Since it was published three years ago, Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code" has become one of the most popular novels of all time, with more than 30 million copies in print worldwide. With a major movie based on the book due out soon, the book seems assured of a place on the bestseller lists for a considerable time to come. What has attracted readers to "The Da Vinci Code" is its central theme, which Dan Brown claims is not fiction but fact — that a mysterious European society, known as the Priory of Sion, has for centuries guarded a momentous secret. That secret, which is the theory at the heart of the novel, is that Jesus Christ married Mary Magdalene and today their descendants are living in France. It's not surprising that this has incurred the wrath of many Christians, including the Vatican, while others have wondered if there might not be some truth to all of this.
Well, wonder no more. Correspondent Ed Bradley reports on the real secret of the Priory of Sion.
To follow the trail of the Priory of Sion, you first need to go to a small, remote village in the foothills of the French Pyrenees called Rennes le Chateau and to go back in time more than 100 years. It was here that the Priory was said to have had a mysterious influence on the village priest, Berenger Sauniere, who spent money on a scale that was way beyond his means.
After lavishly redecorating the interior of the church, Sauniere built a grand estate for himself, with a promenade that stretched along the edge of the village. At one end he constructed a tower, where he entertained guests and housed his extensive library. Saunière died in 1917, but the mystery of his wealth lived on. In the 1950's, newspaper reports suggested that Sauniere had discovered a fabulous treasure and soon Rennes Le Chateau began to be invaded by treasure hunters from all over the world.
One of those treasure hunters who now gives tours of Rennes Le Chateau and has become a major player in this story is Henry Lincoln, a British scriptwriter. Lincoln says his interest was first aroused when he came across a book containing reproductions of two parchments. These had supposedly been found by Sauniere behind the altar in his church and had led him to that treasure. Each contained a passage from the Gospels, written in an ancient script, and was said to contain a secret message.
"Ah, I thought, I've got the makings of a film here. Don't forget that was my career. I was a writer for television and I thought 'this is a damn good subject for a documentary,'" says Lincoln.
But in the three documentary films that Lincoln made for the BBC, no treasure was ever found. He suggested that Sauniere, the priest of Rennes Le Chateau, had acquired his mysterious wealth through his association with a shadowy organization, and the clues were in those parchments.
"My researches have thrown up several times the name Priory of Sion. Could this be the meaning of 'PS?'" Lincoln wondered.
Lincoln decided that it was, and he went on to suggest the secret Sauniere took to his grave was that the Priory of Sion's role was to protect none other than the descendants of Christ.
"There's Mary Magdalene to whom the church is dedicated, holding the cross. She's supposed to have brought it to France, the cross and the grail," says Lincoln.
Lincoln's theory was that Mary Magdalene had married Jesus and the Holy Grail that she allegedly brought to France was not the cup from the Last Supper but the child that she and Jesus had together.