Here is a church I thoroughly recommend you visit if you find yourself in central Spain – Vera Cruz – named after the True Cross which it claimed to contain. It’s just outside the old town of Segovia, sixty miles out of Madrid. Easy train journey from the Spanish capital and worth an overnight stay.
A legend of the True Cross
There is a legend that claims at some unspecified moment in the church’s history, the Templars were forced to defend their relic of the True Cross. One Templar knight was killed by the doorway and his body was placed ceremoniously inside. Local people came to venerate him and praise his bravery but then everybody left as the sun set.
That was when the crows flew in through the church windows and started to feast. By morning, only a skeleton was left. The local Templar preceptor was so appalled that he cursed the crows. As a result, it’s said, they are never seen anywhere near the church.
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Segovia – from the Romans to the Middle Ages
Segovia itself is a very odd layout. Right through the middle of the town – in fact, it feels like the end of the old town, is a whacking great Roman aqueduct. The town centre is in a low but steep valley and you can climb up some steps that take you to the uppermost level of the aqueduct and you get the vertiginous experience of looking down at the structure at close range. The people below look like ants next to it. You have to admire Roman engineering.
When you’re through with that and eaten some suckling pig for dinner – the local speciality – walk out of town towards the church of Vera Cruz. A round building that imitates the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and we all know what that means – Templars. A tower has been added at some point but you can see very clearly that it was built by the Order.
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The Templar church of Vera Cruz – the True Cross
Painted on the walls in red are fading Templar crosses but what the guide books never mention is what you find if you just walk round the edge of the building. My friend and I had to negotiate what looked like building rubble but there were the unmistakable body shaped holes in the ground. Emptied medieval tombs where shrouded figures had once lain. Simple question – where are they now? And when were they removed?
Digging up the dead, desecrating their memories, is not unknown in Spanish history. It was even done in the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s when anarchists exhumed priests’ and nuns’ bodies and propped them up against church walls – a practice condemned by the mainstream Republican left I should add.
So were these Templars dug up when the Order was condemned by papal decree? Was it a way of showing loyalty to the papacy and throwing out these heretical cadavers. Unless told otherwise, I’m going to assume it was.