As we saw in Part One, the Templars had taken Sintra in central Portugal in the year 1147 adding it to a string of forts creating a line of steel between the realms of the Christian crusaders to the north and the Islamic caliphate to the south. There was a constant pushing to and fro between these rival powers with borders shifting all the time. But in the 13th century, this situation would change dramatically.
The Muslim rulers of southern Spain and Portugal became increasingly fragmented splitting into rival emirates or ‘taifas’. Even Muslim revivalist movements like the Almoravids and Almohads could only provide a temporary boost to the caliphate’s deteriorating military position. The Moors were pushed by degrees to the very south of the Iberian Peninsula and the Kingdom of Portugal assumed its modern frontiers.
Portugal and the Templar mission
In the early years of the 14th century, Templar domination of Sintra came to a sudden end. Why?
The problem for the Knights Templar was remaining relevant. The combination of failure in the Holy Land and success in Iberia was ultimately bad news for these crusading warriors.
In the Middle East, they were shoved out of Jerusalem and then Acre and finally left the region altogether with their leaders and treasure. While in Iberia, the crumbling of the Islamic caliphate meant job done. Increasingly, their huge castles weren’t needed as the lands around them were safely in Christian hands.
The Templars were still armed to the teeth. Wealthy. Organised. But without a mission. And wagging tongues conjectured that they were sitting on sacred treasure whisked out of Jerusalem from their time based on the Temple Mount. Even today, we all ask: did they have the Holy Grail? Was it true they embarked on ships from the French port of La Rochelle with priceless artefacts bound for Scotland, Portugal or both?
If they really had treasure – where was the best place to squirrel it away? Scotland maybe. Portugal though had plenty more appeal. The knights knew for certain they were welcome there after centuries of successful fighting. They had a network of impressive fortresses. And according to some, Portugal had specifically been created as a kind of Templar project – even a home for the Grail.
It was a country at the end of the world – once believed to face the mythical land of Atlantis located somewhere in the vast ocean beyond the coastline. But what the Portuguese would eventually find out is that beyond the waves wasn’t a sunken realm called Atlantis but a New World – the Americas – that nobody knew existed.
And descendants of the Templars would play a key role in ‘discovering’ it.
The Order of Christ and Sintra
1307 was a devastating year for the Knights Templar. King Philip of France issued secret arrest warrants for the knights backed up by his puppet Pope Clement – who was exiled from Rome and living in Avignon. Right under the king’s nose. The whole of Europe was told to round up its Templars and hand them over for interrogation, torture, and execution.
The Portuguese stuck their fingers in their ears. For a while at least. They simply pretended they hadn’t heard and carried on as usual. An exasperated Pope then issued a ‘bull’ or sacred order titled Regnas in Coelis demanding the Portuguese stop ignoring him and fall into line regarding the Templars.
And amazingly the Portuguese king made a few token gestures but in reality did precious little. So a furious Pope issued another order Vox in excelso telling the Portuguese that enough was enough. They had to crush the knights …. just like everybody else.
King Dinis then did something very underhand. He told the Templars in Sintra, Tomar, Almourol and other places to pack their bags and ride down to the Algarve and just lie low for a while. So, they abandoned these fortresses and towns they’d held for nearly two hundred years. The king then lied to the Pope claiming he’d crushed the Templars.
Then about six years later, the king summoned the Templar leadership and told them that from the year 1319, they would henceforth be called the Order of Christ. The official line to the papacy was that the King had taken over Templar assets which he breezily asserted had only ever been leased from him anyway. What followed was a blending of the Templars with the elite of Portuguese medieval society.
To the point where a hundred years later, Prince Henry “the Navigator” – son of King John of Portugal – became the head of the Order of Christ. And what was he famous for? Beginning the great Age of Discovery – funded by the Order of Christ.
The Templars/Order of Christ had therefore abandoned their old forts, churches and tunnels for a bigger mission – taking their Cross into lands never visited by Europeans before. Question is – did they also take their treasure including the Holy Grail to the New World?
To be continued…