Evidence of the Knights Templar fleeing the Holy Land with their loot?

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Credit: Israel Antiquities Authority

The former Templar stronghold of Acre in modern Israel has been throwing up some interesting discoveries of late.

A team from Haifa University found the wreck of a long lost crusader ship in the bay with a horde of golden coins lying next to it on the seabed. The gold is dated with certainty to the latter half of the 13th century and that fits with the fall of Acre to the Mamluk Sultan of Egypt in 1291. It seems that Christian soldiers, faced with certain defeat, gathered up their wealth and tried to make a getaway.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports on the story HERE. There has always been a great deal of speculation as to what happened to the treasure amassed by the Templars in the Holy Land. This will fuel the suspicion that they spirited a good deal of it back to their preceptories in Europe – making them a target for resentment later on.

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Secret Templar tunnel in Acre – from my visit in 2012

Another team from Haifa University has made yet another incredible discovery outside the Ottoman walls of the city. They have found the headquarters of the Teutonic Order, another militarised monastic warrior elite force during the crusades.

After the fall of Jerusalem to Saladin in 1187, Acre became the centre of crusader operations in the Holy Land. The Christian territories were much diminished by 1291 and looking back, it does seem that defeat was inevitable.

When it came though, the clock began ticking against the Knights Templar. Driven out of all their mainland fortresses in the Holy Land – what was their raison d’etre? How could they claim to have God on their side when defeat after defeat suggested otherwise? Within 20 years after the fall of Acre, the Templar order would be wiped out by the French monarchy and the papacy acting in concert.

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Epiphany – the three kings or Magi

Three_kings.tifSeveral days after Christmas – the day which marks the birth of Christ – comes the Epiphany signifying the arrival of the three wise men at the stable.  Known in England as ‘Twelfth Night’ when players called ‘mummers’ would perform.  Up until the 19th century, Twelfth Night was as magical if not more so than Christmas Day itself.  But given that the reference to the three kings is a passing paragraph in the gospel of Matthew, how did it come to have such a powerful hold on medieval minds?

Well, like many biblical stories, it underwent a certain amount of embroidering at later hands that most Christians today are unaware of and had nothing to do with the original gospel account.  The casting of the three men as kings is largely the work of two early Christian scholars – Tertullian and Origen – whose writings were regarded as a bit suspect by the early church though they were hugely influential.  Tertullian was keen to prove that the Jews were no longer God’s chosen people and the act of obeisance by the kings to Jesus fulfilled an Old Testament prophecy thereby proving he was the Messiah.

The naming of the three kings is not recorded in any document prior to the sixth century AD and first crops up in Alexandria.  The kings were called:

Melchoir – King of Arabia – who brought gold – an old man

Balthasar – King of Ethiopia – who brought frankincense – a middle aged man

Caspar (or Jasper in England) – King of Tarsus – who brought myrrh – a young man

In medieval mystery plays, the story of the three kings got ever more convoluted. Words were put in to their mouths that had never existed in the bible. In the English city of Chester, the mystery plays depicted different parts of the bible and trades guilds would be assigned a particular story to tell.  The drapers and hosiers did the creation of the world, the goldsmiths and masons enacted the slaughter of the innocents and it fell to the mercers and spicers to depict the three kings.

Somehow in the Middle Ages, the story of the Magi became bound up with Saint Helena – the mother of the Roman emperor Constantine who converted to Christianity at the start of the fourth century – starting a process that would take the empire from paganism to a new religion.  Helena, in real life, was from Bithynia in modern Turkey and after her son took control of the empire, she bolstered his new found faith by miraculously discovering the true cross, the nails used in the crucifixion and the robe worn by Christ just before being put to death.

But in England, Helena’s story changed dramatically in the Middle Ages.  She became the daughter of Coel the Old or ‘King Cole’ – first king of the British.  He held court in Colchester where, the legend went, Helena was born….not in Bithynia.  Furthermore, not only did she discover the aforementioned relics, but this British born saint went all the way to India and dug up the bones of the three kings bringing them back to the royal court in Constantinople.  From there they went to Milan and eventually ended up in Cologne cathedral.

So convinced were the medieval English that Helena was a daughter of Colchester that she was venerated in the city with something of a cult developing around her.  The city townsfolk said she was the most beautiful woman who had ever lived and in a well, she found three ‘golden heads’ of the Magi and they told her to look after them.  In return they ensured that she was married to the greatest of kings.

 

Templar bankers – thwarting Robin Hood

robin-hoodDid the Knights Templar make it much harder for the likes of Robin Hood to rob from the rich and give to the poor? Using the smart financial system devised by the Templars, the rich no longer had to lug caskets of loot around with them. Instead, they lodged some money with the Temple in, say, London and withdrew it in Acre or Tripoli, hundreds of miles away.

How on earth could they do this in the Middle Ages? The theory is it all came down to the use of secret codes on chits, understood at the other end. As a result, a knight going off on crusade didn’t have to drag sacks of money around. Thieves waiting by the roadside would now find that the potential pickings were markedly reduced.

Like all bankers, the Templars charged an administration fee and interest but somehow managed to avoid the opprobrium of the church with regards to engaging in usury – an activity that had been largely confined to the Jewish community. The term ‘cheque’ it’s been argued refers to the chequered board on which Templars settled their accounts.

The Templars were also able to move huge amounts of money around. For example when the king of France was captured and ransomed during one of the crusades, the ransom was paid off by the Templars because their ships stationed offshore were crammed with gold to pay for the crusader wars.