The Medieval Christmas at the time of the Knights Templar was twelve days of feasting and drinking that displayed lingering pagan influences that the Catholic church hadn’t been entirely able to root out. Like it or not, a medieval serf couldn’t resist unrestrained feasting, drinking, and merrymaking!
The pagan Winter Solstice versus the medieval Christmas
Christmas fell on the Winter Solstice – the shortest day of the year – while the Annunciation (when Mary began the supernatural process of her virgin birth) fell nine months before at the Spring Equinox. These key moments in the seasons were hugely important to rural societies and had been marked with religious rituals for millennia. The Catholic church simply put a Christian gloss on pre-Christian practices.
And that wasn’t an overnight process. Christian missionaries to Britain and other parts of the Roman Empire struggled with how to tackle pagan beliefs and rituals. Should they be suppressed or somehow incorporated? The Winter Solstice posed a particular problem with its strongly entrenched festivals like Saturnalia where masters and slaves swapped places for a day.
Introducing the Birth of Jesus
It was decided under Pope Julius I in the fourth century AD that Christmas, the birth date of Christ, would be on 25 December. No mention of such a date occurs in the gospels. So why this date?
The church in Rome was locked in a centuries long effort to snuff out the Greco-Roman pantheon of Gods and the festivals that surrounded their worship. Saturnalia was a long December holiday in the pagan Roman calendar marked by riotous conduct, gift giving, no-holds-barred partying, and role reversal between slaves and masters.
The church viewed this with disapproving dismay. Especially as many of its congregants were joining in the fun. It was clear that Saturnalia had to be replaced with something more church-friendly. But that didn’t happen overnight. Year after year, bishops groaned in horror as the garish spectacle of Saturnalia continued unabated. Even when the Roman Empire was allegedly Christian.
There are accounts as late as the 500s and 600s AD of people parading around town centres wearing masks of Saturn and Janus and other Gods. In Celtic Europe, late December saw partygoers still toasting the deer-headed deity Cernunnos way into the Christian era. Jesus Christ was nowhere in sight.
Rival religious cults to early Christianity included worship of the Persian God, Mithras and the cult of the Invincible Sun (Sol Invictus). Both viewed the solstice as a day when the sun was reborn. A solar nativity if you want. In some eastern religions, the Sun was characterised as a heavenly Goddess. To the disgust of the church, many Christians participated in rituals alongside their neighbours and friends celebrating the return of the Sun.
Clearly something had to be done. And if you couldn’t beat the pagans – well, the church just had to somehow absorb the festival. The rebirth of the Sun became the birth of Christ. As one 19th century writer on religion put it:
“Taken altogether, the coincidences of the Christian with the heathen festivals are too close and too numerous to be accidental. They mark the compromise which the Church in the hour of its triumph was compelled to make with its vanquished yet still dangerous rivals.”
Christianising the Twelve Days of feasting
In the run up to the Winter Solstice, animals were traditionally slaughtered and salted during the “blood month” of November as rural people knuckled down for the long, cold winter. Then over the solstice period, pagan folk celebrated the gradual return of the light that would eventually nourish their fields in the Spring. In different ways they propitiated the Gods with offerings, singing, and dancing.
Then along came Christianity.
Singing was viewed with a degree of suspicion. And there may have been good reason for that. Wassailing was a forerunner of carols and involved lots of jolly musical carousing while passing round a large bowl brimming with an alcoholic beverage. Most controversially for the church, the wassails were sung directly to the apple trees urging them towards a good harvest in the year ahead.
How pagan can you get?
Gift giving was frowned on by the church. It was pushed into the Epiphany to evoke the Three Kings giving gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the baby Jesus. There was also the giving of alms to the poor on St Stephen’s Day, the day after Christmas Day, that we now call Boxing Day. But the bishops and priests still felt uneasy.
For the church, gifts were too close to the pagan practice at Saturnalia with wax dolls given to children – which some scholars believe was a grim echo of child sacrifice to the Gods. But to ban parents giving presents to their own children in the name of Jesus was a sure-fire way to have people barrelling back to paganism. So, the church turned a blind eye.
Ditto leaving gifts out for female deities at the solstice, which evolved into leaving something for Santa Claus. And then there’s that jovial, bearded figure who was blended with the Christian saint Nicholas, a fourth century bishop from the eastern Roman Empire who had absolutely nothing to do with reindeer, elves, and saying “yo, ho, ho!”.
All the seasonal feasting and drinking was very obviously a hangover from Nordic pagan practice that endured into the medieval Christmas. This was combined with the raucous pre-Christian activity of Mumming. Villagers would dress up in curious costumes that might resemble animals and crash into people’s homes causing as much terror as amusement. All very Wicker Man – if you remember that movie. And Mumming got so out of hand that Henry VIII effectively banned it.
In conclusion, the medieval Christmas was a kind of unwritten contract between the church and people. You can carry on with your festivities but you do it in the name of the Nativity with all the required religious observances. And that worked for a few centuries.
Until the Puritans came along.
While Henry VIII took exception to the criminality surrounding Mumming – Puritans in the 17th century decided that the medieval Christmas tolerated and fostered by the Roman Catholic church was nothing more than paganism masquerading as Christianity. So, they banned it.
The logic was hard to beat. There was simply nothing in the bible to justify it. Where in scripture did it state that Jesus was born at the Winter Solstice and his birth demanded an orgy or feasting and general mayhem? Answer: nowhere. Because the medieval Christmas was pagan to the core with a veneer of Christianity.
In June 1647, under Oliver Cromwell, Parliament called time on Christmas. Very soon though, Cromwell’s politicians were complaining that they were being kept awake by Christmas parties in adjoining lodgings. The ban turned out to be totally unenforceable and now with more of a secular veneer, we continue to celebrate the pagan Winter Solstice.
This year, I think we all need to celebrate Christmas that little bit harder. Because there’s a tough 2023 ahead of us. So, why don’t we plan for a medieval Christmas? And why is that so much better than the modern version? Well, for a start, you get twelve days of fun instead of just one measly day of celebration. In this post, I’m going to explain the medieval Twelve Days of Christmas? What were they? And is it possible to recreate the festive mayhem of yesteryear?
Let’s go back in time seven or eight centuries. Our medieval festivity starts with midnight mass on Christmas Eve. The first incidence of a midnight mass was recorded by a chronicler writing around 400AD taking place in Bethlehem. Followed by another mass the next morning on Christmas Day. The word Christmas, by the way, is from the old English for Christ’s Mass.
First Day of Christmas – the birth of Jesus
So, the first day of Christmas is the Nativity – the birth of Jesus in a manger to Joseph and Mary. But this is just the beginning of your medieval Christmas and not the main event. In the Middle Ages, the twelve days were a feverish build up to Twelfth Night on January 5 and the Epiphany on January 6 when the Three Kings arrived bearing gifts.
Christmas Day then was not the focal point it is today, but one of several days of feasting and ritual.
Second Day of Christmas – Saint Stephen’s Day
Saint Stephen’s Day followed Christmas though we refer to it as Boxing Day now. Stephen was the first Christian martyr, stoned to death by the Jewish priestly authorities in Jerusalem as a blasphemer. So not exactly a jolly historical landmark.
However, it was transformed into something more upbeat across Europe with gift giving, processions, and dancing. In Ireland, it became Wren Day where young male villagers would go door to door banging a drum – the ‘bodhran’ – and carrying a dead wren asking for contributions to bury it. Wrens were apparently blamed for chirping and giving away St Stephen’s hiding place when he was being hunted down for martyrdom.
On this day, priests wore red vestments to note the blood shed by Stephen for the Christian faith.
Third Day of Christmas – Saint John the Evangelist
Not to be confused with John the Baptist whose special day is in June – still celebrated wildly in countries like Portugal. He was born before Jesus if you recall.
But this John is the one who is said to have written the Gospel with his name attached as well as the Book of Revelation. But many bible scholars today believe these were two separate people. On this day, priests replaced red vestments with white as John escaped being martyred – unlike the other apostles (except Judas Iscariot who committed suicide).
According to one story, there was an attempt to kill Saint John with poisoned wine. He drank it and survived. This miracle was celebrated in the Middle Ages by getting wrecked drinking a lot of wine. Or ale mixed with spices and cooked apples.
Fourth Day of Christmas – Holy Innocents
Day four was Holy Innocents or “Childermas” marking the slaying of children on the orders of King Herod. The innocents were deemed to be companions of the baby Jesus, who avoided death.
To mark this incident in the bible, a choir boy would be selected to become a “boy-bishop” for a day. This practice was ended during the Protestant Reformation and seen as utterly unacceptable by the end of the 16th century. There is a surviving sermon from one boy bishop who wished that all his teachers at school would be hanged at Tyburn – the gallows to the west of London.
One horrible tradition in the Tudor period was to beat children severely in the morning to remind them of the suffering of the Holy Innocents but then let them take charge of the house for the rest of the day. Pretty sure that pleasure didn’t cancel out the earlier pain.
Fifth Day of Christmas – Saint Thomas Becket
The fifth day of Christmas was dedicated to Saint Thomas Becket – the Archbishop of Canterbury murdered on the orders, allegedly, of King Henry II….at Christmas. He’d fallen out with the king by insisting on the power and privileges of the church, pushing back against royal power. For that, his head was split open at the altar of his own church, Canterbury Cathedral, by four knights. The whole of Christendom was shocked and Thomas became a martyr and saint giving rise to a cult around his holiness that spread across Europe.
On St Thomas Becket’s holy day, the fifth day, villagers would get into disguise, including scary masks, and burst into their neighbours’ homes to scare the living daylights out of them. The problem was – this got a bit out of hand. And was often a cover for criminal or violent activity. So much so that King Henry VIII outlawed this popular Christmas pastime in the early 16th century imposing fines and imprisonment on those who wore mumming masks.
FIND OUT MORE: Murder of Saint Thomas Becket at Christmas
Sixth Day of Christmas – Saint Egwin
Saint Egwin’s Day! Well, you can be forgiven for having no inkling about St. Egwin. He was a poster boy of the Benedictine order of monks in the Middle Ages who founded a massive monastery at Evesham, smashed up during the Protestant Reformation.
Seventh Day of Christmas – New Year’s Eve
This was the feast day of Saint Sylvester who was said to have converted the Roman emperor Constantine to Christianity in the early fourth century AD – and cured him of leprosy. In Austria, people would walk their pigs on leashes round the village to bring good luck. While in Belgium, a young woman who didn’t finish her housework by sunset on Saint Silvester’s Day would not get married in the year ahead.
The average medieval peasant didn’t really regard this as the end of the year and start of the new. That was marked by the Spring or Vernal Equinox in March. The Roman Catholic church Christianised that pagan festival by celebrating the Annunciation – when the Angel Gabriel told Mary she would experience the Virgin Birth of Jesus, the Son of God. Nine months after March, Jesus was born.
Eighth Day of Christmas – New Year’s Day
So, up until the 18th century, New Year was in March with the return of daylight. Though this wasn’t the case everywhere. And it could cause a great deal of confusion. A medieval traveller across Europe in the 13th century could find themselves in Venice in the year 1245, journey to Florence and return to 1244, jump ahead inexplicably to 1246 in Pisa, and when getting to France slide back to 1244. Simply because not everybody agreed when new year should be celebrated.
What was beyond argument was that the eighth day of Christmas marked the circumcision of Christ. It also became the Feast of Fools in the 12th and 13th centuries. This meant role reversal between masters and servants reminiscent of the pagan Roman festival of Saturnalia. In the church, lowly sub-deacons could take on the duties of a bishop. But by the year 1198, Pope Innocent III demanded that the clergy stop messing around and mark the circumcision with more respect.
Ninth Day of Christmas – the Cappadocian Fathers
OK – if you thought Saint Egwin was a bit out there, the ninth day celebrated Saint Basil the Great and Saint Gregory of Naziansus – the so-called Cappadocian Fathers. Fourth century AD fighters against the Christian heresy of Arianism which dared to suggest that Jesus, son of God, had not been eternally coexistent with his father but created by him. Therefore, the son was not quite as divine as the father.
Well, the church was obviously riled enough about this belief for centuries to feel the need to celebrate its defeat at Christmas.
There’s not a great deal to be said about the tenth and eleventh days of Christmas – suffice it to say, the feasting continued!
Twelfth day of Christmas – Twelfth Night
Twelfth Night the evening before the Epiphany. That is the evening of January 5. It marks the day when the three wise men or kings arrived in Bethlehem to visit Jesus on the following day.
Before Christmas Day became the central focus of the seasonal celebration, Twelfth Night was arguably more important. This was the real celebration with riotous parties and the eating of Twelfth Night Cake.
Inside that cake, a dried bean was placed. Whoever got a slice with the bean in it became the Lord of Misrule for that night. In charge of turning the world and its social order upside down. More of the Saturnalia-type anarchy that I mentioned earlier.
And there was an activity called ‘wassailing’, a forerunner of carol singing. Only this was often done in orchards with the peasants singing to the apple trees, begging them to begin once more the cycle of growth and renewal. The wassailing would also go door to door with a wassail bowl full of an alcoholic beverage that included roasted apples.
And for all you Christmas pedants…
Some of you will argue that the twelve days of Christmas began on the 26 December and ended on January 6 – the Epiphany. There is a difference of opinion on this which stretches back centuries. And as I know one of you will make contact to make this point, I’m acknowledging it now. Opinions are divided. But hey – I’ve gone with Christmas Day being the first day of the twelve which makes more sense to me. And I believe – until you convince me otherwise – that is more historically accurate.
As you can see – Christmas was a time of feasting and drinking for just under a fortnight that must have wiped people out. Before the twelve days was a more sombre period of fasting during Advent. And then afterwards, it was the countdown to more fun at Easter and the Annunciation.
There have been a number of horror movies that include the Knights Templar or Templar related themes. The one I’ve chosen to focus on centres on the gruesome end of the Templars in the 14th century. The conceit being that a group of Templars have been done to death by local villagers and unsurprisingly, the knights resolve to come back from their tombs to create vengeful havoc – no matter when.
The Knights Templar return for a 1970s horror movie!
The Tomb of the Blind Dead is a bizarre horror movie from the 1970s. It’s a Spanish and Portuguese production that gives you gore and bloodshed with a very Iberian flavour. Titled La Noche Del Terror Ciego in Spanish, the film features a group of terrifying Templar knights who return from the dead on a murderous rampage. The reason for their terrible rage is because they were executed in the 14th century on charges of heresy and sorcery.
Plus when they were hanging from the gallows, carrion birds pecked their eyes out – hence their blindness in the afterlife.
This being a horror movie, a group of people in the present day unwittingly reawaken the vengeful knights from their sleep of death. And once roused, they decide to take out all the main protagonists. The movie is very much a 1970s period piece but as horror now makes a comeback – we can watch this serving of dread terror with renewed interest.
The director of this movie was Amando de Ossorio who made four of these ‘blind dead’ films. In 2020, blind dead came back from the dead with Curse of the Blind Dead. Nothing to do with De Ossorio however who joined the dead in 2001. In this telling, the Knights Templar are caught worshipping Satan by local villagers in the 14th century and put to death brutally. As they die in agony – they promise to return. And they’re true to their word of course!
If you’re fascinated by horror movies – with or without the Knights Templar – I’ve recently made a film explaining the whole history of vampires including Count Dracula. It’s a gripping two thousand year look at the long saga of these blood suckers.
Caynton Caves in the English county of Shropshire has long been rumoured to be an underground construction by the Knights Templar – though that is hotly disputed of course! But now – in sad news – it seems that a stone font in the cave has been stolen. A horrible act of vandalism!
Theft at Templar cave
A local historian visiting the cave noticed that the font was missing while filming recently. There was evidence that somebody had been clearing up rubbish left behind in the cave. But relief turned to dismay as it became clear that a stone font in a niche at Caynton had gone. Either somebody wants it as an ancient garden ornament or there could be a darker reason.
Recent years have seen the local landowner irritated by Satanic cults using the cave for worship. Sadly the original carvings in Caynton cave now compete for attention with more modern scrawling by Satanists and random youths getting drunk in the darkness.
On one occasion, two self-appointed “warlocks” approached the landowner asking if they could get their robes back! This laughable incident was reported in the Daily Mail newspaper. Local historian Dominic Wass noted in the past that the font had been repeatedly moved around by cult members in whatever rituals they were performing.
Is Caynton a Templar cave?
Caynton Caves are located in the grounds of Caynton Hall, near the medieval town of Beckbury. The area has a long history with Beckbury listed in the Domesday Book compiled by the invading Normans in the 11th century. Caynton Hall was built in the late 18th century and came to be owned by the Legge family in the mid-19th century. Some claim they built the warren of caves as a kind of folly – an amusement for family and visitors.
But others maintain it’s a Templar structure. The entrance looks rather like a badger hole under the stump of a tree. But that belies the space that has been dug out underground. And the strange carvings on the walls. This has convinced conspiracy theorists that the Knights Templar would have hidden in a place like this after being outlawed in the year 1307.
Others say it was created by 17th or 18th century mystics who believed they were channelling the values and ethos of the Knights Templar. While most historians are highly sceptical and see its origins in the 19th century. Though of course the Victorians did like to dabble in the occult and esoteric renditions of history.
FIND OUT MORE: Is Royston cave a Templar structure?
Vandalism at ancient sites
There has been a growing litany of attacks and vandalism by criminals and cultists in recent years. If anything, the problem seems to be getting worse. The 4,000 year old Clava Cairns burial site in Scotland was vandalised in 2017. In a separate incident at the same site, a Belgian tourist later returned a stone taken illegally, claiming it had cursed his family!
One idiot scratched “Ben was here” into a Neolithic tomb in Ireland dating back 5,000 years which in 2021, the authorities announced could not be repaired.
The Spear of Destiny – sometimes called the Holy Lance – is one of the most revered relics associated with the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. But why would a weapon used to stab the son of God while he died on the cross come to be regarded as a sacred item? And even stranger – how did the Roman centurion who wielded the spear come to be a saint, recognised by the church for his holiness?
Spear of Destiny – the beginning
It’s a bizarre story that begins in the Gospel according to Saint John. It’s made clear that Jesus had already died on the cross and then a Roman centurion with a lance “opened his side and immediately there came out blood and water”. This strange liquid mix by the way is believed to denote the combined humanity and divinity of Jesus – blood for the former and water for the latter.
The incident with the spear – also known as the Holy Lance – seems to grow in importance with the telling. In the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus, the centurion acquires a name: Longinus.
Nicodemus, by the way, is a pharisee who is mentioned by Saint John in his gospel as somebody who helps with the burial of Jesus. The gospel allegedly written by him was not accepted into the New Testament but the Catholic church embraced the name and you can see a towering statue of “Saint Longinus” at St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.
As the importance of the Spear of Destiny grew – so did the name of Longinus. Apparently he was almost blind at the time of the crucifixion and after spearing Jesus, the mix of water and blood splashed in his face and gave him his sight back. Not surprisingly, Longinus converted on the spot to Christianity and was then martyred for his faith.
DISCOVER: The enduring mystery of the Holy Grail
The Spear of Destiny goes on a long journey
As the film here informs you – keeping track of where the Spear of Destiny ended up down the centuries is very confusing. So we have it being owned in the third century AD by an African Roman soldier, called Maurice, who converts his entire garrison to the Christian faith. All of them are put to death by the authorities.
Almost inevitably, it finds its way into the hands of Constantine – the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity and inveterate collector of relics. But then different accounts have it being stolen by Alaric the Goth during his sack of Rome in 410AD or taken by Attila the Hun. By the sixth century, it appears to be with the Byzantine emperor Justinian in Constantinople who sends it to Jerusalem. Where sadly it is seized by the Persians when they conquer the city in the seventh century.
But then the emperor Heraclius retrieves the sacred relic and instals the Spear of Destiny at the Holy Sepulchre but when the forces of Islam approach, it’s back off to Constantinople. Where it remains until the Ottoman conquest in 1453. The victorious sultan, for diplomatic reasons, sends the spear to the Pope in Rome.
Multiple claims to be the real Spear of Destiny
Or is any of this true? Because the Armenians claim they have a Spear of Destiny. And in Vienna today, you can see their claimed Spear of Destiny that for centuries was part of the imperial regalia of the Holy Roman Empire. It went from Nuremburg to Vienna in 1796 as the Holy Roman Empire was under attack from Napoleon Bonaparte.
But then was returned to Nuremburg by Adolf Hitler. However, once he lost World War Two, it was back in Vienna again. Whether Hitler believed the Spear of Destiny had occult power is a subject that lies firmly between fact and fiction as I explain in the film. Enjoy and tell me what you think!
I’ve just returned from my beloved Portugal where I binged on historic sites. There’s so much medieval history to see in that country that ten days was hardly enough. The highlight was undoubtedly a trip to Tomar to visit the Templar castle high up on the hill overlooking the town. I hadn’t been here for five years and gosh, I’d really missed it.
DISCOVER: Castles with hidden Templar treasure
This time, I took my trusty iPhone 13 plus new gimbal and shot a film for all of you. Hopefully you’ll enjoy it. The castle at Tomar dates back to the 12th century and has seen many stormy events. That includes a battle in 1190 between a huge Muslim army that marched up from the south to take back Tomar from the Knights Templar. Against all the odds, the Templars managed to defeat this huge threat.
As you’ll see in the film below, I walked around the beautiful Templar tower – an octagonal structure that was loosely based on the church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Many believe that the Templars would attend mass on horseback with the chaplain standing in the middle so that if an enemy was spotted, the knights could storm out and engage.
I then walked along the surprisingly intact walls that Templar knights would have patrolled looking out for trouble approaching on the horizon. Tomar was on the front line in the crusades that saw modern Spain and Portugal divided between Christian and Muslim rulers. The castle was one of a string of defensive fortifications the Templars built to repel the enemy.
Join me then in Tomar below and let me be your guide to its stunning castle!
I was introduced this week to a new app called Craiyon that uses artificial intelligence to create images from the most random prompts – https://www.craiyon.com/ So – I asked the robot brain to conjure up some Knight Templar images in the style of Picasso. And this is what was generated. Rather good I think! Your views?
Star Wars has turned into one of the greatest – if not THE greatest – movie franchise of all time. At the centre of the story is the Jedi Order made up of Jedi Knights who go through rigorous training at the Jedi academies where they discover the way of the Force. Given that George Lucas originally intended to use the ‘Templar’ word and ideal for his Jedi – how similar are they to the Knights Templar?
Jedi-Templer – the George Lucas take on the Knights Templar?
Lucas came up with the idea for this chivalrous and powerful Jedi order in a 1973 early outline of the Star Wars concept titled Journal of the Whills. Without going into too much detail, the Whills were a kind of higher race to whom R2-D2 would recount the whole story of Star Wars – or rather the biography of Luke Skywalker (or Starkiller as he was originally called).
An early discarded draft referred to characters subsequently not used – and the term ‘Jedi-Templer’. A protagonist describes the path to becoming a Jedi-Templer:
I chose the profession of my father, rather than a more profitable career. I was 16 I believe, and pilot of the trawler Balmung, when my ambitions demanded that I enter the exalted Intersystems Academy to train as a potential Jedi-Templer. It is here that I became padawaan learner to the great Mace Windy, highest of all the Jedi-bendu masters, and at that time, Warlord to the Chairman of the Alliance of Independent Systems.
A padawan – or ‘padawaan’ as spelt above – is basically an apprentice Jedi Knight – bit like a medieval squire. These ‘force sensitive’ adolescents are paired with Jedi Knights or Jedi Masters after passing their initiate trials.
Compare that to the Knights Templar where an initiate would be put through rigorous training in line with the order’s Rule before being accepted as a full-blown knight. I wouldn’t compare the padawan to sergeants (ordinary brothers) or turcopoles (auxiliaries) in the Knights Templar because they didn’t go on, normally, to become knights. The padawans are more like local young nobility seeking to become Templar knights.
George Lucas used this term padawan early on in his private scripts but it only became public with the movie Star Wars: Episode One The Phantom Menace (1999). Padawans dress very similarly to full-blown Jedi Knights and Masters but are required to have a braid of hair on one side to denote their inferior rank.
Jedi Temple – a Templar stronghold!
The Jedi Temple was the HQ of the order on Coruscant – crowned by five very distinctive spires. This planet-wide city or ‘ecumenopolis’ is the home of the Jedi. Their Jerusalem if you will. It first appears in a trilogy of books by science fiction writer Timothy Zahn that were intended to continue the Star Wars saga after the first trilogy of movies ground to a half in 1983 with Return of the Jedi.
Volume one of the trilogy, Heir to the Empire, gives us Coruscant with its Jedi Temple. Lucas liked the idea and co-opted it into the new round of movies from 1999.
Like Jerusalem, Coruscant is bitterly fought over and destroyed. And like the Temple in Jerusalem, the Jedi Temple is smashed by evil enemies. The Jedi Temple was built on top of a Sith shrine – the Sith being an ancient order who worshipped the dark side of the Force. The Temple in Jerusalem was built to house the Ark of the Covenant, the Old Testament’s idea of what “the force” should look like – a golden box that could emit thunderbolts and slaughter thousands.
The Jedi were based at the Jedi Temple. The Knights Templar at the Temple in Jerusalem. Both were evicted from their holy sites. Supreme Chancellor Palpatine ordered the massacre at the temple and with the Empire triumphant it became the Imperial Palace. I’m not the first person to note the similarity between Palpatine and King Philip of France – destroyer of the real world Knights Templar.
The way in which the Jedi are then systematically hunted down, tortured and killed has eerie parallels to the fate of the Templars with their last Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, and others burned at the stake. But what of the attempt to create a new order dedicated to the force that is neither Jedi nor Sith. Well, we could make a stretched comparison with the rebranding of the Knights Templar in Portugal as the Order of Christ – who then went on to discover the New World.
Star Wars and history
From the very first Star Wars movie, it was obvious that George Lucas cheerfully absorbed every influence he liked from Second World War battle films to the rites of Japanese warriors. In 2013, Lucas collaborated on the book Star Wars and History that details how storylines drew on Ancient Egypt, the Roman Empire, the French Revolution, the Vietnam War, etc, etc.
The culture and organisation of the Jedi resembled the Knights Templar while their code drew on the Bushido of the Samurai. As Lucas told the Boston Globe in 2005: “I love history, so while the psychological basis of ‘Star Wars’ is mythological, the political and social bases are historical.”
I know – you have to rub your eyes at the headline and check you didn’t misread it. But yes – the Suffragettes really did try to bomb Rosslyn chapel in 1914 as part of their campaign for women’s votes. A terrorist act that sparked global outrage.
Rosslyn has long been recognised as a great Scottish medieval survivor. An incredible example of Gothic architecture. But it’s much more than that in the public imagination. In particular, since the runaway success of Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code and the subsequent movie which raised its profile massively. To millions of people, it’s bound up with the story of the Knights Templar, the Holy Grail, and even the bloodline of Jesus.
In the early 20th century, the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) came to be regarded as the more militant wing of the women’s suffrage movement – advocating deeds, not words. Smashing windows, attacking artworks in museums, and chaining themselves to railings landed many so-called “suffragettes” in prison. What is less well known is the Suffragette penchant for bombs and explosives.
This is how the fight for women’s votes came into collision with Rosslyn Chapel.
Suffragettes turn to bombs
In support of using bombs to achieve their aims, Christabel Pankhurst – co-founder of the WSPU – wrote:
‘If men use explosives and bombs for their own purpose they call it war, and the throwing of a bomb that destroys other people is then described as a glorious and heroic deed. Why should a woman not make use of the same weapons as men? It is not only war we have declared. We are fighting for a revolution!’
From 1912 to 1914, the Suffragettes were as good as their word. Several letter bombs were sent to the Prime Minister Herbert Asquith and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, David Lloyd George. On 5 February 1913, five postal workers were severely injured when envelopes containing tubes of phosphorus addressed to Asquith burst into flames in a sorting office in Dundee.
While the WSPU was adamant it would avoid loss of life with its bombing campaign, its deeds said otherwise.
How to explain the bomb left on a bench in Westbourne Park or another on the steps of Rotherhithe Public Library? What about the crudely made devices hidden at several football stadiums, including Crystal Palace on the eve of the 1913 F.A Cup final? Then there were the three explosives left in the Third Class carriage of a train in southern England and a nitroglycerine bomb deposited callously on the platform at Piccadilly Circus tube station in London.
Suffragettes, bombs, and Rosslyn Chapel
Sadly there were fatalities as a result of the bombing campaign. This didn’t stop the Suffragettes extending their action to places of worship. They justified this on the grounds that the Church of England was not supporting the campaign for women’s suffrage. A bomb was exploded in Westminster Abbey and there was an attempt to let off a device in St Paul’s Cathedral.
Up in Scotland, the Suffragettes managed to set off some gunpowder at Rosslyn as part of their onslaught on churches. It damaged some of the medieval tracery and windows and caused a huge bang. When locals rushed to see what had happened, they found Suffragette literature scattered around.
Nobody doubts the central aim of the Suffragettes was correct: getting votes for women. And the opposition was pig-headed, ignorant and sometimes brutal.
But their tactics left something to be desired. Churches were targeted with remarkably little consideration for people worshipping or visiting. There seemed to be a complete indifference to working-class people, such as the fire started at Plymouth Dockyard just before Christmas 1913 that killed two. And in 1914, Suffragettes were attacked by female millworkers in Belfast as they protested against a local politician.
The Suffragette bombing of Rosslyn – with all its associations with the Knights Templar – had passed me by. But having clocked this interesting historical event, I felt compelled to share it with you. Thankfully, one report in an Indiana newspaper that the chapel had been “destroyed” was way wide of the mark.
Despite blogging about the Knights Templar for many years, I must confess to knowing next to nothing about an organisation called DeMolay International. But as I’m always keen to feature every aspect of Templar history, mystery and activity on this blog – I’ve been doing a bit of research. So – let me introduce you to DeMolay International.
This is a Masonic organisation founded by a man called Frank Sherman Land who was a leading Shriner, that is another Masonic body founded in 1870. Frank was a businessman in Kansas City, Missouri, born in 1890 and the story runs that in 1919, he was giving a lecture on the life and tragic death of the last Templar Grand Master Jacques de Molay to a group of teenage masons.
They were so moved by De Molay’s heroic martyrdom in 1314 that they all agreed to form an order dedicated to the Grand Master that would emulate his high moral standards and bravery. Land would go on to impart the chivalric values of the Knights Templar to thousands of young boys in the United States and around the world.
I hasten to add – boys, not girls. This is an all male organisation. Its mission statement declares that DeMolay International is about “striving to shape young men into leaders of character”. It continues:
“Each young man takes ownership of his DeMolay experience. From generating ideas, planning events, coordinating logistics, and executing their plans, each DeMolay Chapter is responsible for defining their success. All of this is accomplished under the mentorship of trained Advisors, selected from the local community, enabling each Chapter to be uniquely tailored to support the interests of its members.”
DeMolay International was formed at the end of the First World War which had been a traumatising and tragic experience for millions. But it had also been an object lesson in the importance of comradeship and leadership. It’s maybe not so surprising that not only did the new organisation take off in the United States but in a relatively short space of time had chapters all over the world.
What I certainly didn’t realise was how many famous people have passed through DeMolay International. Walt Disney, President Bill Clinton, the actor Burl Ives, and the Pulitzer Prize winning author John Steinbeck. What strikes me is the diversity of people moulded by this organisation. From Disney to Steinbeck! And another member was Mel Blanc who gave us the voices of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Woody Woodpecker.
Land became known as “Dad Land” and his biography was titled “Hi Dad!”. It’s required reading for members. To my knowledge, membership is not restricted to young Masons though belief in a higher being is required.