Joseph of Arimathea and the Knights Templar

To understand why the Knights Templar based themselves in the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, the mysterious biblical figure of Joseph of Arimathea is worth knowing. He was, according to the Gospel of John, a secret disciple of Jesus – a rich Jewish merchant who may even have been the great uncle of Jesus.

JOSEPH-TAKES-BODY
Did Joseph of Arimathea possess relics sacred to the Knights Templar?

One blogger has noted that he would have to be the great uncle as being uncle would have meant he had the same name as Jesus’ father. Hardly likely two brothers would both be called Joseph. Another source stipulates that he was Mary’s uncle and so that problem is solved.

Joseph was an unusual choice for a disciple given that apparently, he was a Pharisee – the class of priest that gets a particularly bad write-up in the New Testament. You’ll perhaps remember that the Pharisees were deemed to be total hypocrites – moral on the outside, but corruption within.

It was Joseph who would provide a tomb for the body of the crucified messiah and also the shroud in which he was wrapped. The gospels claim he got permission from the Roman governor Pontius Pilate to take the body away. This begs the question how exactly he got in front of the governor to put forward this request and why it was accepted. Was he a very senior figure in local Jewish society? Did he bribe the governor?

Some have poured scorn on the idea of Jesus being removed so quickly noting that it was far more likely the Romans would have left the body of a trouble maker like Jesus to rot in public for a while on the cross and not allowed something as civilised as a tomb burial. But of course he had to be buried in order to be resurrected. And given that resurrection was supposed to be bodily – not just the soul – the idea of Christ’s body being pecked to bits by crows was never going to be very palatable.

More importantly for the Templars, Joseph was believed to be the man who collected some of Christ’s blood in a chalice as he hung on the crucifix. That chalice we know as the Holy Grail. It’s then claimed that Joseph travelled to England to spread the gospel. He arrived in Glastonbury – known as Avalon at that time – and baptised 18,000 people in one day at the nearby town of Wells. The Holy Grail was hidden away, maybe placed in a well that to this day is known at Glastonbury as the Chalice Well.

At this point I should also point out that it was widely believed in the Middle Ages that Joseph had brought Jesus as a youth to England before returning to the east. It’s even asserted that Jesus worked as a farm hand or a miner during his stay.

So with Joseph you have a lot of associations with important and sacred relics:

  • The holy shroud in which Jesus was buried
  • A chalice used to collect his blood that may also have been held by Christ at the Last Supper
  • The tomb of Jesus
  • Joseph also possessed the lance that pierced Christ’s side according to some accounts

Were the Knights Templar established to protect these relics from being found or stolen? Or they were lost for centuries and the Templars were desperately looking for them under the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem? If they found these relics, did that account for the Templars’ sudden wealth and power? These and many more theories have circulated for centuries and at the centre of it all is a rather enigmatic figure of whom we really know very little: Joseph of Arimathea.

 

 

 

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Did the Templars find anything under the Temple of Solomon?

The nine knights who founded the Knights Templar petitioned the Patriarch of Jerusalem in 1119 to establish their headquarters in what had been the Al Aqsa mosque – before the crusaders seized the city in 1099, putting an end to four hundred years of Muslim rule. The knights believed that the Al Aqsa was actually the Temple of Solomon. It stood, as it does today, on the Temple Mount – which had previously been home to the vast temple of the Jews of the Old Testament. The Babylonians and later the Romans had destroyed that temple and any vestige of its magnificent past.

This does beg the question why the Knights Templar, who derived their name from this holy site, were so keen to be based there? The answer many have advanced is that the Templars were not so much interested in the mosque above ground as the treasure they thought might lurk below. Those who give credence to this argument point to the warren of tunnels underneath the Temple Mount – or Haram al-Sharif as Muslims call it. Surely, they argue, the Templars were scrabbling around for something down there?

Could it have been thTemplare fabled wealth of king Solomon? If they had discovered those riches, that could account for the very rapid financial growth of the Templar order and its position as a major banking power as well as military force. Or did they uncover sacred relics under the temple of Solomon? Some minds have raced in the direction of the Ark of the Covenant, the shroud of Jesus and the head of John the Baptist. Note that during the trials that ended the Templar order in 1307, they were accused of worshipping a head – some say that of a cat, others a three-faced god and yet others – John the Baptist.

There is a theory that when the crusaders took Jerusalem in 1099, they discovered ancient secrets that had to be guarded – kept secret maybe. The Templars were specifically founded to keep these secrets under lock and key – away from the eyes of the faithful. What could be so terrifying to the church that it needed to set up an order of military monks? Some allege it was the Holy Grail – which was neither a platter nor a cup but the relics of Mary Magdalene who had married Jesus and borne him a child after his crucifixion. Those of you who have read the Da Vinci Code will know that the child was a girl and established a divine blood line to the present day.

And if – just if – the Templars really had found great treasures under the Temple of Solomon and spirited them away – what happened to this treasure? Well, in 1307 when the king of France decided to shut down the Templars and seize their money to clear his debts, knights were seen scurrying out of the great Temple building in Paris with carts groaning under the weight of large sacks. They made their way to the port of La Rochelle and the treasure, Templar knights and the Templar fleet of ships were never seen again.

 

Templars, Indiana Jones and Petra

As you will recall from the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade the Nazi baddy is asked by an ancient Templar knight in the closing scene to choose what he believes is the Holy Grail in order to have eternal life. But there’s an array of goblets to choose from and he gets the wrong one – with disastrous consequences.  This scene is set in a huge tomb in the ruined city of Petra in modern Jordan.  Last month, I had the privilege to go there and here are some amazing photos.

The Legend Quest – Holy Grail – Ashley Cowie

2007 $1 Washington coin reverse.
2007 $1 Washington coin reverse. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
"Vision of the Holy Grail" (1890)
“Vision of the Holy Grail” (1890) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Roslin or Rosslyn Chapel - geograph.org.uk - 1...
Roslin or Rosslyn Chapel – geograph.org.uk – 1098119 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Being aired on Syfy is the breathless series Legend Quest where ‘archaeological explorer’ Ashley Cowie charges round discovering mysteries. In the episode I’ve just watched, he fixed his gaze on the Holy Grail and the Knights Templar.

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.

Did the Templars really flee to Scotland?

If some did, then the town that claims to have received them with open arms is Kilwinning on the west coast of Scotland. The SyFy channel – not one of my usual sources – has been airing a new programme called Legend Quest presented by Ashley Cowie. And one of his investigations has been in to whether the Templars did indeed arrive at Kilwinning with the wealth of the Paris Temple – which appears to have been conspicuously empty when King Philip of France turned up to ransack it.

Cowie references a book called Born in Blood that supports this proposition. The author of that tome, John J Robinson believed that while many Templars fled south to Spain and Portugal when the Order was suppressed by the Pope and the French king – most of the Order’s wealth headed north and it was to the monks of Kilwinning Abbey that the Templars found a safe refuge.

That would surely be enough to put Kilwinning on the map – but no! Local historian Jamie Morton says that the Holy Grail was hidden by the monks in a secret chamber under the abbey and it’s also claimed that the stone cross in the main street contains a piece of the True Cross.

And there’s more! Kilwinning is also the site of Heredom. Quite what Heredom is turns out to be a bit of a mystery in itself. Is it a biblical mountain? Is it the Jewish guild of master masons called the Harodim? Or is it, as Cowie claims, a word meaning New Temple. One Masonic claim is that the first lodge was held on the ‘mountain of Heredom’ and it turns out that the freemason lodge in Kilwinning is called Mother Lodge No. 0. Therefore, Kilwinning was the birthplace of freemasonry – as well as having a strong Templar connection.

Cowie is convinced there is a tunnel leading from Kilwinning Abbey to Eglinton Castle and that in the concealed tunnel, he would hope to find the treasure of the Templars and possibly even the Holy Grail. It remains to be seen if he’ll get permission to conduct a dig.

 

 

Glastonbury, the Isle of Avalon and the Holy Grail

The Round Table experience a vision of the Hol...
The Round Table experience a vision of the Holy Grail. From a 15th century French manuscript. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1976 when I was only 12 years old, my parents took me to the English county of Somerset.  We passed through the Roman town of Bath with its ancient ruins and eighteenth century additions.  Then to Wells with its impressive cathedral.  But it was Glastonbury that really fired my imagination.

The Isle of Avalon was surrounded by sea at the end of the Ice Age but that gave way to reedy swamps that could be navigated with small boats or crude wooden walkways.  Rising above the mists and fetid water was a hill called Glastonbury Tor.  It can be taken as read that for pagan Britons this would have already had a magical or mystical significance.  And not surprisingly, the sites that were venerated by pagans were appropriated by the later Christians.

In the villages of Somerset, the talk went round that Jesus – the son of God – had worked in the county as a boy together with his uncle Joseph of Arimathea.  They had built a wattle and daub church (though it’s sometimes claimed that Joseph did this on his own after the death of Jesus).  It was even claimed that Jesus had toiled in a specific village called Priddy, where there was open cast mining.  Jesus of course went on to be crucified in the Holy Land but his uncle returned to Somerset with a cup used by his nephew at the Last Supper and containing some of the blood of Jesus after being speared by a Roman soldier.  The cup is best known to us as – the Holy Grail.

Resting on Wearyall Hill, near the Tor, for the night – Joseph stuck his walking staff in the ground and dozed off.  When he woke up, it had taken root and was sprouting leaves.  This became the Glastonbury Thorn.  A cutting from the Thorn would later be planted in the grounds of the medieval abbey that would be built nearby and this tree can still be seen.  Indeed a cutting is sent to the Queen every Christmas.  What she does with it – I have no idea!

The Holy Grail was buried by Joseph at the entrance to the kingdom of the dead near the Tor.  From that spot gushed a spring still called Chalice Well and it was said that this was the real fountain of eternal youth.  You may test the veracity of this claim should you wish – take a cup and try it.  The original wattle church was held very sacred by the early Christian church in England and over time became encased in a larger structure – and over the centuries, a monastic complex sprang up around it.  King Ine of Wessex in the eight century, seeing how many pilgrims were coming to worship there, promoted a new stone building to cover the ‘old church’.

Indeed, Glastonbury really became the most holy place in England during the Dark Ages.  As abbot of the monastery in the tenth century, St Dunstan enlarged and enriched it still further and though the Norman invasion brought some disruption, the Domesday Book recorded it as the richest monastery in England.  But disaster would eventually strike – and strike hard.  In 1184, fire destroyed the Norman buildings and the wattle church.

The monks not only lost their home and place of worship but – and let’s be frank about it – they lost a wealth creating machine.  But medieval monks were an industrious bunch.  Possibly a little unscrupulous too.  So, after a handful of years, they announced to the world that while clearing the site and digging around a bit – they’d found the bodies of King Arthur and his Queen Guinevere.  This was in the year 1191.  And why wouldn’t Arthur have been there – after all, he’d have been looking for the Holy Grail which had been buried by Joseph of Arimathea.

Arthur’s tombstone was handily available and in latin was inscribed his name and last resting place on the Isle of Avalon:  “Hic iacet sepultus inclitus Rex Arturius in insula Avalonia”.  The remains were put in pride of place and King Edward I built a black marble tomb over them.  All this was smashed up during the Reformation of Henry VIII in the sixteenth century and only a marker in the grass shows you were the tomb was once situated.

By 1278, when Arthur’s new improved tomb was unveiled, the abbey was simply vast.  St Mary’s Chapel had been built on the site of the Old Church and was relatively modest structure.  It was now linked by the Galilee Porch to a cathedral which rivalled Canterbury and St Paul’s in London for size.  A behemoth of a church stretching 580 feet.

One of the last additions was the crypt built by Abbot Richard Beere in 1500 which you can still lower yourself down in to.  A really atmospheric space and well worth seeing.  The abbot served guests sumptuous meals cooked in the octagonal pyramid shaped kitchen which is one of the few buildings still surviving.  Unbelievably, the abbot’s palace was demolished as late as the eighteenth century.

In this palace, kings were entertained.  One king entertained there was Henry VIII.  A monarch who started out as the staunchest defender of the Pope and the Catholic church against the heresies of Luther in the early sixteenth century.  But one divorced wife later, Henry turned on the monasteries and their enormous wealth.  Though never a Lutheran, he established himself as head of the church and set above the dissolution of the monasteries – including and especially Glastonbury.

Even though Abbot Richard Whiting took the oath of allegiance to the king when he broke with Rome – keen to keep his head – it didn’t work.  He was tried and hung, drawn and quartered before a crowd up on the Tor.  In case any of the monks were thinking of returning to the abbey, his head was stuck on a pole over the gateway.  Other limbs found their way to Wells and Bath to deliver a similar warning.

Over the next three hundred years, the mighty abbey became a source of stone for the local town as it expanded.  These were days before a tourism industry and a society where resources were scarce.  You could say, everything was recycled including the abbey.  So with little sentimentality, it was stripped down until the ruins that can been today.  But they are still incredible ruins that dwarf you and a visit is thoroughly recommended.

Here is a visitor’s video: