Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting, The Last Supper, continues to be hotly debated. Does it really depict Mary Magdalene instead of John the Apostle, thereby subtly revealing the Catholic Church’s biggest and most arduously kept secret? Let’s have a gander at the evidence…
Hello all! After a short break, the blog is back, and this week I’m looking at one of my favourite conspiracy theories: that the Roman Catholic Church is founded on a morbidly obese lie. Jesus wasn’t divine. He was just a normal bloke with a wife and kids, and a bloodline that continues in secret to this day.
Everyone in the world knows this story thanks to Dan Brown, author of 2003’s The Da Vinci Code, which popularised the idea that Mary Magdalene makes a surprise appearance in The Last Supper. The notion that Jesus and Mary were an item actually dates back to the 1982 book, The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail. This book hypothesised that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and had some sprogs, and that a secret society called the Priory of Sion has protected the descendants of those sprogs ever since. It also suggested that one of the Priory’s 15th century members was Renaissance man Leonardo da Vinci.
However, it was the 1997 book, The Templar Revelation: Secret Guardians of the True Identity of Christ, which first claimed that Leonardo had inserted a secret message into his depiction of Jesus’s last meal before his crucifixion.
Most art historians believe that the person sitting on Jesus’s right is John the Apostle. The Templar Revelation claimed that it is actually Mary Magdalene. Certainly, the figure is very effeminate and could easily be a woman. The book points out other clues: the positioning of Mary and Jesus’s bodies forms an ‘M’ for ‘Magdelane’, and the two are dressed in similar but oppositely coloured clothes — mirror images of each other.
Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, one of the many inspirations for my novel, Million Eyes, is a conspiracy thriller based on the theories posited in The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail and The Templar Revelation. (My short review of the movie appears in this article.) Brown refers to other clues. For instance, on the table where Jesus and his apostles are sitting, the chalice of wine is missing. This is the chalice that’s been dubbed the Holy Chalice or the Holy Grail.
Brown asserts that the reason the chalice is missing is because Leonardo was trying to tell the world that the Holy Grail was not a cup. The Holy Grail was a woman: Mary Magdalene herself. And as the ancient symbol of womanhood also happens to be a chalice (i.e. the shape of a woman’s womb), Leonardo presented this in the painting. Mary and Jesus are leaning away from each other, with the negative space between them forming a ‘V’ or chalice shape.
What to make of all this? Well, according to the gospels that made it into the New Testament, Mary was present at the Last Supper, but she was foot-washing, not eating with the men. Not that we can trust the gospels, though. As I discussed in a previous article, the gospels are not reliable historical records in any sense of the word. (There’s also a ton of non-canonical gospels that were cut out of the Bible because they weren’t consistent with the story the Catholic Church wanted to tell.)
Yes, the clues are compelling and the person next to Jesus does look much more like a woman than a man. But so does the second figure on the left, who is supposed to Jesus’s apostle, James. This is partly why most scholars and historians have rejected the Mary Magdalene theory; there just isn’t enough proof that Leonardo was trying to tell us something. And the Priory of Sion itself is widely regarded as a hoax from the 60s, which the authors of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail mistook for a real historical organisation (in future articles, I will look at the Priory of Sion in more depth…).
It’s a fascinating idea that Leonardo da Vinci was part of a secret order covering up the truth about Jesus Christ, and was subtly revealing that truth to the world via cryptic messages in his artwork. But there just isn’t enough evidence that The Last Supper harbours these messages. It comes down to a bunch of neatly-wound-together coincidences and seeing what you want to see.
That being said, do I believe that Jesus was the son of God? No, of course not. God’s a fallacy, a myth, an easy answer to all the really tough questions we have about the universe, and Jesus was just a bloke who happened to be a good speaker capable of inspiring people to follow him. So do I think it at least possible that Jesus banged Mary Magdalene—or anyone else for that matter—and fathered children?
Next week: the true story of Rudolph Fentz