” documentary series. Timewatch was the successor to an earlier documentary strand called “Chronicles”, which in the 1970s had promoted the whole Priory of Sion thesis.
  • Three years after his prison sentence, with an accomplice called André Bonhomme, Plantard created an organisation called The Priory of Sion in 1956. Bonhomme was president and Plantard was secretary general. Initially, it was not intended to be viewed as an ancient sect pre-dating the Templars, but just a pressure group campaigning for better local housing. It also took a traditionalist Catholic line and wanted to work with the local church on things like running a school bus service. Sion refers to a hill near the town of Annemasse where Plantard lived in the Auvergne region of France. The priory folded later the same year.
  • Enter Robert Charroux, a man who believed that aliens had visited humanity in ancient history and imparted wondrous knowledge. A very similar theory was popularised in the 60s and 70s by the Swiss author Erich Von Däniken with his book Chariot of the Gods. In 1962, Charroux wrote a book Trésors du monde. It gave details of hidden treasures all over the world. Charroux had come across the aforementioned Noël Corbu who had bought the estate built by the priest Saunière. BlancheofcastileCorbu had serialised a story in the local paper claiming that the priest Saunière had discovered all or part of a 28.5 million gold pieces fortune gathered by Blanche of Castile to pay the ransom on King Louis of France during the Crusades, when he was being held prisoner by the Saracens in Egypt. This was detailed, he claimed, in the parchments found in the pillar of the altar in his church by Saunière. Cynics countered that Corbu was just trying to drum up business at his restaurant.
  • A great deal is made of the sudden wealth acquired by Saunière as proof that he had indeed found part of the wealth of Blanche of Castile and possibly other treasure. The reality, as evidenced by several church disciplinary hearings and the stripping of his priesthood, is that he was utterly corrupt, selling masses which was against church law. This view was corroborated by a local historian, René Descadeillas, in 1974 as well as a Channel 4 documentary in the UK called The Real Da Vinci Code broadcast in 2005 and a CBS 60 Minutes investigation, Priory of Sion, aired the following year. All came to the conclusion that Saunière’s wealth did not derive from discovering secret treasure but by exploiting his gullible parishioners.
  • CBS also questioned the veracity of the discovered parchments and revealed that Plantard had been investigated by the French secret services during the second world war and described as a “fantasist”. He had come to their attention as an extreme right-wing activist.
  • Plantard seems to have latched on to the Corbu story and developed it. In fact, all the protagonists in this conspiracy theory grabbed the Priory of Sion story baton and ran with it awhile – developing new angles before handing it on to another author.
  • Plantard and others then developed a lineage for the Priory of Sion transporting it back way beyond 1956 into the mists of history. It was linked by Plantard to an abbey in Jerusalem, the Hagia Sion or Church of Zion. This was originally built in the early 5th century, then destroyed by invading Persians and later occupied by a monastic order called the Abbey of Our Lady of Mount Zion. As Plantard rightly pointed out, they were absorbed into the Jesuits in 1617. But experts say that order had nothing to do with Plantard’s Priory of Sion.
  • GdeS06Plantard hooked up with an author called Gérard de Sède (1921-2004) who was the Baron de Lieoux and a man heavily influenced by surrealism. The result was a tome called L’Or de Rennes, the gold of Rennes, published in 1967. The two of them concocted the yarn that the last Merovingian king was buried at Rennes-le-Château in the eighth century and that the Priory of Sion had been working clandestinely ever since to bring the Merovingians back to power.
  • Plantard had taken his Priory of Sion organisation from a defunct housing pressure group to an ancient brotherhood protecting the Merovingian line of which he now decided he was a descendant. The central proposition was that a Merovingian monarch would rule France, and possible Europe, fulfilling a prophecy of Nostradamus. Plantard styled himself “Chyren”, a pseudonym referring to “Chren Selin”, an anagram used by Nostradamus to refer to this future king.
  • Enter Philippe de Chérisey, another aristocrat influenced by surrealism, who became buddies with Plantard in the early 1960s. He undoubtedly forged medieval parchments, allegedly found by Saunière, to back up the idea of the Priory of Sion being an ancient organisation. With Plantard, he created a load of allegedly secret documents, which they placed in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (bit like the Library of Congress or the British Library) De Cherisey seems to have viewed these forgeries as a bit of a hoot. In later confessions, he conceded that he enjoyed setting false trails.
  • Henry Lincoln, author of Holy Blood Holy Grail, admitted that Plantard had told him De Cherisey had created the documents on which the whole Priory of Sion hoax rests.
  • The Italian author and academic Umberto Eco was fascinated by the Knights Templar and the fantasy that surrounds them. He satirised people like Plantard in his book Foucault’s Pendulum where three publishers develop a fraudulent conspiracy theory only to be sucked in to a real one. This is surely a post-modern chuckle at the fantasists and hucksters.
  • What we have with the Priory of Sion is a total fabrication half-believed by all those involved.

davisIt sounds pretty damning for Plantard and his Priory of Sion. But then there’s another hypothesis put forward by Templar historian Graeme Davis in his book Knights Templar A Secret History. Should mention that he also co-designed Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. Davis argues that the whole point of the Plantard hoax was to throw people off the scent of the real location of the Holy Grail.

In 2007 Davis met an academic who had taught at the University of Toulouse called Dr Émile Fouchet. They were at the International Congress on Medieval Studies. Fouchet shared his notes on the foundation of the Knights Templar with Davis three days before he was killed in a car accident in 2012 just outside Troyes, a town in France with strong Templar connections. Accident? Suicide? Murder? Who knows.

Fouchet developed a complicated account of the Holy Grail being fought over down the centuries by Freemasons, the Inquisition and a secret continuation of the Knights Templar in various guises. One of the Templar tools was none other than Napoleon Bonaparte who they allowed to demolish the Paris Temple to cover his tracks.

The Holy Grail was hidden by the Templars at Rennes-le-Château where Saunière, an Inquisition agent, set about trying to find it. The Templars created false trails to confuse both the Inquisition and Freemasons who desperately tried to locate the Grail in Rennes-le-Château even though it had already gone. The Templars had whisked it out of the country. Eventually, the Inquisition realised Saunière’s efforts had come to nothing and they hung him out to dry with charges of corruption.

Fast forward to the Second World War and the Templars had got an ultra-right-wing nationalist called Plantard to start writing a load of baloney about secret documents and his connection to the Merovingian dynasty and Mary Magdalene. All of which, Fouchet asserted, was another false trail created by the Templars. They wanted the Inquisition and Freemasons to believe the Grail was still in Rennes-le-Château when it had left in around 1897. Where was it now? A town called Sion in Switzerland is one possibility.

One nagging problem I have with this hypothesis is that I can’t find anything about Emile Fouchet except in this book. My journalistic curiosity demands that I know who this guy was and his background and qualifications. Can anybody shed any light here?

I hope you have enjoyed this investigation of the Priory of Sion!

 

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The man behind the theory of the Da Vinci Code

cryptexThe whole fascination with the alleged bloodline of Jesus and the Templar association with the Holy Grail goes back hundreds of years. But in relatively recent times, the 1970s to be exact, there was a huge surge of interest in this subject. It was a decade obsessed with the occult and the esoteric.

Henry Lincoln was a charismatic individual who satisfied the insatiable curiosity of the public in these areas. He was convinced that stories about a shadowy organisation called the Priory of Sion dedicated to preserving the bloodline of Christ were true. So, he changed tack in his broadcast career from writing scripts for the BBC television series Doctor Who in the 1960s to presenting programmes about the Templars in the 1970s.

In a book called The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, published in 1982, Lincoln and his co-authors promoted the hypothesis that the Priory’s main aim was to re-instal the Merovingian dynasty that had once ruled France. These kings had allegedly intermarried with the descendants of Christ. The Messiah, it turned out, had been the husband of Mary Magdalene and she had borne him children.

The popes in Rome have always known that a bloodline of Jesus exists and the role of the Knights Templar, called into existence by the Priory of Sion, has been to protect those descended from Christ. The idea being that it’s the intention of the Vatican to snuff out the bloodline because it poses a threat to papal power. It also reveals that Jesus was very different to the biblical portrayal.

Academics and professional historians are almost 100% united against this account of the Knights Templar as a brainchild of the Priory of Sion, an organisation protecting the bloodline of Jesus. But the book written by Henry Lincoln was an undeniable influence on the Da Vinci Code though I should point out that an attempt by Lincoln’s co-authors to sue Dan Brown failed.

It would also be dishonest of me not to mention that the originator of the Priory of Sion theory was a Frenchman called Pierre Plantard in 1956 who claimed that he himself was in the bloodline of Jesus and descended from the Merovingian kings. He is widely regarded as having perpetrated an elaborate hoax.

Here is Henry Lincoln in 1979 on the BBC explaining his theory.

Henry Lincoln has developed his theories further since the Da Vinci Code was published and you can see a later documentary here:

 

Easter – ten things you never knew

English: Icon of the Resurrection
English: Icon of the Resurrection (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Or maybe you do know some of these things – but just in case:

  1. Easter is a moveable feast that is always on the first Sunday following the Paschal Full Moon.  However, the date of that full moon is determined by lunar dates established by the church in the past as opposed to what the moon is actually doing. Confused? Blame the Council of Nicaea in AD 325 which vexed over whether to use the solar or lunar calendars and came up with a messy compromise.
  2. In the early church, Alexandria was often turned to for advice because its astronomers – in the Greek tradition of learning – were hugely respected. But bust ups over the date of Easter did occur between Rome and Alexandria.
  3. Many early Christians observed Easter on the ‘fourteenth day of the moon’ irrespective of whether this was a Sunday. This practice took centuries of effort by the church to stamp out – continuing in England until the 7th century AD.
  4. In 1583, the Vatican introduced the new Gregorian calendar to correct discrepancies in the older Julian calendar, dating back to the Roman Empire. This changed the date of Easter.  But the Eastern Orthodox church has never accepted the amendments made by the pope to the calendar and stuck with the Julian version. So Easter in the east will be 13 days later this year.
  5. It took until the year 1753 for Britain and its colonies (including America) to adopt the Gregorian calendar and so Easter then fell into line with the rest of western Europe.
  6. Was the Last Supper a traditional Jewish passover meal? Mark, Matthew and Luke seemed to think so but John gave it the thumbs down. The John position is often attributed to Christians seeking to remove the Jewish influence from the story of Jesus. But some Jewish scholars think John may have had a point – Jesus could not have been put on trial and crucified during the Passover – it breaches Jewish religious laws.
  7. There is a rather odd Easter story involving Mary Magdalene – popularly believed in the Eastern Orthodox church. One version has Mary Magdalene having dinner with the Roman emperor Tiberius (details of how such a dinner came to happen are a little scant). The emperor mocked the idea of a resurrection and said there was much chance of that happening as an egg (and he pointed to one conveniently located nearby) turning red. Whereupon said egg turned red! Why red? Because it represents the blood of Christ.
  8. Easter bunnies appear as both hares and rabbits in medieval art – a symbol of fecundity. Hares are prolific breeders and produce litters at this time of year. The medieval mind loved ascribing values and virtues (and vices) to animals. So the Easter bunny was an appropriate symbol of re-birth.
  9. In non-English speaking countries, Easter is known by variants of the word ‘Pasch’ dervied from the Jewish ‘Pesach’ meaning the Passover. The word Easter is often ascribed to an Anglo-Saxon goddess Ēostre and her feast was held during the month of April – something attested to by the Venerable Bede.
  10. It’s claimed that Eleanor de Montfort provided an astonishing 3,700 eggs for her medieval Easter celebrations in the year 1265.

The Lost Gospels – Apocrypha – and the mysteries they reveal

Eastern Orthodox icon of Mary Magdalene as a M...
Eastern Orthodox icon of Mary Magdalene as a Myrrhbearer. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Jesus from the Deesis Mosaic
Jesus from the Deesis Mosaic (Photo credit: jakebouma)

For fifteen hundred years, Christians have grown used to the idea of just Four Gospels.  But these are the magic four that the early Church decided, for a variety of reasons, were acceptable to the faithful.  Not that the faithful always agreed and we see different competing bibles in circulation during the first centuries of Christianity.  The current compilation took a while to take root and to be universally accepted – and there are still differences between, say, Catholicism’s bible, Protestantism’s bible and that of the Eastern Orthodox church.

So what happened to the missing Gospels?   They were suppressed, burnt, condemned and so on.  But over the years, they have stubbornly turned up in other writings or simply been dug out of the ground.  A list of those Gospels and their translations can be found here.  These include the Secret Book of James, the Gospel of St Peter and the Gospel of the Egyptians.  The latter was condemned for its insistence on sexual abstinence as a way of breaking the endless cycle of life and death and taking all our souls skywards to heaven.  This would not do as the church insisted we had to go through an earthly cycle to, as it were, prove our worthiness to go to heaven.  The earthy teacher and invigilator for this admittance exam for entrance to heaven would, of course, be the church.

In fact, any gospel that threatened the power and very raison d’etre for an earthly church was roundly condemned.  As were gospels – like that of the Ebionites – which presented Jesus as too mortal (and Jewish) or those that failed to present him as mortal enough (the Marcionites and Gnostics who saw him as a purely divine force to be understood through a kind of transcendental meditation).

Interestingly, these gospels offer more information on key parts of the bible story.   The Infancy Gospel of James gives a whole heap of detail on Mary’s birth to an elderly couple who had given up hope of having children.  It explains why the Temple insisted on her marriage to the carpenter Joseph and then tells how Jesus was born in a cave with Salome acting as midwife.  As Herod’s troops approach, Jesus is hidden in an animal trough to avoid detection.

The Gospel of St Peter is at the more anti-Jewish end of the Gospel spectrum.  As the noted scholar Bart Ehrman has noted in his excellent books on biblical texts, you can crudely divide up gospels in to those that lean more towards a mortal and very Jewish Jesus and those that lean towards a more divine figure and tend to blame the Jews for his crucifixion.  In the Gospel of St Peter, Pontius Pilate is completely exonerated for the death of Jesus.  By washing his hands, he really has refused to have anything to do with the trial and it’s Herod Antipas who passes the death sentence.  The Coptic church took this interpretation a step further by looking at Pilate as a virtual saint.

The Gospel of the Ebionites portrays Jesus and John the Baptist as vegetarians and Jesus takes a decidedly dim view of animal sacrifice in the Jewish Temple.   This makes Jesus a Jewish reformer – probably in the aftermath of the Roman destruction of the Temple and the soul searching that took place among Jews.  This event took place decades after the crucifixion but it shows how what was happening as these Gospels were written insinuated in to the stories.  Basically, the Gospels (including the four we know) were often part of a polemic between different Christian/Jewish groups.  They simply put words in to the mouth of Jesus and his apostles to support their view.

The Gospel of Mary controversially places Mary Magdalene above the disciples – not just in the affections of Jesus but as a follower.  As with many of these Gospels and the four we know (mainly written in the very late first century and most in the second century AD), what we can actually discern here are some early disputes between Christians.  In this case – are women allowed to preach and hold high position in the church?   The argument is portrayed in a dispute within the Gospel between St Peter and Mary Magdalene.   Peter is obviously telling Mary Magdalene to get back in the kitchen and make some tea for the lads (I’m joking) while Mary has different ideas.  This same story of a bust up between the two appears in at least three other suppressed Gospels – the Pistis Sophia, the Gospel of the Egyptians and the Gospel of St Thomas.

The latter gospel is very interesting.  St Thomas is said to be the apostle who takes Christianity to India.  While in India, he encounters a huge snake that reveals itself to be the devil.  I love this encounter where Lucifer explains the difficult relationship with a father who he feels has been rather unfair to him – here is a quote:

“And he said unto him (devil to Thomas): I am a reptile of the reptile nature and noxious son of the noxious father, of him that hurt and smote the four brethren which stood upright.  I am also son to him that sitteth on a throne over all the earth, that receiveth back his own from them that borrow.  I am son to him that girdeth about the sphere and I am kin to him that is outside the ocean whose tail is set in his own mouth.  I am he that entered through the barrier in to paradise and spake with Eve the things which my father bade me speak unto her.  I am he that kindled and inflamed Cain to kill his own brother and on mine account did thorns and thistles grow up in the earth.”

One thing to note about the Thomas gospel is that Jesus is rarely challenged as he sets down the law of his father.  But in Gospels that are regarded as earlier than Thomas – the so-called Oxryhynchus 1224 Gospel written very close to Jesus’ death – Jesus has to argue hard with his opponents in the market place.

Well, there’s plenty more than can be said about the Apocrypha but I’d advise going to the first web link here where you will find translations of all these Gospels to read at your leisure.  If you thought there were contradictions in the accounts of the four Gospels authorised by the Church (compare their accounts of the empty tomb discovery for example), then you’ll find plenty more confusion when you add these in to the mix.

Descendants of Christ meet Roman emperor

idomiti001p1
Emperor Domitian

Eusebius – Christian historian of the early legal church under the Romans and a bit of a spin doctor – quotes the story of a group of Christ’s descendants meeting the Roman emperor Domitian in the first century AD.  Domitian was a brooding, autocratic ruler hated by the senatorial class but viewed more favourably these days as a reformer, even if his methods were a touch insensitive.

The story of his meeting with the Desposyni of Christ was written over two hundred years later by Eusebius and could be an attempt to suggest that Christianity was more influential at the time than it actually was.  There is nothing from contemporary sources in the first hundred years after Christ that indicates the Romans were even aware of this Middle Eastern mystery cult.  It just didn’t blip on their radar.

When Tacitus writes about Christians a hundred years after the crucifixion, it’s mainly to snigger about reports that these strange people eat their god during their services.

Anyway – here’s what Eusebius wrote about the meeting between Domitian and the bloodline of Jesus:

There still survived of the kindred of the Lord the grandsons of Jude, brother of Jesus, who according to the flesh was called his brother. These were informed against, as belonging to the family of David, and Evocatus brought them before Domitian Caesar: for that emperor dreaded the advent of Christ, as Herod had done. So he asked them whether they were of the family of David; and they confessed they were. Next he asked them what property they had, or how much money they possessed. They both replied that they had only 9000 denaria between them, each of them owning half that sum; but even this they said they did not possess in cash, but as the estimated value of some land, consisting of thirty-nine plethra only, out of which they had to pay the dues, and that they supported themselves by their own labour. And then they began to hold out their hands, exhibiting, as proof of their manual labour, the roughness of their skin, and the corns raised on their hands by constant work. Being then asked concerning Christ and His kingdom, what was its nature, and when and where it was to appear, they returned answer that it was not of this world, nor of the earth, but belonging to the sphere of heaven and angels, and would make its appearance at the end of time, when He shall come in glory, and judge living and dead, and render to every one according to the course of his life. Thereupon Domitian passed no condemnation upon them, but treated them with contempt, as too mean for notice, and let them go free. At the same time he issued a command, and put a stop to the persecution against the Church. When they were released they became leaders of the churches, as was natural in the case of those who were at once martyrs and of the kindred of the Lord. And, after the establishment of peace to the Church, their lives were prolonged to the reign of Trajan.

—Eusebius of Caesarea, Historia Ecclesiae, 3.20

Desposyni – the blood line of Jesus

The Theotokos of Vladimir, one of the most ven...
The Theotokos of Vladimir, one of the most venerated of Orthodox Christian icons of the Virgin Mary. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Did Jesus have a real flesh and blood family and therefore descendants?

It’s surprising how long this debate has been going for.  Right back in to the early persecuted church during the Roman Empire.  Possibly as far back as the first generation of Christians – especially those who did not fall in to line with Paul.

From the early years, there was a split between Christians who saw the new religion as an extension or fulfillment of Jewish scripture and those who saw it as something distinct from Judaism and universal in application.

The former group, that included sects like the Ebionites, saw Jesus as a Jewish messiah and tended to conceptualize him in human terms.  The latter group, that included groups like the Marcionites, took the view that Christianity could be spread to the gentiles and saw Jesus as a more spiritual, almost disembodied entity.  The latter group even rejected the wrath filled and very Jewish god of the Old Testament.

The former strand of Christianity was capable of holding the notion of a bloodline – indeed, Jesus was believed to have come from a royal Jewish bloodline and his descendants were very real and amongst us.  This was anathema to what became the Catholic church.  Why?  Well, think about it – who’s the real vicar of Christ on earth, the pope in Saint Peter’s or the bodily descendant of the messiah?

Paul wrenched Christianity away from its Jewish roots, though a Jew himself, and took it to the Greeks and Romans.  He set in train a process whereby Christianity was adopted by the very people who had crucified the messiah.

Paul hated any whiff of competition from those in Palestine who had known Jesus – which Paul hadn’t.  So he emphasized the godly and spiritual nature of Jesus, a nature that he could know more about than those pesky disciples in Palestine who had walked with the man himself.  He could even know more about Jesus than the messiah’s very own brother – James – who we believe became a leader of the new sect in Jerusalem after the crucifixion.

Jesus did have brothers and sisters, mentioned in the gospels, but the church soon found a way of downgrading their importance.  Without any grounding in scripture, they inferred through various dogmas and doctrinal statements that these siblings were in fact the children of Joseph and an earlier wife – not the by now virginal Mary.  They might even be cousins, some suggested.

Mary as a perpetual virgin was key to removing the Desposyni – descendants of Jesus – from the Christian equation.  In spite of reports that two Desposyni were brought before the Roman emperor Domitian, the bloodline of Jesus was swept under the theological carpet.

Bizarre and unpleasant relics of saints!

relic
The Blood of Christ – in the Middle Ages, churches across Europe claimed to have several foreskins of Jesus – left over from the circumcision!

The Templars were as much, if not more, in to relics as all good Christians of the Middle Ages.  They had a penchant for the brutally martyred variety of saint.  Tied to a wheel and rolled down a hill or cut to pieces in the arena – that was the kind of saint a Templar wanted a bone from.

But it’s often forgotten that bones were not the only medieval relics of saints.  Bamber Gascoigne in his book ‘The Christians’ details St Elizabeth of Hungary lying serenely in state after her death.  Around her, mourners prayed fervently for hours on end.  Hmmm…take a closer look if you will.  Because said mourners were actually busily clipping off her hair, nails and according to Bamber – her nipples!!   All taken away to be venerated in churches all over Christendom.

The intrepid Bishop of Lincoln was shown a bone of Mary Magdalene on his travels and while nobody was looking, bit a fragment off and walked tight lipped back to a very grateful Lincoln.

Jesus presented a problem to relic hunters of the Middle Ages having ascended bodily in to heaven.  No corpse in the tomb if you recall.  Bamber describes how the medieval mind got round this little conundrum.  Jesus must have left fingernails, his own tears, blood, milk teeth and….wait for it…his foreskin from the circumcision.   Oh no, surely not.  Oh yes, I’m afraid so!  Indeed, there were several foreskins of Jesus doing a brisk trade as Gothic cathedrals soared upwards.

I’m always amused by the twig from the Burning Bush and a crumb from the Last Supper.  Years ago, I went with a friend to Prague who, unlike me, had not been subject to a Roman Catholic upbringing.  I had to explain that yes, the little house in the middle of a cloister really was Mary’s house transported brick by brick from the Holy Land overnight by a team of very obliging and presumably muscular angels.  He didn’t get it.

Closer to our own time, the church has still shown an ability to collect the most bizarre bits of saints.  Teresa of Avila can be venerated by worshiping the sole of her sandal, a phial of her blood or a stick she used to walk with.  Saint John Vianney (died 1859) is preserved, much like Lenin, in a casket.  He used to sleep two hours a night and was visited frequently by the devil.

The True Cross is the relic that has always intrigued me.  There’s a lot of fragments of the True Cross around.  I’m inclined to think that if they were all put together, then Jesus was crucified on a California Redwood.