Could the Templars have indulged in some form of sun worship? This is a theory you can find in certain corners of the internet. But does it have a shred of truth?
Sun worship at the dawn of Christianity
This Christmas I was given a book that I’ve been dying to read. It’s a new offering from publishers Simon & Schuster called ‘Chasing The Sun’ by Richard Cohen. From what I’ve flicked through and read so far, over a glass of wine on Boxing Day, I can see that me and this book are going to be good buddies.
Cohen covers all aspects of sun worship pointing out that across the globe there are something like three thousand stone structures directed to the big yellow ball in the sky. Over the millennia, there have obviously far more temples and stones erected but this is what survives and is identifiable. Of these, 900 are Neolithic tombs in Britain that capture the sun’s rays at a particular time.
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Stonehenge, megaliths and sun worship
Top of the solar sites in Britain is Stonehenge which, Cohen notes, impressed the hell out of seventeenth century diarist Samuel Pepys though he noted ‘God know what their use was’.
The main European rival to Stonehenge is the vast mass of stones all over Brittany, in France, where one site has thousands of megaliths scattered around. Once part of a huge structure with a local legend that has developed over the last two thousand years asserting that they are Roman soldiers petrified by Pope Cornelius during the persecutions of the Emperor Trajan Decius (AD251-253).
These structures would have existed to impress any passing Templar. And there have always been suggestions that the Order of the Temple dabbled in a bit of sun worship – along with everything else they are supposed to have dabbled in. The reasons given for this connection tend to vary dramatically.
The Templars and Druidic traditions of sun worship
One theory puts it that the Templars came from a region of France that had strong Druidic traditions that were transmitted down to the nine founding knights of the Order. Another that Jesus himself was the continuation of previous sun deities – ‘I am the light’, all that kind of thing….you can find plenty of light and darkness references in the New Testament to construct a plausible theory along these lines. Add in that early representations of Jesus look rather like the solar god Apollo and you’re really on a roll.
So the Templars decided to worship Jesus as a sun god. Evidence? None at all. Yet all over the web are creaky and unstable bridges linking far fetched premises to hopelessly unlinked conclusions. Normally prefaced with phrases like “it’s known that” and “they would have been aware of”. It’s best to retain a healthy scepticism with regards to the Templars bowing down before an all powerful rising sun.
The Romans and Sol Invictus
But in terms of links between early Christianity and solar worship, then you’re on firmer ground. Constantine, the first emperor to tolerate Christianity and then slowly adopt it, was also an adherent to the cult of Sol Invictus (the Invincible Sun). You can see him gazing upwards to the Sun on some of his coins.
Emperors immediately prior to Constantine had been followers of Sol Invictus and Aurelian had even built a huge temple to Sol on what is now the Via del Corso in Rome – some sixteenth century pope demolished the last remnants of it.
Jesus is represented early on with solar imagery, as is God the Father and the Holy Spirit. Light is always associated with good and power. The appearance of golden halos behind the heads of saints can probably be traced back to solar worship as well.
In the Middle Ages, it’s hard not to see the large rose windows of the cathedrals of the High Gothic style not being solar representations.
As the sun gives us life, we still look to it. Though I suspect we see it as equal life giver and life taker these days. We know what the upside is of having a sun, as did our ancestors, but we also know about skin cancer, global warming and the fact that the sun will ultimately consume this planet with a flick of its tail, so to speak.