In a graveyard in the county of Suffolk in eastern England, there are ten elm trees in a graveyard, which are believed to have been planted on top of the bodies of ten dead Templar knights. When one of the trees blew down decades ago, a skeleton was found trapped in its roots.
Local historian Mike Burgess runs the Hidden East Anglia website and has detailed the story. East Anglia, for my many non-United Kingdom visitors, is the bit of Britain that sticks out like a big tummy on the right-hand side. It comprises the counties of Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire. I grew up in the county of Essex to the south and can assure you that this part of the world is dripping in Templar and medieval history. Wherever you turn, there is a castle or ruined abbey.
Burgess refers to the church of Saints Peter and Paul in Kedlington. There’s been a Christian place of worship on this site since the Saxons nearly 1500 years ago. The building you see today was erected in the late 13th century so well within the Templar period. And it was constructed in a part of the world made rich by the wool trade. Fortunately, the Victorians didn’t get to “improve” the church in the 19th century so you have a very authentic medieval experience.
Dead Knights Templar in the graveyard?
The story of an elm that fell over revealing a Templar skeleton first appeared in a 1949 book by Herbert W. Tompkins called Companion Into Suffolk. Today, the elms stand in a row, almost guarding the cemetery but this may not be their original location. However, the one tree that has toppled revealed evidence of human remains beneath.
The fact they are elm trees has been seized on by some Knights Templar enthusiasts. They refer to the Templar mythology of an incident called the “Cutting of the Elm” where the Knights Templar and Priory of Sion agreed to go their separate ways in 1188. This allegedly acrimonious encounter was a fabrication by the French 1950s fantasist Pierre Plantard. It’s a story grafted on to a real incident by the same name in the same location, Gisors in France, where the Kings of England and France had a bitter falling out.
Elm trees are heavily associated in Celtic folklore with the underworld and the realm of spirits and demons. Along with the oak, elm trees have an emotional hold on the English psyche. They are ancient, looming landmarks on the landscape. In the mid-1970s, a fungal disease called Dutch Elm disease spread by bark beetles led to millions of elm trees being felled. I remember at the time for many people the loss of these haunting trees was like having a limb amputated. To see a scenery they loved changed forever.
Elms marking the spot of dead Knights Templar’ treasure?
The local newspaper for Kedlington has speculated on whether Templar treasure is located nearby. They point to ancient references to the knights’ wealth being “between the oak and the elm”. The journalist added that the Templars were known to ascribe magical properties to elm trees.
Near to Kedlington is evidence of the presence of long dead Knights Templar. A place called Temple End in Little Thurlow points to a land grant to the knights by aristocratic donors, Roger and William le Bretun. Of more interest is the church in Great Thurlow which contains some real medieval graffiti. This includes depictions of archers practising with their longbows and the prophet Moses turning his rod magically into a snake before a shocked pharaoh.
In the arch that leads to the Lady Chapel, there are shields that have led some to speculate that this part of the church was used by the Knights Templar for their initiation rites.