BY NOW you have heard all about Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code (DVC). But here’s another missing code for you. What many do not know is that the Dominicans are meshed in the real action behind the novel, from the Magdalene tales to Da Vinci’s Last Supper, making more knowledgeable readers wonder why the Dominicans are not in the thriller.

DVC (Doubleday, 2003) weaves the story of the alleged marriage between Jesus and Mary Magdalene, their supposed descendants who assumed the French Merovingian throne, protected by a priory whose grandmasters included Renaissance painter Leonardo da Vinci. This is the “secret” the Church supposedly has been guarding for centuries since the time of Rome’s Emperor Constantine.

The opening “Fact” page of the novel insists that description of documents, artworks, rituals, and secret organizations in the book are “accurate”—a bold claim contested in Fr. Regino Cortes, O.P.’s book, The Da Vinci Code: An Exegetical Review (USTPH, 2006).

Cortes could yet be the ultimate DVC debunker. After all, in 1297, St. Magdalene became the patroness of the Dominicans, who took charge of tracing her steps and keeping her relics. Cortes, regent of Fine Arts and Design, took his Biblical studies in École Biblique et Archéologique Française at Jerusalem and is also a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission in Rome.

According to Cortes, Sarah, the presumed daughter of Jesus and Magdalene who accompanied her “mother” to southern France, was actually an Egyptian black slave.

“Sarah was of dark complexion. A tradition, prevalent throughout the provincial district of France where St. Sarah’s crypt is located, describes the ‘black servant’ Sarah who miraculously escaped persecution in Judea around the year 44 A.D. and landed (in the country) in a frail craft,” Cortes writes.

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Brown’s theory that the Merovingian kings draw their origins from Jesus and Magdalene came from Henry Lincoln and company’s Holy Blood, Holy Grail (Dell, 1983). Legend has it that Merovech, the first Merovingian king, was born of a sea creature. Lincoln et al. concocted that this creature must be Jesus, whose symbol is a fish, and his wife must be Magdalene who went to the shores of France.

“There is no tradition at all about her (Magdalene’s) family because she lived alone in a cave in a hill called La Sainte Baume,” Cortes says. The Dominican Church of Le Sainte Baume in Provence, France keeps the venerated head of the saint.

According to Cortes, accounts in the Gnostic texts that speak of Magdalene’s favors as a “companion of Christ” was exaggerated by Brown to cast Magdalene as Jesus’ wife.

“In the Gnostic text Pistis Sophia, the relationship of Jesus and Mary Magdalene is contradicted because according to that book, Jesus, after his resurrection, stayed with the apostles for 11 years,” Cortes writes.

Nothing prior

The “Priory of Sion”, said to be protecting Jesus’ royal bloodline, is alleged to have been in existence since 1099. But the very name “priory” casts doubts on the society’s historical origins.

“The word ‘priory’ was (only) popularized by the Dominicans during the 13th century. To say that an organization was already using this word in the 11th century is suspect,” Cortes rebuts. The Dominicans call their convents “priories” instead of “abbeys,” and their superiors “priors” instead of “abbots” or “masters.”

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Cortes notes that the parchment proving the Priory of Sion’s existence was only placed in Paris’ Bibliotheque Nationale in 1956 by Pierre Plantard. Plantard wanted to trace his lineage to the Merovingian kings to acquire their treasures in Rennes-Le-Château, France. But one of Plantard’s accomplices, Philippe de Cherisey, confessed of the forgery after failing to receive his share from the bogus exposé.

Now according to Brown, Leonardo da Vinci, the alleged grandmaster of the priory, left paintings proving his knowledge of the Jesus-Magdalene affair. The novel says da Vinci deliberately painted Magdalene on the right side of Jesus in his mural, The Last Supper. The figure looks feminine, beardless, long-haired, and could not be the apostle John as previously thought, the novel contends. Peter is behind, supposedly menacing the favored Magdalene to symbolize his envy and the bitter clash between the “misogynist” pro-Peter church and the “feminist” pro-Magdalene faction.

However, Cortes answers that the “Beloved John” has always been portrayed with feminine features in Medieval and Renaissance art to characterize his dependency, youthfulness, and affection to Jesus. Cortes says Da Vinci left sketches of the painting indicating the identity of the 12 figures. The Dominicans of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, Italy had observed Da Vinci while painting it.

“The painter was trying to capture the time when Peter asked John to inquire from the Master who he was who would betray him. Peter is whispering to John and not menacing his head with a karate chop,” Cortes explains. “Still, (John) is always painted as a young man without a beard and sometimes with long hair.”

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Elsewhere in the novel, Brown claims that the version we have of Christianity today was due to Emperor Constantine’s political maneuver. Brown alleges that the emperor picked which of the gospels would be included in the New Testament, and deified Christ in the 325 A.D. Council of Nicaea.

Cortes debunks this story by citing ancient Fathers of the Church and even non-Christian historians who lived before Constantine. In their writings, they declare that Christians worship Jesus as a God and a set of authorized gospels was already in place.

“The oldest extra-biblical testimony affirming that Christians adore Christ as God and singing hymns to Him was made by Pliny the Younger (61-114 A.D.) in his letter to Emperor Trajan,” Cortes writes. The Muratonian Canon of the second century, St. Clement of Rome, St. Polycarp, St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Justin, and St. Irenaeus who lived before Constantine canonize only the Synoptic gospels, he says.

Cortes’ book further gives disclaimers on the legend of the Holy Grail, the Knights Templar, and feminist thealogy. He says that the “sacred feminine” has always been in the Church in the person of the Virgin Mary, more than any woman. Cortes sheds light on Gnostic beliefs, which are historically related to the Albigensian and Cathari heresies purged by the Dominicans.

Once more, Cortes proves that the Dominicans are worth their moniker “Domini canes”— loosely translated as “hounds of the Lord”. Indeed, it takes a Dominican like Cortes to bark off faith’s and reason’s foes. N. F. Bernardo and C. G. Fallorina


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