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.
I get asked this question so many times. What was the difference between the Knights Templar and the Knights Hospitaller? Truthfully, there wasn’t a huge difference between the two other than their uniform, origin and areas of Europe where they were strongest. However, both orders were definitely rivals and when the Knights Templar were crushed after 1307, the Knights Hospitaller were only too happy to gobble up their assets.
FIND OUT MORE: The Knights Hospitaller in north London
The Hospitaller and Templar orders were two of several military orders that were established during the Crusades. But not all of them were focussed on the Holy Land. Some concentrated their efforts on fighting in modern Spain and Portugal while others were taking on Europe’s last pagans in the Baltic states.
Other medieval military orders included:
There are other military orders which I’m happy to answer any questions about. But these are the main ones listed above. And below is the latest edition of Templar Knight TV explaining the difference between the Knights Templar and Hospitaller. Watch and give me your feedback!
After the Knights Templar and the crusaders lost control of Jerusalem to Saladin and his Saracen armies, they shifted their base of operations in the Holy Land to the city of Acre. Now I’ve been to Acre (Akko as it’s now called in Hebrew) and yet still didn’t appreciate its massive importance and sheer wealth.
This wasn’t some sleepy backwater. In many ways, Acre was more important than Jerusalem. It was a playground for the medieval super rich. Had a great port. Busy markets. And a surprising degree of trade and contact between Christians and Muslims. Acre was a sinful, thriving, cosmopolitan fleshpot on the Mediterranean.
The latest edition of History Today carries an eye opening article on just how amazing Acre was. This wasn’t just a Templar fortress with some knights milling around waiting for the enemy to turn up. It was almost like Las Vegas, London and Cairo rolled into one. It was deemed to be so licentious that a church official called Jacques de Vitry was sent by the Pope to become the city’s bishop (and later cardinal) and sort out the dubious morals of the place.
He was appalled by Acre. Describing it in apocalyptic terms as “like a monster or a beast, having nine heads each fighting the other’. Every vice was present. Prostitution was rampant plus black magic and murder. Worse, in his view, the Christian community in this crusader city had gone very native. They spoke Arabic, wore beards and veiled their wives.
Templar Acre was truly cosmopolitan
What poor old Jacques was finding difficult to handle was the blend of different types of Christianity in the east. In western Europe, there was just the Roman Catholic church headed by the Pope. But in the east, there were Christian churches that went right back to the decades after Christ’s death headed by patriarchs in Alexandria, Constantinople, Jerusalem and Antioch. They were Armenians and Syrians with their own rites and interpretations of scripture totally at odds with Rome.
It’s often been conjectured by the conspiracy theory end of Templar thought to what degree the knights were influenced by these heretical forms of Christianity. The kinds of strange looking Christian that shocked and horrified Jacques De Vitry. Because not only eastern Christians but Muslim traders all mixed together in the markets. The crusades going on outside the walls had no bearing on this at all. Life, love, making money and having fun continued while holy war was being waged down the road.
An Arab traveller, Ibn Jubayr, was astonished by what he saw in the year 1184:
The soldiers engage themselves in their war, while the people are at peace and the world goes to him who conquers.
The impression I got from the History Today article was that it almost didn’t matter that Jerusalem had fallen. Because Acre was the bustling and super-wealthy hub of the whole region. It rivalled Constantinople for the amount of money pouring through its ports and warehouses. It was dotted with the mansions of the crusader super-wealthy. And most shocking – right under the noses of the Knights Templar and Knights Hospitaller – commerce with neighbouring Muslims boomed.
Contrary to what you might imagine happened in that era, Christian merchants would even pop over to Muslim-controlled Damascus to shop for ivory from India, musk from Tibet and….I kid you not…rhubarb from China. And this is the most incredible revelation for me. The crusaders even bought their own weapons from Muslim traders in Damascus. In the same way that modern wars often involve arms trading on the black market between people you might assume should be enemies.
Templar and Hospitaller rivalry in Acre
Both the Knights Templar and Hospitaller built impressive fortresses and a network of tunnels underneath the city. Decades before Acre eventually fell to Muslim control, the rival Christian military orders fought each other when Venetian and Genoese merchants clashed over trading rights. This grubby episode wrecked a large part of the city.
FIND OUT MORE: The Siege of Acre
The Knights Templar had their own commercial interests that included refining sugar – a luxury product right down to modern times. And they conducted their trade with a coinage minted in the city that mimicked the Saracen coinage. This horrified the pope who demanded they remove the Arabic script on their coins – which they didn’t.
Watch the latest edition of Templar Knight TV to find out whether Jacques de Molay really was the Last Knight Templar. Most historians would assert that he was the final Grand Master in a line stretching back two centuries. But others have argued that De Molay appointed a successor and there has been an unbroken line to the present day.
The idea that the last Knight Templar grand master secretly appointed a successor before he was burned at the stake in the year 1314 emerged in the 18th century. In 1804, a French doctor called Bernard-Raymond Fabré-Palaprat even publicly declared that he was the latest in a long line of grand masters going back to Jacques de Molay.
DISCOVER: Where was Jacques de Molay executed?
Palaprat produced a charter dating back to the 14th century with an unbroken line of 22 grand masters leading down to himself. Of course, this was greeted with some scepticism at the time and ever since.
However, Templar organisations sprang up accepting the veracity of the charter and vowing to continue the Templar order. Some of these bodies still exist today – but unfortunately are sometimes in conflict with each other.
The charter is referred to as the “Larmenius Charter”, the name of the Templar Grand Master allegedly appointed by De Molay. Larmenius was said to be the preceptor of Cyprus and he was succeeded by a Templar knight from Alexandria in modern day Egypt. If this is true, then De Molay was not the last Knight Templar though the order went underground for five hundred years after this death.
Watch the video to find out more!