On the 18 March 1314, the last Templar Grand Master Jacques de Molay was executed in Paris – burned to death in front of a large crowd. His death brought two hundred years of the Knights Templar to a gruesome end. But where exactly was De Molay judicially incinerated?
I often read that the grand master was executed “in front of Notre Dame”. There are plenty of artist representations online that show De Molay screaming his last before the magnificent cathedral that still stands today. So, last week, I began my search for the execution site of Jacques de Molay at Notre Dame.
Notre Dame is at one end of a cigar-shaped island in the middle of the river Seine referred to as the Île de la Cité. This was the original ancient city of Paris, protected on all sides by water. From the 11th century, a mighty church began to emerge dominating the island. But nowhere around Notre Dame could I find a plaque commemorating the execution of Jacques de Molay.
For the next ten minutes, I walked past impressive government buildings to the other end of the island. There I found the so-called Pont Neuf – or new bridge. Thing is, it’s not very new. In fact it dates back to the very early 17th century and is amazingly still in use.
I was assured that if I wanted to find the execution spot, it was near some steps by the bridge. And so I descended a stone staircase to what I think was the original ground level of the island.
And there I found a small park ending in a point. I’m informed this land was reclaimed since the Middle Ages so Jacques de Molay couldn’t have been burned at the very end of the Île de la Cité. Otherwise, they’d have been trying to burn him underwater – not really feasible!
Frustrated in my quest, I asked a tour guide where on earth the grand master met his fate. He told me to turn around. And sure enough, up on the bridge itself, was a plaque. I mean, you’d seriously have to know it was there. As public monuments go, this is beyond understated. Maybe the Catholic church still isn’t keen to draw attention to a very shameful episode in its history.
DISCOVER MORE: Torture and violence in the Middle Ages