BY DAVID V BARRETT
AGROUP OF AMERICAN tourists doing the “Cracking The Da Vinci Code” tour of London last month were surprised to find themselves the guests of Opus Dei, portrayed in Dan Brown’s religious thriller as a shadowy and disturbing Catholic sect.
Andrew Soane, director of Opus Dei’s UK information office, was browsing websites which mentioned The Da Vinci Code and Opus Dei when he came across details of the tour, flying out from Minneapolis-St Paul in the United States.
The eight-day tour, costing £1,500, goes around many of the sites in the novel, first in Paris and then in London: “Our afternoon exploration of London includes a drive by many of the historic and moving landmarks — Trafalgar Square, Big Ben, the Parliament Buildings and Piccadilly Circus as well as St James Park, the Horse Guards Parade and Netherhall House, a student residence for men. The building has been entrusted to Opus Dei, a personal Prelature of the Catholic Church that plays a pivotal role in The Da Vinci Code,” Mr Soane read on the tour company’s website.
He said he thought: “If you’re going to drive around Netherhall House, I thought, why don’t you come in?” He then contacted General Tours, the company offering the tour, and invited them into the residence.
“I gave them a slide show for about 25 minutes,” said Mr Soane, adding that he had corrected the misconceptions about Opus Dei in Brown’s novel. “They asked all kinds of questions. They were very nice people, and very sympathetic towards the work.” Opus Dei, a personal prelature of Pope John Paul II whose founder, St Josemaria Escriva was canonised in 2002, features prominently in the novel.
The book opens with the brutal murder of the curator of the Louvre art gallery by Silas, a large albino Opus Dei monk, who has the habit of flagellating himself until the blood runs.
Silas has previously coldbloodedly murdered others on the instruction, he believes, of his Opus Dei superiors. The fact that Opus Dei does not have monks is only one of many inaccuracies in the novel.
An Opus Dei bishop is also shown throughout the novel as being ambitious and manipulative, and Opus Dei itself as a sinister part of the Church.
The Cracking The Da Vinci Code tour is run by Ian Punnett, who calls himself “an expert on the story, characters, symbols and mysteries of the story.” Participants in his tour, he says, will “follow in the footsteps of Robert Langdon and Sophie Neveu [the two main characters of the novel] as they work to solve baffling ciphers, enigmatic riddles, and a trail of clues hidden in the works of Da Vinci ... Each day is filled with visits and excursions that have been designed to put you into the heart of the story so you can decipher the labyrinthine puzzle in a creative, informative and fun way.” Mr Punnett also hosts a radio talk show in Minneapolis-St Paul. The week after Mr Soane welcomed the tourists into Netherhall House he was surprised to find himself invited on to the programme, answering questions about Opus Dei in a radio phone-in.
Again he found the listeners very sympathetic. “It could have been controversial, but it wasn’t,” he said. “The reaction from the audience was ‘Why don’t you sue these people [Dan Brown]?’ They were on our side.” Mr Soane has a less favourable opinion of the novel itself. “Christians will be upset by the portrayal of Jesus and the early history of the Church,” he said. “Opus Dei is misrepresented and distorted. If you are a member of Opus Dei you will view it with dismay. I think it has a pseudo-academic disguise, and so is quite harmful.”