News broke today that not only has the Knight Templar drama Knightfall been renewed for another well deserved season but that none other than Mark Hamill will be starring. The force – the Templar force – will truly be with him!
The quest for the Holy Grail that began in season one will see Hamill play a character called Talus, a crusader who has endured a decade in captivity. Actors Tom Forbes and Genevieve Gaunt will also be joining the cast in what seems to be a beefing up of the drama and commitment by the History channel to stick with the medieval knights!
You may also be aware that I appear in the accompanying documentary series Buried – in episode four to be precise. That’s when presenters Mikey Kay and Garth Baldwin arrive in Portugal on a Templar treasure hunt. We investigated caves in the Templar stronghold of Tomar to see if we could locate the Ark of the Covenant and any other booty – you’ll have to watch to see if we discovered anything!
And here’s a Star Wars/Templar related fact: it’s believed that George Lucas was originally going to call his sacred warriors Jedi Templars but then opted for knights.
Season Five of Forbidden History is now broadcasting on Yesterday TV (Sky 155) and I’m in every episode talking about some amazing topics!
I’ll also be helping Jamie to investigate secret societies and the truth behind the Dead Sea Scrolls. I worked with the Forbidden History team previously in season four looking at the secret initiation rites of the Knights Templar and the accusations levelled against them at their trial.
So – tune in to Forbidden History – it’s great fun and if you’re trying to get your family engaged with historical topics, it’s accessible and engaging. Tell me what you think after watching!
Early in July this year, I returned to a part of Portugal from where my mother’s family originated – a rugged landscape in the north east that was once a battle ground between Islam and Christianity as well as between rival crusader armies.
The region is called Tras-os-Montes – behind the mountains – and I’ve always joked to cousins there that it’s a land of “Templars and Jews”. What I mean by that is that is the presence of the Knights Templar can be seen everywhere as can the cultural footprint left behind by Jews fleeing the Inquisition in neighbouring Spain.
In the town of Mogadouro, you can still see an impressive Templar fortress built in the first decades after the foundation of the order. What you have to remember is that a crusade was being fought on the Iberian peninsula at this time as half the land mass was under the control of a Muslim caliphate.
Mogadouro was also in the front line against neighbouring Spanish Christian kingdoms like Leon and Castile. They didn’t much welcome the emergence of a new kingdom called Portugal and its impetuous ruler Dom Afonso Henriques. He was connected by ties of blood to the Templar’s founders in Burgundy, France. It’s often speculated whether the creation of Portugal was indeed a Templar project to hit the Islamic world in its western flank.
The fort still looks impressive, as I hope my photos suggest. And it was lit up for a local festival to Saint Anne – the mother of Mary. Nearby is an ancient stone pillory with four strange protrusions at the top. I once asked a local farmer what they were for and he remarked blandly: “Oh, we used to hang the Jews from there”.
It is true that the Inquisition eventually caught up with the Jewish population after the Templars themselves had been crushed. They then faced forced conversion or the flames of execution. But there is still a dialect in that region, Mirandense, which some claim contains Hebrew references.
Here are some photos from my recent visit to the Templar fortress at Mogadouro. You can get there by taking the Douro train from Porto to Pocinho and then a coach from there.
On 17 July, UK viewers finally got to watch Knightfall – the History channel’s multi-million dollar drama series about the Knights Templar and their quest for the Holy Grail. A thrilling adventure set in medieval France partly based on fact but lots of fun story telling thrown in as well.
But even more exciting – on the 24 July, History starts to air an accompanying documentary series called Buried where two intrepid history experts will follow the trail of Templar treasure from the Holy Land to Portugal and possibly the New World – for which read, the United States.
In the third episode of Buried, I appear in Portugal investigating some mysterious caves in the Templar citadel of Tomar. This was great fun to film last summer and swelling with pride to finally see it hit the TV screens in the UK. Make sure you tune in because it’s well worth the watch!
Astonishingly, the Vatican sat on key documents relating to the trial of the Knights Templar for seven hundred years until author and Vatican archivist Barbara Frale uncovered the so-called Chinon Parchment and made her discovery public in 2001. This was followed in 2007 by the Vatican’s belated release of the original trial documents.
However, contrary to what many people think, the parchment and trial account are not an exoneration of the order by the pope of that time – far from it!
Back in 1307, the Knights Templar had reached a bit of a low ebb. The crusades were failing. The Holy Land was lost. Cyprus was their main eastern stronghold.
So, the last Grand Master – Jacques De Molay – headed west to drum up interest in a new crusade. But by this time, the medieval public had gone down with a severe case of crusade fatigue. Regaining Jerusalem – surrendered to Islam over a century before – looked like a total lost cause.
Add to that a mercurial king of France, Philip the Fair, who was continuously short of money. He’d shaken down the Jews, Lombards and monasteries and now cast a greedy eye over the Templars. Weren’t they loaded? Only one way to find out.
So, in 1307 he rounded the Templars up, locked the knights in dungeons where they were tortured to sign false confessions and headed for the Paris Temple, a massive fortress, to fill his boots with Templar loot. Needless to say, he found nothing. The money had gone.
In order to assault the Templars, the king had to sell this drastic action to his people with a tsunami of fake news about the order. The knights were sorcerers, heretics, sodomites, rebels, robbers and so on. These accusations needed a holy seal of approval and luckily for Philip there was a compliant French pope at hand, Clement V, to give the thumbs up.
For seven years, the pope and his cardinals questioned Jacques De Molay and other senior Templars to squeeze confessions out of them. De Molay had returned to France in good faith to raise money and recruits for a new crusade but now found himself in court fighting for his life. At times, he broke down and admitted to the king’s trumped up charges but then recovered his nerve and tore up his previous statements.
There was only one way this appalling farce was going to end and in 1314, De Molay was burnt at the stake with two other Templars as heretics who had refused to recant. And so it might have rested. But clearly the church felt more than a pang of guilt at destroying a military order that had shown nothing but unswerving loyalty to its Catholic mission and the pope. The Chinon Parchment shows how the pope wrestled with his conscience.
Frale’s discovery of this stunning document might look like a complete exoneration of the Templars by the papacy. But it’s not. In a rather mealy-mouthed way, it lets the knights off the heresy hook but damns them on other charges. It certainly casts doubt on the way in which their dissolution was conducted and reveals a pope who was bitterly unhappy at being strong armed into this course of action.
Interestingly, it airs the Templar justification for one of its more curious practices – that of spitting on the crucifix. The order claimed that this prepared knights for being captured by the Muslim enemy. Attempts by the Saracens to break their will in captivity through acts of sacrilege could be resisted by the imprisoned Templars because they had already role played this kind of scenario.
Frale has also claimed that the Vatican archive contains evidence that the worship of a head may not have been a profane and pagan activity but a veneration of the body of Jesus. It’s often assumed that the head referred to was variously that of John the Baptist or the prophet Mohammed (if you think the Templars were secretly in league with the Saracens!) or even a cat. But Frale thinks it might have been a representation of the Messiah.
However, the Templars are not given a seal of approval anywhere in the Chinon Parchment. The pope seems to have absolved the Templars without exonerating them. Maybe this gave them a papal passport to heaven but it still meant they were going to be burnt to death first.
It’s hard to imagine this gave them much comfort as their bones were broken in torture chambers and their bodies consumed by fire.
In 1314, on an island in the middle of the river Seine in Paris, the last Grand Master of the Knights Templar – Jacques de Molay – was burnt at the stake. His agonising death ended an incredible two centuries old order of warrior monks – brought down by a money grabbing French king and a craven, gutless Pope. The Templars were no more.
Or is that really the truth?
Not according to an awful lot of people out there. Ever since De Molay breathed his last, rumours and stories have abounded to suggest the Templars continued in some or other guise. One of the most curious is that De Molay verbally appointed another Grand Master before he was executed. This was a man called Johannes Marcus Larmenius.
In February, 1324 – ten years after the death of De Molay – Larmenius, a Templar born in Outremer, issued a charter claiming that he was the rightful Grand Master. But now in his seventies, the old man wanted to transfer this onerous responsibility to younger shoulders. He proposed that the next Grand Master should be Franciscus Theobaldus – who was still in charge of a Templar institution of some sort in Alexandria, Egypt.
This began a phase of underground activity in the history of the Templars. Grand Masters continued to be appointed but very much out of the public eye. That was until a chap called Bernard-Raymond Fabré-Palaprat revealed the existence of the Larmenius Charter, in the year 1804, that included his name as the latest of 22 successive Grand Masters.
Needless to say there was some scepticism about Palaprat’s extraordinary boast that he owned a ‘charter of transmission’ – as he termed it – written by Larmenius and naming him as the current Grand Master. But Palaprat was not to be dismissed so easily. He produced the sword of Jacques De Molay and some of his charred bones. Everything he said was true – how dare anybody question him!
At a time when France has experienced a revolution; a century of Enlightenment thought; the undermining of traditional church and royal authority and the emergence of the Freemasons – it’s perhaps not surprising that somebody like Palaprat emerged. He was feverishly mixing bits of the Templars with gnosticism, Freemasonry and an unswerving loyalty to Napoleon. It was an eclectic hodge-podge that suited the times.
The French revolution of 1789 had briefly replaced Catholicism with a cult of the Supreme Being. Now, Palaprat used his status as Grand Master to launch a new Templar order and later what was termed a Johannite church. His religion had its own version of the bible, loosely based on the gospel of John, and a belief that Jesus had been initiated into ancient Egyptian rites.
Few believe the Larmenius Charter was authentic or that he even existed. Today, the document can be viewed in London as a curiosity.
We’re used to the idea of the Knights Templar being either vilified or heroised since their destruction in 1307 – but what’s more intriguing is the way that people wrote about the Templars while they were still up and running….and crusading.
Because the views of the Templars from contemporary sources are often pretty damning. William of Tyre, for example, seems to have dipped his pen in bile and poison before scribbling anything down about the Templars.
His account has often been taken as gospel and quoted by Muslim authors writing about the wicked knights. But these days, historians realise that some of these chroniclers had wider and deeper agendas. They were serving those who had an interest in undermining the Templars for a variety of reasons.
So what accusations and insults were hurled by the Templars’ critics? It tended to go along these lines:
These chroniclers undoubtedly made it much easier for King Philip of France and Pope Clement to destroy the Templars in 1307. A long legacy of brickbats being thrown at the warrior knights fostered the impression that there had always been something rotten about the order from the outset.
As early as 1170, the aforementioned William of Tyre, after describing how the Templars came into being, asserted that they had abandoned their early humility and gorged themselves with riches. Why, they had even ditched their commitment to obey the Patriarch of Jerusalem, who had helped them in the early days, swearing loyalty to the Pope in Rome alone. Such ingratitude!
They have also taken away tithes and first fruits from God’s churches, have disturbed their possessions, and have made themselves exceedingly troublesome.
Another chronicler, Matthew Paris, expressed a common gripe among the mainstream clergy: as the Templars were getting so many donations, where was it all going? He wrote that the order “swallow down such great revenues as if they sink them into the gulf of the abyss”.
Some of these movies you may not have heard of – and others you might have wanted to forget! But I’ve unearthed some great popcorn chomping fun that feature the Knights Templar – so here goes!
One of several spooky movies timed for the dawn of the new millennium. It’s Christmas Eve 1999 and a New York subway construction crew digs up an ancient skeleton plus a mysterious key. Whatever that key opens can only spell trouble! And it surely does. Along comes archaeologist Karen Goodleaf who unleashes The Minion – a diabolical creature that tries to possess her. But then….up pops a Knight Templar to rescue the damsel in distress. Why it’s none other than Dolph Lundgren, 80s acting hunk playing a knight called Lukas…
You’re a teenager brought up by a monk because you never knew who your parents were – and one night at a party, you have a fight. And amazingly, you win the fight because….you discover your superhuman powers. Well, you’re at least a lot stronger then the college bully. Next thing you know, the Knights Templar and the Priory of Sion are in touch asking if you can help find the Holy Grail.
This movie is in Danish but you’ve all watched a Scandinavian cop series by now so you can cope with the subtitles. Another teenage boy goes on a quest to find out more about the Knights Templar – and even learns Latin to help him on his way. But he doesn’t bank on the danger in store…
This movie is so trashy, it demands to be watched. Classic shlock horror. Templar knight is killed by a band of baddies centuries ago. But he vows to return after ten generations have passed to slaughter his murderers’ descendants. And that’s basically what he does…
Cheesy horror movies were all the rage in the 1970s. This one is about some Knights Templar – executed for devil worship – who come to life at night to rape and murder. Needless to say some hapless modern day travellers chance across their path with unfortunate results.