This article originally appeared on VICE UK.
What do you make to this, reader: A team of adventurers join a man (who claims to have psychic powers) on a hunt for an ancient chamber hidden beneath the earth in a remote part of Iceland—a chamber that's rumored to contain ancient documents related to the Holy Grail. A cryptographer found a secret code hidden in Dante's Divine Comedy that revealed the chamber's location, and the team have set out to investigate.
Sounds like Dan Brown cashing in his chips so he can buy a slightly bigger yacht—maybe one with manservants dressed like John the Baptist but covered in pentagrams and other weird shit, right? Wrong.
When Italian cryptographer Giancarlo Gianazza first claimed to have unearthed this code, he wasn't taken particularly seriously—apart from, that is, by David Heath, a self-proclaimed psychic. David claimed that he had been instructed by another powerful psychic to help hunt for the exact location of the documents, as Giancarlo was having trouble finding the precise spot they were hidden in and only knew the vague area.
David had a psychic experience that led him to a hill in the Icelandic wilderness. A geophysical survey later confirmed that there was indeed a chamber hidden deep within this hill. Giancarlo is now leading a team to excavate this site and discover what lies beneath it. I caught up with him, David, and another of their teammates, Geir Magnusson, to find out more about their quest.
VICE: Can you explain the background of the expedition?
Giancarlo Gianazza: Back in 2002, I realized that a tercet of Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy might refer to an island close to the Arctic Circle. In the following months, I was able to locate a subtext in between the lines of the poem: There was a coded message based on line numeration that led to Iceland. The code also pointed to the Kjölur Route [a route between two large glaciers in the Highlands of Iceland], and the right latitude on that ancient road connecting the south with the north of the island.
Dante went up a river by walking along its bank, and gave a description of it. From that description, it's possible to recognize Jökulfall, the river going from the Kjölur Route to the Gýgjarfoss Waterfall, the confluence with Blákvísl [a stream]. I also found hidden clues in Botticelli's Primavera, which some regarded as possibly depicting Dante's Garden of Eden [the Garden of Eden features in Divine Comedy, along with other Dante works], and [the painting] Madonna and Child with Six Saints. There were others in Leonardo Da Vinci's The Last Supper. Botticelli was an apprentice at the workshop of Verrocchio with Leonardo, so they were likely to have shared the same expertise. The confirmation provided by these paintings was the first fact that made me think that something important could be found in Iceland. I had no choice but to go there.
What made you want to get involved in all this, Geir?
Geir Magnusson: When I heard about the team's adventures—fording deep rivers, crossing rocky plains, and doing other seemingly impossible things—I asked if I could join them.
I've heard that you, David, played a role in identifying the spot that the documents are supposedly hidden under.
David Heath: The team was investigating a spot down by a river, and I had a long conversation with Thórarinn, who is the team's archaeologist. At the end of it, he sat back and said, "Well, all knowledge is at the top of the mountain," sounding like some kind of Buddhist master. There was a hill relatively near to us, so I said, "Oh, why don't we walk to the top of the mountain, then?" It was a joke, but me and him still walked to the top. When I stood at the top, I had this incredible psychic experience that told me that what they were looking for was right underneath me.
After a year of discussion, Giancarlo told me that he thought I might be right. I went to the psychic woman who sent me to help the team, and she told me roughly where the entrance to the chamber was. Last year, I went back to the same spot and had a massive psychic experience that showed it to me. Later, a ground-penetrating radar was used, which showed exactly what I had seen, which was a cave and a tunnel.
What makes you think that documents related to the Holy Grail might be hidden there?
Gianazza: At several points, the Divine Comedy reveals Dante's liking for the Knights Templar. Iceland was politically independent and with great cultural fervor for a long time, until the Norwegian invasion of the 13th century. The memory of that time was preserved and handed down through several sagas, the most famous of which was Edda by Snorri Sturluson. Snorri was also a successful lawyer and politician. In 1215, he was elected law speaker at the Icelandic parliament, the Althing. In 1217, Snorri is recorded as having attended a summer session of the Parliament with a military escort of 80 foreigners. Those men had shields and armor and were all dressed in the same way. We believe that those 80 knights were Templars, hence the connection to the Grail [there is a widespread belief that the Templars were the guardians of the Holy Grail].
Heath: Lots of people think the Holy Grail's a golden cup that was used at the last supper, but it's actually a cup of golden knowledge that people can drink from, which is what the documents that are buried under the hill might be.
Doesn't this project make you the tiniest bit wary, given what happened in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade?
Magnusson: I've never seen it, so I don't have the faintest idea what I should worry about.
Heath: The Grail stories come from our collective subconscious. When we die, we become one with everything and know everything. When we're reborn, this knowledge is still in our subconscious minds, but we don't have access to it; it's just a strong feeling. But this is finally the real thing that allows us to drink the golden truth, that we are eternal beings who reincarnate to fulfill our souls' destiny over many lives.
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I've heard that there's a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for a documentary about your quest. Can you say a bit about that?
Magnusson: The young people making the film are doing an outstanding job and deserve all the financial help that we can give them. I will be contributing to the project, and urge all to do the same.
Finally, given that it's looking likely that your excavation will actually uncover something, whether it's the Holy Grail or not, what advice would you give to others who embark on missions like this that many might be skeptical of?
Gianazza: If you don't persevere at doing what you believe, then no one else will.