In the year 1307 – a whole series of accusations were made against the Knights Templar by agents of the Pope and behind him, the King of France:
1) Desecration of the Cross which might include spitting, defecating and other bodily fluids
2) Denying the validity of the Holy Sacraments
3) Worship of idols
4) The kissing on the mouth, base of the spine and anus in ritual practices
5) Illegally amassing vast wealth in their preceptories
Let’s take a closer look at number 4) in that list! Why were the Templars accused of this?
The allegations of kissing inappropriate parts is very interesting. To understand what the Templars’ accusers were trying to suggest, you have to appreciate how Christian Europe regarded the Islamic East. We think of Europe today as secular and liberal and the Middle East as more prone to theocracy and a religious outlook. But in the Middle Ages and before, the west saw itself as morally upright and it was the east that was a sink of vice and moral corruption.
You can see this attitude going back to the Roman period and the west before Christian conversion. Romans – even Greeks – looked at the east as a part of the world where decent, upstanding western males succumbed to evil vices. Eastern men dressed garishly, painted themselves and indulged their passions to the maximum. Ironic then that the Islamic east has today reversed this viewpoint round 180 degrees. It looks at the west as being morally bankrupt in the same way a medieval Christian looked in horror at Egypt or Syria.
So to a medieval westerner, the east was a moral cesspit. Ergo – the Templars had been seduced by eastern pleasures – indeed, that’s why they had lost Christian possessions in the east – they’d gone soft, become effete, indulged their basest desires, etc.
Sodomy was always being associated with Islam in medieval propaganda. Muslim sultans and caliphs were often depicted as being sex-crazed and lecherous often regarding young boys with uncontrolled lust. Even the greatest Caliph of Cordoba, Abd al-Rahman is accused in one Christian tract of having martyred Saint Pelagius in the year 926, not because he was a Christian but because he resisted the Caliph’s advances.
The theme of gay accusations being leveled against Iberian muslims is looked at in another excellent paper called ‘The Sodomitic Moor: Queerness in the Narrative of Reconquista’ by Gregory Hutcheson.
To look at how westerners regarded muslims in more detail, this from an excellent paper by Mark Steckler titled ‘Brotherhood of Vice: Sodomy, Islam and the Knights Templar’.
“Muslims were thought to practice idolatry and it was believed that Islam promised a sensuous, materialistic afterlife. In fact many polemics against Islam focused on the theme of sexuality. The institutions of polygamy and concubinage provoked the recriminations of Christians who believed it corrupted its practitioners and made them enervated and effeminate. For medieval Christians Islam lacked spirituality, and was a religion of licentiousness and depravity. The perceived dissoluteness of Islam was the antithesis of Christian canons which celebrated celibacy and chastity, therefore sodomy was a believable accusation to be levied against Muslims.”
As we all know, on the fateful day of Friday the 13th in 1307 – the pope condemned the Knights Templar and orders went out to round up the masters and knights. King Philip IV of France pressured Pope Clement V in to banning the two hundred year old military order, which was already on the wane after failures in the crusades in the east. Jerusalem was lost to the Saracens forever along with most of the crusader kingdoms set up in the late eleventh century and twelfth century.
But the ban on the Order was not enthusiastically embraced everywhere outside of France. England seems to have dragged its feet and the tortures and executions that characterised the French suppression of the Templars were not present in other kingdoms. Portugal in particular seems to have felt a debt of gratitude to the Templars – had they not been in the vanguard of driving back the Moors, the muslim rulers of southern Portugal and Spain?
Portugal was also a smaller and less wealthy kingdom than France and probably more pragmatic in outlook. The Templars had been a wealthy Order operating across frontiers – so why not embrace all that talent (and money) in some way? King Dinis of Portugal set up a new state sponsored organisation called the Order of Christ and duly enrolled the old Templars in to it. Pope John XXII recognised the new order and it was eventually headquartered in Tomar – where the Templars had been based up to their suppression.
A hundred years later, its Grand Master would be a son of the then Portuguese king. This man was Henry the Navigator who would instigate two hundred years of Portuguese ‘discoveries’ from Brazil to India and give birth to a vast maritime empire. The cross of the Order of Christ would be emblazoned on the sails of the caravels that plied the seas from Goa to Salvador. It’s often been said that Portugal’s mastery of international trade and commerce in this period was in no small way due to the Templar spirit imbued within the Order of Christ.
By the middle of the sixteenth century, the revenues of the Order of Christ were huge. Four hundred and fifty commanderies oversaw annual revenues of a million and a half livres. The papacy often believed it had the right to appoint new members of the Order, a move resented by the Portuguese kings who insisted that the Order fell entirely under their control. Bizarrely, this dispute still rumbles on and on the Vatican website, the Holy See today indicates that it is reticent to appoint new members of the Order even though it would like to.
In other kingdoms, the estates of the Templars often transferred to the Hospitallers or in Spain, they went to the Order of Montesa.
Saracen Army on the March with Musicians and Standard-bearers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Well, that’s got your attention. But it was an accusation reported not by one, but by several chroniclers in the late eleventh and twelfth century – and not just by Islamic writers, but Christian writers as well. So is it true?
The culprits are often identified as people described by the chroniclers as “Tafurs”. These were the very poor people who had joined the crusade enthusiastically from the start though viewed with suspicion and alarm by the aristocracy. Desperation may have driven them on crusade and they were often slaughtered pitilessly by the Saracens. Their arms were substandard and their military training non-existent. If anybody was going to be hungry in the Holy Land, then it was going to be the Tafurs, who normally came from northern Europe – France, Flanders, etc.
Whereas there was a degree of gentlemanly conduct between aristocratic knights and Saracen lords, the Tafurs showed a brutish and bloodthirsty determination. When the opportunity presented itself to put muslims to the sword – or dagger if they couldn’t afford a sword – they took it. Clubbing and knifing whoever got in their way. They may have put it about that they ate their enemies’ bodies to engender more fear in their enemies or the stories may have been circulated by disdainful aristocrats looking down their noses at the Tafurs.
Fulk of Chartres, who wrote extensively about the crusades, was adamant that cannibalism was real and happened. At one particular and prolonged siege, the bodies of Saracens were eaten by Tafurs. He wrote:
“I shudder to tell that many of our people, harassed by the madness of excessive hunger, cut pieces from the buttocks of the Saracens already dead there, which they cooked, but when it was not yet roasted enough by the fire, they devoured it with savage mouth.”
This siege was at Ma’arrat al Nu’man where thousands of inhabitants were massacred. Expecting to find great wealth within its walls, they found nothing of the sort. Now empty-bellied, the Tafurs eyed the corpses around them and got the cooking pots out. Radulph of Caen wrote:
“In Ma`arrat our troops boiled pagan adults in cooking-pots, they impaled children on spits and devoured them grilled.”
Boris Balkan (Frank Langella) shows his 17th-century copy of The Nine Gates to Dean Corso (Johnny Depp). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
If you have never seen the Ninth Gate – Roman Polanski’s mystical thriller set in a world of antiquarian booksellers, then view it. In a nutshell, a book called ‘The Nine Gates to the Kingdom of Shadows’ exists in three copies only. Originally written in 1666 by Aristide Torchia and based on a work called the Delomelanicon, a heretical script possibly crafted by Satan’s own hand. The three copies are held by characters in the movie called Victor Fargas, Boris Balkan and the shadowy Kessler Foundation. Johnny Depp plays a bad boy of the book world called Dean Corso who is paid by Balkan to find the other copies. It transpires there are differences between the three books – they are not completely identical – and it’s no pun (well it is actually) to say that the devil is in the detail. Needless to say that the devil arrives in a very Polanski form….and I shall say no more.
Here is the trailer of the movie which will flesh out all of the above. The video is disabled to play instantly – just click on the underlined sentence about watching on YouTube and you will be taken straight to it.
You can still see the movie in parts here but I suspect it may be taken down soon.
This video analyses the esoteric meaning of the Ninth Gate in the book mentioned above.
In certain American and European newspapers, magazines and chat show hosts – like Glenn Beck – there are claims that Europe is being ‘islamified’ and that very soon we will be living in an entity they call ‘Eurabia’. Well, I have news for these columnists, shock jocks and blow hards – we’ve been here before. Parts of Europe were under Islamic rule for centuries and I’m talking about parts of Europe that subsequently became almost a hundred per cent Christian.
Spain and Portugal are the classic examples but Sicily, Greece, the Balkans and even southern France (in the period after the initial invasion of Iberia in 711 AD) were under the sway of Islamic emirs and ruled effectively by the Caliph – first in Damascus and then Baghdad. The evidence is strongest in the architecture you can still see all over southern Europe but also in the language. For instance, in Spanish – one can exclaim ‘ojala’. In Portuguese, the word is ‘oxala’. In front of a sentence it means ‘I do hope…” and then whatever you hope. The word is undeniably derived from the Arabic ‘In sa Allah’ – God willing.
From 711AD, Spain and Portugal were mainly under Arabic/Berber Islamic rule. There’s no ifs or buts about it. And most of the large cities like Cordoba, Silves, Valencia and Seville were in the parts of the peninsula most effectively controlled by the Islamic authorities. What is most controversial is that modern scholarship indicates that by 1000AD, most people in what is now Spain and Portugal were muslim. Whether they were converted or had come over with the invading armies. And I’m talking about 70 to 80 per cent of the population.
Likewise, Sicily still had a large Byzantine Greek community after it was invaded by the Arabs but by the time the Normans were conquering it in the eleventh century, most of the population was praying in a mosque.
Last year, I went to Cordoba for the first time and it’s simply incredible to see buildings constructed in the ninth and tenth century that were way ahead of anything being built at the time in northern Europe. The great mosque of Cordoba is the most splendid example of this and was built from the eighth century onwards but more or less completed by 987AD under the rule of Al Mansur. It’s not difficult to appreciate how the wealth and opulence of the Islamic world must have turned the heads of many Christians in the so-called Dark Ages – a term now largely out of favour.
Here are some photos I took of the Great Mosque in Cordoba and just think to yourself – this was built a thousand years ago…
Inside the columned hall of the Grand Mosque of Cordoba
Spain is home to some pretty gory Christian icons and this life sized Jesus was one I discovered in the Roman/medieval city of Segovia. The same city includes a Templar church built in the shape of the Holy Sepulchre church in Jerusalem.
Christ in death in the church of San Martin, Segovia
English: John the Baptist baptizing Christ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
We tend to regard Christianity as a ready made religion with in-built concepts like the Trinity, the divine and human natures of Christ co-existing and the redeeming of sins through the great example of the crucifixion. But all these concepts were hotly fought over in the early centuries of Christianity. The Trinity was seen as a lapse in to polytheism, the human nature of Christ was spurned by Gnostics while the idea of a purely divine messiah was rejected by the Ebionites. And the idea of God in the form of his Son being actually crucified was rejected by others who still called themselves Christians.
One variant of Christianity – or offshoot – even denied that Jesus Christ was the saviour. Indeed he was seen as either a lesser figure to John the Baptist or an outright imposter. Far from blazing a path for somebody to come after him, John was the redeemer and the baptism of Christ was the act of a superior bestowing a gift to an inferior. Incredibly, there are still people adhering to this view in the Middle East today.
When the Templars were in ‘outremer’ - the Holy Land and crusader territories in the Levant - they undoubtedly encountered many of the eastern variations on Christianity. Unlike the west, religion was disputed and debated over much more vigorously in the east. From the legalisation of Chrisianity under Constantine to the Middle Ages, the clash of views resulted in murderous feuds between patriarchs in Alexandria, Antioch and Constantinople.
Most Christians, though, would have outrightly condemned the Johannites or ‘Saint John Christians’ as the Portuguese called them when they encountered such people in the Arabian gulf during their sixteenth century age of navigation. But it’s been conjectured that the Templars, far from condemning this obviously heretical view – embraced it. Thus the head of the creature called ‘Baphomet’, said to be held by the Order, was the head of John the Baptist. Look at the similarity between the two words – Baphomet and Baptist – say supporters of this view.
This rather gnostic veneration of John the Baptist as a great teacher – a view sometimes called Mandaeism – was the great secret of the Templars, it is alleged. A proponent of this theory is Lynn Picknett and here she is explaining it in more detail.
Templars burned at the stake. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
For a long time, the subject of homosexuality in the Middle Ages was avoided at all costs or some scholars even appearing to suggest that it didn’t exist. It clearly did and one only has to read the fulminating tracts from people like Peter Damian who, a thousand years ago, had a long and very specific rant against gays in the clergy and society generally.
“Who will make a mistress of a cleric or a woman of a man.” This was one example of his less than PC view of same sex relations. His Book of Gomorrah makes it very clear that in the early medieval period, gay sex was a big ‘problem’ for the church among its members. “For God’s sake, why do you damnable sodomites pursue the heights of ecclesiastical dignity with such fiery ambition?”
Let’s be clear in light of recent events in the Catholic church that we are not discussing child abuse here but men having sex with men. However, in the medieval church the terms ‘sodomy’ and ‘pederasty’ were used to cover any number of sex acts that contravened scripture. Since the conversion of the Roman Empire to Christianity, the classical love of the physical form and a relative openness about sexuality had given way to a disgust at the human form and its functions, now seen as a earthly ball and chain around the spirit which was striving to break free and join the Godhead. Sex was therefore a pernicious distraction from the spiritual and the only reason for doing it was to make children.
The Middle Ages is full of clerics almost seeming to claw at their own bodies in horror. So any idea that sex was being indulged in for pleasure – and worse, between members of the same sex (where procreation was clearly not intended) – came in for maximum disapproval. Not that there was a clear concept of homosexuality in the Middle Ages but let’s just say – it was going on! Gay people were not invented in the 1960s.
There were poems from the Arabic, Jewish and Christian worlds describing men kissing each other and in medieval towns, it may have been possible to achieve the required level of anonymity to avoid the pressure to get married and to have homosexual relationships. Yishaq ben Mar-Saul was an Islamic poet writing about gay relationships in the eleventh century.
Clearly the church would have opposed this form of sex and with the Templars, we have descriptions of their kissing being not only on the lips but at the base of the spine and bottom. These accusations were intended to evoke revulsion amongst those who heard them.
But there were bishops who wrote about mutual masturbation and fellatio with remarkable candor. Ivo of Chartres is one example. Baudri of Bourgueil wrote about his admiration of pretty young men with not much left to the imagination. And these clerics even seemed to have swapped notes among each other. This rather knocks on the head the daft idea that there were long periods of history where homosexuality ‘died out’. Not being detectable is different from not happening.
From Roman times, being the passive male was frowned on in many parts of Europe though being an actively sexual male – with men or women – was tolerable. The active/passive distinction seems to have been more important than the gay/straight distinction of our time. In knightly circles in the Middle Ages – and our Templars were knights as well as monks – gay sex is certainly alluded to and in the person of Richard the Lionheart, the chroniclers were in no doubt that he preferred sex with men to women. Richard was of course a contemporary of the Templars and a great supporter.
So were the Templars gay? Well, in the oppressed climate of the time, men who liked having sex with men would have sought an underground scene of some description where like minded chaps could meet and so on…. Was there a particular reason why gays might have gravitated towards the Templars? Only if one accepts that the Order was more inclined to sodomy than other monastic orders – and for that, you have to take what was alleged in the trial of Templar leaders in 1308 at face value.
In 2007, Dr Barbara Frale discovered a document in the Vatican Secret Archive showing that Pope Clement V had privately absolved the last Templar master Jacques de Molay of all guilt. This followed an investigation by cardinals conducted in August, 1308 that included interviews with De Molay and other Templars. The actual document is viewable here on the Vatican archive website.
The papal absolution didn’t do the Templars much good as in public, the Pope went ahead and disbanded the Order largely under pressure from the French King. Frale, a respected academic, has written an excellent book on the document she found which you can buy here.
Jesus from the Deesis Mosaic (Photo credit: jakebouma)
In AD 314, the Roman emperor Constantine issued an edict declaring that Christianity would now be tolerated – a sharp contrast to the persecutions of Christians that had taken place in the last years of his predecessor, the emperor Diocletian. Constantine was never actually baptised until he was on his deathbed and even then by an Arian Christian bishop, a subset of Christianity regarded as false by the mainstream orthdox church.
His legalisation of Christianity threw up more problems than it solved. In fact, more Christians would kill each other in the next hundred years in various power and doctrinal struggles than were ever fed to lions by pagan Romans.
Arians versus Catholics, Donatists versus those who accepted imperial tolerance, Nestorians, Monophysites and you name it….every shade of conflict you could imagine.
On the surface, Christians would divide over the nature of Christ and the Trinity. But under the surface, much of this conflict was to do with who exactly would benefit from imperial patronage - as money previously channeled in to pagan temples now flowed in to church coffers. And on top of this, priests favored by the imperial authorities received tax breaks and access to public money.
The strangest conflict would be the climax of a long running feud between the church in Jerusalem and the bishop of Rome – with his shrill claims to be the true leader of Christianity. Note that in the first centuries of legally operating, Rome did not command the automatic loyalty and obedience of Christians. It had to compete with Constantinople, Antioch and especially Alexandria. Jerusalem also claimed a special place at the heart of the religion.
Pope Sylvester, first legal bishop of Rome, demanded loyalty to his appointed bishops and deacons but one story runs that in Jerusalem, they did not want to kneel to ‘Greek’ bishops. Instead, many Christians were still loyal to ‘desposyni’ – descendants of Christ.
According to the Irish priest and some time amateur historian Malachi Martin, a group of these desposyni angrily confronted Pope Sylvester demanding he remove the bishops appointed in Jerusalem and recognise their authority. They wanted the reinstatement of Jewish law and as descendants of Jesus and his siblings – they insisted on leading the church in the east.
Now, there is some scepticism about the work of Malachi Martin but instead of attacking him, I’m more inclined to think that these kinds of disputes would have arisen and there were likely to be plenty of charlatans and ecclesiastical chancers claiming to be a direct descendant of Jesus. Why not? There were imperial handouts going and claiming to be part of the bloodline of Jesus was as good a way as any of getting your hands on some riches.
It didn’t succeed and the desposyni seem to fade from the historical record.