Does a Knight Templar chapel slap bang in the middle of the Iberian peninsula (modern Spain and Portugal) offer a clue to the location of the Ark of the Covenant – missing for over 2,500 years? A report from the BBC suggests so. The hermitage of San Bartolomé de Ucero is a 12th century church built by the knights that may indicate that the Ark is located in Ethiopia.
As you enter the Cañón del Río Lobos, a limestone landscape of sheer grey cliffs, you encounter a very typical Templar place of worship. Built in the Romanesque style, very simple with curved arches and none of the adornment of later Gothic churches. On one side you can clearly see a circular window with the pentagram found in many Templar locations.
I’ve blogged about this symbol before with the points of its star officially representing the five wounds of Christ but of course, the pentagram has other associations – some of them much darker. Indicating, some would say, the truth of allegations that the Knights Templar worshipped a devil’s head named Baphomet.
An ancient place of worship
As with so many Christian churches – this one was slapped on top of a pagan shrine. Nearby is a cave where the Romans celebrated a ritual known as Mundus Patet. A large boulder would be rolled back revealing what was believed to be an entrance to the underworld. Similar imagery to the tomb and resurrection of Jesus. Food would then be left for the Gods of hell. This would happen three times a year during the harvests and storing time.
Most likely a ritual of Greek or Etruscan origin, it had a practical meaning. This was the time to gather in the fruits of the field and slaughter the animals for the long winter ahead. All of this was gradually forgotten as the Christian church banished all pagan elements from the site claiming it for Christ and his saints.
Why Saint Bartholomew?
The church is dedicated to Saint Bartholomew who was one of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ. He was martyred by being flayed alive and so is often depicted, rather gruesomely, holding his own skin and the knife used by the executioner. Rather morbidly, Bartholomew is the patron saint of those working with leather – the skin of animals. This includes tanners, tailors, bookbinders, and so on. If you go to the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican in Rome, you can see Bartholomew holding his own skin in the incredible depiction of The Last Judgement by Michaelangelo.
More relevant to the Templars, is that Bartholomew traveled very widely casting out demons as he went. These travels spanned the known world from India down to Ethiopia. The early Christian writers Eusebius of Caesaria and Saint Jerome refer to Bartholomew being in India although of course this is hotly disputed. He is said to have brought Christianity to Armenia and may have been martyred at the city of Albanopolis although Turkey, Romania, India, and Azerbaijan have rival claims to being the location of his grisly death.
He had a reputation in life for casting our demons. While in India, he fought the local devils who seem to have been very real beings and not imaginary. These battles with evil creatures are depicted in another Spanish church dedicated to Saint Bartholomew at Logroño. His success in defeating the demon gods of India resulted in him being flayed alive by one disgruntled ruler upset to see his old beliefs overturned. Some, however, have argued that these events didn’t take place in India. The chroniclers got it wrong. For India we should actually be reading Ethiopia – which still today claims to have the Ark of the Covenant.
Bartholomew’s cult was popular in England during the Middle Ages and his saint’s day was on August 24. In the year 699 CE, he appeared to the Saxon saint and hermit Guthlac giving him a scourge with which to banish any demon that crossed his path. The apostle’s body and his stripped skin ended up in bits all over the Christian world. His arm was at Canterbury Cathedral in England up until the Reformation when all the saints’ relics were thrown away as idolatrous. Other bits ended up in Sicily, Rome, and Armenia.
As with another apostle, Saint James, Bartholomew somehow ended up in Spain at one point. And sure enough, he was at the Cañón del Río Lobos where he dropped a sword from one of the clifftops announcing that wherever it landed would be his home. So, we have a saint who may have been in Ethiopia during his travels coming to Spain. Did he bring the Ark of the Covenant or did that arrive much later with the Knights Templar?
The Templar clue to the location of the Ark of the Covenant
The idea that the church offers clues to the Ark of the Covenant’s location was first mooted by the historian Juan García Atienza and has been subsequently researched by the Spanish Templar enthusiast Ángel Almazán. As with the stories around Rosslyn and Rennes-le-Chateau, Almazán believes there are references to the Ark of the Covenant and the Holy Grail on the pillars of the church of San Bartolomé de Ucero.
He points out that this an area of the Iberian peninsula fought over by the Templars and the Muslim rulers of southern Spain in the Middle Ages. As the Christians moved south, they often hired local Muslim masons and craftsmen left behind. This resulted in Christian buildings retaining an Islamic flavour – or “Mudéjar” as it was described. Almazán believes the church’s imagery mixes Templar iconography with the imagery of Sufism, a mystical branch of Islam. It also has hints of the Jewish Kabbalah. You have to remember that medieval Spain was a land of three faiths: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism.
If the church does have visual pointers to the Ark being in Ethiopia, this will be welcomed by the Christian priests at Aksum in that country. The Church of Our Lady of Zion has long claimed to possess the Ark although in 1992, an English professor who examined the holy casket claimed it was a medieval replica. But there is a long standing story, championed by Graham Hancock among others, that the Knights Templar knew that the Ark was in Ethiopia and even tried to steal it.