The Knights Templar are often associated with caves. Underground chambers are believed by some to have been the venue for secret initiation rites. Or others argue that it was where the knights hid their treasure and holy relics brought from Jerusalem. Whatever the truth – there’s a strong and lasting association between the Templars and underground spaces.
Wemyss Caves – America Unearthed
In 2019, I filmed with the Travel Channel programme America Unearthed at Wemyss caves near Fife in Scotland (Episode ten: Exodus of the Templars). These caves are well known for their Pictish carvings and had been the subject of an archaeological investigation by the Channel 4 programme Time Team about fifteen years before. The archaeologists then found definite evidence for prehistoric, Iron Age and Pictish activity on the site.
I was with forensic geologist Scott Wolter to find clues to Knight Templar related activity. This was one of several investigations I’ve been involved in to find out if Templars fled to Scotland after their suppression in the year 1307. Should add that the aforementioned archaeologists commissioned by Time Team had found medieval artefacts in the Well Cave including pottery.
The carving in the cave that interested Scott resembles the Cross of Lorraine with three bars across a vertical line. And to one side the letter “C”. Earlier studies suggested it could date back to the 12th century, which would place it within the Templar period. The theory is that Knights Templar who had left France after 1307 were camped out in these caves, living a sort of monastic existence – and figuring out their next move.
Tomar – caves and the Knights Templar
In 2017, I was with the team from Buried – a History channel programme following the trail of the Holy Grail from Jerusalem to Portugal. I joined presenters Mikey Kay and Garth Baldwin when they arrived in the Portuguese Templar city of Tomar. Now, this is a place I absolutely adore. It evokes the Knights Templar more than any other location on Earth.
I’m biased being half Portuguese on my mother’s side!
Having written heaps on Tomar, I was asked to help the guys look for clues to Templar activity in caves near the famous Templar ‘charola’ – octagonal tower. Intriguingly, the Knights Templar in Portugal were rebranded as the Order of Christ – Ordem do Cristo in Portuguese – by the King, Dom Dinis.
In effect – as I’ve blogged about before – the king nationalised the Templars. Thereby protecting them from the papacy and the King of France. Portugal felt it owed a debt to the Templars for centuries of fighting against Muslim armies from the south.
There are many theories about tunnels under Tomar linking the Templar tower up on the hill with the church of Santa Maria Olival down below – last resting place of the Portuguese Templar Grand Masters. It would have required some breathtaking engineering to achieve that including a passageway under the river Nabao.
Other Templar caves around the world
In the United Kingdom, there are the Caynton Caves in Shropshire, often linked to the Knights Templar. These very atmospheric caves, carved by hand out of sandstone, have been linked to the Templars but with little by way of solid evidence. Nevertheless, they became so popular with devotees of Satanic rituals that the local council shut them down in 2012.
Royston Cave in Hertfordshire is a stronger contender for Templar activity. It was discovered by workers in the year 1742. Once a mass of debris was dug out, it revealed an underground beehive shaped chapel. And we know it was some kind of area of worship because there are images of saints carved into the walls.
Martyred saints figure prominently including Saint Catherine of Alexandria with her spiked wheel and St Lawrence with the iron grid on which he was literally grilled. This kind of very Catholic imagery places it before the Reformation and local historians date it to the 14th century. Specifically the decades after the Knights Templar were crushed.
Eight miles from Royston, the Knights Templar had a preceptory at Baldock so this cave may have become a secret gathering place.