Tomar – filming with the History Channel on a Templar quest

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:

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!

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Answering questions from the History Channel in Tomar – August 2017

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!

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The Gate of Blood – in 1190, Templars and Muslims slaughtered each other until the blood ran down the hillside

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.

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Inside the Templar chapel of Tomar – modelled on the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem

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!

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The Dark Truths of the Templars – watch me on TV expose some secrets

Screen Shot 2017-06-28 at 15.10.47I will be appearing as a guest several times in a special edition of Forbidden History devoted to exposing the secrets of the Knights Templar. Presented by Jamie Theakston and broadcast on UKTV/Yesterday TV, Forbidden History asks the questions you have all been dying to know the answers to.

 

I will be discussing:

 

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Me on Forbidden History: The Dark Truths of the Templars (Yesterday TV/UKTV)
  • The trial of the Knights Templar in 1307
  • Pagan rituals that may have become part of the Templar rites
  • How did the Templars become so rich, so quickly?
  • Were the Templars influenced by eastern ideas?
  • Did they reject church authority?
  • Why was such violence used to put down the Templars?
  • The way in which the order was wiped out

 

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.

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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.

 

 

 

King Solomon’s Ring

English: Solomon Dedicates the Temple at Jerus...

My favorite programme Legend Quest went in search of King Solomon’s Ring this week – fronted as ever by the hyper-active Ashley Cowie, self-styled ‘archaeological explorer’. Off he went to find this biblical ring that can give its owner superhuman powers. And his quest started in Jerusalem.

“Just by slipping the ring on your finger…” you become all powerful, he explained.

The archangel Michael gave Solomon the ring with the star of David engraved on it, giving him the power to enslave demons and the king forced them to build the Temple of Jerusalem. But one demon stole the ring and cast it into the sea where it was eaten by a fish. Solomon was reduced from king to pauper but fortunately….managed to buy a fish to eat. Guess what? There was the ring. And off he went – back to rule Israel.

Ashley goes to Jerusalem to see the new excavations of Solomon’s walls but – unfortunately – he can’t go down because it’s an active dig. Bit of an anti-climax. So Ashley makes do with a stroll down the Via Dolorosa. And he sniffs out a local antique dealer who can show him another way to get within Solomon’s ruined temple wals. He goes to see said dealer and Ashley is taken to a back room where ‘they can speak in private’.  The dealer knows of a secret entrance to Solomon’s destroyed Temple!

Sure enough, the dealer takes them to an entry to some underground passages ‘outside the city walls’. It could the be way up into Solomon’s Temple and his ring would certainly be hidden there – explains Ashley. But unfortunately, their clambering inside these dark passages leads to a dead end. Kinga – the programme field producer – opines that it’s clearly an obstacle built to keep ‘something’ in and keep people out.

Next, Ashley storms off down a rainy motorway to Tel Meggido – the supposed location for Armageddon. The End of Days battle! Ashley looks for clues of Solomon’s presence in the ruins of the hilltop settlement but there’s no signs.  A smirking local archaeologist tells Ashley and Kinga that she’s seen nothing – though adds cryptically that ‘absence of evidence is not evidence of an absence’.

It then transpires that the people who originally lived in Tel Megiddo drifted at some point from the hilltop down into the valley. That’s where you might find clues, the archaeologist tells Ashley. Trouble is – there’s a maximum security Israeli prison on top of that later site now. But that doesn’t deter the intrepid Mr Cowie. Inside the prison they have excavated a ‘prayer hall’ – with a mosaic. However – little snag – it’s a Christian church. And the mosaic has been covered in sand. Take the sand away – Ashley demands. The prison guide refuses. But he offers Ashley some photographs taken before the preserving sand was laid down.

There are two fishes in the mosaic – hmmm…why is that?  Ashley concludes that one fish represents Jesus and the other….get ready for this….is the fish that ate Solomon’s ring!!! Of course – it’s blindingly obvious.

This clue convinces Ashley that the Christians nabbed the ring.  So where would it be now? Rome – naturally! The centre of all Christianity. Flight to Italy. Now Ashley and Kinga are in Rome. They find a church with a mosaic of fish and loaves above the door – and also a circle with the letter ‘P’ at the centre.  The circle is like a wagon wheel that on closer inspection combines Greek letters that spell the word fish.

So – here’s what he concludes: Fish ate ring – fish turns up on mosaic – Christians stole ring – fish appears on church in Rome = pope must have ring!

Ashley stands in front of St Peter‘s and interviews an expert who is remarkably indecisive to my thinking but Mr Cowie reads something between the lines and concludes that what he needs is a helicopter – which Kinga is ordered to find. The resourceful producer finds one. And she has also managed to get permission to fly over the ‘restricted airspace’ of the Vatican. What does he find? A ‘wagon wheel’ design painted on the ground in St Peter’s Square (did they really need a helicopter to see that??).

The evidence is overwhelming.  Fish – ring – Christians – Pope – it’s somewhere in the secret archives. Why would the pope have it? Because he has it ‘ready to do battle with evil in the final days’.

Voila!