'Da Vinci Code' goes on trial and is found guilty as charged

Hundreds of people packed the town hall of Vinci, Leonardo's home town, for the trial this weekend of the bestseller whose claims have shocked the Roman Catholic church. Peter Popham reports

It is the publishing phenomenon of the new century: Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, the biggest-selling adult novel in history, a book bought by more than 18 million worldwide, argued about from high table to lunch counter, and which has enraged the Roman Catholic church as no book has done for decades.

It is the publishing phenomenon of the new century: Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, the biggest-selling adult novel in history, a book bought by more than 18 million worldwide, argued about from high table to lunch counter, and which has enraged the Roman Catholic church as no book has done for decades.

It has prompted family rows, lawsuits, tours of the key locations and a diet, and will soon be a film. Its claims have provoked no fewer than 15 book-length rebuttals, and super-charged interest in Leonardo himself, the man whose code and genius are at the book's heart. The people of Vinci, the small town outside Florence where Leonardo originated, might be thought grateful for all this attention. But they are livid. And, to show just how mad they are, this weekend they put the book on trial.

It wasn't a fair trial ­ Mr Brown and his book went unrepresented ­ but by the standards of Italian justice it was swift. And it galvanised Vinci. Hundreds turned up. To pack a town hall this tight in Britain you'd need conspicuously sited wind farms blighting every beauty spot in the county.

Dan Brown claims that the local hero was flamboyantly homosexual. The Mona Lisa, the painting Leonardo took with him everywhere, was a disguised self-portrait; hermaphrodites and pagan imagery lurked behind every fleur-de-lis; and the figure of John in the Last Supper was actually Mary Magdalene. Leonardo was head of a secret society, the Priory of Sion, entrusted with the care and perpetuation of the Holy Grail, which in turn was not a mere chalice but the bloodline of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, the woman he married. Jesus and Mary had children, the novel claims, and it was Leonardo and the descendants of Jesus who preserved the truth of the pre-eminence of the female principle. It was Alessandro Vezzosi, director of one of Vinci's two Leonardo museums, who made the case for the prosecution, deploying over 100 slides. Leonardo's homosexuality? The evidence, he said, was "total invention".

A striking sketch of two erect phalluses, one pursuing the other, flashed on to the screen: thought to be by Leonardo, it is in fact the work of someone else, Vezzosi claimed. Leonardo not only did startling, anatomically correct drawings of the female genitalia (another slide), he also littered his notebooks with doodles showing men chasing girls. QED.

"Another idea of Brown's that doesn't remotely agree with reality," Vezzosi said, is that Leonardo cranked out ideas for efficiently torturing people and invented horrible new weapons. The fearsome, scythed chariot that figures in one of his drawings, designed to slice anyone who came too close into small pieces, was not his invention, we were told, but an ancient device, and Leonardo set his mind to working out how best to protect oneself against it.

Yet despite all Brown's howlers and misreadings, Vezzosi had to admit that there was a grain of truth in the book. The androgyny of many of his portraits, for example, was a product of his fascination with the idea of synthesising masculine and feminine forms, which is a key idea behind Brown's book.

It was 11pm when Vezzosi sat down and two members of Opus Dei, the Catholic organisation, took his place. The most diabolical figure in Brown's book is the huge, homicidal albino, Silas, a devotee of Opus Dei who wears a spiked belt on his thigh to mortify his flesh, and who is determined to wipe out the only four people in the world who know the truth about the Holy Grail ­ the truth that threatens to blow the bottom out of Christianity if it ever becomes known.

"I've come here to tell you what Opus Dei really is," said Massimo Marianeschi, a businessman. "It's not a sect, it's not black, criminal, catastrophic ... I don't flog myself or mortify my flesh. It's a lay organisation with no monks ­ it's not Machiavellian, we don't assassinate people, we don't sanction any negative acts. And there is no difference in the treatment of men and women."

He might have been better advised to leave out the last claim. "There may not be discrimination against women in Opus Dei," said a voice from the floor, "but there is certainly separation." Scattered applause from the audience. Then, "I don't understand how you can stop people of my age sharing things with girls", said a young man with a pony tail. "We talk about everything together." Loud clapping. "What's the need," said a matron from the floor, "to follow Opus Dei or any other organisation? The church is one!" More applause. It took another local historian, Professor Romano Nanni, to steer the discussion back to Dan Brown's book. "The Da Vinci Code is a novel," he pointed out, "so there is no need to refute it historically. It's a thriller, and a crude one, because so much of it is unbelievable."

Yet some of it, he said, is true ­ including parts of the book that are most disturbing to Christians. There are, as the book claims, many accounts of Jesus's life rejected by the church, which deal with the Creation as the work of male and female principles. "This is the basic idea behind the book," he said. "And the truth of it is an open question."

Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
musicReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Arts and Entertainment
‘Dawn of Planet of the Apes’ also looks set for success in the Chinese market

film
News
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight

tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
A waxwork of Jane Austen has been unveiled at The Jane Austen Centre in Bath

books
Arts and Entertainment
Britney Spears has been caught singing without Auto-Tune

music
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

    How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

    A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
    The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    The evolution of Andy Serkis

    First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

    Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
    Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

    Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

    Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
    Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

    Blackest is the new black

    Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
    Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

    Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

    From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
    Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
    Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

    Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

    The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
    Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

    Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

    The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

    Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

    Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

    Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

    The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
    The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

    The Open 2014

    Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?