So now Knightfall is creating a dramatic and tense conflict between Pope Boniface VIII and William de Nogaret, chief adviser to the king of France. Scroll down and you’ll see the two historical profiles I provided you of these two very real-life characters.
As I explained in blog posts previously – and do search – De Nogaret was from a family tainted by association with the Cathar heresy. This was a large-scale rebellion in the south of France against the Catholic church led by a Christian sect that rejected the power of Rome’s bishops and priests. In my view, De Nogaret was possibly over-compensating for his family’s treachery towards the French state through being ultra-loyal to the king. But he remained hostile to the church – and especially the pope.
Boniface existed and was reviled by the poet Dante as an utterly corrupt and venal pope. However, in relation to the king of France, he was simply refusing to be his puppet. The king wanted to tax church wealth without seeking Rome’s permission and the Vatican was refusing to comply. This would eventually result in a violent physical conflict between De Nogaret and Boniface – and I wait to see how Knightfall depicts that.
As I suspected, the clash between these two medieval heavyweights has somewhat overshadowed Landry, our Knight Templar hero. But it’s a delicious and spiteful battle to watch! Ostensibly, they are duking it out over a royal marriage but we can sense there are bigger themes underlying this that will eventually lead to the destruction of the Knights Templar – an army of monastic warriors protected by the pope.
This episode flagged up King Philip of France’s hefty debts to the Templars, which we know will provoke their downfall. He’s a monarch always in debt and on the look out for treasure he can grab to balance the books. Meanwhile, the Templars, oblivious to their impending doom, are desperately looking to recover the Holy Grail – which they have carelessly lost. Click on the tab above for more information about the Templars and the Holy Grail.
The Grail plot for now is less compelling than the scheming between De Nogaret and Boniface but it’s clearly going to erupt to the surface as the series progresses. So far – so good. Your thoughts?
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
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.
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!
I have just returned from a very Templar themed holiday in Portugal!
SPOILER FREE! I’m not going to give away one tiny morsel of the thrilling documentary on the Templars that the History Channel is planning to accompany its Templar drama series Knightfall – coming out in the autumn.
Forget Game of Thrones – that was fiction! Knightfall and other content on the Templars coming your way will be about brave knights who really existed. Winter is indeed coming. But it’s a Templar winter for us – not a Targaryen one!
I had the honour and pleasure of filming with the History Channel team in Tomar, central Portugal just three weeks ago. This is a historic town dominated by a Templar castle.
It was once the front line between Christian and Muslim Europe about 800 years ago. On top of a hill, the Templar castle stares solemnly down at the small town. Within its walls is an eight sided chapel modelled on the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
It also may borrow from the shape of the Dome of the Rock, another sacred site in Jerusalem, which at the time Tomar was built – from 1160 – was under crusader control. The Dome of the Rock had been shut down as a mosque and consecrated as a Christian church, the Templum Domini. Nearby, on the Temple Mount, was what is now the Al Aqsa mosque. That had been taken over by the Knights Templar as their global headquarters as it was believed to be the site of the Temple of Solomon.
But enough of Jerusalem – back to Portugal!
While Jerusalem was the front line between Christianity and Islam in the east, Tomar was the front line between the two faiths in the west. A Muslim caliphate had ruled the Iberian peninsula for centuries. Now a huge reconquest by Templars, crusaders and Christian kings was underway. The Templars used Tomar as their base of operations. In 1190, it even came under direct attack from a vast army that stormed out of Morocco determined to crush the knights once and for all.
But what is underneath Tomar? For decades, rumours have swirled of secret tunnels that may have been used for initiation rituals or for storing treasure the Templars brought back from Jerusalem via Cyprus and the Paris temple. Here are some of the old books I’ve used in my research on Tomar – often picked up in Lisbon bookstores and street markets.
The theory is that one tunnel links the Templar castle to their church and mausoleum of Santa Maria Olival. That church was built at a surprisingly remote location very vulnerable to Muslim attack. It housed the bodies of Templar grand masters of Portugal. It’s believed to have been built on top of an earlier Benedictine monastery after those monks fled in the face of Muslim armies in the eighth century. That monastery in turn may have been constructed atop a Roman temple and even earlier pagan places of worship.
The Templar castle on the hill is also slap bang on top of Roman and Moorish (Muslim) remains and you can see a stone from a Roman altar embedded in its medieval walls.
Tomar became a place of safety for the Templars when in 1307, the rest of Europe turned against them. Led by the French king and the papacy, there was a movement to crush the Knights Templar forever.
But the Portuguese did not forget that the Templars had fought bravely against Muslim warriors and so they let them continue at Tomar though under a new name – the Order of Christ. The Portuguese king – Dinis – protected them and allowed the knights to continue to serve the kingdom.
The question remains though – when the Templars retreated to Tomar, did they bring their wealth with them? Did that wealth include sacred items from Jerusalem that might have included something we term today as the Holy Grail?
The Order of Christ would play a leading role in Portugal’s voyages of discovery around the world. The ships that rook the great discoverers to Brazil, India and South Africa bore the distinctive red cross of the Order of Christ – and the Templars – on their sails. Why? Did the Order of Christ possess knowledge that the Portuguese could ill afford to do without?
I’m half-Portuguese myself. I’m always pleased to see how bright Jewish people were able to contribute to Portugal for far longer than in other countries. Many, posing as “New Christian” converts, would be at the forefront of the discoveries and scientific and artistic accomplishments that were a hallmark of that period.
But there was also the Order of Christ – that emerged from another persecuted group of people, the Templars. Was it Templars and Jews together who led Portugal to its period of greatness? More on the role of Portugal in the Templar story in subsequent blog posts. Your comments welcome as ever!
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!
I’ve been filming with the History Channel in Tomar, a town in central Portugal that was once a stronghold of the Knights Templar.
I’ve written about this magical place before but having gone back again this year, I just need to beg you all to book a ticket and go and visit. It’s breath taking. The only place on earth where I really think you can feel the presence of the Templars around you.
I made a little iPhone movie while I was there and want to share it with you. I’ll tell you more about the History Channel programme in future blog posts.
One of the greatest mysteries relating to the Knights Templar is whether the order discovered some form of treasure in Jerusalem that would offer an explanation for their fabulous wealth.
Nine knights at the start of the 12th century went to the Patriarch of Jerusalem and asked for permission to guard the roads in to the holy city to safeguard pilgrims. They wanted to form a new order that would combine militaristic valour with monastic discipline and piety. The Patriarch and secular authorities gave the knights the green light and so the Templars were launched.
They asked to be based in the Al Aqsa mosque, which they believed dated back to the reign of king Solomon – pre-dating the destruction of the great Jewish temple in Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD. King Baldwin of Jerusalem agreed to them being based at this auspicious location. These crusaders were to become the knights of the Temple – the Templars.
In a very short period of time, they began to amass significant wealth. How was this achieved? There are several explanations. The nine knights themselves were well connected aristocrats plugged into a network of well-heeled supporters in the church and state. Bequests began to flood in from those looking to support the crusade in the Holy Land and hoping for divine favour in the afterlife.
As the Templars grew establishing preceptories across Europe, they created a complex financial and economic network to fund their activity in the Middle East. The order even developed the first banking cheques allowing knights to travel great distances without having to carry their wealth in chests. The Templars became money lenders to princes and ran an efficient farming enterprise. So is this where all their money came from?
Well, not according to sources down the centuries. In the 19th century, evidence emerged of excavations underneath the Al Aqsa mosque suggesting the Templars had been digging away for something. Of course, this gave rise to speculation that they had found some form of treasure – possibly the Holy Grail (with little agreement on what that actually is) – explaining their sudden leap in wealth.
As the crusades crumbled in the 13th century, the Templars were forced to abandon Jerusalem. The theory then goes that they hauled their treasure off to be stored in their most formidable and well guarded preceptory in Paris. This building with its thick walls still stood during the 1789 French revolution but was demolished in stages in the years that followed.
So did the Templars get their wealth out of Paris as their leaders were put on trial for heresy by king Philip the Fair of France – a monarch always short of money who fleeced the Templars, the church, the Jewish community and anybody else who could pay for his wars?
When the Templars were rounded up and arrested in 1307, some were imprisoned at the fortress of Gisors in France. Graffiti on the walls was said to include the image of a large cart carrying treasure away. A caretaker at Gisors in 1929 claimed to have found an underground chapel crammed with vast riches. However, when the local authorities turned up to investigate further, there was nothing at all. He was duly fired.
In the 1960s, the French culture minister Andre Malraux ordered a new dig at Gisors using the army instead of archaeologists. But even their heavy muscle failed to reveal a thing. There was no Templar treasure.
When King Philip of France – scourge of the Templars – sent his forces to raid the Templar headquarters in Paris in 1307, the cupboard was indeed bare. There’s no doubt there had been a great deal of loot within its walls because the king had seen it himself on a previous visit but now….nothing. Had the Templars under cover of night spirited away their treasure?
Some were convinced they had. So where did it go? One theory was that the surviving knights headed to the port of La Rochelle and took their ships, loaded with riches, to England and then on to Scotland. There, they helped the plucky Scots beat the English at the Battle of Bannockburn – a claim the Scots dislike as it infers they couldn’t win their own battles!
There were already Templars in Scotland, dating back to the order’s earliest days. The knights hooked up with Henry Sinclair, the Earl of Orkney. In the late 14th century, the story runs that Sinclair and the knights used old Viking routes to sail to Iceland, Greenland and then to Vinland in modern Canada. There, they founded a kingdom that the native Iroquois referred to as Saguenay.
Stories of Saguenay and the Scottish connection were picked up by French missionaries in the 17th and 18th centuries who duly reported back to the Vatican. One theory is that the 17th century French artist Poussin hints at knowledge of Templars in the New World in his painting Et in Arcadia Ego, also referred to as The Arcadian Shepherds.
I will explain this theory in more depth in another blog post.
Bit of festive fun – here are ten things you may not have known about the Knights Templar – add your own facts in the comments below:
The Templars allegedly ran a white slave trade
Let’s start with a contentious claim made by Michael Haag in his book The Templars – that the Knights Templar were involved in trading Turkish, Greek, Russian and Circassian slaves brought from the east and set to work in their preceptories in southern Italy and Aragon. The centre of this grim trade was the Mediterranean port of Ayas in the Armenian kingdom of Cilicia. Turkish or Mongol slavers would capture or buy these unfortunate human beings then sell them to the Templars. I’d be very happy to be told that this is complete tripe. But it’s recorded in various sources.
Saladin specifically slaughtered the Templars AFTER the Battle of Hattin
The battle at the Horns of Hattin in 1187 was a disaster for the Knights Templar and the crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem – Saladin and his saracen army emerged totally triumphant. In the aftermath, countless Christian soldiers were sold as slaves – so many that the price went down to 3 dinars each and one was reputedly sold in exchange for a shoe! Initially, the Templars and Hospitallers were also sold off as slaves. But Saladin then decided that he really wanted all the Templars slain – without exception. Those who had bought Templars were compensated with 50 dinars each and the knights were then brought before the Muslim ruler. Conversion or death was the choice. It seems few decided to convert. There are accounts from both sides of what happened next – a grisly mass beheading often carried out by zealous individuals and botched very badly. In revenge, Richard the Lionheart would later execute 3,000 prisoners at Acre in one of the worst war crimes in history.
The Al Aqsa Mosque was the global headquarters of the Knights Templar
Even today, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem is fought over – a holy place that inspires bloody hatreds. In the early 12th century, it was firmly under the control of crusader Christians. The Dome of the Rock was renamed the Templum Domini and the Al Aqsa Mosque became the HQ of the Templars – sited on what was believed to be the palace of Solomon. Beneath were Solomon’s stables, or so it was thought, and abundant rumours that hidden somewhere on the site was the Holy Grail….or the Ark of the Covenant. Much of the existing mosque today was of Templar era construction.
England’s crown jewels were pawned by King Henry III to the Templars
Facing a rebellion by his barons, King Henry III of England sent the crown jewels to the Temple in Paris for safekeeping and to raise money for his fightback. The previous king, John, had made a series of concessions to the same barons by agreeing to sign the Magna Carta. The Templars were broadly supportive of the kings as both advisers and bankers (and pawnbrokers!).
Templars were not – strictly speaking – priests
While the Knights Templar did take the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience – they weren’t actually priests as such. Barbara Frale in her book on The Templars points out that the knights were not allowed to administer the sacraments as they weren’t formally ordained. And she argues that priests could not wield a sword in battle. Instead, they had their own Templar chaplains assigned to their houses to say mass. But by 1300, many Templar houses didn’t have chaplains. So their spiritual needs had to be administered by priests from other orders.
One monarch donated his kingdom to the Knights Templar
It wasn’t a popular move but King Alfonso of Aragon donated his kingdom to the Templars at his death. The Templars were very active in the “reconquest” (reconquista) of modern Spain and Portugal from Moorish (Muslim) rule. It’s often forgotten that the Templars were active on many fronts – in the Middle East, eastern Europe and southern Europe. The caliphate ruling the Iberian peninsula was remarkably tolerant and urbanised for the standards of the time with Jews, Christians and Muslims living together. But kings like Alfonso were determined to drive out the caliphs and the Templars assisted in this process. They often took control of dangerous areas in the no-man’s land between Christian and Muslim control. Alfonso rewarded their bravery with a big portion of his kingdom when he died but this was reversed afterwards by the counts of Barcelona.
Offshore banking was invented by the Templars
Most of you will know that the Knights were also bankers. You could deposit wealth in one of their preceptories – say at the Temple in Paris – and with a credit note they would issue, you could make a withdrawal at a preceptory in outremer (Christian controlled territories in the Middle East). This meant not having to haul heavy caskets of bullion around with you. But the Templars went a step further and had treasure ships located offshore from which crusaders could make withdrawals safely.
Charges against the Templar included “adoring a cat”
The framing of the Templars was a shabby episode with popes and kings working together to destroy the Order. Various ridiculous charges were trumped up including inappropriate kissing in various parts of the body, denying Christ, venerating idols, operating to secret codes and…..adoring a cat.
Templars were accused of behaving like Muslims
In the frenzy to blacken the name of the Knights Templar – their critics pointed to the fact that some of them allegedly spoke Arabic (well you would being in the Middle East for a while and wanting to understand your enemy’s documents and messages). They also claimed that the Templars performed rituals medieval Christians falsely attributed to Muslims. According to Helen Nicholson in her book The Knights Templar – this included worshipping idols of Mohammed (sic!!), Apollo and Jupiter. Plus spitting on crucifixes. The church loved to tell stories of Muslim Saracen soldiers urinating on the cross to antagonise crusaders. Of course, Muslims do not revere idols – certainly not of the Prophet – and the accusations against the Templars are just absurd. But it worked at the time!
The Spanish and Portuguese nationalised the Templars
The kings of Spain and Portugal more or less took over the Knights Templar. In Spain, the king took the powers of the Grand Master whereas in Portugal a successor order was created called the Order of Christ. The latter organisation was even based at the old Templar preceptory at Tomar – a stunning church you can still see today.
OK – let’s take his thesis from the top. The Holy Grail, he says, is the cup Jesus drank from at the Last Supper and then his blood was caught in it during the crucifixion and taken to England by Joseph of Arimathea. It’s not, as Dan Brown, said the bloodline of Jesus – no, it’s a real cup. The descendants of Joseph were the Knights Templar who were then suppressed by the Pope because they became too powerful. They fled to places ‘outside papal control’ including Switzerland and Scotland.
The Holy Grail, Cowie says, was taken to Scotland – Rosslyn chapel to be precise and it was looked after by the Sinclair family. Unfortunately when Cowie shows up, Rosslyn is having repairs done and he can’t get in. So he chats to a latter day Scottish Templar, an amiable old chap, who rather amusingly is subtitled! I’m assuming the view was that Americans would find Scots impossible to understand.
In 1446, Sinclair built Rosslyn and the Grail was definitely there says Cowie who has done ‘fifteen years of research’ there. Hidden in a painting of a rather dandified Templar he’s spotted a staircase that gives a clue as to where the Grail was held in the church. He leads the programme producer to the oldest part of the chapel – an eleventh century window. And Cowie has noted a carving there.
The carving, he says, is a section of a medieval map. He sees a cup sitting on top of a tower with a line representing the meridien – the Rose line – and he makes out a short horizontal line that is obviously the equator. Diamond shapes are lozenges representing the Sinclair family. And then Cowie imposes this scribble onto a map of the world and a star shape sits over north east America.
The star is known as La Merica – which was a star to lead Templars to peace and away from their enemies. The star sits over America. It’s called La Merica. And so…guess where the Grail went. Yep – the New World. The United States.
William Brewster, a Pilgrim elder, went to Rosslyn three weeks before the Mayflower set sail in the seventeenth century. A descendant of the original Sinclair gives Brewster the Grail to take to America.
So Cowie flies off to Provincetown. He goes to investigate the Pilgrim Monument which – Cowie finds – bears a close resemblance to the carving on the eleventh century window at Rosslyn. Though the Pilgrim Monument was built in 1910 – centuries later – by Theodore Roosevelt. Aaaah – but Roosevelt was…..a Freemason!!
The Sinclairs of Rosslyn, Cowie points out, founded the Freemasons. So – Cowie believes he must investigate other Freemason structures built in the US . And he’ll get clues to the Grail. Off to Bunker Hill then to look at a big obelisk. Needless to say – it also resembles the Rosslyn carving. But stranger follows – because this obelisk is the second monument built on the site. The first monument built in 1794 – a model of which is located inside the obelisk is…a pillar with a cup on top – that looks even more like the Rosslyn carving. Cowie is aghast.
And he’s convinced that the original monument at Bunker Hill contained the Holy Grail. The more recent monument, completed in the mid-19th century doesn’t house the Holy Grail but – it’s a clue! Why isn’t it at Bunker Hill – because power shifted in the new United States. And so we leave Boston for Washington DC to gawp at the Washington Monument.
Freemason clues are all over Washington DC including the White House. But it’s the obelisk that enthralls Cowie who ‘must get inside’. He can’t get a permit to film but ‘that won’t stop him searching inside’. And he bravely enters. Without the crew. He returns and looks at ‘every stone’ and finds nothing – not a single clue. The Grail isn’t there.
But then Cowie notes something – the coloring of the stone changes half way up. The official reason that construction of the Washington Monument stopped during the American Civil War and then resumed doesn’t convince Cowie. He thinks this points to the possibility that the Grail was there. A local expert agrees. The Grail was whisked away from the capital during the war for its safety.
Clues needed. Map of Washington DC shows a direct line from the Scottish Rite Temple to the monument. Take the Freemason symbol and rotate it a bit and you hit the Capitol building. Cowie stares at the dome and hey presto – there a clue on top. A statue! A female statue! Representing freedom. Built by a freemason, Thomas Crawford. Is she pointing to the Grail?
Now – given that the obelisks in Boston and Washington are actually representations of the pillars that flanked the doors of the temple of Solomon – Cowie says we need to find the mid-point, what lurks in the doorway as it were, which turns out to be New York. And the female statue is actually pointing us at the Statue of Liberty off Manhatten. Freedom – liberty – it makes sense!
There’s a flame of enlightenment on the model of the top of the model of the original monument in Boston and this is mimicked by the torch carried by the Statue of Liberty. Trouble is – this lady was built by the French. Not a problem it turns out when you consider ‘liberte’ is freedom in French!
The original torch apparently came years before the rest of the statue was assembled – giving Freemasons time to instal the Grail within. It’s been replaced but the original is on display in the entrance lobby. Cowie has to get close. He does. Maybe they melted it down into the tip of the flame.
The ‘Grail Trail’ therefore leads us here to this new land of America. From the Templars through the Sinclairs and Brewster and into the torch of the Statue of Liberty. It’s the ‘perfect destination’ Cowie says. Melted down and now in the original torch in the lobby.
As my partner said – hard to believe the masons would have destroyed the cup held by Jesus – but if Cowie is to be believed…that’s exactly what they did.
A Yuletide feast at the court of King Arthur is interrupted by a strange figure who enters on horseback. He has a green beard, green robes and is riding a green horse. He has a holly branch in one hand and an axe in the other. The only thing that isn’t green are his eyes, which are red. But this is undeniably – the Green Knight. A threatening chap who throws down a challenge to the knights of the Round Table. One of them should strike a blow at him and in a year’s time, he will strike a blow of equal force back at his assailant.
All the knights look at him askance. So he starts to mock their fabled courage. So much for King Arthur and his glorious knights. Well, the king isn’t going to take that kind of talk lying down so he gets up to strike the Green Knight. However, just as the monarch is about to defend his honour, Sir Gawain insists that he put things right and with that Gawain chops the Green Knight’s head clean off. That should have been an end to the matter but rather unexpectedly, the Green Knight’s now headless body walks over to the head, picks it up and informs Gawain that the challenge still stands. See you in a year.
As the time draws near to meet the Green Knight, Gawain embarks on a long journey to meet him at a place called the Green Chapel where he will have to meekly receive the strike that is owed. Gawain, no doubt with an eye on his immortal soul and possibly hoping for some divine intervention this side of the grave, tries to be chivalrous and noble. But things go a bit wrong on that front when he ends up staying at a castle where Christmas is once more being celebrated – as it was a year before in Arthur’s court.
The lord of the castle is an amiable enough noble, called Bertilak de Hautdesert, who convinces Gawain to stay. The Green Chapel, he explains isn’t far away and so he shouldn’t fret about making it there on time. He then strikes a rather odd bargain with Gawain. Bertilak explains his daily routine of hunting in the forests and suggests that when he returns, the two men should share whatever gain they have made during that particular day.
Sure enough, Bertilak goes off hunting leaving Gawain to snooze in bed – where the lord’s wife pops in to get better acquainted. Gawain tries to resist her charms. But in the end he concedes a single kiss from her. When Bertilak returns, he gives Gawain some venison he has killed. Gawain responds by….giving him a kiss! On the second night, he concedes two kisses to Bertilak’s wife and when the lord returns once more from hunting and gives Gawain a wild boar he has bagged, the slightly less chivalrous knight gives him two kisses. On the third occasion when Bertilak has gone off hunting in the early morning and Gawain is left with his wife, she wants to exchange a love token. But he refuses a ring which is too valuable. However, she then offers her green girdle which has magical powers and will protect him from all harm. Well, Gawain can hardly refuse given the predicament he is about to face.
Bertilak comes back to the castle with a dead fox and gives Gawain the pelt. The knight gives him three kisses. But he does not give him the green girdle. Incidentally, you might have thought all these kisses from Gawain would have aroused some kind of suspicion in Bertilak but at this stage in the story….apparently not.
It’s the appointed time to meet the Green Knight and Gawain goes off to find the Green Chapel with the Green Girdle wrapped twice around his waist. He chances upon the mouth of a cave which he decides must be the chapel and indeed, the Green Knight appears with a freshly sharpened axe. Gawain stretches out his neck to receive what will surely be the death blow but in an act of shameful cowardice, ducks the axe. The Green Knight is rather annoyed and Gawain apologises as he bares his neck again.
The Green Knight brings the axe down a second time but then pauses, the blade just inches away, saying he was just testing Gawain’s nerve that time….what an irritating man! But we then move on to the third attempt – things always happen in three’s in medieval legends – and now he does make contact with the axe. But he only inflicts a minor wound.
Gawain grabs his shield and makes to defend himself as the bargain has now been met – in his view. The Green Knight tells him to cool it. It’s all over as far as he’s concerned too. Suddenly, the Green Knight reveals that he is Bertilak transformed in to the shape of the Green Knight by the sorceress Morgan le Fey, wicked sister of King Arthur. She had been in disguise as an old lady in Bertilak’s castle and the two of them had cooked up this (rather pointless?) scheme.
The first two blows had not succeeded because Gawain had kept his promise to exchange the gains of the day but on the third day, he had kept the Green Girdle. Only because this was to protect himself and not out of criminal intent did the Green Knight spare him. Otherwise he’d have been groping around for his head by now.
A new article in History Today points out that we wouldn’t even know about this story if it hadn’t been for the bravery of a librarian in the eighteenth century. In the year 1731, a terrible fire burnt down the Cotton Library – an incredible collection of books that over a hundred years before had been amassed by Sir Robert Cotton. This gentleman of the Tudor/Stuart period had basically hoovered up as many books and manuscripts as he could find from the old monasteries, that Henry VIII had closed down. Each of the bookshelves in this collection was topped by a Roman emperor’s bust and the indexing was linked to this so the Gawain story is referred to as ‘Cotton Nero A.X.’ It’s the only copy of the story and if it had disappeared, we wouldn’t know this tale from the Arthurian cycle.
The language used is a Middle English dialect from the north of England that reads and sounds bizarre:
Tyffen her takles, trussen her males,
Richen hem þe rychest, to ryde alle arayde,
Lepen vp lyȝtly, lachen her brydeles,
Vche wyȝe on his way þer hym wel lyked.
Þe leue lorde of þe londe watz not þe last
Arayed for þe rydyng, with renkkez ful mony;
Ete a sop hastyly, when he hade herde masse,
With bugle to bent-felde he buskez bylyue.
The January 2012 edition of History Today speculates that the inspiring figure in this story could have been the fourteenth century prince and super-politician John of Gaunt. The Green Girdle strikes History Today as being a reference to the Order of the Garter established by Gaunt’s father, king Edward III. So, although this is notionally about Arthur and his knights lost in the mists of time, the references are firmly in the fourteenth century.
Well, that’s one theory among many and rooting around online you’ll find plenty of discussions among Gawain obsessives as to what this story is really all about. Here’s a recent BBC documentary shedding some light on the mystery.