Cathedral Blog

Search all blog posts

Martyn Percy, Dean of Christ Church Part 2

Written by Emily Essex, posted on Friday, July 27, 2018

Behind the scenes header image


Martyn Percy, Dean of Christ ChurchLast week I interviewed Martyn Percy, Dean of Christ Church, about his role as Head of House and Dean of the Cathedral. We discussed how he views his job in the wider context of Christ Church, the important role that conflict has in any institution, and the focus that the church must have on kingdom values.  Click here to read the first part of the interview.

Emily: As promised, this second part of the interview deals with the really important questions, and giving Martyn a moment to steel himself I asked the following...
Is it right that you are in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code? How did that come about?

[At this point Martyn went straight to his bookshelf and pulled out a copy of the very book to show us. Then he settled in to explain…]

Martyn: My doctorate 25 years ago was on fundamentalism, and I got a lot of interview requests on that topic. I was phoned one day by an Italian newspaper and asked to do an interview over the phone there and then. It got to a point in the interview where they asked: “well, what do fundamentalists believe?” and I said “in terms of protestant fundamentalism, they believe that the Bible is a fax from heaven (that tells how old the interview is, you’d now say an unalterable, security-locked pdf file…) it was all written up there to be faxed down and then people just tear off the page and put it in the book, that’s what they believe. It’s unalterable, it’s perfect because it’s written in heaven.” So that just went into the newspaper, just like that with a few other quotes and that kind of thing.

Meanwhile, unknown to me, Dan and Blythe were in Italy researching the book. The way they work is that she does research, say 30 pages, and he reduces those 30 pages to a paragraph of fiction. She got this quote out of the newspaper and just included it: no ask, no notification. And it’s here in Chapter 55: “And everything you need to know about the Bible can be summed up by the great canon doctor Martyn Percy. ...The Bible did not arrive by fax from heaven.” So the only living theologian to feature in the book!

Martyn's signed and personalised copy of the Da Vinci CodeThe novel, of course, became a worldwide bestseller, and I started to get weird notes from people saying: are you real? Do you exist?

Emily: Did you know at this point that your quote was in there?

Martyn: No! And then a friend of mine sent me photocopies of the pages. So I wrote a note to Dan through the publisher and said: ‘Look, I’ve got two questions for you: firstly, how the hell do you know who I am? and secondly, who the hell are you?!’ and he wrote this lovely note back saying ‘Oh, it’s you!’ and sent me a signed copy [Martyn showed us the front page with a note from Dan] and then we agreed to have tea when he came over to the UK.

Emily: That is a delightful story and quite a claim to fame! A couple of final questions now before we let you go:  
What’s your favourite event of the year?

Martyn: I haven’t got just one that’s a favourite - I’ve got a range…

Emily: To be fair, it must be hard to pick when there’s such variety in the job!

Martyn: Well, let’s say, in no particular order: the lunches with the new undergraduates and graduate students; there’s quite a range of Cathedral services that I really enjoy though I particularly enjoy the Civic Service: it’s such a thick gathering of county, city, schools, that kind of thing; there’s quite a number of committees I just love, I mean I just really enjoy them. I have to say - I’m no gardener, I know nothing about gardening, but I love the gardening committee which I get to chair- I find it utterly, utterly absorbing!

Emily: That’s such a nice thing to hear! We usually think of committees as the boring bits you do because you’re obliged to!

Martyn: To be fair, I am completely ignorant about gardening: I am learning all the time!

Emily: Why do you enjoy it then?

Martyn: Because I’m being educated. All the Latin names for things and the trees and the bushes and the flowers and all these things that are going to outlive you. Everything I’m doing on the gardening committee will be here after I’m dead. So it’s very humbling, actually.

Emily: Final question: What makes Christ Church so special to you?

Martyn: It’s a house. It’s the House. And the task of the House is to be a home, with all that that implies. It’s a case of nurturing people. That’s what makes it special: it’s a fundamentally educative, formative – including a spiritually formative – environment in which everybody’s pulling together to make the House some kind of home. In the present, and for the future.

Emily: Martyn, it has been a real pleasure - thank you so much for your time.

Next month I will be interviewing Miranda Hockliffe, Cathedral Visitor Officer.

Join me to find out:
Why a tour of Christ Church Cathedral is like receiving an unexpected gift...
Why Miranda didn't become a simultaneous interpreter for the UN...

And, Whether emus like ice cream...