Mona Lisa frowns


For the French, it’s bound to be the most annoying American phenomenon since the freedom fries fiasco. Tom Hanks reportedly beat out Harrison Ford, George Clooney, and Hugh Jackman to star in the movie adaptation of The Da Vinci Code, to be directed by Ron Howard. Barring complications, the film should be in theatres in early 2006.

And why might this annoy the French, you ask?

Because many who read the book take author Dan Brown’s tongue-in-cheek claims to historical accuracy just a little too seriously. According to a story in the London Telegraph, the ancient, tiny village of Rennes-le-Chateau in southeastern France has been inundated with pilgrims who think that the book was more than a story — and they often refuse to take no for an answer.

Until recently, the local mayor, Jean-Franois L’Huilier, "seemed to be winning the battle against
fortune-seekers who tried to disinter bodies and dynamite holes in the walls of its 11th-century church
looking for relics." But then The Da Vinci Code hit the bestseller lists.

Now the local graveyard has had to be closed down and the body of a long-dead priest whose name appears in the novel has been exhumed and reburied under a "3.5 ton sarcophagus surrounded by five cubic metres of concrete." The mayor explained, with what I’m guessing was a lot of exasperation, "It’ll take one hell of a lot of explosive to get through that."

Nor is L’Huilier being overly paranoid. He calls the would-be Code breakers "a Philistine minority but they come here and stomp all over the place with no respect for anything or anyone." To wit, just last year, some seekers attempted to tunnel into the church.

"It was like something out of a prison escape film. They began digging in the night, put the soil in bags and put the bags in the hole which they covered with a layer of earth so nobody would see during the day. It was only when someone noticed the flower beds moving that we discovered what they were up to," Huilier explained.

This isn’t the first time that the village has had to fend off vandals and treasure seekers. Local lore and some conspiratorial pamphlets in the past have fueled speculation that that there is a treasure hoard, the holy grail, the remains of Mary Magdalene, or even the bones of Christ, buried there somewhere. Here’s hoping that the villagers are up to dealing with the deluge of invaders when Brown’s story comes to the big screen.

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  • Joe Perez

    Conservative religionists hate being portrayed as idiotic rubes by elitist liberals, but don’t hesitate to paint readers of The Da Vinci Code in a questionable, biased light. The premise of this blog is that readers of The Da Vinci Code are too stupid to tell fact from fiction, and are rude graverobbers to boot.

    The evidence for this prejudice? A Telegraph story that describes the work of mere vandals and treasure seekers looking to get rich, not the deeds of typical fans of Dan Brown’s novel. And a link to Amy Welborne’s blog to make the point that Code fans take “Dan Brown’s tongue-in-cheek claims to historical accuracy just a little too seriously.”

    I suspect most Code fans are quite able to distinguish fact from fiction. Suggesting otherwise as Welcome and Lott do is simply irresponsible. The issue is not the stupidity of Code readers, but the validity of the controversial historical theories advanced within the context of a fictional novel. Many scholars and religious folks believe there is much truth to such theories, or at least that they are at least as worthy of faith as the opposing theories of the orthodox. Dan Brown writes in the FAQ on his website, “it is my belief that the theories discussed by these characters have merit.” This is hardly a tongue-in-cheek claim, not should it be dismissed. Conservative religionists may disagree with the theories expounded in the novel, but disagreeing with conservative historians hardly makes one an imbecile incapable of critical thinking.

  • AH

    Somehow, the saga of quaking flowerbeds is a lot more fun to read than Joe Perez’ predictable huff. If Amy Wellborn were not otherwise occupied at the moment with replenishing the human race, she could do this justice. I can’t, so hereby take flight from the humorless.

  • tmatt

    Hey Jeremy:

    Are you saying that it’s particularly annoying that Hanks got the part? Will that make this thing an even bigger, more mainstream, phenom?

    And Joe, is there a particular phrase or two in Jeremy’s post that gets you riled up? I read him as poking fun at some Da Vinci readers. I think he knows that Brown’s fable is taken sort-of seriously by some on the left. Perhaps he is trying to jazz up the Da Vinci fundamentalists.

  • Jeremy Lott


    Get a sense of humor.


    I’m saying that this will make The Da Vinci Code more popular and likely increase the number of people who want to dig up every square inch of Rennes-le-Chateau in search of rumored relics.


  • amy

    Hey, Joe…who am I? Welborne? Welcome?

    Or maybe “Welborn”?

    Talk about not being able to tell fact from fiction.

    A tiresome conversation, but one that I keep having to conduct. Why? Here’s the answer -

    Because I get mail – all the time – from readers of the Da Vinci Code – telling me that reading the book has revealed great truths to them about history, and that I’m nothing but a closed-minded fearful “brainwashed Catholic” for looking at the novel critically.

    Whenever I do radio on the subject, the callers are very, very heavily in support of taking the claims of DVC seriously. I get invitations to speak in Catholic parishes all over the country because staff of said parishes are getting the questions, as well.

    It’s not all readers. But it’s enough readers to suggest that Brown’s claims to be presenting an interesting alternative history are being taken seriously by some. And it’s not only religious history. I’ve had more art historians than I can shake a paintbrush at express their frustration to me at the way in which DVC readers absorb Brown’s statements about art, uncritically. When I spoke at the U. of Miami a few weeks ago, an member of the art faculty was present, and during the question period, she turned and addressed the audience, saying, “You won’t believe how many people come up to me, so pleased with how much they think they’ve learned about art from this novel. Believe me, if you’ve read this novel, you’ve learned nothing about art!”

    My book, and the books that others have written have not come out of the blue, Joe. All of us who have addressed the issue are, at some level, receiving questions about this novel, constantly, from people who are honestly confused or who think that gee, maybe there’s something to this.

    And as I said, for evidence, you need go no further than my very full e-mail box called, “DVC correspondence.” The responses are not addressed to readers who can tell the difference, but to those who can’t and who have questions. Obviously.

  • Dan Berger

    I probably should address this question to Joe Perez on his blog, but I don’t follow his blog. So here it is, Joe:

    When and where, precisely, was this era of feminine spirituality during which homosexual expression was celebrated? The only ones I know of were certain Native American cultures–and there’s some doubt in my mind as to whether they weren’t just as patriarchal as the rest. Not all Native American cultures, by any means… the Aztecs and Incas murdered homosexuals when they caught them. The Hopis used ritual homosexual gang rape in their fertility ceremonies; I hope they’re not exemplars for you.

    The usual suspects are the ancient Greeks, but they weren’t exactly devotees of the Sacred Feminine. The Greeks celebrated homosexuality because they thought that (a) pederasty was an important part of the mentoring process for adolescent males and (b) they couldn’t conceive that soldiers might be loyal to each other without using sex as a cement. Incidentally, that seemed to apply only to the ruling class; Greek artisans were just as “homophobic” as modern blue-collar folk.

  • Darrell Grizzle

    Joe, I really don’t think Jeremy is casting all readers of The Da Vinci Code as “too stupid to tell fact from fiction.” His post is about a very small, but apparently troublesome, minority of Da Vinci Code readers.

    As for the book’s theories, I think they are a mix of the plausible and the implausible. Plausible: the church suppressed gospels and other writings they considered “unorthodox.” Implausible: Jesus and Mary got married and Mary moved to France after Jesus’ crucifixion.

    The book is a good “thriller” in the vein of John Grisham and Robin Cook. Not great literature, but enjoyable. I’m disappointed Harrison Ford won’t be playing the lead in the movie, but I’m glad Ron Howard is directing it.

  • Molly

    Eh. The DaVinci Code and, on the right, the Left Behind series are cash cows. I bet Brown, LaHaye, and the other guy (sorry, can’t come up with his name just now) are laughing all the way to the bank.

    Americans are always looking for a new thriller and if there is some way to exploit paranoia and conspiracy theory, all the better.

  • Joe Perez

    Jeremy and tmatt: My post called attention to Lott’s post as typical of a problematic meme in journalism; sorry if it seemed humorless, I thought the point of GetReligion is to discuss portrayals of religion in the media, not entertainment. The meme is the highlighting a small, atypical segment of a religious group and portraying them as idiotic rubes as a way of disparaging the entire religion. The Telegraph post does this in a mild way by implying that the graverobbers are typical DaVinci Code fans; Lott’s post misses this problem, which of course I am happy to point out.

    Anyways, since GetReligion seems unconcerned with this particular meme, I trust that I won’t be seeing any more posts bemoaning the relexive way that the MSM focused on religious Christian extremists such as Operation Rescue fanatics as a way of disparaging all pro-life activists or all Christians.

    Dan Berger: The era of feminine sacred expression to which I was referring is the pre-agrarian horticultural era which ended about 2,500 years ago. I believe the Da Vinci Code is entirely accurate in presenting Western spiritual history as including a shift in paradigm from matriarchal to patriarchal modes. Some romantic theorists in the gay spirituality movement look at the matriarchal era as a “golden age,” and point to a variety of cultures especially the matriarchal Native Americans as you note for evidence that persons with same-sex sexual expressions were previously honored and hailed as spiritual leaders. My own view of spiritual evolution is somewhat different, and is summarized in the column “What is ‘Gay Spirituality’?” linked to on my blog.

    Amy: Dan Brown’s claims to be presenting an alternative history SHOULD be taken seriously, because he takes such claims seriously, many people do, and many major themes are factual, in my opinion. I don’t think we will agree on that. But let’s talk about it, and realize that that’s where the really interesting discussion and controversy lies, and not portray DaVinci Code fans as too ignorant to tell the difference between fact and fiction.

    Darrell: I agree that the Da Vinci code contains a mix of plausible and implausible theories. Personally, I find the notion that Jesus married Mary Magdelene highly improbable, because we all know that Jesus was in a physically intimate, loving relationship with John the Beloved.

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