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.

Templar tunnel
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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Castle built by Saladin – a picture gallery

I have just returned from a ten day visit to Jordan – a country with an amazing history sandwiched between Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Over the next few blog posts, I’m going to share the incredible places I visited.

Here is Ajlun castle built in 1184 by a nephew of Saladin to see of the crusaders and protect local iron mines from the crusaders. A jewel in Ayyubid history – that’s the dynasty founded by Saladin. As you know, Saladin would go on to retake Jerusalem from the crusaders and put many Templar knights to the sword.

One special plea to the Jordanian authorities – please remove the rubbish piling up near the castle. It’s such a beautiful monument and I’m sure those large bins can be put elsewhere! Don’t let that put you off a visit.

Ajlun castle
Looking out over the countryside
Ajlun castle
On top of the fort
Ajlun castle
Boiling oil was poured down here on to invaders
An atmospheric stairway
An atmospheric stairway
The main entrance
The main entrance
The imposing walls
The imposing walls
Please get rid of that rubbish!!
Please get rid of that rubbish!!

Were bombs used in the Crusades?

I have just returned from a ten day visit to Jordan – a country with an amazing history sandwiched between Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Over the next few blog posts, I’m going to share the incredible places I visited.

OK – you read that headline and thought…sensationalist tosh! But no, it’s a serious point and the evidence is pretty strong.  I visited Ajlun castle in Jordan last week – a fort built by one of Saladin‘s generals guarding nearby iron mines. There’s a small museum in the castle and it includes some mysterious circular bottles made of glass and mud.

These strange vessels have been found all over the Levant – and in areas where fighting occurred between Saladin’s Ayyubid forces and the crusader kingdoms. Some have been found to have traces of mercury while others were filled with oil or so-called “Greek fire” – a petroleum like incendiary substance used originally by the Byzantines.

Their narrow base allows them to roll fast when they hit the ground and the small size of the top doesn’t really allow for serving any liquid. It’s quite clear to many historians that these were used for military and not any domestic purpose. They were – basically – bombs.

Please excuse slight blurring on the close up shot but they were in glass cases in a dark room and there’s only so much my camera can cope with.

Ajlun castle bomb Ajlun castle bomb

 

More from the biblical city of Gadara – modern Um Qais

I have just returned from a ten day visit to Jordan – a country with an amazing history sandwiched between Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Over the next few blog posts, I’m going to share the incredible places I visited.

Staying with Gadara – the city where Jesus cured two demoniacs. Other Roman remains here include the main street with identifiable shops and a basilica later converted into a Byzantine Christian church.

Cannibals on crusade – eating flesh in the Middle Ages

Say the word ‘cannibal’ and most people in the west have been brought up to think of some tribe of man eating savages located in the deepest jungle, maybe in a place like Borneo. But in a recent book on the Second World War by Max Hastings – called Inferno (nothing to do with Dan Brown) – he alleges that the people of Leningrad in Russia were so hungry during the Nazi onslaught that they ate their own. The Imperial Japanese Army has also been accused of cannibalism of prisoners in the same war – again in recent books on the subject.

CannibalismSo what about our favorite time period – the Middle Ages? I was asked by a regular visitor to this blog whether allegations of crusaders indulging in cannibalism were really true. Well, the chronicles suggest it happened – even if we have to treat all written accounts with a pinch of salt. But we should give some credence to the stories because those writing about crusaders eating their Saracen enemies weren’t Muslims – they were Christians.

Astonishingly, one person accused of cannibalism is none other than Richard the Lionheart.  It’s said that he requested pork to eat while camped outside the Hospitaller fortress of Acre in modern Israel. His attendants cook him up some Saracens on the basis that they taste of pork (even though they’re not allowed to eat pork – go figure!). Richard bolts down his food and asks to see the pig’s head. Needless to say the attendants produce a Saracen’s head and Richard, far from being appalled, gets stuck into some more “pork” pointing out to his men that they shall never starve as this meat is so plentiful.

This story might have been intended as a sick joke or a boastful means of scaring the Saracens – conversely, the incident may have happened. You have to recall that Richard the Lionheart presided at a mass execution of prisoners so there was a very mean streak to the man.

In an earlier incident in 1098 during the First Crusade – a year before Jerusalem was taken by Prince Tancred – the crusaders overran a Syrian town called Ma’arra. Christian chroniclers, three of them, felt constrained to both record and try to excuse acts of cannibalism by the crusader. In his History of the Expedition to Jerusalem Fulcher of Chartres wrote the following about what happened at Ma’arra.

I shudder to tell that many of our people, harassed by the madness of excessive hunger, cut pieces from the buttocks of the Saracens already dead there, which they cooked, but when it was not yet roasted enough by the fire, they devoured it with savage mouth

Church of the Holy Sepulchre may be forced to close

The Edicule of the Holy Sepulchre (The Tomb of...
The Edicule of the Holy Sepulchre (The Tomb of Christ) with the dome of the rotunda visible above. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
English: Jerusalem, Church of the Holy Sepulch...
English: Jerusalem, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Golgotha Deutsch: Jerusalem, Grabeskirche, Golgotha Golgotha ist nur eine kleine Felsnase, die sich heute im Innern der Grabeskirche befindet. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s hard to believe but the burial place and site of the crucifixion of Jesus may have to close after two thousand years of operating as a church – because of an unpaid water bill. The church, on which all Templar places of worship were modeled, thought it had an agreement with the Israeli authorities not to pay water bills. For decades, it’s certainly true the Holy Sepulchre paid nothing for its water until a private company called Hagihon took over Jerusalem‘s water supply in the late 1990s. It then sent a hefty bill to the church.

The Holy Sepulchre thought the bill had been sent in error and ignored it. There were no further demands so life went on. That is until a bill for an eye watering 9m shekel (£1.5m or US$2.5m) turned up and the church’s bank account was frozen. Hagihon had decided to back date its bill demands for the last 15 years and insisted on payment in full.

The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate has organized the various religious groups that manage different parts of the Holy Sepulchre into a fight back on this. But in the meantime, electricity, internet and even food is not being provided to staff and clerics. Patriarch Theophilos III has now threatened to shut the church down.

Hagihon, for its part, claims that the Israeli Water Authority does not allow it to exempt any religious bodies and that other holy sites pay their bills on time. However, for those of a more conspiratorial frame of mind, it can all start to look like yet another attempt to assert Israeli dominance over Arab/Palestinian Christians.

For my part, I visited the Holy Sepulchre this year and it’s an incredible experience. The church is right in the hard of East Jerusalem with its mainly Arab population. It would be hard to deny that there’s not something of a siege mentality given recent history. Though nothing compared to the tense atmosphere I found in Bethlehem on the West Bank. So I leave it to followers of this blog to decide if they wish to support the church in any way and spread the bad news.

Being Jewish in the Middle Ages

Sacrifice of a Christian Child
Sacrifice of a Christian Child (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
German Jews of the thirteenth century. From He...
German Jews of the thirteenth century. From Herrad von Landsperg, Luftgarten. Published in the 1901-1906 Jewish Encyclopedia, now in the public domain. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Jews being beaten, from an English manuscript....
Jews being beaten, from an English manuscript. The yellow badge is in the shape of the Tablets of the Law. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It must be said that being Jewish in the medieval period was challenging – to put it mildly. The fortunes of Jews at this time varied dramatically but on the whole, things were not good. From the late Roman period, those who had framed the theology of Christianity – the so-called ‘doctors of the church’ – made it quite clear that Jews were going to be held to account for the crucifixion of the Son of God for all time. What that meant however – was open to interpretation. However, Ambrose of Milan and Saint Jerome, both revered by the Catholic church, in the fourth century openly condoned attacks by mobs in the eastern empire on synagogues. When the emperor demanded the reconstruction of these places of worship, they condemned him.

Nevertheless – Jews survived and played a valuable economic role in medieval society. So much so – that by the Norman period, they were protected by the king and could not be molested. At least that was the theory. But you can’t keep a good prelate down – and by the 12th and 13th centuries, good Christian leaders were whipping up any number of scare stories against the Jews. I think it’s fair to say their position deteriorated through the 13th century to the point where even the king could no longer stand between them and their enemies.

So let’s look at some examples – starting with the ‘blood libel’ of ritual murder. It was circulated among the people that the Jews needed the blood of a Christian child in order to perform their Passover rituals. This story became quite elaborate claiming that Jews met secretly to decide which city would provide the next innocent victim. There were voices against this nonsense including Bernard of Clairvaux and pope Innocent IV who pointed out in 1247 that the Jews were forbidden by the Torah to use blood in any ritual.

Pope Gregory X wrote in 1272:  And most falsely do these Christians claim that the Jews have secretly and furtively carried away their children and killed them and that the Jews offer sacrifice from the heart and blood of these children.

I’ve blogged previously about the child martyr William of Norwich, claimed to have been killed by the Jews in that city and canonised by the local church. Harold of Gloucester was another – a boy of eight years of age who a contemporary chronicler claimed had “scars of fire, the thorns fixed on his head and liquid wax poured into the eyes and face”.

It should be pointed out that in Iberia – modern Spain and Portugal – not only Jews but their Moorish (Muslim) neighbours were accused of such behaviour. Their accusers were more often than not the growing Dominican order of monks – a leading force in the early Inquisition. What is incredible is that blood libel continued to be believed in Spain right through to the seventeenth century. Even when the inquisitors were taken to the alleged burial place of a tortured child and nothing was found, they surmised that God had decided that this should be the case and the child had been assumed bodily into heaven! On this occasion, four Spanish Jews were tortured and burnt alive.

Jews may have found blood libel both horrifying and perplexing – but they also  had to contend with the accusation of host desecration. In 1215, the pope delivered the doctrine of transubstantiation… the idea that the bread in the Eucharist actually becomes the physical body of Christ. No sooner had this been promulgated than Jews were accused of stealing hosts. Why? Because it amused them to stab, beat and boil the piece of bread that the ignorant Christians thought could become God. But – according to the accounts of the period – as the Jews performed this terrible act, the host would bleed or even, on occasion, Christ would appear!

Somewhat airbrushed out of medieval history was the emergence of Christian cults around the host where it would be processed through the streets and a knife displayed that – it would be asserted – Jews used to stab at it!

Surely things couldn’t get worse. Oh yes they could – because along came the Black Death between 1348 and 1351. A quarter of Europe’s population died in this massive outbreak of bubonic plague. It was typical in this period to ascribe medical conditions to God’s will. Far easier to understand that than get to grips with the science. Mobs – often led by local clerics – ran amok. It’s believed that about three hundred Jewish communities around Europe were completely wiped out.

The real motive was often a cynical attempt by cancel out debts to Jewish moneylenders and to seize their property. At Strasbourg, the carnage was so complete that there were no Jews in the city until the 18th century. One account says that two thousand Jews were condemned to be burnt in the Jewish cemetery – unless they agreed to be baptized.

By the end of the Middle Ages – things in Spain and Portugal got pretty hideous for the Jews. The two relatively new nations were being forged and having been lands of three faiths – Christianity, Judaism and Islam – the church was most insistent that only one faith should prevail. The Catholic rulers of Spain, Ferdinand and Isabella, willingly snuffed out the remnants of Islam and Judaism in their domains. Many Jews fled to Portugal where things seemed more tolerant for a while. But in 1497, king Manuel ordered that all Jewish children must be baptized in the “General Conversion”.

This created a whole new layer of “New Christians” who were still persecuted right up to the nineteenth century. In 1774, the king of Portugal suggested that those Christians of Jewish ancestry should wear special yellow hats. His wily prime minister, the Marquis of Pombal, produced three yellow hats – one for himself, one for the Inquisitor-General and one for the king! The point being made was by then – who knew who had Jewish blood and who did not.