I recently finished reading the Kathleen McGowan trilogy about the Magdalene line.  It’s a fictional interpretation of many of the theories supporting the idea that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were a couple, and had children whose bloodlines still exist today.  For poorly written books they were strangely compelling.  I find the bloodline theory fascinating, and found Robert Langdon’s The Da Vinci Code equally compelling for the same reason.  Certainly these stories are a field day for conspiracy theorists and their detractors, but I am intuitively drawn to some of the broad themes and sense some deeper truths within that are absent from traditional historic records.

Primarily I am drawn to the assertion that Patriarchal powers, in particular the Catholic Church, have suppressed and vilified women for the last 10,000 years. It only takes a cursory look at history records for the last 2 millennia to note that powerful, successful, adored and celebrated women are conspicuously absent.  Any that rate a mention are generally recognised as mad, evil, shallow, manipulative, adulterous, heretic or in some way unworthy of celebration.  Most, if not all, women of European origin that history deems worthy of celebrating are either virgins, pious saints or obedient child-bearing mothers.  In my mind that says a lot more about the authors of the history books than it does about the facts of the time.  McGowan has presented an alternative and compelling version of the lives and passions of not only Mary Magdalene, but also  ‘the virgin’ Mary, Matilda of Tuscany, Joan of Arc and many other lesser known but powerful women.

The first book of the Magdalene Line trilogy, The Expected One, presents an alternate view of Jesus’ mother Mary as a powerful Priestess within a community that holds women in equal regard to men and reveres them as the keepers of sacred knowledge which is passed along the female line. Women who graduate from this sacred training earn the title of Mary, as did Mary Magdalene, a young woman of noble bloodline who was promised to a young man of equally notable lineage by the name of Jesus. The Expected One centres around a region in the South of France called the Languedoc, where a community of people known as the Cathars practiced an alternative, loving form of Christianity for many hundreds of years before being savagely eliminated by the Catholic Church for their apparent heresy.  The book presents the Cathars as descendants of the children of Jesus & Mary Magdalene, keepers of valuable artefacts including the gospel of Mary, and victims of a crusade to eliminate all evidence of the bloodline.

The second book in the series, The Book of Love, tracks the existence of a gospel written by Jesus himself, or at least a copy of this text which was made in Egypt after his death. This text turns up in Italy and we follow the life of Matilda of Tuscany, a descendent of the bloodline and powerful Countess in her own right.  The Book of Life expounds further on the idea of a secret order that has existed since the earliest days of Christianity, with the mission of preserving the truth about Jesus’ life, his family and his teachings. McGowan calls this secretive group The Order of the Holy Sepulchre, and it bears many parallels with the Priory of Sion, on which The Da Vinci Code was based.  The supposed ‘historical documents’ around which Langdon crafted The Da Vinci code have since been proven as forgeries, but the story they told has been passed down for generations and the details have been the subject of hundreds of years of speculation. While Langdon’s source material was shown to be false, the theory remains, and McGowan takes it to another level. In The Book of Life, McGowan tells of how Tuscan Countess Matilda designed and commissioned a monastery at Orval which was intended to house and protect the gospel of Jesus, and commissioned many other architectural masterpieces, all of which hold the truth of the gospel within secret symbolism embedded within their design.

The final book, The Poet Prince centres on the Medici family of Tuscany, an important and wealthy family of merchants, politicians and patrons of the arts who also happen to be bloodline descendants. McGowan focusses the story around Lorenzo Medici and his efforts to preserve the truth about Jesus & Mary Magdalene within the art of the Italian Renaissance. He achieved this by taking on promising young artists and schooling them in the sacred teachings of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre while supporting their artistic training. As these artists grew in reputation and earned commissions from wealthy patrons, they inserted the truth as symbols hidden in plain sight within their paintings, sculptures, frescos and stained glass windows.

I wasn’t raised a Christian and haven’t had a lot of exposure to Christian beliefs, but I know the storylines of the Magdalene Trilogy are a pretty dramatic deviation from the position of the Catholic church, as well as most Christians anywhere in the world. And yet this version of events is not purely the invention of a romantic novelist.  There is actually quite a bit of historical data behind many of the theories fictionalised in this story and I have no doubt that there are folks who consider the historical reality to be something recognisably similar to McGowan’s telling.

What I found frustrating about Kathleen McGowan’s books was the blurred line between pure fiction and well researched theory.  I would have loved to see a summary in the afterword that separated the fictional elements of the story from those based on discovered writings and archaeological records so that interested readers could delve deeper into the possible truths.  Instead, McGowan uses the afterword in The Expected One to confess to receiving information through visions of Mary Magdalene and to imply that her sources for the books are similarly magical, or at the very least very secret and mysterious. It reads as an odd kind of fiction, leaving me to wonder if this is an extension of the novel or McGowan’s genuine experience.  I am not dismissing the possibility of McGowan’s visions out of hand, but coupled with an online reputation that is less than credible, her failure to reference formal source material leaves the reader wondering what to believe.  I am aware that many of the ideas fictionalised by McGowan are not new and are most likely explored in more depth, and with a basis of academic research and historical documentation, in more credible non-fiction texts. I was left with a strong urge to carry out my own further research in these fields.

I have recently committed to following my interests, and devoting more time in my life to all of that which makes me come alive.  Now, when an idea piques my curiosity; when I find myself compelled to know more, I follow the breadcrumbs. And so, I created a list of all the themes that interested me from Kathleen McGowan’s books, and set out to find some well reviewed and credible texts on the subject matter. I’ve created a Pinterest board to keep track of this reading list – and so you can follow along – as I suspect I’m not the only one keen to dig deeper into this fascinating topic.