The origins of the Priory of Sion
Part 1: in the company of angels
In 1956, Pierre Plantard created the Priory of Sion. He will later specify that it is actually not a “creation”, but rather a confirmation of the existence of an "abstract" organization. In the documents he will produce over the coming decades, various names are listed as its grandmaster, including Leonardo Da Vinci. For them, it is a line which starts at the time of the crusades, with the true "core" of the first Knights Templar. In the 1960s, the documents argue that Jean Cocteau was its grand master. The problem is that the statutes stipulate that a certain André Bonhomme as holding the chair… an unknown character who does certainly not have the charisma of Cocteau!
We can be formal on at least one point: the Priory of Sion of Plantard is a pure fabrication. However, it remains to be determined whether this society is just that, or whether there are parties involved, perhaps used as inspiration, that have remained in the shadow – not so much by design, but by our neglect. Already, we should note that the Priory was not the first organisation created by Plantard and that it definitely was inspired by some of his previous societies, specifically the Alpha Galates. For the Priory, did he base himself on other examples as well?
December 4, 1923: Maurice Barrès dies in Neuilly. Barrès was a French writer, born in Charmes (the Vosges), on August 19, 1862. He began his career with three volumes, “Worship of the Ego” (1888-1891), before developing a nationalism that stresses the attachment to the roots of the native soil. Barrès was also politically active. He was elected at the age of 27 and adhered to the League of Patriots of Paul Déroulède and took sides against Zola in the infamous Dreyfus affair. He was elected to the French Academy in 1906. On June 24, 1920, the deputies adopted a project of Maurice Barrès, to institute a national feast for Joan of Arc. It is just one small glimpse into this man, whose passions and ideas went much deeper.
Barrès and the secret societies
Barrès was a friend of both Claude Debussy and Victor Hugo. Both
names have been entered on the list of “Grand Masters” of the
Priory of Sion. But let us remain within this reality, not the fictional
one, for as usual, truth is far more interesting and stranger than fiction.
Barrès was also a very good friend, since childhood in fact, with
the occultist Stanislav de Guaita. They both attended the same school in
Nantes around 1880. De Guaita was from a noble family from Italy, in Lombardy,
which settled in Lorraine around 1800. He used the title of Marquis.
It is in the writings of Peladan that Stanislas de Guaita found his opening into the wonderful universe of “the Tradition”. He follows this up by reading the works of Eliphas Lévi, as well as Fabre d’Olivet. This writer orientates him towards the greater mysteries and specifically to the Hebrew language. Saint-Yves d’Alveydre informs him about the synarchist methodology. Throughout these explorations, he becomes a good and close friend of Papus. De Guaita is therefore aware of all pillars of “Secret France”: Peladan, Levi, Fabre d’Olivet, Saint-Yves d’Alveydre and Papus. Finally, it is de Guaita who will introduce and initiate Barrès into Martinism. The preface for one of the editions of “Au seuil du mystère”, one of de Guaita’s work, is hence written by Maurice Barrès.
The inspired hill
Despite this, Barrès is seldom perceived as an “initiate”. Instead, he is presented as an “admirer” of de Guaita, which greatly misinterprets their alliance… as well as Barrès’ intelligence. Perhaps it is more in the eyes of the beholder of his work, who do not perceive the implied spiritual message that Barrès has woven into his works. But whatever we consult, they soon reveal that the author had a specific fascination and relationship with the subject at hand.
Basilica of Sion-Vaudemont
In 1913, Barrès sees his “La colline inspirée”,
“The Inspired Hill”, published. The novel is partially the result
of Barrès’ knowledge of “esoteric France”. The
novel tells of the expulsion of a religious fraternity, the “Oblats
de Sion”, from the mountain of Sion-Vaudemont, in Lorraine. This order
of Sion-Vaudemont was an organisation that was founded by the brothers Baillard
(Léopold, François and Quirin), in the 1830s. This small fraternity
that is expelled from the main order decides to settle instead on its “twin”
hill: Mount Sainte-Odile in the Alsace. The three brothers were also adepts
of Boullan and Eugène Vintras, the founders of the “Church
of Carmel”. It was, in fact, their allegiance to this organisation
that was the grounds for their dismissal.
Already, there are some clear parallels with the Priory of Sion, as created by Plantard. The latter states that his “sacred mountain” is that of Sion. His Priory is furthermore there to hold a pilgrimage to the site. And pilgrimages as an idea are not too far removed from religious organisations. A priory, of course, is exactly that, in name itself. So did Plantard think there was a “third twin”, with the addition of his Mount Sion, near Annemasse? Did he see this mountain linked with the other Sion mountain, not the one in Switzerland as is too often pointed out, but perhaps more likely that of Sion-Vaudemont?
The mystery in clear light
Barrès’ death, in 1926, “Ly Mystère en pleine
lumière” appears, published by Plon. This is the same publisher
who, many decades later, will also publish the book by Gérard de
Sède… but that is nothing more than a coincidence. The book
is something of a memoir, in which Barrès weaves in certain parts
of his life, with the lives of people he held in high regard. This includes
Joan of Arc. She and others acted like guides, mentors, for Barrès,
on his path of “initiation”.
Most intriguingly, in this book, Barrès talks about a “mystical brotherhood” whose existence is made discretely visible throughout the centuries through certain clues left by certain artists, mainly because such artists seem to have a specific affinity to depict angels in their works. For Barrès, it is a “clue”, which shows that the painter or artist involved had a specific devotion towards the “angelic realm”. This group of people is also characterized by a “clue”, which they leave on their paintings. “It is required to leave, in a certain manner, in a certain part of our work, a tombstone which contains the famous inscription: ET IN ARCADIA EGO.” We immediately think of the work of Poussin, but there are other examples, especially during the 17th century.
Barrès believed that there were a small number of individuals who could “enter in direct contact with God”. How could such a feat be accomplished? He explained it by referring to the numerous writings on the subject… stating there were simply too many books and documents and texts available that this wouldn’t be the case. After having said as much, he concentrates on those who have had contact with angels. In that series, he includes Eugène Delacroix, who would become a principal character in the mystery of the Priory of Sion, because of his paintings in the Chapel of the Angels, in the church of St Sulpice in Paris. This would be a site worked into “The Red Serpent”, one of the more enigmatic and better known texts of the document campaign of the Priory.
St Sulpice, HQ of the cult of angels?
Priory, but afterwards, The Da Vinci Code too, is specifically focused on
the church of St Sulpice. Barrès was so too, but long before both:
“For twenty or thirty years, I have seldom missed a month in which
I have not visited Saint Sulpice, in the Chapel of Angels, the famous fresco
by Eugène Delacroix, Jacobs’ struggle with the angel.”
This chapel must surely be of crucial importance for anyone knowledgeable
about the kingdom of the angels. Did Delacroix see angels too and is this
why he devoted himself painstakingly to the illustration of this chapel?
And we also note that Barrès himself admits it is one of his more
frequented and preferred sites. Why frequent this specific site, seeing
Paris is rife with far greater wonders? If Barrès is furthermore
such a fan of those who had encounters with angels… should we not
ask whether he himself had once had such an “audience”? And
if that were indeed the case, shouldn’t we conclude that he himself
was a member of this enigmatic “Société Angélique”…
the Angelic society?
For Maurice Barrès, Delacroix was, like him, equally aware of “our links with those great mysterious beings that link heaven and earth”. It was on October 2, 1849, the feast of the angels, that Delacroix began his series of paintings on the theme of angels in St Sulpice: “Jacob’s struggle with the angel”, “Heliodorus chased from the temple by the angels” and for the ceiling, “The archangel Michael who strikes down Lucifer”. It would take him twelve years to complete the work. Towards the end of his expose, Barrès explains that “the greatest victory is indeed to conquer the angel, to wrestle from him his secret. The angel wants to open for us the gateway to the invisible, it is his mission, but he will not open it without a fight; he does not open it for those who are indolent, tepid, but only to those who, to clear the passage, do not fear to do battle with him.”
The battle against the angel
battle of Jacob against the angel is not a boxing match. It is definitely
a spiritual battle. Jacob addresses his prayers towards an angel who is
not inclined to forgive the wrongdoings that Jacob has done towards his
brother. The battle illustrates the persistence with which Jacob continues
to ask, and ask again, forgiveness for his errors. His prayers last an entire
night, throughout which the angel cannot move on, for he is “caught”
by the prayers that are addressed to him.
Late at night, Jacob, rather than waiver, intensifies his requests, at which point the angel is only capable of using one solution, which is the use of his supernatural powers. He touches the thigh of Jacob and the latter, you would expect, should immediately find himself unable to continue with “his fight”, focusing all of his attention on the pain in his leg. But that is not the case. Despite the terrible pain, Jacob continues in his efforts… the battle continues. When the sun is about the rise, the angel has no other alternative but to propose to Jacob that the battle ends. But against all odds, Jacob underlines his determination that he will get an angelic pardon for his sins, rather than end the fight. The angel therefore asks: “what is your name?” “Jacob”, to which the angel replies: “your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, for you have the power of a prince with God and amongst men, and you have conquered.” At that moment, Jacob demands the name of the angel, who tells him it is “Peniel”.
An angelic stop
have noted Barrès’ special devotion to Joan of Arc and Delacroix.
Both were guided by angels. Joan was convinced that her visions originated
from God. She identified St Margaret, St Catherine and St Michael as the
only source of her revelations. Several saints have been canonised under
those names, and as such there is some ambiguity as to whom exactly she
was referring to. But we can logically deduce that St Michael should not
be anyone else but the archangel Michael, the right hand of God. It is this
archangel who is also depicted at the centre of the oeuvre of Delacroix,
in the Chapel of Angels.
The Chapel is seen as his masterpiece. Before, he had painted 42 paintings for the Universal Exposition of 1855, and was admitted amongst the “immortals” in the Académie Française, on January 10, 1857. He virtually dedicated his life to illustrating the Chapel of Angels. The battle of Jacob against the angel was seen as his spiritual testament. He died at the age of 65, in his apartment in the Place Furstenberg, not far from the church that was the depot of his art.
are messengers, but certain saints, such as Augustine and Gregory, underline
that an angel, even though he is a creature of God and superior to us, is
above all a function in the sacred hierarchy. They are close to the throne
of God in the celestial court. The role of servant of the divine is expressed
in the word “helper”, as well as a statement in Matthew that
God can always rely on their consultant knowledge. On several times, we
are told that there are seven angels with the specific function of being
near the throne of God: archangels. Nevertheless, despite some biblical
references, it is clear that little is “known” about the life
of these angels. The angels in the bible seem to pop up on the scene when
they have a message of God about which humanity needs to be informed. They
are the divine instruments, there to aide communication of the divine to
our realm. In the vision of Jacob, they are shown as ascending and descending
from a ladder, between heaven and earth. In this extremely symbolic imagery,
the presence of a stone, seen as a “foundation stone”, has certain
characteristics which we also see in Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzifal,
where the author identifies this stone with the Grail, placed on Earth,
upon which angels ascend and descend.
In the New Testament, it are once again angels that announce the birth of John the Baptist… and Jesus. But, apparently, it will be the angels who will have the most glorious of mission, namely to comfort the “king of the angels” in his agony (Luke 22:43).
In all cases, the angel makes a brief appearance, delivers his message, or has to remain and can’t return, because he is caught by the prayers of Jacob. Let us also note that the angelic world is reputed to guard certain territories or countries. We note such references in the story of Exodus (Exodus 14:19; Baruch 6:6), but also in other biblical writings, such as Deuteronomy (32:8), where the division of the countries is accomplished along the number of the angels of God!
The angel is therefore not merely the guardian of a country, but also of an individual. As such, Abraham, when he sends his administrator to search a wife for Isaac, says: “he will send his angel towards you” (Genesis 24:7). St Jerome, in his commentary on the text of Tobit, indicates: “the dignity of a soul is so grand, that everyone has a guardian angel from his birth onwards.” The Bible represents angels not solely as our guardians, but also as real “forces” intervening in our lives, even to represent us in the divine world – a but like other-dimensional lawyers. Examples of this are the angel Raphael (Tob., XII, 12) who states: “I have offered your prayer to the lord.” Finally, let us note that there were a certain type of magical rituals that specifically were there to “summon” an angel, as well as have them perform certain functions, etc.
The cult of angels
Christian literature, like Christian arts, has few references to angels
in the first centuries of its existence. That omission is easily explainable
giving the circumstances of its existence, as well as the knowledge that
it was competing with other religions that had a multitude of deities. Christianity
wanted to minimize the sacred hierarchy and focus on Jesus Christ and his
direct relationship with God. An official cult to honour angels, in the
first centuries of Christianity, could seriously endanger the potential
of the new message. But it is equally clear that such a teaching was allowed,
wherever it did exist.
In the fourth century, we see how Eusebius of Caesarea makes a clear distinction between the cult of angels and the cult of God (Demonstratio evang. III, 3). On the same subject, we note how St Ambrosius recommends that we should direct prayers towards them. In the fifth century, we find several churches that are being consecrated to the angels; Umbria in Italy is particular rich in this respect, with several churches dedicated to the Archangel Michael. In old litanies, the archangels Michael and Gabriel are invoked immediately after the Trinity… and before the Virgin! From then onwards, they become part of the Church tradition, but seem to have received little detailed attention.
Barrès and his love for gardening
is difficult to synthesize Barrès and often, he is labelled as a
man of the “extreme right”. But his biographers are quick to
point out that Barrès was not in essence a political figure “or,
at least, to understand his doctrine, one needs to situate it against the
totality of his work”, which curiously shows a man who is haunted
by death. “Nothing is more traditional than the theme of the earth
and the dead, but this apparently everyday theme has, for Barrès
an intimate and profound meaning. The land is Lorraine, the land of a province
that is torn, the land in which the people and the trees have their roots.
Equally, the feeling about death fills Barrès’ writings: “Death
in Venice”, The Blood, pleasure and death, the inscription in the
cathedral of Toledo: Hic jacet pulvis, cinis et nihil (dust, ashes and nothingness),
the death of his mother, of his friend Stanislas de Guaita, of his nephew
Charles Demange, the dead of the war and those in the cemetery of Charmes,
and this short sentence: ‘In the countryside, in all seasons, for
me the song of the dead can be heard’.”
But Barrès pays special attention to a “vision of the countryside” and gardens in particular. “For Barrès, there are two types of countryside: that of an exotic and luxuriant garden, the garden of Berenice or the garden on the Oronte, and a landscape that is stripped of everything, such as that of the slopes of Sion-Vaudemont. In Barrès’ writings, we also see a constant attraction of both landscapes, a constant dialogue between the male and female heart, between Taine and Renan, Roemerspacher and Sturel, the chapel and the meadow, to evoke a famous passage of ‘La Colline Inspirée’.” These gardens, these landscapes, does he consider these as sacred places? Places of or for the dead, or containing an angelic message? But how can gardens lead us towards a revelation?