Revelations and Illusions

David Wood. Genisis; First Book of Revelations. Baton Press, 1985.

Over the last ten years TV programmes and a book by Henry Lincoln and others, The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, have dealt with the mystery of Rennes la Chateau, in the South of France, where a Catholic priest named Saunier appears to have made some mysterious archeological discovery in the 1890's which made him rich and enabled him to renovate the old village church in a style full of cryptic decorations hinting at some great secret. The story is clearly a strange one, reminiscent of Raiders of the Lost Ark and, in the absence of detailed citation of source material, one can only wonder how much it owes to the elaboration of gossip or deliberate confusion by some of those involved.

However, Mr Lincoln has argued that the tale is in some way linked with the mysterious manifestoes of a secret society calling itself the Priory of Sion that have appeared in France since the 1960s. If such an organisation really exists it is no doubt part of the curious underworld of Masonic-type groups or dubious Catholic orders of chivalry (worlds which sometimes interpenetrate and, as the P2 scandal has shown, may be linked to the murky world of ultra-right politics and intelligence). However at this point Mr Lincoln throws caution to the wind, takes the wildest claims made in these manifestoes, adds more of his own and ends up with a solution involving a line of descent back through Mediaeval French kings, to Jesus himself.

All of this is restraint itself compared to David Wood's treatment of the mystery in his sumptuously produced book. He begins by establishing the church at Rennes la Chateau on a series of lines which he draws on maps of the area. Like most such exercises the result certainly proves that it is possible to draw lines on a map, but beyond this remains obscure.

More remarkable discoveries await the reader. The hills to the north of Rennes when seen on a relief map resemble the shape of a horse (actually they resemble a character from the Moominfamily children's books more closely, but never mind). Moreover, near the horse's backside is another hill formation shaped like a serpent or sperm (or for that matter a tadpole) a combination on whose significance Mr Wood, perhaps mercifully, remains vague. However, if he is to be believed there is certainly a lot of this sort of thing about at Rennes la Chateau. Another geometrical construction around the landscape represents, we are told, the vagina of the Egyptian sky-goddess Nut, whose name has a certain aptness in the circumstances, and one can only wonder how long it can be before some Gallic Madame Whitehouse is attempting to ban indecent landscape geometry.

The Rennes mystery is linked with the mysteries of the Holy Grail, which it would seem is linked with some form of castration ritual, the technicalities of which are gone into in some detail. Further clues to the mystery are found in the painings of Leonardo da Vinci, the Bible, alchemy, the Rubaiat of Omar Khayyam and the rules of chess. Mr Wood seems reminiscent of the music-hall comedian who travelled around a lot, because with an act like his he had to, but one cannot help thinking that if this book were a music-hall act it would at some point have attracted the attention of the man in the wings with a long pole with a hook on the end.

In view of Mr Wood's preoccupations described earlier, one expects the worst from a section headed 'Did the earth move?' but this is in fact a rehearsal of the evidence for cosmic catastrophe in ancient times, the relevance of which to his subject is not obvious beyond the apparent fact that the geometry of Rennes indicates the position of Atlantis and ancient extraterrestrials from Sirius may somehow be involved in all this.

Henry Lincoln contributes a forward which when read carefully - "whether it be proved right or wrong I am bound to say 'amazing"' - suggests he is as baffled by it all as I am. -- Reviewed by Roger Sandell, from Magonia 22, May 1986

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