Medieval history fans will know all about Thomas Becket – the Archbishop of Canterbury killed at Christmas by four knights. The head of the English church had fallen out big time with King Henry II and paid the ultimate price. But how many people know anything about the illustrious sister of Thomas Becket – Mary? This medieval woman was a leper healer and powerful religious figure. Yet who’s heard of her today?
Shamefully I hadn’t. And I say shamefully because she was running a leper colony in the 12th century not far from where I grew up in north east London. Mary Becket – or Mary a’ Becket if you prefer – was the Abbess of Barking.
This wasn’t just any old convent. Barking Abbey was the richest and most powerful convent in the country at a time when the church called the political shots. And she used her position to tackle the leprosy pandemic then terrifying England.
Mary Becket – leper healer and powerful abbess
Mary has been somewhat overshadowed by her way more famous brother, Thomas. He was a friend of King Henry II – a rather hot-tempered monarch – who rose to become Archbishop of Canterbury. The king hoped that he would be compliant to the royal whims.
But Thomas boldly defended the power of the church. An exasperated king wondered out loud how much longer he’d have to put up with such clerical insolence. Four of the king’s knights took that as their cue to pop down to Canterbury and dash the brains of the archbishop with their swords all over his altar – at Christmas.
The whole of Christendom was appalled by what they saw as a murder sanctioned – even commissioned – by King Henry. The pope wasted no time declaring Thomas a saint just to rub some salt in Henry’s political wounds. The king, seeing he was losing the PR battle quite badly, allowed himself to be whipped at the tomb of Thomas. He also handed over Barking Abbey to the sister of his one-time friend, Mary.
Mary Becket sets to work on the leper issue
Like brother, like sister – Mary wasn’t about to accept this as a token appointment. She took over an abbey that was already five hundred years old. A venerable institution on the outskirts of London with a large community of Benedictine nuns. Mary took full advantage of her new found power and influence.
DISCOVER: An exclusive look at Rosslyn chapel
Mary set about enlarging the Hospital Chapel of St Mary the Virgin at a place called Ilford – that was within her jurisdiction. Just to poke the king in the eye she added “and Saint Thomas of Canterbury” to the chapel’s name. And then threw open the doors to ever more lepers. Many of these would have been nuns or servants of the convent who had succumbed to this very infectious disease.
There was no cure for leprosy at this time. Antibiotics were centuries in the future. So, Mary Becket use the abbey’s resources to bring as much comfort as possible to these medieval lepers rejected by their families and communities.
Incredibly, the chapel is still there. Ilford is just a typical suburb of London now. And you’d never believe this medieval gem was in its midst. But there it is. Defiant and open to visitors. It’s only been closed in 2020 because of…..a modern pandemic!
Diriliş: Ertuğrul – translated as Resurrection: Ertugrul in English – is a Turkish historical fiction TV series that has cost a huge amount and gained millions of viewers. It’s also divided opinion globally. And one must say – the Knights Templar don’t come across at all well. But it shows that medieval history continues to be a Netflix ratings winner.
Resurrection:Ertugrul – the founding of the Ottoman Empire
Since 2014, this series has run to five seasons. It’s got a massive fan base from from Turkey to Afghanistan but less well received down in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Because in some parts of the Middle East, there have been accusations that Resurrection: Ertugrul reflects a desire by Turkey to resurrect the Ottoman Empire.
And what was the Ottoman Empire – you might ask?
The Ottomans were a Turkic people who overthrew the declining Christian Byzantine Empire turning its capital Constantinople into what we now call Istanbul. That was in the year 1453. For the next four hundred years, most of the Middle East down to Mecca and Cairo was governed by this empire.
And the Ottoman sultan in Istanbul regarded himself as not only a ruler of land and people but by taking the title “caliph” – he was also the keeper of their Muslim souls. The guardian of the holy places (Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem).
Introducing the hero of Resurrection: Ertugrul – and his hatred of the Knights Templar
The hero of Resurrection: Ertugrul is a 13th century warrior called Ertugrul Ghazi and he is the father of Osman, the founder of the Ottoman Empire. In season one, he leads a Turkic tribe (the “Kayi”) that is supporting the dominant clan among the Turks in the period before the Ottoman ascendancy – the Seljuks.
It was the Seljuk Turks who sparked off the Crusades as they marched across what is now Turkey and menaced the Byzantine capital Constantinople. Terrified of the approaching threat, the Byzantine emperor appealed to the west, which brought crusader armies into the region. The forces from the west seized Palestine and parts of modern Syria and Turkey establishing Christian kingdoms. A new military order was formed to consolidate those gains: The Knights Templar.
So, Resurrection; Ertugrul is basically about a Turkish warrior fighting the Byzantines on one side, the Knights Templar on another and then the Mongols show up. I’ve blogged about the surprise Mongol invasion of the Middle East so use the search tab to find out more. For a while, both the Seljuk Turks and the Knights Templar thought the Mongols would dominate.
In the first episode of season one, while hunting in the forests, Ertugrul chances upon a group of Templars abusing a Seljuk prisoner. Now, as you know, the Knights Templar are either depicted as heroes or villains in fiction. In Resurrection: Ertugrul – they are definitely the bad guys. As this clip below shows.
Getting a medieval history drama to be a roaring success
Whatever you think of the historical angle of Resurrection: Ertugrul – the makers have certainly proved that medieval history drama can be massively successful. It’s a story told with conviction and flair. Is it biased? You bet. This is five seasons of Turkish patriotism. But in many ways, it reminds me of Victorian fictional depictions of the Middle Ages heroising “English” figures like Richard the Lionheart and Robin Hood.
Resurrection: Ertugrul is set in a period when the Knights Templar would have been in what is now Turkey. Ironically, it wasn’t the Seljuks that destroyed Constantinople in the 13th century but a western Christian army funded by Venice. I’ve blogged about this too – search for my posts on the Fourth Crusade. In the year 1204, crusaders breached the walls of Constantinople and shamefully looted a Christian city.
Constantinople never really fully recovered from that act of criminal treachery. The Byzantine Empire limped on until 1453 when the Ottoman Empire took it after a very eventful siege. That amazing last battle between the Byzantines and the Ottomans is the subject of a Netflix drama/documentary called Rise of Empires: Ottoman – which I watched on a long haul flight last year and was hooked to every episode.
Here’s the trailer for Rise of Empires.
In February this year – before the Coronavirus lockdown – I visited the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. This was once the palace of the Ottoman sultans. To say it’s ornate would be an understatement!
This week, we have a holiday in the United Kingdom to celebrate VE Day. That is short for Victory in Europe Day when the Allies accepted the formal surrender of Nazi Germany. While we mourn the millions who died in that terrible war, I’d also like to look at those medieval treasures that were bombed in the senseless destruction and carnage.
MEDIEVAL BUILDINGS BOMBED IN WORLD WAR TWO: Coventry Cathedral
In November 1940, the city of Coventry in central England endured a night of bombing. A nightmarish hell that killed hundreds and left its proud and famous cathedral a gutted, smoking hulk. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill visited the site and in the years that followed, a huge new cathedral was built next to it. This was to exemplify a city determined to rise from the ashes.
Today, you can still visit the shell of Coventry medieval cathedral and pause to consider all those who died on that night.
MEDIEVAL BUILDINGS BOMBED IN WORLD WAR TWO: Temple Church, London
You remember the Templar church featured in The Da Vinci Code – but did you know it was badly bombed in World War Two? The roof of the circular building built by the knights to mimic the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem caved in damaging the tombs of the knights below. I’ve blogged about this previously but here is a reminder of the tragedy that occurred in World War Two.
The list of churches bombed in London alone is huge. Many of the fine structures designed by Christopher Wren after the 1666 Great Fire of London took a pounding in World War Two. Some were restored, others left as a shell while quite a few were demolished – beyond any hope of repair.
DISCOVER: Did the Knights Templar get to America?
I often walk past St Clement Danes – the church of the Royal Air Force – which dates back to the Viking occupation of London a thousand years ago. You can still see where shrapnel gouged holes in the side of the building. The church that was bombed was post-medieval but the picture of it in flames is so eerie that I share it with you below. The flames are like tongues sticking out of every opening in the spire.
This is a truly unexpected story. There’s an English town that was named Baghdad by the Knights Templar. It turns out that Baldock in the county of Hertfordshire is derived from an old French word for the Iraqi capital Baghdad. But why would the Knights Templar have done such a thing?
Well, the Knights Templar ran the area in the 12th century. They decided to call their new English market town Baghdad because they hoped that it would be as prosperous as the huge Arabic metropolis. The old French for Baghdad was Baudac or Baldac.
Back in the Middle Ages, the capital of the Islamic caliphate moved from Damascus to Baghdad. The city became the centre of the Abbasid caliphate that was eventually destroyed – not by the crusaders but the Mongols, conquering from the east. At one point, it may have had a population of a million – which by medieval standards was stupendously huge. Only ancient Rome had seen an urban population so large.
So – maybe not surprising that the Knights Templar were secretly in awe of Baghdad. And resolved to name this Hertfordshire town after a place thousands of miles away. In more recent years – 2006 to be precise – I understand that The Knights Templar School (yes, such an educational institution exists in Baldock) was going to twin with a school in Baghdad. But then I’ve heard nothing more since. Were these plans scuppered? Do tell if you know!
DISCOVER MORE: The medieval glory of Southampton
Now, not everybody agrees that Baldock was named after Baghdad. Some think this very English town was named after the ancient city of Baalbek in modern Lebanon. Or, that it came from an old Saxon word. But the Baghdad explanation is still the most popular.
Medieval video games transport you back to an age of sieges, plague, Knights Templar and wanton destruction. But how realistic are they? The Templar Knight blog has been investigating…
Medieval Video Game: Age of Empires II
Age of Empires II is deservedly one of the most popular medieval video games, running since 1999. It involves building towns, gathering resources and developing an army to see off enemies. You progress as a player from the Dark Age through to the Feudal Age, Castle Age and then up to the High Middle Age.
So effectively, you’re starting in the real world from the centuries immediately after the fall of the Roman Empire up to the period just before the Renaissance. It’s what has traditionally been called the Middle Ages. But I think the great feature of Age of Empires is that you get to appreciate that this very long period of time saw huge progress and change. It really wasn’t static or repetitive.
Medieval Video Game: The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim
Dragonborn is out to defeat Alduin the World Eater. Alduin is a dragon that ruled over Skyrim in the Merethic Era. Skyrim is a vast northern region, home to the Nords. Being the north the native people are obviously hardy and resistant to frost and blizzards. The Merethic Era was a time of orc-like creatures.
So, we’re dealing with familiar Norse saga territory here. Snow-capped landscapes, hardy folk and scaly monsters. The names of protagonists and their titles reflect the Dark Ages history of the Viking north of Europe.
Medieval Video Game: Mordhau
I really like Mordhau – because of many games I’ve looked at, it really evokes medieval warfare. There have been criticisms that inappropriate language has been used in forums related to the game. That would be a shame and reprehensible. Because it’s a straightforward “hack ‘n slash” game that is otherwise great fun.
There are a whole load of medieval video games out there right now. They can teach you a limited amount about the medieval era. But as this blog shows you – there’s a lot more to the those times and the Knights Templar than beating each other up. So play the games but take some time to get the bigger picture.
I’m here to answer any questions about the Middle Ages.
(For the record – as this has caused some confusion – the three crosses along the bottom of the image above are from the Portuguese Order of Christ – what the Templars became in Portugal after they were crushed. They have nothing whatsoever to do with the Third Reich and I’m absolutely opposed to extreme Right propaganda online – hope that clarifies everything – phew!)
Sintra is a wooded landscape not far from the Portuguese capital Lisbon that has links to the Knights Templar, Freemasons and monarchs from all over Europe (normally deposed ones).
I’ve been visiting Sintra for many years. And the one feature that Templar fans are always drawn to is the so-called Initiation Well. This is a deep man-made hole in the ground with a staircase running down the side of it. Like something out of Game of Thrones in appearance. It’s a Gothic fantasy never used for storing water but instead the venue for Masonic and Templar ceremonies.
FIND OUT MORE: The Knights Templar, Atlantis and the Nazis
It’s located within an aristocratic estate – one of many in Sintra – called the Quinta da Regaleira. And the whole area is coated in Freemason, Knight Templar and occult imagery. The man behind this esoteric wonderland was a coffee and gemstones multi-millionaire António Augusto Carvalho Monteiro (1848 to 1920). Unsurprisingly, he was a Freemason himself and used his money to create this bizarre Masonic theme park that covers a relatively large area.
Not that Sintra had no association with the Knights Templar. It most certainly did. Up until the 12th century, it was under Muslim rule – part of the huge Islamic caliphate that dominated southern Spain and Portugal from the 8th to the 12th century retaining a foothold in Grenada up to 1492. There’s still a long Muslim-era wall that snakes over the hills and you can walk along it. On a hot day – take it from me – it’s quite an ordeal.
The Knights Templar and the crusader armies of the first kings of Portugal took Sintra and the surrounding towns in the mid-12th century. There is a lot of debate about alleged Templar tunnels under Sintra. The Initiation Well, however, is not from the Templar era. It’s a Masonic nod to the Templars. Nevertheless, I recommend a visit!
One of the most curious stories about the Knights Templar may have been fabricated hundreds of years after they were crushed – by a French Freemason who was the illegitimate son of the penultimate king of France, Louis XV.
This is a bizarre tale of revolution, the Illuminati, Freemasons, Templars and two famous deaths by execution. The two executed individuals were the last Templar Grand Master Jacques de Molay, burned to death in the year 1314, and the last King of France, Louis XVI (son of Louis XV) guillotined in 1793.
So – here’s the curious story: We need to go back two hundred years to the French Revolution when the monarchy had been overthrown, a Republic declared and the last monarch had been sentenced to death. Louis XVI was accused of conspiring with foreign powers to restore himself to the throne. That was the last straw for the revolutionaries who voted to behead the hapless king on a charge of treason.
Templar at the guillotine – or was it a Freemason?
One wintry day he was led from his prison – a huge fortress that, ironically, had been built by the Knights Templar as their French HQ centuries before. At the moment that Louis XVI lost his head on the guillotine on 21 January 1793, a man in the crowd watching this gory spectacle allegedly yelled:
“Jacques de Molay you are avenged!”
The story runs that this man was most likely a clandestine Templar descended from the original medieval knights. Part of a secret brotherhood that deliberately fomented chaos and plotted bloody revolution. And his cry referred to a curse put on the French monarch by De Molay just before the fire was started that would consume his body.
The old Templar Grand Master asked for his hands to be untied so he could pray as he burned and prophesied to those present that both King Philip IV (who had ordered his execution) and the compliant Pope Clement would soon be dead as well.
DISCOVER MORE: Where was Jacques de Molay executed in Paris?
King and Pope did indeed die shortly after. But was the guillotining of Philip’s successor as king 450 years later anything to do with De Molay’s curse. And did this incident of the man in the crowd uttering such words actually happen?
Illegitimate Freemason concocts the story
The source for this story is a strange chap called Charles Louis Cadet de Gassicourt (1769 – 1821). His father was a renowned chemist but it seems that in reality his mother, Francoise Basselet, had become pregnant with Charles as a result of a fling with the King of France – Louis XV (grandfather of the beheaded Louis XVI).
Charles’ official father was enraged at what the king had done and never forgave the libidinous monarch – which might explain why Charles, as a young man, became a very enthusiastic supporter of the French Revolution in 1789, which overthrew the monarchy and declared a Republic.
Throughout this period, Charles (pictured below) was a Freemason. In 1794, he became the Master of a Lodge in Paris. And like many revolutionaries, he despised the Roman Catholic church, organised religion and religious orders like the Jesuits. He supported attempts to de-Christianise France and to launch a new official state cult based on the God of Reason.
But his revolutionary enthusiasm didn’t last. Charles became disillusioned by the so-called Reign of Terror – when hundreds of aristocrats and alleged plotters were beheaded on the notorious guillotine. He watched with increasing dismay as the huge blade decapitated countless princes and dukes.
And as if that wasn’t bad enough, the revolution then started to devour its own children. Revolutionaries turned on each other with death sentences passed on men who had once been heroes like Danton and Robespierre. Even Charles had to flee after being suspected of counter-revolutionary sentiments.
Templar conspirators pretending to be Freemasons to blame
Though he remained a Freemason and was broadly supportive of the revolution, Charles tried to make sense of what had gone wrong in France. Why had there been a turn to mass bloodshed and cruelty? Who was responsible?
In a 1796 book called Le Tombeau de Jacques Molay (the tomb of Jacques de Molay), he pointed an accusing finger at a determined conspiracy of undercover Templars and Illuminati bent on creating chaos and destruction. These 18th century Templars had burrowed their way into some Masonic lodges united by an oath to “exterminate all Kings” and to “destroy the power of the Pope”.
The Masonic lodges under Templar control had links to similar underground lodges in Italy, Germany and England. They had formulated some of the key concepts of the French revolution including the notion of equality and – the red, white and blue of the French flag that still exists today.
Charles explained in his book:
“The true Templar Freemasons are eight hundred lodges about the Earth bent on vengeance, ambition and their system and have sworn to massacre kings for the independence of the world.”
Charles went on to assert that these contemporary Templars spread fear of conspiracies that didn’t actually exist. They created a sense of impending danger when there was nothing to actually worry about. All of this designed to create revolutionary instability. And when their own activities were occasionally uncovered – they would accuse their opponents of being the real trouble makers.
Charles also alleged that a certain Italian nobleman called Count Alessandro di Cagliostro had been inducted into the Bavarian Illuminati and was the Templar emissary to Paris stirring dissent behind the scenes to advance the Templar agenda.
This was definitely questionable.
The real Calgliostro was a low-born conman from Sicily called Giuseppe Balsamo who toured Europe fooling the gullible with tales about himself and he made up the Illuminati connection while on trial and facing a death sentence in Rome. Cagliostro also invented a branch of Freemasonry he called “Egyptian”, which had one positive aspect – it allowed women to join and hold senior positions. So Charles was essentially bigging-up a known fraudster.
Evil Templar run Freemason lodges versus other Masons
Charles claimed the malign Masonic Templars were called Amis Reunis and included top revolutionaries like the aforementioned Robespierre and Danton. Neither of them were around to deny this by the time Charles made these claims having had their heads removed in public.
So why did the Amis Reunis inject such a bloodthirsty tone into the French Revolution? Because, Charles explained, they saw themselves as part of an unbroken line to the original medieval Knights Templar. Therefore, they were intent on destroying the Bastille – where they believed Jacques de Molay had been imprisoned – and claiming the life of the King of France as an act of revenge.
I’m happy to be put right by any Masons out there. But my reading of Charles Louis Cadet de Gassicourt is that he didn’t think all Freemasons were implicated in dark and murderous plots – only those who saw themselves as latter-day Templars. And he believed they had now become very numerous like a “Hydra of a hundred heads” and had seized control of the French Revolution for their own ends.
Even at the time, this incendiary book with its claim of Templar conspiracies to overthrow the monarchy came under sharp criticism. So much so that shortly before his death, Charles wrote a follow-up tome justifying his claims again.
He repeated his allegation that the radical Jacobin faction during the French revolution had been set up by Masons and the Illuminati and that the Templars had been a driving force behind the French Revolution.
Templar or Freemason or neither at the guillotine?
All of which brings us to a man shouting “Jacques de Molay you are avenged!” at the guillotining of King Louis XVI in 1793. I’d always assumed this story was intended to be sympathetic to the Knights Templar. A way of saying that you don’t mess with these heroic knights without some consequences.
But what it really seems to have been is a yarn spun by Charles and his supporters to prove that wicked latter-day Templars were behind the bloody chaos of the French revolution. And that they had to be stopped from causing more mass violence in the future.
So we all know that the Holy Grail might have been a cup featured in the Last Supper and used to collect blood from Jesus while he hung on the cross. Or, conversely, the Holy Grail is actually the bloodline of Jesus – an unbroken chain of descendants from the children of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. But what if it was none of these things and was actually a magical stone?
But what if the Holy Grail actually originated with Satan – the lord of all darkness? And it was a stone!
Let me run you through the theory in outline. The New Testament ends with a very strange and apocalyptic section called the Book of Revelation. it describes a war that raged in heaven when the Devil attempted to overthrow God. The Archangel Michael leads the good angels against the rebel angels whose leader, the soon-to-be Devil, is often referred to as Lucifer.
Lucifer was incredibly beautiful and gifted and God favoured him above all the other angels. His fondness for Lucifer is what made the angel’s betrayal that much worse. Is this mentioned in the bible? Not exactly. It’s an account that has evolved over the centuries. But it’s loosely based on a few verses in Ezekiel where a very angry God (isn’t he always in the Old Testament?) lays out what terrible punishments he intends to inflict on the King of Tyre – an implacable enemy of the Israelites.
These verses touch on the king’s beauty and wisdom, how his pride will be his ruin and how his downfall will be full of agony and torment. Curiously, at one point, the passage refers to the king as having been in the Garden of Eden. That clearly was unlikely – unless he’d lived to an astonishing age. And this is what has been seized on to suggest that the King of Tyre isn’t really the subject of these verses at all. It’s therefore assumed by some that God is instead referring at this point to none other than Satan.
FIND OUT MORE: Was cannibalism practised in the Crusades?
The Holy Grail as a stone – popping out of Satan’s head!
As a result of rebelling, Satan was ejected from the heavens with considerable force. And as he tumbled down to his new realm of hell, a stone popped out of his crown and hurtled to the earth. This is the so-called Lapis Exillis. And it’s this magical pebble which is mentioned by the medieval author and knight, Wolfram von Eschenbach. He wrote his own version of the legend of the Arthurian legend called Parzival. And in this tale of valiant warriors, he refers to the Templars and the sacred stone they guarded – the Lapis Exillis – also known as the Grail.
One of the properties of this stone was that merely by sitting on top of it, the legendary Phoenix was firstly burnt to a crisp and then reborn from magical flames. Even human beings who gazed upon the stone were incapable of dying for a week. And if you stuck around the stone long enough, you might endure for two hundred years without ever ageing.
In this account then, we have a stone that brings the Phoenix back to life and stops people from ageing, which is guarded by Templar knights. Eschenbach was indeed a contemporary of the Knights Templar and did service as a crusader in the Holy Land. This has given rise to the idea that not only did he rub shoulders with Templars but got wind of the strange and secret rites they indulged in – which he wove into his Parzival epic.
The Holy Grail stone is called Lapis Exillis
The name of the stone – Lapis Exillis – has generated lots of detective work. Different theories basically on what the Latin means. One notion is that the words should be read: lapis de coelis. If you did Latin at school, you’ll know that roughly translates as ‘stone from heaven’. I now anticipate a hail of abuse from Latin grammarians yelling that ain’t true. But – indulge me for a moment – because it would give rise to the idea that the stone was an astronomical phenomenon.
You see – some have speculated that the stone that fell from the Devil’s crown was a meteorite. They point to the frequency of meteor worship in ancient cultures from ancient Egypt to the Roman Empire. Take for example the wayward teenage Roman emperor Elagabalus (pictured below) who brought an object called the Black Stone of Emesa and its high priest to be worshipped in the city. He was later murdered by the Praetorian Guard but the stone shows an already established cult around meteors.
Today in Mecca, millions of Muslims venerate a black stone at the Kaaba that some claim is a meteor – though that is disputed. It clearly originated in pre-Islamic Arabia and has somehow been integrated into the holiest place in Islam. Important to say the black stone is not worshipped as an idol. But there it is – a meteor in Mecca still venerated by pilgrims every year.
Objects that fall from heaven with sacred power is a recurring theme in ancient mythology. A wooden figure of the goddess Pallas Athene was said to have fallen from the skies. It was used to protect the city of Troy and later reputedly ended up in Rome where it guaranteed the strength of the empire.
Long before the Roman empire was founded, the city was ruled by Etruscan kings and the second of these kings – Numa Pompilius – possessed a magical shield called the Ancile that fell from heaven. Several Roman writers described it including Ovid, Livy and Suetonius. Ovid described the moment when Numa, wearing a white hood, begged the god Jupiter to send him holy weapons and as he implored, the skies raged furiously with thunder, then “yawned” and a shield landed at the king’s feet.
So – the Holy Grail as a magical stone that fell as a fireball from above. Any takers?
Is it possible that the Knights Templar exacted a terrible revenge on the corpse of their arch enemy King Philip of France? He was the monarch who crushed the knights in 1307. But centuries later, Philip’s remains were thoroughly desecrated. His skeleton was treated like garbage. So, was this the fulfilment of a Templar curse?
I have just visited the Basilica of St Denis on the outskirts of Paris. It’s in a working class suburb – a little out of place these days. A medieval church slap bang in the middle of a 1970s shopping precinct.
Much of it was destroyed in the French Revolution of 1789 while the surrounding area took a pounding during the Second World War – and from post-war town planners.
St Denis – scene of Templar revenge against King Philip of France?
All the Kings and Queens of France were buried in this 12th century building – constructed on the site of an even more ancient Christian church – and possibly a pagan temple before that. The tombs included the last resting place of King Philip IV of France – referred to as “the Fair”.
But he wasn’t very fair to the Knights Templar. In fact he crushed them in the year 1307 and seized their assets. His final cruel act was to have the Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, burnt to death near Notre Dame cathedral.
FIND OUT MORE: Why did King Philip of France crush the Templars?
But maybe the Templars had the last laugh from their graves. Because 450 years after Philip died, his body – and those of other French monarchs – was dug up and flung into a common grave.
This was during the French Revolution when the Paris mob wanted to wipe out everything associated with the old regime. As a consequence, they pillaged the royal tombs at the basilica of St Denis – graves that dated back countless centuries. And Philip was not spared.
DISCOVER: The Templars in America – true or false?
Here I am wandering around St Denis, giving you an exclusive look at a church that is hard to get to – but worth seeing.