Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Around the World in 80 Gays : Part 2 - A Code

Last Time : (1) Alan Turing features in the 2014 film “The Imitation Game”, based on a biography written by (2) Andrew Hodges, which centres around his code-breaking work at Bletchley Park with (3) Noel Currer-Briggs, a leading authority on the Turin Shroud who followed the theories of Holy Grail historian (4) Otto Rahn.

(4) Otto Rahn (1909-1939) became interested in the Grail legends in his childhood in Germany. Living through the First World War and the economic depression in his country that followed Otto found the Grail a way of escaping from the harshness of inter-war Germany.

It was the medieval romance poem “Parzival” which was the specific spark that lit his interest in the Grail, and like that other German historian before him, Heinrich Schliemann, who went in search of the real Troy behind the myths, Otto went in search of the real Munsalvaesche, the legendary location of the Holy Grail. Otto believed he had found it in Montségur, the monastic retreat of the Cathar sect in the French Pyrenees.

It was Otto who suggested there was a close link between the Cathars and the Knights Templar, a link which had not received common acceptance amongst historians, but it has been fostered by Grail historians and followers of mystic legends ever since.

It wasn’t long before Otto Rahn’s books and research came to the attention of the Nazi party, in particular Heinrich Himmler who was determined to find all the mystic and scared objects known in history and bring them all under the control of the Nazis. These included not only the Holy Grail, but also the Spear of Destiny which pierced Christ’s side as he hanged on the cross, and even parts of the Holy Cross itself. This Nazi quest for mystic sacred objects has been immortalised in films like the Indiana Jones series.

Otto Rahn and (1) Alan Turing can be linked through their personal lives. Both led secret homosexual lives in countries which persecuted gay men. The rise of the Nazi party in Germany saw the enforcement of Paragraph 175, their anti-gay law, which led to many gay men being sent to concentration camps. After Otto’s homosexuality was suspected he was sent to Dachau concentration camp in 1937 as a guard. For a historian this would have been harsh punishment and Otto would have been an eye-witness to the treatment of gay prisoners. Alan Turing underwent physical torture after he admitted his homosexuality and reluctantly agreed to chemical castration. The treatment both men received as homosexuals eventually led to them taking their own lives – Turing by a poisoned apple, and Rahn by pills.

Otto’s theories on the Holy Grail not only helped to keep the magic of the legend alive but it also inspired a fictional account of a Grail quest in one of the most talked-about novels and films of our generation, “The Da Vinci Code” by Dan Brown.

Using another work of fiction, the hoax about the Priory of Sion and a secret society to which many famous people belonged, Dan Brown developed the myth further by introducing (5) Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) into the Grail legend for the first time.

Leonardo was claimed to have been a member of the fictional Priory of Sion, whose sole purpose (according to Dan Brown) was to protect the identity of a fictional descendant of Christ, a descendant known as the Holy Grail. This human Holy Grail was supposed to have been deliberately suppressed by the Church who tried to elimitate her. The public like to believe in conspiracy theories, and so “The Da Vinci Code” became an international best-seller.

Dan Brown used the common belief that Leonardo put codes into his pictures as evidence of this divine bloodline which led him to invent the Da Vinci code – a series of clues and devices which revealed the location of the Holy Grail. However contrived the link between Leonardo and the Grail may be he does link us back to (4) Noel Currer-Briggs, or, more precisely, the Turin Shroud.

Many theories have been put forward to explain the existence of the Shroud. One of the most popular has been that it was created by Leonardo. The fact that Noel Currer-Briggs proved that the Shroud was already in the possession of the Duke of Turin in 1453, when Leonardo was less that 1 year old, hasn’t dampened this theory.

There is another person who links the Holy Grail, “The Da Vinci Code” and the Nazi concentration camps – (6) Sir Ian McKellen (b.1939).

Sir Ian played a Grail historian in the film version of “The Da Vinci Code”. It was his character who explained the theories behind the divine bloodline descendant from Christ. Sir Ian was a big-name star when the film was made. Way back in 1979 he won his first Olivier Award for his role in the world premiere of the play “Bent”. This play dealt with Nazi persecution of gay men and is partly set in Dachau concentration camp where (4) Otto Rahn was forced to do guard duty. As mentioned most recently in my “Twelve Noels of Christmas” series, “Bent” was instrumental in bringing this persecution to the public eye.

There was another gay German called Otto who was a Nazi victim, and he brings the world of sport into our journey around the world in a couple of weeks time. His name was (7) Otto Peltzer (1900-1970).

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