The Templar Knight

Hagia Sophia – set to become a mosque again

Hagia Sophia mosque

In February this year, I went twice to Istanbul and visited the Hagia Sophia on each occasion (and last year!). This incredible structure was built as a Christian basilica by the Emperor Justinian in the sixth century. Then after a thousand years, it became a mosque for five hundred years when the Ottomans invaded. Since the 1930s it has been a museum – but the Turkish government now wants to convert it back into a mosque.

Watch my iPhone video tour above – which I now wish I’d filmed on a proper TV camera.

The Hagia Sophia is set to be converted back into a mosque after a court ruled this week that the 1934 decision to turn it into a museum was illegal. President Tayyip Erdogan, who has been agitating for this move, has now signed a decree to end its museum status. The Hagia Sophia’s social media sites have already been removed. And a mosque service has been broadcast from inside the Hagia Sophia.

This has sparked outrage around the world. Secularists wanted the basilica to remain as a museum – complying with the wishes of the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The Christian orthodox church is appalled as the Hagia Sophia was built as a Christian place of worship by the eastern Christian Byzantines – and not as a mosque. And many Muslims will also be wondering why such an antagonistic move has to be made when Istanbul is not short of mosques.

History of the Hagia Sophia

The first Roman emperor who identified himself as a Christian was Constantine. He founded the city of Constantinople as the new capital of the Roman Empire in the fourth century. The reason for moving the capital from Rome eastwards was that Constantinople was better positioned at the crossroads between Europe and Asia. This was a time when the main threat to the Romans came from Sassanid ruled Persia. His son, who ruled as Constantius II (317-361AD), built the first basilica.

That was destroyed during riots in the year 404. Another basilica was built by the emperor Theodosius II and inaugurated in 415. You can still see some remains of that building scattered around the current Hagia Sophia. The Theodosius version burnt down in the violent Nika riots of 532 under the emperor Justinian. He then set about building a vast edifice that could not tumble. What you see today is his achievement. A vast dome and the walls covered in incomparable gold mosaics.

The Roman empire split with the west falling to the “barbarians” in the fifth century AD while the east continued and we call it the Byzantine empire – though nobody did at the time. They thought they were the Romans and nothing else. And the Hagia Sophia was THEIR Christian glory. It was rocked by earthquakes and repaired. In the eighth century it lost many of its ornate mosaics when some Christians, including the emperor, decided that human imagery was sinful – what was called iconoclasm.

During the Fourth Crusade in 1204 – Constantinople was sacked by crusaders funded by the Republic of Venice. This was a disgraceful act where soldiers claiming to represent Christ attacked other Christians and burnt their city. To add insult to a huge injury, a prostitute was crowned as patriarch on the throne in the Hagia Sophia. It then became a Catholic cathedral for a while. Then the Byzantines kicked the crusaders out and it went back to being an orthodox Christian place of worship.

FIND OUT MORE: The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople

The Ottoman invasion and Hagia Sophia becomes a mosque

Then in 1453, the Ottoman Turks invaded and Constantinople had new Muslim rulers. The Byzantine empire was over. The last emperor disappeared in battle and his body was never found. The Hagia Sophia became a mosque. And you can see in my film above how the Christian basilica was changed to adapt to the new religion.

FIND OUT MORE: Constantinople – glorious Byzantine capital

After the First World War (1914-1918), the Ottoman Empire, which had sided with Germany, collapsed. Turkey became a republic occupying a much smaller territory than before. Its new ruler, Ataturk, wanted the country to modernise and adopt a more nationalist and secular frame of mind. As part of that move, he declared that the Hagia Sophia would no longer be a mosque but a museum.

And so it has remained until this week. How do I feel about this? Depressed. This is a purely symbolic gesture and a measure that could harm the tourist economy of Istanbul at a time when it needs to be attracting more visitors. I do hope that good sense prevails. And I groan at the thought of any damage that could be done to the fabric of the building.

We do live in very strange times. Below some photos from my visit in February this year.

Forbidden History season 6 – with me!

Season 6 of Forbidden History has already started airing in the United States and comes soon to the UK and Europe. I’m at 45 seconds in the trailer above if you need to see me quickly!

I think this is the best series so far. It’s now on the Science channel, part of Discovery, and the production values are amazing. Plus some really great topics that include:

  • Secret Life of Moses – who was the real prophet Moses and can we believe claims that he might have been the pharaoh Akhenaten? (Forbidden History, series 6, episode 24)
  • Curse of the Crystal Skulls – I really enjoyed this one looking at the various crystal skulls that have been discovered and finding out whether they really do have the power to kill. (Forbidden History, series 6, episode 18)
  • Hitler’s Occult Conspiracy – Looking at the weird Nazi obsession with the occult and the role of people like Otto Rahn who inspired, in part, the Indian Jones movies (Forbidden History, series 6, episode 21)
  • Search for Noah’s Ark – What truth is there in the Noah flood story and why do these accounts of an enormous catastrophe crop up in so many ancient myths plus was Noah really a giant? (Forbidden History, series 6, episode 19)
  • Legend of the Turin Shroud – Featured on this blog before but is the Turin Shroud really an image of Christ or was it a medieval fake and why have some scientists broken ranks to claim it is genuine? (Forbidden History, episode 15)

FIND OUT MORE: See me on History’s ‘Buried’ looking for treasure in Portugal

Ten trees for ten dead Knights Templar

Suffolk Templar

In a graveyard in the county of Suffolk in eastern England, there are ten elm trees in a graveyard, which are believed to have been planted on top of the bodies of ten dead Templar knights. When one of the trees blew down decades ago, a skeleton was found trapped in its roots.

Local historian Mike Burgess runs the Hidden East Anglia website and has detailed the story. East Anglia, for my many non-United Kingdom visitors, is the bit of Britain that sticks out like a big tummy on the right-hand side. It comprises the counties of Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire. I grew up in the county of Essex to the south and can assure you that this part of the world is dripping in Templar and medieval history. Wherever you turn, there is a castle or ruined abbey.

Burgess refers to the church of Saints Peter and Paul in Kedlington. There’s been a Christian place of worship on this site since the Saxons nearly 1500 years ago. The building you see today was erected in the late 13th century so well within the Templar period. And it was constructed in a part of the world made rich by the wool trade. Fortunately, the Victorians didn’t get to “improve” the church in the 19th century so you have a very authentic medieval experience.

Dead Knights Templar in the graveyard?

The story of an elm that fell over revealing a Templar skeleton first appeared in a 1949 book by Herbert W. Tompkins called Companion Into Suffolk. Today, the elms stand in a row, almost guarding the cemetery but this may not be their original location. However, the one tree that has toppled revealed evidence of human remains beneath.

The fact they are elm trees has been seized on by some Knights Templar enthusiasts. They refer to the Templar mythology of an incident called the “Cutting of the Elm” where the Knights Templar and Priory of Sion agreed to go their separate ways in 1188. This allegedly acrimonious encounter was a fabrication by the French 1950s fantasist Pierre Plantard. It’s a story grafted on to a real incident by the same name in the same location, Gisors in France, where the Kings of England and France had a bitter falling out.

DISCOVER: Brutal Viking murder commemorated by an old church

Elm trees are heavily associated in Celtic folklore with the underworld and the realm of spirits and demons. Along with the oak, elm trees have an emotional hold on the English psyche. They are ancient, looming landmarks on the landscape. In the mid-1970s, a fungal disease called Dutch Elm disease spread by bark beetles led to millions of elm trees being felled. I remember at the time for many people the loss of these haunting trees was like having a limb amputated. To see a scenery they loved changed forever.

Elms marking the spot of dead Knights Templar’ treasure?

The local newspaper for Kedlington has speculated on whether Templar treasure is located nearby. They point to ancient references to the knights’ wealth being “between the oak and the elm”. The journalist added that the Templars were known to ascribe magical properties to elm trees.

Near to Kedlington is evidence of the presence of long dead Knights Templar. A place called Temple End in Little Thurlow points to a land grant to the knights by aristocratic donors, Roger and William le Bretun. Of more interest is the church in Great Thurlow which contains some real medieval graffiti. This includes depictions of archers practising with their longbows and the prophet Moses turning his rod magically into a snake before a shocked pharaoh.

In the arch that leads to the Lady Chapel, there are shields that have led some to speculate that this part of the church was used by the Knights Templar for their initiation rites.

Ertugrul actor gets in touch with the blog!

Following my recent review of the Turkish historical drama series on Netflix Resurrection Ertugrul – or Diriliş: Ertuğrul  in Turkish – I was inundated with views and comments. And amazingly – an actor from the series got in touch. Ismail Kargi has been in several episodes of Ertugrul and shared some great photos with me.

I’m still ploughing through season one so I haven’t reached Ismail’s appearance yet. In case you’ve missed this thoroughly engrossing epic series, it centres on the life of Ertugrul Ghazi.

Ertugrul was a warrior whose tribe – the Kayi – fled the Mongol invasion of the Middle East. They ended up settled on the Anatolian plain. But that meant bumping up against their overlords the Seljuk Turks, the Byzantines and the Knights Templar.

Below is Ismail Kargi in his costume as a warrior of that period – the 13th century. He certainly seems to have enjoyed the experience of being in Ertugrul. I notice that in the bottom right photo, there are Kayi tents in the background. I do wonder how exhausting it must have been to fight in all that armour and heavy clothing. These Kayi must have been very strong guys.

Thanks to Ismail for sending me these images!

Crazy Knights Templar conspiracy theories!

There are historical facts about the Knights Templar. And then we have interesting theories and mysteries about the Templars that try to plug gaps in our knowledge. But beyond that – there’s a thick cloud of bonkers conspiracy theories about the Knights Templar.

Some of those theories are dangerous and unpleasant. Others are just rather silly. So, let’s look at the last two hundred years of Templar hokum. That ranges from daft nonsense from the French Revolution down to the loony rubbish you find on Twitter and other more murky sites.

DISCOVER: How to find your Knight Templar ancestors

TEMPLAR CONSPIRACY THEORIES: Poison from the French Revolution

Don’t blame Twitter – blame the eighteenth century for many of the crackers conspiracy theories in circulation today about the Knights Templar, Illuminati, Rosicrucians and Freemasons. It was a century that saw the dawn of the Freemasons as we know them today. A revival of interest in the Knights Templar. And huge political events like the 1789 French Revolution that were blamed on shadowy and sinister cliques.

The French Revolution led to the monarchy being overthrown and King Louis XVI executed at the guillotine. Not everybody welcomed the sight of the king’s head in a basket. A Jesuit priest called Augustin Barruel fulminated against the revolutionaries. He saw the dark and malign hand of a Templar-Illuminati-Freemason plot.

His evidence for this was somewhat thin – non-existent in fact.

And it appears that the police fed Barruel lies that he went on to promote unknowingly serving their agenda. This was particularly the case with unfounded accusations against the French Jewish community. It’s sad that this hogwash about an umbrella conspiracy of Templars, Jews and Freemasons has persisted down to the present day. And worse that social media has given it a new lease of life.

In reality, Barruel was what is termed a “useful idiot”. Elements of the state – in the police for example – didn’t support Napoleon’s policy of tolerance towards Jewish people. So they stirred up hatred and used the pseudo-intellectual Barruel to spread rumours and falsehoods. Regrettably these stories have enjoyed a very, very long shelf life.


The bile of Barruel influenced a young aristocratic Italian intellectual called Gabriele Rosetti. He came to England as a political exile in the early nineteenth century and married a certain Frances Polidori.

She was the sister of a man called Dr John Polidori – infamous for accompanying the poets Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley on their drug-fuelled trips around Switzerland. Escapades that resulted in Shelley’s wife Mary penning Frankenstein while Polidori (with help from Byron) wrote a story called Vampyre – on which Bram Stoker’s later Dracula was based.

Rosetti was exposed to a lot of the esoteric thinking among that set. And he also became a Freemason. Aware of Barruel’s work, Rosetti wrote that the Knights Templar had been destroyed because they posed a danger to the Roman Catholic church.

But more importantly, the Templars were part of a secret conspiracy in Europe stretching to the Eleusian mystery cult of ancient Greece. Rosetti believed he could identify secret messages from this underground clandestine society in classic works of literature.

This included the Divine Comedy by the 14th century Italian author Dante. A book written when the Knights Templar were on trial for their lives. Rosetti was so fascinated by the coded references in this compelling story that he named his son Dante Gabriele Rosetti – who went on to be a celebrity 19th century painter.


Madame Blavatsky was arguably the mother of New Age thinking. Or an architect of total humbug according to your point of view. She was a great believer in Karma and Reincarnation plus a spirit called Lucifer – the bringer of light – who could help us achieve enlightenment. Some Christians responded: hang on, isn’t that the devil?

Blavatsky also pushed the idea of different races of humans in history – two of whom had originated far in the arctic north. One of these northern races was called the Hyperboreans. Blavatsky also believed in the one-time existence of Atlanteans whose home – Atlantis – had been submerged in a catastrophe. Even though these races were our ancestors, they reproduced in different ways. One race sort of budded like yeast cells while another laid eggs.

It’s not her fault that the Nazis found this race theory very attractive! She was dead by the time Hitler appeared on the scene. But the Third Reich liked the idea of theory of human evolution that didn’t involve Africa.

Even though she seems completely crazy to most of us now, Blavatsky exercised a huge contemporary influence. She was the ultimate Marmite personality. You either worshipped her every utterance or despised her intensely. There wasn’t much by way of a middle ground.

And she shaped a lot of occult movements in Germany and elsewhere that claimed to be Templar. Regrettably, some of these occult German Templars morphed by degrees into Nazis.

These eighteenth and nineteenth century conspiracy theorists mentioned above created Templar fantasies that have lingered. So many assumptions about the Knights Templar on social media originated centuries after the order was wiped out.

It seems that the spirits of Barruel, Rosetti and Blavatsky still dwell amongst us!

Where are the Knights Templar today?

Eight years ago, I first blogged about where you can find the Knights Templar in the world today. I think it’s time for a thorough update. Today, there are over 1700 groups and organisations around the world calling themselves Knights Templar or Templars. They range from sensible and worthy bodies through to fringe extremists and even organised criminals. So – you have to tread carefully!

And it must be added that today’s Knights Templar can be a fractious bunch. There have been splits and fall-outs aplenty. But I think we can identify the genuine organisations and steer you away from some of the very dubious outfits.

Our starting point has to be the assumption that in 1307, the Knights Templar came to an end. The last Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, was burned to death in 1314 and with that, the Templars were no more. Well, not according to a lot of people out there. These include Roman Catholic and Freemason groups – but also charitable bodies that trace their lineage back to the knights.

Knights Templar today

Earlier this year, before the Coronavirus lockdown confined us to our homes for a while, I spoke at an event in Manchester organised by the OSMTJ Grand Priory of England Wales. In the photo below – I’m on the left, in case you didn’t know, and the Grand Prior, Mark Borrington, is next to me in the middle.

Now, I’m not affiliated to any group – as I know some of you will be trying to work that out. But the OSMTJ are a level headed group of people doing charitable work and I was happy to go to their event and talk about the Templars. They have a Grand Master who is currently Michel Van Der Stock, based in Belgium. Below him in the organisation is a Magisterium and then each region has its own Grand Prior.

The organisation is called the Ordre du Temple for short and its history goes back to the re-emergence of the Knights Templar in the French Revolution courtesy of a man called Bernard-Raymond Fabré-Palaprat (1773 to 1838). I’ve blogged about him in more detail before so search for my previous posts to get full details.

Fabré-Palaprat revealed an ancient document called the Larmenius Charter. This showed an unbroken line of Knight Templar Grand Masters from 1324 to 1804. The charter was named after a man called Johannes Marcus Larmenius who was named Grand Master by Jacques de Molay, the last visible Grand Master, before his execution in 1314. Larmenius in turn named his successor, Thomas Theobaldus Alexandrinus, in 1324. And he was the first to write his name down on the charter. After him, each master entered his details down to Fabré-Palaprat.

This document ended up in Freemason hands in the early 20th century and is now kept at Mark Masons Hall in London. These are the OSMTJ emblems for England and Wales below.

In the spirit of the French Revolution, Fabré-Palaprat wanted to establish a new religion. But also, in the spirit of Napoleon Bonaparte, the newly visible Templars also reached out to the Vatican for reconciliation. Their overtures were met with cool reserve. After all, the papacy had crushed the Knights Templar and admitting they’d done something wrong was probably asking too much.

Splits in the Templar world down to today

As the OSMTJ website and other sources point out – egos have got in the way of Templar unity. So, in the late 19th century, a Parisian gentleman called Josephin Paladin decided he could be both Regent of the Order of the Temple and Master of the Rosicrucian Brotherhood. But it didn’t work out. And the leadership of the order moved to Brussels.

Then the Nazis invaded. The order’s entire archive was moved to neutral Portugal. The man entrusted with this wealth of information was Antonio Campello Pinto de Sousa Fontes – who proclaimed himself the new Grand Master. In 1948, he then did the unthinkable and declared that his son, Fernando, would be the new leader on his death. Well, the Knights Templar were never run on a hereditary principle so this caused a global fall-out among Templars that continues to this very day.

At a stormy meeting in Paris in 1970, a Polish Marshal called Antoine Zdrojewski was acclaimed as the new Grand Master – in opposition to the Sousa Fontes father and son in Portugal. They, incidentally, refused to hand over the Templar archives. Instead, they forced a split. The OSMTJ Templar priories accepted the Paris decision. While the OSMTH continued to recognise the Portuguese.

And so you can find the OSMTJ and the OSMTH websites if you go on Google. And now you know the heritage of these organisations. Both claim to be multi-cultural and in favour of inter-faith dialogue. They have attempted to reconcile over the last 25 years but instead, there have been further splits on both sides. However, the two groups were able to unite in condemning the 1990s death cult called the Order of the Solar Temple who I’ve also blogged about previously.

Dangerous Knights Templar organisations to avoid

Now, let’s leave the OSMTJ and OSMTH and other Masonic, Catholic, charitable and esoteric groups – and focus briefly on the darker side of the Templar universe today. And I would urge you all to keep away from the dark side!

Unfortunately, the terms “crusade” and “jihad” have been used and misused to devastating effect by people of violence and terrorists in our time. And this will continue to be a problem. I’m particularly concerned by people claiming to be Knights Templar infiltrating video game chat rooms to try and radicalise teenagers into hate crime. If you have kids and you don’t want them to grow up to be bigots – be aware this is going on.

I have been quoted in Wired magazine about my fears regarding a particular organisation I refer to directly calling itself the Knights Templar International and their online activity. This has nothing to do with the medieval knights I describe in this blog. If you wish to debate this – I’m all ears. This blog has never and will never endorse hate politics. If you think otherwise – you may be on the wrong blog.

Leper healer – the sister of Thomas Becket

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.

DISCOVER: Medieval girl power and the Cathar heresy

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!

Resurrection: Ertugrul – medieval epic TV from Turkey

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!

Medieval buildings bombed in World War Two

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.


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.


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.

Temple church

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.

English town named Baghdad by the Knights Templar

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.