Five movies that feature the Knights Templar

Some of these movies you may not have heard of – and others you might have wanted to forget! But I’ve unearthed some great popcorn chomping fun that feature the Knights Templar – so here goes!

1. The Minion (1998)

One of several spooky movies timed for the dawn of the new millennium. It’s Christmas Eve 1999 and a New York subway construction crew digs up an ancient skeleton plus a mysterious key. Whatever that key opens can only spell trouble! And it surely does. Along comes archaeologist Karen Goodleaf who unleashes The Minion – a diabolical creature that tries to possess her. But then….up pops a Knight Templar to rescue the damsel in distress. Why it’s none other than Dolph Lundgren, 80s acting hunk playing a knight called Lukas…

2. Blood of the Templars (2004)

You’re a teenager brought up by a monk because you never knew who your parents were – and one night at a party, you have a fight. And amazingly, you win the fight because….you discover your superhuman powers. Well, you’re at least a lot stronger then the college bully. Next thing you know, the Knights Templar and the Priory of Sion are in touch asking if you can help find the Holy Grail.

3. The Lost Treasure of the Knights Templar (2006)

This movie is in Danish but you’ve all watched a Scandinavian cop series by now so you can cope with the subtitles. Another teenage boy goes on a quest to find out more about the Knights Templar – and even learns Latin to help him on his way. But he doesn’t bank on the danger in store…

4. Night of the Templar (2012)

This movie is so trashy, it demands to be watched. Classic shlock horror. Templar knight is killed by a band of baddies centuries ago. But he vows to return after ten generations have passed to slaughter his murderers’ descendants. And that’s basically what he does…

5. Tombs of the Blind Dead (1972)

Cheesy horror movies were all the rage in the 1970s. This one is about some Knights Templar – executed for devil worship – who come to life at night to rape and murder. Needless to say some hapless modern day travellers chance across their path with unfortunate results.

Do you have any favourite Knights Templar movies?

The medieval roots of Halloween

It's that time of year once again, Halloween u...
It’s that time of year once again, Halloween ushers in the best holiday of the Holiday season! Taken at La Mesa Oktoberfest in 2007 but still relevant every Halloween. 

Pumpkins, trick or treat and witch costumes. We all know about modern Halloween – but how might a Templar have celebrated the same day? Back in the early Middle Ages, the day we now call Halloween was more commonly called All Hallows Eve. It was the day before All Saints Day – a major Catholic feast.

Hallow came from an Old English word for holy or sanctified. The day was a liturgical vigil where the faithful were required to attend church, fast and pray. But there was always a hangover from pre-Christian practices. This was the transition from summer to winter – a time when peasants gathered in the harvest and into November, the ‘blood month’, where animals were killed and salted. Having an abundance of food – hopefully, famine permitting – there was a perfect excuse to feast and drink.

From the moment Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, the church had to deal with pagan rituals that involved dancing, singing, drinking and gorging on food. What to do? Ban them – which the church attempted – or co-opt them into the church calendar, trying to draw out the pagan sting. That was the route the church gradually adopted.

So, around October 31st the Christian community was faced with a festivity where bonfires were lit to propitiate the sun god – who was now in retreat to the darkness. The sun was thanked for its good work, nourishing the fruits of the earth. Peasants hoped for its glowing return in the spring.

Some believe that in ancient Britain, the people at this time hailed a deity called Samhain, the lord of death, who gathered up the souls of the evil imprisoned within the bodies of animals. It’s said that this was altered by Christians to create a day in the Middle Ages where the souls of those in purgatory were prayed for. The bonfires continued and people would go to their neighbours’ houses in the village offering condolences to the bereaved – did this morph into trick or treat?

Dressing up in outlandish costumes had always been a part of pagan festivities and this element of Samhain worship could have trickled into All Hallows Eve. One idea is that the souls of the Christian dead wandered the earth until All Saints Day on November 1st. So, Halloween was their last chance to exact mischief on the living. Those not wishing to be recognised by the dead as they committed their last wicked deeds would wear masks and disguises – hence dressing up on this day.

Comparisons are also made to the Roman festival around the goddess Pomona. Her symbol was an apple and it’s been posited that the origin of apple bobbing at Halloween comes from Pomona related rites. It’s hard to deny that Christians reworked Roman festivals into the new religion, giving them new meaning. There’s evidence that the church actively discussed the dilemma of winning over converts who were attached to the old pagan ways. The solution seems to have been to let the common people carry on with their superstitions but direct their gaze to the Christian god instead.

The 31st October comes right before All Saints Day – November 1st – a feast called Hallowmas. Therefore Halloween was the eve before this important event in the liturgical calendar. It’s a Christian feast day believed to date back to the seventh century AD when the Pantheon, a vast and still standing temple built by the emperor Hadrian, was re-dedicated to all the saints. It had previously been dedicated to all the gods – but there was only one god now!

That was followed in the eleventh century with the introduction of All Souls Day on November 2nd. In case you’re confused – All Saints Day celebrated those who had succeeded in entering heaven while All Souls Day involved lots of praying for those who had not – lingering instead in purgatory (God’s waiting room). So a lot of attention was paid to the fate of the dead at this time of year, which has obviously informed the modern Halloween. Even our use of scary spiders, toads and bats reflects creatures within whom the souls of those in purgatory were sometimes thought to inhabit while they waited for their ticket into heaven.

I realise there is a terrific amount of soul searching – pardon the pun – over the Christian meaning of Halloween. I’m happy to hear your views and have some discussion about this ahead of the big day!

How children died in medieval England

deathPlague, hunger and war carried off lots of medieval kids – let alone not making it past childbirth due to unsanitary conditions or botched medical care.

Truth is that children were in a very precarious position – especially in a predominantly rural society. In May 1322, a sow bit the head off a one month old child! The baby was in her cradle unattended in a shop when the animal came over, feeling a bit peckish.

Trawling through English coroner’s Rolls for the early 14th century, a number of fatalities involving children crop up. Drowning was exceptionally common given that youngsters would be sent to draw water at rivers, ponds and lakes only to fall in and sink. Heavy clothes, muddy banks and not being able to swim combined to end many a young life.

There was a boy called Richard, son of John le Mazon, who was only eight years old and after a meal was making his way to school, walking across London Bridge – in the year, 1301.  On a sudden impulse, he decided to grip a beam on the side of the bridge and just hang there by his finger tips. Regrettably, he couldn’t keep his grip and fell down in to the river Thames and drowned.

In 1322, on the Sunday before the feast of Saint Dunstan, a group of boys were laying on a pile of timber. One was a seven year old called Robert, son of John de Saint Botulph and they continued to mess around until a heavy piece of wood tumbled on to Robert’s leg.  His mother, Johanna, arrived and managed to release her son’s leg which was fractured. Now, breaking a leg is not the end of the world in our modern age, but in the 14th century, this was a medical disaster. The child lingered on until the Friday before the Feast of Saint Margaret, at which point he died.

This is a rather odd story – in 1324, a five year old called John, son of William de Burgh, was at the property of Richard Latthere when he got it in to his head to steal a small amount of wool and try and hide it in his cap.  Richard’s wife, Emma, saw what he did and cuffed him hard round the ear.  He clearly made quite a din as a result and bawled his eyes out.  John’s mother raised the hue and cry – that is, she alerted other townsfolk to her plight by screaming her head off – and the boy was carried away.  At around the curfew bell of the same day, John died.  Emma fled though subsequently surrendered herself to the prison at Newgate.

Exorcism, fairies, devils and how to turn a maiden in to a love slave

feat_demonsA new series on Channel Four in the United Kingdom – Gods and Monsters –  covers the history of belief in evil spirits in England.  Spirits who could disguise themselves as humans, take other people’s forms, angels cast out of heaven, spirits who possessed you and made you ill, etc.

Violent demons were believed to be extremely dangerous and their power was derived from the fact that they were originally angels – living in heaven.  They rebelled against God and were cast out.  They became ugly and hideous.  But they did not lose their power.  Even when they fell from heaven, the power of their fall created the pit of hell.  And forever, they are trying to escape from hell.

Beneath the earth these demons were trying to grab at your soul while up above, angels were trying to guide you to God.

Demons could enter your body as a vapor through any opening.  They could possess you through your open mouth, for example.  Chester girl Anne Millner was possessed in this way in the 16th century when she found herself surrounded by a white cloud.  She had no doubt it was a physical entity and it entered in to her.

People in the Middle Ages truly believed that demons could turn in to everyday objects like food – there are accounts of people inadvertently admitting a demon by consuming an apple or even a lettuce leaf.  Bad case of food poisoning?  Maybe.  Very probably.  But the resulting fevers and lack of medicine to help meant these sick folk appeared to be possessed.

So how to get rid of a demon?  How to treat a ‘demoniac’?  Well, an exorcism of course.  In 1585, Sarah Williams was subjected to an exorcism.  Sarah truly believed herself to be possessed.  She could not cross herself.  She behaved strangely.  Her verbal outpourings were taken to be the demon talking.  So, like a scene out of the Hollywood movie ‘The Exorcist’, she had holy water chucked at her and Sarah called her tormentors all sorts of lovely words.

If there was no sign of improvement – the treatment moved up a level.  A cauldron stew of powdered root that smelt disgusting was held under nose and the smoke turned Sarah’s face black. Sure sign of possession!  Next step, cram the bones of a revered saint in to her mouth!  And touch the victim over and over again with a crucifix – particularly the extremities like the feet.  And incant the rite of baptism or other prayers.  After several months, Sarah was ‘cured’.

Not everybody wanted to get rid of demons – some people wanted to harness their power through necromancy…the conjuring up of spirits through spells.  A crime punishable by death.  Eleanor, Duchess of Gloucester (1400-1452), was an infamous necromancer.  She consulted two astrologers who predicted that King Henry VI of England would suffer a life threatening illness.  For this she was forced to do penance while one of the astrologers was hung, drawn and quartered.

The Munich Handbook was hugely popular in the Middle Ages and gave detailed instructions on just how to summon up the spirits. One spell described how to turn a beautiful maiden in to a love slave.  This involved finding a white dove, bite in to it near its heart, draw with the blood using a quill from an eagle on a parchment made from a female dog on heat….no, I’m not making this up!  The dove, by the way, was seen as being the symbol of Venus while the dog was the symbol of lust.

Having turned the maiden one is after in to a slave, the demon that has been summoned would create a replica human in the shape of the maiden who would return to her home and pretend to be her.  So you could never be sure who was a real human being and who was a demon in disguise.

Aaaah…but fairies you say.  They’re nice spirits aren’t they?  Cute little things with pink wings. Well, not in the Middle Ages.  The medieval mind had not heard of Peter Pan or Walt Disney.  To them, fairies did not have gossamer wings – a Victorian invention – and were not necessarily small – a Shakespearian invention.

Fairies were human size – possibly inherited from the Roman idea of nymphs.  They were only invisible when they wanted to be.  Fairies could kill you, ruin your crop and worst of all, abduct your child and replace it with a ‘changeling’. In medieval Britain, the belief in changelings led to women advising new mothers to surround the cradle with cold iron – like shears, which should be placed near the head.  Draw a chalk circle around the cradle and recite prayers as you did it. But even this didn’t guarantee a child’s safety.

If the child inherited an abnormality – a fairy had probably taken its place.  A child being deaf, not moving much or throwing violent tantrums – could very well be a fairy changeling.  A parent in the Middle Ages might do something odd to test the child.  They would bake bread in an eggshell to see if the baby or toddler laughed – thereby proving it was an old knowledgeable fairy in a child’s body.

So if the baby was proven to be a changeling – what then?  Well, according to contemporary sources, babies were left exposed on a dung heap or placed near a fire and the terrified fairy would fly out of the body and it would be replaced by your real baby.  Unfortunately, as the Channel Four programme explains, babies did die.  As late as 1895, a man killed his wife in England because he believed his wife to be a fairy changeling.

The Devil at the movies!

Portraying the Devil in film is not an easy task – as hard as it was to portray him in paint on the wall of a medieval church.  Is he a fallen angel or a hairy beast?  Does he appear to us as a human or a monster?  One Spanish movie – El Dia de la Bestia (released 1995) – depicted him as an enormous goat headed creature.  In this rather bizarre film, a Catholic priest discovers that Anti-Christ is to be born in Madrid in the year 2000.  To summon up the devil and kill his creation, the priest deliberately sets out to do evil deeds in the hope the devil will take notice of him.  It’s a black comedy for sure with typical Spanish anarchic humor.

While the Devil is indisputably a beast in that Spanish movie – he’s in human form for the movie Devil released last year.  A group of people trapped in an elevator discover that somebody among them is not quite what they seem.  When the lights go out – this individual bites!

There are those like Faust who summon the devil to make a pact they come to regret at leisure – either for riches or in the case of the 1961 movie The Devil’s Partner, for the return of youth.  You can watch the entire movie from Openflix at this link:

Of course there are those unwise souls who get together to indulge in black masses or covens to conjure spells and mess with dark forces.  One very underrated Horror movie – Blood on Satan’s Claw (released 1971) – shows a group of young villagers in seventeenth century England indulging in Satanic practices at a time when witch burning was at its height.  You can see the full movie here:

 

Drinking with the Devil

In the medieval era – when our Templars where fighting the Saracens – belief in the Devil was not only strong but the lord of darkness was seen as a figure very close by, always testing your faith and goodness.  One five hundred year old story from England that I’ve discovered explains the working of the medieval mind on the subject.  Note some spelling mistakes which come from the original text – ie, ‘brake’ and ‘perswade’.

In 1578, a group of habitual drunkards decided to ignore the rules regarding the Sabbath and went to a tavern.  Their names were Adam Gibbons, George Keepel, John Keysel, Peter Horsdroff, John Warner, Simon Heamkers, Jacob Hermons and Hermon Frow.  They went to the house of somebody called Antony Hodge and “called for Burnt-Wine, Sack, Clarat and what not”.  Hodge was a “godly man” and refused to serve them, insisting they go to church instead.

Gibbons said they hated church and preferred drinking.  Hodge left them to go to church himself while they cursed him “wishing he might brake his neck, ere he returned and wishing the Devil might brake their own necks if they went from hence till they had some wine”.  Well, the devil heard their cursing and arrived as a young man with a flagon of wine in his hand.

“Good Fellows – be merry, you shall have wine enough, you seem to be lusty lads and I hope you will pay me well.”

Regrettably, they answered that they would pay him “or engage their neck for it, yea rather than fail, their bodies and souls”.  And the devil duly noted their words.  They then drank what seemed to be a never ending supply of wine till they could hardly see each other.

“At last the Devil their Host told them that now they must pay for all, at which their hearts waxed cold.  But the Devil bid them be of good cheer for now they must drink Fire and Brimstone with him in the Pit of Hell for ever.  At which the Devil breake their Necks assunder and destroyed them.”

The story ends with a dire warning for those who do not see the devil in their midst.

“This by the way may serve for a Document for all Drunkards for ever and to perswade folk that the Lord has the Devil for his Executioner when he pleases to execute his vengeance upon Notorious Sinners.”

Baphomet and the Sack of Constantinople

baphometThere can hardly have been a worse event in the Middle Ages than the sacking of the great city of Constantinople by a crusader army – a Christian army destroying a Christian city.  The scars of that incident can still be seen in modern Istanbul in the remains of Byzantine monuments stripped of their gold and jewels and left as naked stone.

This was the high point – or low point – of the Fourth Crusade where the Doge of Venice, Dandolo, re-directed a crusader army that owed him vast sums of money towards his commercial enemy Constantinople and away from Saracen/muslim targets like Cairo.  Ignoring threats of excommunication from the pope, Dandolo – in his nineties and blind – personally led the crusader force in its attack on “The City” as Constantinople was known.

It’s hard to appreciate that Constantinople, situated at the end of the Silk Route and at the crossing point between Europe and Asia was by far the wealthiest metropolis in the early middle ages.  Its roofs and domes were covered in gold and to contemporary eyes, it literally shone as one approached it. The huge walls encircling it, built by the Roman emperor Theodosius in the fifth century, had never been breached – even by vast Arab armies – and were assumed to be impregnable.

To those crusaders who now decided to rape the city of its vast booty, the religious justification – and this applies to the Templars involved as well – would have been the schism between Rome and Christian church in the east.  The Greek speaking Christians of Constantinople were out of communion with the pope and their rite was deemed to be heretical.

On a more worldly level, the Byzantine emperors who ruled the city had long resorted to crafty diplomacy and a high level of duplicity to maintain their empire which had once dominated the eastern Mediterranean but was now being squeezed by conquering Turkish armies as well as Christian kings in Bulgaria, Hungary and Serbia.

Once the crusaders got in to the city, they burnt and plundered with an unseemly ferocity and made a point of desecrating the ancient cathedral of the Hagia Sophia (holy wisdom).  This included crowning a whore on the bishop’s throne.  There is a contemporary description of this event:

“Nay more, a certain harlot, a sharer in their guilt, a minister of the furies, a servant of the demons, a worker of incantations and poisonings, insulting Christ, sat in the patriarch’s seat, singing an obscene song and dancing frequently.”

All of the above is fact now where we stray in to the realms of Templar conjecture is the belief that this is when the Order acquired the head of the Baphomet.  Quite what the ‘Baphomet’ is – head of the devil, goat’s head, Mohammed’s head – is anybody’s guess.  And there’s not much if anything by way of contemporary documents to say that the Templars believed they had such a thing.

Our only lead is the ramblings of a Templar during the great trials when the Order was suppressed.  Having been subjected to torture by the French king’s agents – and this was a hundred years after the sack of Constantinople – he claimed the Templars did indeed worship a head of something called Baphomet.  Historical detectives have to decide whether there was something to this or an example of people saying anything when they’re being stretched on a rack.

However, there’s no reason to suppose that the Templars didn’t walk away with a few religious trophies including the head of Saint Euphemia – which they claimed to have – though confusingly, her entire body is today held in the church of Saint George in Istanbul.

How to identify Anti-Christ

pronechen-ANTICHRISTThe Templars were hot on the concept of Anti-Christ – as were plenty of other people in the Middle Ages.

Trouble was – it was as clear as fog exactly what Anti-Christ was supposed to be.

Read any books on the subject and you really won’t be that much clearer.  The gist is that Anti-Christ is a figure who comes to deceive mankind and in whom Satan has some kind of controlling influence – or even dwells actively within.

Anti-Christ will come at the end of days pretending to be the saviour but being the complete opposite.  Early candidates for Anti-Christ included the Emperor Nero until the world just carried on without him and didn’t end.  Arius – architect of the Arian heresy – was decried as Anti-Christ but after dying in a Roman latrine, that kind of petered out.  As the Roman Empire lurched in to crisis, many Christians believed the coming of Anti-Christ was imminent but after Rome fell, life continued – albeit with a lot of Barbarians around the place.

So in to the Middle Ages, stories of Anti-Christ continued.  It was said he would seize power over the Earth from Jerusalem but that Elijah and Enoch would bear witness to his falseness and the coming of the true Lord but they would be slain by Anti-Christ.  The evil one would then go beserk killing every righteous person he could get his satanic hands on until the Lord overthrew him and raised the two witnesses from the dead.

It became rather convenient for Popes to identify some of their enemies as Anti-Christ – false preachers sent by Satan.  Unfortunately, that could also backfire with popes being accused of being Anti-Christ and having risen themselves up to laud it over mankind.  When there were rival popes and anti-popes, this accusation became all the more prevalent.

But how would you know the evil one?  The problem with the bible is a lack of clarity on who exactly Anti-Christ is – there are several candidates – and what he/it would appear like.  So medieval artists gave it their best shot using all manner of sources to guess the appearance of Anti-Christ.

You might recognise him because he would be riding both Leviathan and Behemoth.  Well, riding the two giants of land and sea would be quite an entrance.

He normally looks human – sometimes resembling Jesus who he is trying to imitate.  In other accounts, he is a bit easier to recognise.  One story says he is twelve cubits high, two cubits wide, red crooked eyes, golden hair, green feet and two skulls.  Well, you wouldn’t miss that Anti-Christ in a hurry.

hildegard8More revoltingly, Hildegard von Bingen in the twelfth century had a vision of Anti-Christ being born – from the church which was kind of represented as a woman.  I’ll spare some of the details here but out pops a black head with fiery eyes, donkey’s ears, a mouth like a lion, iron teeth, etc.  The creature is a like a hairy black parallelogram with teeth.  Anti-Christ will stink apparently.  It will then attempt to ascend in to heaven in a parody of Christ’s ascent and be cast down so violently its head will break open.