Discovering the treasure of the Knights Templar – “Buried” on the History channel

Get read to find out where the treasure of the Knights Templar is buried – when the History channel airs Buried on 31 January, 2018. And guess who appears as an expert when they arrive in Portugal? Yes – me!

I’ll be seen clambering around tunnels in Tomar, once the nerve centre of Templar operations in Portugal. This is where the knights fought off repeated invasions of the Iberian peninsula from Muslim forces in the south. It’s also where the Templars transformed into the Order of Christ after they were banned in 1307.

Buried is accompanying the History channel drama series Knightfall – which you will know all about if you follow this blog! So….look out for me on screen soon!

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How the Templars became the Order of Christ in Portugal

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From my trip to the Viagem Medieval in Portugal in 2017

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.

FullSizeRender (2)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!

How Portugal nationalised the Knights Templar

Templar artworkAs we all know, on the fateful day of Friday the 13th in 1307 – the pope condemned the Knights Templar and orders went out to round up the masters and knights.  King Philip IV of France pressured Pope Clement V in to banning the two hundred year old military order, which was already on the wane after failures in the crusades in the east.  Jerusalem was lost to the Saracens forever along with most of the crusader kingdoms set up in the late eleventh century and twelfth century.

But the ban on the Order was not enthusiastically embraced everywhere outside of France.  England seems to have dragged its feet and the tortures and executions that characterised the French suppression of the Templars were not present in other kingdoms.  Portugal in particular seems to have felt a debt of gratitude to the Templars – had they not been in the vanguard of driving back the Moors, the muslim rulers of southern Portugal and Spain?

thumb-350-567826Portugal was also a smaller and less wealthy kingdom than France and probably more pragmatic in outlook.  The Templars had been a wealthy Order operating across frontiers – so why not embrace all that talent (and money) in some way?  King Dinis of Portugal set up a new state sponsored organisation called the Order of Christ and duly enrolled the old Templars in to it.  Pope John XXII recognised the new order and it was eventually headquartered in Tomar – where the Templars had been based up to their suppression.

A hundred years later, its Grand Master would be a son of the then Portuguese king.  This man was Henry the Navigator who would instigate two hundred years of Portuguese ‘discoveries’ from Brazil to India and give birth to a vast maritime empire.  The cross of the Order of Christ would be emblazoned on the sails of the caravels that plied the seas from Goa to Salvador.  It’s often been said that Portugal’s mastery of international trade and commerce in this period was in no small way due to the Templar spirit imbued within the Order of Christ.

By the middle of the sixteenth century, the revenues of the Order of Christ were huge.  Four hundred and fifty commanderies oversaw annual revenues of a million and a half livres.  The papacy often believed it had the right to appoint new members of the Order, a move resented by the Portuguese kings who insisted that the Order fell entirely under their control.  Bizarrely, this dispute still rumbles on and on the Vatican website, the Holy See today indicates that it is reticent to appoint new members of the Order even though it would like to.

In other kingdoms, the estates of the Templars often transferred to the Hospitallers or in Spain, they went to the Order of Montesa.