In this third part on Sintra and the Templars we’ll look at how a 19th/20th century industrialist by the name of António Augusto Carvalho Monteiro revived the link between Sintra and the Knights Templar…
As we saw in Part Two, Sintra was no longer under the control of the Templars because they had ceased to exist. Or at least, that’s what the Kingdom of Portugal wanted the rest of Europe to believe. But nobody really bought into this implausible Lusitanian charade. It was blindingly obvious that the Knights Templar had been rebranded by the canny Portuguese as the Order of Christ.
But despite that – Sintra could not avoid a period of decline. Its palaces were still the playthings of royals and the rich. But the town wasn’t the political heavyweight it had been in the 12th or 13th century.
There was no crusade at its walls, Templars in its streets or kings bringing their court to Sintra. Genteel decay seemed to be inevitable. Except the place just couldn’t shake off its past. Not just the Templar presence but the Moors and before them the moon worshipping pagans stretching back millennia.
If you’ve been to Sintra and managed to escape the ever-increasing crowds, you’ll have been touched by the atmosphere of its forested hills and magical ruins. Little wonder that the romantic 19th century poet Lord Byron termed it a ‘glorious Eden’. And this mystical Eden would be a magnet for Freemasons, neo-Templars, Rosicrucians and self-proclaimed Illuminati.
One Templar enthusiast was a certain António Augusto Carvalho Monteiro. He would use his huge business fortune to create a kind of Templar/Masonic Xanadu – that even Citizen Kane might have envied.
READ MORE: Sintra and the Templars – part two
António Augusto Carvalho Monteiro, Sintra and the Templars
Monteiro embodied the revival of Sintra as a centre of neo-Templar activity. A self-made 19th century capitalist with a vast fortune who would buy an estate from an old noble family and transform it dramatically. António Augusto Carvalho Monteiro was so rich he was known affectionately as Monteiro of the Millions and less warmly by his enemies as Shitter of Millions (caga milhões).
The foundation of the family fortune was established by Monteiro’s father who emigrated to Brazil – a former Portuguese colony – and wisely married a woman whose family was already exceedingly rich. His in-laws enjoyed the monopoly of trade in coffee and gemstones between Portugal and Brazil – which was incredibly lucrative.
Monteiro senior had a penchant for palaces he would pass on to his son. He bought an 18th century palace in central Lisbon – the Palacio de Quintela in 1874 after its owners, the Barons of Quintela, went bankrupt. Monteiro junior studied at Coimbra university in Portugal where he developed an interest in esoteric thought before returning to Brazil to take the family business to giddy heights even his father couldn’t have imagined.
The young Monteiro was gifted with a Midas touch. He amassed vast wealth which he ploughed into collections of everything from clocks to natural history objects (including an awful lot of humming birds) but it was books that were his first passion. Monteiro was a massive bibliophile.
Returning to Portugal as the country’s richest man, he bought the Quinta de Regaleira at Sintra and between 1904 and 1910 set about creating a bizarre Templar/Masonic/Rosicrucian complex of buildings, structures, and tunnels with the help of an Italian theatre set designer called Luigi Manini. For a man who was reportedly shy and reserved, Monteiro was making a very public statement about his beliefs.
READ MORE: Sintra and the Templars – part one
The Initiation Well at Regaleira
At the centre of this Templar-inspired wonderland was the 90-feet-deep Initiation Well. Effectively an inverted tower reaching downwards instead of upwards. Like something out of the TV series Game of Thrones. Visitors descended a medieval-style staircase blindfolded and clutching a sword to their beating breast. The steps were divided into nine sections representing either the nine founding knights of the Templars or the rungs of hell as described by the poet Dante.
At the bottom were two surprises. One was a tiled Templar/Rosicrucian cross with compass points on the floor and one assumes the initiate was placed at the centre. Then leading off to the side was the entrance to a roughly hewn tunnel, proving the well could never have held water. I’ve made the descent myself and it’s a disorientating experience to find yourself staring up at the receding daylight and then be plunged into a murky tunnel.
Having staggered through the tunnel, the initiate arrived at a grotto packed with symbolism and a series of slippery stepping-stones leading to a chapel. This place of worship includes Masonic symbols and some intriguing references to alchemy. For example, at the back of the chapel is an image of two towers separated by flames. The red tower is believed to be Athanor – the furnace of alchemy. And this magical science wasn’t just about creating gold but also the fabled Philosopher’s Stone – which Monteiro may have wished to possess.
The cream of royal Portuguese society couldn’t get enough of this esoteric ritual and flocked to Regaleira to be initiated. The question is – what was the mystical punchline? Having got to the bottom of the well with your blindfold whipped off, what did Monteiro present to you? If it was the Holy Grail, as some have speculated, then local historians have pointed to a clue in the grounds of Regaleira.
The so-called Bench 515 is a large stone seat with a woman – said to be Beatrice from Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’ – with her arms outstretched presenting a chalice. There’s lots of numerology read into this bench! Beatrice is number one. On either side are five niches, hence 515. Some argue there are six niches and therefore you have 616, a number like 666 with diabolic meaning.
Why would the Grail be in Portugal? Well, this opens a Pandora’s Box of theories from various sources. These range from an alleged command from Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, the spiritual guide to the Templars, that the knights bring the Grail to Portugal to another claim that this kingdom was created specifically to house the Grail. The evidence to support this isn’t massively strong. For example, it’s said that Dan Brown inserted coded messages about the Grail being in Portugal in his best-selling novel, The Da Vinci Code.
The Order of Mariz and the Templars
What on earth was Monteiro really up to at Regaleira? One theory is that he was part of an organisation founded in Sintra with roots going back beyond the Knights Templar to the period of Moorish rule.
This was a clandestine society called the Order of Mariz. In one account, the name, Mariz refers to a Moorish king who was placed in a tomb at Sintra that was guarded by ‘djins’ – the demons as described in Islamic writings from which we get the word ‘genie’. His sarcophagus was fashioned in bronze and silver with the former metal representing Venus and the latter the Moon.
However, the Order of Mariz is also written about in similar terms to the Priory of Sion as a shadowy body that directed the activities of the Knights Templar and its successor organisation, the Order of Christ.
The existence of this order was apparently first made public by Professor Henrique Jose de Sousa who was a follower of the Theosophical philosophy developed by the notorious Madam Blavatsky amongst others. He wrote about the Order of Mariz in Dharana, a periodical of the Brazilian Theosophical Society. Monteiro was an admirer of Professor De Sousa.
Interestingly, the original members of the Order of Mariz were a mixture of Jews, Christian knights and Arab archers ruled by a Grand Master. It’s claimed that this clandestine order was founded in the north-east of Portugal – the province of Tras-os-Montes to be precise – with its other centres of activity in Sintra and Sagres.
Those who claim to know about the Order of Mariz say that it has gone underground for now. Its adepts are still immersing themselves in gnostic, kabbalistic and alchemical wisdom. And their secret emblem (not so secret it would seem) is a white dove with open wings, two rubies for eyes, an olive branch in its beak with the caption Ave Maria.
Members of the Order of Mariz have included the first King of Portugal Afonso Henriques (also a Templar); King Dinis who created the Order of Christ; his wife Queen Isabela who was declared a saint by the church; Henry the Navigator known in Portugal as the Infante Dom Henrique (also headed the Order of Christ); Christopher Columbus; Luis de Camoes (the one-eyed national poet of Portugal) and of course António Augusto Carvalho Monteiro.
Proof of Monteiro’s membership is said to be the presence of a carving of the Makara in a chimney at Regaleira. This Hindu sea-creature roughly corresponds to the Zodiac sign Capricorn and protects entrances and thresholds.
Regaleira after Monteiro
King Carlos I of Portugal was assassinated in 1908, an event which distressed Monteiro as he counted the royal family among his friends. Carlos was succeeded by his son as Manuel II but in October 1910, a revolution overthrew the 800-year-old monarchy and set up a republic. As an ardent monarchist, Monteiro was furious.
Monteiro was arrested by the new republic and accused of conspiring to reinstate the now exiled king. Interestingly, my Portuguese step-grandfather was also taken into custody during this period as a monarchist agitator and court-martialled, spending a short time in a political prison. I should add at this point that I’m related to a small army of Portuguese counts and dukes all of whom were swept away by the revolution.
Monteiro died in 1920. Quinta da Regaleira was inherited by his son Pedro Augusto de Melo de Carvalho Monteiro and he held on to it until 1946 when he sold it to a millionaire, Waldemar d’Orey. This guy was another massive book collector but also an artist and architect who lived for a period in London during the ‘swinging ‘ 60s and rubbed shoulders with groovy royals like Lord Snowden.
D’Orey was clearly an admirer of the legendary Monteiro and in 1949, commissioned an architect to add new decorative symbols to the main palace and the grounds. After D’Orey the estate ended up with the Aoki Corporation of Japan whose stewardship was uneventful. Ten years later in 1997 the local town council in Sintra bought Regaleira and opened it to the public for the first time.
Incredibly, even though I’m half-Portuguese and have visited Sintra several times in my life, it took me until 2017 to set foot in Regaleira. But what a joy to visit. And to experience Monteiro’s vision of a Templar initiation.
I hope this three part series on Sintra and the Templars has been informative. There is a dearth of information online and offline so happy to have been of service…
As we saw in Part One, the Templars had taken Sintra in central Portugal in the year 1147 adding it to a string of forts creating a line of steel between the realms of the Christian crusaders to the north and the Islamic caliphate to the south. There was a constant pushing to and fro between these rival powers with borders shifting all the time. But in the 13th century, this situation would change dramatically.
The Muslim rulers of southern Spain and Portugal became increasingly fragmented splitting into rival emirates or ‘taifas’. Even Muslim revivalist movements like the Almoravids and Almohads could only provide a temporary boost to the caliphate’s deteriorating military position. The Moors were pushed by degrees to the very south of the Iberian Peninsula and the Kingdom of Portugal assumed its modern frontiers.
Portugal and the Templar mission
In the early years of the 14th century, Templar domination of Sintra came to a sudden end. Why?
The problem for the Knights Templar was remaining relevant. The combination of failure in the Holy Land and success in Iberia was ultimately bad news for these crusading warriors.
In the Middle East, they were shoved out of Jerusalem and then Acre and finally left the region altogether with their leaders and treasure. While in Iberia, the crumbling of the Islamic caliphate meant job done. Increasingly, their huge castles weren’t needed as the lands around them were safely in Christian hands.
The Templars were still armed to the teeth. Wealthy. Organised. But without a mission. And wagging tongues conjectured that they were sitting on sacred treasure whisked out of Jerusalem from their time based on the Temple Mount. Even today, we all ask: did they have the Holy Grail? Was it true they embarked on ships from the French port of La Rochelle with priceless artefacts bound for Scotland, Portugal or both?
If they really had treasure – where was the best place to squirrel it away? Scotland maybe. Portugal though had plenty more appeal. The knights knew for certain they were welcome there after centuries of successful fighting. They had a network of impressive fortresses. And according to some, Portugal had specifically been created as a kind of Templar project – even a home for the Grail.
It was a country at the end of the world – once believed to face the mythical land of Atlantis located somewhere in the vast ocean beyond the coastline. But what the Portuguese would eventually find out is that beyond the waves wasn’t a sunken realm called Atlantis but a New World – the Americas – that nobody knew existed.
And descendants of the Templars would play a key role in ‘discovering’ it.
The Order of Christ and Sintra
1307 was a devastating year for the Knights Templar. King Philip of France issued secret arrest warrants for the knights backed up by his puppet Pope Clement – who was exiled from Rome and living in Avignon. Right under the king’s nose. The whole of Europe was told to round up its Templars and hand them over for interrogation, torture, and execution.
The Portuguese stuck their fingers in their ears. For a while at least. They simply pretended they hadn’t heard and carried on as usual. An exasperated Pope then issued a ‘bull’ or sacred order titled Regnas in Coelis demanding the Portuguese stop ignoring him and fall into line regarding the Templars.
And amazingly the Portuguese king made a few token gestures but in reality did precious little. So a furious Pope issued another order Vox in excelso telling the Portuguese that enough was enough. They had to crush the knights …. just like everybody else.
King Dinis then did something very underhand. He told the Templars in Sintra, Tomar, Almourol and other places to pack their bags and ride down to the Algarve and just lie low for a while. So, they abandoned these fortresses and towns they’d held for nearly two hundred years. The king then lied to the Pope claiming he’d crushed the Templars.
Then about six years later, the king summoned the Templar leadership and told them that from the year 1319, they would henceforth be called the Order of Christ. The official line to the papacy was that the King had taken over Templar assets which he breezily asserted had only ever been leased from him anyway. What followed was a blending of the Templars with the elite of Portuguese medieval society.
To the point where a hundred years later, Prince Henry “the Navigator” – son of King John of Portugal – became the head of the Order of Christ. And what was he famous for? Beginning the great Age of Discovery – funded by the Order of Christ.
The Templars/Order of Christ had therefore abandoned their old forts, churches and tunnels for a bigger mission – taking their Cross into lands never visited by Europeans before. Question is – did they also take their treasure including the Holy Grail to the New World?
To be continued…
A short train ride from the gorgeous art nouveau Rossio train station in Lisbon will bring you to the town of Sintra – playground of monarchs and a magnet for mystics. The poet Lord Byron called it a ‘Glorious Eden’ and you can see why. Rolling hills coated in thick forests punctuated by fairytale castles and palaces. But our main interest is its connection to the Templars and the significance of the so-called ‘Initiation Well’ at Regaleira palace.
This is an angle not explored enough in books and documentaries on the trial and destruction of the Knights Templar. We’ve heard plenty about the knights heading north with their treasure to Scotland and from there to the New World and possibly Oak Island. But what about a different scenario? The knights heading south to Portugal and joining their comrades in the Templar citadels of Sintra and Tomar.
From there, taking their wealth and expertise on long journeys around the world in the service of the King of Portugal but also to fulfil their centuries old mission.
In a series of three blog posts, I’m going to unpack this story in its entirety. My focus will be on Sintra and its links to the Knights Templar, the Order of Christ and the Freemasons. So let’s get to grips with what is a fascinating tale spanning the centuries.
DISCOVER: The well of initiation at Sintra
The Knights Templar take Sintra
The beginnings of Sintra lie somewhere in prehistory. The origin of the town’s name is often associated with the moon worship that local historians believe occurred in the area and is still evidenced by one of the hills being called Monte da Lua (Moon mountain in Portuguese).
For all you etymologists out there, the argument about the name runs something like this. The Celts, who ruled what is now Portugal before the Romans, revered the Moon goddess by the name Cynthia. The ancient Greeks believed that Artemis – their name for the moon goddess, was born on Mount Cynthus, located on the Isle of Delos in the Greek Cyclades. The later Arab rulers corrupted the word into as-Shantara and then that morphed again into Sintra.
Confusingly – and irritatingly – the Sintra city council website asserts that the origin of the word Sintra is the Indo-European word for the sun or “bright star” as the earliest medieval spelling is Suntria. Further research clearly needed!
It’s not hard to imagine how this place came to be regarded by the ancients as sacred with its caves, grottos and densely wooded hills. Celts, Romans and Visigoths were enchanted by the surroundings and settled in Sintra but in the 8th century AD there was a truly dramatic turn of events.
In the year 711, a Muslim army crossed over from Morocco into the Iberian Peninsula – initially at the invitation of a Visigoth prince involved in a dispute with a rival for power. He needed some muscle and so called on the Islamic caliphate that ruled territories from western Africa to India and up into the Russian steppes.
This proved to be a mistake. The fertile plains and wealthy towns of what is now Spain and Portugal were too tempting to the invaders and the whole peninsula rapidly became part of the Muslim world. Sintra would for a time be ruled directly from the huge Muslim metropolis of Cordoba though later power shifted to a local Muslim emir in Badajoz (now in modern Spain).
Slowly a Christian fightback began from the north with the emergent kingdoms of Leon, Castile, Navarre, and Aragon. But these crusaders didn’t have an easy time. The Muslim realm that ruled and developed cities like Seville, Cordoba, Toledo, Silves and what would become Lisbon had enormous wealth and resources. It took until the 12th century for a serious fightback to turn the tide decisively.
While the crusades in the Middle East turned against the Christian crusaders, the opposite was true in Iberia. The line between Christianity and Islam was pushed gradually southwards and the Knights Templar were very much at the forefront. Effectively holding the line in areas which were often prone to bloody fighting and swapped hands frequently between Christian princes and Muslim emirs.
A split off from the Kingdom of Leon created the Kingdom of Portugal and its first king, Afonso Henriques, was from a Burgundian family closely linked to the spiritual leader of the Knights Templar, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. His family might also have known the earliest Templar knights – who came from the Champagne region of France. Afonso seems to have regarded himself as a de facto Templar ‘brother’ and deployed the knights as shock troops in his push southwards.
That is clear from the still standing string of Templar castles between the rivers Mondego and Tagus with the Templar citadel at Tomar being an impressive reminder today as well as evidence of their presence at Sintra. In the year 1147, King Afonso took the Muslim (Moorish) walled city of Al-Usbunna and renamed it Lisbon. At the same time, he gifted the Moorish town of as-Shantara to the Templars. When the knights turned up to claim their prize, the Moors had disappeared into the ether without a fight.
A Moorish geographer called Al-Bacr wrote in the 10th century that Sintra was a town enveloped in a dense fog that never seemed to dissipate. Now the Moors melted into that fog as if they had never been there. Lost in the mists of time.
There is a story that a solitary Moor – an old man – handed the keys to Sintra over to King Afonso and the Templar grand master in Portugal, Gualdim Pais. He then vanished. Most likely, it’s said, into a tunnel leading to an underground cavern called the Gruta dos Mouros. A wise move because the Moors would have been aware that after taking Lisbon, Afonso allowed the victorious crusaders three days to murder and plunder their way through what had been a rich Moorish metropolis.
There are tales that the Moors left behind the tomb of a king called Mariz whose resting place was guarded by demons. An Order of Mariz emerged with secret rites and I’ll describe that when we get to the story of Quinta da Regaleira at the turn of the 20th century.
Moors and Templars going underground
Some say that when the Templars arrived, the Moors scurried away into a secret web of underground passageways. There is indeed an entrance to a tunnel network at the sprawling Castelo dos Mouros (Castle of the Moors) with one tunnel reportedly running for eight kilometres to the Convento dos Capuchos (Capuchin monastery).
Between 1970 and 1972, an archaeologist called Augusto Morgado investigated the tunnel from the Castelo dos Mouros and published his findings in the newspaper Epoca on 12 August 1972 confirming its existence.
Wherever you have Templars, you always have claims of tunnels and with Sintra this is especially the case. Under the Café de Paris there appears to be a hypogeum leading to the Palacio de Vila, which local historians are adamant was used by the Knights Templar. I’m told that while one tunnel heads off to the royal Vila palace, two fork northwards in the direction of the church of Saint Martinho.
Some of the underground spaces at Sintra seem to be naturally formed caves with stunningly visual geological formations while others may have been mines or tunnels built for a particular purpose.
Whatever the Templars were up to at Sintra – the town set in a fairytale forest and with an ancient history evidenced by Megalithic structures and Celtic lunar worship – now fell into the hands of the knights. Adding it to the line of forts granted to them by the King of Portugal. But this would not last forever.
To be continued…
You might not immediately associate the Roma people or Gypsies with the Knights Templar – but some believe there was a connection. There’s even one theory that the Templars became what we now called gypsies. I’ll explain that idea further below!
Before we get going, I must admit to a fascination with the mysterious origins of the Romani in Europe and groups like the Ashkali and Sinti. The idea that they crossed paths with the Knights Templar is just too fascinating to ignore.
The Sinclair – Knights Templar – gypsies – theory
Regulars to this blog will know that many believe the Knights Templar fled Europe after arrests warrants were issued by the King of France in 1307 – making their way to Scotland. The persecuted knights were given shelter there by the Scottish/Viking aristocratic family, the Sinclairs. In his book on Rosslyn chapel, Andrew Sinclair not only posits a connection between his noble ancestors and the Templars (see my previous blog posts on the Sinclair/Templar escape to America theory) but also a possible link to medieval Gypsies.
So how did that come about? Well, when you’re on crusade, you need decent weapons. According to Sinclair it was the Templar search for the best metalworkers and ironsmiths to make swords and shields that led them to indigenous workers in the Holy Land. ‘Egyptians’ as they were termed. These talented people presumably followed the Templars as they were pushed out of the Middle East to Cyprus and then back to mainland Europe.
When the Knights Templar fled France for Scotland – to get away from the Pope and the French monarch who had called for their arrests and torture – they took these ‘Egyptians’ with them. Sinclair says they were referred to by their new Scottish neighbours as ‘gypsies’.
In the 16th century, Sinclair maintains these gypsies adopted the name of their protectors, the Sinclairs. The Gaelic form of Sinclair – he asserts – is something like ‘tinkler’ which then evolved into ‘tinker’. That’s another name for travelling people used very much in Ireland (though tinkers are not synonymous with gypsies I hasten to add).
I should mention that there is a group of people in central Europe today who call themselves, ‘Balkan Egyptians’ and have organisational ties to the Roma communities. So the Egyptian/gypsy link is something acknowledged in the gypsy world. Though the origin of the gypsies is widely assumed to be in northern India.
Is there any evidence to support a Sinclair/Templar/gypsy link? Well, it is recorded that the gypsies were allowed to camp outside the Sinclair castle and put on plays every year. There was also an incident where a Sinclair intervened to stop a gypsy being hanged for some or other crime. But Andrew Sinclair is going much further than this.
He is suggesting that the Knights Templar and the iron working gypsies were a formidable military force in medieval Scotland. And this resurrects an old theory that the Templars, with their ‘Egyptian’ friends, helped Robert the Bruce win the Battle of Bannockburn against the English (a theory hated by Scottish nationalists and sceptics).
The Knights Templar and gypsies – one and the same?
What if the so-called gypsies that used to camp outside the Sinclair castle at Rosslyn weren’t gypsies at all? Or rather they had become what we now called gypsies – but these itinerants were actually the Knights Templar. Believe me, this has been put forward as a credible hypothesis.
It does require a little lateral thinking. Imagine the Knights Templar have packed their belongings and made their way to Scotland. They’re basically outlaws on the run. They live and sleep wherever they can find shelter, staying away from anybody who poses a threat. Maybe over time they lose all that fabulous wealth they were once said to possess. And so, we have a wandering group of nomadic ex-knights – the gypsies!
OK – let’s split the two up again: Knights Templar are not gypsies. Yet – their paths seem to cross. So there must be a reason for that. Maybe it wasn’t the Templars that took the holy relics from the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem but the gypsies? Yep, that point of view is out there. The gypsies got the holy relics and teamed up later with the Templars. In my view, this plays to a rather unpleasant stereotype of nomadic peoples being light-fingered.
DISCOVER: Investigating the Priory of Sion
The worship of a goddess – Templar link?
When investigating or speculating on a Knights Templar/gypsies link – some highlight the worship of a goddess by the Romani people. Christianised as Saint Sarah but also known as Sara La Kali. She is the patron saint of the gypsies. But who or what was she?
Well, we’re in Da Vinci Code territory now. Back in the first century AD, Sarah helped three women all called Mary scramble to shore from a capsizing boat that had sailed from Palestine. They were fleeing the aftermath of the crucifixion. Who were the three women all called Mary? According to one 16th century account, it was Mary Magdalene and two other women who witnessed the resurrection.
And so who was Sarah? In an early account, she is the Egyptian servant of the three women. Elsewhere, she is the child of Jesus and Mary Magdalene – the true Holy Grail. The use of the name Kali has an obvious link to Hinduism which some have argued ties in with the Indian origin of the gypsies. In southern France Sarah is still revered by mainstream Catholics and Roma communities but there’s always the suggestion that she’s more than just a saint.
To gypsies – Sarah is undeniably one of them. She was an Egyptian who either mixed with the disciples of Christ or was part of the sacred bloodline.
And the Templar link? Aside from the popular theory that the Templars were created to protect the bloodline of Jesus, there’s also their alleged worship of a goddess of some sort. I’ll leave that to another blog post or this one will overrun badly!
Gypsy King becomes Knight Templar
No matter how outlandish the idea of a link between the Knights Templar and the gypsies may seem to some – it just keeps cropping up in some form or other.
In 1994, there was an extraordinary ceremony in Bucharest, Romania where the ‘bulibasha’ or Gypsy King was declared a Knight Templar. Ion Cioaba, born in Transylvania, had been crowned King of the Gypsies all over the world at a dazzling coronation two years before. His solid gold crown weighed thirteen pounds apparently. And worth noting he was the president of the Union of Nomadic Metalworking Gypsies. An echo of the alleged reason why the Knights Templar and medieval gypsies had made common cause so many centuries before.
History enthusiast David Adkins has made the astonishing claim that the long lost treasure of the Knights Templar is located beneath a medieval mansion in the English countryside. The Ark of the Covenant and Holy Grail are allegedly in a vast subterranean cavern deep below Sinai House in the British Midlands.
The tabloid newspaper – the Daily Star – ran a front page story – see below. It called on Indiana Jones to give the managers of Sinai House a call as they’d clearly found the fabled riches of the Knights Templar. Other newspapers were gripped by the story in July 2021 so let’s investigate further…
So what should we make of this claim?
Well, it’s certainly attracted a lot of press attention in the United Kingdom – locally and nationally. Adkins, who until recently was the manager of a local community centre in the town of Burton, is clearly immersed in the history of the area. This includes an imposing timber manor house called Sinai Park House.
Let’s look at that property’s history first. The official website states that its location was “vital for the Romans” with views over the Staffordshire countryside and the river Trent. Its importance may even pre-date the Romans as Sinai sits on top of a “chalybeate” spring. That is a spring with a high iron content, similar to other sacred wells such as Glastonbury and Bath.
Sinai House and a Templar connection?
The original Sinai House was built by the De Scobenhal family in the 13th century but only the moat survives from that building. That noble family would indeed have been contemporaries of the Knights Templar – an order of holy warriors founded in 1118 and crushed in the year 1307. But did they have any formal connection? And did they bury the Templar treasure under Sinai House?
The De Scobenhals handed over their property – for whatever reason – to the monks of Burton Abbey. By all accounts, this was a particularly badly run and corrupt Benedictine institution. Though very powerful in Burton. The monks turned Sinai House into a kind of convalescence retreat for people recovering from excessive blood letting. Remember that was a standard ‘cure’ for many ailments in the medieval period.
Adkins argues that it’s significant that the monks took over Sinai House just as the Knights Templar were looking for somewhere to hide their treasure – including the Ark of the Covenant and Holy Grail. So – I’m assuming – we’re being asked to believe that the Benedictines helped the Templars hide the Ark of the Covenant and Holy Grail.
That would certainly be unusual. Because a medieval monastery that found itself in possession of the Holy Grail would be far more likely to broadcast the fact far and wide to attract countless pilgrims. But Adkins argues that the abbot of Burton Abbey was a “notorious non-conformist and had little loyalty to the Pope or Rome”. In one media article, Adkins was quoted as saying the abbot was a “non-nationalist” but I’m going to assume he said non-conformist.
The Paget connection to the Templar mystery
When the Protestant Reformation led to monasteries being forcibly shut down under the Tudor monarchs – Sinai House became the property of Sir William Paget (1506-1563). He was one of those sure footed Tudor operators who managed to survive Henry VIII, Edward VI and “Bloody” Mary Tudor – serving all of them. The house you see today was largely constructed by the Paget family in the 16th century.
Adkins argues that Paget was a descendant of Hugh de Payens – first Grand Master of the Knights Templar. Paget being a corruption of Payens. You can probably guess the thread of the theory from here. Paget had an inkling – or maybe definite knowledge – that the treasure was hidden below Sinai House and now had a perfect state-sponsored excuse to smash up the abbey and have a good dig around.
Of course, there are plenty of examples of Tudor nobles buying up shut down abbeys and monasteries during the Protestant Reformation and using the brickwork to build new mansions. But Adkins doesn’t think Paget was engaged in just the usual greedy land grab.
DISCOVER: Hunting for Templar treasure in Portugal
A subterranean world under Sinai House – and lots of Templar activity!
Which brings us to a fantastic claim by Adkins that there’s a cave under Sinai House into which Westminster Abbey could comfortably sit.
This space is allegedly a result of glacial erosion in the area during the last Ice Age. So, Adkins argues, the Templars – keen lovers of tunnels – stuck the treasure into this cave located conveniently in the centre of England thereby, he continues, difficult for foreign armies (like those that might be sent by the Pope or King of France to reach.
Adkins and others claim the underground spaces have long been bricked up and that attempts in the 1800s to break into them resulted in the release of toxic fumes.
The skull called Greta
Adkins has form when it comes to discovering lost ancient artefacts. He previously attracted media coverage after announcing he’d found a lost ten thousand year old skull nicknamed ‘Greta’. This was a skull said to be ten thousand years old dug up in the 1940s in Burton that then went inexplicably missing. Until Adkins came along and found it in a local potteries museum.
In 19th century America – and in Britain – a movement arose to ban alcohol spearheaded by temperance societies – some of whom termed themselves Knight Templar. They adopted the name of the medieval brotherhood of knights out of a belief that our valiant warriors didn’t partake of liquor. One writer opined that the Templars drank only “sour milk” and never touched the booze.
The International Order of Good Templars (IOGT) was one such organisation and it sprang out of something called the Washingtonian Movement. In the year 1840, six self-declared drunkards decided to have their last swig and then committed themselves to being teetotal forever. The methodology was similar to Alcoholics Anonymous with group sessions of boozehounds promising never to touch a drop again – and sharing their lamentable experiences.
The movement split over a variety of issues including prohibition. Because that meant not engaging alcoholics on a voluntary basis but getting law makers to enforce a ban on liquor. Some Washingtonians thought that was OK – foreshadowing the 20th century introduction of prohibition. But others preferred an approach that didn’t involve coercion.
DISCOVER: Where are the Knights Templar today?
More Templars organise to oppose liquor
As the Washington Movement was destroyed by its own internal arguments, other groups arose including those who believed they were walking in the footsteps of the Knights Templar. In 1842, The Order of the Sons of Temperance came into being and then in 1851, the Order of Good Templars arose in Utica, New York state. This grew rapidly and extended abroad allowing the organisation to rebrand itself the International Order of Good Templars (IOGT).
The IOGT had a fascinating history. For example, from 1876 to 1887 there was a great deal of rancour over the question of admitting African Americans into the IOGT. The Missouri section of the IOGT removed a Lodge from the organisation for admitting black members. British lodges to their credit demanded full equality but this was defeated.
Prohibition in the 1920s harmed the organisation in two ways. It lost members when people thought – oh well, we’ve won so we can rip up our membership cards. And then it saw a further decline in support when Prohibition was overturned. The policy had proven to be counterproductive and left the IOGT looking rather foolish in retrospect.
Templars continue their global fight against liquor
Other Templar anti-drinking bodies include the Templars of Honor and Temperance founded in 1845 in the US. This organisation is still going in the Nordic countries where it’s known as Tempel Riddare Orden. There’s also the Royal Templars of Temperance (try saying that after a pint of beer!), founded in 1870 in Buffalo, New York state (what is it with New York state and not drinking?).
Many of my Irish relatives emigrated to the United States in the late 19th century – particularly to Pennsylvania and West Virginia to work in the mining industry. One cousin set up a grocery store in Philadelphia to service the Irish communities. Through Ancestry.com – I found out that he and his wife were convicted under the city’s liquor laws presumably for selling hooch under the counter.
He did several months of hard labour and she was sent for a period to the workhouse. He’s pictured below with this children – two of them holding what I hope are bottles of lemonade 🙂
Now all of this talk of teetotalism among Templars is a bit curious because we know that the Knights Templar had vineyards. And they drank diluted wine and most likely ale with their meals – as everybody did in the Middle Ages including children.
Water was just too dangerous in some locations. Not that people had the foggiest idea about the science behind polluted water but I guess they learned from bitter experience (on the toilet) that fermented drinks were safer.
So this 19th century movement of abstemious Knights Templar is yet another fascinating re-invention of the Templar brand to fit current concerns. As opposed to reflecting medieval reality.
It’s one of those stories that turns the Crusades on its head. A commander in the Knights Templar and a Muslim ruler with a fearsome reputation for defeating crusaders become best buddies. Well, blood brothers to be exact. How could this happen? Well it did – so let’s go back 350 years to unravel the mystery…
In the 1270s, the Templar commander in Sidon, Matthew Sauvage (also spelt Sarmage), and the Mamluk ruler of Egypt, Sultan Baybars, became blood brothers. What this means is that a leading Knight Templar in the Holy Land and the top Muslim ruler agreed to treat each other as if they were true, familial brothers. And to seal this fraternal deal – they mixed each other’s blood.
The event was recorded by an Italian notary, Antonio Sici di Vercelli who was offering his legal services at the time to the Templars. He wrote that Commander Sauvage was “the brother of the Sultan of Babylon (Roman name for Cairo) who was then reigning, because each had drunk from the blood of the other in turns, wherefore they were called brothers”.
This was eyebrow raising stuff.
It revealed a close personal relationship between a Templar and the most powerful Muslim ruler in the region. And Baybars was an extraordinarily powerful figure. A highly effective warrior ranking alongside Saladin in terms of the threat posed to the Knights Templar.
A hundred years earlier, Saladin had ripped through crusader territory and retaken Jerusalem. In the late 13th century, Baybars was inflicting repeated defeats on the Knights Templar and Hospitaller. And not only was he hammering the crusaders, but Baybars also managed to make mincemeat of the Mongols at a huge bust up of a battle fought in Galilee.
FIND OUT MORE: Templars take on Mongol armies!
So for Matthew Sauvage to declare Baybars as his blood brother seems wildly inappropriate. Add to this that Baybars was a Muslim ruler of slave descent. The Arab rulers of Egypt had brought in Turkic and other ethnic minorities as mercenary soldiers to defend their realms from the crusaders. These so-called ‘Mamluks’ became steadily more powerful until eventually they seized control in 1250.
Baybars wasn’t ethnically Arab therefore. He was born on what would become the Russian steppe, north of the Crimea. Unlike the Egyptians and Syrians he ruled – Baybars was tall, blue-eyed, fair-skinned and broad-faced. As a military operator, he was utterly ruthless towards the crusaders. Before becoming sultan, he had inflicted a shameful and avoidable defeat on the Templars and forces of the French king Louis IX at the Battle of Al Mansourah.
Strange choice for a blood brother. But this sort of close bonding seems to have happened before. There are other accounts of crusaders and senior Muslim figures becoming blood brothers. Saladin is said to have been the blood brother of Count Raymond III of Tripoli as well as the Byzantine emperor, Isaac II Angelus.
How might Matthew Sauvage have met Baybars? Well, the Templars sometimes hosted Muslim dignitaries at their preceptories. That might surprise you. But the knights were as capable of engaging in a bit of diplomacy as much as warfare. It’s very possible that Sauvage encountered Baybars as a guest of the Templars.
DISCOVER: Richard the Lionheart – war criminal?
There is another theory that Sauvage was taken prisoner in a skirmish between crusaders and some Turkish fighters. The non-Templars were released for a ransom but the Templars had to wait to be rescued by none other than…Baybars. This meant that Sauvage owed a debt of gratitude to the Mamluk sultan cemented by a blood brotherhood pact.
And how does this story end? Not very well to be honest. Because decades later the Knights Templar were destroyed in 1307 and many knights put on trial for their life. And who should pop up as a witness for the prosecution but an ageing Italian notary called Antonio Sici di Vercelli. He recounted this blood brotherhood pact as evidence of Templar duplicity and double dealing with the Saracen enemy.
No doubt this damning testimony helped a few knights on their way to the execution pyre.
Your humble scribe – Tony McMahon – may be familiar to you on various TV documentaries on History, Discovery, Smithsonian and other channels. I’m now registered with the Past Preservers agency if you want to feature me in any future TV series.
As you know, over the last two years I’ve been very busy. Whether it’s been investigating rumoured Templar activity in Scotland with Rob Riggle and Scott Wolter or searching for the Ark of the Covenant down here in London or visiting the exact spot in Paris where the last Grand Master, Jacques de Molay was publicly executed.
And you can now find me as well on the IMDb website, which is a directory of film and TV talent. But I won’t be neglecting my blogs – which are the backbone of my work. So expect a lot more output in the next few months investigating the Knights Templar – both the history and the mystery.
DISCOVER: Tony McMahon on History’s Buried series
Do please keep suggesting ideas for future posts. I get lots of useful messages from blog fans and it boosts my morale as well. Coming out of Covid, I can’t wait to get back visiting Templar sites around the world and putting some more great images up for you to enjoy.
FIND OUT MORE: Tony McMahon appearing on Travel’s America Unearthed
In the next few months, look out for me in the current series of Strange Evidence and a new series on the Ark of the Covenant.
King Louis IX of France is one of the few monarchs in history to have been declared a saint by the church. Instead of staying at home and ruling his kingdom, Louis went off on crusade in the Middle East. An intensely pious man, sometimes referred to as a “monk king”, he spent years tramping around Egypt in particular with a large army. While on crusade, he famously managed to get his hands on the Crown of Thorns worn by Jesus before his crucifixion – which he brought back to his capital, Paris.
You can still see where Louis kept the Crown of Thorns, a chapel he had purpose built with floor to ceiling stained glass windows. The so-called Sainte-Chapelle (pictured below from my 2019 visit) – or holy chapel – was completed by the year 1248. Louis spent eye watering sums buying the Crown of Thorns and building the chapel. His kingdom also had to pay a massive ransom to free Louis after he was captured by the Egyptians.
To any sober analysis, this saintly king’s crusading could be viewed as a very expensive waste of time. But we have to think in a totally different way. We’re in the Middle Ages now! The holy war that Louis took to the east was seen as a glorious and sacred endeavour. King Louis was held up as the model prince of his time – just, fair, prayerful and brave.
Jerusalem was already lost to the Saracens. So, Louis took his crusade to the Ayyubid empire, centred on modern Egypt. He also made stops in the fortress citadels of Jaffa, Acre and Caesarea – in modern Israel – still held by the crusaders with a strong Templar presence. In order to try and half the further advance of the enemy, Louis reached out to the Mongol forces that had overrun much of the region and even menaced Europe. But this attempt to create a crusader-Mongol alliance against Islam came to nothing.
It’s normally claimed King Louis IX died of dysentery while on crusade. But analysis of his viscera (intestines and other body parts buried separately) in the recent past suggest he may have had malaria or plague. But analysis of his jawbone – which is held at Notre Dame cathedral in Paris – indicates scurvy. The 2019 theory One theory publicised in 2019 was that Louis succumbed to scurvy due to a chronic lack of vitamins because he wouldn’t eat the local food in Egypt. However, references at the time to “flows of belly” do point strongly to the unfortunate side-effects of dysentery.
King Louis IX was made a saint in 1297, a quarter of a century after his death. Pope Boniface VIII made Louis a saint and it’s widely regarded he did so under pressure from King Philip the Fair of France, the grandson of the saint king.
Yes – Templar watchers – the same King Philip who would round up, imprison and execute the Knights Templar. And this is the same Pope Boniface beaten up by agents of King Philip led by the infamous William de Nogaret – adviser to the king and the man who drafted the Templar arrest warrants.
FIND OUT MORE: The real Pope Boniface VIII
However, while agreeing to make Louis IX a saint – Pope Boniface outlined the reasons in a veiled attack on his grandson, King Philip. Up until then, Louis was seen as a man who had rejected kingship to be a holy crusader. But Boniface now spun that story to say Louis had in fact been the perfect king – brackets, unlike his wicked grandson.
Hear the word ‘crusade’ and you think of Templars fighting Saracens in the Holy Land. Maybe a scene from the movie Kingdom of Heaven comes to mind. But at the start of the 13th century there were multiple crusades raging across Europe. And the Popes in Rome had intriguing ways of getting people to go and fight in them.
The Iberian Crusade against the Moors
Going from west to east, we start with possibly the longest lasting of the crusades. What is now Spain and Portugal – the Iberian Peninsula – was torn apart by a 700-year struggle for control between Christian crusader kingdoms and a Muslim caliphate to the south.
Between the years 711AD and 1492 – Muslim armies first surged across Spain and into France before being pushed back very slowly over seven centuries. At times, the Popes put the Iberian crusade on a par with the Holy Land. Especially as the crusaders enjoyed consistent success in Iberia while the Holy Land saw frequent setbacks. Though the Holy Land always remained the most important given the burning desire to control all the biblical sites such as Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
FIND OUT MORE: Muslim Spain in the Middle Ages
The Albigensian Crusade against the Cathars
Heading north east to the south of France and we meet the so-called Albigensian Crusade. This was a bitter and bloody conflict between the Roman Catholic church and a Christian heresy often referred to as ‘Cathar’. In the year 1208, Pope Innocent III – often regarded as the most powerful pope ever – gave the green light to a crusade against the Cathars.
So desperate was Pope Innocent to get crusaders to destroy the Cathars that he offered to wipe their sins entirely in return for just forty days military service in France. This meant that after death they would sail through purgatory to their heavenly reward. Heresy was regarded by the church as a horrific existential threat that destabilised the natural order of things – as well as threatening their earthly power.
FIND OUT MORE: Templar links to the Cathars
The Teutonic Knights crusade in the Baltics
Then zooming northwards, we find the Teutonic Knights in battle with the last pagans in Europe. Unless you come from that part of Europe, this has to be the least remembered crusades. But it took well into the fourteenth century for paganism to be completely wiped out by the knights.
The Fourth Crusade attacks Constantinople
Going south we arrive at the capital of the Byzantine Empire, Constantinople, disgracefully ransacked and burned by crusaders during the Fourth Crusade of the year 1204. This was an unwarranted attack by Catholic knights from across Europe against a city where the eastern orthodox variant of Christianity prevailed.
Officially the papacy was scandalised by what the crusaders did. The blame was firmly placed on the Doge of Venice – Enrico Dandalo. He had financed the Fourth Crusade and wanted his money back. He also was keen on knocking out the Byzantines who had once been trading and maritime rivals but were in terminal decline. Looting Constantinople achieved those cynical aims.
DISCOVER: Islamic history and influence in Europe
And the Holy Land…
And finally – the Holy Land. The Crusade you all know. From the end of the 11th century and the seizure of Jerusalem in the First Crusade, there were two centuries of one crusade after another. This activity is roughly encompassed by the lifespan of the Knights Templar (1118 to 1307). Their demise coincided with crusaders being forced off the mainland and on to the island of Cyprus.