THE MODERN HISTORY OF THE PRIORY OF SION
The Modern History of The Priory of Sion
The modern history of the Priory of Sion begins on 25 June 1956. On that date the society - as all groups and organisations must by law in France - officially registered itself at the Sub-Prefecture of Saint-Julien-en-Genevois, near the Swiss border. The brief and unhelpful entry in the Journal Officiel, which lists all such registrations, reads:
25 June 1956: Declaration at the Sub-Prefecture of Saint-Julien-en-Genevois. Priory of Sion. Aim: studies and mutual aid of members. Head office: Sous-Cassan, Annemasse (Haute Savoie).
A copy of the Priory of Sion's statutes, showing the organisation's structure and aims, were deposited at the Sub-Prefecture at the time of the declaration. These named the four officers making up the society's council as: President - André Bonhomme; Vice President - Jean Deleaval; Treasurer - Armand Defago; and Secretary-General -Pierre Plantard.
The first three have never been identified. Pierre Plantard, however, was to play a key role over the next 30 years.
The statutes stated that the Priory had the additional title of Chevalerie d'Institutions et Règles Catholiques, d'Union Indépendante et Traditionaliste (Chivalry of Catholic Institutions and Rules of the Independent and Traditionalist Union), or CIRCUIT - a name that recurs in the Priory of Sion story.
Two versions of the Priory of Sion's statutes have been made public over the years. The first was deposited with the official registration, the second is dated 5 June 1956 and bears the signature of the Priory's then Grand Master, the artist and film-maker Jean Cocteau. The latter set - regarded as the more authoritative by researchers- in
characteristically intriguing but vague terms, declares the aim of the society as:
…the perpetuation of the traditionalist order of chivalry, its initiatory teaching and the creation between members of mutual assistance, as much material as moral, in all circumstances.
The Priory's first appearance in print was in 1962, in Gérard de Sède's Les templiers sont parmi nous (The Templars are among Us), where it received a brief mention under the name of the Order of Sion in an interview with Pierre Plantard (who is described as a 'Hermeticist') which is printed as an appendix.
However, more information on the society
appeared in a controversial collection of documents deposited in Paris's Bibliothèque Nationale in the early 1960s, which have become known as the Dossiers secrets ('secret files').
The Dossiers secrets are now best known for forming the basis Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln's The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail and The Messianic Legacy.
The Dossiers secrets attributed a much more impressive pedigree to the Priory of Sion, stating that it had existed for nine centuries, counting some of the most illustrious names in history among its membership, and that it had exerted a profound influence over some of the most important events in European history.
The list of Grand Masters - or, as they are termed, 'Nautonniers' ('Helmsmen') - include such prominent and unexpected names as Leonardo da Vinci, Isaac Newton, the master alchemist Nicolas Flamel and, nearer our own time, the novelist Victor Hugo, composer Claude Debussy and the surrealist artist, playwright and filmmaker Jean Cocteau. Other great names from history associated with the Priory include Nostradamus, Joan of Arc and even the controversial 20th century Pope John XXIII.
The Priory is said to be the guardians of great political, religious and esoteric secrets. But its primary purpose was the protection of the descendants of a dynasty of ancient Frankish kings - the Merovingians - that history believed to have died out 1300 years ago. According to the Dossiers secrets, the heirs of the Merovingians survive to this day and the Priory of Sion have the means to prove it. And, the Priory claims, the Merovingians are the rightful rulers of France.
Although deposited in the Bibliothèque Nationale in the early to mid 1960s, little attention was paid to the material in the Dossiers secrets relating to the Priory of Sion. It was not until a flurry of interest on the part of the French media in the early 1970s that the Priory received any real publicity in France, and speculation began to grow about the nature of the society - and the extent of its influence.
In February 1973, the southern regional newspaper Midi-Libre, in a story about Rennes-le-Château, referred to the Priory of Sion in connection with the survival of the Merovingian line - and named the eminent statesman Alain Poher as the Merovingian claimant to the French throne. Poher was twice provisional President of France and President of the French Senate. He was also prominent in the affairs of the European Economic Community.
Also in 1973 Swiss journalist Mathieu Paoli published a book on his investigations into the Priory of Sion, Les dessous d'une ambition politique (The Underside of a Political Ambition).
More references to the Priory of Sion, its objectives - and in particular to the man who began to emerge as its public face, Pierre Plantard - appeared in French esoteric journals as the decade progressed.
Another important – and if anything even more enigmatic - figure in the unfolding story was Philippe, Marquis de Chérisey. Belgian-born de Chérisey met Plantard at University in 1939, and in the 1960s wrote a number of books and articles developing themes in the Dossiers secrets (which many researchers believe him to have had a large hand in writing). De Chérisey died in July 1985.
The frequent references to the mystery of Rennes-le-Château brought Plantard to the attention of Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln, who first interviewed him in 1979. He began to give them information that was to shape The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail.
By that time Plantard had adopted the name Pierre Plantard de Saint-Clair, linking himself with the important St Clair/Sinclair family, most famously associated with Rosslyn Chapel near Edinburgh.
In 22 January 1981 a small article was printed in several French regional and local newspapers announcing that Pierre Plantard de Saint-Clair had been elected Grand Master of the Priory of Sion at a Convent held in the town of Blois five days earlier (17 January).
A matter of weeks after the UK publication of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, a glossy new magazine-style book on the Rennes-le-Château mystery went on sale in France. Entitled Rennes-le-Château: capitale secrète de l'histoire de France (Rennes-le-Château: Secret Capital of the
History of France), it was written by Jean-Pierre Deloux and Jacques Brétigny, and was addition to the Priory-inspired material that had begun with the Dossiers secrets. Plantard was openly acknowledged as the major source of information, and the two authors were known associates of his.
Deloux and Brétigny's book brought the Priory of Sion's claims - the survival of the Merovingians, its connection with the Templars, and so on - to the mainstream French public for the first time.