“It is so late, my dear, it’s early.” He laughed. “Vous n’êtes pas Américaine?”

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. “Touché. 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 Rémy Legaludec,” Teabing said, “my manservant.” The slender butler gave a stiff nod and disappeared yet again.

“Rémy 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 SS

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 divinity of 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.”