Sunday, December 23, 2007

2007 In Review

It was another year of controversy over mysteries relating to historical manuscripts.
In the spring, Holy Blood Holy Grail co-authors Leigh and Baigent lost the appeal on their copyright-infringement claim over The Da Vinci Code, leaving them with a huge legal bill. (See “DVC Plagiarism V Copyright Verdict, The Problem Continues.”) Leigh became ill and died later in the year. (See “Death Of A Genteel Bohemian”)
The original Da Vinci himself was in the news throughout the year, though we should call him Leonardo – the artist’s name being one more thing Dan Brown got wrong.
A 16 billion pixel-resolution image of Leonardo's The Last Supper was posted on the Web. So, while the painting itself deteriorates, anyone could study this high-res snapshot (checking out Brown’s Mary Magdalene theory, one suspects).
Also, a “mirror image” version of the painting was posted on the Web by an Italian “information technologist and amateur scholar”. This superimposition of the original with a reversed version was to demonstrate his theory “a figure on Christ's left appears to be cradling a baby in its arms” and “two figures on either end of the long table appear to become knights.” Despite putting this on 4 different domains (,, and, there were so many hits (over 15 million on one day), the site crashed.
A Parisian engineer developed a new scanning process that could see through the various layers of the Mona Lisa, TDVC’s focus on it causing record visitor numbers to the Louvre - despite its possibly not being the original (See “Will The Real Mona Lisa Please Stand Up?”) Using a 22-gigabyte digital photo shot in the Louvre, colour filters revealed previously invisible details.
Two Glasgow solicitors were charged with conspiracy to rob and extort money following the 2003 theft from Drumlanrig Castle by two men posing as tourists of a Leonardo-copy painting. Worth £25m, this showed the Madonna with the infant Jesus and a crucifixion relic.
In December came the news that Leonardo's main manuscript codex, the 1200-sheet Codex Atlanticus, is being eaten away by mould due to improper storage and demands by visiting scholars for access.
The British Library announced in September it too is “going digital,” digitising over 100,000 mainly 19th Century books and newspapers which will be accessible (at least via university website portals) with text fully searchable (via Microsoft's Live Search Books engine). They also make available online codices such as Beowulf.
The new Beowulf film drew attention to a work that was in fact a lucky and mysterious survival survival of a single copy of an Old English codex (“The Beowulf Codex Mystery”).
The prize for most humorous academic thesis of the year must go to the theory mediaeval manuscripts were made from recycled underwear rags (see “Why Early Books Wear So Well”). We also looked at how a single copy of a codex could have implications for history in the strange tale of “The Man In The Cloth Mask.”
The flow of ‘alternative Christianity’ books continued. (Recently I went into Borders to the 'alternative' section and can attest to this continuing proliferation; I also got a promo email from them announcing they had the perfect Xmas gift: The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, with a tie-in ‘God Delusion’ themed Xmas card. No mention of the counter-blast The Dawkins Delusion by Alister & Joanna McGrath.) The Archbishop of Canterbury commented at Easter on how traditional Christian Easter is complicated in a multicultural society which has read The Da Vinci Code. (See The Not So Christian Year?)
There were also orthodox rebuttals like Biblical studies professor April Deconick’s The Thirteenth Apostle: What The Gospel Of Judas Really Says, saying the National Geographic’s first English translation of the Gospel Of Judas last year (see “The Judas Codex”) got it all wrong: the long-lost 3rd-century Coptic codex was in fact “a gospel parody about a "demon" Judas written by a particular group of Gnostic Christians.” (“I found a Judas more demonic than any Judas I know in any other piece of early Christian literature," said Connick.) The Pope also wrote a, shall we say quite orthodox, book, Jesus Of Nazareth (though jokers claimed parts of it were really Holy Ghost written).
A new, overnight holy-relics controversy was summed up by headline "I've Found The Coffin Of Jesus, Says Film Director" (See “Some Not So New Bones Of Contention”).
Among the more controversial works was a new paperback of Patrice Chaplin’s City Of Secrets, the author complaining of attempts to interfere with it, by planting false photos on her. (See “The Grail Mystery Takes A New Turn”.) This added something of a paradigm shift to the Rennes-le-Chateau mystery, which seemed to be winding down after over 30 years. It added a new (Spanish) angle on the mystery and introduced a sinister-sounding new cult to the public, the La Sang death cult, an offshoot of a strict penitential movement (shades of Opus Dei). The associated ancient sect the Ebionites based in the Jewish Quarter of the Spanish city of Gironne south of Rennes le Chateau were said to be interested in pursuit of the "real grail" - a portal to other dimensions, using rituals based on the Kabbalah.
The penitential organisations are supposedly also the guardians of the new sought-after ritual cult objects the Arma Christi, the instruments of Crucifixion – hammer, nails, etc. The mystery even has a clues-in-the-painting aspect, with van Eyck’s panel painting The Just Judges. (The title is claimed to refer to James The Just, a judge who may have been Jesus’s intended successor.)
The 700th anniversary of the fall of the Knights Templar occurred in October, and while the Vatican did not provide the apology requested by the English neo-Templars (see Knights Templar Redux?) represented by Tim Acheson, it did announce at this time it was publishing an expensive facsimile edition of its own investigation, concluding that the Templars were not guilty of the charges brought by the French king in 1307.
Books on Rosslyn and its alleged Templar connections continued – some pro, some anti. According to my website stats, a feature I did on the area around Rosslyn also was in the top-ten most requested webpages across all my sites, even though it deals with the pre-Templar era. (See “Exploring Beyond Rosslyn - The Celtic Kingdom Of Gododdin”)
A Templar feature I did earlier this year based on some local-history research, On The Trail Of England’s Last Templar, also remained in the top ten. And an illustration I did for this feature, a detail scanned in from a mediaeval woodcut, showing a novitiate being given his monastic tonsure, has proved the most popular image I’ve ever put up, available via Google Images from another site that used it. (You’re welcome.)
The “Blake 250” celebrations came and went, still with no answer to the question I posed earlier (see Blake At 250 – The Unsolved Mystery) re where he got the inspiration for his poem now called Jerusalem, which alludes to the so-called Holy Legend before other known sources.
Normally the Holy Legend is linked to Cornwall’s early tin trade (Joseph of Arimatheia as a tin trader), which we explored this summer after I was able to make a return visit there (See “Revisiting Cornwall’s Legendary World Heritage Coast.” ).
An unexpected tie-in to the Holy Legend appeared with an archaeologist’s claim an old description of Stonehenge was really based on a lost description by Greek explorer Pytheas, reinforcing an argument for Christianity arriving in England via the classical ‘tin-trade’ route. (See “Pytheas And The Lost City Of Apollo” ).
I suppose we should conclude with a note about Dan Brown, as his work has done so much to get people interested in the field. His claim the background to his novel TDVC is factual may not be right, but it gets people reading nonfiction books, which hopefully gets them thinking for themselves.
Not a word of Dan Brown’s projected TDVC sequel was submitted to the publishers, so publication had to be pushed back to next year. The only news is it may not be called The Solomon Key after all, which will dismay all the writers and publishers who have been putting out books with title like A Guide To The Solomon Key. Supposedly it concerns how 18th-C Freemasons set up America and Washington DC on a Masonic plan.
Brown did announce he was collaborating on a book with an ex R-C Archbishop from Zambia, about exorcism. At first glance, this seemed a way of mending fences with churchgoing readers for next time. But it turned out ex-Archbishop Milingo is something of a renegade, calling for the Pope to allow married priests after being disciplined for marrying a Korean bride selected for him by Sun Myung Moon, the self-proclaimed Korean messiah who heads the Unification Church, which Milingo had joined. He also claimed the Catholic Church ‘has devil worshippers in it.’
Despite the non-appearance of a “DVC-2” book, a followup “Robert Langdon” film was announced by Sony, again starring Tom Hanks and his trendy-but-ageing-academic mullet haircut. This is not to be a new screen story, but was advertised as a “prequel.” (See “The Da Vinci Code Sequel, Or Prequel”) This is to based on Angels & Demons, an earlier Brown thriller in what is called the “Vatican conspiracy” subgenre, except here the Vatican is the victim of a bomb conspiracy which can only be prevented by running a course of clues (shades of Die Hard II). The DVC film box-office by this time had proved to be mainly non-domestic, with $540.7 million in overseas revenues outweighing a domestic take of $217.5 million. However this too was put on hold when in November the Writers Guild Of America announced impending strike action (ongoing as I write). Apparently the script needed a lot more work - which I can well believe. §