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This is an index of the chapters in the novel which contain substantial claims about history. Those chapters which contain only action scenes or plot elements have been ommited.

Each chapter is sub-divided into topic headings analysing the claims made in that section of the novel and their associated subjects.


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CHAPTER FIFTY-SIX

The Grail as the Prehistoric 'Goddess'

The Real Holy Grail

The Origin of the Grail Stories

The Grail as the Prehistoric 'Goddess'

"Exactly." Langdon smiled. "The Grail is literally the ancient symbol for womanhood, and the Holy Grail represents the sacred feminine and the goddess, which of course has now been lost, virtually eliminated by the Church. The power of the female and her ability to produce life was once very sacred, but it posed a threat to the rise of the predominantly male Church, and so the sacred feminine was demonized and called unclean. It was man, not God, who created the concept of 'original sin,' whereby Eve tasted of the apple and caused the downfall of the human race. Woman, once the sacred giver of life, was now the enemy."
(Chapter 56, p. 238)

Here Brown is drawing on The Chalice and the Blade by Riane Eisler. Eisler fully accepts and expands on the idea of a prehistoric past where women ruled the world in peace and harmony in a matriarchal utopia until men spoiled things by seizing control and bringing in patriarchal, god-oriented religions, war, oppression and the suppression of all things feminine. While this version of prehistory is appealing to some feminists and neo-pagans, it is regarded as largely a modern fantasy by anthropologists and archaeologists, who see Eisler's construct as reflecting her own modern concerns and desires rather than being an accurate or even plausible view of prehistory.

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The Real Holy Grail

"The Grail," Langdon said, "is symbolic of the lost goddess. When Christianity came along, the old pagan religions did not die easily. Legends of chivalric quests for the lost Grail were in fact stories of forbidden quests to find the lost sacred feminine. Knights who claimed to be "searching for the chalice" were speaking in code as a way to protect themselves from a Church that had subjugated women, banished the Goddess, burned nonbelievers, and forbidden the pagan reverence for the sacred feminine."
(Chapter 56, p. 238-39)

The 'legends of chivalric quests for the lost Grail' were just that: legends. Brown has Langdon claim that knights actually went on such quests, that these were coded references to 'find the lost sacred feminine' and these knights actually knew the true, encoded meaning of 'the Holy Grail'.

This is pure nonsense. No-one in the Middle Ages went on 'quests for the lost Grail' anymore than anyone today flies to London to try to meet James Bond. Like James Bond, the 'Holy Grail' was simply an element in a number of works of fantasy fiction. Even if a medieval knight was deluded or insane enough to confuse that recent fantasy fiction with history, they would know that the Grail stories tell of how the Grail was removed from the world in 'King Arthur's time' (ie centuries earlier), so any 'quests for the lost Grail' would be utterly pointless. The picture Brown paints of actual medieval quests for 'the Grail'/'the sacred feminine' is totally baseless and seems to come entirely from Brown's imagination.

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The Origin of the Grail Stories

We actually know precisely when and how the Grail stories arose and developed. The Grail first appears in a work of chivalric fantasy fiction in Chrétien de Troyes' fictional romance, Perceval, le Conte du Graal, which he wrote sometime between 1180 and 1191. This was one of a number of stories which were written about the legendary knights of King Arthur and which were immensely popular in the late Middle Ages. It was the fifth and final romance written by Chrétien and it remained unfinished. It tells of the adventures of Perceval, a youth raised by his mother in the forest who encounters some knights and resolves to travel to King Arthur's court to join the Knights of the Round Table. Obtaining knighthood at Camelot, Sir Perceval set out on a series of adventures.

On his travels, Perceval is invited to dine with a mysterious figure called 'the Fisher King'. During the meal he sees a strange procession consisting of a young man with a bleeding lance, two boys with candles and finally a beautiful girl carrying a 'graal'. Chrétien does not make it clear to the reader precisely what this 'graal' is, but the Old French word can refer to a cup, a dish or a serving platter.

Later, on his return to Camelot, Perceval is admonished by a strange old woman for failing to ask the Fisher King about the 'graal', saying the right question could have healed the King's wounded father. The story then switches rather abruptly to some adventures of another of Arthur's knights, Sir Gawain, before returning briefly to Sir Perceval and then breaking off.

It is important to note that the story never mentions anything about this 'graal' or 'Grail' being the cup of Christ, nor does it make it clear that it is a cup at all. The significance of the mysterious 'Grail' is never explained and Chrétien never finished the story before he died. Chrétien never refers to the object as 'the Grail', let alone 'the Holy Grail', but simply as 'a grail' and it is entirely unclear what significance he thought it would have in the end of the story.

Despite this, Chrétien's fantasy became immensely popular, possibly partly because it was never finished and the 'Grail' was never explained. Perceval was continued and 'finished' by no less than four later poets, who all gave it different endings; all of varying quality. Chrétien's story inspired other poets to write romances on the same themes, and it was Robert de Boron's Joseph d'Arimathie (written sometime between 1191 and 1202) which gave us the beginnings of 'the Holy Grail' of later folklore. It is De Boron's work which makes Chrétien's simple 'graal' /'grail' into a cup and describes it as the cup used by Jesus at the Last Supper, brought to Britain by Joseph of Arimathea.

Over the next three centuries various other versions of the story appeared. Wolfram von Eschenbach's German Parzival combined elements of both Chrétien's original and Robert de Boron's more Christian version, though in his story the 'Grail' is not a serving dish or a cup but a stone. It was not until the writing of the French Estoire del Saint Grail ('The History of the Holy Grail') that the main elements of the Grail legend best known today appear. It was this version which was used as a source for Sir Thomas Malory's Middle English Le Morte d'Arthur version of the story, which in turn inspired the modern retellings of Sir Alfred Lord Tennyson and various others.

There is some speculation that Chrétien's story may have been inspired by earlier Celtic legends of magical cauldrons, but it is difficult to see where he got his ideas from. What is clear is that his story made no connection between the 'Grail' of his story and the cup of Jesus. That development happened after his death via a process of evolution and a tendency for all of the Arthurian fantasies to increasingly develop Christian symbolism. Nothing in any of the Grail stories connects the Grail to Mary Magdalene (though it does connect it to other Biblical figures) and there is no evidence to connect this vague and evolving set of fantasy stories to anything about a 'holy bloodline', let alone any ancient 'sacred feminine'.

It was not until the Twentieth Century that amateur theorists first made an attempt at connecting the 'Grail' with the totally separate medieval legends about Mary Magdalene and invented the theory of the 'Grail' as a code for a supposed bloodline of Jesus.

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History vs The Da Vinci Code is copyright Tim O'Neill 2006. All rights reserved.