I was in Lisbon in August of this year and made an interesting discovery…
This year, I was walking up a steep hill in Lisbon to visit the medieval cathedral. This austere fortress-like edifice was built after the city was taken from its Muslim rulers by the Templars and the Portuguese army – assisted by many foreign crusaders – in the year 1147.
What the Christians found when they entered the city was a huge mosque at its centre. This was torn down and the cathedral erected in its place.
It’s not the most attractive medieval building in Europe and with its thick walls and arrow slit windows, you get the impression that the citizenry were expecting their former rulers to try and return and recapture the place.
It’s hard to imagine that there was ever a Muslim city here, at the westernmost end of a global medieval caliphate stretching from India to the Algarve in southern Portugal. Algarve, by the way, is from the Arabic “Al-Gharb” meaning the west. The city had been in Muslim hands for over four hundred years. It’s been the capital of Catholic Portugal for the last eight hundred years. So the Islamic heritage has been largely erased.
Half way up the hill, I found an antique shop selling statues from the 17th to 19th centuries that had once adorned churches in Lisbon and elsewhere in Portugal. Curiously, many of items had lost their clothes and hair at some point. So pictured here is Jesus Christ with the bloodied wounds from his crown of thorns but the crown, his hair and robes have gone.
What you’re left with is the puppet-like body that was always underneath to be manipulated as the church saw fit. His arms could be extended, his legs crossed, his head bowed, whatever was required.
This would have been little different to statues of the medieval period and today, as in those times, these are often carried in processions around the streets on special feast days.
Quite a morbid shop I must say, but completely fascinating.
I have just returned from a very Templar themed holiday in Portugal – in the next few blog posts, I’ll share my discoveries with you:
Lisbon is the capital of modern day Portugal and a thriving, bustling city. But let’s go back 800 years and we find a very different place. Lisbon was called Al-Usbunna and was a Muslim-controlled metropolis surrounded by thick walls, a great mosque in the centre of the downtown area (medina in Arabic) and a Muslim governor living in an Al Qasr (Alcazar in Spanish) at the top of the hill.
What we now call Spain and Portugal had been invaded by Muslim armies in the year 711. A Christian kingdom that covered the whole of the Iberian peninsula was overthrown and the Muslim/Arab armies went even further, crossing the Pyrenees mountains and attempting ton conquer France as well.
Four hundred years later and Christians had taken back the north of Spain and Portugal but the more prosperous and populous south still remained in Muslim hands. Portugal was half the size it is today, just the northern half, and its king got together with a new order of knights to try and conquer the south. These knights were our very own Knights Templar.
King Afonso Henriques asked the Templars to patrol and effectively control the border areas between Christian Portugal and the Muslim south. They did, setting up a base in Tomar – in what is now central Portugal. This August, I was filming with the History Channel in Tomar looking for secret Templar tunnels – more on that in another blogpost.
Lisbon was besieged by an army under Afonso Henriques that included Templars and crusaders from all over Europe. Its walls eventually succumbed to this army and Afonso gave the crusaders permission to ransack the city for three days. The great mosque became the new cathedral and the old palace of the Muslim governor became St George’s castle – which you can still see today.
For a long time, the Portuguese swept their Muslim past under the carpet. But now, excavations in the cloisters of Lisbon’s cathedral have revealed evidence of the mosque as well as earlier Roman habitation. It’s always amazes me to see how civilisations build on top of each other. Layer after layer of human activity. I enclose some photos of the excavations for you to enjoy!
Interesting news article HERE from the Scunthorpe Telegraph about the Templars in Lincolnshire – a county in eastern England. It name checks Bottesford Preceptory, one of several Templar estates in the county. A Preceptory, by the way, was a Templar manor and would include farms, mills, workshops, living quarters, a great hall and a chapel. There was a vast network of Preceptories across Europe stretching from Wales to the Holy Land.
Templar preceptories in Lincolnshire included Witham and Aslackby as well as Great Limber and Temple Bruer. It must be said that today’s remains give little away – in some cases, there’s nothing left. Temple Bruer, for example, was used for military exercises but you’ll only find a farmyard there now.
If you are planning a visit to Lincolnshire, you do have the splendid medieval cathedral at Lincoln and nearby medieval buildings to sate your interest in this period of history.
If you have any further information about the Knights Templar in Lincolnshire – do share!
I visited Santiago de Compostela three years ago and it’s a fascinating place. My last blog post was a re-blog about Irish pilgrims who visited the shrine of Saint James the Apostle in the Middle Ages. It was a very popular destination and was established as a holy site in the ninth century CE.
In the year 813, a shepherd followed a bright star (yeah, I know…you’ve heard that story before!) and it led him to a mysterious burial place. He reported it to the local Bishop of Iria, Teodomiro, who declared that the skeleton was the remains of Saint James the Apostle.
Now, the year 813 was just over a hundred years since the Islamic caliphate had conquered the whole of the Iberian peninsula even pressing in to southern France. But the Moors, as the Muslims were referred to, had been pushed out of the northernmost areas of Iberia and Christian kingdoms had been established. They were much poorer than the Islamic caliphate to the south, ruled from Cordoba, but they were determined to guard their independence.
Saint James became a symbol to the Christian kingdoms of their just cause and in one battle against the Moors, it was said that the apostle appeared in person and slew loads of Moors. This gave him the title of Saint James Moor Slayer – and James is still portrayed in Santiago on horseback killing terrified Moors.
Pilgrims still flood to Santiago and the journey is great fun. Here are some of my pictures from my visit three years ago.
The Order of the Temple existed at the same time as a massive boom in cathedral building. Throughout the twelfth and thirteenth century, Europe resounded to the striking of chisel against stone and yet, it all seems to have been the work of Benedictines and Cistercians. The monastic warriors of the Temple were too busy channeling all that bullion to the crusades in the east.
So – does that mean no Templars were masons? Well, section 325 of the Templar Rule intriguingly mentions masons being members of the Temple, but not as full knights. Karen Ralls, a great Templar scholar, points out that mason brothers were the only Templars allowed to wear leather gloves apart from chaplains. And it seems they were restricted to a kind of “associate” status.
But it seems hard to believe that if a cathedral was springing up near a Templar preceptory and it was all on hands on deck to get the thing built that the Templars would have just ignored and refused to get involved. I’ve seen churches in Europe and the Middle East which almost certainly bear imagery one associates with the Templars.
Could it possibly be that these Templar masons lent a helping hand? And left their mark?