Christ being crucified – the top movie versions

In the Middle Ages, the crucifixion of Christ would have been portrayed in mystery plays put on in towns and villages but in our modern age, it’s the cinema that has brought us the most enduring images of Christ‘s death. Some immediately spring to my mind.

Mel Gibson‘s Passion of the Christ was possibly one of the most gory films I’ve ever seen on the big screen. I’ve no doubt many in the Middle Ages would have identified with its bloodiness but it wasn’t to my taste.

Equally controversial was Martin Scorsese’s Last Temptation of Christ that raised some interesting theological points but also angered many Christian traditionalists.

Brilliantly atmospheric is the Cecil B de Mille silent movie The King of Kings – don’t be put off by the absence of people talking.

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Secret crypts found under a British cathedral

Photo showing the old and the new cathedral of...

Photo showing the old and the new cathedral of Coventry. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The interior of the old cathedral, c. 1880.

The interior of the old cathedral, c. 1880. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The ruins of the old Coventry Cathedral.

The ruins of the old Coventry Cathedral. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Restorers have stumbled upon nine secret crypts under the remains of Coventry cathedral in the Midlands. In September, 2011, cracks had appeared in the remains of the medieval church and since then the walls had been supported by rather unsightly scaffolding. The building dates back to the 14th century and was originally the city’s main place of worship. But in 1940, during the Second World War, the German Luftwaffe pounded the city for an incredible and horrific ten hours on the night of November 15th.

In what was then a very industrial area, three quarters of the city’s factories were damaged or destroyed as well as thousands of homes. But the most iconic building to be victim to Hitler‘s bombs was the cathedral. It’s near destruction stunned Coventry and the remaining walls – with no roof or stained glass window – were left as a grim memorial to all those who died that night. Next door to it, a modern cathedral was built – consecrated in 1962.

I’ve walked round the remains of the old cathedral and it’s an eerie site. But now it’s even more spooky with the discovery of these crypts. The chief executive of the World Monuments Fund, Dr Jonathan Foyle, has described them as a “subterranean wonderland”. They’re believed to date back to the 1350s and contained the human remains of thousands of medieval citizens of Coventry. It’s hoped they’ll be open to the public in the near future.

Cyprus and the Knights Templar – a grim Easter anniversary!

coin of Guy of Lusignan, Cyprus

coin of Guy of Lusignan, Cyprus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A political map of the en:Near East in 1135 CE...

A political map of the en:Near East in 1135 CE. Crusader states are marked with a red cross. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Mediterranean island of Cyprus is now racked by a financial crisis.  Demonstrators have taken to the streets in their thousands as savers have been forced to hand up to as much as 10% of their savings to bail out the bankers. Little wonder that bankers are extremely unpopular.

But it won’t be the first time that Cypriots have raged against bankers on the island. Back in 1192, the Knights Templar were in control of Cyprus having bought it a year earlier from Richard the Lionheart.  He in turn had taken it from the Byzantine empire, the eastern Christian remnant of the Roman empire that was notionally, though not always, on the crusader side against the Muslim Saracens.

King Richard was busy trying to defend the mainland crusader states and so when the Templars offered to buy it off him, he seized the chance. And of course the Templars had the money to make good on the deal. They were not only first class soldiers – but also first class bankers. It may have been a primitive form of finance that they operated, but it was advanced for the age. The Templars issued an early form of travellers’ cheque to their customers allowing them to go on crusade without having to take all their bullion around with them. Templar preceptories operated a bit like high street banks where nobles could pop in and cash a cheque to keep them going far from home.

But bankers have never been loved. And the locals soon got weary of these warrior monks – cum – bankers running their island. There weren’t many Templars present, as few as twenty according to some accounts. The islanders had spent centuries staving off Saracen attacks plus they were religiously and culturally more affiliated to Constantinople than Rome. Add to that the Templars would have been trying to recoup their investment quite aggressively by extracting whatever wealth they could from Cyprus. Templar books needed to be balanced in order to pay for crusading in outremer.  Needless to say, these Latin Christian crusaders  soon outstayed their welcome.

Concerned at rumblings of revolt, the Templars retreated within their garrison. There were reports that the Cypriots were planning to massacre the knights on Easter Day, 1192.  So, after regaining their courage, the Templars stormed out of their castle and embarked on a wholesale massacre of anybody they met. This isn’t exactly the finest hour in the history of the Knights Templar – but it happened. The killing quelled the rebellion and an uneasy peace returned. But shortly afterwards, the Templars sold Cyprus on to Guy de Lusignan – who you will recall from the movie Kingdom of Heaven – had just lost the kingdom of Jerusalem to Saladin and his Saracen armies. So he needed somewhere to rule.

Here is Guy de Lusignan fighting Balian in the director’s cut of Kingdom of Heaven.

Last Templar Grand Master executed on March 18th

Templars burned at the stake.

Templars burned at the stake. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The year was 1314 and in front of the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, the last Grand Master of the Knights Templar was burnt at the stake in front of a huge crowd. After two hundred years of crusading, it was all over for the Order of the Temple.

The glory years for the Templars were far behind them, back in the 12th and 13th centuries. By the start of the 14th, it was clear that Jerusalem was unlikely to be reconquered from the Saracens and that the last Christian strongholds taken from Islam in the early crusades were now back in Muslim hands.

This rather left the Knights Templar with a diminishing lack of purpose. It also left the wealth they had raised from all over Europe to fund their activities sitting in their preceptories with nowhere to go. Unfortunately for the Templars, the king of France Philip IV had a very clear idea where the money should go – into his coffers!

Philip had debts – big debts. He’d already had a go at fleecing the merchant classes, the church, the Jewish community and then his attention turned to the Templars. The king owed them money and had no intention of paying them back. Far from it, he was going to raid the Temple’s assets. In order to do that, he rounded up the Templar leaders, tortured them and extracted lurid confessions to damn the order’s good name for eternity.

The arrests and imprisonments took place in 1307 and it would be another seven years before the king rewarded himself with the ultimate Templar scalp – executing the last Grand Master. The shameful deed occurred on March 18th, 1314 – a day of indisputable infamy.

Thirteen Black Death skeletons found in London

Thirteen skeletons have been unearthed in the Farringdon area of London – believed to be victims of the fourteenth century Black Death. The terrible plague hit England in the period after the Knights Templar were disbanded and swept away entire villages and half the population in towns. London did not escape and was ravaged by King Death around 1348 to 1350.

The skeletons were unearthed during excavations for a new rail link across the capital called Crossrail. It proves the existence of a graveyard that chroniclers in the Middle Ages called a “no mans land” but had never actually been seen. The company put out a statement this week:

During the past two weeks, Crossrail’s archaeologists uncovered 13 skeletons 2.5 metres below the road that surrounds the gardens in Charterhouse Square. The depth of the burials, the pottery dated up until 1350 found in the graves and the layout of the skeletons all point to the likelihood that these skeletons were buried in Charterhouse Square during the Black Death Plague around 1349. The graves have been laid out in a similar formation as skeletons discovered in a Black Plague burial site in east Smithfield in the 1980s.

The skeletons are being carefully excavated and taken to the Museum of London Archaeology for laboratory testing. The scientists are hoping to map the DNA signature of the Plague bacteria and possibly contribute to the discussion regarding what caused the Black Death. The bones may also be radio carbon dated to try and establish the burial dates.

Plague cannot survive for very long in the soil. After 650 years, only the skeleton bones remain and do not present any modern-day health risk.

The skeletons at the bottom of the construction shaft

The skeletons at the bottom of the construction shaft