Angels and Demons: What's Fact – or Fiction?

Angels and Demons: What's Fact – or Fiction?
Tom Hanks on the movie set in Rome
Elisabetta A. Villa/WireImage

05/18/2009 11:10AM

Just as he blended fact and fiction in his earlier, controversial book-to-film, The Da Vinci Code, so does novelist Dan Brown concoct a sometimes confusing plot for Angels and Demons, the past weekend's No. 1 movie.

This time, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) is in Rome to prevent the Vatican from being destroyed by an "antimatter" bomb and rescue four kidnapped Cardinals from the evil clutches of an ancient, underground society known as the Illuminati. The Illumi-whaaaa, you ask? Ex-actly.

And here are some other questions – and answers – that may arise after seeing the movie:

Who are the Illuminati? Is this secret society real?
"Yes, it is," says Brown, on his Web site. The Order of the Illuminati was established on May 1, 1776 at the University of Ingolstadt in Germany. Its members were freethinkers, secularists, and intellectuals whose aim was "overthrowing the Roman Catholic and politically conservative Kingdom of Bavaria and replacing it with a liberal republic."

Is the illuminati logo used in the film historically real?
Nope. It was created by real-life typographer-artist-philosopher John Langdon, a friend of Dan Brown's father and part of the inspiration for protagonist Robert Langdon. The author commissioned Langdon to create ambigrams, or typographical symbols that can be read in a variety of ways, for the word "Illuminati" as well as the "Illuminati diamond" – a fusion of the words "earth" "air" "fire" and "water" into a diamond shape.

Did Galileo and Bernini plot against the Vatican?
It is a fact that Italian physicist, mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher Galileo Galilei was persecuted by the 17th-century church for believing the world revolved around the sun. In the film, Brown suggests Galileo was a founding member of the Illuminati. Sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini's artwork populates Rome and the Vatican; in the film, he is portrayed as a high-ranking member of the Illuminati.

But were they really?
Since Bernini died in 1680 and Galileo died in 1642, both lived at least a century too early to have joined the Illuminati.

Can antimatter blow up a city?
Yes and no. According to physicists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, "When antimatter comes into contact with matter it annihilates: the mass of the particle and its antiparticle are converted into pure energy. Large-scale annihilation of antimatter and matter could theoretically be used in a destructive way. However, there is no way that antimatter could be created in sufficient quantities to be used in a bomb, nor could it be transported.

How is a Pope elected?
The process of electing a pope has changed throughout the centuries. Today, according to Catholic-Pages.com: The Cardinals must take an oath that they will maintain absolute secrecy about the voting and deliberations – or face automatic excommunication. Their actual nominating and voting takes place during a ceremony in the Sistine Chapel, after which the ballots are burned and notes are taken. If a new Pope has been elected, the papers are burned with chemicals to give off white smoke. Otherwise, they give off black smoke, so that the waiting crowds, and the world, know if there is a new Holy Father. Since 2005, bells have been added, to erase any question as to the color of the smoke.

Is it possible to cheat at a papal conclave?
In 1975 and in 1996, Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II changed the rules for conclaves to help protect the integrity of the voting, including specifics on how to fold the ballot, the threading of the ballot to make counting easier and procedures to "de-bug" the Sistine Chapel of hidden cameras or microphones.

Can you take an Angels and Demons tour in Rome?You've read the book, you've seen the film, now walk in Robert Langdon's shoes in a $610, 8-hour Angels and Demons Tour of Rome and see all the famous sites of the film – and a few others thrown in for good measure. Those with less time may opt for either the 4- or 6-hour tour.

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