More from the biblical city of Gadara – modern Um Qais

I have just returned from a ten day visit to Jordan – a country with an amazing history sandwiched between Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Over the next few blog posts, I’m going to share the incredible places I visited.

Staying with Gadara – the city where Jesus cured two demoniacs. Other Roman remains here include the main street with identifiable shops and a basilica later converted into a Byzantine Christian church.

The biblical city of Gadara – my visit

I have just returned from a ten day visit to Jordan – a country with an amazing history sandwiched between Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Over the next few blog posts, I’m going to share the incredible places I visited.

My first stop was the remains of the biblical city of Gadara by the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee where Jesus is said to have cured two demoniacs – transferring their madness to swine.

It was one of ten cities grouped by the Romans into the so-called Decapolis. They’d been inhabited since the neolithic and bronze age but it was under the rule of the Greek Ptolemaic and Seleucid empires, founded after the death of Alexander the Great, that these cities flourished.  I’ll be sharing with you my visits to other cities within the Decapolis in future blog posts.

The Romans gave the Decapolis a degree of autonomy and introduced all the hallmarks of Roman civilisation including the obligatory amphitheatre. The one at Gadara was made of basalt – creating a black structure. As Rome declined, the city became part of the Byzantine empire and then the Islamic caliphate. Its fortunes were finally sealed when a huge earthquake destroyed it in the year 749AD. As we’ll see, this natural catastrophe smashed many Roman cities in the region – and they didn’t recover.

Here’s a gallery of images of the amphitheatre. What I loved about it was that it hadn’t been lovingly restored – in fact, bits are propped up with wood as you can see. Local kids were sleeping rough under its arches. But more than other ruins, I could really sense the presence of the Romans who once lived there enjoying the theatre on a warm summer evening. The site is now called Um Qais – enjoy.

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100,000 hits for this blog!

English: Knight Templar

English: Knight Templar (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I should really signal this landmark and thank those of you who follow The Templar Knight – even more so, the 769 of you who have posted comments and I hope I’ve engaged constructively in return.

The most popular blog post remains: Top Ten Movies about the Middle Ages with 12,523 hits. It just shows that you can’t go far wrong with interesting lists. People love them.

Going forward, I’m keen to invite guests bloggers on here and historical fiction writers – so if you are interested in sharing on this page – just send me a request through the comments.

I’m toying with the idea of more video content including, possibly, doing some Google+ hangouts with medievalists out there. Tell me what you think.

Facebook has been very successful over the last 12 months and as you can see down the side of the page, I have over 6,000 followers for my Quest For The True Cross page. Many of those followers are in Jordan, Egypt and Tunisia – both Muslims and Christians. There seems to be a very keen interest in the Middle Ages in those countries.

Next week, I shall be in the Middle East and I’m going to be sharing some amazing photos of Templar landmarks. You may recall that last year I was in Israel and went to Acre where there is a huge medieval castle. I took some photos of the latrines (toilet if you prefer) and was contacted last month by a magazine called Current World Archaeology asking to feature the photo. It’s in this months’ issue! It seems I’ve become an expert on medieval “facilities”.


Templars put on trial in the Tower of London

English: Burning of Templars. (British Library...

English: Burning of Templars. (British Library, Royal 14 E V f. 492v) Deutsch: Verbrennung von Templern. (British Library, Royal 14 E V f. 492v) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1307, the leaders of the Knights Templar were rounded up and arrested in France.  Over the next five years, the wave of suppression spread across Europe and England was no exception. There’s an impressive list of Templars who were sent to the Tower of London – a Norman structure you can still see in the city that was a royal palace, prison, treasury and fortress.

The names included Brother William de la More, master of the Temple in England. Others arrested in London were the prior of the New Temple, Brother Ralph of Barton and a sergeant-brother called William of Hereford.

Templars from outside London were dragged to the Tower including a number from the preceptory at Denny in Cambridgeshire. One of them, Brother John of Hauwile, was noted as having gone insane.

And what were the charges? They were asked whether the Order’s initiation ceremony was secret and if so – why?  The interrogators wanted to know if such ceremonies were held at night, whether the existence of God was denied and if false idols were worshiped.

Interrogated at different churches in London, the Templars mainly denied the charges and affirmed that they knew of each other. They were then brought back to be questioned again – possibly after a bit of softening up. Some of the questioning was bizarre by our standards. William de la More was asked, for example, what words were uttered when a brother who had transgressed the rules was forced to bare his back to be “flogged three times with thongs”.  De la More said the words were “Brother, ask God that he may remit the punishment due to you”.

Like all political trials, the conclusion had been decided before the trial started. An official from York, Master John of Nassington, said he’d attended a banquet at Temple Hirst where the brothers “adored a certain calf” (!). Another witness gave the damning testimony that a cross in a Templar place was filthy and the Templars refused to wash it.

Sodomy came up a lot in the trial with various people saying Templars had attempted to lie with them.  Robert the Dorturer alleged that Brother Guy of Forest, Grand Commander of the Temple, had tried to have sex with him – but he fled in time from the chamber.

A friar claimed he had overheard a Templar called Brother Robert of Bayset walking through a field muttering the words: “Alas, alas that I was ever born because I have had to deny God and bind myself to the Devil“.

Most damningly of all, one witness claimed that all Templars were traitors because through them the sultan – the leader of the Saracens in the crusades – was told what the crusaders were going to do next.  This was an often repeated accusation by the Templars’ critics – that they were consorting with the Muslims.


A Templar’s Guide to Dan Brown’s Inferno

First page of an early printed edition of Dant...

First page of an early printed edition of Dante’s Divine Comedy. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dante gazes at Mount Purgatory in an allegoric...

Dante gazes at Mount Purgatory in an allegorical portrait by Agnolo Bronzino, painted c. 1530 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dan Brown‘s new book ‘Inferno’ is nearly upon is with its references to the 13th century classic poem The Divine Comedy by Dante – let me give some friendly assistance with some of the people, places and concepts you’ll find in the book:

Who was Dante? Dante Alighieri lived from 1265 to 1321 and was born in Florence. For all your Templars out there, he was alive during the period when the Templars were suppressed by the pope and the king of France. As Chaucer is seen as the father of modern English, Dante is viewed in a similar light in relation to Italian. He is often referred to simply as the poet, il Poeta.

Guelphs and Ghibellines – Dante was born into a Guelph family.  The medieval states that would go on to form modern Italy hundreds of years later, including Florence, were divided  between supporters of the pope (Guelphs) and supporters of the Holy Roman emperor (Ghibellines).  As an adult, Dante would fight with Guelph forces at the Battle of Campaldino.

Beatrice – Dante is believed to have been infatuated with a woman called Beatrice di Folco Portinari whom he only met a couple of times. Beatrice appears in Dante’s works as a kind of muse, an object of fascination and probably bearing little resemblance to the real Beatrice.  The pre-Raphaelite painters of the nineteenth century immortalised Beatrice as an exotic medieval woman.

Whites versus Blacks – After the Ghibellines were defeated, Florence divided between those who wanted to fight for Florence’s independence (whites) and those who wanted to place the city under the control of pope Boniface VIII (blacks). Dante was a white and his detestation of Boniface is reflected by placing him in hell in the Divine Comedy. The black seized control of Florence and condemned Dante to death. The poet was outside the city on a mission to negotiate with Boniface and never returned to Florence again. Even the offer of a pardon – on what he regarded as humiliating terms – didn’t get him back. His body is interred outside Florence to this day.

Hell, Purgatory and ParadiseDante’s Divine Comedy is divided into three parts involving a journey through hell, purgatory and paradise. People in the Middle Ages were far more interested and engaged with the afterlife than today. The idea of a voyage through the depths of hell and the heights of heaven was not original in the medieval period but Dante packs his hell with historical and current personalities and some very dark humour.

People in Dante’s hell – To understand the medieval mind, it’s worth looking at who Dante places in hell and why. The City of Dis (a classical reference – Greek/Roman mythology often mixed with Christian concepts) is hell and Cocytus is the frozen lake at the centre of it. Pure hell is a frozen not a fiery place, chilled by the beating of Lucifer’s wings. Cassius, Brutus and Judas are held in Lucifer’s own mouth. They have committed the worst sin of all and betrayed their master. Caiaphas, high priest of the Hebrews, is among the Hypocrites for condemning Jesus to death. Cleopatra is among the lustful. The Greek philosopher Epicurus is with the heretics for denying the immortality of the soul.

How are the wicked punished in hell? – Flatterers are immersed in excrement. Suicides are turned into trees. Soothsayers have their heads turned backwards. Thieves are bitten by serpents. Fraudsters are enclosed in tongue-like flames. Those who were violent towards their neighbours are in boiling blood. And so on.

Dante’s cosmology – Dante was living and writing before Copernicus and saw the Earth as being at the centre of the universe – motionless and still. It is a sphere – not flat – and Jerusalem is at its centre equidistant from the Ebro river to the west and the Ganges to the east.  Hell is like a giant funnel consisting of nine concentric circles getting smaller as we get to the middle of the earth.

Virgil – He was a Roman poet who lived 70BC to 19BC writing most of his work under the emperor Augustus. Although Virgil was a pagan, he was one of a handful of pagan Romans held in high esteem by medieval Christians. Another was Cicero. They were seen as good people who lived in error. Virgil was even believed to have predicted the birth of Jesus in his works. The Roman appears in Dante’s Divine Comedy as his wise guide through the afterlife.

Secret corridors in Florence – The Vasari corridor in Florence is an elevated walkway built long after Dante’s death. It’s an enclosed passageway you can still see above the city going through buildings and over bridges that allowed the Grand Duke Cosimo de Medici to avoid the common people while moving around.

Bargello – This is a palace mentioned early on in Dan Brown’s book. It was constructed as a noble residence around the time Dante was born. Long after his death it became a prison and until the eighteenth century, executions were conducted in its courtyard.

This is a simply brilliant silent movie version of the Divine Comedy incredibly made in 1911 – the effects are beautiful.








Historic Tomar to host its first Templar festival

Tomar is a beautiful Templar town in Portugal where the order held out after being crushed throughout Europe. On top of a hill overlooking the winding streets of the medieval town is a Templar ‘charola’ or octagonal church built like a fortress. Attached to it is a semi-ruined convent constructed in the 16th century Manueline style.

Down in the valley is another church called Santa Maria Olival where the Portuguese Templar masters were buried including the legendary Gualdim Pais – vanquisher of the Moors!

Tomar was recently chosen to be the global HQ of The International Order of the Knights Templar – OSMTH – and this has led to the first ever Templar festival being held in the town. Quite why it hasn’t happened before I can’t imagine. Having visited Tomar every year since 2009, I can assure you that this is a must see for any Templar.

I wish I could have given you more notice but I only found out about the event yesterday, which is happening between the 23rd and 26th of this month. Full details in Portuguese can be found HERE.  If you can’t make it – then please browse the images below from my last visit in August, 2012.