Prieuré de Sion, usually rendered in English translation as Priory of Sion or even Priory of Zion, is an elusive protagonist in many works of both non-fiction and fiction. It has been characterized as anything from the most covertly powerful secret society in Western history to a modern Rosicrucian-esque ludibrium. It is generally believed that the Priory of Sion is in large part an elaborate hoax.
Under Article III.c of the original 1956 Statutes of the Priory of Sion, the association was named after the nearby mountain called Sion by the French town of Annemasse. It was devoted to opposing gentrification in the area through its journal, Circuit. The 1956 Priory had its headquarters in Pierre Plantard's house in Annemasse and was officially registered at the sub-prefecture in Saint-Julien-en-Genevoise on May 7th, 1956, by André Bonhomme and Pierre Plantard. It was dissolved sometime after October 1956 but intermittently revived by Plantard between 1962 and 1993 as an initiatory order and crypto-political vanguard party dedicated to the restoration of chivalry and monarchy in France to further his impostor royalty bid.
Pierre Plantard began writing a manuscript and produced "parchments" (created by his friend, Philippe de Cherisey) that Father Bérenger Saunière had supposedly discovered whilst renovating his church. These forged documents purportedly showed the survival of the Merovingian line of Frankish kings. Plantard manipulated Saunière's activities at Rennes-le-Château in order to "prove" his claims relating to the Priory of Sion.
Between 1961 and 1984 Plantard contrived a mythical pedigree of the Priory of Sion claiming that it had been founded in Jerusalem during the First Crusade by Godfrey de Bouillon. Research in the Rennes-le-Château mysteries led Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln to the pseudohistorical Secret Files of Henri Lobineau, compiled by "Philippe Toscan du Plantier", that became the source for their book, Holy Blood, Holy Grail, in which they reported claims that:
These authors furthered that the ultimate goals of the Priory of Sion are:
Baigent, Leigh, and Lincoln came to their own interpretation of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, where they used the spelling "Sion" in the name, which they viewed as one of the most persuasive evidence for the existence and activities of the Priory of Sion:
Accepting these hypotheses as facts, some fringe Christian eschatologists viewed the Priory of Sion as a fulfillment of prophesies found in the Book of Revelation and further proof of an anti-Christian conspiracy of epic proportions.
However, since modern historians do not accept Holy Blood, Holy Grail as a serious contribution to scholarship, all these claims are regarded as being part of an intriguing but dubious conspiracy theory. French authors like Franck Marie (1978), Jean-Luc Chaumeil (1979, 1984, 1992) and Pierre Jarnac (1985, 1988) have never taken Pierre Plantard and the Priory of Sion as seriously as Baigent, Lincoln and Leigh. They quickly concluded that it was all a hoax, specifying the reasons for their verdict, and giving detailed evidence that the Holy Blood authors had not reported comprehensively. They imply that this evidence had been ignored by Baigent, Lincoln and Leigh in order to bolster the mythic version of the Priory's history.
In 1989, Pierre Plantard tried but failed to salvage his reputation and agenda by claiming that the Priory of Sion had actually been founded in 1681 at Rennes-le-Chateau. In September, 1993, he claimed that Roger-Patrice Pelat had once been grandmaster of the Priory of Sion. Pelat was a friend of the then-President of France François Mitterrand and center of a scandal involving French Prime Minister Pierre Bérégovoy. A French court ordered a search of Plantard's home, turning up many documents, including some proclaiming Plantard the true king of France. Under oath, Plantard admitted that he had fabricated everything, including Pelat's involvement with the Priory of Sion. (http://priory-of-sion.com/psp/id70.html) Plantard was ordered to cease and desist all activities related to the promotion of the Priory of Sion and lived in obscurity until his death on 3 February, 2000, in Paris.
Most recently, due to Dan Brown's bestselling novel The Da Vinci Code, there has been a new level of public interest in the Priory of Sion.
Et in Arcadia ego... is supposedly the official motto of both the Plantard family and the Priory of Sion, according to a claim that first appeared in 1964. Et in Arcadia ego is a Latin phrase, that most famously appears as a tomb inscription on the ca. 1640 classical painting, The Arcadian Shepherds, by French painter Nicolas Poussin. It literally means, "And I in Arcadia". However, the addition of the ellipsis (which was not there in the Poussin painting), suggests a missing word. Although it would not be needed in Latin grammar, sum has been one suggested completion to mean: "And I am in Arcadia". Furthermore, it has been theorized by Richard Andrews and Paul Schellenberger that the completed phrase Et in Arcadia ego sum is an anagram for Arcam Dei Tango Iesu which means "I touch the tomb of God – Jesus". The implication is that the tomb contains the ossuary of Jesus the central figure in Christian theology. Regardless of the accuracy of this extraordinary claim, it is not considered part of the official history of the painting by Poussin that contains the phrase, which is well documented.
The Priory of Sion has had several influences on popular culture, not all of them entirely accurate or serious:
A second List of the Grand Masters of the Priory of Sion that included the names of Roger Patrice Pelat and Thomas Plantard appeared in 1989, but it should not be confused with the above list that belonged to a version of the Priory of Sion that Plantard rejected. When Plantard tried to make a comeback and a revival of the Priory of Sion in 1989 following his retirement in 1984 he claimed that the above list was bogus and a part of the "Secret Files", which by then had been exposed as a fraud by French researchers and authors.