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The Da Vinci Code (chapter 58)

2006-07-07 17:52

  CHAPTER 58

  Teabing's “study” was like no study Sophie had ever seen. Six or seven times larger than even the most luxurious of office spaces, the knight's cabinet de travail resembled an ungainly hybrid of science laboratory, archival library, and indoor flea market. Lit by three overhead chandeliers, the boundless tile floor was dotted with clustered islands of worktables buried beneath books, artwork, artifacts, and a surprising amount of electronic gear-computers, projectors, microscopes, copy machines, and flatbed scanners.

  “I converted the ballroom,” Teabing said, looking sheepish as he shuffled into the room. “I have little occasion to dance.”

  Sophie felt as if the entire night had become some kind of twilight zone where nothing was as she expected. “This is all for your work?”

  “Learning the truth has become my life's love,” Teabing said. “And the Sangreal is my favorite mistress.”

  The Holy Grail is a woman, Sophie thought, her mind a collage of interrelated ideas that seemed to make no sense. “You said you have a picture of this woman who you claim is the Holy Grail.”

  “Yes, but it is not I who claim she is the Grail. Christ Himself made that claim.”

  “Which one is the painting?” Sophie asked, scanning the walls.

  “Hmmm……” Teabing made a show of seeming to have forgotten. “The Holy Grail. The Sangreal. The Chalice.” He wheeled suddenly and pointed to the far wall. On it hung an eight-foot-long print of The Last Supper, the same exact image Sophie had just been looking at. “There she is!”

  Sophie was certain she had missed something. “That's the same painting you just showed me.”

  He winked. “I know, but the enlargement is so much more exciting. Don't you think?”

  Sophie turned to Langdon for help. “I'm lost.”

  Langdon smiled. “As it turns out, the Holy Grail does indeed make an appearance in The Last Supper. Leonardo included her prominently.”

  “Hold on,” Sophie said. “You told me the Holy Grail is a woman. The Last Supper is a painting of thirteen men.”

  “Is it?” Teabing arched his eyebrows. “Take a closer look.”

  Uncertain, Sophie made her way closer to the painting, scanning the thirteen figures-Jesus Christ in the middle, six disciples on His left, and six on His right. “They're all men,” she confirmed.

  “Oh?” Teabing said. “How about the one seated in the place of honor, at the right hand of the Lord?”

  Sophie examined the figure to Jesus' immediate right, focusing in. As she studied the person's face and body, a wave of astonishment rose within her. The individual had flowing red hair, delicate folded hands, and the hint of a bosom. It was, without a doubt…… female.

  “That's a woman!” Sophie exclaimed.

  Teabing was laughing. “Surprise, surprise. Believe me, it's no mistake. Leonardo was skilled at painting the difference between the sexes.”

  Sophie could not take her eyes from the woman beside Christ. The Last Supper is supposed to be thirteen men. Who is this woman? Although Sophie had seen this classic image many times, she

  had not once noticed this glaring discrepancy.

  “Everyone misses it,” Teabing said. “Our preconceived notions of this scene are so powerful that our mind blocks out the incongruity and overrides our eyes.”

  “It's known as skitoma,” Langdon added. “The brain does it sometimes with powerful symbols.”

  “Another reason you might have missed the woman,” Teabing said, “is that many of the photographs in art books were taken before 1954, when the details were still hidden beneath layers of grime and several restorative repaintings done by clumsy hands in the eighteenth century. Now, at last, the fresco has been cleaned down to Da Vinci's original layer of paint.” He motioned to the photograph. “Et voilà!”

  Sophie moved closer to the image. The woman to Jesus' right was young and pious-looking, with a demure face, beautiful red hair, and hands folded quietly. This is the woman who singlehandedly could crumble the Church?

  “Who is she?” Sophie asked.

  “That, my dear,” Teabing replied, “is Mary Magdalene.”

  Sophie turned. “The prostitute?”

  Teabing drew a short breath, as if the word had injured him personally. “Magdalene was no such thing. That unfortunate misconception is the legacy of a smear campaign launched by the early Church. The Church needed to defame Mary Magdalene in order to cover up her dangerous secret-her role as the Holy Grail.”

  “Her role?”

  “As I mentioned,” Teabing clarified, “the early Church needed to convince the world that the mortal prophet Jesus was a divine being. Therefore, any gospels that described earthly aspects of Jesus' life had to be omitted from the Bible. Unfortunately for the early editors, one particularly troubling earthly theme kept recurring in the gospels. Mary Magdalene.” He paused. “More specifically, her marriage to Jesus Christ.”

  “I beg your pardon?” Sophie's eyes moved to Langdon and then back to Teabing.

  “It's a matter of historical record,” Teabing said, “and Da Vinci was certainly aware of that fact. The Last Supper practically shouts at the viewer that Jesus and Magdalene were a pair.”

  Sophie glanced back to the fresco.

  “Notice that Jesus and Magdalene are clothed as mirror images of one another.” Teabing pointed to the two individuals in the center of the fresco.

  Sophie was mesmerized. Sure enough, their clothes were inverse colors. Jesus wore a red robe and blue cloak; Mary Magdalene wore a blue robe and red cloak. Yin and yang.

  “Venturing into the more bizarre,” Teabing said, “note that Jesus and His bride appear to be joined at the hip and are leaning away from one another as if to create this clearly delineated negative space between them.”

  Even before Teabing traced the contour for her, Sophie saw it-the indisputable V shape at the focal point of the painting. It was the same symbol Langdon had drawn earlier for the Grail, the chalice, and the female womb.

  “Finally,” Teabing said, “if you view Jesus and Magdalene as compositional elements rather than as people, you will see another obvious shape leap out at you.” He paused. “A letter of the alphabet.”

  Sophie saw it at once. To say the letter leapt out at her was an understatement. The letter was suddenly all Sophie could see. Glaring in the center of the painting was the unquestionable outline of an enormous, flawlessly formed letter M.

  “A bit too perfect for coincidence, wouldn't you say?” Teabing asked.

  Sophie was amazed. “Why is it there?”

  Teabing shrugged. “Conspiracy theorists will tell you it stands for Matrimonio or Mary Magdalene. To be honest, nobody is certain. The only certainty is that the hidden M is no mistake. Countless Grail-related works contain the hidden letter M-whether as watermarks, underpaintings, or compositional allusions. The most blatant M, of course, is emblazoned on the altar at Our Lady of Paris in London, which was designed by a former Grand Master of the Priory of Sion, Jean Cocteau.”

  Sophie weighed the information. “I'll admit, the hidden M's are intriguing, although I assume nobody is claiming they are proof of Jesus' marriage to Magdalene.”

  “No, no,” Teabing said, going to a nearby table of books. “As I said earlier, the marriage of Jesus and Mary Magdalene is part of the historical record.” He began pawing through his book collection. “Moreover, Jesus as a married man makes infinitely more sense than our standard biblical view of Jesus as a bachelor.”

  “Why?” Sophie asked.

  “Because Jesus was a Jew,” Langdon said, taking over while Teabing searched for his book, “and the social decorum during that time virtually forbid a Jewish man to be unmarried. According to Jewish custom, celibacy was condemned, and the obligation for a Jewish father was to find a suitable wife for his son. If Jesus were not married, at least one of the Bible's gospels would have mentioned it and offered some explanation for His unnatural state of bachelorhood.”

  Teabing located a huge book and pulled it toward him across the table. The leather-bound edition was poster-sized, like a huge atlas. The cover read: The Gnostic Gospels. Teabing heaved it open, and Langdon and Sophie joined him. Sophie could see it contained photographs of what appeared to be magnified passages of ancient documents-tattered papyrus with handwritten text. She did not recognize the ancient language, but the facing pages bore typed translations.

  “These are photocopies of the Nag Hammadi and Dead Sea scrolls, which I mentioned earlier,” Teabing said. “The earliest Christian records. Troublingly, they do not match up with the gospels in the Bible.” Flipping toward the middle of the book, Teabing pointed to a passage. “The Gospel of Philip is always a good place to start.” Sophie read the passage:

  And the companion of the Saviour is Mary Magdalene. Christ loved her more than all the disciples and used to kiss her often on her 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?”

  The words surprised Sophie, and yet they hardly seemed conclusive. “It says nothing of marriage.”

  “Au contraire.” Teabing smiled, pointing to the first line. “As any Aramaic scholar will tell you, the word companion, in those days, literally meant spouse.”

  Langdon concurred with a nod.

  Sophie read the first line again. And the companion of the Saviour is Mary Magdalene.

  Teabing flipped through the book and pointed out several other passages that, to Sophie's surprise, clearly suggested Magdalene and Jesus had a romantic relationship. As she read the passages, Sophie recalled an angry priest who had banged on her grandfather's door when she was a schoolgirl.

  “Is this the home of Jacques Saunière?” the priest had demanded, glaring down at young Sophie when she pulled open the door. “I want to talk to him about this editorial he wrote.” The priest held up a newspaper.

  Sophie summoned her grandfather, and the two men disappeared into his study and closed the door. My grandfather wrote something in the paper? Sophie immediately ran to the kitchen and flipped through that morning's paper. She found her grandfather's name on an article on the second

  page. She read it. Sophie didn't understand all of what was said, but it sounded like the French government, under pressure from priests, had agreed to ban an American movie called The Last Temptation of Christ, which was about Jesus having sex with a lady called Mary Magdalene. Her grandfather's article said the Church was arrogant and wrong to ban it.

  No wonder the priest is mad, Sophie thought.

  “It's pornography! Sacrilege!” the priest yelled, emerging from the study and storming to the front door. “How can you possibly endorse that! This American Martin Scorsese is a blasphemer, and the Church will permit him no pulpit in France!” The priest slammed the door on his way out.

  When her grandfather came into the kitchen, he saw Sophie with the paper and frowned. “You're quick.”

  Sophie said, “You think Jesus Christ had a girlfriend?”

  “No, dear, I said the Church should not be allowed to tell us what notions we can and can't entertain.”

  “Did Jesus have a girlfriend?”

  Her grandfather was silent for several moments. “Would it be so bad if He did?”

  Sophie considered it and then shrugged. “I wouldn't mind.”

  Sir Leigh Teabing was still talking. “I shan't bore you with the countless references to Jesus and Magdalene's union. That has been explored ad nauseum by modern historians. I would, however, like to point out the following.” He motioned to another passage. “This is from the Gospel of Mary Magdalene.”

  Sophie had not known a gospel existed in Magdalene's words. She read the text:

  And Peter said, “Did the Saviour really speak with a woman without our knowledge? Are we to turn about and all 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.”

  “The woman they are speaking of,” Teabing explained, “is Mary Magdalene. Peter is jealous of

  her.“

  “Because Jesus preferred Mary?”

  “Not only that. The stakes were far greater than mere affection. At this point in the gospels, Jesus suspects He will soon be captured and crucified. So He gives Mary Magdalene instructions on how to carry on His Church after He is gone. As a result, Peter expresses his discontent over playing second fiddle to a woman. I daresay Peter was something of a sexist.”

  Sophie was trying to keep up. “This is Saint Peter. The rock on which Jesus built His Church.”

  “The same, except for one catch. According to these unaltered gospels, it was not Peter to whom Christ gave directions with which to establish the Christian Church. It was Mary Magdalene.”

  Sophie looked at him. “You're saying the Christian Church was to be carried on by a woman?”

  “That was the plan. Jesus was the original feminist. He intended for the future of His Church to be in the hands of Mary Magdalene.”

  “And Peter had a problem with that,” Langdon said, pointing to The Last Supper. “That's Peter there. You can see that Da Vinci was well aware of how Peter felt about Mary Magdalene.”

  Again, Sophie was speechless. In the painting, Peter was leaning menacingly toward Mary Magdalene and slicing his blade-like hand across her neck. The same threatening gesture as in Madonna of the Rocks!

  “And here too,” Langdon said, pointing now to the crowd of disciples near Peter. “A bit ominous, no?”

  Sophie squinted and saw a hand emerging from the crowd of disciples. “Is that hand wielding a dagger?”

  “Yes. Stranger still, if you count the arms, you'll see that this hand belongs to…… no one at all. It's disembodied. Anonymous.”

  Sophie was starting to feel overwhelmed. “I'm sorry, I still don't understand how all of this makes Mary Magdalene the Holy Grail.”

  “Aha!” Teabing exclaimed again. “Therein lies the rub!” He turned once more to the table and pulled out a large chart, spreading it out for her. It was an elaborate genealogy. “Few people realize that Mary Magdalene, in addition to being Christ's right hand, was a powerful woman already.”

  Sophie could now see the title of the family tree.

  THE TRIBE OF BENJAMIN

  “Mary Magdalene is here,” Teabing said, pointing near the top of the genealogy.

  Sophie was surprised. “She was of the House of Benjamin?”

  “Indeed,” Teabing said. “Mary Magdalene was of royal descent.”

  “But I was under the impression Magdalene was poor.”

  Teabing shook his head. “Magdalene was recast as a whore in order to erase evidence of her powerful family ties.”

  Sophie found herself again glancing at Langdon, who again nodded. She turned back to Teabing. “But why would the early Church care if Magdalene had royal blood?”

  The Briton smiled. “My dear child, it was not Mary Magdalene's royal blood that concerned the Church so much as it was her consorting with Christ, who also had royal blood. As you know, the Book of Matthew tells us that Jesus was of the House of David. A descendant of King Solomon-King of the Jews. By marrying into the powerful House of Benjamin, Jesus fused two royal bloodlines, creating a potent political union with the potential of making a legitimate claim to the throne and restoring the line of kings as it was under Solomon.”

  Sophie sensed he was at last coming to his point.

  Teabing looked excited now. “The legend of the Holy Grail is a legend about royal blood. When Grail legend speaks of 'the chalice that held the blood of Christ'…… it speaks, in fact, of Mary Magdalene-the female womb that carried Jesus' royal bloodline.”

  The words seemed to echo across the ballroom and back before they fully registered in Sophie's mind. Mary Magdalene carried the royal bloodline of Jesus Christ? “But how could Christ have a bloodline unless……?” She paused and looked at Langdon.

  Langdon smiled softly. “Unless they had a child.”

  Sophie stood transfixed.

  “Behold,” Teabing proclaimed, “the greatest cover-up in human history. Not only was Jesus Christ married, but He was a father. My dear, Mary Magdalene was the Holy Vessel. She was the chalice that bore the royal bloodline of Jesus Christ. She was the womb that bore the lineage, and the vine from which the sacred fruit sprang forth!”

  Sophie felt the hairs stand up on her arms. “But how could a secret that big be kept quiet all of these years?”

  “Heavens!” Teabing said. “It has been anything but quiet! The royal bloodline of Jesus Christ is the source of the most enduring legend of all time-the Holy Grail. Magdalene's story has been shouted from the rooftops for centuries in all kinds of metaphors and languages. Her story is everywhere once you open your eyes.”

  “And the Sangreal documents?” Sophie said. “They allegedly contain proof that Jesus had a royal bloodline?”

  “They do.”

  “So the entire Holy Grail legend is all about royal blood?”

  “Quite literally,” Teabing said. “The word Sangreal derives from San Greal-or Holy Grail. But in its most ancient form, the word Sangreal was divided in a different spot.” Teabing wrote on a piece of scrap paper and handed it to her.

  She read what he had written.

  Sang Real

  Instantly, Sophie recognized the translation. Sang Real literally meant Royal Blood.

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