On ‘The Da Vinci Code’ Trail
Britain is used to its role as a literary and film location, but never has there been so much interest as that for The Da Vinci Code. A variety of locations, from London to Edinburgh, have experienced a visitor surge since the phenomenal success of the release of Dan Brown’s novel and anticipation is even higher for director Ron Howard’s movie version, released in May.
The novel – read around the world by 30 million people – mixes fiction with fact to page-turning effect and is now a movie starring Tom Hanks, Sir Ian McKellan and Audrey Tatou. It centres on a secret society, the Priory of Sion, that exists to safeguard the secret of the Holy Grail.
Starting in Paris, France with a memorable scene in the Louvre, Dan Brown’s thriller climaxes in Britain, as the increasingly beleaguered symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) and cryptologist Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tatou) look for the mysterious Teacher.
The pair’s search starts at Temple Church , in London, just off Fleet Street in the lawyers’ district, the Inns of Court. One of the capital’s oldest churchesnd, until recently, one of its best kept secrets, it was built by the Knights Templars – who protected pilgrims who were travelling to Jerusalem – and was consecrated in 1185. It is open to the public from Wednesdays to Sundays – and the choir is one of the best in Britain. Services are still held weekly and its tranquillity is highly prized. Take time to sit down and soak up the atmosphere. It features the effigies of nine knights and is the only surviving church in London that was built in the round.
You should also stop by the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square to look at Leonardo da Vinci’s celebrated painting, The Virgin of the Rocks, which is also referred to in the novel.
The action then moves onto Westminster Abbey and the tomb of Sir Isaac Newton, who invented the theory of gravity and was – Brown argues – like Leonardo da Vinci, a member of the Priory of Sion. His grave can still be seen at the Abbey. Newton’s tomb is one of many, for this is the final resting place of many British monarchs as well as the church where they are crowned, and it is well worth taking a Verger-guided tour.
With most filming taking place in Shepperton Studios, just outside the capital, Ron Howard was determined to use as many of the real locations as possible and filming did take place in London, notably on Victoria Street, but not inside the abbey. Westminster Abbey declined to give permission for filming, citing it as “inappropriate” but Lincoln Cathedral stepped in. The third largest cathedral in Britain and 142 miles north of London, it made an admirable replacement, being “one of the world’s most glorious gothic edifices,” according to co-star Sir Ian McKellan, who plays Leigh Teabing.
He, like Tom Hanks and Audrey Tatou, stayed at The White Hart Hotel for the duration of filming in the city. Director Howard enjoyed strolling the hill-top streets, remarking “Lincoln is a really beautiful city.”
Consecrated in 1092, thousands of visitors already visit the cathedral each year – all of them trying to get a look at its famous Imp, a stone figure on display on the choir stall. To get an eagle-eyed view of where director Ron Howard and his crew filmed, you can book a place on the Roof Tours.
As is the way of film makers, the crew left behind various artefacts and the cathedral is arranging special tours when the film opens, with talks on what happened behind the scenes and Lincoln’s connections with the Knights Templar. There will be a chance to see some of the props used, including monuments that might look as if they’re made of marble but were actually constructed – movie-style – from polystyrene and wood.
Filming also took place at Burghley House, a palatial stately home near Stamford, built as the country seat of Queen Elizabeth I’s principal adviser, Lord Burghley. Lips are sealed on what scenes were actually filmed there, however. Twenty five million people may have read the book, but director Ron Howard still wants the people who see the film to have some surprises. The cast and crew also spent a couple of days at Belvoir Castle, in adjoining Leicestershire, this stately home play-acting as an Italian fortress (www.belvoircastle.com).
When it came to the key location of the Da Vinci Code – Rosslyn Chapel – no substitutes were considered. Howard was ‘really excited’ at filming at the real location.
One of Scotland’s most mysterious buildings, Rosslyn Chapel lies seven miles south of the capital, Edinburgh. The chapel has puzzled scholars for centuries. Built in the 15th century, there are carvings of North American corn on the cob and cacti, created long before Columbus supposedly discovered America. Covered with intricate carvings, both inside and out, most of them have an allegorical meaning. Dan Brown was inspired to write his novel after visiting in 2001.
One thing is not in doubt. The church is one of the most extraordinary in Europe, built by the St. Clairs, a family with links to the Knights Templar. Claims have circulated for centuries that this church has been has been the repository for something central in Christianity, whether the lost scrolls of Solomon’s Temple, or the Head of John the Baptist, brought back from Jerusalem at the time of the crusades.