Feast Day of St John the Baptist, June
of the most exciting, albeit totally unexpected, developments in the
Fringe community this year is that a sliver of our obscure world has
suddenly become... yes, Mainstream! Dragged, kicking and screaming
into the limelight, we finally got our fifteen minutes of fame.
As a result of the New York Times' bestseller booklist being roundly
trounced by Dan Brown's engaging thriller, The Da Vinci Code, I can
now even speak to people as normal as my own mother about the Priory
of Sion without having to resort to hours of convoluted explanations.
In a nutshell, Brown (who, in my humble opinion, should be elevated
to the status of a Fringe Minor Deity) has woven an addictive
mystery around the existence of a centuries-old Secret Society, said
to have been formed to protect the earth shattering secret of a
treasure of great importance to mankind. But, does such an
all-powerful Secret Society, which counts luminaries including
Leonardo da Vinci, Issac Newton, Victor Hugo, and Jean Cocteau among
its Grandmasters, really exist, as Dan Brown and others have claimed?
Well, I guess it depends on one's definition of "exist".
It's true that a real organisation called the Priory of Sion,
comprised of real people, once existed. But, sadly, as diehard
Fringe-o-philes will already know, twenty years after the release of
The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, the "explosively controversial
international bestseller" which first brought the enigma of the
Priory of Sion to the English speaking world, exhaustive research
has demonstrated that there is actually no solid historical evidence
for the on-going existence of this society prior to 1956, when the
group was legally registered in France as more of a prank than
anything else. Even the contents of the hallowed collection of
secret Priory of Sion documents known as the Dossiers Secrets (now
commercially available thanks to French researcher "Pierre Jarnac")
read more like the plot of a prequel to a Dan Brown novel, when
And yet... and yet, one thing that both researchers and debunkers
alike will agree on is that what the mythological Priory's
Grandmaster Pierre Plantard and his side-kick, the mischievous
Belgian actor Philippe de Cherisey, have created is nothing less
than a genuine Grail Quest for the modern day Seeker.
The amount of effort and angst that has been collectively devoted,
in our little Fringe community, to deciphering obscure codes such as
Blue Apples at Noon, Le Serpent Rouge, Pax 681, and "Et In Arcadia
Ego..." is truly phenomenal. Furthermore, in an ironic twist of
fate, both of the masterminds who created the myth of the Priory of
Sion died before they could reveal the solution to their encoded
secrets, leaving behind a legacy of obscure documents, convoluted
genealogies, historical treatises, encoded diagrams, and a wide open
field which has fired the imagination of anyone who becomes ensnared
in their tangled Ariadne's Web.
So, just how do these Priory pranksters continue to tap deep into
the dark recesses of our twenty-first century souls?
Is there something hard-wired into the human psyche which impels us
to continually look outside of ourselves for answers? Has our faith
in the existing religious and political systems disintegrated to the
point where our search for God and Country has been supplanted by a
yearning for an underground network of fellow men with superior
knowledge, who are secretly in control of the planet's destiny?
Perhaps this quest is borne out of the sneaking suspicion that we
may well be teetering on the verge of eternally botching the
viability of our own planet... or, are we simply craving a tiny
sparkle of magic in a mundane nine-to-five world where our most
meaningful quest centres around the weekly supermarket search for
the plumpest plastic-wrapped presentation of uniformly sized
I will admit to being of the sparkle-craving persuasion.
Yes, okay, I know full well from my own personal encounters that the
Priory of Sion is nothing more than a Perrault-like fairy tale
contrived by a small circle of initiates with an impish sense of
humour... and yet, in the same way that a doting parent makes the
time-honoured pilgrimage with their offspring to the nearest
department store's Santa's Grotto every Christmas, I found myself
advancing towards the west facade of the church of Saint Sulpice in
Paris at Noon on January the 17th of this year with a group of over
fifty other Priory of Sion researchers assembled from the far-flung
provinces of France.
BLUE APPLES AT NOON
Operation Blue Apples, which might be described as the Priory of
Sion equivalent of a Star Trek Convention, was coordinated by an
enigmatic conjuror named Philippe Marlin. Philippe is the president
of a genuine Paris-based organisation called l'Oeil du Sphinx (Eye
of the Sphinx in English), which was created in 1989 to promote new
material from non-established authors, poets, and artists in the
much-beloved genres of sci-fi, horror, fantasy, and esotericism.
However, over the years, Philippe's unique diplomatic skills as a
neutral, non-judgemental observer have gained the trust of the more
arcane orders and esoteric societies throughout Europe and, as a
result, ODS has gradually evolved into something of a mouthpiece for
colourful personalities who prefer to remain occult, in the true
sense of the word.
Philippe's genuine bemusement regarding the increasingly bizarre
situations in which he has become embroiled has helped him to
maintain his sense of perspective and, therefore, it was with
typical Marlinesque ironic humour that the First Annual Scientific
Mission to Saint Sulpice, codenamed Operation Blue Apples, was
The Church of Saint Sulpice de Paris and the actual date of its
patron saint's feast day, on January 17th, lie at the heart of the
most enigmatic of the Priory of Sion's codes.
Visualising the shape of France as a hexagon, Pierre Plantard
divided the country proportionally into thirteen zodiacal asterisms,
including Ophiuchus, corresponding to the constellations which
encircle the Earth's ecliptic. In this way, France itself becomes a
hermetic microcosmic representation of the Sun's apparent path among
the stars throughout the course of the year, regarded symbolically
as the Temple of Solomon (sol = sun).
In the Priory's mindset the old Paris Zero Meridian line, hijacked
by the British in 1884 to become the Greenwich Meridian, bisects the
country vertically from north to south, conveniently tracing its
course through the transept of Saint Sulpice de Paris, which is
exactly where our small group of pilgrims was heading.
In order to sidestep the minor technical detail that the Paris Zero
Meridian was actually cited several hundred metres to the east, in
line with the Paris Observatory and not with Saint Sulpice at all,
Plantard's myth apparently resorts to a more ancient solar technique
of determining a north-south meridian. This method is based on the
aligning the position of the pole star, currently Polaris, in the
north at Midnight with the position of the Sun in the south at Noon.
This alignment, in turn, leads us to further multiple layers of
cryptic Priory symbolism, including the recurring deployment of a
curious "P-S" glyph at strategic points in the Quest.
However, there is a method to the Priory's madness.
UNCOILING THE SERPENT ROUGE
In the "real world", the church of Saint Sulpice de Paris is
genuinely renown for its solar meridiana, a gnomonic light show
created by an optically magnified beam of sunlight which penetrates
the church through a lens in a window in the south arm of the
transept. As the solar year progresses, this beam of sunlight
obligingly traces the length of a brass strip inlaid into the stone
floor along the entire length, from south to north, of the transept.
The brass thread is punctuated by plaques marking the position of
the sun at noon on the Summer Solstice and the Equinoxes, but the
position of the sun on the Winter Solstice, when the sun is at its
lowest point in the midday skies, is tracked as our intrepid sunbeam
climbs a white marble obelisk (itself an Egyptian symbol of the rays
of the sun) at the far northern end of the transept.
This solar meridiana thus becomes a central metaphor in the Priory's
literature, referred to symbolically as the Serpent Rouge in order
to differentiate the concept of an undulating solar meridian from
the scientifically derived Prime Meridian. To this end, a typically
cryptic Priory poem, Le Serpent Rouge, was created by the pranksters
to guide us through the first stage of the Quest.
Blatantly subtitled "Notes on Saint Germain des Pres and Saint
Sulpice de Paris" so that we don't miss the point, various
architectural features of Saint Sulpice are hermetically encoded
into esoteric metaphors designed to weave the pilgrim through a
labyrinthine dance of the church until the dancer finally arrives at
a specific coordinate. This coordinate is believed to be the doorway
which descends into the so-called crypt of the church, which in fact
isn't a crypt at all but the intact foundations of the far more
ancient church of St Sulpice which has been superseded by the
current ediface. Furthermore, the original church, allegedly dating
to Merovingian times, was said by Priory initiates to have itself
been built upon an ancient temple dedicated to the goddess Isis.
The crypt at Saint Sulpice was traditionally opened only once a year,
at noon on January 17th, the feast day of its patron, which is why
we had arranged our pilgrimage to occur at this exact moment, in
case the timing was relevant to the choreography of the Priory's
As plans for Operation Blue Apples gathered momentum, Marlin
announced that we were to be joined on our mission by the real ex-spokesman
of the Priory of Sion, Jean-Luc Chaumeil, who knew the church well
from his visits with Pierre Plantard himself.
Accounts of the saga of Chaumeil's departure from the Priory of Sion
vary but, according to Jean-Luc, he eventually left the society
under a dark cloud when he realised that the order was not all it
claimed to be. Now that both Plantard and de Cherisey have moved on
to celestial realms, Chaumeil has promised to publish his collection
of private Priory archives, consisting of private letters and
photographs, allegedly fabricated "genuine" parchments, and a
handwritten treatise which he claims explains all the cryptic codes
which were used to construct the clues in the Priory documents.
But, the festive mood of Operation Blue Apples was so infectious,
that even the sceptical Chaumeil decided to suspend his debunking
for one day to join in the merry dance of Saint Sulpice.
Meanwhile, at the exact moment that our bijou band of pilgrims was
due to penetrate the dark mysteries of Sulpice's crypt, a mirror
group of PoS researchers was assembled hundreds of miles to the
south of Paris, at the tail end of the Serpent Rouge, to observe
another, more arcane, light show which is affectionately known to
initiates as the Blue Apples.
Our two chosen locations for Operation Blue Apples were determined
by oblique references in the stanzas of the poem, which also
correspond to the aforementioned zodiacal asterisms. However, for no
apparent logical reason, although the subtitle of the poem refers to
two adjacent Parisian churches, in actual fact the cryptically coded
references in the poem alternate between St Sulpice de Paris and the
Church of Saint Mary Magdalene in the tiny Languedoc village of
The only unifying factor between the two churches, as far as anyone
can tell, is an intriguing solar feature designed into one of the
windows of the Church of Mary Magadalene which is evocative of the
famous gnomonic meridiana at Saint Sulpice in Paris. However,
instead of a brilliant sunbeam tracing a brass strip along the floor,
the Magdalene meridiana manifests as blue balls, resembling surreal
apples, which alight onto a specific point on the wall of the
Magdalene church on the Feast Day of Saint Sulpice.
Therefore, our secret mission behind Operation Blue Apples was to
perform a Priory-inspired harmonic convergence between the bilocated
groups of seekers at the opposite ends of the old Paris Zero
Meridian at the exact moment both gnomons culminated and the door of
the crypt was thrown open, using the solar power of the Serpent
Rouge as a kind of aetheric electrical circuit.
And then we planned to celebrate with a splendid Dionysian feast.
THE CIRCUIT IS COMPLETED
I suppose that Dan Brown would have foreseen exactly what was to
happen afterwards, but we were so distracted by the aftermath of the
events of that day that it didn't even occur to us to pay attention
to the plot.
It began innocuously enough with a phone call at the beginning of
February from a respectable dealer in rare occult books in the South
of France, who had received an anonymous letter postmarked
A cursory glance at the letter brought a look of exasperation to the
booksellers face as he suspected that its contents, a notice
announcing the relaunch of the Priory of Sion, was an obvious hoax
by someone claiming to be Pierre Plantard's former secretary, Gino
Sandri. After initially discarding the letter, the dealer had second
thoughts, remembering that his friend Philippe Marlin in Paris liked
to collect esoteric curiosities.
As soon as Philippe received the letter from his contact in the
South of France, he sent me a scan and an English translation, which
read as follows:
December 27th 2003 [sic]
In accordance with our Book of Constitutions.
This day, at Saint-Denis, the Nautonnier has carried out the
investiture of the members of the Arch. The Head of the Order is
restored through his good offices. According to the Tradition, it is
formed by a couple assisted by its guardian.
On the threshold of this fateful year (2003), all is ready for the
emergence of Sion. For that, the Woman is necessary, as is well
known by all our members.
The Commanderies of Saint-Denis, Millau, Geneva and Barcelona are
fully operative. According to the Tradition, the first Commanderie
is under the direction of a woman.
The Assembly of the Provinces is convened for 17 January 2003. It
will meet in the very heart of Paris. The private ceremony for PEACE
in the world will be celebrated. You will receive specific
instructions for this meeting.
We are now 9841 members. This whole assembly built the CIRCUIT for
An office will soon be constituted, destined to serve as the
official link between the public and the Order of Sion. The
Secretary General is charged with its administration and the
publication of the internal bulletin CIRCUIT.
Gino Sandri, Secretary General
G. Chyren, Nautonnier
We had to concede, even considering the amusing typo in the date,
that the letter was an awfully good hoax. Apart from the fact that
the author had ditched the wonky typewriter of old in favour of a
modern computer word processor, the letter followed exactly the same
format as the all the other Priory communications from as far back
as the 1980s. Not only did the same official logo appear at the top
of the page, but the seals at the bottom were so similar that we
even wondered if they were simply scanned, along with the
signatures, from the earlier Priory documents.
But, hang on a minute! As I reread the reference to the assembly of
the provinces which was to meet in the heart of Paris on January
17th to perform a private ceremony, a thought occurred to me. WE
were the ones who had assembled from all over France, in the heart
of Paris, at the meridiana of Saint Sulpice, on the 17 January
2003... where WE had performed a mini-ceremonial harmonic
An absurd idea flickered briefly across my mind, that perhaps the
Priory of Sion was such a secret society that its actual members
weren't even aware that they were members. Of course, there was also
the possibility that Operation Blue Apples was just a coincidence
and that we were simply unaware of the alternative meeting.
But, the success of Operation Blue Apples had been discussed at
length on the internet... therefore, it's completely plausible that
someone had read about our real-life gathering and decided to
incorporate it into a fictitious relaunch of the Priory of Sion, as
a practical joke. After all, although the letter was dated the 27th
December, it didn't surface until the beginning of February, which
was a good couple of weeks after the 17th January, so it's
definitely possible that the entire hoax was composed after the
Then, as we compiled a list of possible hoaxer's names, we noticed
one tiny clue incorporated into the letter which indicated that
possibly Sandri himself had indeed composed the communiqué. It is
known that Gino Sandri, a confirmed devotee of the esoteric
tradition of Saint John, always dates his "official" letters,
regardless of the actual date, as either the Feast Day of St John
the Evangelist or the Feast Day of St John the Baptist... and the
date of the letter, December 27th, was indeed the Feast Day of John
Therefore, is it possible that one of the original pranksters is
going to make an attempt to carry on the legacy of Pierre Plantard's
Priory of Sion, to lead us on a new wild goose chase? What possible
motive would someone have to do this? It's not exactly an enterprise
that pays terribly well and, as a low profile appears to be an
essential element of the game, desire for fame wouldn't be a
So, I guess we're just going to have to wait and see what happens
next. As we go to press, since that first missive, there haven't
been any further announcements from anyone alleging to represent the
Priory of Sion.
The question is, will there be a second one, dated June 24th, 2003,
the Feast Day of St John the Baptist?
Pictures are copyright
Alain Brethereau ,
Philippe Marlin, Morgan Roussel