Templar hero: Gualdim Pais

We think of the Crusades as a series of battles between Christianity and Islam that took place in the Middle East. But in fact, the Crusades were fought in many places including modern Spain and Portugal.

When the Knights Templar were founded in 1119, the Iberian peninsula was divided between an Islamic caliphate in the south and several Christian kingdoms in the north. Separating these two very different and warring realms was a buffer zone that swapped hands over and over.

Between the rivers Mondego and Tagus in Portugal lay lands referred to in the medieval period as ‘nullis diocesis’ – territory with no bishop or patriarch. Church and state had no firm hold over these lands. Instead, crusaders and Moors (the Muslim armies) fought each other bitterly gained and losing the advantage.

It fell to the Knights Templar to try and hold the line. The king of Portugal gave the Templars control over nullis diocesis hoping their combination of religious zeal and military courage would be enough to push back the Moorish invaders.

The knights built a string of castles to defend their position. One such was the fortress at Tomar, which you can still see today. It’s famous for an octagonal church that lies within it referred to as the ‘charola’ – allegedly modelled on the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

D._Gualdim_Pais,_Mestre_dos_Templários_-_História_de_Portugal,_popular_e_ilustradaThe Portuguese Templars at Tomar elected a grand master for their new nation and the most famous of these was a formidable character called Gualdim Pais. You can still see a statue of him in the town square. He holds a kite shield and resembles a Norman knight of that period.

He had served in the Holy Land and been present at the Siege of Ascalon in 1153 – when Fatimid Egypt had been soundly defeated. Back in his native country, he fought yet another crusade. The difference being that this war, by and large, was moving in favour of the Christian side. Bit by bit, the Islamic caliphate of Al-Andalus, that had ruled much of Spain and Portugal for four hundred years, was gradually being driven back.

However, in 1190, Gualdim faced a dire threat he might never have anticipated. A vast army from Morocco surged through southern Portugal and arrived at the mighty stone walls of Tomar. So bitter was the hand to hand combat that a door into the city is still called the Gate of Blood. The ground was crimson as both sides thrust and cut at each other.

Five years later, Gualdim died and was buried in the church of Santa Maria Olival, which you can visit today.

 

 

Sir William de Mandeville – Templar hero!

Sir William de Mandeville is the hero of my Templar novel Quest for the True Cross. Some key facts about William:

  1. templar3He is a Templar knight from Essex in England
  2. His father was the Earl of Essex but died in gruesome circumstances after rebelling against King Stephen
  3. William’s older brother becomes the new earl and soon reveals a cruel streak
  4. William returns home from the crusades in the Holy Land after a spell of madness and challenges his brother’s tyranny, rescuing a poor boy who is about to be mutilated for theft
  5. Back in the Holy Land, the True Cross – the most sacred Templar relic – has been stolen by the Saracens. It is now in the city of Al-Usbunna
  6. Crusader and Templar armies mass to take Al-Usbunna from Muslim control and William joins them to try and retrieve the True Cross. He hopes by doing so, he can restore his family honour disgraced in different ways by his father and brother
  7. William also hopes to conquer his own growing insanity, caused by the terrible carnage he had seen on crusade in the Holy Land

I won’t spoil the conclusion – buy Quest for the True Cross to find out what happens!

 

Hattin – Templar defeat at a key Christian site

Sermon on the Mount
Copenhagen Church Alter PaintingHattin was where the Knights Templar were roundly defeated by Saladin in 1187. How terrible then that it may also have been where Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount.

This from the Catholic Encyclopedia:

The scene of this discourse is traditionally located on Karn Hattin (or Kurun Hattîn), the Horns of Hattin, a mountain which receives its name from the little village at its northern base and from the two cones or horns which crown its summit. Karn Hattin is in Galilee in easy distance of Nazareth, Cana, and Mt. Tabor to the southwest, of Tiberias and Lake Gennesaret (the Sea of Galilee) to the east, and of Capharnaum to the northeast, in the centre, therefore, of much of the ministry of Jesus. It lies 1, 816 feet above the lake and 1,135 feet above the sea level (according to Baedeker, Palestine and Syria, Leipzig, 1898, pp. 285, 288, which has the high authority of Socin and Benzinger). This mountain, rising above the hills that skirt the lake, is the only height to the west that can be seen from its shores. It consists of a low ridge about one-quarter of a mile long extending east and west, and rising at each extremity into a cone or horn. The horn, which is the taller, is only sixty feet above the ridge. Between the horns lies an uneven platform which could easily accomodate the crowd that followed Jesus; but it is believed that the spot on which the discourse was given is lower down, on a level place on the southern side of the mountain, corresponding with St. Luke’s description (topou pedinou), vi. 17, which may mean a level place, as well as a “plain”. From the eastern slope of the hill there is a beautiful view, to the east, of the lake with the Jôlan (Gaulanitis) mountains beyond, to the south, the plateau of Ard el-Hamma and Mt. Tabor, and to the north the snowy height of Mt. Hermon. The tradition that there was a village on the mountain top, if true (the only proof being the remains of a wall which served as defence to a camp), might lend point to the reference in the sermon to the city which was seated on a hill and could not be hid (Matthew 5:14); and the beautiful flowers that abound there might include the unidentified “lilies of the field” (6:28). Bishop Le Camus (Notre Voyage aux Pays Bibliques, II, pp. 220-222) thought he never saw elsewhere and never imagined so lovely a variety and harmony in the beauty of flowers; other travellers are scarcely so enthusiastic, but all agree the spot has a charm of its own. The Horns of Hattin are mentioned by a feeble and late tradition as the site of the second multiplication of loaves. The Jews of the locality point out here also the tomb of Jethro, father-in-law of Moses. During the Crusades the plain below was the scene of the battle in which Saladin dealt the death-blow to French power in Palestine (3-4 July, 1187).