Opus Dei was founded by Josemaría Escrivá, a Spanish priest who "promoted a return to conservative Catholic values and encouraged its members to make sweeping sacrifices in their own lives in order to do the Work of God." Escriva founded Opus Dei in 1928 and published a book in 1934 with 999 points of meditation. The original title was Spiritual Considerations, later known, as Brown says, as The Way.
Pope John Paul II beatified Opus Dei's founder in 1992. The ceremony, in St. Peter's Square, drew 300,000 supporters
A watchdog group has sprung up to monitor the order. The Opus Dei Awareness Network really exists, and Dan Brown gives its correct Web address.
Opus Dei adherents use the cilice, a spiked bracelet worn round the thigh. The group plays this down, but some members do practice self-mortification, including the ciliceone of the more flesh-creeping aspects of the novel. It is designed to draw blood as an irritant.
FBI spy Robert Hanssen was a member. True. Author James Bamford told the New York Times that Hanssen invited him to Opus Dei meetings.
Opus Dei is a religious order like the Jesuits. It's not officially an order, more a group with several different levels of hierarchy. It emphasizes contact with the world rather than monkly seclusion. Jack Valero, its London spokesman, has been quoted as saying, "We're not big on albinos in Opus Dei, and we're even less big on monks."
Opus Dei's world HQ in New York City won praise from Architectural Digest as "a shining beacon of Catholicism sublimely integrated with the modern landscape." When asked, the magazine denied it had ever featured Opus Dei's headquarters. But Dan Brown has them at the right place243 Lexington Avenueand hey, this is a novel.
Opus Dei stands against the modernizing reforms within the Catholic Church that sprang from the Second Vatican Council. Actually, as the Times Literary Supplement noted recently, Escriva claimed that by embracing the world while maintaining Catholic traditions, Opus Dei was right in the spirit of Vatican II.
Opus Dei is trying to take over the world. It's been slow to counter allegations against it, and not just from books like The Da Vinci Code. But it's hard to see that the conspiracy theorists are right on this one.
Opus Dei is an embarrassment to the Catholic Church. Dan Brown goes so far as to downgrade the group's status toward the end of the book, but there's no evidence this is likely to happen. Opus Dei is widely thought to have rescued the Vatican during the Banco Ambrosiano scandal in the 1908s, although that has never been proved. And the group has many mainstream adherents. They include Ruth Kelly, a British cabinet minister.