READ EXCERPT: 'The Secret Supper,' by Javier Sierra

Like the controversial best-seller "The Da Vinci Code," "The Secret Supper" takes on Leonardo Da Vinci's famous painting of Jesus Christ eating with his disciples the night before he was betrayed and turned over to the Romans to face death. "The Secret Supper" is a novel full of intrigue, religious zeal and murder. The author, Javier Sierra, suggests Da Vinci's painting is full of hidden heretic messages -- and that the book is the key to unlocking them.

Read an excerpt of the book below.

I cannot recall a more dangerous and tangled puzzle than the one I was called upon to solve in the New Year of 1497, when the duchy of Ludovico il Moro lay in its painful death throes, while the Papal States watched on.

The world was then a dangerous, fast-changing place, a hellish quicksand in which fifteen centuries of faith and culture threatened to collapse under the onslaught of new ideas imported from the Far East. Suddenly, from one day to the next, Plato's Greece, Cleopatra's Egypt and even the extravagant curiosities of the Chinese Empire that Marco Polo had discovered seemed to deserve greater praise than our own Scriptural stories.

Those were troubled days for Christendom. We were ruled by a simoniac Pope (a Spanish devil crowned under the name of Alexander VI who had shamelessly bought his own tiara at the latest conclave), governed by several princes seduced by the beauty of all things pagan, and threatened by Turkish hordes armed to the teeth, waiting for an opportunity to invade the Western Mediterranean and convert us to the faith of Islam. In all truth, it can be said that never before, in almost fifteen hundred years of history, had our own faith stood so utterly defenseless.

And there, in the midst of it all, was this servant in God, Agostino Leyre, the very same who is writing to you now. I found myself at the threshold of a century of transformation, an epoch in which the world was shifting its borders daily and demanding from us all an unprecedented effort to adapt. It was as if, with every passing hour, the Earth became larger and larger, constantly obliging

us to update our store of geographical knowledge. We, men of the cloth, had already begun to realize that there would no longer be enough of us to preach to a world peopled by millions of souls who had never heard of Christ, and the more skeptical among us foresaw a period of imminent chaos that would bring into Europe a whole new tide of pagans.

In spite of such terrible things, those were exciting years. Years that I look upon now with a certain nostalgia, today, in my old age, from this miserable exile that slowly devours both my health and my memories. My hands barely obey me, my eyes grow dim, the burning sun of southern Egypt melts my brain and only in the hours before dawn am I capable of ordering my thoughts and reflecting on the curious fate that led me to this place -- a fate from which neither Plato, nor Alexander VI, nor even the pagans were excluded. But I must not run ahead of my story.

Suffice it to say that now, at last, I'm alone. Of the secretaries I once had, not a single one remains, and today only Abdul, a youngster who doesn't speak my tongue and who believes I am an eccentric holy man who has come to die in his land, looks after my most basic needs. I eke out my life in an ancient tomb hollowed in the rocks, surrounded by sand and dust, threatened by scorpions and almost prevented from walking by my two weak legs. Every day, faithful Abdul brings into my cubicle some unleavened bread and whatever leftovers he finds at home. He is like the raven that for sixty years would carry in his beak half an ounce of bread to Paul the Hermit, who died in these same lands, more than a hundred years old. Unlike that ominous bird, Abdul smiles when he delivers his burden, without quite knowing what else to do. It is enough. For someone who has sinned as much as I have, every moment of contemplation becomes an unexpected gift from the Creator Himself.

But, as much as solitude, pity too has come to gnaw away at my soul. I'm sorry that Abdul will never learn what brought me to his village. I would not know how to explain it to him by signs. Nor will he ever be able to read these lines, and even in the remote eventuality that he might find them after my death and sell them to some camel driver, I doubt whether they will serve any purpose other than fueling a bonfire on a cold desert night. No one here understands Latin nor any of the romance languages. And every time that Abdul finds me in front of my pages, he shrugs in astonishment, knowing full well that he is missing something important.

Day after day, this thought fills me with anguish. The intimate certainty that no Christian will ever read what I am writing clouds my mind and brings tears to my eyes. When I finish these pages, I will ask that they be buried with my remains, hoping that the Angel of Death will remember to collect them, and carry them to Our Everlasting Father when the time comes for my soul to be brought to Judgment. It is a sad story. But then, the greatest secrets are those that never see the light.

Will mine manage to do so?

I doubt it.

Here, in the caves they call Yabal al-Tarif, a few steps away from the great Nile that blesses with its waters an inhospitable and empty desert, I only pray God that He give me enough time to justify my deeds in writing. I am so far removed from the privileges I once enjoyed in Rome that, even if the new Pope were to forgive me, I know I would be unable to return to God's fold. I would find it unbearable to hear no longer the distant cries of the muezzins in their minarets. And the longing for this land that has so generously welcomed me would slowly torture my final days.

My consolation lies in setting down those past events exactly in the order in which they took place. Some I suffered in my own flesh. Others, however, I only heard of long after they had happened. And yet, told one after the other, they will give you, hypothetical reader, an idea of the enormity of the puzzle that changed my life forever.

No. I cannot continue to turn my back on my fate. Now that I have reflected on all that which my eyes have seen, I feel irrevocably compelled to tell everything ... even if the telling will serve nobody's purpose.