The Magdalene Legacy:
Revelations Beyond the Da Vinci Code
By Laurence Gardner
Ten years ago, in Bloodline of the Holy Grail, I first discussed the suppressed archives of Jesus, Mary Magdalene and the significance of the hidden lineage of their descendants. These themes have now achieved a new prominence in the world of fiction with Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code – an explosive and controversial novel which has brought the mysterious life of Mary Magdalene under a new spotlight.
During the past ten years, however, a wealth of additional information has been extracted from Templar and monastic archives, expanding the previously published revelations to extraordinary new levels.
Mary Magdalene is one of the most painted and sculpted of all classical figures. Artists and romantics have adored her, but she has been constantly vilified by the religious establishment. In the New Testament she is given as Jesus’ sponsor, a woman that he loved, a close companion of his mother, and the first person to speak with Jesus after his resurrection. Church doctrine, however, claims her to have been a sinful harlot, albeit a repentant sinner who was finally admitted to the sainthood as late as 1969.
Mary’s position is unique in the Christian story. Despite her apparent supportive role in the Gospels, she appears in other texts as one of its primary figures. In fact, she is apparent as Christianity’s most important figure, far outweighing the presumed status of Peter and Paul. The drama that emerges from Vatican and monastic records is of Mary Magdalene’s marital relationship with Jesus, her exile from Judaea in CE 44 under threat of sedition charges, and the documented persecution of her heirs by a succession of Roman emperors. Why are these things not written in the Bible? They are in part – but they are simply not taught or generally discussed.
It is pertinent to note that although there are many early Christian wall-paintings in the catacombs beneath the streets of Rome, the oldest Christian painting so far discovered in an above-ground environment is not of Jesus or his mother, but of Mary Magdalene. Entitled Myrrophore (Myrrh bearer), it depicts Mary at the tomb of Jesus with an alabastron of ointment. Emanating from the early CE 200s (long before the Church of Rome was established) it was found at a chapel on the River Euphrates in Syria, and was moved to the Yale University Art Gallery in the 1930s.
The canonical Gospels do not discuss Mary Magdalene’s parents, but other historical texts do, and the significance of their heritage is of primary importance to Mary’s marital status. In gospels that were strategically excluded from the New Testament when the selection was made in CE 397 at the Council of Carthage, Mary is classified as the spouse and consort of the Messiah. Even Cathar documents from Provence, as late as the 13th century, make it plain that in Gnostic circles, she was “always understood to be the wife of Jesus.”
Certain narrative information which made this clear was edited from the New Testament before its publication, but a good deal else was left intact in the Gospels and other books of the canon. Not least in this respect are the detailed accounts of their marriage ceremony. This is not the wedding at Cana, as some theologians have supposed, but a far more explicit anointing ritual based on the Syrian royal tradition of Mary Magdalene’s family, as corroborated in the Hebrew Old Testament.
Dan Brown’s novel, The Da Vinci Code suggests that Mary was of the family line of Benjamin, but this was not the case. Her heritage was far more substantial, tracing back to the same Davidic stock as Jesus, with a sovereign lineage through the Hasmonaean Priest-kings of Jerusalem in the 2nd century BCE. Dominican and Benedictine records are also in agreement that, while Mary Magdalene’s maternal descent was from the royalty of Judaea, her paternal heritage was of the kingly nobility of Syria.
It is further cited in The Da Vinci Code that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had a daughter named Sarah. But Sarah was not a name in those 1st-century times; it was an Israelite title which meant Princess. The daughter’s name was Tamar (born CE 33). She was Tamar the Sarah. The name means Palm-tree, and was the same as the Old Testament’s matriarchal progenitor of the Royal House of Judah; the same as given to the sister of King David. Additionally, however, Jesus and Mary Magdalene had two sons, as confirmed 15 years ago by the investigations of Dr. Barbara Thiering of the Board of Studies in Divinity at the University of Sydney.
From where does this information emanate? Surprisingly, much of it is found in sections of the New Testament which are commonly ignored in establishment teaching. And there are some remarkable references dating back to the 1st century (clarified by early Fathers of the Christian movement), which tell of the brutal persecution that befell the family line.
Subsequent to the crucifixion, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, and beginning with Emperor Vespasian (CE 69–79), a succession of Roman Emperors (including Titus and Domitian) issued proclamations to their generals in the field that the descendant heirs of Jesus and his family should be hunted down and put to the sword. It was chronicled by eminent historians such as Hegesippus, Africanus and Eusebius that the continuation of the Messianic royal house must be terminated.
The Imperial edict in CE 70 (some 40 years after the crucifixion) ordered “the family of David to be sought, that no one might be left among the Jews who was of the royal stock.” It was subsequently reported, however, that although many were seized, some were released and “on their release they became leaders of the churches in a strict dynastic progression, because they had borne testimony and because they were of the Lord’s family.” These persecuted descendants were called the Desposyni (Heirs of the Lord).
The Vatican Archive reveals that in CE 318 a delegation of Messianic descendants confronted Sylvester, the Bishop of Rome. They insisted that the Nazarene Church of Jesus was being corrupted, and that it should rightly be led by the family heirs – not by a despotic Imperial regime. They were advised, however, that the power of salvation did not rest with Jesus, but with Emperor Constantine, for whom the right of Messianic inheritance had been personally “reserved since the beginning of time”!
This was the plight and ultimate misfortune of the heirs of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Despite the historical records, it led to their being sidelined by the orthodox ‘churchianity’ of Rome as it evolved from the 4th century. When John Cassian of Bethlehem founded his 4th-century Cassianite Order, Mary Magdalene was paramount in terms of saintly veneration, and his monks became the official guardians of her tomb. In later times, Mary Magdalene was proclaimed Mother Protectress of the Dominican Order, and artwork concerning her from the Dominicans, Franciscans and other monastic groups differed considerably from that of the Church of Rome.
In this regard, it is interesting to note that, while the Church went to great lengths to denounce Mary Magdalene’s status, the cardinals and bishops commissioned an extraordinary number of Magdalene portraits for the churches of Europe. The reason for this has been difficult to understand but, fortunately, records of how and why it was the case do exist – and not least from the studio of the Renaissance artist Raphael. A student of Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael was called to Rome by Pope Julius II in 1508.
A commission was received by the studio to decorate a chapel dedicated to Mary Magdalene in the Church of Trinita dei Monti in Rome. The brief was to paint an altarpiece of the Resurrection scene and four Magdalene-related wall frescoes. The model supplied for these portrayals was Lucrezia Scanatoria – described as ‘una famosissima cortigiana di Roma’ (a very famous courtesan of Rome). She was, in fact, the favourite mistress of Pope Julius himself. Other noted courtesans of the Renaissance Papal Court included Masina, Vannozza dei Cattanei, Giulia Farnese, Gaspara Stampa, Veronica Franco, and Tullia d’Aragona. These women lived in the greatest of papal luxury, with houses, vineyards and all manner of wealth lavished on them.
Notwithstanding the celibacy rule that applied within the Church, a sexually extravagant lifestyle prevailed among the Vatican hierarchy, but it was not a Renaissance novelty. It was a legacy of the papal culture, stemming from the Roman civil laws of Emperor Theodosius in the 5th century and Justinian in the 6th, as codified in the Corpus Juris Civilis. It was during this era that Mary Magdalene was first defined in her non-biblical role as a prostitute – a proclamation by Pope Gregory in 591.
It is now clear from the annals that the 591 denouncement was a strategic manoeuvre by the Roman establishment. Mary was a scapegoat. She was subsequently vilified by the Church but, by inventing the concept of her repenting for sins she did not commit, the bishops contrived their own perpetual source of vindication. They were completely absolved from breaking the celibacy rule so long as they kept commissioning paintings of the penitent Mary Magdalene.
Throughout the early centuries of the Church of Rome, Jesus was sidelined as a figure of much significance. From the 4th-century era of Constantine the Great, the Emperors were the ultimate godheads of the movement – a role eventually taken over by the Popes after the Western Empire collapsed. Following that, however, papal authority declined and the Church was also near to collapse by the 8th century.
The key monarchies of Europe were of Davidic descent, with some in the direct lineage of the Desposyni heirs of Jesus. All efforts to demolish these successions (as described by Eusebius, Hegesippus and others) had failed. The only way that the Papal Court could establish its supreme position was to take control of the monarchical structure, and in 751 Pope Zachary contrived a way to do this.
Without revealing his source, Zachary produced a previously unknown document that was seemingly 400 years old and carried the signature of Emperor Constantine. It proclaimed that the Pope was Christ’s personally elected representative on Earth, with a palace that ranked above all the palaces in the world. His divinely granted dignity was said to be above that of any earthly ruler and only he, the Pope, had the power and authority to ‘create’ kings and queens as his subordinates.
The document became known as the Donation of Constantine, and its provisions were immediately put into force. By virtue of this, the whole nature and structure of monarchy changed from being an office of community guardianship to one of absolute rule. Henceforth, European monarchs were crowned by the Pope, becoming servants of the Church instead of being servants to the people. The defunct Roman Empire was a relic of history, but Zachary had a new concept – a Holy Roman Empire controlled from the Vatican.
Pope Zachary’s first initiative was to depose the most influential of all royal houses – the Merovingian Kings of Gaul (France). Boasting a genealogical descent from King David of Israel, this enigmatic dynasty had been Lords of the Franks for 300 years. In line with the 1st-century edict of Emperor Vespasian, which had ordered “the family of David to be sought, that no one might be left among the Jews who was of the royal stock”, the Merovingians should never have existed as far as Zachary was concerned, and he had their King Childeric III seized and incarcerated. In his place, Zachary installed a family of hitherto regional mayors, subsequently styled Carolingians.
In all the 236 years of Carolingian monarchy, their only king of any significance was the legendary Charlemagne. Nevertheless, a new tradition had been born, and the Holy Roman Empire was begun. Henceforth, European kings were crowned by the Pope – and in England by his appointed Archbishop of Canterbury. Scotland stood alone in resisting this devious Catholic invasion, and her monarchs were subsequently excommunicated.
The Donation of Constantine is now listed in encyclopedias as “the world’s most famous forgery.” Proof of this emerged over 500 years ago. Its New Testament references relate to the Latin Vulgate Bible – an edition translated and compiled by St Jerome, who was not born until CE 340, some 26 years after Constantine supposedly signed and dated the document. Apart from this, the language of the Donation is that of the 8th century and bears no resemblance to the writing style of Constantine’s day.
The Donation was first declared to be fraudulent by the Saxon Emperor Otto III in 1001, but the matter was ignored until its authenticity was fiercely attacked by the Italian linguist Lorenzo Valla in the 15th century. He was employed by Pope Nicholas V to work at the Vatican Library, where he discovered the Donation and denounced it as an 8th-century hoax.
Yet it was this very document which facilitated a whole new style of papal kingship. It was the device by which the Roman Church reverted political power to itself and eclipsed the Desposyni inheritors of Jesus and Mary Magdalene after the collapse of the Western Empire. It had become the primary document of papal lordship over the whole of Christendom and its monarchs.
Much is made in The Da Vinci Code of how Leonardo da Vinci surreptitiously introduced Mary Magdalene into his mural of The Last Supper at the monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, but in truth he did not. This supposition comes from an outdated 1994 concept, which was based on the mural as it existed after a superficial cleaning by Mauro Pelliccioli in 1954.
It is stated in The Da Vinci Code that, in this 1954 restoration, The Last Supper was “cleaned down to Da Vinci’s original layer of paint” – but this is completely untrue. At that time it was reckoned that only one-fifth of Leonardo’s original was left intact, but it was all obliterated beneath the overpainting of numerous successive restoration attempts. All Pelliccoli did was to clean the surface and treat the work against mildew.
Not until 1978 was a proper restoration commissioned to be undertaken by the renowned conservator of masterworks, Dr. Pinin Brambilla Barcilon. This renovation took a full twenty years, during which the mural was not on view to the public. It was finally unveiled in 1999, but the source reference for Dan Brown’s novel in this regard was written five years earlier, and was not based on The Last Supper painting as it exists today.
From 1999 the mural has indeed been stripped down to Leonardo’s original paint, and the items cited in The Da Vinci Code to denote a woman in place of the apostle John do not exist. The neck-chain, for example, turned out to be a crack in the wall. The supposed formation of breasts on the figure was caused by black stucco marks from an early attempt at adhering the plaster. In addition to this, Leonardo’s preparatory drawing for the figure in question is at the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan, and is positively captioned ‘John’, while Leonardo’s two known portrayals of Mary Magdalene have nothing whatever in common with the apostolic figure in The Last Supper.
If Leonardo had wanted to include Mary Magdalene in his Last Supper depiction, he could have done so with impunity. Other artists, such as Fra Angelico, certainly did this by introducing Magdalene as a 13th apostle. There was no need for any artist commissioned by a Dominican establishment to be in any way surreptitious in the inclusion of Mary Magdalene. As Mother Protectress of the Order, she was the paramount figure in Dominican artwork from the 13th century onwards.
Another aspect of The Da Vinci Code suggests that the Priory of Sion was a secret underground order of Magdalene adherents with a long-standing history back to the Crusades. This is largely incorrect because there has not been a continuous organisation of that name. There have been four unrelated societies with similar names at different times in history, and only one of these had any direct Magdalene association.
In fact, the account of this association from the Renaissance records of the Prieuré Notre Dame de Sion is very revealing. Led by René d’Anjou, King of Naples, it details various European kings and queens, and the art circles of Giotto di Bondone, Jan Van Eyck, Leonardo da Vinci and others, as being avid proponents of the Magdalene legacy. It was from their related activities that the hermitage school of La Madeleine de St Baumette was founded in Provence, along with the Bethany festivals at Marseilles, Tarascon and Aix.
Irrespective of anything stated by Dan Brown, Mary Magdalene has been a favourite of artists through the centuries, from Giotto di Bondone to Salvador Dali. Depictions of Mary are often far from biblical in their representation, but they are never deviously portrayed.
Whether at the Last Supper, the Marriage at Cana, or however
otherwise included, Mary’s appearances in artwork are always blatantly
stated, and their historical relevance is far more explosive than the scenario
presented in The Da Vinci Code.
Laurence Gardner, a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and Professional Member of the Institute of Nanotechnology, is a constitutional historian, broadcaster and executive producer of a Hollywood movie studio. Distinguished as the Chevalier de St. Germain and attached to the European Council of Princes, he is the Jacobite Historiographer Royal. In the artistic domain, he has been Conservation Consultant to the Fine Art Trade Guild of Britain while, in the world of music, his libretto compositions have been performed at London’s Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Prior of the Knights Templars of St Anthony, Laurence is a UK Top-10 and internationally acclaimed bestselling author, with national press serialisation and works in many languages. He can be contacted through his web site www.Graal.co.uk.
The above article appeared in
New Dawn No. 91 (July-August 2005)