The Da Vinci Code: Chapter 23

Summary: Within the Salle des Etats, the gallery housing the famed Mona Lisa, Sophie and Langdon discuss further the significance of the initials “P.S.” Sophie reveals that she first saw these letters as a child, on a strange key that her grandfather Saunière kept hidden away; he told her at the time that the key opens a box full of secrets, secrets that Sophie could not yet learn. Langdon asks if the initials appeared on the key together with a fleur-de-list. Amazed, Sophie admits that they did. Langdon explains that the combination of letters and symbol point to the Priory of Sion, one of Europe’s oldest secret societies, boasting such famous members through the ages as Sir Isaac Newton, Victor Hugo—and the creator of the Mona Lisa himself, Leonardo Da Vinci. According to Langdon, the Priory of Sion is “the pagan goddess worship cult.”
In the meanwhile, Fache has discovered—and angrily tossed into the Seine—the bar of soap bearing Langdon’s GPS beacon.

Analysis: This key chapter (no pun intended) introduces another critical component of Brown’s novel: the Priory of Sion. In a 2006 piece for the CBS newsmagazine 60 Minutes, Ed Bradley reported on the factual basis for the Priory of Sion, including the fact that the organization “was said to have had a mysterious influence on the village priest [inRennes le Chateau], Berenger Saunière”—Dan Brown’s readers, note the name!—“who spent money on a scale that was way beyond his means… Saunière died in 1917, but the mystery of his wealth lived on. In the 1950s, newspaper reports suggested that Sauniere had discovered a fabulous treasure and soon Rennes Le Chateau began to be invaded by treasure hunters from all over the world” (
60minutes/main1552009.shtml). Thus, the novel’s contention that the Priory of Sion is connected with and safeguards some inestimable treasure has some basis in fact. Of course, within the world of Brown’s novel, that treasure proves to be not entirely monetary in value—or, rather, of greater worth than human currency could indicate. But that revelation awaits in the later chapters. For now, readers need only note the confluence of religion, wealth, and secrecy that surrounds the Priory of Sion. As Langdon muses (in a slightly different context) in this chapter, “It was all intertwined, a silent symphony…” (p. 123). All the usual caveats with Brown’s novel, however, apply, especially in the matter of the Priory of Sion. Ed Bradley’s investigative journalism goes to interview other scholars and officials who describe the investigation into Saunière’s supposed treasure as fantasy, not fact. Bradley’s conclusion? “Saunière was tried and found guilty of trafficking in masses. Priests are allowed to accept money for saying up to three masses a day. But what Saunière had done was to solicit and receive money for thousands of masses, which he couldnt possibly have said. In fact, he didn’t even try. So the source of the wealth of the priest of Rennes le Chateau was not some ancient, mysterious treasure—but good old-fashioned fraud).
Once more, however, readers would be well-advised to recall that The Da Vinci Code is a work of fiction, and should feel free to enter into the world of the narrative as they experience it. And in that world, the Priory of Sion is a reality. Brown’s narrative demands that it be, for, as Langdon explains to Sophie, the Priory of Sion is fascinated with “goddess iconology, paganism, feminine deities, and contempt for the Church. The Priory has a well-documented history of reverence for the sacred feminine… [It is] the pagan goddess worship cult” (p. 122). Brown thus establishes, within his narrative, the Priory as the champion of all that Captain Fache and the legal and ecclesiastical and moralistic authorities seek to oppose.