New Exhibit Offers Insight to ‘The Da Vinci Code’


    By Lindsay Cusworth

    Fans of “The Da Vinci Code” have the opportunity to bring the controversial book and film to life by visiting BYU”s own Museum of Peoples and Cultures.

    One can take a long look at the rusty and jagged penitente belt on display in the “Seeking the Divine” exhibit at the museum. What most people do not know is that the penitente belt is similar to the one used in both the film and the book, “The Da Vinci Code,” written by Dan Brown.

    “My understanding is that the belt is a form of punishment used to remind someone of the suffering of Christ,” said Julie McDonald, collection specialist at the museum. “They re-enact Christ”s suffering and in a sense, experience what he went through.”

    The metal belt on display originated in what is now New Mexico sometime during the 19th century and is currently on loan from a private collector. The device is worn around the waist and under clothing in order to irritate and scourge the skin, known as the process of flagellation. The process is intended to keep all thoughts focused on deity.

    “In their [the wearer”s] minds, the flesh is weak and therefore the evil side of man. They flagellate themselves for that purpose,” McDonald said.

    Many readers of “The Da Vinci Code” may have thought that the group of men, known in the book as the Opus Dei, who used penitente belts to flagellate themselves, was purely fictional, but the Opus Dei is one of a few key groups that still practices flagellation today.

    The penitente belt that hangs on display today in the Museum of Peoples and Cultures came from a group called The Brotherhood of the Flagellants, a group common to Mexico and Central America.

    The “Seeking the Divine” exhibit includes other religious tools and idols, such as a divination basket, a prayer wheel and various interpretations of the cross. The exhibit is aimed to provide knowledge and understanding about other cultures and their ways of worship.

    “This exhibit shows other ways of life and living and we respect that,” said Katie Carroll, promotional manager at the museum. “It”s culture. It”s history. It”s where we have come from.”

    “The Da Vinci Code” is a controversial topic among many Christian faiths. Many groups accused the writer of the book of blasphemy. In comparison to many other Christian faiths, the LDS community has stayed quiet about the topic. There does not seem to be the same level of controversy surrounding the book as there has been at other religious universities.

    “The book has been popular among the professors. Most would say it”s great writing but poor history,” said Tom Wayment, assistant professor of ancient scripture. “Dan Brown made the thesis that if Jesus is human then Christianity is wrong. LDS people believe he was human. We just don”t struggle with that topic. We have such a divergent view of Jesus where other places have fuzziness. We have clarity.”

    The museum is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and admission is free. The “Seeking the Divine” exhibit will only be up until mid-April.

    What: Seeking the Divine Exhibit

    Where: Museum of Peoples and Cultures

    700 N.100 East, Provo

    When: through mid-April

    Admission: Free (donations accepted)

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