I started working on The Secret Supper in late 2001. At that time I was finished writing my previous novel El secreto egipcio de Napoleón (Napoleon's Egyptian Secret). While writing that book, I discovered the deep influence that Egypt had on Western culture in the late XIX century, but also during the Renaissance, and I decided to go into that particular subject on my next novel.
My first idea was to write about Marsilio Ficino, the founder of the famous Academy of Florence, supported by Cosimo the Elder during the Italian Quatrocentto (XV Century). Ficino was a brilliant philosopher and translator. He translated all of Plato’s books and the magical Egyptian treatises known as "Corpus Hermeticum." But when I discovered that Ficino influenced artists like Botticelli and even Leonardo, I turned my attention to Da Vinci. Was it possible that Ancient Egyptian ideas could have influenced Leonardo?
This is the way The Secret Supper started...
I always have a purpose in mind before writing a novel: my literature must try to unveil unsolved mysteries of the past. To do so, it is necessary to complete in-depth research on historical facts, and then to study the more plausible hypotheses to solve the mystery. In The Secret Supper, I propose a completely new approach to The Last Supper, based on my own research. That’s why my novel is more than fiction. I like to call it an "investigative novel."
Therefore, all of the books mentioned in my novel (The Golden Legend by Jacobus da Varagine, Apocalipsis Nova by Amadeo of Portugal and, of course, Interrogatio Johannis or The Secret Supper, the anonymous Cathar gospel) are absolutely real.
AN INCREDIBLE DISCOVERY
It was March 21, 2000. The Spring Equinox of the New Millenium. Robert Bauval, engineer and writer of the international nonfiction bestseller The Orion Mystery, took me to Giza plateau, outside Cairo, just before sunrise. "You are going to see a miracle", he announced. After a while, the sun rose in front of the paws of the Sphinx. In a few minutes, that brilliant ball of fire was on its colossal head. "You see?" Robert explained, "The Ancient Egyptians called the Sphinx, Hor-em-Akhet, 'Horus in the Horizon'' or the God of the Rising and Setting Sun. That's just what you are seeing now. The Horus-Sun over the Horizon of Giza. The whole sculpture is an enormous hieroglyph."
That same morning, over a glass of tea, he explained that centuries before the invention of the press machine, when few people knew how to read, kings and priests taught the people sacred concepts through images. They associated images, sculptures, buildings, and even paintings with certain knowledge, creating a mnemotechnic practice called "The Art of Memory." That revelation amazed me!
Years later, while reading Frances Yates’s book The Art of Memory (Routledge & Kegan, 1966), I learned that the Art of Memory was developed by the Greeks first, and later used by the Dominicans in the Renaissance.
Then, I had it!
The Dominicans, the Art of Memory (which allows one to hide a message in an image), and Leonardo working in a Dominican convent in 1497 came together to give me the key to solve The Last Supper riddle!
THE POPE JOAN TAROT CARD
One of the most interesting "stories behind the story" is about the Pope Joan tarot card mentioned throughout the book. It refers to an extended myth of that time: After the death of Pope Leo IV in 853 A.D., a young cardinal was elected Pope. He took the name of John VIII and ruled for two years, until 855. One day, while in a procession from St. Peter’s to Lateran in Rome, he suddenly stopped and gave birth to a child. John VIII was really a woman. She died during childbirth before the astonished papal court.
This suggestive legend was later recovered in the Sforza-Visconti tarot card, where a pregnant woman is portrayed with a papal crown.
THE BOOK IN NUMBERS
1 Literary Prize in Spain. The book received 125,000 euros as Finalist of the III Novel Prize City of Torrevieja in September 2004.
1 Number One in Italy’s bestsellers lists during Summer 2005.
3 years of research.
15 editions of The Secret Supper during its first year of publication in Spain. More than 200,000 copies sold.
35 countries have published or will publish the book, including the U.S.A., U.K., Canada, Australia, Italy, France, Germany, China, Japan, and Russia.
300 bibliographical sources consulted in English, Italian, French, and Spanish.
25,000 kilometers travelled by the author during his research for the book.
84,079 words in the original Spanish manuscript.
Although my conclusions about the The Last Supper are absolutely original, I travelled over three years (2001-2004) to Milan, Rome, Florence, and Vinci in Italy and Amboise in France to complete my research. During that time, I interviewed experts including:
* Father Venturino Alce, Archivist of Santa Maria delle Grazie.
* Antonio Piñero, Professor of New Testament Philology at the Complutense University of Madrid.
* Alessandro Vezzosi, Director of Ideale Museum in Vinci, hometown of Leonardo.
* Dr. Pinin Brambilla, Director of restoration of The Last Supper between 1977 and 1997.
Some sources of information consulted:
* Bibliotheca Ambrosiana, Milan
* Library of the convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan
* Warburg Institute Library, University of London
* Biblioteca Nacional, Madrid
Most of this work was done before the international success of The Da Vinci Code. Now, the friars of Santa Maria delle Grazie hardly open its convent to curious people, nor do they give access to the library to unreferenced researchers. Fortunately, all of the references I provide in The Secret Supper can be tracked in the Bibliography or in public places like The Last Supper refectory, open with some restrictions to the public in its orginal place, in Milan, Italy.