Emerging in the Middle Ages in monarchic circles, chivalric orders gradually morphed into fraternities and social circles, predominantly in Christian societies. These knightly orders were a privilege often reserved for the wealthy, the influential, and the aristocratic, and were thus “the place to be.” Meanwhile, Pierre Plantard was a simple French man who simply wanted to feel the magnificence of a fraternal, knightly organization. To do so, he created his own order in 1956 known as the Priory of Sion. Plantard created an elaborate hoax to go with it, successfully fooling the members of the public and creating one of the biggest literary hoaxes in the history of France. The Priory of Sion was a complex con, which managed to confound many influential minds. How did Plantard do it? Let’s find out!
Pierre Plantard created a string of associations throughout his life, including the Priory of Sion. ( Sendero Revolucionario )
Pierre Plantard and the Birth of the Priory of Sion Hoax
Pierre Plantard was certainly a unique character. Born in 1920 in Paris, he was a son of a butler and a concierge. From his early youth however, Plantard was always in odd niches of society. He left school at age 17, and soon after he became a sacristan - an officer in charge of the sacristy - at a local Parisian church of Sain-Louis d’Antin.
Even though he was just 17, Pierre Plantard had begun his long “career” of forming odd associations. The first one he formed was a mystical and quite ultranationalist association, called the French Union, in 1937. This was followed by the formation of the French National Renewal in 1941, a direct attempt to support the turbulent nationalistic tendencies in the emerging Second World War . Plantard was openly anti-Semitic and anti-Masonic, and his societies were form as a support for the so-called National Revolution which he envisioned.
He wanted to take it even further however, and in 1942 attempted to form yet another association. This one he called the Alpha Galates, his first thoroughly developed idea, and the basis for the future Priory of Sion. The Alpha Galates were a “tripartite” order, with three branches and a periodical. The periodical of Alpha Galates was called Vaincre - Pour une jeune chevalerie (which translates into "Conquer - for a young knighthood"), and published six issues. However, this all came to an end very soon after when the German authorities arrested him. Plantard was sentenced to four months in prison.
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The next time we hear of Pierre Plantard is in 1953, when he was given a six month prison sentence, this time for fraud or breach of trust, apparently because he was caught selling esoteric order degrees for ridiculous sums of money. Nevertheless, he continued his unorthodox endeavors and soon after the Priory of Sion emerged. The law required that an association had to be lawfully registered, and thus Plantard officially created the Priory of Sion on June 25th 1956. The association was headquartered in Plantard’s own apartment, in a social housing block in the town of Annemasse in eastern France, in the region of Haute-Savoie.
Pierre took inspiration from a hill south of that town, a local feature named Mont Sion . It was here that Plantard wished to create a spiritual resort of his new fraternity. The Priory of Sion also had its very own journal, which was named CIRCUIT. This is an acronym from its official title: " Chevalerie d'Institutions et Règles Catholiques d'Union Indépendante et Traditionaliste " (Chivalry of Catholic Rules and Institutions of Independent and Traditionalist Union). One of the several statutes of the Priory of Sion association required that its members ought to “carry out good deeds, to help the Roman Catholic Church, teach the truth, defend the weak and the oppressed.”
Placard coopted the phrase “Et in Arcadia Ego” which appears in the 1630s painting Archadian Shepherds for the Priory of Sion.
A Penchant for Con Artistry
Pierre Plantard created an elaborate new plan for his Priory of Sion association, planning to turn it into an esoteric Christian chivalric order. Members of this order were to be influential people, from the fields of religion, philosophy, scholarly arts, and finance. The goal of the Priory was the installing of the so-called Great Monarch to the throne of France. The Great Monarch was one of the several prophecies made by Nostradamus, who claimed that the anagram of this person’s name was Chyren Selin. It was for this reason that Pierre Plantard adopted the name Chyren as his pseudonym within the circles of the Priory of Sion.
He then meticulously created a false background for his organization. In it, it was claimed that it was a front, or simply put an “offshoot”, of an actual medieval Catholic knightly order, the so-called monastic order of the Abbey of Our Lady of Mount Zion , which was formed by a prominent crusader knight Godfrey de Bouillon in 1099 in the Kingdom of Jerusalem. It is supposed that Plantard got the idea from the local Mont Sion, which spurred the idea of the actual Mount Zion close to Jerusalem.
Gradually, Pierre Plantard took his hoax to even greater, and much sillier, lengths. Next up was his own faked lineagearound 1960. He claimed - through creating a variety of “Priory of Sion documents” - that he descended from one of the more obscure Merovingian Frankish Kings, Dagobert II, placing his lineage as far back as the 7th century AD. Although born to regular citizens, a butler and a concierge, Plantard created for his family of supposed “ancient” lineage a noble motto - Et in Arcadia Ego - which he also applied as the motto of the Priory.
The Priory of Sion claimed a long line of Grand Masters since its creation in 1066, including Victor Hugo, Isaac Newton, Leonardo da Vinci and more, based on a document known as the Secret Files of Henri Lobineau. This is considered to be a forgery created and planted in the National Library of France by Pierre Plantard and Philippe de Chérsey. ( Los Artículos de KAOS QUÁNTICO )
Through his supposed lineage, Plantard claimed that he was the Great Monarch envisioned by Nostradamus, a descendant of the so-called “lost King” Dagobert. In hopes of making these preposterous claims credible in any way whatsoever, Pierre and his associates created several elaborate false documents. One of these was a supposed “lineage of Merovingian Kings” that linked Plantard to Dagobert II, a document which they illegally planted within the archives of the French National Library in Paris. They also created fake medieval parchments to further these claims. These false documents were placed in several locations in France.
From this point on, the hoax got out of hand. It gained popularity, a following, and was believed by many. This was helped by the book, written by Gérard de Sède at the behest of Plantard. Titled L'or de Rennes, ou La vie insolite de Bérenger Saunière, curé de Rennes-le-Château (translating as "The Gold of Rennes, or The Strange Life of Bérenger Saunière, Priest of Rennes-le-Château") it was published first in 1967, and then as a paperback in 1968, and became a surprisingly popular read in France.
Numerous Latin texts within it, which served as proof of the ancient origins of the Priory of Sion, were actually mismatched and taken from various random sources of varying ages, which were later spotted as errors by expert researchers. The book attracted the attention of Henry Lincoln, a script writer and researcher from England. Lincoln became very intrigued by the story that Plantard had invented, so much so that he went on to write his own books on the subject of Dagobert, and the Priory of Sion. His works were then expanded and the entire theory became a subject of three documentaries that aired on BBC between 1972 and 1979. They were a success amongst the viewer base, and from here on the hoax started getting truly out of hand.
Plantard claimed that he was the Great Monarch, a descendant of the so-called “lost King” Dagobert, seen here in a carving depicting his murder.
A Desire for Attention, or Something More Serious?
Lincoln was actually fully unaware that the entire documentation that lay behind the Priory of Sion, the history, the facts and the myths, were 100% faked. Taking a deep interest, Lincoln and his associates researched and expanded the Priory of Sion story, which resulted in their 1982 book, The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail. Much of their work was based on the “secret” - but forged - documents that were found in the National Library of Paris, and planted there years before by Plantard.
These documents presented a variety of historical facts, entirely invented, which Lincoln used as credible facts. Some of the things Pierre Plantard wrote were right out bizzare. For example, he claimed that the Priory of Sion had had a variety of Grand Masters at its head since its creation in 1066. Some of them being Isaac Newton , Leonardo da Vinci , Sandro Botticelli, Victor Hugo, and many other important historical figures.
By the late 80’s however, evidence of a hoax began to emerge. Plantard’s history as a con artist, and his prison sentences, all came to light, as did the letters between him and his associates, which all showed clear steps of the hoax’s development. French researcher, Jean-Luc Chaumeil, came into possession of hundreds of such letters dated from the late 1960’s, many of which presented ideas on how the hoax could be further realized. During this period, numerous prominent French writers, historians, and religious scholars shed light on the subject, helping to prove that it was truly all a hoax. Franck Marie began this process in 1978, followed by Pierre Jarnac in 1985, Massimo Introvigne in 2005, and Bernardo Sanchez da Motta in 2005.
From a Believable Story to a Pulp Fiction Attraction
Around 1987, Lincoln and his associates released a sequel to their original book, titled the Messianic Legacy . This book offered even more ridiculous theories, the main being the suggested conflict between the Priory of Sion and the historic Sovereign Military Order of Malta, which supposedly originated with the rivalry of Knights Hospitaller and Knights Templar during the Crusades. What is more, with the release of a highly acclaimed novel in 2003, the Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, the interest in the Priory of Sion once more spiked. Dan Brown touched upon the “mythical” aspects of the Priory of Sion, but added his own touches to adapt to his own story.
When further evidence of Plantard’s elaborate hoax became circulated, he desperately attempted to regain his lost reputation and re-enter French esoteric circles once more. To restore credibility he actually changed some of his previous statements, now claiming that the Priory of Sion was not actually founded in 1066, but in 1681, in Rennes-le-Château, located in Languedoc region of Southern France. He also stated that the Priory in fact focused more on “harnessing paranormal powers of ley line,” rather than installing a Merovingian pretender on the French throne. Lastly, he stated that he was not really a direct descendant of Dagobert II, but has descended from a cadet branch of his dynasty. Needless to say, his futile attempt at restoring his credibility failed utterly.
With the onset of the 1990’s Pierre Plantard’s life-long hoax was crumbling, largely due to one simple mistake. As Plantard was known to use various big names as having been “Grand Masters” of his fake order, he at last used a name that led to big consequences. That name was of Roger-Patrice Pelat, a French businessman who was at the time involved in some major scandals with the then French President Mitterand, and the then French Prime Minister Bérégovoy.
Plantard drew the attention of the law after citing Pelat as the Grand Master of the Priory of Sion. Soon after, his house was searched under orders from the state judge. A multitude of fake documents was found, and Pierre Plantard at last admitted - in court - that it was all hoax, that he had fabricated everything, and that the entire list of the Grand Masters of his order was completely false. And when the Pelat family threatened to sue him for using Roger-Patrice’s name, he retired from public life and virtually disappeared. Nothing more was heard of him, until he died on February 3rd, 2000, in Paris. He was 79 at the time.
Rennes-le-Château receives tens of thousands of visitors every year thank to a vast array of conspiracy theories related to the Knights Templar, the Priory of Sion, the Holy Grail, Mary Magdalen and more. (Mellow10 / Adobe Stock)
The Silliest Knightly Order in History
There is no doubt for anyone even remotely versed in history, religion, and monastic and knightly orders, that the Priory of Sion story is a through-and-through hoax. Even from his early age, Pierre Plantard had a penchant for con artistry, hoaxes, and mythomania. His involvement in and founding of such societies were on the very edge of insane behavior. Nevertheless, he devoted almost his entire life to fabricating a believable story of an alternate history, one that perhaps even consumed him and confused his sense of reality. Why he did it remains the biggest mystery of it all, and one we may never resolve.
The Da Vinci Code tells us the following about the Priory of Sion:
- "In 1975 Paris's Bibliotheque Nationale discovered parchments known as Les Dossiers Secrets, identifying numerous members of the Priory of Sion, including Sir Isaac Newton, Sandro Botticelli, Victor Hugo and Leonardo da Vinci." ("Fact" page)
- The Priory of Sion is one of the oldest secret societies and had members like Leonardo and Victor Hugo. It is the pagan goddess worship cult. (Ch. 23)
- The Priory of Sion was founded in 1099 by a French king who charged them with keeping his family secret, which included hidden documents. (Ch. 37)
- Les Dossiers Secrets prove the existence of the Priory of Sion and have been authenticated by experts. (Ch. 48)
Investigating the Priory of Sion and the Knights Templar
One of the great mysteries and contentious discussion points about the Knights Templar is whether the order was established by an already existing secret society called the Priory of Sion. This, as you will know, underlies the plot behind Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code.
The story goes that the Priory of Sion was formed to protect the sacred bloodline of Jesus Christ from the Catholic church, which feared the threat to its power and the terrible truth that would fatally undermine the papacy’s authority and fabulous wealth.
The Messiah had conceived at least one child with Mary Magdalene, who had fled to France after the crucifixion. Her descendants were the Merovingian kings overthrown in the eighth century CE who ruled over a large part of modern France, Germany and Switzerland.
The priory’s aim was to reinstate the dynasty and establish a Christian theocracy over Europe ruled by the descendants of Jesus. The Knights Templar had been formed by the priory to achieve this objective, whatever the official reasons given for their creation.
Subsequent centuries had seen a secret battle played out between different forces including the priory, the Templars, the church and Freemasons. They were fighting and scheming for control of the Holy Grail. But what exactly was the Grail? A physical object like a cup used at the Last Supper or the bloodline of Jesus Christ? The so-called Sang Real?
This is all of course discounted by mainstream medieval historians as hokum. The history of the Knights Templar, in their view, does not require additional layers of fantasy to be fascinating. The Priory of Sion is utter nonsense invented by con artists and spread by the credulous. Well, below, we’re going to examine the case for the existence of the Priory of Sion and the case for the prosecution.
First – let’s hear from the defence – those who believe the Priory of Sion was very real.
Case for the Defence
- was founded in Jerusalem after the First Crusade resulted in the capture of the city by Christian forces in 1099. It was based on the site of the Byzantine Hagia Sion, which subsequently housed a monastic order called the Abbey of Our Lady of Mount Zion. The Priory and Abbey were one and the same thing. This church was the site of the bodily and spiritual “assumption” of the Virgin Mary into heaven (in Catholic dogma). It’s now under the control of the Benedictines.
- The Priory of Sion founded the Knights Templar to achieve its hidden objectives. This was to protect the bloodline of Jesus – the real Holy Grail. The term Holy Grail means “Sang Real” or Royal Blood. The Templars were the Grail Knights spoken of in legend. It was their role and destiny to defend the Grail, the bloodline, at all costs. This they would do until the time came to make the bloodline known to humanity.
- A 19 th century French priest François-Bérenger Saunière (pictured above) discovered the truth about the Priory of Sion after being sent to run a church in the French village of Rennes-le-Château. The church was dedicated to Mary Magdalene, wife of Jesus Christ, who had fled to France after the crucifixion. While in this role, Saunière installed the statue of the Virgin Mary at Lourdes, the hugely popular pilgrimage site. He was a pious cleric who believed he had stumbled on a great truth.
- Saunière seemed to become very rich, very quickly. He built a large estate between 1898 and 1905 that included the Rococo-style edifice, Villa Bethania and the Tour Magdala with an orangery. The 1998 novel Menorah conjectures that Saunière had found the seven-branched candelabra of the Temple of Jerusalem, destroyed and sacked by the Romans.
- In the 1982 book The Holy Blood and the Holy Grailit was pointed out that Rennes-le-Chateau was located close to the ancestral home of Bertrand de Blanchefort, fourth Grand Master of the Knights Templar. The three authors of the book wondered if Blanchefort had buried Templar treasure in the vicinity. They believed that during the second world war, German soldiers had very likely excavated the area. Why? Because the Nazis, obsessed with the occult, were aware that their favourite composer Richard Wagner had visited Rennes-le-Château and shortly afterwards written his opera Parsifal, based on a medieval Grail quest story of the same name. Wagner knew that Rennes-le-Château was concealing a Grail mystery.
- The book detailed how in 1891, Saunière had the altar stone removed in his church and inside one of two Visigothic pillars supporting it, discovered four parchments in sealed wooden tubes dating from between 1244 to the 1780s.
- The 1780s parchments were the most interesting authored by a priest called Antoine Bigou who was the chaplain to the Blanchefort family just before the 1789 French Revolution. They appeared to be texts from the New Testament in Latin but were written rather oddly and clearly contained coded messages. They became the subject of three documentaries made for the BBC in the 1970s by one of the authors of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, Henry Lincoln. It referred to the last Merovingian king, Dagobert II, as follows once decoded: “To Dagobert II, king, and to Sion belongs this treasure and he is there dead.”
- Another parchment contained the enigmatic message: “Shepherdess, no temptation. That Poussin, Teniers hold the key. Peace 681. By the cross and this horse of God. I complete this daemon of the guardian at noon. Blue apples.”
- Saunière made the discovery of the parchments known to the bishop of Carcassonne who, realising their importance, sent him to Paris straight away. While there, visiting clerics and mixing with society people, he went to the Louvre to acquaint himself with the Poussin painting The Shepherds of Arcadia, long believed to include a Templar related secret message.
- Saunière returned to Rennes-le-Château and embarked on a bizarre redecoration of his church that included a representation of the demon Asmodeus who, in Talmudic legends, built the Temple of Solomon. In Kabbalistic circles, Asmodeus was the offspring of King David and the queen of the demons, Agrat bat Mahlat.
- On 22 January, 1917, Saunière suffered a stroke and died. The huge estate he had built was passed to his long serving housekeeper Marie Denarnaud. Gradually sliding in to genteel poverty after the second world war, Denarnaud sold the estate to a businessman called Noël Corbu (1912-1968). She promised to confide a secret to Corbu that would make him rich and powerful but tantalisingly died before she could impart this knowledge.
- The author Dan Brown took the story of these hidden parchments and brought the story of the Priory of Sion back to public prominence with his book The Da Vinci Code. The adventure starts with the murder of a curator at the Louvre called Jacques Saunière (same name as the priest who served at Rennes-le-Château) , who also happens to be the Grand Master of the Priory of Sion. His killer is a Catholic monk under the direction of a “teacher” who wants to use the secret of the Holy Grail to destroy the Vatican. The real meaning of the Holy Grail is the bloodline of Christ and it leads the book’s hero to the sarcophagus of Mary Magdalene, located under the Louvre.
- Dan Brown has asserted strongly that the Priory of Sion is fact and not fiction.
Case for the Prosecution
- The Prioriy of Sion was an invention of a French convicted fraudster called Pierre Athanase Marie Plantard (1920-2000 and pictured above). In 1953, he served a six-month prison sentence for fraud. This was revealed in a BBC2 programme called The History of a Mystery, part of the “Timewatch” documentary series. Timewatch was the successor to an earlier documentary strand called “Chronicles”, which in the 1970s had promoted the whole Priory of Sion thesis.
- Three years after his prison sentence, with an accomplice called André Bonhomme, Plantard created an organisation called The Priory of Sion in 1956. Bonhomme was president and Plantard was secretary general. Initially, it was not intended to be viewed as an ancient sect pre-dating the Templars, but just a pressure group campaigning for better local housing. It also took a traditionalist Catholic line and wanted to work with the local church on things like running a school bus service. Sion refers to a hill near the town of Annemasse where Plantard lived in the Auvergne region of France. The priory folded later the same year.
- Enter Robert Charroux, a man who believed that aliens had visited humanity in ancient history and imparted wondrous knowledge. A very similar theory was popularised in the 60s and 70s by the Swiss author Erich Von Däniken with his book Chariot of the Gods. In 1962, Charroux wrote a book Trésors du monde. It gave details of hidden treasures all over the world. Charroux had come across the aforementioned Noël Corbu who had bought the estate built by the priest Saunière. Corbu had serialised a story in the local paper claiming that the priest Saunière had discovered all or part of a 28.5 million gold pieces fortune gathered by Blanche of Castile to pay the ransom on King Louis of France during the Crusades, when he was being held prisoner by the Saracens in Egypt. This was detailed, he claimed, in the parchments found in the pillar of the altar in his church by Saunière. Cynics countered that Corbu was just trying to drum up business at his restaurant.
- A great deal is made of the sudden wealth acquired by Saunière as proof that he had indeed found part of the wealth of Blanche of Castile and possibly other treasure. The reality, as evidenced by several church disciplinary hearings and the stripping of his priesthood, is that he was utterly corrupt, selling masses which was against church law. This view was corroborated by a local historian, René Descadeillas, in 1974 as well as a Channel 4 documentary in the UK called The Real Da Vinci Codebroadcast in 2005 and a CBS 60 Minutes investigation, Priory of Sion, aired the following year. All came to the conclusion that Saunière’s wealth did not derive from discovering secret treasure but by exploiting his gullible parishioners.
- CBS also questioned the veracity of the discovered parchments and revealed that Plantard had been investigated by the French secret services during the second world war and described as a “fantasist”. He had come to their attention as an extreme right-wing activist.
- Plantard seems to have latched on to the Corbu story and developed it. In fact, all the protagonists in this conspiracy theory grabbed the Priory of Sion story baton and ran with it awhile – developing new angles before handing it on to another author.
- Plantard and others then developed a lineage for the Priory of Sion transporting it back way beyond 1956 into the mists of history. It was linked by Plantard to an abbey in Jerusalem, the Hagia Sion or Church of Zion. This was originally built in the early 5 th century, then destroyed by invading Persians and later occupied by a monastic order called the Abbey of Our Lady of Mount Zion. As Plantard rightly pointed out, they were absorbed into the Jesuits in 1617. But experts say that order had nothing to do with Plantard’s Priory of Sion.
- Plantard hooked up with an author called Gérard de Sède (1921-2004) who was the Baron de Lieoux and a man heavily influenced by surrealism. The result was a tome called L’Or de Rennes, the gold of Rennes, published in 1967. The two of them concocted the yarn that the last Merovingian king was buried at Rennes-le-Château in the eighth century and that the Priory of Sion had been working clandestinely ever since to bring the Merovingians back to power.
- Plantard had taken his Priory of Sion organisation from a defunct housing pressure group to an ancient brotherhood protecting the Merovingian line of which he now decided he was a descendant. The central proposition was that a Merovingian monarch would rule France, and possible Europe, fulfilling a prophecy of Nostradamus. Plantard styled himself “Chyren”, a pseudonym referring to “Chren Selin”, an anagram used by Nostradamus to refer to this future king.
- Enter Philippe de Chérisey, another aristocrat influenced by surrealism, who became buddies with Plantard in the early 1960s. He undoubtedly forged medieval parchments, allegedly found by Saunière, to back up the idea of the Priory of Sion being an ancient organisation. With Plantard, he created a load of allegedly secret documents, which they placed in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (bit like the Library of Congress or the British Library) De Cherisey seems to have viewed these forgeries as a bit of a hoot. In later confessions, he conceded that he enjoyed setting false trails.
- Henry Lincoln, author of Holy Blood Holy Grail, admitted that Plantard had told him De Cherisey had created the documents on which the whole Priory of Sion hoax rests.
- The Italian author and academic Umberto Eco was fascinated by the Knights Templar and the fantasy that surrounds them. He satirised people like Plantard in his book Foucault’s Pendulum where three publishers develop a fraudulent conspiracy theory only to be sucked in to a real one. This is surely a post-modern chuckle at the fantasists and hucksters.
- What we have with the Priory of Sion is a total fabrication half-believed by all those involved.
It sounds pretty damning for Plantard and his Priory of Sion. But then there’s another hypothesis put forward by Templar historian and fantasy writer Graeme Davis in his book Knights Templar A Secret History. Should mention that he also co-designed Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. Davis argues that the whole point of the Plantard hoax was to throw people off the scent of the real location of the Holy Grail.
In 2007 Davis met an academic who had taught at the University of Toulouse called Dr Émile Fouchet. They were at the International Congress on Medieval Studies. Fouchet shared his notes on the foundation of the Knights Templar with Davis three days before he was killed in a car accident in 2012 just outside Troyes, a town in France with strong Templar connections. Accident? Suicide? Murder? Who knows.
Fouchet developed a complicated account of the Holy Grail being fought over down the centuries by Freemasons, the Inquisition and a secret continuation of the Knights Templar in various guises. One of the Templar tools was none other than Napoleon Bonaparte who they allowed to demolish the Paris Temple to cover his tracks.
The Holy Grail was hidden by the Templars at Rennes-le-Château where Saunière, an Inquisition agent, set about trying to find it. The Templars created false trails to confuse both the Inquisition and Freemasons who desperately tried to locate the Grail in Rennes-le-Château even though it had already gone. The Templars had whisked it out of the country. Eventually, the Inquisition realised Saunière’s efforts had come to nothing and they hung him out to dry with charges of corruption.
Fast forward to the Second World War and the Templars had got an ultra-right-wing nationalist called Plantard to start writing a load of baloney about secret documents and his connection to the Merovingian dynasty and Mary Magdalene. All of which, Fouchet asserted, was another false trail created by the Templars. They wanted the Inquisition and Freemasons to believe the Grail was still in Rennes-le-Château when it had left in around 1897. Where was it now? A town called Sion in Switzerland is one possibility.
One nagging problem I have with this hypothesis is that I can’t find anything about Emile Fouchet except in this book. And there’s a reason for that – he is entirely fictional!! The author Graeme Davis has contacted me since this blog post first went live to say that Fouchet was his own invention and he is not a scholar but a master of fantasy. See his comment below.
So back to the drawing board again when it comes to proving the Priory of Sion!
THE LAST WORD The Da Vinci Con
The ever-rising tide of sales of ''The Da Vinci Code'' has lifted some pretty odd boats, and none odder than the dodgy yet magisterial ''Holy Blood, Holy Grail,'' by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln. A best seller in the 1980's, ''Grail'' is climbing the paperback charts again on the strength of its relationship to Dan Brown's thriller (which has, in turn, inspired a crop of new nonfiction books coming out this spring, from 'ɻreaking the Da Vinci Code'' to ''Secrets of the Code: The Unauthorized Guide to the Mysteries Behind The Da Vinci Code''). ''The Da Vinci Code'' is one long chase scene in which the main characters flee a sinister Parisian policeman and an albino monk assassin, but its rudimentary suspense alone couldn't have made it a hit. At regular intervals, the book brings its pell-mell plot to a screeching halt and emits a pellet of information concerning a centuries-old conspiracy that purports to have preserved a tremendous secret about the roots of Christianity itself. This ''nonfiction'' material gives ''The Da Vinci Code'' its frisson of authenticity, and it's lifted from ''Holy Blood, Holy Grail,'' one of the all-time great works of pop pseudohistory. But what seems increasingly clear (to cop a favorite phrase from the authors of ''Grail'') is that ''The Da Vinci Code,'' like ''Holy Blood, Holy Grail,'' is based on a notorious hoax.
The back story to both books, like most conspiracy theories, is devilishly hard to summarize. Both narratives begin with a mystery that leads sleuths to vaster and more sinister intrigues. In Brown's novel, it's the murder of a curator at the Louvre in ''Grail,'' it's the unusual affluence of a priest in a village in the south of France. In the late 1960's, Henry Lincoln, a British TV writer, became interested in Rennes-le-Château, a town that had become the French equivalent of Roswell or Loch Ness as a result of popular books by Gérard de Sède. De Sède promulgated a story about parchments supposedly found in a hollowed-out pillar by the town priest in the 1890's, parchments containing coded messages that the priest somehow parlayed into oodles of cash. Lincoln worked on several ''Unsolved Mysteries''-style documentaries about Rennes-le-Château, then enlisted Baigent and Leigh for a more in-depth investigation.
What eventually emerges from the welter of names, dates, maps and genealogical tables crammed into ''Holy Blood, Holy Grail'' is a yarn about a secret and hugely influential society called the Priory of Sion, founded in Jerusalem in 1099. This cabal is said to have guarded documents and other proof that Mary Magdalene was the wife of Jesus (who may or may not have died on the Cross) and that she carried his child with her when she fled to what is now France after the Crucifixion, becoming, figuratively, the Holy Grail in whom Jesus' blood was preserved. Their progeny intermarried with the locals, eventually founding the Merovingian dynasty of Frankish monarchs. Although deposed in the eighth century, the Merovingian lineage has not been lost the Priory has kept watch over its descendants, awaiting an auspicious moment when it will reveal the astonishing truth and return the rightful monarch to the throne of France, or perhaps even a restored Holy Roman Empire.
All the usual suspects and accouterments of paranoid history get caught up in this 1,000-year jaunt: the Cathar heretics, the Knights Templar, the Rosicrucians, the Vatican, the Freemasons, Nazis, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the Order of the Golden Dawn -- everyone but the Abominable Snowman seems to be in on the game. ''Holy Blood, Holy Grail'' is a masterpiece of insinuation and supposition, employing all the techniques of pseudohistory to symphonic effect, justifying this sleight of hand as an innovative scholarly technique called ''synthesis,'' previously considered too ''speculative'' by those whose thinking has been unduly shaped by the ''so-called Enlightenment of the 18th century.'' Comparing themselves to the reporters who uncovered the Watergate scandal, the authors maintain that ''only by such synthesis can one discern the underlying continuity, the unified and coherent fabric, which lies at the core of any historical problem.'' To do so, one must realize that ''it is not sufficient to confine oneself exclusively to facts.''
Thus liberated, Lincoln et al. concoct an argument that is not so much factual as fact-ish. Dozens of credible details are heaped up in order to provide a legitimizing cushion for rank nonsense. Unremarkable legends (that Merovingian kings were thought to have a healing touch, for example) are characterized as suggestive clues or puzzles demanding solution. Highly contested interpretations (that, say, an early Grail romance depicts the sacred object as being guarded by Templars) are presented as established truth. Sources -- such as the New Testament -- are qualified as ''questionable'' and derivative when they contradict the conspiracy theory, then microscopically scrutinized for inconsistencies that might support it. The authors spin one gossamer strand of conjecture over another, forming a web dense enough to create the illusion of solidity. Though bogus, it's an impressive piece of work.
Finally, though, the legitimacy of the Priory of Sion history rests on a cache of clippings and pseudonymous documents that even the authors of ''Holy Blood, Holy Grail'' suggest were planted in the Bibliothèque Nationale by a man named Pierre Plantard. As early as the 1970's, one of Plantard's confederates had admitted to helping him fabricate the materials, including genealogical tables portraying Plantard as a descendant of the Merovingians (and, presumably, of Jesus Christ) and a list of the Priory's past ''grand masters.'' This patently silly catalog of intellectual celebrities stars Botticelli, Isaac Newton, Jean Cocteau and, of course, Leonardo da Vinci -- and it's the same list Dan Brown trumpets, along with the alleged nine-century pedigree of the Priory, in the front matter for ''The Da Vinci Code,'' under the heading of '𧾬t.'' Plantard, it eventually came out, was an inveterate rascal with a criminal record for fraud and affiliations with wartime anti-Semitic and right-wing groups. The actual Priory of Sion was a tiny, harmless group of like-minded friends formed in 1956.
Plantard's hoax was debunked by a series of (as yet untranslated) French books and a 1996 BBC documentary, but curiously enough, this set of shocking revelations hasn't proved as popular as the fantasia of ''Holy Blood, Holy Grail,'' or, for that matter, as ''The Da Vinci Code.'' The only thing more powerful than a worldwide conspiracy, it seems, is our desire to believe in one.
Its been a while since I blogged and the waiting will not be in vain, here is a bonus, I will be posting numerous blogs today!
Pierre Athanase Marie Plantard (March 18, 1920 – February 3, 2000) was a French draughtsman, best known for being the principal perpetrator of the Priory of Sion legend, by which he claimed from the 1960s onwards that he was a Merovingian dynast and the “Grand Monarch” prophesied by Nostradamus.
Pierre Plantard used an altered surname, Plantard de Saint-Clair, described as an epithet by Jean-Luc Chaumeil. The “Saint-Clair” part of his surname was added to his real surname on the basis that this was the family name associated with the area of Gisors, a city in Normandy associated with his hoax – according to the mythology of the Priory of Sion “Jean VI des Plantard” married a member of the House of Gisors during the 12th century.
Plantard was born in 1920, in Paris, the son of a butler and a concierge (described as a cook for wealthy families in police reports of the 1940s). Starting in 1937, he began forming mystical ultranationalist associations.
On May 7, 1956, Plantard and others legally registered in the town of St Julien-en-Genevois a new group called the Priory of Sion based in Annemasse close to the French border near Geneva. The group was devoted to the support of politicians working to build low-cost housing in Annemasse and published a magazine named Circuit. The “Sion” in the name did not refer to the ancient Land of Israel, but to a local mountain, Montagne de Sion, where the order intended to establish a retreat center.
Plantard was influenced by the story of hotelier Noël Corbu, who, in order to promote his isolated restaurant, started claiming in 1956 that a treasure had been discovered in the area of Rennes-le-Château by a previous occupant of his property, Father Bérenger Saunière, whilst renovating his church in 1891. Plantard met Corbu in the early 1960s and embellished the story with the claim that Saunière had discovered medieval parchments along with the treasure that made Plantard the last surviving Merovingian claimant to the throne of France, descended from King Dagobert II.
Robert Richardson detects many of the themes found in Priory documents, e.g. the king as a sacred being or the special quality of the blood in a royal family, admiration for Godfrey of Bouillon, originating in the ideas of radical traditionalist Julius Evola, although Plantard nowhere mentioned Evola in his writings. Such superficial themes were common traits in the history of reactionary Western esotericism.
Plantard, together with his friend Philippe de Chérisey, produced a number of false documents, including one which attached Plantard’s family tree to an actual genealogy from an article by Louis Saurel in the French magazine Les Cahiers de l’Histoire No. 1 (1960). Between 1965 and 1967 these documents, known as the “Dossiers Secrets” (Secret Files), were planted in the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris. A third co-conspirator, French author Gérard de Sède (1921–2004), based his 1967 book L’Or de Rennes on these documents, “revealing” the Priory of Sion Rennes story to the world.
Jean-Luc Chaumeil, Franck Marie, Pierre Jarnac, Massimo Introvigne and other researchers state that Plantard and de Chérisey planted documents in the Bibliothèque nationale between 1965 and 1985 and perpetrated a “brilliant” hoax. Bill Putnam and John Edwin Wood, authors of The Treasure of Rennes-le-Château: A Mystery Solved, agree. When asked where to rank the Priory of Sion hoax among other hoaxes throughout history, both placed it “at the top.”
French writer Jean-Luc Chaumeil inherited many of the papers of Plantard and de Chérisey. Among these papers were the Saunière parchments, which Chaumeil had analyzed by two experts, who found them to be around 40 years old. He also says that he has a handwritten document signed by de Chérisey calling the parchments “a good hoax
In 1982, authors Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln published Holy Blood Holy Grail. It became a bestseller and publicized Plantard’s Priory of Sion story. The book added a new element to the story, that the Merovingian line of kings had actually been descended from the historical Jesus and Mary Magdalene, and that the purpose of the Priory (and its military arm, the Knights Templar) was to protect the secret of the Jesus bloodline.
Plantard played along with this story for a while, but in 1986 parted ways with Lincoln, dismissing Holy Blood, Holy Grail and even the 1960s documents as false and irrelevant. He revised his Priory of Sion story, dropping his earlier Merovingian claims and instead basing his main secret on the mystical power of ley lines and Rocco Negro, a mountain near Rennes-le-Château where he owned substantial property. Lincoln maintains that the story about Jesus, Mary Magdalene and the Merovingians might still be true even if Plantard’s story was a fraud.
In a 1989 issue of Vaincre, Roger-Patrice Pelat was named as a Grand Master of the Priory of Sion. Pelat was a friend of the then-President of France François Mitterrand and center of a scandal involving French Prime Minister Pierre Bérégovoy. 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.
Hoax of the Century? The Truth About Pierre Plantard’s Priory of Sion - History
The Priory of Sion is a secret fraternal order that allegedly dates back to 1099. This secret society has been the subject of much debate throughout the years.
The Priory of Sion (“the Priory”) has been the alleged guardian of various historical secrets one of which is the secret royal bloodline tracing back to Jesus and Mary Magdalene. This idea has been made famous in popular culture through Dan Brown’s novel, The Di Vinci Code, and a movie based on the same novel. However, not all are in agreement that this secret society existed in ancient times: or even at all.
The Priory seems to have really gone public during the 1980s. Not the Order itself, just the label. While conducting research, three authors said they had stumbled upon some ancient texts that describe how the children of Jesus and Mary Magdalene immigrated to France.
In turn, the children eventually married into the families of French nobility, leading to the Merovingian Dynasty. The Priory’s role in this account was to protect the royal bloodline and work to install Merovingians not only onto the French thrones, but also onto thrones throughout Europe. As a result of their research, the three authors (Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln) published The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail in 1982.
Critics claim that the idea of a secret bloodline and secret order to protect it is nothing more than pseudo history. They point to various sources to support their claim. One source is that outside of the ancient texts that were found, there is not much evidence to support a royal bloodline.
Another claim is that many assumptions and conclusion were made based on the 1967 book, Le Trésor Maudit, by Gérard de Sède, with the collaboration of Pierre Plantard. Both of these claims actually use Pierre Plantard’s involvement to discredit any research into the Priory.
Pierre Plantard is accused of actually creating the Priory during the 1960s and fabricating any and all of its history that dates back to 1099. Most scholars believe that Plantard went as far as to forge the ancient texts and plant them in the Bibliothèque nationale de France for someone to find. The authors of The Holy Blood and the Grail found this research on their own and ran with it.
Evidence of an all out hoax is readily available. One piece of evidence is that over 100 letters were discovered in the 1960s from Plantard and two accomplices to each other. These letters discuss the Hoax in great detail. Another piece of condemning evidence is that during an investigation, unrelated to the Priory, authorities found large amounts of forged documents. Later, Plantard admitted under oath he had fabricated everything.
The Real Priorys
Even though the conspiracy theory idea of the Priory of Sion seems to be nothing more than an elaborate hoax, there have been several religious orders throughout history that did exist and that did add the term Sion to their name. One such order was the Order of Notre Dame de Sion, headquartered in the Abbey of Mt. Sion.
This may be what the hoax was initially based on, due to the fact that it appears to have been established around 1099. However this order appears to have been absorbed into the Jesuits sometime during 1617 – 1619. However, even this order is disputed by scholars and historians. Only the Order of Notre Dame de Sion that was established in 1843 actually appears in the Catholic Encyclopedia. Founded by Marie-Alphonse Ratisbonne, its main goal was to convert Jews to Catholicism. They even established parochial school in the United States.
The Priory of Sion has been around in popular culture for some time. However, it seems that this order, along with its agenda, is nothing more than a fantastic plot for a best-selling novel and a blockbuster movie.
Further Reading: Some Background
The existence of a real and demonstrable mystery in Rennes-le-Château remains uncertain and the topic has been hotly debated for decades. Many believe there is no mystery, only information we are lacking or do not fully understand. Given the history of fraud and misdirection within the genre, one can hardly blame them. A brief look at the forefathers of the mystery reveals that its pillars may not be as firmly rooted as we thought.
Noël Corbu (1912 – 1968)
Some would say there was no mystery until Noël Corbu invented it. Corbu was an ambitious French businessman, who purchased Saunière’s former estate from Marie Denarnaud in 1946 and converted it into the Hôtel de la Tour two years after her death. It appears that Corbu was the first to invent and dramatise the story of the Rennes-le-Château priest, Bérenger Saunière, and the heretical treasure he is said to have discovered in 1891, in order to promote tourism to his otherwise desolate and remote hill-top hotel. To this end, he invited local journalist, Albert Salamon, to Rennes-le-Château to discuss the story. Salamon then featured Saunière’s alleged discovery in a series of articles over 12, 13 and 14 January in the 1956 edition of La Dépêche du Midi. Corbu sold his hotel to Henry Buthion in 1966 and was killed in a suspicious car crash three years later, close to the seminary where Saunière was sent as punishment for his dubious behaviour.
Pierre Plantard (1920 – 2000)
Allegedly the last Grand Master of the Priory of Sion, Pierre Plantard was a controversial figure, who began his career as editor of the French journal, Vaincre. While gaps in his professional record prevent a full and accurate understanding of his movements, critics are quick to point to a legacy of fraud, misrepresentation and prison. He registered the Priory of Sion in 1956 and served as its Grand Master from 1981 to 1984. During the 1960s he seems to have masterminded the association of the Priory of Sion with Rennes-le-Château. He and his colleague, Philippe de Chérisey, are believed by many to have orchestrated the creation of the more sensational aspects of the Rennes-le-Château story and to have manipulated public figures, such as the best-selling authors, Gérard de Sède and Henry Lincoln.
Philippe de Chérisey (1923 – 1985)
A marquis by birth, de Chérisey was a professional writer and humourist, who wrote for a French radio programme, called ‘Signé Furax’, which featured good-natured deception of its listeners. He was a close friend of Plantard and admitted to having created the Rennes-le-Château parchments as part of a hoax for the radio programme. He was quoted in 1982 as saying, ‘This document has had a life of its own beyond my wildest dreams.’ In support of this claim he wrote a 44-page document, entitled ‘Stone and Paper’, which describes how the parchments were coded. He also wrote a novel in 1969, Circuit, about a gold treasure and the discovery of a Roman tomb in the vicinity of Rennes-le-Château. Curiously, Plantard’s 1956 Priory of Sion journal, devoted to the ‘Defence and Rights of Liberty for Low-Cost Housing’ was also called Circuit.
The Priory of Sion
The debate continues over the authenticity of the Priory of Sion, an alleged secret society, headed (over several hundred years) by a list of Grand Masters that reads like a Who’s Who of esoteric thought leaders. Not surprisingly, the organisation is closely tied to the legend of Rennes-le-Château.
Most advocates for the existence of the Priory of Sion believe it that its origins are ancient, and that it grew out of L’Ordre de Sion (The Order of Sion), as founded by Godefroy de Bouillon in 1090. Still others believe it is far more recent.
As we have seen, the story of Rennes-le-Château was introduced, if not created for the first time, in 1956 in an article in La Dépêche du Midi. In the same year, Pierre Plantard and his colleagues registered the newly formed Priory of Sion, which many believe was named after a mountain close to where he lived, and not L’Ordre de Sion.
After time in prison for fraud, Plantard, the future Grand Master of the Priory of Sion, teamed up with a colleague to provide material to a bestselling French author for his new book about Rennes-le-Château. This included parchments, which Plantard and his colleague confessed to having faked. The French author later provided the BBC with input for their television programmes about Rennes-le-Château, and the three researchers (Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln) who were consulted on the programmes published an international bestseller on the subject by the name of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail. Later, Plantard resigned from the Priory of Sion after being investigated by a French judge, admitting it was all a hoax. He died in 2000 and remains the last Grand Master of the order. Is that because it never existed and when he died the fantasy perished with him? In the words of the respected French researcher, Jean-Luc Chaumeil:
The Priory of Sion was created in 1956. We were able to contact former members of this office, who all burst out laughing when we mentioned Rennes-le-Château. According to its former President, the association was at the time a ‘club for boy scouts’ and NOTHING MORE . . . !
The mystery of Rennes-le-Château remains fragile and rife with fraud and misdirection, which is why Bill Wilkinson’s latest hoax is all the more reprehensible. Nevertheless, there is reason to suspect that the heralded hamlet of Rennes-le-Château may have real secrets to reveal some day. Only time will tell.
Myth or reality?
The contemporary literature that deals with the Priory of Sion, very often sets itself the task of investigating whether it is myth or reality and so often we find researches presented through books, websites or magazines where elements of various nature are elaborated in support of one possibility rather than another.
If on one hand this recent habit that involves the world of media and literature can contribute in some way to the charm and mystery, at the same time it is possible to understand that all these efforts, have an absolutely relative value, first of all, because as we know the true inheritance and the deposit of every initiatory Order is in the value of its Ritual, therefore in the symbolic and operative system through which it transmits its knowledge, secondly, for a simple fact in human history, nothing that is considered and commonly accepted as "real" has in fact never been such before it was invented.
Thus were born governments, cities, nations, kingdoms, thanks to someone who one day stood up and spoke, proposing something that the moment before was only in his own imagination. This could be a new law, the name of a city or anything else. What matters is that this thing conceived individually has been expressed and consequently recognized as something valid and good and for this reason it has begun to be a priority for many, who by combining their forces on the so-called "real" level, have it made a reality.
This leads us diagonally to deduce that, fundamentally, there are two approaches of man towards the so-called "reality", a more conventional one which is limited to verifying between the elements available the existence or not of a given object and a less conventional one, that is not limited to passively enduring the living environment, but rather is preparing to freely imagine new creations to enrich humanity and does so without inhibitions or filters, retaining as the only limit and in spite of itself, only the boundaries of one's imagination. It is precisely in this case that man, abandons a passive state towards the Universe to adopt the creative one and thus assuming the role of creator rather than spectator.
Isn't this approach consistent with some of the higher goals of Initiation? So to realize their full potential so as to be able to pro-actively influence the world around us? A shining example of this is the second Grade of the Craft, which is in fact the most important Degree in it, since it is in the Degree of Companion that it is possible to obtain the assimilation of the Light and then in the third Degree, as Master, the ability to spread it.
The Priory of Sion is an Initiatic Order which, because of its highly esoteric and symbolic nature, combined with the fact that it has been a secret and clandestine society since the 1600s until the recent history, has made it even more prominent and important, the correct perception of its symbolic and allegorical aspects to be understood, which were the only elements through which the Order communicated with the outside world, and only to predetermined recipients, able to decipher our signs, symbols and allegories.
Essentially, the Priory of Sion is a coherent initiatory system, composed of interdependent symbols and allegories, which does not need to be &ldquoreal&rdquo, to be true.
Our mysteries, lie within allegories and symbols, which correspondence with the clumsily called "real" plan is not therefore an essential prerogative, such as the legend of the Quinotaur, joining the King's Chlodion wife, Meroveo conceives. It is clear that what matters is what is concealed in this particular allegory, that is to say that Merovingians has received a deposit of knowledge that has non-human origins therefore, even though we believe in the existence of other forms of life and intelligence, we do not consider central the existence of the Quinotaur in itself, in that particular situation, but rather consider the importance of the representation, through this allegory, of the transmission through the Merovingians of this initiatic deposit of knowledge.
The set of symbolic, allegorical and ritual elements, combined with esoteric and theological knowledge, make it an extremely sophisticated and coherent initiatory system that does not need anything else to be effective and fulfill its function.
At the same time, not just for the Initiated but also for the researcher and the attentive scholar, it will be possible to understand that the initiatic deposit is actually much ancient than 1099, while still recovering elements that could be located at that time.
In relation to these particular elements and according to our oral tradition, we wanted to place the date of birth of the Order in 1099, on the occasion of the founding by the Duke of merovingian descendance, Godfrey of Bouillon, at the Abbey of "Our Lady of Mount Sion ", as" Order of Our Lady of Mount Sion", because it was in that occasion that the Order acquired even a chivalric connotation.
The (Alleged) Grand Masters
The mythical Priory of Sion was supposedly led by a "Nautonnier," an Old French word for a navigator, which means Grand Master in their internal esoteric nomenclature. The following list of Grand Masters is derived from the Dossiers Secrets d'Henri Lobineau compiled by Plantard under the nom de plume of "Philippe Toscan du Plantier" in 1967. All those named on this list had died before that date. All but two are also found on lists of alleged “Imperators” (supreme heads) and “distinguished members” of the Ancient Mystical Order Rosae Crucis which circulated in France at the time when Plantard was in touch with this Rosicrucian Order. Most of those named share the common thread of being known for having an interest in the occult or heresy.
The Dossiers Secrets asserted that the Priory of Sion and the Knights Templar always shared the same Grand Master until a schism occurred during the "Cutting of the Elm" incident in 1188. Following that event, the Grand Masters of the Priory of Sion are listed in French as being:
1. Jean de Gisors (1188–1220) 2. Marie de Saint-Clair (1220–1266) 3. Guillaume de Gisors (1266–1307) 4. Edouard de Bar (1307–1336) 5. Jeanne de Bar (1336–1351) 6. Jean de Saint-Clair (1351–1366) 7. Blanche d'Évreux (1366–1398) 8. Nicolas Flamel (1398–1418) 9. René d'Anjou (1418–1480) 10. Iolande de Bar (1480–1483) 11. Sandro Filipepi (1483–1510) 12. Léonard da Vinci (1510–1519) 13. Connétable de Bourbon (1519–1527) 14. Ferdinand de Gonzague (1527–1575) 15. Louis de Nevers (1575–1595) 16. Robert Fludd (1595–1637) 17. J. Valentin Andrea (1637–1654) 18. Robert Boyle (1654–1691) 19. Isaac Newton (1691–1727) 20. Charles Radclyffe (1727–1746) 21. Charles de Lorraine (1746–1780) 22. Maximilian de Lorraine (1780–1801) 23. Charles Nodier (1801–1844) 24. Victor Hugo (1844–1885) 25. Claude Debussy (1885–1918) 26. Jean Cocteau (1918–1963)
A later document, Le Cercle d'Ulysse, identifies François Ducaud-Bourget, a prominent Traditionalist Catholic priest who Plantard had worked for as a sexton during World War II, as the Grand Master following Cocteau's death. Plantard himself is later identified as the next Grand Master.
When the Dossiers Secrets were exposed as a forgery by French researchers, Plantard kept quiet. During his 1989 attempt to make a comeback and revive the Priory of Sion, Plantard sought to distance himself from the discredited first list, and published a second list of Priory Grand Masters, which included the names of the deceased Roger-Patrice Pelat, and his own son Thomas Plantard de Saint-Clair:
1. Jean-Tim Negri d'Albes (1681–1703) 2. François d'Hautpoul (1703–1726) 3. André-Hercule de Fleury (1726–1766) 4. Charles de Lorraine (1766–1780) 5. Maximilian de Lorraine (1780–1801) 6. Charles Nodier (1801–1844) 7. Victor Hugo (1844–1885) 8. Claude Debussy (1885–1918) 9. Jean Cocteau (1918–1963) 10. François Balphangon (1963–1969) 11. John Drick (1969–1981) 12. Pierre Plantard de Saint-Clair (1981) 13. Philippe de Chérisey (1984–1985) 14. Roger-Patrice Pelat (1985–1989) 15. Pierre Plantard de Saint-Clair (1989) 16. Thomas Plantard de Saint-Clair (1989) 17. Prince Paul Demidoff de san Donatto ( 2001)
In 1993, Plantard acknowledged that both lists were fraudulent when he was investigated by a judge during the Pelat Affair.
The fraternal organisation was founded in the town of Annemasse, Haute-Savoie in eastern France in 1956.   The 1901 French law of Associations required that the Priory of Sion be registered with the government although the statutes and the registration Documents are dated 7 May 1956, the registration took place at the subprefecture of Saint-Julien-en-Genevois on 25 June 1956 and this was announced in the Journal Officiel de la République Française on 20 July 1956.  The Headquarters of the Priory of Sion and its journal Circuit were based in the apartment of Plantard, in a social housing block known as Sous-Cassan newly constructed in 1956.   The founders and signatories inscribed with their real names and aliases were Pierre Plantard, also known as "Chyren", and André Bonhomme, also known as "Stanis Bellas". Bonhomme was the President while Plantard was the Secretary General. The registration documents also included the names of Jean Deleaval as the Vice-President and Armand Defago as the Treasurer. The offices of the Priory of Sion and its journal Circuit were located at Plantard's apartment. The choice of the name "Sion" was based on a popular local feature, a hill south of Annemasse in France, known as Mont Sion, where the founders intended to establish a retreat center.  The accompanying title to the name was "Chevalerie d'Institutions et Règles Catholiques d'Union Indépendante et Traditionaliste": this subtitle forms the acronym CIRCUIT and translates in English as Chivalry of Catholic Rules and Institutions of Independent and Traditionalist Union".
The statutes of the Priory of Sion indicate its purpose was to allow and encourage members to engage in studies and mutual aid. The articles of the association expressed the goal of creating a Traditionalist Catholic chivalric order.  Article 7 of the statutes of the Priory of Sion stated that its members were expected "to carry out good deeds, to help the Roman Catholic Church, teach the truth, defend the weak and the oppressed". Towards the end of 1956 the association had planned to forge partnerships with the local Catholic Church of the area which would have involved a school bus service run by both the Priory of Sion and the church of Saint-Joseph in Annemasse.  Plantard is described as the President of the Tenants' Association of Annemasse in the issues of Circuit.
The bulk of the activities of the Priory of Sion, however, bore no resemblance to the objectives as outlined in its statutes: Circuit, the official journal of the Priory of Sion, was indicated as a news bulletin of an "organisation for the defence of the rights and the freedom of affordable housing" rather than for the promotion of chivalry-inspired charitable work. The first issue of the journal is dated 27 May 1956, and, in total, twelve issues appeared. Some of the articles took a political position in the local council elections. Others criticised and even attacked real-estate developers of Annemasse. 
According to a letter written by Léon Guersillon the Mayor of Annemasse in 1956, contained in the folder holding the 1956 Statutes of the Priory of Sion in the subprefecture of Saint-Julien-en-Genevois, Plantard was given a six-month sentence in 1953 for fraud. 
The formally registered association was dissolved some time after October 1956 but intermittently revived for different reasons by Plantard between 1961 and 1993, though in name and on paper only. The Priory of Sion is considered dormant by the subprefecture because it has indicated no activities since 1956. According to French law, subsequent references to the Priory bear no legal relation to that of 1956 and no one, other than the original signatories, is entitled to use its name in an official capacity. André Bonhomme played no part in the association after 1956. He officially resigned in 1973 when he heard that Plantard was linking his name with the association. In light of Plantard's death in 2000, there is no one who is currently alive who has official permission to use the name. 
In 2002, Gino Sandri (former secretary to Pierre Plantard) announced the revival of Priory of Sion. 
Plantard set out to have the Priory of Sion perceived as a prestigious esoteric Christian chivalric order, whose members would be people of influence in the fields of finance, politics and philosophy, devoted to installing the "Great Monarch", prophesied by Nostradamus, on the throne of France. Plantard's choice of the pseudonym "Chyren" was a reference to "Chyren Selin", Nostradamus's anagram for the name for this eschatological figure. 
Between 1961 and 1984, Plantard contrived a mythical pedigree for the Priory of Sion claiming that it was the offshoot of a real Roman Catholic religious order housed in the Abbey of Our Lady of Mount Zion, which had been founded in the Kingdom of Jerusalem during the First Crusade in 1099 and later absorbed by the Jesuits in 1617. The mistake is often made that this Abbey of Sion was a Priory of Sion, but there is a difference between an abbey and a priory.  Calling his original 1956 group "Priory of Sion" presumably gave Plantard the later idea to claim that his organisation had been historically founded by crusading knight Godfrey of Bouillon on Mount Zion near Jerusalem during the Middle Ages. 
Furthermore, Plantard was inspired by a 1960 magazine Les Cahiers de l'Histoire to center his personal genealogical claims, as found in the "Priory of Sion documents", on the Merovingian king Dagobert II, who had been assassinated in the 7th century.  He also adopted "Et in Arcadia ego . ", a slightly altered version of a Latin phrase that most famously appears as the title of two paintings by Nicolas Poussin, as the motto of both his family and the Priory of Sion,  because the tomb which appears in these paintings resembled one in the Les Pontils area near Rennes-le-Château. This tomb would become a symbol for his dynastic claims as the last legacy of the Merovingians on the territory of Razès, left to remind the select few who have been initiated into these mysteries that the "lost king", Dagobert II, would figuratively come back in the form of a hereditary pretender.  
To give credibility to the fabricated lineage and pedigree, Plantard and his friend, Philippe de Chérisey, needed to create "independent evidence". So during the 1960s, they created and deposited a series of false documents, the most famous of which was entitled Dossiers Secrets d'Henri Lobineau ("The Secret Files of Henri Lobineau"), at the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris. During the same decade, Plantard commissioned de Chérisey to forge two medieval parchments. These parchments contained encrypted messages that referred to the Priory of Sion. They adapted, and used to their advantage, the earlier false claims put forward by Noël Corbu that a Catholic priest named Bérenger Saunière had supposedly discovered ancient parchments inside a pillar while renovating his church in Rennes-le-Château in 1891. Inspired by the popularity of media reports and books in France about the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls in the West Bank, they hoped this same theme would attract attention to their parchments.  Their version of the parchments was intended to prove Plantard's claims about the Priory of Sion being a medieval society that was the source of the "underground stream" of esotericism in Europe. 
Plantard then enlisted the aid of author Gérard de Sède to write a book based on his unpublished manuscript and forged parchments,  alleging that Saunière had discovered a link to a hidden treasure. The 1967 book L'or de Rennes, ou La vie insolite de Bérenger Saunière, curé de Rennes-le-Château ("The Gold of Rennes, or The Strange Life of Bérenger Saunière, Priest of Rennes-le-Château"), which was later published in paperback under the title Le Trésor Maudit de Rennes-le-Château ("The Accursed Treasure of Rennes-le-Château") in 1968, became a popular read in France. It included copies of the found parchments (the originals were of course never produced), though it did not provide the decoded hidden texts contained within them. One of the Latin texts in the parchments was copied from the Novum Testamentum, an attempted restoration of the Vulgate by John Wordsworth and Henry White.  The other text was copied from the Codex Bezae.  Based on the wording used, the versions of the Latin texts found in the parchments can be shown to have been copied from books first published in 1889 and 1895, which is problematic considering that de Sède's book was trying to make a case that these documents were centuries old.
In 1969, English actor and science-fiction scriptwriter Henry Lincoln became intrigued after reading Le Trésor Maudit. He discovered one of the encrypted messages, which read "À Dagobert II Roi et à Sion est ce trésor, et il est là mort" ("To Dagobert II, King, and to Sion belongs this treasure and he is there dead"). This was possibly an allusion to the tomb and shrine of Sigebert IV, a real or mythical son of Dagobert II which would not only prove that the Merovingian dynasty did not end with the death of the king, but that the Priory of Sion has been entrusted with the duty to protect his relics like a treasure.  Lincoln expanded on the conspiracy theories, writing his own books on the subject, and inspiring and presenting three BBC Two Chronicle documentaries between 1972 and 1979 about the alleged mysteries of the Rennes-le-Château area. In response to a tip from Gérard de Sède, Lincoln claims he was also the one who discovered the Dossiers Secrets, a series of planted genealogies which appeared to further confirm the link with the extinct Merovingian bloodline. The documents claimed that the Priory of Sion and the Knights Templar were two fronts of one unified organisation with the same leadership until 1188. 
Letters in existence dating from the 1960s written by Plantard, de Chérisey and de Sède to each other confirm that the three were engaging in an out-and-out hoax. The letters describe schemes to combat criticisms of their various allegations and ways they would make up new allegations to try to keep the hoax alive. These letters (totalling over 100) are in the possession of French researcher Jean-Luc Chaumeil, who has also retained the original envelopes. A letter later discovered at the subprefecture of Saint-Julien-en-Genevois also indicated that Plantard had a criminal conviction as a confidence trickster.  
The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail
After reading Le Trésor Maudit, Lincoln persuaded BBC Two to devote three episodes in their Chronicle documentary series to the topic. These became quite popular and generated thousands of responses. Lincoln then joined forces with Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh for further research. This led them to the pseudohistorical Dossiers Secrets at the Bibliothèque nationale de France, which though alleging to portray hundreds of years of medieval history, were actually all written by Plantard and de Chérisey under the pseudonym of "Philippe Toscan du Plantier". Unaware that the documents had been forged, Lincoln, Baigent and Leigh used them as a major source for their 1982 controversial non-fiction book The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail,  in which they presented the following myths as facts to support their hypotheses: 
- there is a secret society known as the Priory of Sion, which has a long history starting in 1099, and had illustrious Grand Masters including Leonardo da Vinci and Isaac Newton
- it created the Knights Templar as its military arm and financial branch and
- it is devoted to installing the Merovingian dynasty, that ruled the Franks from 457 to 751, on the thrones of France and the rest of Europe.
However, the authors re-interpreted the Dossiers Secrets in the light of their own interest in undermining the Roman Catholic Church's institutional reading of Judeo-Christian history.  Contrary to Plantard's initial Franco-Israelist claim that the Merovingians were only descended from the Tribe of Benjamin,  they asserted that:
- the Priory of Sion protects Merovingian dynasts because they may be the lineal descendants of the historical Jesus and his alleged wife, Mary Magdalene, traced further back to King David
- the legendary Holy Grail is simultaneously the womb of saint Mary Magdalene and the sacred royal bloodline she gave birth to and
- the Church tried to kill off all remnants of this bloodline and their supposed guardians, the Cathars and the Templars, so popes could hold the episcopal throne through the apostolic succession of Peter without fear of it ever being usurped by an antipope from the hereditary succession of Mary Magdalene.
The authors therefore concluded that the modern goals of the Priory of Sion are:
- the public revelation of the tomb and shrine of Sigebert IV as well as the lost treasure of the Temple in Jerusalem, which supposedly contains genealogical records that prove the Merovingian dynasty was of the Davidic line, to facilitate Merovingian restoration in France
- the re-institutionalization of chivalry and the promotion of pan-European nationalism
- the establishment of a theocratic "United States of Europe": a Holy European Empire politically and religiously unified through the imperial cult of a Merovingian Great Monarch who occupies both the throne of Europe and the Holy See and
- the actual governance of Europe residing with the Priory of Sion through a one-partyEuropean Parliament.
The authors also incorporated the antisemitic and anti-Masonic tract known as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion into their story, concluding that it was actually based on the master plan of the Priory of Sion. They presented it as the most persuasive piece of evidence for the existence and activities of the Priory of Sion by arguing that:
- the original text on which the published version of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion was based had nothing to do with Judaism or an "international Jewish conspiracy". It issued from a Masonic body practicing the Scottish Rite which incorporated the word "Zion" in its name
- the original text was not intended to be released publicly, but was a program for gaining control of Freemasonry as part of a strategy to infiltrate and reorganise church and state according to esoteric Christian principles
- after a failed attempt to gain influence in the court of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, Sergei Nilus changed the original text to forge an inflammatory tract in 1903 to discredit the esoteric clique around Papus by implying they were Judaeo-Masonic conspirators and
- some esoteric Christian elements in the original text were ignored by Nilus and hence remained unchanged in the antisemitic canard he published.
In reaction to this memetic synthesis of investigative journalism with religious conspiracism, many secular conspiracy theorists added the Priory of Sion to their list of secret societies collaborating or competing to manipulate political happenings from behind the scenes in their bid for world domination.  Some occultists speculated that the emergence of the Priory of Sion and Plantard closely follows The Prophecies by M. Michel Nostradamus (unaware that Plantard was intentionally trying to fulfill them).  Fringe Christian eschatologists countered that it was a fulfilment of prophecies found in the Book of Revelation and further proof of an anti-Christian conspiracy of epic proportions. 
However, professional historians and scholars from related fields do not accept The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail as a serious dissertation. 
French authors like Franck Marie (1978),  Pierre Jarnac (1985),  (1988),  Jean-Luc Chaumeil (1994),  and more recently Marie-France Etchegoin and Frédéric Lenoir (2004),  Massimo Introvigne (2005),  Jean-Jacques Bedu (2005),  and Bernardo Sanchez Da Motta (2005),  have never taken Plantard and the Priory of Sion as seriously as Lincoln, Baigent and Leigh. They eventually concluded that it was all a hoax, outlining in detail the reasons for their verdict, and giving detailed evidence that the Holy Blood authors had not reported comprehensively.  They imply that this evidence had been ignored by Lincoln, Baigent, and Leigh to bolster the mythical version of the Priory's history that was developed by Plantard during the early 1960s after meeting author Gérard de Sède. 
The Messianic Legacy
In 1986, Lincoln, Baigent and Leigh published The Messianic Legacy, a sequel to The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail. The authors assert that the Priory of Sion is not only the archetypal cabal but an ideal repository of the cultural legacy of Jewish messianism that could end the “crisis of meaning” within the Western world by providing a Merovingian sacred king as a messianic figure in which the West and, by extension, humanity can place its trust. However, the authors are led to believe by Plantard that he has resigned as Grand Master of the Priory of Sion in 1984 and that the organisation has since gone underground in reaction to both an internal power struggle between Plantard and an “Anglo-American contingent” as well as a campaign of character assassination against Plantard in the press and books written by skeptics. 
Although Lincoln, Baigent and Leigh remain convinced that the pre-1956 history of the Priory of Sion is true, they confess to the possibility that all of Plantard's claims about a post-1956 Priory of Sion were part of an elaborate hoax to build a cult of personality and cult of intelligence around himself in French esoteric circles. 
In 1989, Plantard tried but failed to salvage his reputation and agenda as a mystagogue in esoteric circles by claiming that the Priory of Sion had actually been founded in 1681 at Rennes-le-Château, and was focused more on harnessing the paranormal power of ley lines and sunrise lines,  and a promontory called "Roc Noir" (Black Rock) in the area,  than installing a Merovingian pretender on the restored throne of France. In 1990, Plantard revised himself by claiming he was only descended from a cadet branch of the line of Dagobert II, while arguing that the direct descendant was really Otto von Habsburg.  
In September 1993, while investigative judge Thierry Jean-Pierre was investigating the activities of multi-millionaire Roger-Patrice Pelat in the context of the Pechiney-Triangle Affair, he was informed that Pelat may have once been Grand Master of an esoteric society known as the Priory of Sion. Pelat's name had been on Plantard's list of Grand Masters since 1989. In fact, Pelat had died in 1989, while he was being indicted for insider trading. Following a long established pattern of using dead people's names, Plantard "recruited" the "initiate" Pelat soon after his death and included him as the most recent Priory of Sion Grand Master.  Plantard had first claimed that Pelat had been a Grand Master in a Priory of Sion pamphlet dated 8 March 1989, then claimed it again later in a 1990 issue of Vaincre, the revived publication of Alpha Galates, a pseudo-chivalric order created by Plantard in Vichy France to support the "National Revolution".  
Pelat had been a friend of François Mitterrand, then President of France, and at the centre of a scandal involving French Prime Minister Pierre Bérégovoy. As an investigative judge, Jean-Pierre could not dismiss any information brought to his attention pertaining to the case, especially if it might have led to a scandal similar to the one implicating an illegal Masonic lodge named Propaganda Due in the 1982 Banco Ambrosiano bank failure in Italy, Jean-Pierre ordered a search of Plantard's home. The search turned up a hoard of false documents, including some proclaiming Plantard the true king of France. Plantard admitted under oath that 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. 
On 27 December 2002, an open letter announced the revival of the Priory of Sion as an integral traditionalist esoteric society, which stated that: "The Commanderies of Saint-Denis, Millau, Geneva and Barcelona are fully operative. According to the Tradition, the first Commanderie is under the direction of a woman", claiming there were 9,841 members.  It was signed by Gino Sandri (who claims to be Plantard's former private secretary) under the title of General Secretary,  and by "P. Plantard" (Le Nautonnier, G. Chyren). Sandri is a well-versed occultist who has spent his life infiltrating esoteric societies only to get expelled from them.  After interviewing Sandri, independent researcher Laurent Octonovo Buchholtzer wrote:
I’ve personally met this Gino Sandri on one occasion, and I had the opportunity to have a really good talk with him, but I think that he's simply seeking attention. He seemed to me to be something of a mythomaniac, which would certainly be an excellent qualification for being Secretary of the Priory of Sion. During our conversation he said something in passing that I found quite extraordinary. He said, “Ultimately, what is the Priory of Sion? It's nothing more than a well-known brand name, but with goodness knows what behind it?” He gave a good brief account of the phenomenon of the Priory of Sion. Thanks to Dan Brown, hundreds of millions of people now have “brand awareness”, and several million of them seem to take it seriously. 
The Da Vinci Code
As a result of Dan Brown's best-selling 2003 conspiracy fiction novel The Da Vinci Code and the subsequent 2006 film,  there was a new level of public interest in the Priory of Sion. Brown's novel promotes the mythical version of the Priory but departs from the ultimate conclusions presented in The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail. Rather than plotting to create a Federal Europe ruled by a Merovingian sacred king descended from the historical Jesus, the Priory of Sion initiates its members into a mystery cult seeking to restore the feminist theology necessary for a complete understanding of early Christianity, which was supposedly suppressed by the Roman Catholic Church. The author has presented this speculation as fact in his non-fiction preface, as well as in his public appearances and interviews.
Furthermore, in their 1987 sequel The Messianic Legacy,  Lincoln, Baigent and Leigh suggested that there was a current conflict between the Priory of Sion and the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, which they speculated might have originated from an earlier rivalry between the Knights Templar and Knights Hospitaller during the Crusades. However, for the dramatic structure of The Da Vinci Code, Brown chose the controversial Roman Catholic prelature Opus Dei as the Assassini-like nemesis of the Priory of Sion, despite the fact that no author had ever argued that there is a conflict between these two groups.
The Sion Revelation
Further conspiracy theories were reported in the 2006 non-fiction book The Sion Revelation: The Truth About the Guardians of Christ's Sacred Bloodline by Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince (authors of the 1997 non-fiction book The Templar Revelation, the principal source for Dan Brown's claims about hidden messages in the work of Leonardo da Vinci).  They accepted that the pre-1956 history of the Priory of Sion was a hoax created by Plantard, and that his claim that he was a Merovingian dynast was a lie. However, they insist that this was part of a complex red herring intended to distract the public from the hidden agenda of Plantard and his "controllers". They argue that the Priory of Sion was a front organisation for one of the many crypto-political societies which have been plotting to create a "United States of Europe" in line with French occultist Alexandre Saint-Yves d'Alveydre's synarchist vision of an ideal form of government.
The 2008 documentary Bloodline  by Bruce Burgess, a filmmaker with an interest in paranormal claims, expands on the "Jesus bloodline" hypothesis and other elements of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail.  Accepting as valid the testimony of an amateur archaeologist codenamed "Ben Hammott" relating to his discoveries made in the vicinity of Rennes-le-Château since 1999 Burgess claims Ben has found the treasure of Bérenger Saunière: a mummified corpse, which they believe is Mary Magdalene, in an underground tomb they claim is connected to both the Knights Templar and the Priory of Sion. In the film, Burgess interviews several people with alleged connections to the Priory of Sion, including a Gino Sandri and Nicolas Haywood. A book by one of the documentary's researchers, Rob Howells, entitled Inside the Priory of Sion: Revelations from the World's Most Secret Society - Guardians of the Bloodline of Jesus presented the version of the Priory of Sion as given in the 2008 documentary,  which contained several erroneous assertions, such as the claim that Plantard believed in the Jesus bloodline hypothesis.  On 21 March 2012, Ben Hammott confessed and apologised on Podcast interview (using his real name Bill Wilkinson) that everything to do with the tomb and related artifacts was a hoax revealing that the actual tomb was now destroyed, being part of a full sized set located in a warehouse in England. 
The mythical Priory of Sion was supposedly led by a "Nautonnier", an Old French word for a navigator, which means Grand Master in their internal esoteric nomenclature. The following list of Grand Masters is derived from the Dossiers Secrets d'Henri Lobineau compiled by Plantard under the nom de plume of "Philippe Toscan du Plantier" in 1967. All those named on this list had died before that date. All but two are also found on lists of alleged “Imperators” (supreme heads) and “distinguished members” of the Ancient Mystical Order Rosae Crucis which circulated in France at the time when Plantard was in touch with this Rosicrucian Order. Most of those named share the common thread of being known for having an interest in the occult or heresy. 
The Dossiers Secrets asserted that the Priory of Sion and the Knights Templar always shared the same Grand Master until a schism occurred during the "Cutting of the elm" incident in 1188. Following that event, the Grand Masters of the Priory of Sion are listed in French as being:
- Marie de Saint-Clair (1220–1266) (1266–1307) (1307–1336) (1336–1351)
- Jean de Saint-Clair (1351–1366) (1366–1398) (1398–1418) (1418–1480) (1480–1483) (1483–1510) (1510–1519) (1519–1527) (1527–1575) (1575–1595) (1595–1637) (1637–1654) (1654–1691) (1691–1727) (1727–1746) (1746–1780) (1780–1801) (1801–1844) (1844–1885) (1885–1918) (1918–1963)
A later document, Le Cercle d'Ulysse,  identifies François Ducaud-Bourget, a prominent Traditionalist Catholic priest who Plantard had worked for as a sexton during World War II,  as the Grand Master following Cocteau's death. Plantard himself is later identified as the next Grand Master.
When the Dossiers Secrets were exposed as a forgery by French researchers, Plantard kept quiet. During his 1989 attempt to make a comeback and revive the Priory of Sion, Plantard sought to distance himself from the discredited first list, and published a second list of Priory Grand Masters,  which included the names of the deceased Roger-Patrice Pelat, and his own son Thomas Plantard de Saint-Clair:
- Jean-Tim Negri d'Albes (1681–1703) (1703–1726) (1726–1766) (1766–1780) (1780–1801) (1801–1844) (1844–1885) (1885–1918) (1918–1963)
- François Balphangon (1963–1969)
- John Drick (1969–1981) (1981) (1984–1985)
- Roger-Patrice Pelat (1985–1989) (1989)
- Thomas Plantard de Saint-Clair (1989)
In 1993 Plantard acknowledged that both lists were fraudulent when he was investigated by a judge during the Pelat Affair.