It doesn’t take much digging into Wyville local history before encountering rumours of Victor Hugo, author of Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, Parisian Statesman, and Peer of France, wandering the Wyville lanes. Then further stories about a cathedral here, which, by chance, just happens to be the burial site of Mary Magdalene… and our investigation has gone into a not-quite-where-we-expected place.
I must admit to being somewhat surprised when I first heard about Hugo’s connection with this little corner of Lincolnshire, however there are published claims that he wrote an essay, entitled “The Quest“, that details an adventure he made with four associates to discover the Lost City of Wyville.
To uncover the truth we need to step back a little, throw in a bit of Hollywood glamour, the hint of a Secret Society, and some supremely lackadaisical research.
In 2003 Dan Brown wrote a massively successful book called The Da Vinci Code, which, as you’re probably well aware, became a successful film starring Tom Hanks. In it the hero battles against the Priory of Sion, a secret organisation that believed Jesus and Mary Magdalene had children, that this bloodline was still intact, and, as a result, worked towards re-establishing the Merovingian dynasty to the thrones of Europe.
While The Priory of Sion was known about for years before the Da Vinci Code was published, there’s also substantial evidence that it was a hoax perpetuated by a Frenchman, Pierre Plantard. Evidence including Plantard’s confession, under oath, that he had fabricated everything… although those who believe otherwise would suggest that that’s exactly the sort of counter-claim a Secret Society would employ to return to the shadows.
The documents (that many claim Plantard and his associates fabricated and then planted in French institutions during the 1960s) became the foundation of a non-fiction international bestseller called The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, by Baigent, Leigh, and Lincoln, published in 1982.
It was this book that Dan Brown used as the starting point for his novels.
The list of alleged Grand Masters of the Priory of Sion include Leonardo Da Vinci, Isaac Newton, Botticelli, Claude Debussy… and Victor Hugo.
Around the same time as Baignet, Leigh, and Lincoln were writing The Holy Blood, a local Lincolnshire reporter, Margaret Hallam, stumbled across an old document in the Grantham Public Library. ‘The Quest‘ was allegedly written by Victor Hugo about his searching for the Lost City of Wyville.
[‘The Quest‘ was within a folder that also included the Henry Preston article we’ve republished here, alongside two other essays and a poem from the same period, all by separate authors, but all relating to Wyville and a journey to ‘the Lost City‘.]
Hallam was writing an article about the parish for the Lincolnshire Highlights magazine, and, using ‘The Quest‘ as her starting point, claimed Victor Hugo had taught near Leicester and had visited Wyville in his search for a lost cathedral.
Today the words of French author Victor Hugo beg the question: where on earth is the city of Wyville?
“It is possible that a church was also erected; could it be that it was gradually extended to create a cathedral? […] Was the cathedral perhaps destroyed when the Knights’ Templar became unpopular?”
The legend of the lost city of Wyville reached the ears of Victor Hugo, who was teaching near Leicester at the time. He organised an expedition of two men and two women and they travelled by train to Great Ponton before walking across the fields to Wyville and meeting others on the same quest.M Hallam, Lincolnshire Highlights, 1983
Dan Green, an author and “researcher specialising in Synchronicity and the Collective Unconscious“, picked up this fanciful report, found the documents in the library, and referenced them in his books “The Lincoln Da Vinci Code”, published in 2005, three years after Dan Brown’s novel.
Whilst professing skepticism about the authenticity of ‘The Quest‘, Green still managed to weave it into his theory about Mary Magdalene, suggesting that perhaps she was buried here:
“The Quest” allegedly written by Hugo appears to be a search for a lost Cathedral. Can this be the ‘lost’ Cathedral of the Magdalene given that Lincoln Cathedral should really be and may have secretly been known to be dedicated to Mary Magdalene? Some questions to ask might be, is the stone coffin and the churchyard hinting at the actual St. Margaret’s burial ground where until 1781, stood the church? […] My own suspicions lead me to believe that this lost ‘Wyville’ is a Masonic play on the word for ‘Wife Hill’ – the hill upon which the wife of Jesus is hidden. The word ‘Wye’ almost certainly originates from the Old English ‘weoh’ meaning ‘idol shrine’. Furthermore, if we resort to phonetic wordplay, ‘idol wys’ becomes ‘eidelweiss’, the white rose and symbol for the purity of Mary.Dan Green, “The Lincoln Da Vinci Code and the mystery of Rennes-Le-Chateau’.
Green was still referencing Wyville in online articles years later, but over time there’s a little more mystery and fewer caveats:
‘The Invocation’, left in the Museum of Antwerp also affords visual clues that pinpoint our location, as does a mysterious document simply entitled ‘Wyville’ deposited in Grantham Library in Lincolnshire that has been there for as long as the library’s history can recall, the benefactor unknown. ’Wyville’ is a Masonic play on word revealing ‘Wife Hill’ the spot where our Quest concludes… the hill where hides the remains of the wife of Jesus?The Lincoln Cathedral Code and the Olympic Torch (2012)
Unfortunately for the poor staff at Grantham Public Library, Green then mentions that ‘The Quest‘ still resides there, and that interested readers can visit to see the file for themselves.
So there we have it, Wyville, Victor Hugo, Mary Magdalene, Secret Societies, missing cathedrals, and all.
Unfortunately it’s a complete fabrication.
Victor Hugo was exiled by Napoleon III in 1851, and he moved first to Belgium, then Jersey, before settling in Guernsey (between 1855-1870). There is no evidence of time spent in England, nor of his ‘teaching in Leicester’.
The handwriting on ‘The Quest‘ does not resemble Hugo’s, and the signature is obviously by a different hand.
And, as far as I can tell, there are no other examples of Hugo doodling in the margins of the page quite like this.
‘The Quest‘ is written on paper with a Basildon Bond watermark. Basildon Bond was created by Millington and Sons in 1911, some 63 years after Hugo’s death.
Finally, Hugo spoke no English – “When England wants to chat with me, let her learn my language“. It’s somewhat unlikely that he’d return from the grave to write in a language he didn’t know.
So, it’s rather unlikely that the greatest and most well known French writers of all time wrote ‘The Quest‘.
As for Dan Green’s ideas, Wyville’s name is unlikely to be a compound of “Wife Hill”, nor does it originate from the Old English ‘weoh’. It is more likely that Henry Preston was correct when he suggested that, “In the Celtic language ‘gwy’, or ‘wy’, means “water”, hence the spring head Village would, in these early times, be known as the ‘wy’.”
There is a section of the Wyville Valley that is still referred to as “The City“, and the field names along the Wyville Brook include “City Close” and “Castle Close“, names that haven’t changed for generations. But there are no signs of a cathedral at Wyville.
The current church, St Catherine, was built in 1858, and there was a St Catherine’s Church in Wyville before that. In 1848 Samuel Lewis described the parish in his Topographical Dictionary of England (1831) as having a “church in ruins, and the inhabitants attend that at Harlaxton.” My assumption is that, were the ruins of a size substantial enough to be mistaken for a cathedral, Lewis’ description would be more effusive.
Preston, in his description of the Wyville Valley, talks about the Norman dower house of the de Albini’s, the Lords at Belvoir, and suggests that this dower house would include a chapel, amongst other outbuildings. Perhaps it is this that became the ruined church, with the whole collection including the dower house mistakenly lumped together as a single entity. That was Preston’s conclusion for the source of “the City”, the extensive ruins of the dower house and outbuildings.
My belief is that the Grantham Library folder contains a set of essays written in 1917 by pupils of Henry Preston, submitted as part of a creative writing class after an excursion to Wyville. Preston included these essays, alongside those he wrote, with the founding papers for Grantham Museum, where they were bundled in the Wyville folder and promptly forgotten.
One of these essays was written in ‘mock Hugo’, and was quoted and expanded upon sixty years later by a local reporter, then picked up and tangled into the story of Mary Magdalene and perpetuated through the conspiracy community.
Sadly, it feels as though Victor Hugo’s presence here is little more than a student’s creative fantasy that has found a life of its own a hundred years later. Mary, on the other hand, is definitely buried here*, alongside the Holy Grail, and the Arc of the Covenant.
If there is someone out there who knows more about the missing cathedral, the location on the farm of the burial site of Mary Magdalene, or the visitation of Monsieur Hugo, I’d love to hear about it… all maps, photographs, documents, and directions to hidden treasure will be gratefully received!
* Not really