‘Yeah, up Christ! Christ that’s a f***ing brilliant toast!”
Jesus, if he were a drinking man would surely want to be here in this bar today. Shane Mac Gowan and Kathleen Mc Gowan, both ardent Jesus fans have just invented a new toast to the Good Lord Himself and are enthusiastically exercising it by downing a few gin and tonics in His name. Shane has already shown off his credentials by revealing a collection of religious jewellery to rival a stall-holder at St Peter’s, but Kathleen has trumped him with a sixteen hundred year old ring, given to her in Jerusalem. A ring which is identical to one worn by Mary Magdalene in a painting.
Shane and Kathleen have clearly bonded, (Kathleen comes from a strongly republican Sligo family, and she spent time as a journalist working in Belfast. She is also married to an Irish traditional musician called Peter Mc Gowan who she met in a pub in Rathmines, exactly twenty years ago) But as in every situation that religion features, the two could just as easily have come to blows. Kathleen has become world famous recently, with her new book, ‘The Expected One’ in which Mary Magdalene tells her side of the run up to the Crucifixion. ‘The Greatest Story Never Told,’ Kathleen calls it. In the book, instead of being a prostitute and a sinner, Mary Magdalene is seen as a royal princess who marries John the Baptist and has a child by him and then, when he dies, she marries her childhood sweet heart, Jesus, and has two children with him.
After his death and subsequent resurrection, she is entrusted by him with a gospel written in his own hand, and she is instructed to go out and teach his message to the world, making her, in effect, the first pope and the founder of Christianity. In the book, Kathleen quotes from the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, a document that Magdalene is said to have written and then hidden in the South of France, awaiting the arrival of ‘The Expected One’, the person who has been destined to tell her true story to the world.
Naturally, there are many who are horrified by this idea. But there are many, also, who are more than happy to believe that Jesus could have been in love, been married and had kids and still been just as holy. More than happy, also to believe that he would have chosen a woman to be a spiritual leader. Because religion is such a controversial subject, Kathleen has been ridiculed and tormented and has received death threats. Even her new friend Shane has already accused her of blasphemy, but has since retracted his accusation. There is more to the story, however. In researching the book, Kathleen discovered that she is descended from a family who are believed by many to be directly descended from Jesus and Mary’s offspring. It is mainly because of this fact that the media have seized upon the story, and she has become known as ‘the woman who says she is a direct descendant of Jesus.’ It is a peculiar situation to be in, because on the one hand it attracts attention and attention sells books, but on the other hand Kathleen feels frustrated because she feels that the sensationalism detracts from what the book is really about.
For an infamous woman, the setting is ideal. We are sitting in the Boogaloo, London’s most famous Rock and Roll pub, a place populated exclusively by notorious types. Glen Matlock from the Sex Pistols is about to take to the stage and Peaches Geldof is in the audience. I have a massive hangover, from the previous night and I have prayed for a miracle recovery. I have tried the gin and tonic, but it’s just making me sleepy. I am supposed to be interviewing Kathleen and I need my wits about me.
Gerry O Boyle, the Boogaloo’s founder and a devout Catholic has been quietly interrogating Kathleen, himself, and has decided that she is for real. He thinks that the public, particularly the young people who have been deprived of a faith that they can identify with, need to read Kathleen’s book. He has a genius idea. I should interview Kathleen, and we should film it and put it on the internet. Unusually for a man in a pub with a genius idea, Gerry follows through on this one. Within twenty minutes we have re-located to the upstairs sitting room, lights are organised, and a TV camera-woman has been located. Kathleen positions herself in the seat just recently vacated by Kate Moss, and begins her story.
Controversial material, to be sure.
‘Mary Magdalene is the most important woman in history,’ she says. ‘And that’s what this book is really about. It is a fact that women have traditionally been kept outside the realm of being able to teach, spiritually and I think that’s the reason why the world is so imbalanced. The most important thing that I say in this book is that Jesus left his ministry to a woman.’
The evidence of Mary Magdalene’s mission still exists in France, she says.
‘Of course the academics and the scholars say there is no proof. But you know what? There is proof if you get out of your goddam libraries and go look for it.’
History is only what is written down, she says and it depends entirely upon the perspective of those who are writing it.
‘If Bill Clinton and George Bush were to tell the story of America today, it would be two very different stories. And in two thousand years time, if only one of those documents survived, would that one be the truth?’
She herself continues to travel the world, collecting evidence.
‘ It is a giant unending treasure hunt. Just this year, in the Champagne region, I found a stained glass window in a church that was built in 1425 which was titled ‘Mary Magdalene Preaching to the People’. Her legend is everywhere.’
If there is so much evidence that Magdalene did live in France and did preach, I ask, why have we not heard about it? And why has her gospel remained secret?
‘ The true story had to be hidden and couldn’t be talked about because it was dangerous to do so. It was heresy and almost a million people were massacred for believing this information.’
I mention that as a child, I was lead to believe that Mary was a prostitute.
‘The Vatican apologised for that in 1969. But most Catholics still believe it. And you can still hear priests talking about Mary Magdalene as the fallen woman.’
In ‘The Expected One’, Kathleen quotes directly from a gospel said to have been written by Magdalene herself. I ask if the text actually exists, and if she has seen it with her own eyes.
‘I reproduced it from some things that I was shown, and some things that I was told. I’m not supposed to speak about it. But something does exist which is very convincing and extraordinary.’
And the book that Jesus wrote?
‘That’s what I am writing about now. This whole idea that there was a gospel written in Jesus hand is so incredible to me, because if it does exist wouldn’t it be the most valuable document in history? I believe that the Cathars had it, which is why the Church wiped them out. Because if that document contradicted what the Church stood for, if Jesus was saying you don’t need priests and you don’t need the Church, you can have your own relationship with God, where would that leave them? Thank God there were some survivors! For as long as one person remains who can tell the story, the story will not die. And that’s what my books are about, people did survive and the story will be told.’
Kathleen is descended from Cathars, herself.
‘My father’s mother was a Paschal. It was a huge revelation for me. The kind of thing that makes you ask ‘What does this mean? Does this mean that my whole life has been leading up to telling this story?’
Because the story is considered by many to be blasphemous, it hasn’t been an easy ride, telling it.
‘America has become a very fundamentalist country and politically, it is run by fundamentalists. It’s a scary place to be.
I have had death threats. And people make assumptions that I am undermining the basic principles of Christianity, which I am not doing. The basic principles of Christianity are the resurrection and Jesus divinity and his miracles, all of which I celebrate in this book. People think that if you believe that Mary was married to Jesus, then you also believe that he survived the crucifixion, and that he wasn’t resurrected. I don’t understand why him being in love and committed to someone means he was anything less than he was. The principle of what he teaches is love, so why wouldn’t he be in love?’
The book was written over the course of twenty years, and without any kind of advance, which was an enormous commitment of time, money and energy for the Mc Gowan family, who have three children to support.
‘It was hugely scary. We sold everything that we had. It cost my family an immense amount, in all kinds of ways. There were times when I asked myself ‘Are we nuts?’ We have three kids and we risked everything, their house, their security. But I did everything I could think of to do, and the money came when it was needed. I went on a quiz show and won the money to go to Jerusalem. It was a huge lesson in faith, and in not getting bogged down with thoughts of ‘I can’t possibly do this!’ You have to say ‘The money is out there! And it comes!’’
She published the book herself, because nobody else would.
‘In 1997, I went out with my first book proposal. I was laughed out of New York City. They told me there is no way anyone is ever going to publish a book about Jesus being married to Mary Magdalene! And then ‘The Da Vinci Code’ came out and at first I was shattered. I thought I would spend the rest of my life on the Da Vinci Code bandwagon. Even though I was fifteen years ahead of him. But ultimately, if you believe everything happens for a reason, you will never have a bad day. That is my husband’s motto. And as it turned out, The Da Vinci Code paved the way for people to be open to these ideas.’
But then, when she went back to the same publishers, they said she was too late.
‘There were lots of tears. I locked myself in my room and demanded to know what was going on. I had worked so hard and taken all kinds of risks. And I knew I had the most amazing story to tell, and nobody wanted to hear it. So I finally decided to publish it myself. I took whatever was left on the credit card and borrowed money and just did it.’
The first edition sold out, but because of the costs involved and her inexperience, she lost money. Then a miracle happened.
‘A friend of mine said ‘I know this guy who has been in the publishing business for years, let me show it to him.’
The guy turned out to be Larry Kirshbaum who had been CEO of Time Warner Publishing for twenty five years. He read the book and loved it.
‘He believed in it and he was so beautiful. I call him my archangel. He fought for this book with a passion. He said ‘We are going to find a publisher who gets this.’
The publisher who got it was Simon and Schuster and Kathleen got a seven figure advance. The book was sold to 24 countries and she has since been offered five million for the movie rights, an offer which she has declined. The book that nobody wanted is suddenly hot property and Kathleen is still coming to terms with her sudden popularity.
‘I was surprised at the level to which it worked out, the speed with which it happened and the enormity of it is still overwhelming to me. But I never lost faith in the story and I knew it would have to come out somehow.’
Kathleen is a firm believer in faith and miracles and in a great many other things that ordinary people are often sceptical about. For instance, she believes that Jesus could and did perform miracles and that he still does. For this belief, the evidence has already been supplied.
‘Shall I tell you a story I haven’t told anyone?’ she asks. ‘I have a son called Shane, my youngest.
When Shane was born, he didn’t breathe for the first six hours of his life. By the time the doctors had discovered this fact, they realised that it was too late. His brain and all of his organs had been starved of the oxygen necessary for proper functioning, the hospital told us.’ And they expected the baby to die within hours.
‘But I simply refused to accept it,’ Kathleen says. ‘No matter what they told me, I did not for a second believe that my baby would die.’
Specialists were brought in, and Shane was assisted with his breathing, until he was breathing by himself, but he was in a coma from which they did not think he would recover, and if he did recover, they said, he would be brain damaged and blind and have no quality of life. He would, they assured her, be dead by the age of two.
But again, Kathleen was undeterred. A firm believer in the power of prayer, she organised a vigil for the child.
‘Hundreds of people of all different faiths prayed and sent love to our baby, for eighteen days,’ she says.
And on the eighteenth day, Kathleen walked into the hospital room where her son was still in a coma and saw a light surrounding his cot. On closer inspection, she also saw a man, a very beautiful man with long hair bending over the baby and whispering in his ear.
‘At first I thought it was my husband Peter, who is a beautiful man with long hair. But then I saw that Peter was asleep in the chair. I believe that the man was Jesus.’
The very next day, Shane woke up.
‘And not only was he perfectly healthy, but he has turned out to be a brilliant artist as well. He is my very own miracle.’
‘Up Christ!’ we all say, raising our glasses in unison. And I notice that my hangover has mysteriously vanished.
Check out Kathleen’s website http://www.kathleenmcgowan.com