The Templars, like all people of high standing in medieval society, possessed seals of office – a metal disc bearing an emblem which would imprint an insignia in to hot wax on a document. A kind of Middle Ages identity card, hologram, electronic signature. There wasn’t a single seal covering the entire Templar Order – provincial masters had variants that included a number of designs. These included the familiar two knights on riding one horse, the lamb of God and the dome of a church.
But which church did that dome belong to?
It’s often casually said – indeed, I just read it on one Wiki site – that the dome is the Dome of the Rock. That’s the domed structure atop a large stone platform and adjacent to the Al Aqsa Mosque that the Templars believed comprised the site of the Temple of Solomon. The Templars set up their base inside the Mosque while the Augustinians took over the Dome.
Most Templar experts wince at the assertion that the dome on the Templar seal is the Dome of the Rock and point out, through gritted teeth, that it’s actually the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. And that’s not the same place as the Dome of the Rock.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchure is another holy place in Jerusalem covering both the site of the crucifixion of Jesus and his tomb – the raised ground called Golgotha in the bible. In the fourth century AD, the Emperor Constantine (first Christian emperor) flattened an earlier temple to Aphrodite to build a huge basilica and while it was being constructed, his mother – Helena – helpfully found the True Cross in the foundations.
This church was epic even by late Roman standards but suffered in the seventh century AD when the Persians overran the borders of the eastern Roman (or Byzantine if you prefer) empire and torched Jerusalem including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It was restored up to a point by the Emperor Heraclius when he re-invaded before falling under Islamic control under the same unfortunate Emperor.
Initially, the Muslims were light handed in their treatment of the Christians and the Church but under the radical Fatimid caliph Hakim – whose name even suggests a violent temperament – the place was razed to the ground. He pretty much insisted that any remains should be knee high. The dismantling of Constantine’s basilica was a massive undertaking and proved exceedingly difficult, but it was done.
Once the caliph died, the Byzantine emperor Monomachos in far off Constantinople negotiated with a new caliph in 1048 to fund the reconstruction of the church. It would never be on Constantine’s massive scale but it was pretty big. This was the church that the Templars arrived at when Jerusalem came back in to Christian control during the crusades. And it’s this church that the Templars used as a template for their places of worship and represented on their seal.
The Templars were based, as I said, in the Al Aqsa Mosque near the Dome of the Rock and built substantial annexes on the left and right hand sides of the earlier Islamic building. One of these annexes is now the women’s mosque and the other is an Islamic museum.
- Chapel of Saint Helena in Jerusalem (thetemplarknight.com)
- Templars’ Lost Treasure – on National Geographic (thetemplarknight.com)
- Islam: The Untold Story (thetemplarknight.com)
- Burial place of Templar Grand Masters (thetemplarknight.com)