It’s pretty easy to hoax people. We all want to be deceived, but only up to a point. Some hoaxes are fun and pleasant, others malicious and unpleasant. We’d like a way to tell the difference (Robert Carroll).

Oct 3, 2011

Da Vinci Code: The Priory of Sion Hoax

Part of the popularity of Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code" came from the possibility that much of the novel was based on truth. At the beginning of the novel, Brown lays out a number of "facts" upon which the book is based. Many sources, however, contend that some of Brown's facts are actually based on a hoax. The Priory of Sion, the secret society in Brown's book, was actually invented in the 1950's by Pierre Plantard. Plantard created false documents that connected him to the supposed illustrious secret society and then planted those documents in the French national library. The authors of the book "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" used the documents as part of the research for their book; Dan Brown based his research for "The Da Vinci Code" on "Holy Blood, Holy Grail."

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Historical Background

The trail to the "Priory of Sion" fraud begins in mid-nineteenth-century France. A resurgent interest in the occult led to the creation of many esoteric groups. Members of these groups often belonged to several organizations. Their leaders often broke away to form competing factions. At the same time, constant turmoil in the French government drew France into two increasingly hostile camps jousting for political supremacy. The royalists, composed of the Catholic Church, the far right, and the supporters of the old system of royalty, vied for power with the republicans, composed of Freemasons and other supporters of democratically elected governments. From 1877 to the eve of the Second World War, Freemasons dominated French government. Their domination earned them bitter enemies.

In the 1880's, at the height of this political conflict, Joseph Alexandre St. Yves d'Alveydre, "the supreme Hermeticist of his epoch," proposed a new idea for injecting moral values into governing society. He called it "synarchy" and claimed it was the method used by the Knights Templar to change medieval society. An elect band of initiates would influence groups representing different aspects of society. Those groups would influence their spheres and ultimately the entire social order.

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By the turn of the century, the royalist faction came to fear synarchy, whose influence had spread beyond esoteric groups. By the 1920s, Masonic groups with distinctly synarchist policies were a reality in France. In the 1930s, even a leftist group, called the X-Cruise Club, advocated a technocracy with synarchist ideas.

In this era, the French far right formed its own seemingly esoteric groups. But they were actually front organizations, pretending to have Masonic and esoteric affiliations in order to draw support away from the Masons. As anti-Semitism spread across Europe in the 1930s, the French far right denounced Masons and Jews in the same breath. When fourteen initiatic orders created a federation called FUDOSI to promote peace and positive ideals, the far right increased its formation of pseudo-Masonic groups.

During the war, Nazi occupation policy was to arrest leaders of esoteric organizations, put them in concentration camps, and seize their groups' records and membership rolls, which were placed in a central depository. In France this depository was called the Centre d'Action Maconnique, and the French occupation government at Vichy actively aided the Gestapo in its persecution of Masonic and esoteric orders. So great was the far right's fear of Masonic influence that an unknown source even issued a document called the "Chauvin Report," alleging Masonic involvement in Vichy. While these events were taking place, the individuals who later formed the "Priory of Sion" were being gathered into two groups. One group, known to have been in existence as early as 1934, was called Alpha Galates. Toward the end of the 1930s Alpha Galates utilized a young man named Pierre Plantard, born March 18, 1920, as its titular head.

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In 1937, at the age of only seventeen, Plantard attempted to found an anti-Semitic and anti-Masonic group to engage "purifying and renewing France" and sought official permission to publish a periodical called "The Renewal of France." This theme Would constantly appear in association with Alpha Galates and later with the "Priory of Sion."

Under the collaborationist Vichy regime, the group behind Plantard and Alpha Galates sought influence with the government. On December 16, 1940, Plantard wrote to Marshal Petain, head of the Vichy regime, denouncing a vast Jewish-Masonic plot. But he failed to receive any attention beyond routine entries in police files. In 1941, Plantard applied to found an organization called "French National Renewal" but was denied official permission in September of that year. Finally in 1942, Plantard and his superiors again sought public visibility, now openly using the name Alpha Galates and promoting a publication called Vaincre ("Conquer").

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Vaincre, which commenced publication in September 1942, was filled with anti-Semitic, fawningly pro-Vichy articles and sprinkled with shallow, superficial esoterica on Celtic traditions and chivalry. Nonetheless Alpha Galates tried to present this journal as the clearinghouse of a relatively sizable and cohesive body of young people. After six issues it ceased publication. But it earned Plantard some recognition. He was periodically observed by the police. As late as February 1945, the police were still investigating Alpha Galates and its revolving-door membership of 50 or so, and concluded it had no serious purpose. But at least one serious seeker, Robert Amadou, who joined Alpha Galates believing it was a genuine esoteric group, suggests that its focus was political. Later a Freemason and Martinist, after 40 years Amadou refused to discuss Alpha Galates, only saying, "For my part, I have never been involved in political activity, before or since."

In 1947, while a revived FUDOSI met in Paris, Pierre Plantard filed the legal papers necessary to create another organization, called the Latin Academy. Its titular head was his own mother. Its ostensible purpose was "historical research." Its real purpose was to carry on the right-wing program of its predecessor. By the mid-1950s Plantard began promoting himself in Catholic circles as the Merovingian pretender to the throne of France. One place where he engaged in these activities was the Paris church and seminary of St. Sulpice.

The Priory of Sion

Pierre Plantard founded the Priory of Sion in 1956, almost a nine hundred years after it was to have allegedly been formed.

Plantard decided to travel to the small town of Rennes-Le-Chateau to have lunch with his friend, Noel Corbu. Noel Corbu’s restaurant was attached to a stone tower that was built by a priest named Sauniere Beranger. To promote his restaurant, Corbu made up a story about how this priest had found a hidden treasure in the local church.

The story had Plantard’s wheels turning and he decided to take it back home with him and use it to establish the mythical origins of his newly founded Priory of Sion. Plantard tied in the ancient Merovigian Kings and then created a fake family line making himself the only surviving descendant of King Dagobert. He even changed his last name to St. Clair to sound as if he was related to the Sinclair family of Scotland, said to be descendants of the Knights Templar and ancestors to the Freemasons.

As if this wasn’t enough, Plantard even created a fake list of past grand masters of the Priory of Sion, and made sure to include Leonardo da Vinci and Sir Isaac Newton. To top it off he created fake historical documents and inserted them into archives in places such as the Bibliothèque Nationale de France.

Plantard then wrote a book about the Priory of Sion but he couldn’t find a publisher. He gave his book to a friend, and had him rewrite the book and publish it in his friend’s name. He also forged the documents that Sauniere was allegedly to have found and planted them in Rennes-Le-Chateau. What was to happen next, no one could have guessed.

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A British actor named Henry Lincoln stumbled upon Plantard’s book and created two documentaries that were aired on BBC. He then urged authors Michael Baigant and Richard Leigh to join him on an expedition to uncover the secret of Rennes-Le-Chateau.

No one knows how long it took them to realize they had been duped. One can assume it was when they linked up with Plantard who helped them stumble upon documents linking himself to the Merovingian Dynasty. Either way they sniffed out Pierre Plantard’s fakery, but they decided to make the most of their wasted time and partake in a bit of tom foolery of their own.

They took Plantard’s story and added a bit about the origins of Christianity and wrote a book about how Plantard St. Clair was not only the descendant of the Merovingian Dynasty, but of Jesus of Nazareth himself. The rest is history. Lincoln, Baigent, and Leigh’s book, “Holy Blood Holy Grail” blazed the path Dan Brown’s novel “The Da Vinci Code.” The small lie had spiraled out of control and turned into a grand conspiracy that landed Plantard in court, not only fighting for royalties of the book he had his friend publish, but also admitting that he invented the Priory of Sion, forged documents, and caused the largest religious uproar of the twentieth century.


Pierre Plantard made an attempted comeback in 1989 following his resignation from the Priory of Sion in 1984, the details of which were outlined in three 1989 issues of Vaincre - dated April, June and September of that year. The comeback involved revising the whole structure of the myth of the Priory of Sion - creating a whole new system of belief with a brand new agenda - the old material as contained in the previous Priory Documents was discarded and rejected with Philippe Toscan, the author of the Dossiers Secrets being lampooned as a sad individual who had written his works under the influence of LSD and was arrested on 11 April 1967 for that! Indeed, the works of Mathieu Paoli, Henry Lincoln, Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh were criticised as products of "the imagination and the novel". The parchments were no longer genuine - again - but the fabrications of Philippe de Cherisey. Genuine parchments "did exist", but they were inaccessible. So, Plantard came storming back to a completely disinterested French Public having regained his position as the Grand Master of the Priory of Sion at the "Convent of Avignon" on 9 March 1989 following the death of the previous Grand Master, Patrice Pelat.

But involving in this story Pelat, a friend of the then-President of France François Mitterrand and centre of a scandal involving French Prime Minister Pierre Bérégovoy, put a last nail in a coffin of the story. In October 1993, the judge investigating the Pelat scandal had Pierre Plantard's house searched. The search failed to find any documents related to Pelat, but turned up a hoard of false documents, including some proclaiming Plantard the true king of France. Plantard admitted under oath he had fabricated everything, including Pelat's involvement with the Priory of Sion. Plantard was threatened with legal action by the Pelat family and therefore disappeared to his house in southern France. He was 74 years old at the time. Nothing more was heard of him until he died in Paris on 3 February 2000.

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