The Templar Knight

Why did King Philip of France crush the Templars?

King Philip of France owed a massive amount of money to the Templars and the Order had a large fortress in Paris reputedly sitting on large stocks of deposited bullion. These are the facts that many believe led King Philip to crush the Templars.

During a riot over a currency devaluation, the king fled to the security of the Templar fortress and reputedly, while there, couldn’t help noticing the vast amount of wealth the order possessed.

Having shaken down the Jews in France, and expelled them, plus turned the screws on the church and people – the Templars came into his range of vision. Being a medieval monarch was always an expensive business but Philip was determined to balance his books, even if that was done in a rather violent and unorthodox manner.

READ MORE: Smear campaign that led to the Templars’ downfall

King Philip moves against his bank managers – the Templars!

Some have argued that like modern banks, most of the wealth deposited with the Templars had actually been loaned out by the Order and the idea they were sitting on great amounts of booty is a myth. The historian Dan Jones writes that there wasn’t something incredibly exceptional about King Philip’s debts though concedes that he was a thoroughly unpleasant character.

Anyway, King Philip decided – in effect – to kill his bank managers.  Don’t cheer.  Charges were trumped up against the Templars and a Pope who was under the ‘protection’ of the French monarchy was encouraged, in spite of misgivings, to go along with the whole saga.

As we know, the leaders of the Order were put to torture with one even claiming that he carried his charred toes around with him in a box thereafter.  They confessed.  They retracted their confessions.  They were burnt at the stake.

King Philip went on to expel the Jews from France – as Edward I had done in England a few years earlier.  But unlike Edward, he relented and asked them back again.  One assumes that suppressing the Templars and the Jews removed two sources of credit from the medieval French economy, so not such a smart move.

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He also picked on merchants from Lombardy thereby assuring that they preferred to transact business in London where there is still a ‘Lombard Street’.  He may even have contributed to London’s eventual rise to be the world’s global financial centre (sorry New York).

In fact, when it came to having zero understanding of economics, King Philip le Bel really stands out as an A grade cretin.  And not just because he slaughtered our beloved Templars.  He also debased the coinage – that classic refuge of the spendthrift ruler….how many Roman emperors did the same to pay their armies?

READ MORE: Ten accusations made against the Knights Templar

The Templars then were undone not so much because of Satanic rituals and sodomitic initiations but because cash strapped King Philip kept licking his lips every time he passed the Paris Temple. It was too much money to ignore!

Sacred caves and the Knights Templar!

The Knights Templar are often associated with caves. Underground chambers are believed by some to have been the venue for secret initiation rites. Or others argue that it was where the knights hid their treasure and holy relics brought from Jerusalem. Whatever the truth – there’s a strong and lasting association between the Templars and underground spaces.

Wemyss Caves – America Unearthed

In 2019, I filmed with the Travel Channel programme America Unearthed at Wemyss caves near Fife in Scotland (Episode ten: Exodus of the Templars). These caves are well known for their Pictish carvings and had been the subject of an archaeological investigation by the Channel 4 programme Time Team about fifteen years before. The archaeologists then found definite evidence for prehistoric, Iron Age and Pictish activity on the site.

I was with forensic geologist Scott Wolter to find clues to Knight Templar related activity. This was one of several investigations I’ve been involved in to find out if Templars fled to Scotland after their suppression in the year 1307. Should add that the aforementioned archaeologists commissioned by Time Team had found medieval artefacts in the Well Cave including pottery.

The carving in the cave that interested Scott resembles the Cross of Lorraine with three bars across a vertical line. And to one side the letter “C”. Earlier studies suggested it could date back to the 12th century, which would place it within the Templar period. The theory is that Knights Templar who had left France after 1307 were camped out in these caves, living a sort of monastic existence – and figuring out their next move.

Tomar – caves and the Knights Templar

In 2017, I was with the team from Buried – a History channel programme following the trail of the Holy Grail from Jerusalem to Portugal. I joined presenters Mikey Kay and Garth Baldwin when they arrived in the Portuguese Templar city of Tomar. Now, this is a place I absolutely adore. It evokes the Knights Templar more than any other location on Earth.

I’m biased being half Portuguese on my mother’s side!

Having written heaps on Tomar, I was asked to help the guys look for clues to Templar activity in caves near the famous Templar ‘charola’ – octagonal tower. Intriguingly, the Knights Templar in Portugal were rebranded as the Order of Christ – Ordem do Cristo in Portuguese – by the King, Dom Dinis.

In effect – as I’ve blogged about before – the king nationalised the Templars. Thereby protecting them from the papacy and the King of France. Portugal felt it owed a debt to the Templars for centuries of fighting against Muslim armies from the south.

There are many theories about tunnels under Tomar linking the Templar tower up on the hill with the church of Santa Maria Olival down below – last resting place of the Portuguese Templar Grand Masters. It would have required some breathtaking engineering to achieve that including a passageway under the river Nabao.

Watching the History Channel team in action

Other Templar caves around the world

In the United Kingdom, there are the Caynton Caves in Shropshire, often linked to the Knights Templar. These very atmospheric caves, carved by hand out of sandstone, have been linked to the Templars but with little by way of solid evidence. Nevertheless, they became so popular with devotees of Satanic rituals that the local council shut them down in 2012.

Royston Cave in Hertfordshire is a stronger contender for Templar activity. It was discovered by workers in the year 1742. Once a mass of debris was dug out, it revealed an underground beehive shaped chapel. And we know it was some kind of area of worship because there are images of saints carved into the walls.

Martyred saints figure prominently including Saint Catherine of Alexandria with her spiked wheel and St Lawrence with the iron grid on which he was literally grilled. This kind of very Catholic imagery places it before the Reformation and local historians date it to the 14th century. Specifically the decades after the Knights Templar were crushed.

Eight miles from Royston, the Knights Templar had a preceptory at Baldock so this cave may have become a secret gathering place.

Templar link to the Turin Shroud?

Does the British town of Templecombe prove a link between the Knights Templar and the Turin Shroud far off in Italy? There has been a large amount of speculation in recent years about the relevance of the shroud to the knights. Some scoff at the alleged link while others have written books to prove this sacred relic had huge relevance to the Templars.

READ MORE: How to find your Knight Templar ancestors

Templars and the Turin Shroud – proof in England?

Today, Templecombe is a relatively sleepy town in cider and cricket loving Somerset in the south west of England. I hope nobody who lives there is offended by my description! A few years ago, The Guardian newspaper carried a report on a strange discovery that suggested a link between the Knights Templar and the Turin Shroud – found at Templecombe.

The town’s name is a king-size hint that there was once a Templar preceptory in the area. Not every town with “Temple” in it is 100% guaranteed to have a Templar link but it’s normally a good indication. With Templecombe – we know the knights had a base there.

In 1185 – decades after the Templars had been established – the manor was granted to the knights. It was known as Combe Templariorum. Several legal cases in the years that followed confirm their presence.

Tragically, we even know that after the Templars were outlawed in 1307, the preceptor of Combe – William de Burton – was imprisoned in the Tower of London. He was joined there by two other knights: John de Aley and Walter de Rokele.

What has excited local historians for many years is an image of Christ dated to within the Templar era that many think closely resembles the ghostly face on the Turin Shroud.

INVESTIGATE: Were the Templars the first bankers?

Molly Drew, Templecombe and the Turin Shroud

There’s no trace of the Templar preceptory – its church and outbuildings – now in Templecombe. But in 1945, at the end of World War Two, a woman called Molly Drew found a very haunting image covered in dust. It was a painted panel, which she took back to her garden shed and cleaned up. It turned out to be a representation of Christ dating to 1280.

The image is the face of Jesus. I’m not wholly convinced that it bears a great resemblance to the Turin Shroud – which has also been claimed to be an image of the last Templar grand master Jacques de Molay! But it’s certainly an arresting representation.

The disappearance of Templar Templecombe

A manor house built after Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries (the preceptory had fallen in to the hands of the Hospitallers by then) has swallowed up the remaining walls of the Templar house.  There are other buildings in the village including the local pub which are believed to contain bits of the original Templar estate including a guest house.

Channel Four’s Time Team archaeology programme tried to discover more of the Templar preceptory in a three day dig with limited success. But while the evidence of Templar habitation has dwindled to a few bits of masonry, this painted panel has set hearts fluttering at the thought it proves a link between the Templars and the Turin Shroud.

The Templar Westford Knight is disappearing!

Did the Knights Templar get to the United States? This question has fuelled a mass of speculation in recent years. The Westford Knight, Newport Tower, Oak Island and Kensington Runestone are objects or stories originating in America to support the idea that the Templars crossed the Atlantic.

FIND OUT MORE: The Templars in America

Westford Knight – the fast eroding proof of Templars in America

If we believe that a group of Knights Templar fled to the New World (America) led by a Scottish knight called Sir Henry Sinclair, then the evidence is fast disappearing.

A rock carving in Massachusetts, believed to be his grave, is being rapidly eroded by rain and wind to the point where it won’t be very recognisable as anything in the near future.

That is if you accept that what is on the rock has been carved by human hands – and not a passing glacier and that it’s a medieval knight and not a native American, as has also been postulated in the past.

READ MORE: Top baddies of the Middle Ages

The location of the Westford Knight

If you’d like to take a look at the Westford Knight yourselves then it’s on Depot Street, near the Abbott School in Westford, a town north-west of Boston.  Since the 1950s, it’s been identified by local historians as “a fallen Viking of the Gunn clan” who was with Henry Sinclair and his fleeing Templars wandering across the New World a hundred years before Columbus.

Spoilsports say the area was inaccessible at the time and that using the term “Viking” (tenth century and before) to describe a knight in the 1300s is historically inaccurate.  Archaeologists – pah, what do they know? – have said that the sword could be a human carving but the rest are glacial striations and what people want to see.  They say the claims about Sinclair are ‘pseudo-archaeology’.

The Knights of Malta seen in Baghdad – apparently!

The Knights Templar have provided a feeding frenzy for conspiracy theorists for centuries. So, it’s kind of refreshing to see another religious military order – the Knights of Malta – getting the same treatment. I joke, of course.

Allegations about Iraq

The veteran journalist and scourge of the Vietnam War, Seymour Hersh, has angrily claimed that US military leaders in the Iraq War were linked to the Knights of Malta – that they saw their mission as one to replace mosques with cathedrals.

That’s the attitude – we’re gonna change mosques in to cathedrals.  That’s an attitude that pervades.  I’m here to say.  A large percentage of the  Joint Special Operations Command.

This speech was being delivered in Qatar this week and Hersh said the war against Saddam Hussein was seen as a crusade pure and simple.

Alleging that commanders in the US army were also connected to Opus Dei, he went on:

They do see what they’re doing — and this is not an atypical attitude among some military — it’s a crusade, literally. They seem themselves as the protectors of the Christians. They’re protecting them from the Muslims [as in] the thirteenth century.  And this is their function.

He added the curious allegation that these generals pass crusader coins or that have crusader insignia between them.

They have insignia that reflect the whole notion that this is a culture war. … Right now, there’s a tremendous, tremendous amount of anti-Muslim feeling in the military community.

Needless to say Catholic bloggers have not been delighted by the reference to the Order of Malta.  Catholic League president Bill Donohue blasted Hersh on the Catholic Online website:

So this is the group that Seymour Hersh seeks to demonize. His long-running feud with every American administration-he now condemns President Obama for failing to be “an angry black man”-has disoriented his perspective so badly that what he said about the Knights of Malta is not shocking to those familiar with his penchant for demagoguery.

I bring this spat to your attention as it conjures up images of Christian knights versus Saracens being replayed a thousand years later.  But is it actually true?  There’s no doubt that some of the rhetoric post-9/11 had an unfortunate crusader tinge to it – and the word ‘crusade’ was even used injudiciously to refer to the Iraq War.

But we then have to take a leap further and ask is the US military really engaged on a project to roll back Islam and establish crusader states in the Middle East (excepting Israel which muslim fundamentalists would call a de facto crusader state)?

If they are – they’ve failed spectacularly.  The only state with a smile all over its face in the Middle East today is Iran – is that what our erstwhile crusaders thought would be the outcome in 2003?

Templars and the ‘white slave trade’

It seems unthinkable but on this blog we think the unthinkable – so could the Knights Templar have engaged in the medieval slave trade? Read on!

There is a recurring story out there that the Templars engaged in what is termed the ‘white slave trade’.   The gist of the tale is that the Templars were engaged in all sorts of trading in the town of Ajazzo, known in Armenian as Ayas, located today in modern Turkey.

In the thirteenth century it was part of the Armenian kingdom of Cicilia, a Christian territory linking the Byzantine empire to the increasingly beleaguered crusader states of the Levant.  It’s a neglected kingdom historically speaking – and more should be written about it.

By the time the Templars were active in the kingdom, it was taking a hammering from Mongol armies that had come from the east, Mamluk armies from the south and Turks from the north.  Inevitably, the kingdom just kept shrinking till it was completely absorbed in to the Turkic Ottoman empire.

READ MORE: Ten things you never knew about the Templars

Templars tapped into the slave trade

Before that happened though, it benefited from the criss-cross of trade in the region and it’s said that both Mongol and Turk slave drivers brought their human cargo to Ayas to trade the live bodies to the highest bidders.  Some of those bidders, it’s said, were Templars.  They basically bought up the slaves and took them back to work on the estates attached to their preceptories.

These slaves were not black Africans but peoples who lived on the Russian steppes.  Both the Turks and the Mongols had invaded and raided these lands and part of the treasure was a section of the population.  Many of these slaves were sold in to the various Islamic emirates to the south and forced to convert.  In Egypt, these converted slaves rose up and killed their masters becoming the Mamluk rulers of that country.

Proof that slaves could and did in exceptional situations take control.

The facts that are not in doubt are that slaves whose skins were white were routinely bought and sold in ancient and medieval times.  The distinction was between peoples deemed to be on side and civilised and those seen as enemies or barbarians.  Colour was not the deciding factor in who became a slave.

It’s also true that slavery continued in to the Middle Ages, far beyond the collapse of the slave based Roman Empire.  People in the Domesday Book are classified as slaves and the practice was condemned in England as late as the sixteenth century.  Christians and Muslims were slave traders and there’s one tale of an audacious Arab raid on a Cornish village in western England where an entire congregation were shipped off from a church service in to slavery in north Africa.

Templars were also slave owners

So did the Templars trade in slaves?  Seems like they did.  Did those slaves work their lands?  I don’t know – it’s claimed by some that they did, particularly in southern Europe.  Were the Templars particularly disposed to slave trading?  Can’t see why they would be any more than anybody else.

Templar Curse of Segovia

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Ten years ago I visited the Templar church in Segovia, central Spain. What I discovered was a curious curse placed by the local Knights Templar – on the crows!

Pictured above then is a church I thoroughly recommend you visit if you find yourself in central Spain – Vera Cruz – named after the True Cross which it claimed to contain.  It’s just outside the old town of Segovia, sixty miles out of Madrid.  Easy train journey from the Spanish capital and worth an overnight stay.

DISCOVER: Waltham Abbey – stormy history of a medieval church

The Templar curse on the local crows!

There is a legend that claims at some unspecified moment in the church’s history, the Templars were forced to defend their relic of the True Cross. One Templar knight was killed by the doorway and his body was placed ceremoniously inside. Local people came to venerate him and praise his bravery but then everybody left as the sun set.

That was when the crows flew in through the church windows and started to feast. By morning, only a skeleton was left. The local Templar preceptor was so appalled that he cursed the crows. As a result, it’s said, they are never seen anywhere near the church.

READ MORE: German Templars, Haifa and the Nazis

Segovia – from the Romans to the Middle Ages

Segovia itself is a very odd layout. Right through the middle of the town – in fact, it feels like the end of the old town, is a whacking great Roman aqueduct.  The town centre is in a low but steep valley and you can climb up some steps that take you to the uppermost level of the aqueduct and you get the vertiginous experience of looking down at the structure at close range.  The people below look like ants next to it.  You have to admire Roman engineering.

When you’re through with that and eaten some suckling pig for dinner – the local speciality – walk out of town towards the church of Vera Cruz.  A round building that imitates the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and we all know what that means – Templars.  A tower has been added at some point but you can see very clearly that it was built by the Order.

FIND OUT MORE: About the Templars and the True Cross

The Templar church of Vera Cruz – the True Cross

Painted on the walls in red are fading Templar crosses but what the guide books never mention is what you find if you just walk round the edge of the building.   My friend and I had to negotiate what looked like building rubble but there were the unmistakable body shaped holes in the ground.  Emptied medieval tombs where shrouded figures had once lain.  Simple question – where are they now?  And when were they removed?

Digging up the dead, desecrating their memories, is not unknown in Spanish history.  It was even done in the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s when anarchists exhumed priests’ and nuns’ bodies and propped them up against church walls – a practice condemned by the mainstream Republican left I should add.

So were these Templars dug up when the Order was condemned by papal decree?  Was it a way of showing loyalty to the papacy and throwing out these heretical cadavers.  Unless told otherwise, I’m going to assume it was.

Ironclad – teaser trailer

In case you’ve been living under a stone, the movie Ironclad is on the way.  I blogged about this before – a Templar romp that has them as the good guys fighting for liberty against King John.  Yeah I know, it wasn’t quite like that – but put your A Level notes away and suspend all belief when it hits the screens.

Includes the memorable line about King John being a ‘boil on my arse’.

Order of the Solar Temple – suicide and murder

This is a story of mass suicide and suspected murder using the name of the Knights Templar. Let’s just be clear from the start that as with other dangerous groups using the Templar brand – they have nothing in common with the medieval knights. But this is a cautionary tale.

One of the most macabre groups to claim they are Knights Templar is the Order of the Solar Temple. Or the International Order of Chivalry Solar Tradition by its official name. What this group is most famous for is the mysterious death of 74 of its members in the mid-1990s. What this appeared to involve – echoing the Jonestown cult massacre – was a mixture of enforced suicide and murder.

Origin of the Solar Temple

The Solar Temple was set up in 1984 by homeopath Luc Jouret and a lecturer called Joseph di Mambro. Its headquarters were originally in Geneva but then moved to Zurich. The group established certain initiation rites adopted by chapters in Switzerland and Canada.

The Solar Temple latched on to the revival of the Templars in the early 19th century by a French man called Bernard-Raymond Fabré-Palaprat. He claimed to be one of an unbroken line of Grand Masters that had continued to be appointed from the execution of the last official Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, in 1314.

Palapret set up a kind of pseudo-religion that was mainly Christian in theology. His Templar movement split into factions and Jouret was linked to a group that traced its history back to one of these factions: the Renewed Order of the Temple.

But at this stage – let me say that there are other groups today who claim a linkage to Palaprat and are perfectly sane, charitable organisations.

READ MORE: Do the Templars control the world today?

Suicide and suspected murder of Solar Temple members

As with other apocalyptic movements of the 20th century, there was a disturbing belief in the end of the world that meant devotees had to reach a higher spiritual level by…..taking their own lives. In 1994, 53 members of the Solar Temple were found dead and the buildings in which they had breathed their last had been set on fire. More deaths followed up to 1997.

Among those who died in 1994 was Joseph di Mambro. He stands accused of having ordered the deaths of others as well as committing suicide. Di Mambro (born in 1924) had a long record of involvement in esoteric cults.

In the 1950s, he became a Rosicrucian before going on to found the Golden Way in 1978, a pseudo-Templar organisation. He fell in with Jouret towards the end of the 70s founding the Solar Temple. Jouret seems to have been the outward facing PR man and recruiter while Di Mambro was a more sinister, controlling presence within the Solar Temple.

Solar Temple turns into a death cult

The descent of the Solar Temple into suicide and murder is a familiar trajectory established by cults like the People’s Temple led by the Reverend Jim Jones that culminated in the appalling Jonestown massacre of its own members in 1978 when over 900 of its devotees were found dead.

Hundreds of middle class, well educated people joined the Solar Temple. They bought into claims by Di Mambro that his son had been created by the union of gods while his daughter was the product of a sexless immaculate conception.

To my knowledge, an organisation of the same name still exists today and of course I do not suggest that current members or leaders have any link or responsibility for the events described above, which were the actions of individuals in the 1990s.

The day a Pope gave the Templars a big thumbs up

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Yes, on this very day in 1128 – Pope Honorius gave official recognition to the Knights Templar.  You should all know the early part of this story off by heart.  In 1119, Hugues de Payens and Godfrey de Saint-Omer found the Order to protect pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land.

This duo and the band of knights who joined them seem to have been part of a Burgundian social/religious scene that included Bernard of Clairvaux – who went on to write their rule book.  There were ties of blood and kinship between all these fellows and it’s suggested that the idea of setting up the Order came from Bernard and was suggested to De Payens.  There’s no doubt they ended up becoming the military wing of Bernard’s own order, the Cistercians.

There had been a deterioration in safety for pilgrims in the Holy Land since the emergence of the Seljuk Turks, who had conquered the Levant from the Fatimids.

In contrast to the Seljuk’s more aggresive stance, many of the early caliphs who had ruled over Jerusalem were surprisingly tolerant of Christians flooding in to the holy places – as they were people of the book and, at the risk of being vulgar, there was a fast buck to be made out of this medieval form of tourism.

The First Crusade saw Jerusalem fall to Christian forces from the west but this did not mean that pilgrims now had a trouble free journey to the city. Crime was a serious threat with many losing their lives to robbers.

By 1119, things had got so dangerous with bandits and thieves pouncing on passing groups of pilgrims that the Knights Templar were ostensibly set up as protection for them. Well, that’s the official reason for the Order being set up.   Whether the Knights had a wider agenda from the outset is a matter of ongoing debate.

The group seems to have grown as an Order pretty rapidly and barely a decade later were getting a papal thumbs up from Honorius.  This included the sanction to wear a white mantle – to which a later pope, Eugenius, would permit the red, eight pointed cross, to be emblazoned.

The Templars were to be answerable only to the Pope and enjoyed a measure of self-government that was sooner or later going to irritate the hell out of the feudal aristocracy.  Nobody likes a parallel power structure on their patch.

Honorius II was elected pope on the death of Callistus II and got the top job largely as a result of being backed by the powerful Frangipani clan in Rome – who were opposed by the equally powerful Leoni.  The latter had quickly stuck a cardinal on the throne as Celestine II when Roberto Frangipani stormed in and removed him – putting the Cardinal of Ostia in his place, who became Honorius II.

This was an example of the unseemly politics that surrounded pope making for centuries – with aristocratic factions or rival monarchs pushing their favoured candidates.   Honorius not only gave the green light to the Templars but also gave papal approval to the Premonstratensian Order.