Get ready for Knightfall – the History Channel’s spectacular Templar drama!

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The Knights Templar – guilty or innocent? An argument that has raged for centuries.

templar3Since their downfall, opinions on the guilt of the Knights Templar have been bitterly divided. Right down to our own time, experts have quarrelled over whether the charges against the Order were true or trumped up lies.

So let’s look at what a mixture of historians, lawyers and writers have said about the Templars and decide who is telling the truth.

I’m relying quite heavily on a book for this blog post that I thoroughly recommend – it’s called The Knights Templar in Britain by Evelyn Lord. So, as you know, the Knights Templar were rounded up, arrested and tortured by the king of France in 1307. From that moment, people began to take sides.

The legendary poet Dante, author of The Divine Comedy was supportive of the Templars, This might have been shaped by his own hostility to France. The French were backing Dante’s political opponents in Florence so the poet accused the king of just wanting their money by levelling scurrilous accusations.

Over in Spain, a writer called Ramon Llull took the opposite position. He wanted to see the religious military orders united. Immediately before the Templars were arrested, there had been demands from the pope for them to unite with the Knights Hospitaller but they had refused.

Templar artworkThe last Templar grand master Jacques de Molay had given Llull full hospitality when he had stayed in Cyprus on his way to conduct missionary work to the Muslims – an endeavour that would eventually lead to his death. Although the Templar leader had been kind to Llull, he reciprocated by condemning the knights for not merging with other orders.

The sixteenth century saw the great witchcraft mania and the Templars were sucked into this as an example of evildoers who practice the satanic arts. In his book De Occulta Philosophia, Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa accused the order of being depraved, in effect accepting the charges made against them during their trial. All the heretical rituals the Templars were said to have practised were assumed to have been fact.

The Protestant Reformation posed a conundrum for the new religion. They hated Catholics. So, were the Templars rebels against the pope or the worst example of corruption in the Catholic church? One seventeenth century Protestant clergyman, Thomas Fuller, decided they were corrupt. But the Royal Society, a bastion of early scientific thought, declared for the Templars.

The eighteenth century saw the rise of the Enlightenment and the Freemasons. The Dupuy brothers took a very anti-Templar line declaring the order had been corrupt for a hundred years before they were put on trial. The Dupuys worked for the French “sun king” Louis XIV so not surprising they were taking a hostile line perhaps. In contrast, the Freemasons embraced the Templars as historical forerunners.

The nineteenth century continued to show that the Knights Templar were as divisive as ever. Access to medieval documents and a spirit of scientific enquiry led some to exonerate the order and put the papacy firmly in the dock. But novelist Walter Scott made the Templars the baddies in his hugely successful historical novel Ivanhoe. Scott drew on a widely held view at the time the order was crushed that they were double dealing between the crusaders and their Saracen rivals.

Down to our own time, nobody can quite seem to make up their mind whether the knights were a force for good or evil. Assassins Creed has the Templars as a centuries old conspiracy to enslave humanity. Dan Brown subscribes to the Priory of Sion theory with the Templars doing their bit to protect the bloodline of Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene.

So – over to you. Templars – good or evil – guilty or innocent?

The Templars, hidden treasure and the Dead Sea Scrolls

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Two Bedouins discovered the Dead Sea scrolls

In 1947, two Bedouin shepherds were herding their flock on the rocky and steep slopes near Qumran by the shores of the Dead Sea in modern Israel. The area is pockmarked by caves and a goat disappeared inside one of these black holes. One of the shepherds threw a stone after it to tease the animal out but instead heard a sound like breaking pottery.

The shepherd had made one of the greatest archaeological finds of the 20th century. In several large stone jars, hidden away two thousand years ago, were sacred scrolls that included a version of the Old Testament written down a thousand years before the oldest version in existence in 1947.

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Qumran today

A mysterious community had taken root at Qumran building a town on the mountain face with purification baths, a library, aqueduct and houses. It had fled what it saw as the decadence and evil of Jerusalem around 150 BC.

Initially, its hatred was directed at the High Priests of the Temple in Jerusalem and their Greek overlords – the Seleucid Empire. These people, the community believed, were already damned. God had decided who to save and who to throw into hell fire. The community at Qumran didn’t need salvation through church sacraments or goodly deeds in life – they already knew they were part of God’s elect.

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Jerusalem priests – doing well under Roman rule

The Seleucids gave way to the Roman Empire and the priests of the Temple shamefully collaborated with the Romans for their own personal gain, power and prestige. The High Priest and Roman governor worked in hand in glove. Puppet Jewish kings like Herod Antipas were more than happy to be cyphers for Roman imperial rule in return for a glittering lifestyle.

Many Jews yearned for the return to the self-government they briefly enjoyed between the collapse of Seleucid rule and the arrival of the Romans – the period of the Maccabean revolt and the Hasmonean dynasty. And in 66 CE, the Jews rebelled against imperial control in a bloody insurgency that took over five years for the Romans to crush.

Roman vengeance was cruel and without mercy. The Temple in Jerusalem, the very place that Jesus was said to have expelled the money lenders, was ransacked for all its treasures. And then the building was torched and demolished. It would never rise again. The glory of the Jews – the most holy place to them – was reduced to rubble and ashes.

The Romans even celebrated their theft of the Temple treasury on an arch in Rome – the Arch of Titus. You can still see soldiers proudly carting off their booty that some conjecture included the Ark of the Covenant.

Back in Qumran, the community of ascetic Jews that had lived there for over two hundred years would have been very aware of events in the big city. They had been looking forward to an apocalyptic end of days that would end the rule of darkness and bring forth the rule of light. Those who were evil – Romans and Temple priests – would be damned. But the community of Qumran would be saved and resurrected.

copper-scrollFast forward to 1952 and archaeologists were finding more and more scrolls in the caves. They came to believe that the community, realising the Romans and fleeing Jewish refugees were coming in their direction, began to secrete their sacred knowledge into dark and unseen places.

Hastily, they hid their precious scrolls. Possibly, they were also helping to spirit away treasure from the temple in Jerusalem as Roman forces swarmed over it. Could it be that the ascetic community of Qumran helped the priests they hated in Jerusalem to hide the sacred vessels?

In 1952, archaeologists discovered a copper scroll. All the other scrolls had been made of papyrus or animal skin but this scroll was etched into metal. It was clearly intended not to rot or be chewed away by insects. The information on it was vitally important.

The copper scroll detailed the hiding place of a vast treasure in gold and silver. Look under the third step at such-and-such building and you will find a strong box with this amount of talents in gold…the scroll read. One hiding place after another was listed.

Many scholars believed it was referring to treasures taken out of the Temple before the Romans arrived and placed in over sixty locations. This raised the tantalising prospect that all over modern Israel and Jordan are the most spectacular finds waiting to be discovered.

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The Romans celebrated looting the Temple on the Arch of Titus in Rome – you can still see it!

Others argued that the community was leading people of the future on a wild goose chase for objects that did not exist at all. And certainly, treasure hunters have been consistently disappointed ever since. But it’s hard to imagine a community facing the arrival of Roman legions set on decimating them in an act of bloody imperial vengeance would waste their last moments on earth etching a hoax into a copper scroll.

A Templar related theory posits that there was a second copper scroll. This one was hidden under the Temple in Jerusalem for future generations to discover. And, the theory goes, when the Knights Templar began digging under what they believed to be the Temple of Solomon, they discovered this scroll. The wealth they were then able to unearth at multiple locations formed the basis of their fabulous wealth.

For many Israelis today, the thrilling prospect of finding the sacred items of the destroyed Temple would herald the prospect of rebuilding it. However, one can imagine the political storm that would create.

Were the Knights Templar really the guardians of the Holy Grail?

500px-Galahad_grailFor 800 years, people have been thrilled by the idea that the Knights Templar were the brave guardians of the Holy Grail. But is it actually true?

The Templars were formed in 1118 ostensibly to protect pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land. But, many believe, that wasn’t their real mission. It was no accident that they chose to be based on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem in what we now call the Al Aqsa mosque. When the holy city was under crusader control, the mosque was taken over by the Templars and renamed the Temple of Solomon. Because that’s what they believed it actually was – the site of the biblical king’s palace.

grail2The knights called themselves the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon – or Templars for short. They began digging furiously under the temple to find sacred treasure. It’s widely assumed they discovered the Holy Grail and became its guardians. Their mission had then been accomplished and they were to be the eternal keepers of the cup that Jesus used at the Last Supper.

When the Templar order was crushed in 1307 by the King of France and his puppet Pope Clement, the Grail was believed to have been spirited away. Did it end up in Paris and then on to Scotland and even the United States where one rather far-fetched theory has the sacred chalice being melted down into the torch of the Statue of Liberty? Or was it whisked off to Portugal where the Templars were protected by the king? Could it be located at the Templar bastion of Tomar in central Portugal?

In the period that the Knights Templar existed – 1118 to 1307 – there was an explosion of Grail related stories. They often involved the Court of King Arthur and extolled the virtues of chivalry and risking all for divine glory. The association of the Grail with the Knights Templar wasn’t established at first – it evolved even into our own time.

The idea of the Grail may be rooted in pre-Christian folklore, particularly Celtic references to magic cauldrons – much loved by witches as you know.  The cauldron became a cup with magical powers.

holy-grail-2A 12th century poet Robert de Boron made the link between a cup used by Jesus at the Last Supper with Joseph of Arimathea who was said to have used the same cup to collect blood from Christ’s body on the cross. Joseph then takes the cup to Britain where it ended up at Glastonbury. Joseph is a character who pops up in the gospels as a wealthy Jewish merchant and maybe a relative of Jesus who arranges for his burial. Successive early Christian writers developed him further and Robert de Boron stuck him firmly in the Arthurian legend.

The Grail had its theological uses for the medieval church.  As a cup of Christ’s blood it reinforced the central act of the Catholic mass where the wine in the chalice becomes, literally, the blood of Christ. This would explain the symbolism of Christ sharing the cup at the last supper and then the same vessel being used to collect his blood at the crucifixion. Wine + turning to blood + chalice = Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation – the turning of wine to blood in the mass.

goodfriday-neuschSo how do the Templars come to be its guardians? Step forward German medieval teller of chivalrous tales Wolfram von Eschenbach. In the first decade of the 13th century he wrote Parzival – effectively a new take on the already existing legend of King Arthur. Parzival arrives at Arthur’s court, goes off on a quest to find the Grail, which he discovers in a castle owned by the Fisher King and guarded by…the Templeise.

This brotherhood of knights is indeed chaste and prayerful, like the Templars. They do battle with heathens to protect the Grail, though it’s a stone and not a cup. The stone, incidentally, confers eternal youth and heals people of ailments.  But there is no mention in the Parzival tale of these knights being in any way monastic in nature and their symbol is a turtle dove and not the Templar cross.

However, the die was cast. Templars. Guardians. Holy Grail. There was no going back now. Templar historian Helen Nicholson believes that this story and others that arose afterwards gave the Templars some very good PR in German speaking medieval Europe.

Wolfram von Eschenbach is an interesting fellow. He seems to have been influenced by French literature and knowledge coming from the Muslim world. Wolfram’s aristocratic patron – Hermann, Landgrave of Thuringia – had been on crusade in the Middle East and both men seem to have been unusually fascinated and sympathetic to the Islamic world.

Wolfram also gained knowledge, he claims, from the Moorish libraries of Toledo in Spain. Toledo had been conquered from the Muslims by Christian armies in 1105. Scholars from all over western Europe descended on its famous libraries translating texts from Arabic that included long lost ancient Greek works and studies on everything from geometry to music and astrology. Like the Templars, Wolfram was somebody who imbibed the wisdom and philosophy of the medieval Muslim world via different routes.

To shore up his claim that the Templars were the guardians of the Grail, Wolfram also mentions an elusive character called Kyot of Provence as a cast iron source for his tale. Chrétien of Troyes got the Grail legend details wrong in his King Arthur story, Wolfram alleges, whereas Kyot of Provence is spot on. And the Templar connection is completely true. Problem is, nobody can find any shred of evidence for the existence of this chap Kyot of Provence.

It’s almost like he never existed.

Friday 13th and the end of the Knights Templar

dayIt’s one of those weeks again when a Friday 13th occurs and our thoughts turn to the Knights Templar. So why is the 13th so significant?

On the morning of Friday 13th October 1307, a huge dawn raid saw Templars all over France rounded up and imprisoned. Orders to conduct this raid had been secretly circulated to law enforcement officers – bailiffs as they were termed – from the King of France.

King Philip the Fair had resolved to destroy the order with one devastating blow. Each bailiff would have read the king’s words with trepidation:

A bitter thing, a lamentable thing, a thing which is horrible to contemplate, terrible to hear of, a detestable crime, an execrable evil, an abominable work, a detestable disgrace, a thing almost inhuman, indeed set apart from humanity.

The king claimed that while the Templars said they were Christian, they were in effect nothing of the sort. Honest men had informed the royal authorities that these knights were spitting and urinating on crucifixes and worshipping devilish idols. Worse, the Templars were giving each other illicit kisses all over their bodies including the “base of the spine”.

Every member of the Knights Templar was to be held for trial by the church while the King of France would take over all the assets of the Templars – buildings, gold, farms, etc.

Some knights managed to escape including the Preceptor of France, Gerard de Villiers. One has to feel rather sorry for another terrified knight who ditched his white mantle, shaved his beard and got into disguise but was still apprehended by the king’s men.

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Templars: once revered, now hated

The evidence suggests that nearly all the Templars had no idea what was about to happen. As the bailiffs kicked down their doors, the knights surrendered to their doom.

They were carted off to grim dungeons where many experienced a range of tortures to extract confessions. The king was determined that they would admit their guilt to the charges of sodomy and heresy.

Many of those taken away to have their feet roasted or hung up with their arms tied behind their back – two common forms of torture – were old men by the standard of the day. They were retired warriors or members of the order who had always been farm managers or administrators.

Jacques de Molay, the last Grand Master, was probably the most surprised victim of the Friday 13th arrests. Only the day before, he had been an honoured guest at the funeral of the king’s sister-in-law.

Do the Templars control the world today?

I meet and talk to people in very different situations who are convinced that the Knights Templar in some guise or other control the world. How do they come to this view?

A few months ago, I was talking to a young British Muslim and mentioned this blog. “Well, of course, they totally run the world, right?” I thought he was joking. He was university educated, very bright and well read. But no. He meant it. 100%.

Similarly, I’ve come across people who argue that Pope Francis, as a Jesuit, must be part of a Templar plot because the Jesuits are really secret Templars.

Let me run through some of the recent theories I’ve discovered online about Templars running the world:

Templars control us from Switzerland

  • Haven’t you ever noticed how similar the Swiss and Templar flags are?
  • Swiss neutrality is not a result of loving peace but because they are too busy orchestrating wars through which the Templars control us
  • Templars finance wars around the globe
  • The reason Swiss banking is secret is to hide the Templars controlling it

Templars control us from London

  • The US is still controlled from London
  • Behind the British monarchy and the City of London is the “Crown”, the Crown Templar
  • It is still based at the Temple church in the heart of London
  • That church is based in London’s legal district where the Templars have determined the Common Law system that governs the UK and US
  • King John and Magna Carta cemented this arrangement in place back in 1215

The Holy Grail has given them incredible power

  • Digging beneath the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, the Knights Templar found the Holy Grail and knowledge that gave them power over the church
  • This power ultimately posed such a grave threat to medieval Europe that kings and popes united to overthrow them
  • But they continue to exercise power as they still possess the Grail
  • Successive attempts to wrest the Grail from their control by the church and Freemasons have failed

The Freemasons possess Templar knowledge

  • Hiram, king of Tyre, built Solomon’s Temple in ancient times but was murdered when he refused to divulge Masonic secrets
  • The Templars discovered that knowledge when they occupied Solomon’s Temple
  • They transmitted that knowledge to the Freemasons who emerged openly in the 18th century

Templars and the Illuminati – are the same thing

  • It’s a simple deductive syllogism that goes like this…
  • The Illuminati run the world
  • The Templars are the Illuminati
  • Therefore, the Templars run the world

Templars are trying to take over all faiths

  • The Templars were part of a centuries old conspiracy to dominate the world
  • They came from elite aristocratic families
  • They deliberately questioned the divinity of Christ to more easily merge Christianity with Islam and Judaism
  • Vatican Two in the 1960s was a continuation of that plot
  • The Jesuits are an arm of the Templars and Pope Francis is acting under their orders

The Templars are trying to set up a One World Government

  • And here is a film on that theory

How the Templars became the Order of Christ in Portugal

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From my trip to the Viagem Medieval in Portugal in 2017

In 1312, Pope Clement V ordered all Christian rulers to seize the assets of the Knights Templar and hand them over to the rival Knights Hospitaller. One king refused to obey. In Portugal, King Dinis took over the Templar assets himself.  In effect, he used his royal power to protect and reshape the order so that it could continue. The result was the formation of the Order of Christ.

By 1319, King Dinis had convinced Clement’s successor, Pope John XXII, to recognise his new order. Dinis argued that Portugal still faced a significant threat from Muslim armies to the south. 150 years before, the Templars had helped the first kings of Portugal to create their country. This had involved conquering cities like Lisbon and Santarem from Muslim control to forge a new Christian nation.

The Templars had always been in the front line pushing the frontier ever further southwards. They had done so at considerable risk to their own safety. For this, Portugal was grateful. And so when the king was asked to suppress the Templars, he recoiled. Dinis came up with a novel and unique solution. Today, we would call it rebranding. He took brand Templar and relaunched it as brand Order of Christ.

As with the Templars, the new order followed the Cistercian rule – the code by which those monks led their daily lives. The Cistercians and Templars had always been closely interconnected. From 1357, the Order of Christ was moved to the same headquarters the Templars had used and built – the castle at Tomar.

FullSizeRender (2)King Dinis was a complex character. A poet who resisted church power and did more than any king before him to promote a strong Portuguese identity.

His son Afonso IV continued his father’s legacy nurturing the Order of Christ which was soon to play a leading role in the age of discoveries, which would see navigators from Portugal sail around Africa and discover Brazil.

This year, I went to a historical reenactment festival in northern Portugal called the Medieval Journey – Viagem Medieval. Every year, huge crowds turn out to see battles and short plays about a particular monarch. This year, it was the turn of King Afonso IV.

The festival slogan was a bit grim: Hunger, Plague and War. But Afonso IV reigned during a stormy period that included the ravages of the Black Death, a bubonic plague that decimated populations across Europe. He also had to see off attacks from both Muslim armies and those of neighbouring Castile, another Christian kingdom that would evolve in future centuries into modern Spain.

Here are some images from my visit and a video of the battle scene – enjoy!