and the World
of the Holy Tub
HUNTERS of the Holy Tub relates the final quest for the Sacred Basin and its consequences. All that happens is set up by past events long ago, many of which occurred in a medieval French town then called “Bellegarde.”
A synopsis of the story itself is here.
The text of the novel explains the history sufficiently to understand the plot. For those more curious, a rich tapestry awaits here within the Vaults of the Maundy Grail. They contain a treasury of background materials that can satisfy all but the most fanatic tubby. There is a detailed chronology, numerous historical documents (some dealing with people and occasions not mentioned below), helpful maps and more.
But here is a brief spoiler-free introduction to the background of this long and twisty tale, and the decisive events and colorful characters that pointed the way to the fateful resolution in 2005.
Important Figures from Bellegarde’s History
Left to right: the statue of Heronimo le Mage (d. 1363), “Mad” Cardinal Gilles (d. 1379) and his grand-daughter, Sr. Alix (later Lady Falconer), and Don Yago “Ionas” the Reliquarian (d. 1818)
From Washpot to Grail
The Holy Tub was a simple stoneware basin John the Apostle supposedly borrowed from Christ’s mother Mary for the Last Supper. Saved from certain destruction by the Romans by the then-wife of Simon Magus, it was concealed in Antioch until Christianity was legalized by the Emperor Constantine.
Taken by his mother Helena to Constantinople, the Holy Tub was encased in a magnificent reliquary of gold and precious stones. Eventually Empress Irene sent it westward to help Charlemagne deal with the pope.
She never got it back, but the Holy Roman Emperors wielded the Sacred Basin several times against the papacy. In time, the Holy Tub and its reliquaries – together known as the Maundy Grail – were bequeathed to the Knights Templar. The order paraded them around Christendom charging believers high fees for a mere peek, exciting papal and royal jealousy even further.
The Scolding Madonna
and the Visions
When the Templars were arrested on Friday, October 13, 1307, those escorting the Maundy Grail were trapped within an unfinished cathedral in a southern French town called Bellegarde. There, the Sacred Basin and the treasure gathered on the tour simply vanished. The knights claimed that while besieged, the Virgin Mary took her Holy Tub back home to Heaven.
They were burned alive, their ashes entombed in the cathedral. Only a squire remained. Thirty years later, the Inquisition came snooping. Along with the squire, they tortured a notable local eccentric genius, Heronimo le Mage, the so-called “Da Vinci of France.” He later built an early mechanical clock and planetarium, the first theme park ride, designed remarkable lighting effects, and even invented a precursor to the telescope and microscope.
The chief inquisitor murdered the last Templar in the cathedral, outraged by his claim to have just seen the Holy Tub again there. Yet, when the townsfolk gathered to witness the ritual burning of the captives the next morning, what they beheld instead was Mary’s shocking return appearance.
From a perch high atop the cathedral, the Scolding Madonna fiercely berated the town for the desecration. She cursed them with unending war, disaster, and horrible disease if they did not improve. But she also promised to continue to send hopeful visions of the Holy Tub as reminders. Yet the relic would be returned to the world just before the end, when it would be needed most. Then she promptly blasted the Inquisition and its infernal apparatus to Hell.
The Scolding Madonna vanished, never to be seen again. It is still debated today if the apparations were genuine miracles, or daring stunts engineered by the town wizard.
Regardless, the English invasion a decade later at the start of the Hundred Years War and the Black Death sufficiently fulfilled her dire predictions. But popular religious devotions to Mary didn’t began in earnest until the Vision of the Holy Tub returned again.
The baron who guided Bellegarde through these crises was named Gilles. Born the bastard son of the bishop, Gilles married the Count’s daughter, became lord, and Heronimo’s generous patron. The baron eventually retired to join the Church, where he quickly rose to become the Grand Penitentiary of Avignon, very rich and powerful.
In his last years, a crisis erupted when the papacy sought to return to Rome. Cardinal Gilles, desperate to prevent a disastrous schism, unwisely promised the rebels that he would bring the Sacred Basin to Rome if they would cease. Many called him mad. But, the Antipope of Avignon besieged him in his town, and the savage Rape of Bellegarde in 1379 followed directly upon Gilles’ death.
Nothing was found, but it took hundreds of years for the town to recover. While the Visions popped up occasionally, pothunters inspired by Mad Cardinal Gilles’ confession prowled the dark catacombs beneath the cathedral.
Seekers of Pleasure and Pain
In the 1600’s, a barely-literate shepherd boy, Tobias the Shoeless, saw the Vision and successfully predicted the next one. He became the master of a small sect of deviant flagellants which still persisted underground. Tobias transformed the penitents into a full-blown cult of sex and bondage called the Endurists. For almost twenty years, he corrupted local nobility and high clergy by prostituting his followers, male and female alike. It took mass arrests by the king’s officers on May Eve in 1672 to finally end the party.
Walled up for the remainder of his life, Tobias somehow managed to compose and smuggle out his last testament. Equal parts heretical manifesto, mystical discourse, ecstatic eroticism, and bizarre prophecy in a strange, crudely-written epic poem, it has kept pothunters and tubbers debating vigorously ever since.
The Visions shunned the town for a long time after Tobias. Ninety years later, a freebooting adventurer, Don Yago the Reliquarian, awoke from a drunken stupor just in time to see the Holy Tub. For three days, he led an expedition seeking it beneath the cathedral. The sole survivor, Don Yago “Ionas” crawled out with “dragon bones” (eventually shown to dinosaur fossils) and lurid tales of demonic rites witnessed in the underworld.
Bellegarde Becomes Bellegraal
By the late 1800’s, damage to the cathedral from the French Revolution had still not been repaired. A mysterious conspiracy was blamed on the lack of change. Finally, the Abbé Dupre, an irascible, worldly priest who lived openly with his housekeeper, hired a sensitive, otherworldly artist, Silviano Alfini, to oversee the extensive renovation.
Alfini’s additions included a huge painting depicting the Holy Tub being lifted skyward by angels, and a protective glass and wrought iron “Birdcage” placed over the Templars Tomb, the site of the Vision. He also became the very last person who ever claimed to have seen it himself. Many came to believe he knew the Vision’s secret, too, and encoded it in his artwork.
After Alfini’s death, Dupre popularized the cult of the Scolding Madonna, selling medals and figurines to harried mothers and teachers around the world. He persuaded the town fathers to change the city’s name to Bellegraal, a French term for the Maundy Grail, and the town’s fortunes steadily revived even as his own grew.
Enter Clan MacLantis
The priest was found ritualistically slain the morning after the First World War began. Rumors grew of unknown secret protectors guarding the treasure, but no defenders actually manifested until the end of the Second World War. Months before D-Day, a squad of OSS agents, including a young archeologist named Capt. James MacLantis, were sent in to help prevent the Nazis from finding the Holy Tub.
The entire group was killed on landing, save for MacLantis and his commander. Making contact with the French Resistance, they deceived, delayed, and degraded the efforts of the SS. While trapped beneath the cathedral during an air raid during the invasion of Southern France, however, MacLantis discovered a hidden door. It would prove critical in his own future relic hunting.
At the grand unveiling of a giant memorial to the Scolding Madonna in Bellegraal after the war, he met both his future wife Maureen Masterson, and his eventual nemesis, Professore Raimondo Fatamorgana. Doc MacLantis became one of the first scientific showmen in the post-war era, with a long career in film featurettes and TV shows.
The programs often involved his three children. His openness to radical scientific ideas, however, occasionally got him into trouble. Doc’s media career abruptly ended when an attempt to open the door he found went spectacularly wrong.
He retired to the desert in disgrace. Gus became an academic archeologist, trying to balance science with his father’s unorthodox legacy. His older brother Skip took up a more active career as a professional climber and nature photographer. And their younger sister, Allie, matured into an artist managing her own gallery.
All were building lives for themselves. But when their father decided to make a television comeback, they reluctantly agreed to help. That is where Hunters of the Holy Tub begins.