Is there a Muslim inscription on the Throne of Saint Peter?

tcajan13_p18In an early nineteenth century book in my library I came across a fascinating story that I’d like some historical sleuths out there to confirm or deny. The claim in the book is that on the Throne of St Peter in the Vatican – held aloft by the four Doctors of the Church – is inscribed the declaration of faith made by all Muslims (the Shahadah): “There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his Prophet (or Messenger)”

I came across this because the book is a calendar of holy events during the year and the 18th January, just gone, is The Feast of St Peter’s Chair. The book describes the throne at the end of the nave in St Peter’s basilica – the centre of the Roman Catholic church:

A glory of seraphim, with groups of angels, sheds a brilliant light upon its splendours. This throne enshrines the real, plain, worm-eaten, wooden chair on which St Peter, the prince of the apostles, is said to have pontificated

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Charles the Bald

The chair has not been seen in modern times. It is indeed a worm-eaten relic donated to pope John VIII in the 9th century by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles the Bald. He gave the pope this present in return for being crowned Holy Roman Emperor by the pontiff, thereby making him the divinely anointed ruler of central Europe. This papal ceremony had been initiated by his grandfather Charlemagne.

Pope John VIII was in terrible trouble. The Muslim Saracens had overrun Sicily and southern Italy and were menacing Rome. He needed the help of the emperor. In the end, Charles couldn’t give the papacy the support it badly needed and the pope turned to the Byzantine empire for assistance. This angered some in Rome and he became the first pope to be assassinated.

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Pope John VIII

Fast forward to the French Revolution and the wars of Napoleon in the early nineteenth century. The French leader took Italy and, as in other places, Napoleon’s soldiers looted religious sites. They were imbued with the anti-clerical ideas of the revolution and not cowed by the holiness of the Vatican. Once they got into the basilica, they had the throne of St Peter in their sights. By now, the ancient relic was encased in seventeenth century statuary – a magnificent ebony and gold construction.

The sacrilegious curiosity of the French broke through all obstacles to their seeing the chair of St Peter. They actually removed its superb casket and discovered the relic. Upon its mouldering and dusty surface were traced carvings, which bore the appearance of letters. The chair was quickly brought into a better light, the dust and cobwebs removed, and the inscription faithfully copied. The writing is in Arabic characters and is the well-known confession of Mahometan faith – “There is but one GOD and MAHOMET is his prophet!”

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The Shahadah appears on ISIS flags

The book speculates that the chair might have been crusader spoil from the east – though that would be contradicted by the account of it being an earlier donation in the ninth century, 200 years before the First Crusade. The statement inscribed on the chair is known as the “Shahadah” – which only has to be recited three times in order for somebody to become a Muslim. In our time, it’s also the Arabic statement on the flags of Daesh or the so-called Islamic State.

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The Venice throne

Coincidentally, there is another throne of St Peter held in the church of San Pietro di Castello in Venice – once the seat of the Venetian patriarchs. This church is rarely visited by tourists, though it should be. The throne is clearly modelled from an Islamic gravestone. Historians believe its journey began in the Muslim Fatimid empire. When that collapsed, it was most likely looted by Byzantine troops. Then during the Fourth Crusade in 1204, it would have ended up in Venetian hands after their soldiers ransacked Constantinople.

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The worm-eaten throne in Rome

Back to the throne in Rome – it was exposed again to public view in 1867. This was for the eighteenth centenary of the martyrdom of Saints Peter and Paul. Photos were taken by the Alessandri brothers at the time. The throne is one foot ten inches high and just under three feet wide. With metal rings on the side, it was clearly intended to be carried with poles – presumably with the pope seated in it. Bits had been hacked off for relics to be given away. The “arabesque” motifs were noted by spectators.

And as my book notes:

This story has been since hushed up, the chair replaced, and none but the unhallowed remember the fact, and none but the audacious repeat it. Yet such there are, even at Rome!

 

Five Templar hotspots mentioned in Quest for the True Cross

Here’s a great idea for a Templar holiday this year – visit all the Templar hotspots mentioned in my book Quest for the True Cross. I’ve been to all of them (barring one) and can guarantee – they are fascinating places. So – let’s start our quick journey!

TEMPLAR HOTSPOT ONE: Edessa

220px-Battle_of_Edeesa_1146This city is now in modern Turkey – which is appropriate as it was the Seljuk Turks who drove the crusaders out of Edessa on Christmas Day in 1144. The city had been the capital of the County of Edessa, one of the first Christian kingdoms established after the First Crusade. The unsuccessful defence of the city was led by its Latin archbishop Hugh who was either trampled to death by his own fleeing flock or killed by the Seljuks as they stormed the city’s fortifications. I begin Quest for the True Cross with the siege of Edessa in full swing and two unscrupulous thieves using the tumult to steal the True Cross from a church in the city.

TEMPLAR HOTSPOT TWO: Jerusalem

source_4b7ebd592258c_hartmann-schedel-hierosolima-1493_2-bw-1147x965Jerusalem had been taken by Christian forces in the First Crusade – in the year 1099. A contemporary chronicle claimed that the massacre perpetrated by crusaders against the populace was at such a level that blood splashed up from the streets on to the knights’ stirrups. In the years that followed, a crusader kingdom was established with the Al Aqsa mosque and Dome of the Rock converted from Muslim to Christian use. This was reversed back again when Jerusalem fell to Saladin eighty years later. We meet the hero of Quest for the True Cross, Sir William de Mandeville, in Jerusalem as he helps to defend it from encroaching saracens.

 

TEMPLAR HOTSPOT THREE: London Templar church

Knight Templar church in LondonThe Temple church in London was the second Templar preceptory in the city and stands between Fleet Street and the river Thames. You need some imagination to picture it as part of a complex of medieval buildings long gone that would once have served the knights’ requirements. It’s now surrounded by law firms. In my novel, Sir William returns to the Temple to discover his father’s body hanging from an apple tree. This is based on a factual account of a failed rebellion by the 1st Earl of Essex Geoffrey de Mandeville’s against King Stephen. The Earl was subsequently declared an outlaw and killed. His body was forbidden a Christian burial but was rescued by the Templars. I won’t spoil what happened next – you’ll have to read Quest for the True Cross.

TEMPLAR HOTSPOT FOUR: Cressing Temple

The_wheat_barn_at_Cressing_Temple,_Essex_-_geograph.org.uk_-_255587Sir William is forced to return to the Templar preceptory where he began his life as a knight. It’s an unhappy return. The preceptory is run by a bitter old curmudgeon by the name of Wulfric who detests the young and valiant Sir William. Cressing Temple is in Essex and was once a major centre of the Knights Templar in England – founded during the unhappy reign of the aforementioned King Stephen. You can still see remains of a huge barn that I mention in the novel. I grew up in Essex and it’s with great pride that I bring this Templar gem to your attention!

TEMPLAR HOTSPOT FIVE: Clairvaux

Bernard_of_Clairvaux_-_Gutenburg_-_13206Leaving England, Sir William journeys to Clairvaux to see his old mentor – Bernard. The French Cistercian Saint Bernard of Clairvaux was a titanic figure in the Middle Ages – a reformer, ascetic, advocate of the crusades and supporter of the Templars. With the fall of Edessa to the Turks, he gave a series of rousing sermons urging the European nobility to make haste to the Holy Land and defend the Christian kingdoms. I depict Sir William as being one of many knights swept up in this fervour. Unfortunately, the Second Crusade suffered many setbacks, which hit Bernard hard. In my book, I convey his bitterness at the turn of events. I also touch on the intellectual battle that Bernard fought against a rival cleric called Peter Abelard. The latter was a worldly philosopher who offended the more spiritual Bernard.

Find out more about all these places when you order Quest for the True Cross on Amazon.

How the Second Crusade was diverted to Portugal

This is an astonishing story from the Middle Ages of how a vast crusader army on the way to the Holy Land was convinced to divert to Portugal and help a small Christian kingdom take a city called Al-Usbuna from its Muslim rulers. That city would be renamed Lisbon and become the capital of Portugal. These events unfolded between 1144 and 1147 – and I touch on them heavily in my novel Quest for the True Cross. So let’s look at what happened…

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Pope Urban calls for a crusade!

In the year 1095, Pope Urban II preached a sermon at the Council of Clermont that changed history. News had come that the Christian Byzantine empire – roughly corresponding to modern Turkey and Greece – was in danger of falling to the forces of Islam. In response, the pope launched the crusades. This was to be a holy war. Those knights who took up the cross and went off to fight in the east would have all sins forgiven. It proved to be a very attractive proposition and after the first crusade, Jerusalem had been overrun by the crusaders with Christian kingdoms established in what is now modern Lebanon, parts of Syria and Israel.

But it wasn’t just the Holy Land that saw a nose-to-nose confrontation between the two faiths. Sicily had been an emirate up until 1085 when the Normans conquered it. And in modern Spain and Portugal – Muslim rulers had been in control of most of the Iberian peninsula since the year 711CE. However, they were now being pushed back slowly and in 1085, the magnificent city of Toledo was seized by King Alfonso of Leon-Castile (a Christian kingdom in northern Spain). So there were crusades in progress on multiple fronts – not just in the east.

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Dom Afonso of the new Christian kingdom of Portugal

In fact, the pope was very keen to make sure that crusaders kept up the fight in Iberia. There were dreams of creating new Christian kingdoms in that region and already – on the west side of the peninsula – a new entity called Portugal was emerging. It started out as a county of Leon but under an ambitious ruler, Dom Afonso, the territory started to assert its independence from both neighbouring Christian kingdoms and the Muslims to the south. Nevertheless, Dom Afonso felt constantly insecure about his political position. He needed a major victory against Islam to bolster his credibility and his ambition was to seize the wealthy and well defended Muslim metropolis of Al-Usbuna on the river Tagus.

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The crafty bishop of Porto diverted a crusader army 

It was the crafty bishop of Porto – the largest city he then ruled – who came up with the solution. Pedro Pitoes knew that a vast crusader fleet had set sail from England bound for the Holy Land. The Second Crusade was underway after the fall of the Christian controlled city of Edessa in Syria – which is where I begin the action in my novel. Pitoes encouraged this fleet to dock at Porto and then delivered a rousing speech to the warriors as they came on to land.

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The huge multi-national crusader army arrives to besiege the Muslim city of Al-Usbuna (later to be renamed Lisbon)

Yes, he told them, I know you’re off to fight in far off Syria. But there is a city right here that needs your help. And if you lend your muscle to the king of Portugal – then you will be allowed to take what you want from the city before handing it over to us. And this will be a just war in which you will be providing a great service to the church of Rome. That was the gist of his speech, which features in Quest for the True Cross.

The crusaders – amazingly – were convinced. This would lead to a delay of many months before they reached their final destination in the east. And along the way, as I detail in Quest, there were many grumbles and mutinous moments. But somehow, thousands of men from Flanders, Germany, England, France and elsewhere were convinced to march to the walls of Al-Usbuna and end four centuries of Muslim rule there.

I place my hero – an English Templar knight called Sir William de Mandeville – in the centre of this incredible tale. The details of the siege and the characters involved were taken from a contemporary account called De Expugnatione Lyxbonensi – The Conquest of Lisbon – written by an Anglo-French priest who was present throughout the battle.

 

 

The Knights Templar today – who and where are they?

English: Cross of the Masonic Knights Templar ...

English: Cross of the Masonic Knights Templar as used in independent Templar Masonry (as opposed to Templar Masonry as part of the York Rite). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Just to be clear that I’m not affiliated to any particular Templar group but I’m aware that many groups visit this site and I hope it’s a place where dialogue and exchange of ideas and experience can take place. But for those of you unfamiliar with today’s Templar scene – it might be worth taking a closer look. If for no other reason than a mass killer called Anders Breivik is currently making unfounded claims to be a Knight Templar during his ongoing trial in Norway.

The most notable Templar organisation is OSMTH – the Knights Templar International registered in Switzerland and recognised by the United Nations as having Special Consultative Status. It describes itself as a ‘network of education professionals’ who undertake humanitarian work. There are male and female members and it believes in a ‘cosmopolitan society’. OSMTH (Facebook page here) is clearly a Christian organisation and allied to the Catholic church.

In the United Kingdom, its representative branch is The Grand Priory of Knights Templar in England and Wales. My information may be out of date but I believe the Grand Priory sponsors a charity called Medical Aid for Iraqi Children – which would indeed be in keeping with the pilgrim protection ethos of the Templars and the medical work of the Knights Hospitaller.

The Freemason version of the Knights Templar – which claims direct descent from the original order – is The United Religious, Military and Masonic Orders of the Temple and of St John of Jerusalem, Palestine, Rhodes and Malta. Interestingly, I found that some of the lodges in this order are relaxed about saying that no evidence exists to prove a link to the Knights Templar but that they follow the Templar rule and live according to their philosophy.

Here is the Sussex lodge and the East Anglia lodge in England. Members of this masonic organisation must be proposed by two other masons and must be Royal Arch Masons. As of late 2011, here are a list of lodges in the Netherlands.

On the subject of Royal Arch Masons – there is an organisation for Holy Royal Arch Knight Templar Priests and you can click here to visit the United States website.

The Militia Templi is a lay organisation of the Catholic church founded by Count Marcello Alberto Cristofani della Magione in 1979 under the direction of the Archbishop of Siena.  It tends to reject the form of mass adopted after the 1960s Vatican II council in favour of the older Tridentine Mass. They follow the Templar rule laid down by Bernard of Clairvaux and their “Protector” at this time is the Abbot of the Benedictine Monastery of Christ in the Desert, located in New Mexico, USA. The global headquarters is in Italy at the Castello della Magione in Poggibonsi.

The Sovereign Military Order of the Temple of Jerusalem is a Florida based organisation which, in its own words, “seeks to emulate the chivalric and charity traditions of the original Templars; its members apply themselves energetically and selflessly to Christian charitable endeavors”. This organisation is ecumenical but strictly Christian and is not associated with Freemasonry. It’s campaigned for the rights of Iraqi Christians and given donations to the Franciscans, Lutherans, Armenian Patriarchate, Greek Orthodox and Anglicans in Jerusalem – all of whom are involved in running different historical sites (see blog posts here on my visits this year to Jerusalem).

The Grand Commandery of Knights Templar, based in London, advocates research in to the medieval period – much as we do here – and a life of spirituality. Mark Borrington is the current Grand Master and Graham Craddy is the Seneschal.

The Ancient and Noble Order of Knights Templar is registered in Jerusalem and it also does charitable work while not claiming a direct link to the original Templars.

If you believe the Templars were guardians of gnostic secrets – for example that God was indeed a Goddess (and my forthcoming book Quest for the True Cross will touch on these beliefs) – then the Ancient Gnostic Order of Knights of the Temple will be for you. The International Order of Gnostic Templars might also be worth a look.

Facebook has thrown up a huge number of Templar related organisations including the French Ordre du Saint Esprit Templier and the Portuguese Os Cavaleiros da Cruz Azul. Some are just interested in Templar history, others are very Catholic in outlook and some groups seek the restoration of monarchy in Europe and so on.

Finally – and I was dreading this – I have blogged before about the far right and its pseudo-Templar nonsense. AOTK is the organisation to avoid in my view. Though it claims to have never been linked with Anders Breivik – a man who killed children as young as fourteen – he asserts that he had links with various organisations and defence leagues. I’m hoping this is a murky political underworld that most of you have no wish to make contact with.

To truly immerse yourself in the world of the original Knights Templar – purchase my Templar adventure Quest for the True Cross on Amazon.

And here is the book promo trailer!

Tomar – Templar jewel in Portugal

I have visited Tomar three or four times now and I just never get tired of going back again – always staying at the Hotel Dos Templarios of course. The town was located in a kind of no-mans land between the Islamic realm of Al-Andalus and the Christian crusader kingdom of Portugal to the north.

In the twelfth century, the Islamic caliphate that had ruled most of the Iberian peninsula from the year 711CE, was being rolled back by new Christian kingdoms like Aragon, Castile, Leon, Navarre and Portugal. The king of Portugal was a plucky chap called Dom Afonso Henriques and he relied heavily on the Templars as a kind of shock troops to soften up the Moors (the Muslims to the south) before the Portuguese then conquered another town for Christ.

In their role as shock troops, the Templars were the advance guard in to what was termed ‘nullis diocesis’ – the land in central Portugal where no prince or bishop ruled as it was still actively contested between Christians and Muslims. Tomar was part of this unruly domain.

The Templars built a many sided fortress like church termed a ‘charola’ that still stands today. It was circular in imitation of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem (though having been there, I can say the resemblance is rather slight) and they could also hear mass on horseback – ready to charge out and do battle at short notice.

Once the Templars were suppressed, the Portuguese hit on the novel idea of sort of nationalising them as the Order of Christ. And Tomar became headquarters to this new royal order. The Convent of Christ was bolted on to the old charola, built in the sixteenth century Manueline style.

The clerical occupants have now gone but what is left – is a magnificent historical site. There was a lot of cement being laid all over the hilltop approach last time I was there and I hope that the cement obsessed Portuguese don’t ruin the tranquility of the site by turning it in to a theme park (I’m half-Portuguese and can say these things!).  Here are my photos from my last visits.

Tomar features in my latest book Quest for the True Cross – which you can buy on Amazon in paperback and kindle. And watch the book promo trailer on YouTube.

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