The Templar Knight

Turin Shroud and the Fisher King

The world-famous Turin Shroud is said to be the burial cloth of Jesus Christ bearing an imprint of his face and entire body. But a new theory suggests the face is that of the Fisher King – a legendary figure in the story of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

British anthropologist David Adkins argues that the cloth wasn’t a funeral shroud for the Messiah two thousand years ago, but a tablecloth used by monks in the Middle Ages. So why does it bear this strange ghostly image that many have believed to be the dead Jesus?

Templar treasure, the Holy Grail, and the Fisher King

It all involves fleeing Templars, English sculptors, and monks keen to promote Burton Abbey – a place of worship in the English Midlands.

Adkins has previously claimed that the Knights Templar brought their treasure – including the Holy Grail and the Ark of the Covenant – to England. The sacred horde, he contends, would have been held for a period in the town of Burton, which had a very wealthy abbey.

You won’t find it now as during the Protestant Reformation under King Henry VIII it was shut down amidst accusations of ‘idolatry’ and corruption. The worship of a statue of Saint Modwen was especially offensive to the new idol-and-relic-hating Protestant faith. The monks were kicked out and much of the monastic complex demolished or stripped for building materials over the years.

But two hundred years before the Reformation – in the 13th and 14th centuries – venerating statues was all well and good. Nobody thought it was a pagan practice. And to celebrate the arrival of the Holy Grail, Adkins thinks local craftsmen carved a life-sized statue of the Fisher King to put in the abbey. A mythical character who was the guardian of the Holy Grail in the Arthurian tales.

The material they used for this statue would have been alabaster sourced locally as there were deposits of alabaster and gypsum in the nearby mines. Traces of both these substances have been found on the Turin Shroud, Adkins notes.

FIND OUT MORE: Claims the Holy Grail and Ark of the Covenant are in England

How the Fisher King ended up on the Turin Shroud

Adkins explains how the Fisher King’s face ended up imprinted on the cloth. Up until 1350, the statue of the Fisher King was proudly on display. A reminder to the faithful that the Knights Templar had brought the Holy Grail there. But then the abbey was rebuilt, and its statues and effigies put into storage.

“They would have been wrapped in cloth and linen to protect them and, no doubt, stored in the abbey’s vaults and cellars. “It is highly likely the statue was left slumbering in the vaults of the abbey for over a decade – or at least until the new abbey church had been completed.

“Then it was retrieved and placed back on display. However, when the monks came to unwrap it, they noticed that the alabaster had reacted with chemicals in the mustiness of the cellar and left an image of the Fisher King on the old linen cloth. This is where the story of the Turin Shroud begins.

Confronted with a cloth bearing the likeness of a bearded male figure, the monks decided to concoct a story that this cloth had been part of the Templar treasure brought from Jerusalem. Churches and abbeys were always competing in the Middle Ages for who had the best and most holy relics.

Adkins claims the monks then destroyed the statue of the Fisher King to hide the true origin of the image. To bolster the credibility of the shroud being the burial cloth of the crucified Messiah, the monks added blood. Their own blood. Or that of patients who came to have bloodletting as the monastery acted as a kind of local medical centre.

So, to summarise Adkins’ theory:

  • Gypsum on the shroud confirms it was used to wrap up a statue of the Fisher King in a part of England where there’s plenty of gypsum and alabaster
  • There’s evidence of organic material on the shroud including the DNA of a marine sea worm. Adkins explains this stating that the shroud was previously used as a tablecloth at the abbey and the organic material is food remnants from the monks’ many meals. They then hastily used this tablecloth to wrap the statue of the Fisher King and then after a few years it became stained with the statue’s haunting image
  • Radiocarbon dating places the shroud at somewhere between 1260 and 1390 which allows for the Templars bringing the Grail back to England, the statue of the Fisher King being made and then wrapped in the tablecloth
  • The Turin Shroud is first recorded officially between 1353 and 1357 and that ties in with the rebuilding of Burton Abbey around 1350 and the monks selling the now sacred tablecloth to a buyer in Florence, Italy
  • The criticism of the Turin Shroud that it is not anatomically correct can be explained by this theory because it was never used to cover a real man but a statue. Even the positioning of the right hand is said to be covering his groin – famously injured in the Arthurian story rendering the Fisher King impotent

Previous Templar related claims by David Adkins

Adkins is well known for his claims regarding the Holy Grail and Ark of the Covenant being brought to England – specifically, Burton-on-Trent. I previously posted about his assertion that these holy objects are buried in a labyrinth of tunnels underneath Sinai Park House – a mansion near Burton.

I’ve also written about other theories such as the bizarre claim from another source that the Turin Shroud bears the face of Jacques de Molay, the last Grand Master of the Knights Templar.

Crusaders and their little horses

New evidence suggests that crusaders rode horses that were the size of modern ponies. Forget that mental image of a knight on a mighty steed. It seems that even the Knights Templar may have ridden warhorses that were less than impressive.

This devastating new perspective on the Middle Ages comes from the International Journal of Osteoarchaeology. I’ll freely confess I’m not a fully paid-up subscriber. But this article certainly had me reading. Because if we review the equine remains from archaeological sites, then we’re looking at horses that were about 14.2 hands in height. Ponies today range from 14 to 14.3 hands. So you get the picture.

Our large horses today reach 17 to 18 hands. But it’s a mistake to transpose a crusader on to these animals because more than likely, that doesn’t reflect the historical reality. Rather a crusader was at risk of his feet dragging on the ground. Well, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration.

DISCOVER: Templar armour explained

Our image of crusaders and horses

Horses were central to medieval warfare and were trained for military combat purposes. About two hundred horses appear in the Bayeux Tapestry. But what we don’t get from these images are the physical attributes of horses at that time. And where they were larger than average – the destrier for example – then their use may have been more in tournaments and for display than in military campaigns. The more robust rouncies and trotters would have featured in the armies of the crusaders.

It’s actually been harder to get an accurate picture of medieval horses than for the earlier Iron Age – where they might feature in a grave. A dead medieval horse was normally destined for the tannery and the knacker’s yard. However, a better idea on size is emerging.

Saxon horses were titchy

Essentially in the late Roman, Saxon and Norman periods – horses are pony-sized. In fact, they get smaller in England in the period leading up to the Norman conquest in 1066. For some reason, horse breeding went through a dismal spell under Aethelered II (978-1016 AD) and the Viking rulers of England in the 11th century didn’t prioritise stud farms.

Horses got a big bigger from 1200 to 1350 AD but it really takes until the post-medieval period – 1500 to 1650 AD – for horse size to begin increasing significantly. Until we get to the size of animal we’re used to seeing today. This research is by no means conclusive and the search for a great horse ridden by crusaders continues. The remains most likely to be found in a medieval tannery and not a battlefield.

Cyprus and the Knights Templar

Think about the Knights Templar and your mind turns to the Holy Land or western European medieval kingdoms like England and France. But the eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus played a huge role in Templar history that is often overlooked. And it’s why Templar fans should make a beeline for this very attractive destination.

Cyprus had been part of the eastern Roman Empire but in the seventh century CE came under attack from the new Islamic caliphate. A Muslim woman called Umm Haram famously died at the Cypriot town of Larnaca in a riding accident. She was the sister of one of the companions of the Prophet Muhammad and a mosque commemorates her death to there to this day. But despite the success of Muslim forces all over the Middle East, Cyprus proved to be a tougher nut to crack.

The eastern Romans – more often called the Byzantines – fought the caliphate to a stalemate. Both sides agreed to an uneasy joint control over Cyprus sharing tax revenues for three centuries. Eventually, under the warrior emperor Basil the Macedonian, the Byzantines took the island back decisively. But despite that, Cyprus proved to be a turbulent place to govern. It retained a rebellious and independent streak.

By the 12th century, the Byzantine governor Isaac Komnenos had begun a concerted attempt to seize the imperial throne in Constantinople but was rebuffed. However, he managed to keep hold of Cyprus with Norman support and while ruling in the name of Byzantium, in reality ignored the emperor.

Unfortunately for Isaac, he then made a terrible mistake. Richard the Lionheart, the crusading king of England, was on his way to fight Saladin in the Holy Land. A princess called Berengaria of Navarre sailed to meet Richard, docking at Limassol in Cyprus. Instead of offering warm greetings to his royal guest, Isaac kidnapped Berengaria to extort some money out of Richard. Big mistake!

A furious Richard the Lionheart landed at Limassol, got his future wife back and imprisoned Isaac. Apparently the Byzantine governor was shackled with silver chains as Richard had explicitly promised not to clap him in irons. Aaaah – that medieval sense of humour!

DISCOVER: Richard the Lionheart – war criminal?

Cyprus was then taken by Richard who promptly sold it to the Knights Templar to raise some ready cash for his crusade. He also married Berengaria at Limassol though their union was very much a political affair and had nothing to do with love. The Templars only held on to Cyprus for a matter of months. Faced with a very restive population, they flogged it to Guy de Lusignan, the King of Jerusalem.

Having recouped their investment, the Templars held on to castles like Kolossi and their presence was very evident on the island right through to the year of their destruction in 1307. For the Knights Templar, Cyprus was well located to supply soldiers in Jerusalem and the other crusader states. But the knights faced a constant simmering animosity from the Cypriot population who resented what was essentially ‘foreign’ domination.

The Templars were Latin Christians from western Europe. The Cypriots were eastern orthodox Christians in communion with Constantinople’s version of Christianity and not that of the Pope in Rome. There was also a minority Muslim population in Cyprus. In 1204, Latin Christian crusaders destroyed much of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade which would have validated the fears of many Cypriots about these knights clad in white mantles and red crosses.

That said, the Templar influence on Cyprus was strong. As was the legacy of the rival Knights Hospitaller. Both military orders left a strong physical and political mark on the island which is still very obvious today. One very spooky reminder is the deserted vilage of Foinikas that was part of a Templar commandery. The house of the Grand Commander can still be seen today.

Long lost Templar graves found in England

lost Templar graves

In the English village of Enville, several long lost graves of Knights Templar have been unearthed. Researcher Edward Dyas chanced upon the medieval tombs while investigating St Mary’s church, a building that dates back to the medieval period. The graves were reported by the Stourbridge News to correspond to a “standard Templar design”.

Enville is a village in Staffordshire recorded in the Domesday Book. That’s the voluminous survey of England conducted by the Normans after they defeated the previous Saxon rulers of the country at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. The current St Mary’s church has a Norman nave, 13th century chancel and a Victorian tower added in 1871. But there’s evidence a much older Saxon church once stood on the site.

DISCOVER: The lost castles of London

Dyas believes these Templars were based at a place called Onneley, which was part of the Templar preceptory at Keele in Staffordshire. This land was given to the knights by King Henry II, father of Richard the Lionheart, in the year 1168.

They expanded their interests rapidly but in 1308, after the Templars had been crushed across Europe, the preceptory and all its holdings across Staffordshire were taken back by the monarchy. The Templar estate eventually ended up in the hands of the rival Knights Hospitaller – as happened to a lot of Templar property.

Dyas thinks one of the graves is that of a Templar chaplain. The other two are “acolyte assistants”. The Templars are often described as warrior monks but they weren’t strictly speaking priests and only the designated chaplains could say mass and administer the holy sacraments. So, this may be the last resting place of one of these chaplains.

All of which begs the question why these Templar graves hadn’t been noticed before. Well, according to Dyas they had – but that was back in 1588 in a local survey. But incredibly, descriptions of the cemetery in the 18th and 19th centuries completely overlooked the Templar graves. With the permission of the vicar, Dyas and colleagues have cleared away slabs of earth, moss and lichen to reveal these crusading Templars in all their glory – no longer lost and forgotten.

Me and William Shatner on the UnXplained

This week, I’ll be appearing on William Shatner’s The UnXplained to talk about the Ark of the Covenant. And in future episodes in this series, I’ll be appearing on your screens to discuss other Templar related topics. For those of you who haven’t caught the series on the History channel, it tackles stories that have mystified humanity for centuries.

You’ll see me alongside other experts Dr Michael Tuttle and Dr Karen Bellinger. And as ever, our host Mr Shatner will boldly go where no TV documentary presenter has been before. He’s prepared to entertain all the usual theories around the Templars, mythical monsters, tales of ghosts, demons and UFOs. But this is always counterbalanced with the views of scientists and experts.

DISCOVER: Ark of the Covenant and the Knights Templar

William, basically, wants to be convinced. And from working with the team on The UnXplained, I can tell you that they demand a high level of research rigour before the cameras roll. I’d love to give all the juicy details away now but you’ll have to watch the new series of The UnXplained and I assure you it will not disappoint.

William Shatner beyond the stars!

You may have seen recently that 90-year-old William Shatner blasted into space on Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin. As somebody who grew up with astronauts and cosmonauts venturing into space in the 1960s and 1970s, I can’t deny being excited at this new enthusiasm and investment into space travel.

Of course, the cost is questioned. As it was in the 1970s for the Apollo missions. There’s nothing new there other than the fact that space travel now seems to be in the hands of private sector billionaires as opposed to the government. And we’re no longer in a race against the USSR because it doesn’t exist anymore.

I have to applaud the personal courage of William at his age being prepared to strike out into the galaxy. Of course it’s in his TV DNA as the man who captained the U.S.S. Enterprise in the first ever series of Star Trek. So, see the great man himself on The UnXplained and enjoy some top-class mystery solving!

Scotland, the Knights Templar and the Holy Grail

In recent years, I’ve appeared on several TV documentary series asked to discuss whether the Knights Templar got to Scotland with the Holy Grail. The idea being that they fled France in 1307 with their treasure, escaping the arrest warrants put out by King Philip and sailed up to Scotland. There, they were protected by local nobility and possibly sailed on to the New World.

So runs the theory in differing forms. Evidence of course is a bit thin. But then that’s why it’s a mystery!

I’ve just released a new edition of Templar Knight TV covering my travels to Rosslyn chapel, the ruins of Kilwinning Abbey and Abercorn church. I also spent time in the Scottish capital Edinburgh and visited the medieval cathedral of Saint Giles. That cathedral was once run by the Order of Saint Lazarus. They fought alongside the Templars in the Holy Land and had a special responsibility for the care of lepers.

We know for a fact that the Knights Templar did establish a base at Balantrodoch by the river Esk in Midlothian. That is about nine miles away from Rosslyn chapel. They also had a preceptory at Maryculter in Aberdeenshire. The establishment of these Templar bases followed a visit to Scotland by the first Templar grand master, Hugh de Payens. He had been crusading in the Holy Land alongside a local noble by the name of Henri St Clair, First Baron of Rosslyn.

DISCOVER: Mysterious bodies at Rosslyn are not Knights Templar

Rosslyn and the Knights Templar in Scotland

You of course know about the alleged links between Rosslyn chapel and the Knights Templar. This is often presented as concrete proof the Templars were in Scotland. And there are claims that the Holy Grail was at one point buried under the nave of the chapel. Down in the sacristy, there are curious marks on the walls that some assert are a sort of map to the New World.

Rosslyn was built by the St Clair – or Sinclair – family decades after the official destruction of the Knights Templar. But the linkage between that aristocratic family and the knights has proven too irresistible to ignore. Depending on your point of view, it’s either been spun out of control or reflects what actually happened.

In a nutshell, the St Clair – or Sinclair – family helped the Knights Templar go undercover in Scotland. The knights then fought alongside the Scots at the Battle of Bannockburn, defeating the English. An act of gratitude one assumes. And then the Templars make their way to America.

That story plus the alleged links to Kilwinning and Abercorn are explored in the video below – watch and enjoy!

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…

Sintra and the Templars – part two

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.

READ: Sintra and the Templars – part one

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.

READ MORE: From the Knights Templar to the Order of Christ

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…

Sintra and the Templars – part one

A short train ride from the gorgeous art nouveau Rossio train station in Lisbon will bring you to the town of Sintra – playground of monarchs and a magnet for mystics. The poet Lord Byron called it a ‘Glorious Eden’ and you can see why. Rolling hills coated in thick forests punctuated by fairytale castles and palaces. But our main interest is its connection to the Templars and the significance of the so-called ‘Initiation Well’ at Regaleira palace.

This is an angle not explored enough in books and documentaries on the trial and destruction of the Knights Templar. We’ve heard plenty about the knights heading north with their treasure to Scotland and from there to the New World and possibly Oak Island. But what about a different scenario? The knights heading south to Portugal and joining their comrades in the Templar citadels of Sintra and Tomar.

From there, taking their wealth and expertise on long journeys around the world in the service of the King of Portugal but also to fulfil their centuries old mission.

In a series of three blog posts, I’m going to unpack this story in its entirety. My focus will be on Sintra and its links to the Knights Templar, the Order of Christ and the Freemasons. So let’s get to grips with what is a fascinating tale spanning the centuries.

DISCOVER: The well of initiation at Sintra

The Knights Templar take Sintra

The beginnings of Sintra lie somewhere in prehistory. The origin of the town’s name is often associated with the moon worship that local historians believe occurred in the area and is still evidenced by one of the hills being called Monte da Lua (Moon mountain in Portuguese).

For all you etymologists out there, the argument about the name runs something like this. The Celts, who ruled what is now Portugal before the Romans, revered the Moon goddess by the name Cynthia. The ancient Greeks believed that Artemis – their name for the moon goddess, was born on Mount Cynthus, located on the Isle of Delos in the Greek Cyclades. The later Arab rulers corrupted the word into as-Shantara and then that morphed again into Sintra.

Confusingly – and irritatingly – the Sintra city council website asserts that the origin of the word Sintra is the Indo-European word for the sun or “bright star” as the earliest medieval spelling is Suntria. Further research clearly needed!

It’s not hard to imagine how this place came to be regarded by the ancients as sacred with its caves, grottos and densely wooded hills. Celts, Romans and Visigoths were enchanted by the surroundings and settled in Sintra but in the 8th century AD there was a truly dramatic turn of events.

In the year 711, a Muslim army crossed over from Morocco into the Iberian Peninsula – initially at the invitation of a Visigoth prince involved in a dispute with a rival for power. He needed some muscle and so called on the Islamic caliphate that ruled territories from western Africa to India and up into the Russian steppes.

This proved to be a mistake. The fertile plains and wealthy towns of what is now Spain and Portugal were too tempting to the invaders and the whole peninsula rapidly became part of the Muslim world. Sintra would for a time be ruled directly from the huge Muslim metropolis of Cordoba though later power shifted to a local Muslim emir in Badajoz (now in modern Spain).

Slowly a Christian fightback began from the north with the emergent kingdoms of Leon, Castile, Navarre, and Aragon. But these crusaders didn’t have an easy time. The Muslim realm that ruled and developed cities like Seville, Cordoba, Toledo, Silves and what would become Lisbon had enormous wealth and resources. It took until the 12th century for a serious fightback to turn the tide decisively.

While the crusades in the Middle East turned against the Christian crusaders, the opposite was true in Iberia. The line between Christianity and Islam was pushed gradually southwards and the Knights Templar were very much at the forefront. Effectively holding the line in areas which were often prone to bloody fighting and swapped hands frequently between Christian princes and Muslim emirs.

A split off from the Kingdom of Leon created the Kingdom of Portugal and its first king, Afonso Henriques, was from a Burgundian family closely linked to the spiritual leader of the Knights Templar, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. His family might also have known the earliest Templar knights – who came from the Champagne region of France. Afonso seems to have regarded himself as a de facto Templar ‘brother’ and deployed the knights as shock troops in his push southwards.

That is clear from the still standing string of Templar castles between the rivers Mondego and Tagus with the Templar citadel at Tomar being an impressive reminder today as well as evidence of their presence at Sintra. In the year 1147, King Afonso took the Muslim (Moorish) walled city of Al-Usbunna and renamed it Lisbon. At the same time, he gifted the Moorish town of as-Shantara to the Templars. When the knights turned up to claim their prize, the Moors had disappeared into the ether without a fight.

A Moorish geographer called Al-Bacr wrote in the 10th century that Sintra was a town enveloped in a dense fog that never seemed to dissipate. Now the Moors melted into that fog as if they had never been there. Lost in the mists of time.

There is a story that a solitary Moor – an old man – handed the keys to Sintra over to King Afonso and the Templar grand master in Portugal, Gualdim Pais. He then vanished. Most likely, it’s said, into a tunnel leading to an underground cavern called the Gruta dos Mouros. A wise move because the Moors would have been aware that after taking Lisbon, Afonso allowed the victorious crusaders three days to murder and plunder their way through what had been a rich Moorish metropolis.

There are tales that the Moors left behind the tomb of a king called Mariz whose resting place was guarded by demons. An Order of Mariz emerged with secret rites and I’ll describe that when we get to the story of Quinta da Regaleira at the turn of the 20th century.

Moors and Templars going underground

Some say that when the Templars arrived, the Moors scurried away into a secret web of underground passageways. There is indeed an entrance to a tunnel network at the sprawling Castelo dos Mouros (Castle of the Moors) with one tunnel reportedly running for eight kilometres to the Convento dos Capuchos (Capuchin monastery).

DISCOVER: Templar tunnels at Kerak castle in Jordan

Between 1970 and 1972, an archaeologist called Augusto Morgado investigated the tunnel from the Castelo dos Mouros and published his findings in the newspaper Epoca on 12 August 1972 confirming its existence.

Wherever you have Templars, you always have claims of tunnels and with Sintra this is especially the case. Under the Café de Paris there appears to be a hypogeum leading to the Palacio de Vila, which local historians are adamant was used by the Knights Templar. I’m told that while one tunnel heads off to the royal Vila palace, two fork northwards in the direction of the church of Saint Martinho.

Some of the underground spaces at Sintra seem to be naturally formed caves with stunningly visual geological formations while others may have been mines or tunnels built for a particular purpose.

Whatever the Templars were up to at Sintra – the town set in a fairytale forest and with an ancient history evidenced by Megalithic structures and Celtic lunar worship – now fell into the hands of the knights. Adding it to the line of forts granted to them by the King of Portugal. But this would not last forever.

To be continued…

Gypsies and the Knights Templar

You might not immediately associate the Roma people or Gypsies with the Knights Templar – but some believe there was a connection. There’s even one theory that the Templars became what we now called gypsies. I’ll explain that idea further below!

Before we get going, I must admit to a fascination with the mysterious origins of the Romani in Europe and groups like the Ashkali and Sinti. The idea that they crossed paths with the Knights Templar is just too fascinating to ignore.

The Sinclair – Knights Templar – gypsies – theory

Regulars to this blog will know that many believe the Knights Templar fled Europe after arrests warrants were issued by the King of France in 1307 – making their way to Scotland. The persecuted knights were given shelter there by the Scottish/Viking aristocratic family, the Sinclairs. In his book on Rosslyn chapel, Andrew Sinclair not only posits a connection between his noble ancestors and the Templars (see my previous blog posts on the Sinclair/Templar escape to America theory) but also a possible link to medieval Gypsies.

So how did that come about? Well, when you’re on crusade, you need decent weapons. According to Sinclair it was the Templar search for the best metalworkers and ironsmiths to make swords and shields that led them to indigenous workers in the Holy Land. ‘Egyptians’ as they were termed. These talented people presumably followed the Templars as they were pushed out of the Middle East to Cyprus and then back to mainland Europe.

When the Knights Templar fled France for Scotland – to get away from the Pope and the French monarch who had called for their arrests and torture – they took these ‘Egyptians’ with them. Sinclair says they were referred to by their new Scottish neighbours as ‘gypsies’.

In the 16th century, Sinclair maintains these gypsies adopted the name of their protectors, the Sinclairs. The Gaelic form of Sinclair – he asserts – is something like ‘tinkler’ which then evolved into ‘tinker’. That’s another name for travelling people used very much in Ireland (though tinkers are not synonymous with gypsies I hasten to add).

I should mention that there is a group of people in central Europe today who call themselves, ‘Balkan Egyptians’ and have organisational ties to the Roma communities. So the Egyptian/gypsy link is something acknowledged in the gypsy world. Though the origin of the gypsies is widely assumed to be in northern India.

Is there any evidence to support a Sinclair/Templar/gypsy link? Well, it is recorded that the gypsies were allowed to camp outside the Sinclair castle and put on plays every year. There was also an incident where a Sinclair intervened to stop a gypsy being hanged for some or other crime. But Andrew Sinclair is going much further than this.

He is suggesting that the Knights Templar and the iron working gypsies were a formidable military force in medieval Scotland. And this resurrects an old theory that the Templars, with their ‘Egyptian’ friends, helped Robert the Bruce win the Battle of Bannockburn against the English (a theory hated by Scottish nationalists and sceptics).

The Knights Templar and gypsies – one and the same?

What if the so-called gypsies that used to camp outside the Sinclair castle at Rosslyn weren’t gypsies at all? Or rather they had become what we now called gypsies – but these itinerants were actually the Knights Templar. Believe me, this has been put forward as a credible hypothesis.

It does require a little lateral thinking. Imagine the Knights Templar have packed their belongings and made their way to Scotland. They’re basically outlaws on the run. They live and sleep wherever they can find shelter, staying away from anybody who poses a threat. Maybe over time they lose all that fabulous wealth they were once said to possess. And so, we have a wandering group of nomadic ex-knights – the gypsies!

OK – let’s split the two up again: Knights Templar are not gypsies. Yet – their paths seem to cross. So there must be a reason for that. Maybe it wasn’t the Templars that took the holy relics from the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem but the gypsies? Yep, that point of view is out there. The gypsies got the holy relics and teamed up later with the Templars. In my view, this plays to a rather unpleasant stereotype of nomadic peoples being light-fingered.

DISCOVER: Investigating the Priory of Sion

The worship of a goddess – Templar link?

When investigating or speculating on a Knights Templar/gypsies link – some highlight the worship of a goddess by the Romani people. Christianised as Saint Sarah but also known as Sara La Kali. She is the patron saint of the gypsies. But who or what was she?

Well, we’re in Da Vinci Code territory now. Back in the first century AD, Sarah helped three women all called Mary scramble to shore from a capsizing boat that had sailed from Palestine. They were fleeing the aftermath of the crucifixion. Who were the three women all called Mary? According to one 16th century account, it was Mary Magdalene and two other women who witnessed the resurrection.

And so who was Sarah? In an early account, she is the Egyptian servant of the three women. Elsewhere, she is the child of Jesus and Mary Magdalene – the true Holy Grail. The use of the name Kali has an obvious link to Hinduism which some have argued ties in with the Indian origin of the gypsies. In southern France Sarah is still revered by mainstream Catholics and Roma communities but there’s always the suggestion that she’s more than just a saint.

To gypsies – Sarah is undeniably one of them. She was an Egyptian who either mixed with the disciples of Christ or was part of the sacred bloodline.

And the Templar link? Aside from the popular theory that the Templars were created to protect the bloodline of Jesus, there’s also their alleged worship of a goddess of some sort. I’ll leave that to another blog post or this one will overrun badly!

Gypsy King becomes Knight Templar

No matter how outlandish the idea of a link between the Knights Templar and the gypsies may seem to some – it just keeps cropping up in some form or other.

In 1994, there was an extraordinary ceremony in Bucharest, Romania where the ‘bulibasha’ or Gypsy King was declared a Knight Templar. Ion Cioaba, born in Transylvania, had been crowned King of the Gypsies all over the world at a dazzling coronation two years before. His solid gold crown weighed thirteen pounds apparently. And worth noting he was the president of the Union of Nomadic Metalworking Gypsies. An echo of the alleged reason why the Knights Templar and medieval gypsies had made common cause so many centuries before.