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.
Another season of Forbidden History being screened now in the United States on Discovery – produced by Like A Shot and talent including my good self provided by the Past Preservers agency. Over the next few weeks – you can enjoy incredible insights into:
This season is going to have you on the edge of your seats as we breathlessly examine these topics. Your feedback would be hugely appreciated and I look forward to hearing from you. Always feel free to leave your comments and observations as we prepare to dive into some Forbidden History on Discovery this summer.
In case you’re missed it – Secrets of the Lost Ark is now broadcasting in the UK on Discovery Science having finished its run in the United States. The six-part show is a hunt for the biblical Ark of the Covenant that once sat in the Holy of Holies – a sacred room in the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. But it’s been missing for 2,500 years. I was one of the experts trying to find out where it is and what happened.
As the PR release put it:
“This real-life treasure hunt will follow the clues, hidden in the most extraordinary places – from the Holy Land to the countries that surround it. Along the way, the team of researchers will examine its many unsolved mysteries. What did the Ark look like? What was its purpose? And did it actually exist at all?“
The series has given me a chance to team up yet again with the talented team at Like A Shot/Argonon who also bring you the Forbidden History documentary series – that you’ll see me on in the new series later this year. We wanted to investigate all the scenarios about the Ark’s supposed awesome powers and its sudden disappearance during the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem in 587 BC.
That led to the enslavement of the Jewish people and the total destruction of the first Temple – built by King Solomon to house the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark was a golden vessel in which the Ten Commandments and other holy objects were held. Just to look within or touch the Ark would result in immediate death. On one occasion, God killed over 50,000 of his own Chosen People because some of the priests had the temerity to glance within the Ark.
So, join me on this quest and make sure you watch Secrets of the Lost Ark.
During the Crusades, both Muslims and Christians in the Middle East were terrorised by an army of dagger wielding terrorists known as the Assassins. Led by an individual referred to as the Old Man of the Mountain – this cult carried out target assassinations of Saracen and Crusader rulers with deadly effect. Though they met their match in the Knights Templar and were eventually destroyed by invading Mongol armies.
In a new YouTube video series called “History’s Terrorists”, I’m looking at groups and individuals we might once have viewed as heroic but today could be classified as terrorists. The third episode of this series is on the secretive order of the Assassins and I have no doubt that today, we would view them in the same way as Al Qaeda or ISIS. See below to watch the video episode on the Assassins.
This group of highly trained and brainwashed killers were a branch of Shia Islam. That is a minority position within the Muslim religion that originated not long after the death of the prophet Muhammad. Today, most Shias can be found in Iran and Iraq. But at the time of the Assassins, the Shia Fatimid Empire was centred on Egypt. And the founder of the Assassins, Hassan-i-Sabbah studied there before returning to what is now Iran and establishing a power base at Alamut Castle.
Shia Islam had various splits within it and Hassan was what is called a Naziri who held the rather mystical view that the Koran, the holy book of Islam, had a surface meaning but also a deeper, unseen message. Most Muslims viewed Hassan and his Assassins as heretics to be stamped out. This meant that for the first few decades from the cult’s establishment around 1090 – most victims of its killing activity were Muslim enemies.
When the crusaders arrive at the start of the 12th century and carved Christian kingdoms out of the Middle East they could hardly believe their luck when they realised how Muslims were fighting each other. Their attention fixed on the Assassins who were causing chaos within the Islamic world. All the main Muslim empires – the Fatimids in Egypt, the Abbasid caliphate ruled from Baghdad and the Seljuk Turks – fell victim to Assassin activity. So occasionally, the crusaders would even reach out to the Assassins as potential allies.
The Assassins did eventually begin killing Christian rulers – in one case disguised as monks. But the Knights Templar retaliated against them with such ferocity that they ended up paying tribute to keep the fearsome knights away. In the end, it was the unexpected arrival of vast Mongol armies from the east that proved to the undoing of the Assassins.
Click below to get the full story – a fascinating piece of history!
Ukraine has always been bound up with the history of Europe and so it’s unsurprising to find evidence of the Knights Templar in the region of Transcarpathia in the west of the country. Most incredibly, between the towns of Uzhgorod and Mukachevo, one can still view the impressive ruins of a Templar castle.
Srednyansky Castle possessed huge walls and what’s left behind is still imposing. Built in the Romanesque style, this 12th century monument dominates the local landscape. It would have originally stood at 20 metres high with walls about two and a half metres thick.
It was circled with ramparts and ditches and its structure suggests that invading forces were expected by the Templar knights. The castle was entered from the second floor of a three-tier structure via a wooden ladder. The idea being that this could be burned if a powerful enemy approached.
The nearest town is Serednie located in the ‘oblast’ (province) of Zakarpattia. There may have been an economic reason for Templar activity in Transcarpathia and that would have been the lucrative trade in salt. Even under the rule of the Soviet Union in the 20th century, salt mining was still an important source of revenue. For the Templars, revenue from salt would have been diverted to fund their crusades in the Holy Land.
End of the Knights Templar in Ukraine
When the Knights Templar were crushed by order of the Pope and the King of France after the year 1307, many Templar properties were turned over to the rival Knights Hospitaller. But the Srednyansky Castle fell into the hands of the Order of Saint Paul the First Hermit (Ordo Fratrum Sancti Primi Eremitae).
This was an order of monks founded in 1250 in the Kingdom of Hungary. They venerated a saint known as Paul of Thebes (227-341 CE) who allegedly lived alone in the Egyptian desert from the age of 16 until he died at 113 years of age. As the Ukraine was ravaged repeatedly in wars over the centuries that featured the Mongolians, Russians, Austro-Hungarian Empire and Ottoman Empire, the castle took a battering from which it never recovered.
I believe there are also claims of a Templar ‘cave’ on the so-called Black Mountain (Chornohora), a dormant volcano in the Carpathian Mountains in the same part of Ukraine. Curiously, websites with details about this have been taken down during the present Russian invasion of the Ukraine.