In the 1180s, the king of England and Anjou – Henry II – was looking to consolidate his hold on Wales, a troublesome western province of his Angevin empire. Wales would make a renewed bid for independence at the end of the century and only be completely subjugated by Edward I. But even by the 1180s, its church was being absorbed in to that of England.
The Templars take Wales
When aiming to calm any trouble in the border areas between England and Wales, who better to call on than the Templars? After all, they had plenty of experience of holding back the Saracen in outremer and also in Al Andalus, they had taken on the Moors. Where others feared to tread, the Templars could be relied on to doggedly charge in, take control and consolidate rapidly.
So, Henry II gave them a place that had been known as Llangarewi but would now be renamed Temple Garway. Up went the familiar round church with the Lamb of God symbol carved in to the walls with those other symbols that crop up in Templar churches. One image that has aroused considerable interest is that of the Green Man, vine-like strands emerging from his mouth.
The preceptory housed the knight, including a lot of disabled and elderly knights. King Richard and King John, who succeeded the father they so hated, confirmed Templar ownership of the area given by Henry II.
Jacques de Molay visits Wales – last Templar Grand Master
In 1294, Temple Garway had a very important guest. None other than Jacques de Molay. Yep, the last Grand Master whose final moments would be spent tied to a stake in front of Notre Dame cathedral as he and the last of the Templars went to their deaths.
Unfortunately, time has not been hugely kind to Temple Garway and farmers have done what farmers over the years are wont to do – incorporated much of the stonework in to their houses and boundary walls.
In 1307, the King of France issued orders to arrest all the Knights Templar in his kingdom. They were summarily rounded up, tortured in dungeons and confessions extracted. So what was the timeline to termination?
TEMPLAR TIMELINE TO TERMINATION
The Templars loved to worship saints who had given up their lives for their Christian faith so here’s a list of top ten martyred saints the knights would have revered.
MARTYRED SAINT NUMBER TEN: AGATHA
AGATHA – died 251 CE – during the reign of the Roman emperor Decius who had outlawed Christianity, Agatha was tortured very brutally including being rolled over broken tiles, cut in various places and burning coals applied to her flesh. She is always depicted with her severed breasts. The incorrupt body of the saint was apparently sent to Constantinople centuries later but somehow parts of Agatha ended up in Catania.
MARTYRED SAINT NUMBER NINE: ALBAN
ALBAN – died 304 CE (disputed) – an Englishman and a pagan by birth. He hid a priest from the Roman authorities and then to protect him, dressed as the priest when soldiers arrived at his house. The local governor new Alban and asked him to return to the state religion. He refused. After being scourged he was taken to be beheaded but supportive crowds blocked the way and a river had to be crossed. Alban caused the waters to part so he could be martyred for Christ. The executioner was so impressed that he converted on the spot. Both men were then beheaded.
MARTYRED SAINT NUMBER EIGHT: EUPLIUS
EUPLIUS – died 304 CE – like so many of the early martyred saints, this is another one under the reign of Diocletian. He was found reading the gospels and was led to the place of execution with the sacred texts hung round his neck. He had been brutally tortured and beheading was apparently a sweet release.
MARTYRED SAINT NUMBER SEVEN: FEBRONIA
FEBRONIA – early fourth century – like many other young female martyrs of this time, she was said to be exceedingly beautiful and a virgin. She refused to renounce her faith and was roasted on a gridiron, had her teeth knocked out and breasts cut off. Then she was executed. Out of remorse, the uncle of the local Roman prefect was said to have dashed his own brains out.
MARTYRED SAINT NUMBER SIX: GENESIUS
GENESIUS – died 285 CE – yet another Diocletian purge victim. This time starting out in life as a pagan actor and comedian who mocked the Christians but then suddenly realising the error of his ways, converted. Unfortunately, he was giving a performance in the theatre to Diocletian at the time. The praetorian prefect Plautian had Genesius stretched on a rack and torn at with hooks before the inevitable beheading.
MARTYRED SAINT NUMBER FIVE: GORDIUS
GORDIUS – early fourth century – a Roman soldier who became a Christian. In the town of Caesaria, he was told there were to be games in honour of the god Mars. When Gordius showed up, both pagans and Christians were queueing up for the festivities and entertainment in the arena. So he began insulting Mars and was dragged before the governor who offered him riches to recant. But he wouldn’t. So it was off to the torturer and when that didn’t work, he was burned to death.
MARTYRED SAINT NUMBER FOUR: LUCY
LUCY – died 304 CE – one of the most revered female saints from very early on in the church’s history. Martyred at Syracuse in Sicily, she was reputed to have either gouged out her own eyes to put off a potential suitor (bit extreme!) or they were gouged out by the Romans during her torture. As a result, she is patron saint to the blind.
MARTYRED SAINT NUMBER THREE: POLYCARP
POLYCARP – died 155 – the Knights Templar believed they had the head of Saint Polycarp. He was said to have been a disciple of the apostle Saint John. Polycarp was made bishop of Smyrna before John was banished to the island of Patmos, from where he wrote the Book of Revelation. It’s claimed he was martyred during a persecution by the emperor and stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius. That is the emperor played by the actor Richard Harris in the movie Gladiator.
MARTYRED SAINT NUMBER TWO: QUIRINUS
QUIRINUS – early fourth century – Diocletian abdicated as emperor but his co-emperor Galerius continued the policy of purging Christians. Quirinus was a bishop who was ordered to sacrifice to Jupiter and refused. He was tied to a millstone and chucked in the river. But miraculously, the millstone and Quirinus floated to the top and he continued to preach for a while to the huge crowds. Then he sank and died.
MARTYRED SAINT NUMBER ONE: VITALIS
VITALIS – first or second century – an early Christian martyr. A similar tale to the above with a refusal to renounce Christ and accept the state gods leading to his execution. What distinguishes this story is that his wife Valeria was then set upon by the pagans and died of her injuries. She was subsequently canonised too. One of the statues in St Peter’s square in Rome is of Vitalis and the Byzantines built a octagonal basilica to him at Ravenna that can still be seen today. It includes a mosaic of the emperor Justinian, a Christian and a Roman ruler.
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Couple of things to note.
Many Christians did not wish to be martyred and so sacrificed to the gods. This caused an early division within Christianity where some of the faithful refused to associate with those who had chickened out of martyrdom. These die-hard Christians were called Donatists and held sway in parts of north Africa. Their view did not prevail and even though the martyrs were lauded, those Christians who had chosen the path of compromise prevailed.
Also – just to reiterate that the Roman state was largely disinterested in theology. It was more focussed on the correct practice of religion and loyalty to the emperor than what the Christians actually stood for.
There is an enduring myth that when Rome became Christian, slavery, brutal capital punishment and the games disappeared. They did not. Christians and pagans shared many social values including the holding of slaves and the need for executions to maintain order.
In fact, Christians introduced new capital crimes related to moral failing – for example executing slaves who assisted their owners in committing adultery.
Assassin’s Creed has been a hugely successful franchise – but was there REALLY ever a major battle between the Knights Templar and the Assassins? Did they hate each other to the extent that the game suggests? And in fact – who were they in reality?
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Assassin’s Creed – the Templar related plot
Well, to start with we better re-cap on Assassin’s Creed. To crunch down the storyline and probably not do it complete justice – Desmond Miles is a young American brought up by a family who come from a long line of Assassins.
He gets away from his Assassin family in South Dakota to become a bartender in New York city. But while there, he is kidnapped by the Templars – sworn enemies of the Assassins – and forced into a machine called the Animus which sends him back in time.
The machine is owned by Abstergo Industries, a Templar run enterprise. The Templars are using Desmond to get hold of “Pieces of Eden” that are in different locations, of course. The Pieces of Eden are part of a device used by the First Civilisation on our planet to control early humans.
The First Civilisation was run by god-like creatures of superior intelligence called the Precursors or Isu, who had created the human race and were initially worshipped by their creations.
Human beings were mind controlled slaves at the outset but then bred with the Isu over time and this eroded the ability of the First Civilisation to control their creations who eventually rebelled. This coincided with a cosmic calamity to befall the earth reducing humanity to a few thousand. The recovering race of humans comprised those who wanted to restore some kind of order – Templars – and those who valued free will more – Assassins.
Desmond, therefore, is being manipulated by the Templars to bring the world back to a more disciplined path while the Assassins try and stop him giving away the location of Pieces of Eden that would allow this to happen. And this is battle between Templars and Assassins has been raging for thousands of years.
It’s a fun story and encompasses elements of Greek mythology, Scientology, gnosticism, philosophy and so on. But it’s not very historical. There was a Knights Templar order of militarised monks. And there was a fanatical sect called the Assassins. They did exist at the same time in the Middle East during the 12th and 13th centuries.
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So, who were the real Assassins?
The Assassins were Shia Muslims and fought both the Sunni Muslim kingdoms of medieval Asia and the Christian crusaders who had come as invaders to the region. Their tactic was to assassinate leaders on both sides, which they did with horrific success. But their attitude to the Templars was more ambiguous.
The historian Dan Jones writes that they tended to avoid battling the Knights Templar. That may have been out of respect but also an awareness that if you killed one or ten or a hundred Templars, there were always others to take their place. The Templars could, basically, regenerate rapidly. Killing a king or a sultan could cause chaos. But the Templars took the death of their own warriors in their stride.
So in reality, far from being engaged in an eternal life or death struggle – the two forces seem to have sidestepped each other. Rather a different story then!
Prester John was a fabled king who medieval chroniclers imagined ruled lands in the East or in deepest Africa (most likely Ethiopia). He was a Christian, possibly a Nestorian, and some hoped he could be an ally against the Muslim realms. The fact that nobody had ever seen him didn’t deter fervent belief in his existence.
READ MORE: The Templars and Islam – friends or enemies?
Prester John – the fabulous but mythical king
There were all sorts of fantastical ideas about this illusory monarch. His wealth was fabulous. He was descended from the Magi, the wise man who had showered gifts on the baby Jesus. Prester John had discovered the fountain of youth and had a mirror through which he could see events happening at any place in his kingdom.
Reports of his existence first emerged during the Crusades after Christian Europe had stormed into the Middle East. Bishop Hugh of Gebal (modern Jbail in Lebanon) wowed the papal court at Viterbo in 1145 with stories of this Christian ruler.
Did Prester John fight Muslim armies?
As recorded by Bishop Otto of Freising in Germany, Prester John was said to have defeated the Muslim emirs of Persia and might have taken Jerusalem if he had been able to cross the mighty Tigris river. There were then confused tales about the Mongols and their wars with Persia and how Prester John might have been involved.
Jacques de Vitry, bishop of Acre, believed that somebody called King David of India had inflicted a huge defeat on the Muslims. He was said to be the grandson of Prester John. In fact, some think this King David was actually Genghis Khan but in a world with poor communications and unreliable histories, the Khan morphed into Prester John’s grandson.
Alberic des Trois Fontaines, a 13th century chronicler, wrote that in 1165, Prester John had sent letters to the Byzantine emperor Manuel I Comnenus, the Holy Roman emperor Frederick Barbarossa and other kings of Europe declaring that he would soon come to liberate Jerusalem from Muslim rule. The Holy Sepulchre, sacred to the Templars, would be retaken.
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A pope even writes to Prester John
Such was the willingness to believe in Prester John, that even Pope Alexander III penned a reply to the legendary king in 1177. He sent an envoy to try and track down Prester John but to no avail.
As the tide turned against the Knights Templar, it was claimed that Prester John had written a letter warning about the order stating that the Templars were enemies of Christ and had to be overthrown. This document was undoubtedly a forgery.
When the Knights Templar morphed into the Order of Christ in Portugal, the rebranded Templars set sail in the 16th century to resume the search for Prester John. But he proved to be impossible to trace.
I work close by to the Templar church in London – as featured in the Da Vinci Code. The church is not the original preceptory founded by the Templars in London, which originally stood further back from the river Thames – close by to Chancery Lane tube. Don’t bother looking for its ruins because they’re long gone and sitting under an office called Southampton Buildings.
What you see today is more or less the original ‘new’ Templar church built at the end of the twelfth century but with some significant ‘improvements’.
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It escaped the Great Fire of London in 1666 but did not escape the attention of Christopher Wren who seems to have believed there wasn’t a church in London that wouldn’t benefit from his architectural nous. So he modified the Temple to reflect the tastes of the late seventeenth century including an organ, which your average Templar would never have played.
But that was as nothing compared to the Victorians who confidently believed that they knew more about building medieval churches than any master mason in the Middle Ages. It’s a curious irony that the Gothic Revival of the nineteenth century resulted in a wave of cultural vandalism against medieval buildings that even William Morris, a huge fan of the Gothic, was forced to eventually condemn.
The Temple church was not left unscathed as it underwent changes in the 1840s and 1860s to ‘restore’ its original appearance (ie, what the Victorians thought a medieval church should look like).
You almost have to feel sorry for Wren and the Victorians because all their wooden excrescences went up in flames courtesy of the Luftwaffe one night in 1941. Unfortunately, damage was done to the original structure and much of what you see is a well intentioned rebuilding in the 1950s. Without that, you’d be standing in a charred shell staring up at the sky. I’m afraid this was the fate of so many London churches.
So please visit the Temple church in London – it’s in lovely little corner of the city off Fleet Street, but be aware that not every stone you see was lovingly placed in position by the Knights Templar. History, as it does, has brutally intervened.
Sodomy was a standard smear against your enemies in the Middle Ages. And one person prepared to do the smearing was a bishop called Adam of Orleton. He accused both the Knights Templar and Edward II, king of England, of sodomy. And the accusations stuck in both cases.
Accusing Edward II of sodomy
This month’s edition of ‘History Today’ mentions in passing a certain bishop called Adam of Orleton who in a sermon on October 15th, 1327 declared that King Edward II of England, who was in the process of being deposed by his wife and a rebel army, was a sodomite.
The magazine says this is the first known reference to Edward II being gay – or a ‘sodomite’ to use the unpleasant terminology of the time. Orleton didn’t actually specify who King Edward had sodomised or when – he was just a sodomite.
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The bishop accuses the Templars of sodomy
As History Today then points out, this was a tried and tested way of denigrating somebody and had even been used against a Pope. What makes Orleton’s accusation interesting was that he had previous form. Because just a few years earlier, the good bishop had condemned the Templars as sodomites before the pope at his residence in Avignon.
If only Freud had been alive in the Middle Ages, we might have put Orleton’s obsession with homosexuality down to a latent desire to do some sodomising himself. But hey ho, no psychoanalysis for another six hundred years.
So who was bishop Orleton? Well, he seems to have been something of a serial bishop, starting with Hereford. He got that bishopric in the teeth of opposition from Edward II – who he later accuses of being a sodomite.
The pope who appointed him was John XXII – often claimed to be the pontiff who initiated an interest witch-hunting that would take off in succeeding centuries. He would be charged with treason by Edward II and had to be placed under the protection of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York.
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Once Edward II had been overthrown by his wife and her associate Mortimer, Orleton had the joyful experience of visiting the imprisoned king to force him to abdicate. What happened to Edward II next has always been the subject of salacious gossip.
The goriest account is that he had a red hot poker shoved up his backside – some say to leave no mark on his body but others as a kind of commentary on his sexual preferences. But the one person who claimed to have witnessed the king’s death later retracted his remarks and some claimed to have seen the ex-king alive years later.
As I said, Orleton had spoken against the Templars a decade before in Avignon accusing them of sodomy. At the trial of the Knights of the Temple, they were said to have kissed each other on the mouth, anus, end of the spine (in anca), naval and ‘virga virilis’. Some say this was done to awaken the ‘kundalini’ serpent of knowledge.
Orleton died in 1345 a wealthy man as bishop of Winchester. His alleged role in the death of Edward II was immortalised by Shakespeare’s contemporary Christopher Marlowe.
There are different theories about the relationship between the Templars and the arrival of cannabis in Europe. Were the knights potheads who popularised dope in the Middle Ages?
Cannabis and the Knights Templar
In the book “Green Gold: the Tree of Life, Marijuana in Magic and Religion”, it is conjectured that hashish came to Europe via the Templars as a result of their trading activities with the Ismailis in outremer.
The warriors of the Ismailis, who defended their faith against Sunni rulers, were the famous ‘Assassins’. These fearless killers struck at their enemies in such a way that their bravery was often ascribed to taking hashish and that was where their derived from. Hashishin = Assassin.
Not so says Amin Maalouf who says the word Assassin means ‘followers of the foundation’ and has nothing to do with ganja.
The Assassins got the Templars hooked on cannabis
But Robert Anton Wilson in his book ‘Sex and Drugs’ recounts the familiar line that the courage of the Assassins must have been influenced by narcotics and that there is evidence the Templars partook of the wacky backy. At the very least to relieve pain.
One must mention the Sufis, the Islamic mystics often said to have influenced the Templars. They worshipped a Golden Head and the Templars worshipped the head of Baphoment and therefore, they were all off their heads. Dope produced that higher level of enlightenment that mead and ale was could never hope to.
I can only hope that when Jacques de Molay faced the fires outside Notre Dame in 1314, he did so with the benefit of several pints of Stella Artois and a big long spliff. How else to endure that public agony?
Abraxas was a grotesque creature with a twin tail – similar to the twin tailed mermaids known as “melusines” in the Middle Ages. So why did this bizarre beast appear on Knight Templar seals?
Abraxas – a gnostic creation known to the Templars
The hideous Abraxas appears on Templar seals and was presumably a cult picked up in the east as Templar knights went to fight in outremer. The origins of Abraxas seems to lie in gnostic beliefs in an overarching deity more powerful than all other gods.
Abraxas seems to have played a central role in the gnostic cult of Basilides in the second century AD. This Alexandrian mystic was teaching at a time of huge religious ferment when Christianity hadn’t completely defined itself in the way that we know it today.
So Basilides did believe in a kind of disembodied Jesus – gnostics didn’t like the idea of an incarnated God – and that the only way to know Jesus was through a process of intense meditation, for want of a better word, called ‘gnosis’.
How Abraxis fitted in to this is probably as some kind of master-god above other divine and semi-divine entities. Happy to have that explained more accurately by experts out there.
The head of Abraxis sometimes resembles that of a Basilisk – the cockerel crested serpent head of that legendary beast. The trunk is normally that of a man and then legs of snakes and feet which seem to resemble scorpions.
Some investigators believe the Templars were using a network of Neolithic caves throughout the UK for religious/mystical purposes. Royston caves is often cited as an example of a magical Templar cave.
Strange carvings in Royston cave
Royston is a bell shaped cave, man made or shaped with a ventilation hole. The symbols carved on the wall bear an uncanny resemblance to Templar images seen at their properties throughout Europe and the Middle East.
It’s thought that the strange inscriptions in the cave at Royston are a form of hieroglyphic text that the Templars discovered in outremer – an ancient form of writing long forgotten.
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These are some of the identified carvings:
Richard the Lionheart has been identified with his queen Berengaria of Navarre whose crown is above her head but not on top of it, as her status as crowned queen seems to have been disputed The poor woman also had to contend with the Lionheart’s alleged preference for chaps over the ladies. All good fun with the squires and knights no doubt.
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One carving at Royston erroneously attributed
There is a figure that looks almost Celtic in its crude simplicity who was wrongly credited as King William of Scotland – mainly because a ‘WR’ is scrawled on him. More likely to be Saint David. Unfortunately, the cave is covered in the grafitti of idiots who have seen fit to leave their names there – as if posterity would remember them on account of that act of vandalism.
If Royston is a Templar creation, it does beg the question of whether the Templars had other similar cave-like places of worship. Caves have always been mystical places seen as bringing worshippers closer to the subterranean Gods but as the Templars, like all Christians, worshipped as sky god, it’s hard to see what the significance would be.