Chapter 52-55

 

CHAPTER 52

The Sprawling 185-acre estate of Chateau Villette was located twenty-five minutes northwest of Paris in the environs of Versailles. Designed by François Mansart in 1668 for the Count of Aufflay, it was one of Paris's most significant historical chateaux. Complete with two rectangular lakes and gardens designed by Le Nôtre, Chateau Villette was more of a modest castle than a mansion. The estate fondly had become known as la Petite Versailles.

Langdon brought the armored truck to a shuddering stop at the foot of the mile-long driveway. Beyond the imposing security gate, Sir Leigh Teabing's residence rose on a meadow in the distance.

The sign on the gate was in English:

PRIVATE PROPERTY.

NO TRESPASSING.

As if to proclaim his home a British Isle unto itself, Teabing had not only posted his signs in English, but he had installed his gate's intercom entry system on the right-hand side of the truck - the passenger's side everywhere in Europe except England. Sophie gave the misplaced intercom an odd look. "And if someone arrives without a passenger?" "Don't ask." Langdon had already been through that with Teabing. "He prefers things the way they are at home."

Sophie rolled down her window. "Robert, you'd better do the talking."

Langdon shifted his position, leaning out across Sophie to press the intercom button. As he did, an alluring whiff of Sophie's perfume filled his nostrils, and he realized how close they were. He waited there, awkwardly prone, while a telephone began ringing over the small speaker.

Finally, the intercom crackled and an irritated French accent spoke. "Chateau Villette. Who is calling?"

"This is Robert Langdon," Langdon called out, sprawled across Sophie's lap. "I'm a friend of Sir Leigh Teabing. I need his help."

"My master is sleeping. As was I. What is your business with him?" "It is a private matter. One of great interest to him." "Then I'm sure he will be pleased to receive you in the morning." Langdon shifted his weight. "It's quite important." "As is Sir Leigh's sleep. If you are a friend, then you are aware he is in poor health."

Sir Leigh Teabing had suffered from polio as a child and now wore leg braces and walked with crutches, but Langdon had found him such a lively and colorful man on his last visit that it hardly seemed an infirmity. "If you would, please tell him I have uncovered new information about the Grail. Information that cannot wait until morning."

There was a long pause.

Langdon and Sophie waited, the truck idling loudly.

A full minute passed.

Finally, someone spoke. "My good man, I daresay you are still on Harvard Standard Time." The voice was crisp and light.

Langdon grinned, recognizing the thick British accent. "Leigh, my apologies for waking you at this obscene hour."

"My manservant tells me that not only are you in Paris, but you speak of the Grail."

"I thought that might get you out of bed." "And so it has." "Any chance you'd open the gate for an old friend?"

"Those who seek the truth are more than friends. They are brothers." Langdon rolled his eyes at Sophie, well accustomed to Teabing's predilection for dramatic antics. "Indeed I will open the gate," Teabing proclaimed," but first I must confirm your heart is true. A test of your honor. You will answer three questions."

Langdon groaned, whispering at Sophie. "Bear with me here. As I mentioned, he's something of a character." "Your first question," Teabing declared, his tone Herculean. "Shall I serve you coffee, or tea?" Langdon knew Teabing's feelings about the American phenomenon of coffee. "Tea," he replied." Earl Grey."

"Excellent. Your second question. Milk or sugar?" Langdon hesitated." Milk,"Sophie whispered in his ear. "I think the British take milk." "Milk," Langdon said. Silence. "Sugar?" Teabing made no reply.

Wait! Langdon now recalled the bitter beverage he had been served on his last visit and realized this question was a trick. "Lemon!" he declared. "Earl Grey with lemon"

"Indeed." Teabing sounded deeply amused now. "And finally, I must make the most grave of inquiries." Teabing paused and then spoke in a solemn tone. "In which year did a Harvard sculler last outrow an Oxford man at Henley?"

Langdon had no idea, but he could imagine only one reason the question had been asked. "Surely such a travesty has never occurred."

The gate clicked open. "Your heart is true, my friend. You may pass."

CHAPTER 53

"Monsieur Vernet!" The night manager of the Depository Bank of Zurich felt relieved to hear the bank president's voice on the phone. "Where did you go, sir? The police are here, everyone is waiting for you!"

"I have a little problem," the bank president said, sounding distressed. "I need your help right away."

You have more than a little problem, the manager thought. The police had entirely surrounded the bank and were threatening to have the DCPJ captain himself show up with the warrant the bank had demanded. "How can I help you, sir?" "Armored truck number three. I need to find it." Puzzled, the manager checked his delivery schedule. "It's here. Downstairs at the loading dock." "Actually, no. The truck was stolen by the two individuals the police are tracking." "What? How did they drive out?"

"I can't go into the specifics on the phone, but we have a situation here that could potentially be extremely unfortunate for the bank."

"What do you need me to do, sir?"

"I'd like you to activate the truck's emergency transponder."

The night manager's eyes moved to the LoJack control box across the room. Like many armored cars, each of the bank's trucks had been equipped with a radio-controlled homing device, which could be activated remotely from the bank. The manager had only used the emergency system once, after a hijacking, and it had worked flawlessly - locating the truck and transmitting the coordinates to the authorities automatically. Tonight, however, the manager had the impression the president was hoping for a bit more prudence. "Sir, you are aware that if I activate the LoJack system, the transponder will simultaneously inform the authorities that we have a problem."

Vernet was silent for several seconds. "Yes, I know. Do it anyway. Truck number three. I'll hold. I need the exact location of that truck the instant you have it." "Right away, sir."

Thirty seconds later, forty kilometers away, hidden in the undercarriage of the armored truck, a tiny transponder blinked to life.

CHAPTER 54

As Langdon and Sophie drove the armored truck up the winding, poplar-lined driveway toward the house, Sophie could already feel her muscles relaxing. It was a relief to be off the road, and she could think of few safer places to get their feet under them than this private, gated estate owned by a good-natured foreigner.

They turned into the sweeping circular driveway, and Chateau Villette came into view on their right. Three stories tall and at least sixty meters long, the edifice had gray stone facing illuminated by outside spotlights. The coarse facade stood in stark juxtaposition to the immaculately landscaped gardens and glassy pond.

The inside lights were just now coming on.

Rather than driving to the front door, Langdon pulled into a parking area nestled in the evergreens. "No reason to risk being spotted from the road," he said. "Or having Leigh wonder why we arrived in a wrecked armored truck."

Sophie nodded. "What do we do with the cryptex? We probably shouldn't leave it out here, but if Leigh sees it, he'll certainly want to know what it is."

"Not to worry," Langdon said, removing his jacket as he stepped out of the car. He wrapped the tweed coat around the box and held the bundle in his arms like a baby.

Sophie looked dubious. "Subtle."

"Teabing never answers his own door; he prefers to make an entrance. I'll find somewhere inside to stash this before he joins us." Langdon paused. "Actually, I should probably warn you before you meet him. Sir Leigh has a sense of humor that people often find a bit... strange." Sophie doubted anything tonight would strike her as strange anymore. The pathway to the main entrance was hand-laid cobblestone. It curved to a door of carved oak and cherry with a brass knocker the size of a grapefruit. Before Sophie could grasp the knocker, the door swung open from within.

A prim and elegant butler stood before them, making final adjustments on the white tie and tuxedo he had apparently just donned. He looked to be about fifty, with refined features and an austere expression that left little doubt he was unamused by their presence here.

"Sir Leigh will be down presently," he declared, his accent thick French. "He is dressing. He prefers not to greet visitors while wearing only a nightshirt. May I take your coat?" He scowled at the bunched-up tweed in Langdon's arms. "Thank you, I'm fine." "Of course you are. Right this way, please."

The butler guided them through a lush marble foyer into an exquisitely adorned drawing room, softly lit by tassel-draped Victorian lamps. The air inside smelled antediluvian, regal somehow, with traces of pipe tobacco, tea leaves, cooking sherry, and the earthen aroma of stone architecture. Against the far wall, flanked between two glistening suits of chain mail armor, was a rough-hewn fireplace large enough to roast an ox. Walking to the hearth, the butler knelt and touched a match to a pre-laid arrangement of oak logs and kindling. A fire quickly crackled to life.

The man stood, straightening his jacket. "His master requests that you make yourselves at home." With that, he departed, leaving Langdon and Sophie alone.

Sophie wondered which of the fireside antiques she was supposed to sit on - the Renaissance velvet divan, the rustic eagle-claw rocker, or the pair of stone pews that looked like they'd been lifted from some Byzantine temple.

Langdon unwrapped the cryptex from his coat, walked to the velvet divan, and slid the wooden box deep underneath it, well out of sight. Then, shaking out his jacket, he put it back on, smoothed the lapels, and smiled at Sophie as he sat down directly over the stashed treasure.

The divan it is, Sophie thought, taking a seat beside him.

As she stared into the growing fire, enjoying the warmth, Sophie had the sensation that her grandfather would have loved this room. The dark wood paneling was bedecked with Old Master paintings, one of which Sophie recognized as a Poussin, her grandfather's second-favorite painter. On the mantel above the fireplace, an alabaster bust of Isis watched over the room.

Beneath the Egyptian goddess, inside the fireplace, two stone gargoyles served as andirons, their mouths gaping to reveal their menacing hollow throats. Gargoyles had always terrified Sophie as a child; that was, until her grandfather cured her of the fear by taking her atop Notre Dame Cathedral in a rainstorm. "Princess, look at these silly creatures," he had told her, pointing to the gargoyle rainspouts with their mouths gushing water. "Do you hear that funny sound in their throats?" Sophie nodded, having to smile at the burping sound of the water gurgling through their throats. "They're gargling,"her grandfather told her. "Gargariser! And that's where they get the silly name "gargoyles"." Sophie had never again been afraid.

The fond memory caused Sophie a pang of sadness as the harsh reality of the murder gripped her again. Grand-pere is gone.She pictured the cryptex under the divan and wondered if Leigh Teabing would have any idea how to open it. Or if we even should ask him.Sophie's grandfather's final words had instructed her to find Robert Langdon. He had said nothing about involving anyone else. We needed somewhere to hide, Sophie said, deciding to trust Robert's judgment.

"Sir Robert!" a voice bellowed somewhere behind them. "I see you travel with a maiden."

Langdon stood up. Sophie jumped to her feet as well. The voice had come from the top of a curled staircase that snaked up to the shadows of the second floor. At the top of the stairs, a form moved in the shadows, only his silhouette visible.

"Good evening," Langdon called up. "Sir Leigh, may I present Sophie Neveu." "An honor." Teabing moved into the light." Thank you for having us," Sophie said, now seeing the man wore metal leg braces and used crutches. He was coming down one stair at a time. "I realize it's quite late."

"It is so late, my dear, it's early." He laughed. "Vous n'etes pas Americaine?"

Sophie shook her head. "Parisienne."

"Your English is superb."

"Thank you. I studied at the Royal Holloway."

"So then, that explains it." Teabing hobbled lower through the shadows. "Perhaps Robert told you I schooled just down the road at Oxford." Teabing fixed Langdon with a devilish smile. "Of course, I also applied to Harvard as my safety school."

Their host arrived at the bottom of the stairs, appearing to Sophie no more like a knight than Sir Elton John. Portly and ruby-faced, Sir Leigh Teabing had bushy red hair and jovial hazel eyes that seemed to twinkle as he spoke. He wore pleated pants and a roomy silk shirt under a paisley vest. Despite the aluminum braces on his legs, he carried himself with a resilient, vertical dignity that seemed more a by-product of noble ancestry than any kind of conscious effort.

Teabing arrived and extended a hand to Langdon. "Robert, you've lost weight." Langdon grinned. "And you've found some." Teabing laughed heartily, patting his rotund belly. "Touche. My only carnal pleasures these days seem to be culinary." Turning now to Sophie, he gently took her hand, bowing his head slightly, breathing lightly on her fingers, and diverting his eyes. "M'lady."

Sophie glanced at Langdon, uncertain whether she'd stepped back in time or into a nuthouse.

The butler who had answered the door now entered carrying a tea service, which he arranged on a table in front of the fireplace.

"This is Remy Legaludec," Teabing said," my manservant."

The slender butler gave a stiff nod and disappeared yet again.

"Remy is Lyonais,"Teabing whispered, as if it were an unfortunate disease. "But he does sauces quite nicely."

Langdon looked amused. "I would have thought you'd import an English staff?"

"Good heavens, no! I would not wish a British chef on anyone except the French tax collectors." He glanced over at Sophie. "Pardonnez-moi, Mademoiselle Neveu. Please be assured that my distaste for the French extends only to politics and the soccer pitch. Your government steals my money, and your football squad recently humiliated us."

Sophie offered an easy smile.

Teabing eyed her a moment and then looked at Langdon. "Something has happened. You both look shaken."

Langdon nodded. "We've had an interesting night, Leigh."

"No doubt. You arrive on my doorstep unannounced in the middle of the night speaking of the Grail. Tell me, is this indeed about the Grail, or did you simply say that because you know it is the lone topic for which I would rouse myself in the middle of the night?"

A little of both, Sophie thought, picturing the cryptex hidden beneath the couch. "Leigh," Langdon said," we'd like to talk to you about the Priory of Sion." Teabing's bushy eyebrows arched with intrigue. "The keepers. So this is indeed about the Grail. You say you come with information? Something new, Robert?"

"Perhaps. We're not quite sure. We might have a better idea if we could get some information from you first."

Teabing wagged his finger. "Ever the wily American. A game of quid pro quo. Very well. I am at your service. What is it I can tell you?"

Langdon sighed. "I was hoping you would be kind enough to explain to Ms. Neveu the true nature of the Holy Grail."

Teabing looked stunned. "She doesn't know?"

Langdon shook his head.

The smile that grew on Teabing's face was almost obscene. "Robert, you've brought me a virgin?"

Langdon winced, glancing at Sophie. "Virgin is the term Grail enthusiasts use to describe anyone who has never heard the true Grail story."

Teabing turned eagerly to Sophie. "How much do you know, my dear?"

Sophie quickly outlined what Langdon had explained earlier - the Priory of Sion, the Knights Templar, the Sangreal documents, and the Holy Grail, which many claimed was not a cup... but rather something far more powerful.

"That's all?" Teabing fired Langdon a scandalous look. "Robert, I thought you were a gentleman. You've robbed her of the climax!"

"I know, I thought perhaps you and I could..." Langdon apparently decided the unseemly metaphor had gone far enough.

Teabing already had Sophie locked in his twinkling gaze. "You are a Grail virgin, my dear. And trust me, you will never forget your first time."

CHAPTER 55

Seated on the divan beside Langdon, Sophie drank her tea and ate a scone, feeling the welcome effects of caffeine and food. Sir Leigh Teabing was beaming as he awkwardly paced before the open fire, his leg braces clicking on the stone hearth.

"The Holy Grail," Teabing said, his voice sermonic. "Most people ask me only where it is. I fear that is a question I may never answer." He turned and looked directly at Sophie. "However... the far more relevant question is this: What is the Holy Grail?"

Sophie sensed a rising air of academic anticipation now in both of her male companions.

"To fully understand the Grail," Teabing continued," we must first understand the Bible. How well do you know the New Testament?" Sophie shrugged. "Not at all, really. I was raised by a man who worshipped Leonardo Da Vinci." Teabing looked both startled and pleased. "An enlightened soul. Superb! Then you must be aware that Leonardo was one of the keepers of the secret of the Holy Grail. And he hid clues in his art." "Robert told me as much, yes." "And Da Vinci's views on the New Testament?" "I have no idea." Teabing's eyes turned mirthful as he motioned to the bookshelf across the room. "Robert, would you mind? On the bottom shelf. La Storia di Leonardo."

Langdon went across the room, found a large art book, and brought it back, setting it down on the table between them. Twisting the book to face Sophie, Teabing flipped open the heavy cover and pointed inside the rear cover to a series of quotations. "From Da Vinci's notebook on polemics and speculation," Teabing said, indicating one quote in particular. "I think you'll find this relevant to our discussion."

Sophie read the words.

Many have made a trade of delusions

and false miracles, deceiving the stupid multitude.

- LEONARDO DA VINCI

"Here's another," Teabing said, pointing to a different quote.

Blinding ignorance does mislead us.

O! Wretched mortals, open your eyes!

- LEONARDO DA VINCI

Sophie felt a little chill. "Da Vinci is talking about the Bible?"

Teabing nodded. "Leonardo's feelings about the Bible relate directly to the Holy Grail. In fact, Da Vinci painted the true Grail, which I will show you momentarily, but first we must speak of the Bible." Teabing smiled. "And everything you need to know about the Bible can be summed up by the great canon doctor Martyn Percy." Teabing cleared his throat and declared," The Bible did not arrive by fax from heaven."

"I beg your pardon?"

"The Bible is a product of man, my dear. Not of God. The Bible did not fall magically from the clouds. Man created it as a historical record of tumultuous times, and it has evolved through countless translations, additions, and revisions. History has never had a definitive version of the book."

"Okay."

"Jesus Christ was a historical figure of staggering influence, perhaps the most enigmatic and inspirational leader the world has ever seen. As the prophesied Messiah, Jesus toppled kings, inspired millions, and founded new philosophies. As a descendant of the lines of King Solomon and King David, Jesus possessed a rightful claim to the throne of the King of the Jews. Understandably, His life was recorded by thousands of followers across the land." Teabing paused to sip his tea and then placed the cup back on the mantel. "More than eighty gospels were considered for the New Testament, and yet only a relative few were chosen for inclusion - Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John among them.

"Who chose which gospels to include?" Sophie asked.

"Aha!" Teabing burst in with enthusiasm. "The fundamental irony of Christianity! The Bible, as we know it today, was collated by the pagan Roman emperor Constantine the Great."

"I thought Constantine was a Christian," Sophie said.

"Hardly," Teabing scoffed. "He was a lifelong pagan who was baptized on his deathbed, too weak to protest. In Constantine's day, Rome's official religion was sun worship - the cult of Sol Invictus, or the Invincible Sun - and Constantine was its head priest. Unfortunately for him, a growing religious turmoil was gripping Rome. Three centuries after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, Christ's followers had multiplied exponentially. Christians and pagans began warring, and the conflict grew to such proportions that it threatened to rend Rome in two. Constantine decided something had to be done. In 325 A. D. , he decided to unify Rome under a single religion. Christianity." Sophie was surprised. "Why would a pagan emperor choose Christianity as the official religion?" Teabing chuckled. "Constantine was a very good businessman. He could see that Christianity was on the rise, and he simply backed the winning horse. Historians still marvel at the brilliance with which Constantine converted the sun-worshipping pagans to Christianity. By fusing pagan symbols, dates, and rituals into the growing Christian tradition, he created a kind of hybrid religion that was acceptable to both parties."

"Transmogrification," Langdon said. "The vestiges of pagan religion in Christian symbology are undeniable. Egyptian sun disks became the halos of Catholic saints. Pictograms of Isis nursing her miraculously conceived son Horus became the blueprint for our modern images of the Virgin Mary nursing Baby Jesus. And virtually all the elements of the Catholic ritual - the miter, the altar, the doxology, and communion, the act of" God-eating" - were taken directly from earlier pagan mystery religions."

Teabing groaned. "Don't get a symbologist started on Christian icons. Nothing in Christianity is original. The pre-Christian God Mithras - called the Son of God and the Light of the World - was born on December 25, died, was buried in a rock tomb, and then resurrected in three days. By the way, December 25 is also the birthday of Osiris, Adonis, and Dionysus. The newborn Krishna was presented with gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Even Christianity's weekly holy day was stolen from the pagans."

"What do you mean?"

"Originally," Langdon said," Christianity honored the Jewish Sabbath of Saturday, but Constantine shifted it to coincide with the pagan's veneration day of the sun." He paused, grinning. "To this day, most churchgoers attend services on Sunday morning with no idea that they are there on account of the pagan sun god's weekly tribute - Sunday."

Sophie's head was spinning. "And all of this relates to the Grail?"

"Indeed," Teabing said. "Stay with me. During this fusion of religions, Constantine needed to strengthen the new Christian tradition, and held a famous ecumenical gathering known as the Council of Nicaea."

Sophie had heard of it only insofar as its being the birthplace of the Nicene Creed.

"At this gathering," Teabing said," many aspects of Christianity were debated and voted upon - the date of Easter, the role of the bishops, the administration of sacraments, and, of course, the divinityof Jesus."

"I don't follow. His divinity?"

"My dear," Teabing declared," until that moment in history, Jesus was viewed by His followers as a mortal prophet... a great and powerful man, but a man nonetheless. A mortal." "Not the Son of God?" "Right," Teabing said. "Jesus' establishment as 'the Son of God' was officially proposed and voted on by the Council of Nicaea."

"Hold on. You're saying Jesus' divinity was the result of a vote?"

"A relatively close vote at that," Teabing added. "Nonetheless, establishing Christ's divinity was critical to the further unification of the Roman empire and to the new Vatican power base. By officially endorsing Jesus as the Son of God, Constantine turned Jesus into a deity who existed beyond the scope of the human world, an entity whose power was unchallengeable. This not only precluded further pagan challenges to Christianity, but now the followers of Christ were able to redeem themselves only via the established sacred channel - the Roman Catholic Church."

Sophie glanced at Langdon, and he gave her a soft nod of concurrence.

"It was all about power," Teabing continued. "Christ as Messiah was critical to the functioning of Church and state. Many scholars claim that the early Church literally stole Jesus from His original followers, hijacking His human message, shrouding it in an impenetrable cloak of divinity, and using it to expand their own power. I've written several books on the topic." "And I assume devout Christians send you hate mail on a daily basis?" "Why would they?" Teabing countered. "The vast majority of educated Christians know the history of their faith. Jesus was indeed a great and powerful man. Constantine's underhanded political maneuvers don't diminish the majesty of Christ's life. Nobody is saying Christ was a fraud, or denying that He walked the earth and inspired millions to better lives. All we are saying is that Constantine took advantage of Christ's substantial influence and importance. And in doing so, he shaped the face of Christianity as we know it today."

Sophie glanced at the art book before her, eager to move on and see the Da Vinci painting of the Holy Grail.

"The twist is this," Teabing said, talking faster now. "Because Constantine upgraded Jesus' status almost four centuries after Jesus' death, thousands of documents already existed chronicling His life as a mortal man. To rewrite the history books, Constantine knew he would need a bold stroke.

From this sprang the most profound moment in Christian history." Teabing paused, eyeing Sophie. "Constantine commissioned and financed a new Bible, which omitted those gospels that spoke of Christ's human traits and embellished those gospels that made Him godlike. The earlier gospels were outlawed, gathered up, and burned."

"An interesting note," Langdon added. "Anyone who chose the forbidden gospels over Constantine's version was deemed a heretic. The word heretic derives from that moment in history. The Latin word haereticus means 'choice.' Those who 'chose' the original history of Christ were the world's first heretics."

"Fortunately for historians," Teabing said," some of the gospels that Constantine attempted to eradicate managed to survive. The Dead Sea Scrolls were found in the 1950s hidden in a cave near Qumran in the Judean desert. And, of course, the Coptic Scrolls in 1945 at Nag Hammadi. In addition to telling the true Grail story, these documents speak of Christ's ministry in very human terms. Of course, the Vatican, in keeping with their tradition of misinformation, tried very hard to suppress the release of these scrolls. And why wouldn't they? The scrolls highlight glaring historical discrepancies and fabrications, clearly confirming that the modern Bible was compiled and edited by men who possessed a political agenda - to promote the divinity of the man Jesus Christ and use His influence to solidify their own power base."

"And yet," Langdon countered," it's important to remember that the modern Church's desire to suppress these documents comes from a sincere belief in their established view of Christ. The Vatican is made up of deeply pious men who truly believe these contrary documents could only be false testimony."

Teabing chuckled as he eased himself into a chair opposite Sophie. "As you can see, our professor has a far softer heart for Rome than I do. Nonetheless, he is correct about the modern clergy believing these opposing documents are false testimony. That's understandable. Constantine's Bible has been their truth for ages. Nobody is more indoctrinated than the indoctrinator." "What he means," Langdon said," is that we worship the gods of our fathers." "What I mean," Teabing countered," is that almost everything our fathers taught us about Christ is false.As are the stories about the Holy Grail."

Sophie looked again at the Da Vinci quote before her. Blinding ignorance does mislead us. O! Wretched mortals, open your eyes!

Teabing reached for the book and flipped toward the center. "And finally, before I show you Da Vinci's paintings of the Holy Grail, I'd like you to take a quick look at this." He opened the book to a colorful graphic that spanned both full pages. "I assume you recognize this fresco?"

He's kidding, right? Sophie was staring at the most famous fresco of all time - The Last

Supper - Da Vinci's legendary painting from the wall of Santa Maria delle Grazie near Milan. The decaying fresco portrayed Jesus and His disciples at the moment that Jesus announced one of them would betray Him. "I know the fresco, yes."

"Then perhaps you would indulge me this little game? Close your eyes if you would." Uncertain, Sophie closed her eyes." Where is Jesus sitting?" Teabing asked. "In the center." "Good. And what food are He and His disciples breaking and eating?" "Bread." Obviously." Superb. And what drink?" "Wine. They drank wine." "Great. And one final question. How many wineglasses are on the table?"

Sophie paused, realizing it was the trick question. And after dinner, Jesus took the cup of wine, sharing it with His disciples. "One cup," she said. "The chalice." The Cup of Christ.The Holy Grail. "Jesus passed a single chalice of wine, just as modern Christians do at communion."

Teabing sighed. "Open your eyes."

She did. Teabing was grinning smugly. Sophie looked down at the painting, seeing to her astonishment that everyone at the table had a glass of wine, including Christ. Thirteen cups. Moreover, the cups were tiny, stemless, and made of glass. There was no chalice in the painting. No Holy Grail.

Teabing's eyes twinkled. "A bit strange, don't you think, considering that both the Bible and our standard Grail legend celebrate this moment as the definitive arrival of the Holy Grail. Oddly, Da Vinci appears to have forgotten to paint the Cup of Christ."

"Surely art scholars must have noted that."

"You will be shocked to learn what anomalies Da Vinci included here that most scholars either do not see or simply choose to ignore. This fresco, in fact, is the entire key to the Holy Grail mystery. Da Vinci lays it all out in the open in The Last Supper"

Sophie scanned the work eagerly. "Does this fresco tell us what the Grail really is?"

"Not what it is," Teabing whispered. "But rather who it is. The Holy Grail is not a thing. It is, in fact... a person"

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