Thursday, May 1, 2014

There Was A Man

Rennes-Le-Chateau? That's in France, right? Where have I heard that name?
There was a man. A priest. Named Berenger Sauniere. Who came here a hundred or so years ago. Perhaps you've heard of him.
- The Invisibles #7
by Grant Morrison and Jill Thompson

Let me tell you a story. There was a priest that came to lead an old church. Apparently possessing lavish tastes, the priest began renovations on the church to suit such tastes. These expensive renovations required great wealth to afford. His superiors noticed this and held hearings to investigate how the simple priest was financing his endeavors. These hearings revealed that the priest was quite active in the selling of masses and his other priestly duties. People were mailing the priest money for him to say so many masses and prayers for them that it was completely unrealistic that he could perform them all. The man was a schemer and his superiors suspended him from his role as priest.

Let me tell you a story. There was a priest that came to lead an old church. While doing simple upkeep and modest renovations on the church, he discovered a grand treasure hidden away in the building. It might have been of Templar origin or some other fantastic source. Wherever it came from, the priest used the treasure to pay for expensive renovations on his church.

Let me tell you a story. There was a priest that came to lead an old church. While doing simple upkeep and modest renovations on the church, he discovered something. It might have been treasure, but it might have been documents. Theses documents, in the form of ancient parchments, somehow proved that Jesus of Nazareth had a wife, children, and that his bloodline continues to this day. The priest was able to use his possession of these documents to acquire money for financing more extensive additions to his church. Maybe the Church or some secret society bribed him to keep quiet about their secret. Maybe the Church or some secret society let him join their ranks once he knew the secret and he was allowed to share in their wealth.

Now, which of these three stories is true? Well, I suppose that depends on what you consider truth. If we are looking for what historically, factually happened, then the first story is most likely the truth (or closest to it, at least). However, most people are probably more familiar with some version, or a story that emerged from some version, of the third story. That version was probably a novel or a movie starring Tom Hanks with a ridiculous haircut.

Few people know about the priest selling masses. But a great many people are familiar with the story of a secret bloodline of Christ. What is story-true is far more prevelant than what is for-real-true. How is that possible? Personally, I find the making of this myth to be far more fascinating than the myth itself. This is not an old legend. This is new. The priest died in 1917. The stories of his treasure first appeared in the 1950s and books about the holy bloodline conspiracy were published in the later 1960s and early 1980s before really finding a solid footing in the culture. And then in 2003 Dan Brown published The Da Vinci Code and the conspiracy was solidified as popular culture.

That is fascinating. We have witnessed the creation and evolution of a modern day myth. How did this happen? Why didn't someone just point out that the first version of the story is likely what happened and that others kept adding additional, fantastical details with each retelling? I'm sure people did, but no one was listening.

Or, there's, you know, the money. Yes, people who wrote bestselling books and novels and made movies about the subject made lots of money off the myth. But I'm sure so did the people who were objecting the loudest to The Da Vinci Code. How many books, movies, and documentaries did Christian companies produce attempting to debunk Dan Brown's book? How much money did they make? I'm serious! A whole cottage industry arose in Christian infotainment to counter The Da Vinci Code. The seriousness with which they attacked this fiction novel only strengthened some beliefs that Christians were fervently trying to suppress this secret of the holy bloodline.

Just the title The Da Vinci Code probably incites all sorts of controversy among Christians. Just mention it in a church and see what happens. People get angry about this and I was never sure why. Maybe its because before I had ever heard of The Da Vinci Code, I had already encountered pop culture's take on the bloodline conspiracy in other mediums, namely Preacher. And I guess after reading Preacher, Dan Brown's little story seems completely tame.

Anyway, like I said, the making of this myth is more interesting to me than the actual conspiracy or controversy. It happened so recently that you can trace the development of it. You can see when people added their own elements to the story or co-opted it into other conspiracy theories. And that is pretty much how the mundane life of a scamming priest turned into a pop cultural phenomena that a lot of people made a lot of money from.

Huh. What if everybody involved in promoting and/or debunking the bloodline conspiracy actually did take the priest's life to heart and figured, hey, let's scam people like he did!

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