A KEY piece of the action in The Da Vinci Code takes place in the
Temple Church, off Fleet Street in London. The Temple was
built in the 12th century by the Knights Templar, an order of crusading monks
founded to protect pilgrims. It has two parts: the round church - consecrated
in 1185 and designed to recall the circular Church of the Holy Sepulchre in
Jerusalem - and the chancel, built in 1240 by Henry III, who intended to be
buried there. The round church is famous for the nine life-size stone effigies
of knights, shown for ever poised to leap into action at the second coming.
In The Da Vinci Code, Langdon, Neveu, and Teabing arrive at the
church in the belief that they are on the point of solving a riddle connected
with the Knights Templar.
As the novel says, the Temple Church is off the beaten track. "Few people
even know it's there," says one of Brown's characters. The Temple's own website
describes it as "until recently, one of London's best-kept secrets". The
runaway success of the novel has put paid to that.
"We've seen a vast increase in visitors, despite being tucked away and easy
to miss," says the Revd Robin Griffith-Jones, Master of the Temple. "Numbers
were up fivefold during the tourist season. People are now taking the trouble
to find us."
We met soon after filming for the movie had finished. The experience, he
says, was very positive. "There were well over 100 people here on the day, but
they recognised that the fabric was precious and this was a special place, and
were respectful throughout." To turn the church into a crypt, the crew had
blacked out the windows and pumped in smoke. They even built two additional
effigies of medieval knights, which he says were so convincing they almost
For the past year or more, Mr Griffith-Jones has given a weekly talk every
Friday lunchtime, under the title "The Da Vinci Code: Fact and fiction"
(cost £3). He confesses he was rather slow off the mark. "It was well over a
year before we twigged, and another six months before we did anything about it."
Now, though, up to 200 people from all over the world attend each week, and
his talk has evolved into a book:
"The Da Vinci Code" and the Secrets of the Temple, published by
SCM-Canterbury Press ).
THE DAY I attend, numbers are lower (it is a dull January day), but 70 or 80
visitors still cluster in the chancel. The age range is wide, but the audience
is predominantly young. The Master warms us up by denying any connection with
the fictional Master of the Temple, who is famous for his bad temper, and
claiming he unsuccessfully tried to wangle a walk-on part in the movie. He asks
if there is anyone in the audience who hasn't read the book (surprisingly many,
it emerges); and he praises Dan Brown's achievement in writing such a
page-turner that 40 million people have gone out and bought it.
Then he puts the knife in: "There are occasions in the novel when Brown
comes very close to saying something important and true," he says; but at every
instance the novelist "veers off into outer space". Factually, there are huge
mistakes on almost every page.
Mr Griffith-Jones sets out Brown's version of Christian history, and then
point by point, he puts us straight. The novel is wrong about the Priory of
Sion, wrong about Opus Dei, wrong about the Knights Templar, wrong about
Leonardo's Last Supper (he passes round two reproductions to illustrate his
argument), and wrong, too, about the relationship between Jesus and Mary
The talk is, by turns, learned and entertaining. At the end, he invites us
all to stay and look round the Round Church. Most people linger to look at the
ancient effigies, which are beautiful and moving. Many more ask questions or
follow up points he has raised in the talk. Bob, a lawyer in his 50s from
Washington, who is in London on business, says he found the talk fascinating,
though he hasn't read the book. "I'm Jewish, but my Catholic friends told their
priest: 'You'd better go read it because everyone is going to be talking about
it, and you need to be prepared.'"
Elin, 26, a postgraduate student from Norway, says that the book has been
controversial in Norway, too. "One reason I came was to see if anyone would
stand up and object," she says. She seems faintly disappointed by the apparent
good will of the audience. Guido, a young Italian in biking leathers, starts
talking intensely to another visitor. He's convinced there is more to The Da
Vinci Code than meets the eye. Everyone is talking about it in Italy. As for
himself, he thinks it significant that he has been drawn to the Temple on
Mr Griffith-Jones says that the day's crowd was fairly typical. He welcomes
the opportunity to discuss the book with visitors. "I'm constantly fascinated
by the questions people ask, and the fact that they are asking them," he says. "
The book has given people the chance to ask questions which are, after all,
It's a generalisation, he says, but he tends to find that many
Americans who attend the talk believe that Dan Brown has said something very
important. British visitors, on the other hand, want to be reassured that Brown'
s picture of the world is not true. "Every week there is someone who thinks you
are doing Dan Brown an injustice; but, on the whole, most people seem to find
the talk heartening."
On the map: above: visit Britain's map of Da Vinci tourist sites
(labelled with stars). Visit Britain is using the opportunity to recommend
other important historic attractions to visitors (marked with numbered
squares). On the map: above: visit Britain's map of Da Vinci tourist
sites (labelled with stars). Visit Britain is using the opportunity to
recommend other important historic attractions to visitors (marked with
below: the Louvre has seen record numbers of visitors