The myth of the Vatican’s all-encompassing power, which fits well with the premises of Brown’s novel, is easily demolished when looking at the history of the Italian peninsula. A Cambridge University history and literature scholar, Dr. Eileen Power, refers to this tension in her book Medieval People (Barnes and Noble, 1963). The wars in Italy fought by Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarosa also form the backdrop to Umberto Eco’s novel Baudolino, an excellent take on the medieval minds that concocted the hoax of Prester John only to come to believe it themselves.
In sum, the city-states of Italy were proudly independent, such that the Vatican’s reach of power was severely limited beyond the papal states. The Pope depended on the Emperor, and when the Emperor behaved with too strong a will, the papal states would try to form other alliances to isolate the Emperor. “The Vatican” of the Middle Ages was a political player, but its desires were frequently appended to the agenda of the Emperor, or its desires were flatly ignored.
In these political intrigues, the Vatican was at least as manipulated as they were manipulators. A case in point is the way Venice played against the Vatican throughout the Middle Ages. Eileen Power writes:
“Through all the early years of their history they (Venice) defied Constantinople to the east of them, and Pope and Holy Roman Emperor to the west - sometimes turning to one, sometimes to the other, but stubbornly bent all the while upon independence…”
Then came the Crusades, and Venice exploited its strategic position as a seaport, the gateway to the eastern Mediterranean. Venice was able to extract concessions from the gathered forces of western Christendom, including, sharing directly in the rule and profiteering from the occupied territory of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem that the First Crusade established (Power, p. 41). By the Fourth Crusade, Venice saw an opportunity to divert the armies to an attack on Constantinople.
In reprisal, the Pope, in Rome, excommunicated the Venetians! One would suppose that with such supreme power in the Vatican, all the soldiers and citizens of Venice would have come to Rome in sack-cloth and ashes, hoping to seek re-admittance into the Kingdom of God. The Venetians had another agenda, the plunder of Constantinople, which they pursued, heedless of the Pope and scoffing in the face of their excommunication. The Pope, the supposed figure-head over the Crusades, was powerless to stop them.
The star of Venice had risen in the place of the star of the Vatican, against the Vatican’s wishes and despite the Vatican’s excommunication. The reach and power of the Vatican was great where and when the princes of Europe chose to cooperate. Frequently, the princes or cities of Europe preferred to pursue their own agendas.
It is no great surprise that, by 1517, German princes felt they could secede from papal authority. Martin Luther was the catalyst bringing to the surface in waves the strong undercurrents of independent thinking in Europe that had been flowering for centuries. Only a few years later Britain itself, the seat of Grail Lore, remember, declared independence for its church.
All of this is merely to point out that had the alternative history of Jesus Christ any merit at all, the Vatican had not the means to suppress it. Too many agendas rivaled their own. So, why the insistence from the esoterics that the Vatican held the kind of power it did not? The simplest answer is that the alternative history has no merit. Its documentary evidence, thin already, was not suppressed most likely because it did not exist until it was fabricated during the Crusader period or later.