• Da Vinci and The Great Templar Secret

    So once again we are back with Leonardo and his obsession with John the Baptist, which is perhaps shared with the members of the almost legendary Priory of Sion. But as it did not exist in his day, where did he acquire his devotion to this particular heresy?

    It may be that one of the many secret societies that flourished at the Florentinian court was neo-Templar in belief and practice - based on those of the hugely powerful Order of the Temple that was brutally suppressed by the French King and the Pope in the early 14th century. It is known that some of the Knights managed to escape the atrocities, regrouping in secret. Was the de Medici court a cover for such a group - and was Leonardo a member?

    There are tantalising clues in his work that suggest he was indeed, a leading light of a surviving Templar group, or a neo-Templar Order. For example, it is particularly significant that he chose to replace the image of the child John the Baptist in his early study for The Virgin and Child with St Anne with a lamb in the finished work, for whereas to most Christians it is Jesus who is known as the 'Lamb of God', the sacrificial god incarnate, to the Knights Templar it was the Baptist himself who took that title. Indeed, the seal of their greatest European preceptory, in the Languedoc in the south-west of France, bore the image of the Lamb, representing John the Baptist.

    But why would Leonardo - or the Templars - accord such reverence to John the Baptist (and Mary Magdalene) while at the same time apparently being critical, if not contemptuous, of Christ himself and the Virgin Mary? And why would a man with such an intellectual capacity as Leonardo be such a devotee of the Baptist, who barely appears in the New Testament - and even when he does, seems such a cold and remote figure?

    A Shocking Belief

    The rank and file of the Templars, who also went by the name of the Knights of Christ, were usually no more than they professed to be - deeply Christian military monks. But there is persuasive evidence that their founders and the continuing inner circle held quite different beliefs. Indeed, they may explain why the Order was accused of extreme heretical practices, including spitting and trampling on a cross and worshipping a bearded, severed head, or a copy of one. The Templars' persecutor, the French King Philip the Fair, wrote to his seneschals describing the idol head as: 'A man's head with a large beard, which they kiss and worship at all their provincial chapters, but this not all the brothers know, save only the Grand Master and the old ones.' In other words, the reverence for this head was not for the average member of the Order - it was essentially the Templars' secret.

    One may conclude that at least the movers and shakers of the Knights Templar were basically Johannite, just like Leonardo da Vinci, over a century after their official demise. But what lay behind this extraordinary emphasis of belief - and why would they spit and trample on a cross?

    The answer lies in a group that the Templars encountered during their travels in the Middle East (not only in order to fight the Muslims, but apparently also on a voyage of discovery, to seek knowledge and ancient secrets). This group was known to history simply as 'The Church of John in the East', and to Victorian explorers became 'St John's Christians' - although the latter is a grave misnomer.

    Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince unearthed the details of this strange tribe, which they set out in their 1997 book The Templar Revelation: Secret Guardians of the True Identity of Christ, and which is also discussed in Picknett's 2003 work, Mary Magdalene: Christianity's Hidden Goddess. Known today as the Mandaeans they originated in the area of Egypt over 2000 years ago: indeed, their language includes the names of certain Egyptian gods, such as Ptah. Today they are spread throughout the globe, largely due to Saddam Hussein's depredation of their home in the marshes of Iraq after the first Gulf War.

    Essentially, goddess-worshipping Jews (an ancient tradition that extends back to Solomon) although their history has become very complex over the centuries and now includes many Arabic elements, their most honoured prophet was John the Baptist - but they hated and despised Jesus as John's usurper...

    They called him 'the lying Messiah... who perverted all the cults' and claimed he was 'son of a woman' (that terrible Middle Eastern insult, meaning 'fatherless' or 'bastard'). This was the underlying message of the legendary Church of John of the East, who met the founding Knights Templar on their travels - and who much later appears to have passed it on to Leonardo da Vinci.

    Yuri Leitch (top left), Steve Wilson (top right), Clive Prince & Lynn Picknett speaking at the Mystery.TV Mystery Conference about the Knights Templar worship of John the Baptist and the Mandeans

    Over the past few years, London-based researcher Steve Wilson, who has immersed himself in studying the Mandaeans, has discovered that although their complicated history - usually as a persecuted minority - has caused them to forget or lose much of their traditions (even some of their holy books remain untranslated), they still acknowledge their basic principles. Foremost among them is reverence for John the Baptist over Jesus himself....

    Shocking though this idea may be, there is worse. Picknett and Prince, while delving into this anti-Jesus mystery, wondered why the Templars were alleged to spit and trample upon the cross in their secret rituals. After all, even if they had got their Johannitism from the Mandaeans, their idea that Jesus had usurped John's following hardly seemed a grave enough offence to justify such a brutal and extreme response.

    Those researchers argue that the reason for the Templars' exceptional dislike of Jesus was that they believed that his followers may actually have had a hand in the death of John the Baptist.... Although this is closely argued in Picknett and Prince's The Templar Revelation: Secret Guardians of the True Identity of Christ, suffice it to say here that whether or not there was any truth in this astonishing scenario, it does seem that Leonardo da Vinci's contempt for Jesus had its origins in a similarly extreme belief.

    Keeper of the Grail

    In the 19th century a poster appeared in Paris, advertising an event connected with the occult society of the Rosicrucians (the 'rosy cross' from which they took their name having heretical and mystical significance). In it, Leonardo is depicted as 'Keeper of the Grail', but exactly to what this refers is by no means clear. Is it some kind of metaphor? It may be significant that the British historian Dame Frances Yates in her 1972 classic The Rosicrucian Enlightenment mused: 'Might it not have been within the outlook of a Magus that a personality like Leonardo was able to co-ordinate his mathematical and mechanical studies with his work as an artist?' She also refers to him as having 'a Rosicrucian frame of mind'.

    Essentially, the Rosicrucian movement - which flourished well after Leonardo's death - was alchemical and magical in origin, stressing the importance of personal accountability and lauding the ancient Egyptian religion, whose magical secrets formed a major part of their practices. So was Leonardo a secret alchemist? Certainly, if his involvement with the Shroud of Turin is correct, then the science he practised would have qualified him as an alchemist, for the serious practitioners were basically what we would call research scientists today. Only the very foolish tried to turn base metal into gold.

    But why did the Parisian Rosicrucian poster depict him as 'Keeper of the Grail'? Although it is impossible to be certain, it may be connected with his Johannitism, for some researchers, such as Yuri Leitch and Lynn Picknett, have linked the Baptist's head with the legendary Holy Grail. (Indeed, in the early Grail stories the mystical object is not a cup, but a bearded, severed head on a platter.) Could it possibly be that Leonardo was the keeper of John the Baptist's head, long believed to be magical and prophetic? If so, where is it now?

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