Sintra and the Templars – part three

In this third part on Sintra and the Templars we’ll look at how a 19th/20th century industrialist by the name of António Augusto Carvalho Monteiro revived the link between Sintra and the Knights Templar…

As we saw in Part Two, Sintra was no longer under the control of the Templars because they had ceased to exist. Or at least, that’s what the Kingdom of Portugal wanted the rest of Europe to believe. But nobody really bought into this implausible Lusitanian charade. It was blindingly obvious that the Knights Templar had been rebranded by the canny Portuguese as the Order of Christ.

But despite that – Sintra could not avoid a period of decline. Its palaces were still the playthings of royals and the rich. But the town wasn’t the political heavyweight it had been in the 12th or 13th century.

There was no crusade at its walls, Templars in its streets or kings bringing their court to Sintra. Genteel decay seemed to be inevitable. Except the place just couldn’t shake off its past. Not just the Templar presence but the Moors and before them the moon worshipping pagans stretching back millennia.

If you’ve been to Sintra and managed to escape the ever-increasing crowds, you’ll have been touched by the atmosphere of its forested hills and magical ruins. Little wonder that the romantic 19th century poet Lord Byron termed it a ‘glorious Eden’. And this mystical Eden would be a magnet for Freemasons, neo-Templars, Rosicrucians and self-proclaimed Illuminati.

One Templar enthusiast was a certain António Augusto Carvalho Monteiro. He would use his huge business fortune to create a kind of Templar/Masonic Xanadu – that even Citizen Kane might have envied.

READ MORE: Sintra and the Templars – part two

António Augusto Carvalho Monteiro, Sintra and the Templars

Monteiro embodied the revival of Sintra as a centre of neo-Templar activity. A self-made 19th century capitalist with a vast fortune who would buy an estate from an old noble family and transform it dramatically. António Augusto Carvalho Monteiro was so rich he was known affectionately as Monteiro of the Millions and less warmly by his enemies as Shitter of Millions (caga milhões).

The foundation of the family fortune was established by Monteiro’s father who emigrated to Brazil – a former Portuguese colony – and wisely married a woman whose family was already exceedingly rich. His in-laws enjoyed the monopoly of trade in coffee and gemstones between Portugal and Brazil – which was incredibly lucrative.

Monteiro senior had a penchant for palaces he would pass on to his son. He bought an 18th century palace in central Lisbon – the Palacio de Quintela in 1874 after its owners, the Barons of Quintela, went bankrupt. Monteiro junior studied at Coimbra university in Portugal where he developed an interest in esoteric thought before returning to Brazil to take the family business to giddy heights even his father couldn’t have imagined.

The young Monteiro was gifted with a Midas touch. He amassed vast wealth which he ploughed into collections of everything from clocks to natural history objects (including an awful lot of humming birds) but it was books that were his first passion. Monteiro was a massive bibliophile.

Returning to Portugal as the country’s richest man, he bought the Quinta de Regaleira at Sintra and between 1904 and 1910 set about creating a bizarre Templar/Masonic/Rosicrucian complex of buildings, structures, and tunnels with the help of an Italian theatre set designer called Luigi Manini. For a man who was reportedly shy and reserved, Monteiro was making a very public statement about his beliefs.

READ MORE: Sintra and the Templars – part one

The Initiation Well at Regaleira

At the centre of this Templar-inspired wonderland was the 90-feet-deep Initiation Well. Effectively an inverted tower reaching downwards instead of upwards. Like something out of the TV series Game of Thrones. Visitors descended a medieval-style staircase blindfolded and clutching a sword to their beating breast. The steps were divided into nine sections representing either the nine founding knights of the Templars or the rungs of hell as described by the poet Dante.

At the bottom were two surprises. One was a tiled Templar/Rosicrucian cross with compass points on the floor and one assumes the initiate was placed at the centre. Then leading off to the side was the entrance to a roughly hewn tunnel, proving the well could never have held water. I’ve made the descent myself and it’s a disorientating experience to find yourself staring up at the receding daylight and then be plunged into a murky tunnel.

Having staggered through the tunnel, the initiate arrived at a grotto packed with symbolism and a series of slippery stepping-stones leading to a chapel. This place of worship includes Masonic symbols and some intriguing references to alchemy. For example, at the back of the chapel is an image of two towers separated by flames. The red tower is believed to be Athanor – the furnace of alchemy. And this magical science wasn’t just about creating gold but also the fabled Philosopher’s Stone – which Monteiro may have wished to possess.

The cream of royal Portuguese society couldn’t get enough of this esoteric ritual and flocked to Regaleira to be initiated. The question is – what was the mystical punchline? Having got to the bottom of the well with your blindfold whipped off, what did Monteiro present to you? If it was the Holy Grail, as some have speculated, then local historians have pointed to a clue in the grounds of Regaleira.

The so-called Bench 515 is a large stone seat with a woman – said to be Beatrice from Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’ – with her arms outstretched presenting a chalice. There’s lots of numerology read into this bench! Beatrice is number one. On either side are five niches, hence 515. Some argue there are six niches and therefore you have 616, a number like 666 with diabolic meaning.

Why would the Grail be in Portugal? Well, this opens a Pandora’s Box of theories from various sources. These range from an alleged command from Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, the spiritual guide to the Templars, that the knights bring the Grail to Portugal to another claim that this kingdom was created specifically to house the Grail. The evidence to support this isn’t massively strong. For example, it’s said that Dan Brown inserted coded messages about the Grail being in Portugal in his best-selling novel, The Da Vinci Code.

The Order of Mariz and the Templars

What on earth was Monteiro really up to at Regaleira? One theory is that he was part of an organisation founded in Sintra with roots going back beyond the Knights Templar to the period of Moorish rule.

This was a clandestine society called the Order of Mariz. In one account, the name, Mariz refers to a Moorish king who was placed in a tomb at Sintra that was guarded by ‘djins’ – the demons as described in Islamic writings from which we get the word ‘genie’. His sarcophagus was fashioned in bronze and silver with the former metal representing Venus and the latter the Moon.

However, the Order of Mariz is also written about in similar terms to the Priory of Sion as a shadowy body that directed the activities of the Knights Templar and its successor organisation, the Order of Christ.

The existence of this order was apparently first made public by Professor Henrique Jose de Sousa who was a follower of the Theosophical philosophy developed by the notorious Madam Blavatsky amongst others. He wrote about the Order of Mariz in Dharana, a periodical of the Brazilian Theosophical Society. Monteiro was an admirer of Professor De Sousa.

Interestingly, the original members of the Order of Mariz were a mixture of Jews, Christian knights and Arab archers ruled by a Grand Master. It’s claimed that this clandestine order was founded in the north-east of Portugal – the province of Tras-os-Montes to be precise – with its other centres of activity in Sintra and Sagres.

Those who claim to know about the Order of Mariz say that it has gone underground for now. Its adepts are still immersing themselves in gnostic, kabbalistic and alchemical wisdom. And their secret emblem (not so secret it would seem) is a white dove with open wings, two rubies for eyes, an olive branch in its beak with the caption Ave Maria.

Members of the Order of Mariz have included the first King of Portugal Afonso Henriques (also a Templar); King Dinis who created the Order of Christ; his wife Queen Isabela who was declared a saint by the church; Henry the Navigator known in Portugal as the Infante Dom Henrique (also headed the Order of Christ); Christopher Columbus; Luis de Camoes (the one-eyed national poet of Portugal) and of course António Augusto Carvalho Monteiro.

Proof of Monteiro’s membership is said to be the presence of a carving of the Makara in a chimney at Regaleira. This Hindu sea-creature roughly corresponds to the Zodiac sign Capricorn and protects entrances and thresholds.

Regaleira after Monteiro

King Carlos I of Portugal was assassinated in 1908, an event which distressed Monteiro as he counted the royal family among his friends. Carlos was succeeded by his son as Manuel II but in October 1910, a revolution overthrew the 800-year-old monarchy and set up a republic. As an ardent monarchist, Monteiro was furious.

Monteiro was arrested by the new republic and accused of conspiring to reinstate the now exiled king. Interestingly, my Portuguese step-grandfather was also taken into custody during this period as a monarchist agitator and court-martialled, spending a short time in a political prison. I should add at this point that I’m related to a small army of Portuguese counts and dukes all of whom were swept away by the revolution.

Monteiro died in 1920. Quinta da Regaleira was inherited by his son Pedro Augusto de Melo de Carvalho Monteiro and he held on to it until 1946 when he sold it to a millionaire, Waldemar d’Orey. This guy was another massive book collector but also an artist and architect who lived for a period in London during the ‘swinging ‘ 60s and rubbed shoulders with groovy royals like Lord Snowden.

D’Orey was clearly an admirer of the legendary Monteiro and in 1949, commissioned an architect to add new decorative symbols to the main palace and the grounds. After D’Orey the estate ended up with the Aoki Corporation of Japan whose stewardship was uneventful. Ten years later in 1997 the local town council in Sintra bought Regaleira and opened it to the public for the first time.

Incredibly, even though I’m half-Portuguese and have visited Sintra several times in my life, it took me until 2017 to set foot in Regaleira. But what a joy to visit. And to experience Monteiro’s vision of a Templar initiation.

I hope this three part series on Sintra and the Templars has been informative. There is a dearth of information online and offline so happy to have been of service…

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