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Mysteries of the Mystic Lamb Painting

  • Where are the Just Judges?
    Saint Bavo's Cathedral of Ghent (Flanders, Belgium) is something like Loch Ness, or the castle where the legendary Holy Grail or the Treasure of the Templars was hidden... This is the true story of the famous stolen painting The Just Judges.

The Mystic Lamb by Hubert & Jan Van Eyck

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The Theft of the Just Judges

The Ghent Altarpiece or the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, completed in 1432, is a very large and complex polyptych panel painting in the Joost Vijd chapel at Saint Bavo Cathedral, Ghent, Belgium. For security reasons it was in the eighties moved to another chapel in the cathedral. The Ghent Altarpiece was commissioned by the wealthy merchant Joost Vijd. Hubert Van Eyck started and his brother, the famous "Flemish Primitive" Jan Van Eyck, finished the work.

The Mystic Lamb consists of 24 scenes, making up two views (open and closed) which are changed by moving the hinged outer wings. The upper register of the opened view shows Christ "the King" between the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist. The insides of the wings represent angels, who are singing and making music. On the outsides are Adam and Eve. The lower register shows the adoration of the Lamb of God, with several groups in attendance and streaming in to worship.

Art historians consider the Mystic Lamb as one of the most influential oil paintings in Christendom. The altarpiece offers "a translucent use of color created by layer upon layer of oil and intricate detail and mystical meaning which set an example for generations of artists" (Raf Casert in an Associated Press article). The Mystic Lamb highlights what made Jan Van Eyck famous: the beautiful light, the intricate details and composition. In the words of Michael S. Rose (In Search of The Just Judges), the Mystic Lamb "boasts an unrivaled realism, and has retained its luminous colors over the centuries."

The lower left panel known as The Just Judges was stolen in 1934. The original panel has never been found and has been replaced by a copy. This is one of the many mysteries surrounding the Mystic Lamb and Belgium's greatest unsolved mystery, with countless amateur and professional sleuths still tracking clues. Michael S. Rose: "Since 1956 Karl Mortier, Ghent's former police chef, has dedicated himself to the search for the lost Just Judges. (...) In a BBC interview with crime novelist Minette Walters, he referred to the theft as "the art crime of the century"."

Mortier beliefs the panel was hidden somewhere behind the old wood paneling in the vast Saint Bavo cathedral. X-ray investigations of part of the paneling was fruitless and lack of funds have barred the inquiry in the cathedral to continue. Chris Noppe, another policeman, is convinced that the stolen panel is hidden in the coffin of King Albert I, who died in a climbing accident a few months before the theft (some say he was murdered). Albert's body now lies in the crypt of the Belgian royal family, near Brussels. Maria De Roo is defending a conspiracy theory, claiming the Belgian authorities retrieved the panel a long time ago. And I think that the thief and his two accomplices worked for a nazi agent and were killed when they hid the stolen panel for him.

Michael S. Rose: "The Nazi-plot hypothesis, sensational as it sounds, is one of the more plausible theories put forth to explain the theft." - It's a hypothesis involving the Knights Templar and the Quest for the Holy Grail. Indeed, the Mystic Lamb should be read as a code and maybe some of the panels are incorporating documents or a map, leading to the Holy Blood that was brought by the Templars to that other important Flemish city: Bruges, the Venice of the Nord. And since Baigent, Leigh & Lincoln (The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail) or Dan Brown (The Da Vinci Code) the whole world knows that the Holy Blood should be regarded as the bloodline of Jesus Christ, who didn't die at Golgotha...

The Just Judges, a copy by Vanderveken


Jan Van Eyck

Some sort of a Da Vinci Code

Van Eyck's painting held some sort of a Da Vinci Code that contained information about the Holy Blood, also known as the Holy Grail. In his article 666 = Satan's Song? - Part 2: The Just Judges and Otto Rahn, Philip Coppens states that in 1995-1996 "Clive Prince and Lynn Picknett drew my attention towards paintings that appeared to hint at a certain heretical knowledge that involved John the Baptist. At the time, I highlighted the importance of Jan Van Eyck and his Adoration of the Lamb. Furthermore, the panel depicting John the Baptist had been one of two stolen in 1934 - the other the Just Judges." - Was Jan Van Eyck one of the initiates who knew the true whereabouts of the Holy Grail, aka the Holy Blood(line) of Jesus Christ?

Philip Coppens says that the sixteenth century art historian Giorgi Vasari described Jan Van Eyck as an alchemist, suggesting he was in a secret society exposed to "non-orthodox material". Modern Freemasons have noted that Van Eyck actually depicted a working lodge in a drawing of Saint Barbara: a sheltered place at the foot of a tower. Saint Barbara, considered by many to be the patron saint of the alchemists, also featured on the Mystic Lamb.

In 1430, when Jan Van Eyck was working on his masterpiece, his patron Philip the Good established the Order of the Golden Fleece - the name has never been fully explained - and it is known that Duke Philip himself was interested in alchemy; in his palace in Brussels he even had an "alchemical room" installed. While Philip the Good was moving his court between various palaces in Brussels, Lille and Bruges, Van Eyck entered his service in 1425. He resided in Lille for a year and then moved to Bruges, where he lived until his death in 1440.

Coppens: "Intriguingly, where precisely Van Eyck lived in Bruges has never been established. (...) Though no-one doubts Van Eyck performed certain missions other than painting portraits for the Duke, the exact nature of these missions is unknown. Finally, it is clear that both men were very close, for the Duke served as godfather to one of Van Eyck's children, supported his widow upon the painter's death and years later helped one of his daughters with the funds required to enter a convent."

Though Van Eyck at the time of the painting of the Mystic Lamb was employed by Philip the Good, he took the commission for the Vijd family, knowing he had to spend an enormous amount of time and energy on this altarpiece. Even if Jan merely completed what Hubert begun, he needed the consent of his friend and patron, Duke Philip the Good.

The Knights of Christ... or the Templars!


The Knights Templar

The Holy Blood aka The Holy Grail of Bruges

The Mystic Lamb bears a lot of direct and obscure references to John the Baptist, and it clearly depicts Jesus as a King. "It is noted that though Van Eyck wanted to paint a figure that could be identified - or misidentified - as both Jesus and God, this was actually uncommon in medieval or Gothic paintings," Philip Coppens says. And I would even say more: it was very uncommon and possibly dangerous in 1432 to depict a bunch of arch-heretics on your painting. In 1307, under pressure of King Philip IV of France, many of the Knights Templar were arrested, tortured into giving false confessions and burned at the stake. Pope Clement V disbanded the Order in 1312. The charges? Religious heresy and sexual misconduct. See also:The Holy Blood of Bruges, a New Jerusalem.

Now, here is one of the true great Mysteries of the Mystic Lamb: what are these Milites Christi - this is the title of the panel and at the same time the official name for the Knights Templar - doing here on this very catholic and christian orthodox masterpiece? They don't look like sinners repenting their sins and seeking forgiveness with the Lamb of God, do they? But this one knight in his shining armour who rides together with those kings and noblemen is undoubtedly bearing the shield and the banner of the Knights Templar!

So, let me ask it again: what are these arch-heretics doing here?


Otto Rahn

The Blood of the Lamb

This is the cover of my book Het Bloed van het Lam (The Blood of the Lamb). It shows a part of the central panel The Adoration of the Lamb, with the Mystic Lamb (= Christ) spilling his blood in the Cup of the Last Supper, telling you: this Holy Blood is the Holy Grail. The "bleeding lamb" is common christian iconography and you'll find lots of chalices with a lamb spilling blood in it on various pieces of art, but the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) and the Chalice never show up together with the Templars on a painting that is worldwide known as a mystic masterpiece of christian orthodoxy... And on this sort of paintings, there usually are no symbols to be seen used by those other arch-heretics, the Cathars, who - like the Templars - were regarded as the safe-keepers of the Holy Grail and its secrets.

On the Mystic Lamb, almost invisible, the word "AGLA" shows up. The Belgian scholar Paul de Saint Hilaire was in the seventies and to my knowledge the first to write about this protective magical formula, a Kabbalistic acronym of the biblical phrase "Ateh Gibor Le-olam Adonai" or "The Lord is mighty forever". The Dutch author Karl Hammer-Kaatee, in his book Satans Lied (Satan's Song), argued that the Allahists derived their name from Agla (Agla-ists). The Allahists were the protectors of the Arma Christi or Weapons of Christ, a baroque title for the Instruments of the Passion: nails, scourge, spear, dice, robe, reed, crown of thorns, stone, torches and ladder. Miniatures of these objects were attached to rosaries and crucifixes, or drawn as an aid to contemplation of the price Jesus paid for our sins. The Arma Christi were a great consolation and a weapon against temptation.

Philip Coppens: "Hammer underlines that the Allahists/Agla-ists/Ebionites have a specific interpretation of Jesus that differs from the "corrupted" and accepted version promoted by the Vatican. Hence, how Van Eyck depicted Jesus - i.e. in an unorthodox, or rather Orthodox, fashion - is of direct interest. Jesus' depiction seems to have been inspired by Byzantine iconography - taking us back to the likely origins from where the heretical knowledge entered 14th century Europe."

Of specific interest is Revelations 19:12-16: "His eyes [were] as a flame of fire, and on his head [were] many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself. And he [was] clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God. And the armies [which were] in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. And out of his mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And he hath on [his] vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS." - Though we do not see his thigh, Philip Coppens says, Van Eyck did write a sentence from these verses on this figure's "vesture" - his mantle - as an evidence that we are indeed standing in front of the "King of Kings"...

According to Hammer-Katee, it were the Arma Christi that attracted Heinrich Himmler, who wanted to use them for his own dark religious means. That's why the SS was very much interested in the Mystic Lamb and in the Just Judges. Hammer even states it was the co-operation between Otto Rahn and his superior Himmler that created the plan to steal the Judges. Philip Coppens says that Hammer changed the standard story or speculation, by pushing the theft of the Just Judges and the mysteries surrounding the Mystic Lamb within a Nazi framework, but I had already done this fifteen years earlier, in my book Mysteries van het Lam Gods (Mysteries of the Mystic Lamb).

Guy Patton: Web of Gold

From the Hollow Needle to Rennes-le-Château

Karl Hammer-Katee says the theft of the Just Judges by Arsène Goedertier was a "preventive" one, so that the Nazi's - with Otto Rahn - couldn't steal it no more in their efforts to recover the Arma Christi. Or, for that matter, the Holy Grail aka the Holy Blood(line) of Jesus Christ. The symbolic value of these treasures would have been incalculable. Otto Rahn had a well-known name in the story of Rennes-le-Château, where some sort of Temple and/or Cathar treasure had to be found and maybe even was found by the late 19th century parish priest Bérenger Saunière. A treasure, or a secret document, consisting of the Holy Bloodline.

Now, the widow of Arsène Goederter revealed that her husband was a fan of the mystery novels written by Maurice Leblanc, specifically the stories about the "gentleman thief" Arsène Lupin, and to be even more precise: he was obsessed by the novel The Hollow Needle. My book The Blood of the Lamb was published at the same time as Satan's Song (September 2006) and we have both made the connection between Goedertier and Lupin, the Just Judges and the mystery of Rennes-le-Château.

According to Guy Patton (Web of Gold), Leblanc's many stories of Arsène Lupin, a character created in 1905, contained "a remarkable number of indirect references to the mysteries of Rennes-le-Château, especially that of the treasure. (...) But even more noteworthy, these stories were written fifty years before the more recent interest in the Abbé Saunière, Rennes-le-Château and the ancient treasure".

I believe Goedertier found a lot of inspiration in The Hollow Needle, a mystery novel about art thefts. For instance, Lupin would always leave a coded message where he had stolen a piece of art, and Goedertier used a similar code in his ransom notes. When Goedertier realised who he was working for, he tried to double-deal the Nazis... and got killed for it, together with his two accomplices Achiel De Swaef and Josef Lievens, who died in mysterious circumstances during the month following Goedertier's death.

Adolf Hitler, who came into power in 1933 - just a year before the Just Judges were stolen - dreamed of an Arian religion that could compete with Christianity. He wanted to use the Mystic Lamb in this context and he needed the Just Judges, because this panel literally contained a secret - maybe the documents with the bloodline of Christ, symbolically known as "the Holy Grail". And okay, this may sound as a copy/paste from the Abbé Saunière and Rennes-le-Château theme, made popular by Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln in 1982 and by Dan Brown, twenty years later. But it was Gerard de Sède who in the sixties was the first to describe the events surrounding the Abbé and his little village in southern France. Is Rennes-le-Château a hoax? Is it a "desinformation project", meant to turn the eyes of the world in another direction, so that the true secrets will remain secret? It's a fact that the story of a priest who in the late 19th century lost his belief because of the Holy Blood and turned in Paris into a satanist, was already told long before Brown, Baigent, Leigh, Lincoln and even de Sède. The tale was told in the same period as the events took place, late 19th century, by Joris-Karl Huysmans in his book Down There (Là-Bas), featuring the demonic chaplain Docre... who, in reality, was Louis Van Haecke, chaplain of the Chapel of the Holy Blood, in Bruges...

The Ghent Altarpiece

The Mystic Lamb

Comments on January 11, 2011:

really scary. good article and was added my info ^_^

Carolyn Augustine from Iowa on May 26, 2009:

Fascinating. I would become your fan but I already am!

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