The Historical Claims of the Priory of Sion

According to the Dossiers secrets, the Priory of Sion (also called Sionis Prioratus) has an immensely long pedigree. It was founded in 1090 (some sources give 1099) by Godfroi de Bouillon, a French nobleman who was one of the leaders of the First Crusade, and who was later offered – and declined - the title of King of Jerusalem. The society's first base was the Abbey of Our Lady of Mount Sion in Jerusalem.

The château of GisorsThen called the Order of Sion or the Order of Our Lady of Sion, the society was said to have been behind the founding of the famous Knights Templar in 1118. The Templars were to act as the 'military wing' of the Priory of Sion. However, there was some form of schism between the two in 1188 - marked by an event known as the 'cutting of the elm' that took place at Gisors in France - after which the Priory and the Templars went in separate directions.

The first independent Grand Master - or Nautonnier - of the Priory of Sion was Jean de Gisors, a Norman nobleman about whom little is known historically beyond his possession of Gisors and various estates in England. From this point on, successive Grand Masters took the name 'John' (Jean - or in the case of women Jeanne) as a title. Jean Cocteau, for example, was known as John XXIII. Puzzlingly, however, Jean de Gisors is listed as John II - the only explanation given in the Priory documents being that the title 'John I' is 'symbolically reserved for Christ'.

According to the Dossiers secrets, the purpose of the Priory of Sion was - and is - to protect, and to promote the interests of, the descendants of the Merovingian dynasty of Frankish kings. The Merovingians ruled over a large part of what is now France between the 5th and 7th centuries until they were deposed by the rival, Carolingian dynasty. Part of the former Abbey of Our Lady of Mount Sion, JerusalemHistorically, the Merovingian line is believed to have died out in the 7th century, but the Dossiers secrets maintain that it survived, being protected by the Priory of Sion and a network of important families who knew the secret, to this day. Godfroi de Bouillon, the alleged founder of the Priory of Sion, is said to have been of Merovingian descent himself (although this claim is much disputed by historians and geneaologists).

As one of their texts puts it: 'Without the Merovingians the Priory of Sion would not exist and without the Priory of Sion the Merovingian dynasty would be extinguished.'

(Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln took the story a stage further, by arguing that the importance of the Merovingians went far beyond their entitlement to the throne of France. They believe that the dynasty was actually descended from Jesus Christ, through children he had fathered with Mary Magdalene. However - although the Dossiers secrets and other material emanating from the Priory of Sion place a great emphasis on the importance of the Magdalene - the Priory itself has never claimed that the Merovingians were descended from Jesus, and Pierre Plantard has explicitly rejected the theory put forward in The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail.)

The Priory claims to have been the guiding hand behind many major events in history - particularly in France - and to have operated through many other organisations and secret societies. There is also a strong esoteric and occult character to the organisation - many of its alleged Grand Masters were alchemists or occultists of various kinds - and it claims to have been behind known esoteric groups such as the Rosicrucians and certain forms of Freemasonry.

Considerable doubt has been expressed about the historical claims in the Dossiers secrets, in particular that a secret society could exist for nearly a thousand years without leaving any trace at all in the esoteric literature. The claims that the Merovingians survived and that, even if they did, they are the legitimate kings of France have been hotly challenged by historians and genealogists. (Not only is modern France a republic, but even if were to revert to a monarchy few would consider the Merovingian descendants - even supposing that their lineage could be proven - as plausible claimants to the throne. Strictly speaking, the Merovingians were never kings of France in the first place, only of parts of what later became the nation of France.)

However, Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln were able to find a certain amount of independent support from historical sources for many of the claims. For example, Godfroi de Bouillon did order the building of the Abbey of Our Lady of Mount Sion in Jerusalem, and there were knights attached Leonardo da Vincito it who took the name of the Knights of the Order of Our Lady of Sion. And there are documents that link the abbot of this abbey with the founder of the Knights Templar, Hugh de Payens.

Some of the monks from this abbey returned to France with Louis VII in 1149 and were installed at the priory of Saint-Samson near Orléans, which became known as the as the Priory of Mount Sion.

Although the Holy Blood and Holy Grail authors researchers were unable to prove that the Abbey in Jerusalem had any connection with the modern Priory of Sion, these historical facts were nonetheless suggestive.

The image on the Turin ShroudSimilarly, Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln were able to establish that the roll of Grand Masters was no random list of names plucked from history, but that genuine connections existed between each successive Grand Master. As a result, they concluded that the contents of the Dossiers secrets, while sensational and on the surface hard to accept, are at the very least consistent. And, if they are a fabrication or hoax, they have been put together using very obscure historical sources.

Another example of the Priory of Sion's apparent possession of historical 'inside information' came in the early 1990s, when British researchers Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince were approached by an individual who claimed to be a member of the organisation. At that time Picknett and Prince were working the mystery of the Turin Shroud. Their informant, who used the pseudonym 'Giovanni' - 'John' -told them that he had information drawn from the Priory of Sion's archives that the Shroud had been faked in 1492 by Leonardo da Vinci, who is listed as the society's 12th Grand Master, officiating from 1510 until his death in 1519. He also gave clues about the method that Leonardo had used to create the image on the Shroud that had defied explanation for centuries – 'alchemical imprinting', or a basic photographic technique.

Through their own research, Picknett and Prince were able to establish that both claims were, at the very least, plausible, and the theory formed the basis of their 1994 book Turin Shroud - In Whose Image? - although, as with Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln, they stress that Giovanni's information was only taken in the manner of an 'anonymous tip-off', and that was verified through their own research.

To establish his credentials, Giovanni - an Italian who told the two authors that lived in Paris - gave Picknett and Prince information about British members of the Priory of Sion, which again they were able to verify.

As a result of their encounter with Giovanni, Picknett and Prince, who went on to investigate the Priory of Sion in greater depth in The Templar Revelation (1997), largely accepted the historical claims made in the Dossiers secrets. For example, they were able to establish that, although Leonardo's name seems an unlikely addition to the roster of Grand Masters of an underground secret society, he was, in fact, motivated by many of the same esoteric and religious preoccupations espoused by the modern-day Priory of Sion and by many of the other individuals named as its Helmsmen.

The consistency and verification of what are often extremely obscure historical and biographical details have impressed many researchers as to the veracity of the Dossiers secrets. On the other hand, not only are many of the most important claims made in those documents and others issued by the Priory of Sion simply unverifiable, but there are also undeniable mistakes. However, when such issues are raised, the Priory of Sion claims that the historical record has been altered, either by the society's enemies or by itself in order to protect the secret of Merovingian survival, and that their version of events is the correct one.

Either the claims in the Dossiers secrets are true, and the Priory of Sion is the ancient and powerful secret society that it claims, or those documents are an elaborate forgery, the history of the Priory being a fiction put together through painstaking research, often using obscure historical sources.

Both conclusions raise further questions. If the Priory of Sion has successfully kept itself secret for a thousand years, why should it suddenly start placing information about itself in the public domain? Alternatively, if the information in the Dossiers secrets is a fabrication, what is its purpose? Why go to such lengths to promote the idea of the existence of the Priory of Sion and the Merovingian claim to the French throne - a claim that can never succeed? What is worth such effort?

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