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Curiously Embarking Upon an Angels and Demons Quest
We are like dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of giants--Bernard of Chartres
By Stella Maris
June 06, 2009
Tobias and the Angel
© National Gallery, London
Not even Dan Brown could have conceived of last week's sublime twist to the old adage of life imitating art (or something like that!). As Angels & Demons, the movie, continues to underwhelm at the box office, new information emerged in the secret society underground community which appears to be designed to send investigators on a real-life Angels and Demons quest, starring the Archangel Raphael and his nemesis, the demon Asmodeus.
It began with the rather low-key release of a catalogue documenting the sale of rare manuscripts and books at a respectable Paris auction house, scheduled to take place last Friday, May 29th (conveniently the day before the Feast of Joan of Arc, as per last week's 23.5 column).
One of the items listed was an illuminated manuscript of the biblical Book of Tobit, produced by the Scriptorium at Chartres in northern France in the mid-12th century, which in itself was mildly intriguing to connoisseurs of enigmatic curiosities.
If you've been following along here in 23.5 Degrees, you'll already realize that Chartres Cathedral was being rebuilt by Saint Fulbert in tandem with establishing one of the most influential centers of learning in Europe, right around the same time that this manuscript of the Book of Tobit was produced. What made the cathedral school at Chartres so special is that the teachings were firmly based around the Neo-Platonic worldview, addressing the conundrums of metaphysics and cosmology, which in turn was heavily influenced by Greek philosophy and mythology.
Therefore is was no surprize that the auction house catalogue noted that the Chartres version of the Book of Tobit offered for sale differed in significant ways from the standard version of the Book of Tobit found in the Vulgate Bible.
But what completely blew the minds of the underground cognoscenti was the disclosure of a commentary, supposedly to support the authenticity of the Book of Tobit manuscript, which was confirmed by experts to have been written by an unnamed French "ecclesiastic" in the early 20th century. This commentary alluded to the fact that the Book of Tobit manuscript could actually be part of a cache of documents belonging to the Hautpoul family--possibly the same cache discovered by the Abbé Sauniere at the church of Saint Mary Magdalene in Rennes-le-Chateau in the late 19th century.
For extra emphasis, certain words in the commentary were highlighted which conveniently corresponded to information in the allegedly fabricated Dossiers Secrets of the Priory Sion relating to the coded tombstone of Dame d'Hautpoul, Marie de Negre d'Ables. Sauniere himself was said to have destroyed this tombstone in order to conceal the existence of a great treasure in the Rennes-le-Chateau area.
Intriguingly, the story in the Book of Tobit itself is indirectly concerned with the recovery of a hidden cache of gold, which the 20th century commentary goes to great lengths to emphasize.
In fact, this is where the Angels and Demons bit comes in…
Briefly, the Book of Tobit recounts how Tobit became blinded by bird droppings, as punishment for performing unauthorized burials of the dead, and thereupon sends his son Tobias to faraway Media to recover a cache of gold that he had cunningly hidden in the event that he fell upon hard times. While Tobias was in Media, he fell in love with Sarah, who had lost seven husbands to the wrath of the demon Asmodeus, who King Solomon had enslaved to assist with the building of the Temple of Solomon.
Along the way, Tobias befriends the Archangel Raphael, who helpfully instructs him to catch a fish. Burning the fish's heart and liver creates fumes that bind Asmodeus, enabling Tobias to marry Sarah and return home with the fish's gall to heal his father's blindness.
But what caused a fuss in the underground secret society community was the suggestion that the Chartres Book of Tobit rendered "Media" as Medie Terre, or the Mediterranean, emphasizing in great detail the enormous amount of gold and silver that was recovered by Tobias using specific references that corresponded to descriptions representing the coded equivalent of a map of the Rennes-le-Chateau area.
As a result, the auction house was so inundated with calls from prospective treasure hunters that the experts were required to issue an official disclaimer to the effect that all they could officially verify is that the Book of Tobit being offered for sale was a genuine biblical illuminated manuscript produced by the scriptorium at Chartres in the 12th century and nothing more.
So, while we all watched from the sidelines in amusement, the illuminated manuscript of the Book of Tobit was sold through a reputable Paris auction house from an anonymous seller to an anonymous buyer for 12,000 Euros.
And, as we wait for the next exciting installment to emerge from the aethers, I can't help but wonder... since the Archangel Raphael is the guardian of the eastern gate of the Temple (corresponding to the element of Air), will the next clue inevitably involve the Archangel Michael at the southern gate?