Five Templar hotspots mentioned in Quest for the True Cross

Here’s a great idea for a Templar holiday this year – visit all the Templar hotspots mentioned in my book Quest for the True Cross. I’ve been to all of them (barring one) and can guarantee – they are fascinating places. So – let’s start our quick journey!


220px-Battle_of_Edeesa_1146This city is now in modern Turkey – which is appropriate as it was the Seljuk Turks who drove the crusaders out of Edessa on Christmas Day in 1144. The city had been the capital of the County of Edessa, one of the first Christian kingdoms established after the First Crusade. The unsuccessful defence of the city was led by its Latin archbishop Hugh who was either trampled to death by his own fleeing flock or killed by the Seljuks as they stormed the city’s fortifications. I begin Quest for the True Cross with the siege of Edessa in full swing and two unscrupulous thieves using the tumult to steal the True Cross from a church in the city.


source_4b7ebd592258c_hartmann-schedel-hierosolima-1493_2-bw-1147x965Jerusalem had been taken by Christian forces in the First Crusade – in the year 1099. A contemporary chronicle claimed that the massacre perpetrated by crusaders against the populace was at such a level that blood splashed up from the streets on to the knights’ stirrups. In the years that followed, a crusader kingdom was established with the Al Aqsa mosque and Dome of the Rock converted from Muslim to Christian use. This was reversed back again when Jerusalem fell to Saladin eighty years later. We meet the hero of Quest for the True Cross, Sir William de Mandeville, in Jerusalem as he helps to defend it from encroaching saracens.


TEMPLAR HOTSPOT THREE: London Templar church

Knight Templar church in LondonThe Temple church in London was the second Templar preceptory in the city and stands between Fleet Street and the river Thames. You need some imagination to picture it as part of a complex of medieval buildings long gone that would once have served the knights’ requirements. It’s now surrounded by law firms. In my novel, Sir William returns to the Temple to discover his father’s body hanging from an apple tree. This is based on a factual account of a failed rebellion by the 1st Earl of Essex Geoffrey de Mandeville’s against King Stephen. The Earl was subsequently declared an outlaw and killed. His body was forbidden a Christian burial but was rescued by the Templars. I won’t spoil what happened next – you’ll have to read Quest for the True Cross.


The_wheat_barn_at_Cressing_Temple, William is forced to return to the Templar preceptory where he began his life as a knight. It’s an unhappy return. The preceptory is run by a bitter old curmudgeon by the name of Wulfric who detests the young and valiant Sir William. Cressing Temple is in Essex and was once a major centre of the Knights Templar in England – founded during the unhappy reign of the aforementioned King Stephen. You can still see remains of a huge barn that I mention in the novel. I grew up in Essex and it’s with great pride that I bring this Templar gem to your attention!


Bernard_of_Clairvaux_-_Gutenburg_-_13206Leaving England, Sir William journeys to Clairvaux to see his old mentor – Bernard. The French Cistercian Saint Bernard of Clairvaux was a titanic figure in the Middle Ages – a reformer, ascetic, advocate of the crusades and supporter of the Templars. With the fall of Edessa to the Turks, he gave a series of rousing sermons urging the European nobility to make haste to the Holy Land and defend the Christian kingdoms. I depict Sir William as being one of many knights swept up in this fervour. Unfortunately, the Second Crusade suffered many setbacks, which hit Bernard hard. In my book, I convey his bitterness at the turn of events. I also touch on the intellectual battle that Bernard fought against a rival cleric called Peter Abelard. The latter was a worldly philosopher who offended the more spiritual Bernard.

Find out more about all these places when you order Quest for the True Cross on Amazon.

Sir William de Mandeville – Templar hero!

Sir William de Mandeville is the hero of my Templar novel Quest for the True Cross. Some key facts about William:

  1. templar3He is a Templar knight from Essex in England
  2. His father was the Earl of Essex but died in gruesome circumstances after rebelling against King Stephen
  3. William’s older brother becomes the new earl and soon reveals a cruel streak
  4. William returns home from the crusades in the Holy Land after a spell of madness and challenges his brother’s tyranny, rescuing a poor boy who is about to be mutilated for theft
  5. Back in the Holy Land, the True Cross – the most sacred Templar relic – has been stolen by the Saracens. It is now in the city of Al-Usbunna
  6. Crusader and Templar armies mass to take Al-Usbunna from Muslim control and William joins them to try and retrieve the True Cross. He hopes by doing so, he can restore his family honour disgraced in different ways by his father and brother
  7. William also hopes to conquer his own growing insanity, caused by the terrible carnage he had seen on crusade in the Holy Land

I won’t spoil the conclusion – buy Quest for the True Cross to find out what happens!


A strange old church in England

I’ve been visiting Greenstead church in Essex since I was….gosh, ten years old back in the 1970s.  So – what draws me back?  It’s a unique building.  Possibly the oldest wooden church in Europe still in its original condition.  The main body of this very dark church is made of tree logs sawn in half.  The walls of the nave inside are the smoothed sawn surfaces of the halved logs, locked together.  Outside the church, you can see the curved log surfaces, all blackened now.  There has been some mystery as to the age of these logs but analysis shows they date back to the Saxon period in the eleventh century.

Originally, the church would have been like a log cabin with a large thatched roof but additions over the centuries have – rather unusually – not involved sweeping away the logs but instead incorporated them in to the building.  However, they are not a decorative addition – they still form the main walls of the nave.

So why was the church built?  It seems now to be in the middle of nowhere but Essex, as its name suggests, was the land of the East Saxons.  King Edmund was the king of the East Angles in the ninth century – at a time when they were under attack from the Vikings.  In the 900s, Abbo of Fleury wrote his account of the life of Edmund at the abbey of Ramsey.  He recounted how two Danish kings, Hinguar and Habba, ravaged Northumbria and then Hinguar peeled off heading towards East Anglia.  Edmund was captured and put to death in a rather grisly manner.  He was whipped – rather like Jesus – then tied to a tree and shot with so many arrows that he ‘bristled with them like a hedgehog or thistle’.  This echoes the death of Saint Sebastian.  It was very common to mix and match the life stories of other saints and apply them to new holy people.  Suffice it to say that in spite of resembling a hedgehog, Edmund somehow managed to still be alive and declaring his faith to Christ.  His head was chopped off and body discarded – though later discovered being guarded by a very helpful wolf who shouted out where it was….being divinely gifted with the ability to speak!

East Anglia and Essex continued to be attacked by the Danes – and ruled by them – in to the early 1000’s – when things got so violent and out of hand that Edmund’s body was taken from its resting place and shrine at Bury St Edmunds to London for sakekeeping.  Strangely, the Vikings seemed to have started to venerate Edmund as well as the Saxons – even though the former had done him to death.  It seems his holiness came to be recognised by all sides.  However, the veneration was not enough to stop nervous Saxons taking his body to London where it stayed for three years before being transported back to Bury.  It was while this was happening that his body stopped for a night at Greenstead and the wooden chapel was built.

As the church was completed, in the second decade of the eleventh century – the Danes took over all of England under King Canute.  Oddly, it was dedicated to Saint Andrew and not Edmund.  Some think this suggests an earlier Celtic Christian influenced church was on the site.  Who knows.  One of the things that can be noted in the log structure is a small triangular hole that many have assumed to be a leper squint.  That is a hole through which lepers could view the mass from outside.  This is disputed and some say it was let in light but having seen the squint, I find that less than convincing.  It’s tiny!  Must say that my gut feeling is that it was for the lepers.

In the Templar period, it came under the control of Walter de Baskerville (1268-1319) and for those of you interested in such things, the rectory was valued at 40 shillings in 1254.  De Baskerville fought against the king in the Baron’s War and Greenstead slipped in to the hands of Roger de Clifford.  De Baskerville eventually got the church and surrounding estates back but surrendered them in a land swap with another noble called Roger de la Hay.

There have been many interesting alterations to the church – all positive.  The Tudors built a very quaint roof and the Stuarts added a nice wooden whitewashed tower.  Even the Victorians made some additions which, for once, were tasteful and kept the character of the building.  They also set the wooden logs in to a brick foundation as they had started to rot at ground level.  Also to note – a crusader grave by the front porch – easily missed.  Here are some photos I took on a visit in December, 2011.