This is it. This is the chapter I warned you about, a chapter so densely packed with absolute bullshit that it needs a post all to itself. It’s long, it’s messy and it’s heavy on the art and church history, so let’s just get into this. This is…
By the way, I still hate Leigh Teabing. Leigh can’t just show Sophie the picture of what he claims is the Holy Grail. Oh no. Leigh has to lead them into the ballroom, which he has converted into a ‘study’ by cluttering it with an eclectic array of crap that I think is supposed to make him seem eccentric and charming.
Even Sophie is getting a bit annoyed by this point, and presses him for the reveal of the thing we were about to learn some three chapters ago. But this is Leigh, and he is terrible.
“Hmmm…” Teabing made a show of seeming to have forgotten. “The Holy Grail. The Sangreal. The Chalice.” He wheeled suddenly and pointed to the far wall. On it hung an eight-foot-long print of The Last Supper, the exact same image Sophie had just been looking at. “There she is!”
Sophie was certain she had missed something. “That’s the same painting you just showed me.”
He winked. “I know, but the enlargement is so much more exciting. Don’t you think?”
I don’t really want to flip ahead to check, but please tell me this simpering Poundland Dumbledore is not in the entire remainder of the book? Jesus, this man is fucking insufferable.
Langdon then piles on the smugfest, pointing out that the woman in question is featured prominently in the painting, prompting Sophie to say that The Last Supper is a painting of thirteen men. Leigh says to look at the figure on Jesus’s right, and Sophie – like the good little plot device she is – does so.
Sophie examined the figure to Jesus’ immediate right, focusing in. As she studied the person’s face and body, a wave of astonishment rose within her. The individual had flowing red hair, delicate folded hands, and the hint of a bosom. It was, without a doubt…female.
“That’s a woman!” Sophie exclaimed.
Teabing was laughing. “Surprise, surprise. Believe me, it’s no mistake. Leonardo was skilled at painting the difference between the sexes.”
In fact Leonardo painted numerous androgynous figures, including Saint John the Baptist, who was supposed to look like he’d spent several years in the wilderness living on wild honey and knitting sandals out of camel’s pubic hair or something. Leonardo jettisoned all of that and instead painted him as this deluxe twink batting his lashes at us in chiaroscuro. Similarly if we revisit the much abused Madonna of the Rocks, we see that Uriel is almost as pretty as Mary, although in this case I think we can chalk up the androgyny to the figure being that of an angel, and therefore genderless. Androgyny was everywhere in Renaissance art, and not just men looking feminine. It went the other way, too, what with Donatello’s mannish Magdalene and the frankly burly Sibyls flexing their Tom of Finland muscles all over Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling.
And even if you ignore all that (which we’re not going to, because this is some next level bullshit) didn’t Dan devote Langdon’s terrible prison flashback to pointing out that the Mona Lisa was an androgynous figure?
If you’re going to make shit up, at least try and keep it consistent. Come on. This is Fiction 101.
Anyway, the figure in question is that of St John. Church tradition associates him with the Gospel that today bears his name, due to several things in the text but mostly due to his odd habit of constantly referring to ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’ and directly identifying with this disciple at the end of the document, hence one of John’s many soubriquets – Saint John the Beloved.
Another Church tradition – one with which Leonardo would have been familiar – was that that John was the youngest of the disciples. He is consistently portrayed in art as a young, beardless boy at the tail end of his teens, so his feminine appearance in The Last Supper is nothing remotely unusual. There was also a scurrilous church tradition that pretty boy John and Jesus occasionally got all Brokeback while stomping all over Galilee preaching the good word, and perhaps it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine that Leonardo – given his proclivities – might crack a gay joke at the expense of the church that persecuted him.
Although Sophie had seen this classic image, she had not once noticed this glaring discrepancy.
“Everyone misses it,” Teabing said. “Our preconceived notions of this scene are so powerful that our mind blows out the incongruity and overrides our eyes.”
“It’s known as scotoma,” Langdon added.
(Extremely Ron Howard voice) It’s not.
Anyway, as you’ve probably already figured out, the woman in the picture is supposedly Mary Magadalene, the holy hooker who was defamed by the church as a prostitute. Oh, and she was married to Jesus.
That’s it. That was the dynamite that was supposed to send us – the readers – staggering back in shock, as thoroughly mindblown as an undergraduate attending a Langdon lecture about the sacred shapes of dongs.
Meh. Maybe it works better if you haven’t already read Holy Blood and Holy Grail. I don’t know.
Teabag then tells us that Jesus’s marriage to Magdalene was a matter of historical record (Again, it’s not) and that Leonardo quite explicitly pointed to this by dressing the two figures in similar colours, having them lean away from one another to form a highly symbolological and chalice-like V and then pointing out that the V is actually the middle of a giant M. And M stands for Matrimonio or Mary Magdalene.
Or it could just be something to do with artistic composition. Leonardo loved geometry and incorporated it into his compositions to lend harmony. If we return to our old buddies The Virgin of the Rocks and the Mona Lisa, you’ll see they form a pyramid and a truncated cone respectively. Leonardo’s unfinished St. Jerome is particularly notable because of the way his figure forms a trapezoid. Similarly one of the many ways in which The Last Supper makes its striking impression is by way of its clear and harmonious geometry, with all lines leading to a ‘vanishing point’ in the centre of the painting. This stupidly simple trick draws the eye to the figure of Christ in the middle, and has the effect of lending clean lines and open space to the ceiling above his head, a contrast to the roiling human drama playing out in the grouped figures of the twelve apostles, all currently reeling from Jesus’s prophesy of his own betrayal and denial. It’s also interesting to note that nobody in The Last Supper is sporting a halo, which was traditional at the time. When you compare it to the stiff, haloed, almost Byzantine figures in medieval Last Suppers, it’s immediately obvious why Leonardo’s Last Supper was the work that finally made him as famous as he felt he should be; every single figure is shatteringly human.
Sorry, I’m rambling. I think what I’m trying to say is that The Last Supper is beautiful and interesting in ways not explored in this book, because Dan Brown is too busy trying to pretend that St. John has a rocking set of titties.
Anyway, let’s get back to Teabag and whatever nonsense he’s spewing now.
Teabag explains that Jesus being married would have made sense because Jesus was a Jew, and I’m like “Oh, now he’s Jewish,” because this book has ignored the Jewish roots of Christian scripture almost as hard as one of those white supremacist churches. You know the ones. Where racist idiots attempt to argue – with a straight face and everything – that Jesus was actually so damn Aryan he could have wandered out of a Leni Riefenstahl movie.
According to Teabag, Jesus being unmarried would have been remarkable because all Jews were married, and that if he’d been unmarried then someone in the gospels would have mentioned this oddity. Never mind that we have already been told that the gospels are not, well…gospel. And never mind that the gospels – while not explicitly saying Jesus was unmarried – contain numerous examples of people pointing to the way Jesus and his disciplines eschewed traditional family life in favour of travelling. Come to think of it, I don’t think there’s a reference to any of the apostles ever being married, so by this logic everyone’s failure to remark on this fact means they all left wives behind them.
Maybe I’ve just been away from it for too long, but this book is coming off as bafflingly stupid lately.
Teabag then drags out a passage from the Gospel of Philip, one of the gnostic gospels discovered at Nag Hammadi in 1945.
And the companion of the Saviour is Mary Magdalene. Christ loved her more than all the disciples and used to kiss her often on the mouth. The rest of the disciples were offended by it and expressed disapproval. They said to him, “Why do you love her more than all of us?”
The words surprised Sophie, and yet they hardly seemed conclusive. “It says nothing of marriage.”
“Au contraire,” Teabing smiled, pointing to the first line. “As any Aramaic scholar will tell you, the word companion, in those days, literally meant spouse.”
And as any very, very tired blogger with access to a fucking search engine will tell you, the Nag Hammadi library was written in Coptic, not Aramaic, and that scholars believe that these parts of the Gospel of Philip had been translated from early church anecdotes written not in Coptic or Aramaic, but in the original language of the canonical gospels – koine (common) Greek. And yes, the Greek does refer to Mary as Jesus’s ‘koinonos’ or companion, but this word only implies a sexual relationship. What it does refer to is a deep, sometimes spiritual connection, which could indicate a number of things, the main one being yet another solid piece of evidence that Jesus’s female disciples were a lot more important than the Church – who are still dragging their heels about ordaining women – would like to let on.
Good God, there’s a lot of bullshit to unpack here. I hate you, Teabag.
Sophie has a brief flashback to the time that her grandfather got into trouble for defending the Martin Scorsese movie The Last Temptation of Christ, which you should all see if only to bask in the incredible hotness of Barbara Hershey, even if Willem Dafoe’s Jesus looks blond enough to please those awful Aryan Jesus people we were talking about earlier.
According to Teabag, Jesus intended the Church to be continued by a woman, Mary Magdalene, and Peter had a problem with that. Then Langdon chimes in.
“That’s Peter there. You can see that Da Vinci was well aware of how Peter felt about Mary Magdalene.”
Again Sophie was speechless. In the painting, Peter was leaning menacingly toward Mary Magdalene and slicing his blade-like hand across her neck. The same threatening gesture as in Madonna of the Rocks!
In other words, Peter, like Uriel in the Madonna of the Rocks, is pointing. If you’re looking for signs of violence in the painting, Peter actually has a knife in his other hand, perhaps a foreshadowing of the violence soon to come in the Garden of Gethsemane. He’s not looking at ‘Mary Magdalene’ aka John. He’s looking past him, down the table, angrily pointing out potential betrayers. Of course, the actual betrayer is right there at his elbow – Judas with his bag of silver clutched in his fist.
Goddamn, The Last Supper is an incredible painting.
Sophie was starting to feel overwhelmed. “I’m sorry, I don’t understand how all of this makes Mary Magdalene the Holy Grail.”
I feel you, Soph.
“Aha!” Teabing exclaimed again. “Therein lies the rub!”
And it would really help if this idiot stopped talking like a Renn Faire reject.
Teabag fishes out a supposed family tree of the Tribe of Benjamin, claiming that Mary Magdalene was a Benjaminite princess, which again, is bullshit. All we really know about her is that she was most likely from Magdala – not a Benjaminite stomping ground, by the way – and that she is identified as a woman from whom Jesus drove out seven demons.
Sophie sensed he was at last coming to his point.
(Insert YouTube of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing Handel’s Hallelujah.)
Teabing looked excited now. “The legend of the Holy Grail is a legend about royal blood. When Grail legend speaks of ‘the chalice that held the blood of Christ’…it speaks, in fact, of Mary Magdalene – the female womb that carried Jesus’s royal bloodline.”
There you go. There it finally is. The explosive, controversial and shocking role of the woman is…uh…as the mother of some guy’s children. Behold, the Holy DNA Receptacle.
Well, if nothing else I suppose we’ve solved the mystery of why the Priory of Sion seems light on female members.
“So the entire Holy Grail legend is about royal blood?”
“Quite literally,” Teabing said. “The word Sangreal derives from San Greal – or Holy Grail. But in its most ancient form, the word Sangreal was divided in a different spot.” Teabing wrote on a piece of scrap paper and handed it to her. She read what he had written.
Instantly Sophie recognised the translation.
Sang Real literally meant Royal Blood.
(Extremely Ron Howard voice.) It didn’t.