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.
King John of England was one of the least popular monarchs ever but curiously he received significant support from the Knights Templar. Even when his barons were moving in on him, the Templars remained resolutely loyal to this treacherous king.
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King John stays with the Templars before Magna Carta
It’s an interesting fact that when King John was first presented with the demands of the barons, who were forcing Magna Carta (the great charter) on to him, he was staying at the New Temple in London with Brother Aymeric (sometimes spelt Elmeric), master of the Order in England.
This was rather like lodging with your bank manager who also happened to enjoy a papal seal of approval and have a handy stock of weapons and well trained soldiers.
King John uses the Templars as his personal bank
The Templars were very much John’s bankers, particularly after he was declared excommunicate by Pope Innocent III.
John seems to have both deposited and taken out multi-thousand ‘mark’ amounts to protect his wealth and to use it to hire troops. Aymeric also helped John out with his papal problems – particularly important as Innocent III was beyond doubt the most powerful pope in history.
Why did the Templars support the Kings of England?
The Templars were enthusiastic supporters of the Plantagenat kings and did rather well out of them. Henry II was a keen benefactor and John gave them the island of Lundy, bits of Northampton and Cameley amongst other bequests. For this, he got their support in his bust up with the aristocracy.
Aymeric St Maur may have been related to Milo St Maur, one of the rebel barons. Entirely plausible as they were all from the same Norman knightly class. It’s also claimed that the St Maur family were ancestors of the Seymours from whom Jane Seymour emerged, third wife of Henry VIII – two hundred years after the crushing of the Templar Order.
Praying and training to be warriors in communities called Ribats, a certain class of muslim warrior could have been an influence on the founders of the Knights Templar. Unless somebody wants to dispute this and please feel free. But it’s certainly tempting to believe that knights who found themselves exposed to the influences of the Islamic world, adopted some of their practices. They saw Ribat warriors effectively combining prayer with fighting and thought, hey – we’ll have some of that.
Visiting churches in Portugal, I’ve often noticed the presence of the Pentagram symbol and wondered – what on earth is an occult image doing in a Christian place of worship?
In the United States in recent years, a group of self-proclaimed Satanists have repeated unveiled a statue of the goat-headed demon Baphomet with a pentagram fixed to its forehead.
They are protesting against Christian religious displays by some states that they argue contravenes the constitution – in terms of separating church and state. And they make their point by carting round this provocative bit of sculpture.
For us on this blog, there are two interesting points to note about that. One is that the pentagram pops up in medieval Christian churches – and especially Templar places of worship (mainly in Portugal for some reason). Furthermore, the evil Baphomet was alleged to have been worshipped by the Knights Templar – an accusation made at their trials.
So it is very disarming when you see a pentagram in a Christian church. Surely this is a pagan or Satanic symbol?
Having been brought up a Catholic myself, I know all about the Catholic obsession with numbers. The Trinity. Twelve apostles. Seven crops up everywhere – seven churches, seven trumpets, seven seals, etc. The Virgin Mary grants you seven graces for saying seven Hail Marys in recognition of the seven sorrows she suffered leading up to the death of Jesus.
Nine choirs of angels – no more, no less. And of course thirteen is the number of betrayal. These figures – 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 10, 13, etc – are charged with meaning in Catholic theology.
The Pentagram has five points. Catholics argue that it’s OK to find it in a place of worship because it represents the five wounds suffered by Jesus at the crucifixion. It provokes you into contemplating his torment on the cross.
The Catholic church obviously lists the wounds with gory relish: two in the wrists for the nails; two through each of his feet and one wound from the lance of the Roman soldier Longinus who pierced the side of Jesus.
The church pictured above is actually Franciscan and was built after the Templars were destroyed in 1307. However, one normally associates the Pentagram with paganism so it’s interesting to see it pop up in a Christian context. And it seems to do so especially in Portugal.
At Santa Maria Olival in Portugal, the Pentagram is very clearly evident at the end of the nave. This is the church where Templar grand masters were buried in the Middle Ages. It’s based in the former Templar citadel of Tomar. When you walk into the church – you just can’t miss it – it’s like an evil eye staring down at you.
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At Rosslyn chapel in Scotland, there are pentagrams carved everywhere. Most of them, the authorities tell us, are masons’ marks. They have no meaning or significance. But, some have argued that a particular carving in the sacristy down below represents the star Venus.
I investigated this mysterious star carved into the sacristy wall with American TV presenter Scott Wolter on a Templar special edition of the Discovery documentary American Unearthed.
We looked into theory that this pentagram-shaped star was proof that the Knights Templar journeyed to the New World after being crushed by King Philip of France. They would have navigated by the stars. Was this carving therefore some kind of navigational map?
If you want to get an idea on why the Templars may have made quite a few enemies early on, then their acceptance of excommunicated men in to the Order is a good starting point.
Some early sources say that the Order had to gain the permission of a local bishop to allow somebody who had been cast out of the church to become a Templar. But even that requirement seems to have been junked as the Order blithely informed the “established” church that it answered only to the Pope.
So…it could admit anybody it wanted so long as the Holy Father, in far off Rome, didn’t raise any objections. In the context of medieval Christendom, that does seem quite extraordinary.
It must have been angered and confused many prelates to see the Temple recruiting people who, one assumes for good reason, had been forbidden the holy sacraments and shut out from the Catholic church.
Yet it seems they could knock on the door at their local Templar preceptory and next thing, they were off to the crusades. How did the Templars get away with this?
Crusaders giving up pork. Even dressing like their Muslim neighbours (the wealthier ones) and living in eastern style houses with gurgling fountains. It’s enough to make a European Catholic in the Middle Ages gag. But apparently, some crusaders in the Holy Land went kosher or halal – influenced perhaps by the Jewish and Muslim faiths.
Crusaders going native in Jerusalem
It seems that many of the first wave of the crusaders who invaded and slaughtered the good people of Jerusalem, once they had settled down, went a bit native. So much so that they even stopped eating pork.
A story told by an Arab chronicler who went to dinner at the house of a “Frank” – their word for all crusaders – related that he boasted at having dumped all his old culinary habits and even hired some Egyptian cooks.
Pork never enters this home, he noted. This disgusted many knights in the west who felt that their compatriots in the east had got a bit effete and heretical in their manners. Why, they were probably feasting on dates and almonds every day.
But what was the real reason? Were the crusaders being influenced by their Muslim and Jewish neighbours? There is no law against pork in Christianity despite the dietary laws stated in the Old Testament. But in Judaism and Islam, pork is not kosher or halal respectively.
When the Templars were eventually put on trial in 1307, one accusation was that they had got too close to the Muslims. Could this aversion to pork have been used as evidence to support that allegation?
Were the Templars an all boys club or could women get a look in? Well, it seems the Knights Templar may not have been the woman haters they have been accused of being. Indeed, their attitude to women may have been better than the traditional monastic orders:
It seems that money has always opened doors and the Middle Ages were no exception. There are a few examples of wealthy ladies who gave themselves to the Order as ‘donatas’. In return for a portion of their fortune, they gained access to the order.
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There were also women handed over to the Order by benefactors as bondswomen. And there was even a Templar convent at Muhlen. This was, however, the only example of a nunnery in the order.
What was definitely a men only area was the battlefield. But away from the clash of sword against scimitar, there seems to have been a surprisingly ability for women to ingratiate themselves in to the Order’s company. All that in spite of the misogynist ravings of Bernard of Clairvaux, the saintly abbot who was the religious mentor to the knights.
Templar historian Helen Nicholson notes that the Templars held female saints in special reverence that contrasted with the all-male atmosphere of daily life in the Templars and their vows of celibacy.
And during the trial of the Templars when medieval accountants started looking at Templar assets to dispose of them to interested parties – women Templars are noted. They did exist. But their role remains shrouded in mystery.
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