Eight years ago, I first blogged about where you can find the Knights Templar in the world today. I think it’s time for a thorough update. Today, there are over 1700 groups and organisations around the world calling themselves Knights Templar or Templars. They range from sensible and worthy bodies through to fringe extremists and even organised criminals. So – you have to tread carefully!
And it must be added that today’s Knights Templar can be a fractious bunch. There have been splits and fall-outs aplenty. But I think we can identify the genuine organisations and steer you away from some of the very dubious outfits.
Our starting point has to be the assumption that in 1307, the Knights Templar came to an end. The last Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, was burned to death in 1314 and with that, the Templars were no more. Well, not according to a lot of people out there. These include Roman Catholic and Freemason groups – but also charitable bodies that trace their lineage back to the knights.
Knights Templar today
Earlier this year, before the Coronavirus lockdown confined us to our homes for a while, I spoke at an event in Manchester organised by the OSMTJ Grand Priory of England Wales. In the photo below – I’m on the left, in case you didn’t know, and the Grand Prior, Mark Borrington, is next to me in the middle.
Now, I’m not affiliated to any group – as I know some of you will be trying to work that out. But the OSMTJ are a level headed group of people doing charitable work and I was happy to go to their event and talk about the Templars. They have a Grand Master who is currently Michel Van Der Stock, based in Belgium. Below him in the organisation is a Magisterium and then each region has its own Grand Prior.
The organisation is called the Ordre du Temple for short and its history goes back to the re-emergence of the Knights Templar in the French Revolution courtesy of a man called Bernard-Raymond Fabré-Palaprat (1773 to 1838). I’ve blogged about him in more detail before so search for my previous posts to get full details.
Fabré-Palaprat revealed an ancient document called the Larmenius Charter. This showed an unbroken line of Knight Templar Grand Masters from 1324 to 1804. The charter was named after a man called Johannes Marcus Larmenius who was named Grand Master by Jacques de Molay, the last visible Grand Master, before his execution in 1314. Larmenius in turn named his successor, Thomas Theobaldus Alexandrinus, in 1324. And he was the first to write his name down on the charter. After him, each master entered his details down to Fabré-Palaprat.
This document ended up in Freemason hands in the early 20th century and is now kept at Mark Masons Hall in London. These are the OSMTJ emblems for England and Wales below.
In the spirit of the French Revolution, Fabré-Palaprat wanted to establish a new religion. But also, in the spirit of Napoleon Bonaparte, the newly visible Templars also reached out to the Vatican for reconciliation. Their overtures were met with cool reserve. After all, the papacy had crushed the Knights Templar and admitting they’d done something wrong was probably asking too much.
Splits in the Templar world down to today
As the OSMTJ website and other sources point out – egos have got in the way of Templar unity. So, in the late 19th century, a Parisian gentleman called Josephin Paladin decided he could be both Regent of the Order of the Temple and Master of the Rosicrucian Brotherhood. But it didn’t work out. And the leadership of the order moved to Brussels.
Then the Nazis invaded. The order’s entire archive was moved to neutral Portugal. The man entrusted with this wealth of information was Antonio Campello Pinto de Sousa Fontes – who proclaimed himself the new Grand Master. In 1948, he then did the unthinkable and declared that his son, Fernando, would be the new leader on his death. Well, the Knights Templar were never run on a hereditary principle so this caused a global fall-out among Templars that continues to this very day.
At a stormy meeting in Paris in 1970, a Polish Marshal called Antoine Zdrojewski was acclaimed as the new Grand Master – in opposition to the Sousa Fontes father and son in Portugal. They, incidentally, refused to hand over the Templar archives. Instead, they forced a split. The OSMTJ Templar priories accepted the Paris decision. While the OSMTH continued to recognise the Portuguese.
And so you can find the OSMTJ and the OSMTH websites if you go on Google. And now you know the heritage of these organisations. Both claim to be multi-cultural and in favour of inter-faith dialogue. They have attempted to reconcile over the last 25 years but instead, there have been further splits on both sides. However, the two groups were able to unite in condemning the 1990s death cult called the Order of the Solar Temple who I’ve also blogged about previously.
Dangerous Knights Templar organisations to avoid
Now, let’s leave the OSMTJ and OSMTH and other Masonic, Catholic, charitable and esoteric groups – and focus briefly on the darker side of the Templar universe today. And I would urge you all to keep away from the dark side!
Unfortunately, the terms “crusade” and “jihad” have been used and misused to devastating effect by people of violence and terrorists in our time. And this will continue to be a problem. I’m particularly concerned by people claiming to be Knights Templar infiltrating video game chat rooms to try and radicalise teenagers into hate crime. If you have kids and you don’t want them to grow up to be bigots – be aware this is going on.
I have been quoted in Wired magazine about my fears regarding a particular organisation I refer to directly calling itself the Knights Templar International and their online activity. This has nothing to do with the medieval knights I describe in this blog. If you wish to debate this – I’m all ears. This blog has never and will never endorse hate politics. If you think otherwise – you may be on the wrong blog.
Medieval history fans will know all about Thomas Becket – the Archbishop of Canterbury killed at Christmas by four knights. The head of the English church had fallen out big time with King Henry II and paid the ultimate price. But how many people know anything about the illustrious sister of Thomas Becket – Mary? This medieval woman was a leper healer and powerful religious figure. Yet who’s heard of her today?
Shamefully I hadn’t. And I say shamefully because she was running a leper colony in the 12th century not far from where I grew up in north east London. Mary Becket – or Mary a’ Becket if you prefer – was the Abbess of Barking.
This wasn’t just any old convent. Barking Abbey was the richest and most powerful convent in the country at a time when the church called the political shots. And she used her position to tackle the leprosy pandemic then terrifying England.
Mary Becket – leper healer and powerful abbess
Mary has been somewhat overshadowed by her way more famous brother, Thomas. He was a friend of King Henry II – a rather hot-tempered monarch – who rose to become Archbishop of Canterbury. The king hoped that he would be compliant to the royal whims.
But Thomas boldly defended the power of the church. An exasperated king wondered out loud how much longer he’d have to put up with such clerical insolence. Four of the king’s knights took that as their cue to pop down to Canterbury and dash the brains of the archbishop with their swords all over his altar – at Christmas.
The whole of Christendom was appalled by what they saw as a murder sanctioned – even commissioned – by King Henry. The pope wasted no time declaring Thomas a saint just to rub some salt in Henry’s political wounds. The king, seeing he was losing the PR battle quite badly, allowed himself to be whipped at the tomb of Thomas. He also handed over Barking Abbey to the sister of his one-time friend, Mary.
Mary Becket sets to work on the leper issue
Like brother, like sister – Mary wasn’t about to accept this as a token appointment. She took over an abbey that was already five hundred years old. A venerable institution on the outskirts of London with a large community of Benedictine nuns. Mary took full advantage of her new found power and influence.
DISCOVER: An exclusive look at Rosslyn chapel
Mary set about enlarging the Hospital Chapel of St Mary the Virgin at a place called Ilford – that was within her jurisdiction. Just to poke the king in the eye she added “and Saint Thomas of Canterbury” to the chapel’s name. And then threw open the doors to ever more lepers. Many of these would have been nuns or servants of the convent who had succumbed to this very infectious disease.
There was no cure for leprosy at this time. Antibiotics were centuries in the future. So, Mary Becket use the abbey’s resources to bring as much comfort as possible to these medieval lepers rejected by their families and communities.
Incredibly, the chapel is still there. Ilford is just a typical suburb of London now. And you’d never believe this medieval gem was in its midst. But there it is. Defiant and open to visitors. It’s only been closed in 2020 because of…..a modern pandemic!
Diriliş: Ertuğrul – translated as Resurrection: Ertugrul in English – is a Turkish historical fiction TV series that has cost a huge amount and gained millions of viewers. It’s also divided opinion globally. And one must say – the Knights Templar don’t come across at all well. But it shows that medieval history continues to be a Netflix ratings winner.
Resurrection:Ertugrul – the founding of the Ottoman Empire
Since 2014, this series has run to five seasons. It’s got a massive fan base from from Turkey to Afghanistan but less well received down in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Because in some parts of the Middle East, there have been accusations that Resurrection: Ertugrul reflects a desire by Turkey to resurrect the Ottoman Empire.
And what was the Ottoman Empire – you might ask?
The Ottomans were a Turkic people who overthrew the declining Christian Byzantine Empire turning its capital Constantinople into what we now call Istanbul. That was in the year 1453. For the next four hundred years, most of the Middle East down to Mecca and Cairo was governed by this empire.
And the Ottoman sultan in Istanbul regarded himself as not only a ruler of land and people but by taking the title “caliph” – he was also the keeper of their Muslim souls. The guardian of the holy places (Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem).
Introducing the hero of Resurrection: Ertugrul – and his hatred of the Knights Templar
The hero of Resurrection: Ertugrul is a 13th century warrior called Ertugrul Ghazi and he is the father of Osman, the founder of the Ottoman Empire. In season one, he leads a Turkic tribe (the “Kayi”) that is supporting the dominant clan among the Turks in the period before the Ottoman ascendancy – the Seljuks.
It was the Seljuk Turks who sparked off the Crusades as they marched across what is now Turkey and menaced the Byzantine capital Constantinople. Terrified of the approaching threat, the Byzantine emperor appealed to the west, which brought crusader armies into the region. The forces from the west seized Palestine and parts of modern Syria and Turkey establishing Christian kingdoms. A new military order was formed to consolidate those gains: The Knights Templar.
So, Resurrection; Ertugrul is basically about a Turkish warrior fighting the Byzantines on one side, the Knights Templar on another and then the Mongols show up. I’ve blogged about the surprise Mongol invasion of the Middle East so use the search tab to find out more. For a while, both the Seljuk Turks and the Knights Templar thought the Mongols would dominate.
In the first episode of season one, while hunting in the forests, Ertugrul chances upon a group of Templars abusing a Seljuk prisoner. Now, as you know, the Knights Templar are either depicted as heroes or villains in fiction. In Resurrection: Ertugrul – they are definitely the bad guys. As this clip below shows.
Getting a medieval history drama to be a roaring success
Whatever you think of the historical angle of Resurrection: Ertugrul – the makers have certainly proved that medieval history drama can be massively successful. It’s a story told with conviction and flair. Is it biased? You bet. This is five seasons of Turkish patriotism. But in many ways, it reminds me of Victorian fictional depictions of the Middle Ages heroising “English” figures like Richard the Lionheart and Robin Hood.
Resurrection: Ertugrul is set in a period when the Knights Templar would have been in what is now Turkey. Ironically, it wasn’t the Seljuks that destroyed Constantinople in the 13th century but a western Christian army funded by Venice. I’ve blogged about this too – search for my posts on the Fourth Crusade. In the year 1204, crusaders breached the walls of Constantinople and shamefully looted a Christian city.
Constantinople never really fully recovered from that act of criminal treachery. The Byzantine Empire limped on until 1453 when the Ottoman Empire took it after a very eventful siege. That amazing last battle between the Byzantines and the Ottomans is the subject of a Netflix drama/documentary called Rise of Empires: Ottoman – which I watched on a long haul flight last year and was hooked to every episode.
Here’s the trailer for Rise of Empires.
In February this year – before the Coronavirus lockdown – I visited the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. This was once the palace of the Ottoman sultans. To say it’s ornate would be an understatement!
This week, we have a holiday in the United Kingdom to celebrate VE Day. That is short for Victory in Europe Day when the Allies accepted the formal surrender of Nazi Germany. While we mourn the millions who died in that terrible war, I’d also like to look at those medieval treasures that were bombed in the senseless destruction and carnage.
MEDIEVAL BUILDINGS BOMBED IN WORLD WAR TWO: Coventry Cathedral
In November 1940, the city of Coventry in central England endured a night of bombing. A nightmarish hell that killed hundreds and left its proud and famous cathedral a gutted, smoking hulk. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill visited the site and in the years that followed, a huge new cathedral was built next to it. This was to exemplify a city determined to rise from the ashes.
Today, you can still visit the shell of Coventry medieval cathedral and pause to consider all those who died on that night.
MEDIEVAL BUILDINGS BOMBED IN WORLD WAR TWO: Temple Church, London
You remember the Templar church featured in The Da Vinci Code – but did you know it was badly bombed in World War Two? The roof of the circular building built by the knights to mimic the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem caved in damaging the tombs of the knights below. I’ve blogged about this previously but here is a reminder of the tragedy that occurred in World War Two.
The list of churches bombed in London alone is huge. Many of the fine structures designed by Christopher Wren after the 1666 Great Fire of London took a pounding in World War Two. Some were restored, others left as a shell while quite a few were demolished – beyond any hope of repair.
DISCOVER: Did the Knights Templar get to America?
I often walk past St Clement Danes – the church of the Royal Air Force – which dates back to the Viking occupation of London a thousand years ago. You can still see where shrapnel gouged holes in the side of the building. The church that was bombed was post-medieval but the picture of it in flames is so eerie that I share it with you below. The flames are like tongues sticking out of every opening in the spire.
This is a truly unexpected story. There’s an English town that was named Baghdad by the Knights Templar. It turns out that Baldock in the county of Hertfordshire is derived from an old French word for the Iraqi capital Baghdad. But why would the Knights Templar have done such a thing?
Well, the Knights Templar ran the area in the 12th century. They decided to call their new English market town Baghdad because they hoped that it would be as prosperous as the huge Arabic metropolis. The old French for Baghdad was Baudac or Baldac.
Back in the Middle Ages, the capital of the Islamic caliphate moved from Damascus to Baghdad. The city became the centre of the Abbasid caliphate that was eventually destroyed – not by the crusaders but the Mongols, conquering from the east. At one point, it may have had a population of a million – which by medieval standards was stupendously huge. Only ancient Rome had seen an urban population so large.
So – maybe not surprising that the Knights Templar were secretly in awe of Baghdad. And resolved to name this Hertfordshire town after a place thousands of miles away. In more recent years – 2006 to be precise – I understand that The Knights Templar School (yes, such an educational institution exists in Baldock) was going to twin with a school in Baghdad. But then I’ve heard nothing more since. Were these plans scuppered? Do tell if you know!
DISCOVER MORE: The medieval glory of Southampton
Now, not everybody agrees that Baldock was named after Baghdad. Some think this very English town was named after the ancient city of Baalbek in modern Lebanon. Or, that it came from an old Saxon word. But the Baghdad explanation is still the most popular.
Medieval video games transport you back to an age of sieges, plague, Knights Templar and wanton destruction. But how realistic are they? The Templar Knight blog has been investigating…
Medieval Video Game: Age of Empires II
Age of Empires II is deservedly one of the most popular medieval video games, running since 1999. It involves building towns, gathering resources and developing an army to see off enemies. You progress as a player from the Dark Age through to the Feudal Age, Castle Age and then up to the High Middle Age.
So effectively, you’re starting in the real world from the centuries immediately after the fall of the Roman Empire up to the period just before the Renaissance. It’s what has traditionally been called the Middle Ages. But I think the great feature of Age of Empires is that you get to appreciate that this very long period of time saw huge progress and change. It really wasn’t static or repetitive.
Medieval Video Game: The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim
Dragonborn is out to defeat Alduin the World Eater. Alduin is a dragon that ruled over Skyrim in the Merethic Era. Skyrim is a vast northern region, home to the Nords. Being the north the native people are obviously hardy and resistant to frost and blizzards. The Merethic Era was a time of orc-like creatures.
So, we’re dealing with familiar Norse saga territory here. Snow-capped landscapes, hardy folk and scaly monsters. The names of protagonists and their titles reflect the Dark Ages history of the Viking north of Europe.
Medieval Video Game: Mordhau
I really like Mordhau – because of many games I’ve looked at, it really evokes medieval warfare. There have been criticisms that inappropriate language has been used in forums related to the game. That would be a shame and reprehensible. Because it’s a straightforward “hack ‘n slash” game that is otherwise great fun.
There are a whole load of medieval video games out there right now. They can teach you a limited amount about the medieval era. But as this blog shows you – there’s a lot more to the those times and the Knights Templar than beating each other up. So play the games but take some time to get the bigger picture.
I’m here to answer any questions about the Middle Ages.
(For the record – as this has caused some confusion – the three crosses along the bottom of the image above are from the Portuguese Order of Christ – what the Templars became in Portugal after they were crushed. They have nothing whatsoever to do with the Third Reich and I’m absolutely opposed to extreme Right propaganda online – hope that clarifies everything – phew!)
Sintra is a wooded landscape not far from the Portuguese capital Lisbon that has links to the Knights Templar, Freemasons and monarchs from all over Europe (normally deposed ones).
I’ve been visiting Sintra for many years. And the one feature that Templar fans are always drawn to is the so-called Initiation Well. This is a deep man-made hole in the ground with a staircase running down the side of it. Like something out of Game of Thrones in appearance. It’s a Gothic fantasy never used for storing water but instead the venue for Masonic and Templar ceremonies.
FIND OUT MORE: The Knights Templar, Atlantis and the Nazis
It’s located within an aristocratic estate – one of many in Sintra – called the Quinta da Regaleira. And the whole area is coated in Freemason, Knight Templar and occult imagery. The man behind this esoteric wonderland was a coffee and gemstones multi-millionaire António Augusto Carvalho Monteiro (1848 to 1920). Unsurprisingly, he was a Freemason himself and used his money to create this bizarre Masonic theme park that covers a relatively large area.
Not that Sintra had no association with the Knights Templar. It most certainly did. Up until the 12th century, it was under Muslim rule – part of the huge Islamic caliphate that dominated southern Spain and Portugal from the 8th to the 12th century retaining a foothold in Grenada up to 1492. There’s still a long Muslim-era wall that snakes over the hills and you can walk along it. On a hot day – take it from me – it’s quite an ordeal.
The Knights Templar and the crusader armies of the first kings of Portugal took Sintra and the surrounding towns in the mid-12th century. There is a lot of debate about alleged Templar tunnels under Sintra. The Initiation Well, however, is not from the Templar era. It’s a Masonic nod to the Templars. Nevertheless, I recommend a visit!
Many of my friends are going stir crazy with quarantine lockdown but we all realise this is the only way to challenge this terrible threat. Sadly, I’ve had a couple of friends in intensive care but the good news is – they pulled through and recovered from the Coronavirus.
So, we all have to make the best use of those lockdown hours at home. And finally, I’ve decided to get on with the podcasts that some of you have been asking me to do for years.
The camera equipment is bought and podcast episodes have been mapped out – some great and fun history content. What I really want is your input once we get going. It’s no fun being a lone blogger or podcaster – you need to hear the audience reaction. Even, folks, if it’s negative. Not a problem for me.
Therefore, I’m going to stop watching endless Netflix series and create something. Would you like to see where I’ll be filming from? Well – here’s a sneak peek below…