Treasure of the Knights Templar

One of the greatest mysteries relating to the Knights Templar is whether the order discovered some form of treasure in Jerusalem that would offer an explanation for their fabulous wealth.

Nine knights at the start of the 12th century went to the Patriarch of Jerusalem and asked for permission to guard the roads in to the holy city to safeguard pilgrims. They wanted to form a new order that would combine militaristic valour with monastic discipline and piety. The Patriarch and secular authorities gave the knights the green light and so the Templars were launched.

Temple-of-Solomon
Baldwin lets the Tempars base themselves at the Al Aqsa mosque – the temple of Solomon

They asked to be based in the Al Aqsa mosque, which they believed dated back to the reign of king Solomon – pre-dating the destruction of the great Jewish temple in Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD. King Baldwin of Jerusalem agreed to them being based at this auspicious location. These crusaders were to become the knights of the Temple – the Templars.

In a very short period of time, they began to amass significant wealth. How was this achieved? There are several explanations. The nine knights themselves were well connected aristocrats plugged into a network of well-heeled supporters in the church and state. Bequests began to flood in from those looking to support the crusade in the Holy Land and hoping for divine favour in the afterlife.

As the Templars grew establishing preceptories across Europe, they created a complex financial and economic network to fund their activity in the Middle East. The order even developed the first banking cheques allowing knights to travel great distances without having to carry their wealth in chests. The Templars became money lenders to princes and ran an efficient farming enterprise. So is this where all their money came from?

Well, not according to sources down the centuries. In the 19th century, evidence emerged of excavations underneath the Al Aqsa mosque suggesting the Templars had been digging away for something. Of course, this gave rise to speculation that they had found some form of treasure – possibly the Holy Grail (with little agreement on what that actually is) –  explaining their sudden leap in wealth.

As the crusades crumbled in the 13th century, the Templars were forced to abandon Jerusalem. The theory then goes that they hauled their treasure off to be stored in their most formidable and well guarded preceptory in Paris. This building with its thick walls still stood during the 1789 French revolution but was demolished in stages in the years that followed.

So did the Templars get their wealth out of Paris as their leaders were put on trial for heresy by king Philip the Fair of France – a monarch always short of money who fleeced the Templars, the church, the Jewish community and anybody else who could pay for his wars?

When the Templars were rounded up and arrested in 1307, some were imprisoned at the fortress of Gisors in France. Graffiti on the walls was said to include the image of a large cart carrying treasure away.  A caretaker at Gisors in 1929 claimed to have found an underground chapel crammed with vast riches. However, when the local authorities turned up to investigate further, there was nothing at all. He was duly fired.

In the 1960s, the French culture minister Andre Malraux ordered a new dig at Gisors using the army instead of archaeologists. But even their heavy muscle failed to reveal a thing. There was no Templar treasure.

When King Philip of France – scourge of the Templars – sent his forces to raid the Templar headquarters in Paris in 1307, the cupboard was indeed bare. There’s no doubt there had been a great deal of loot within its walls because the king had seen it himself on a previous visit but now….nothing. Had the Templars under cover of night spirited away their treasure?

Some were convinced they had. So where did it go? One theory was that the surviving knights headed to the port of La Rochelle and took their ships, loaded with riches, to England and then on to Scotland. There, they helped the plucky Scots beat the English at the Battle of Bannockburn – a claim the Scots dislike as it infers they couldn’t win their own battles!

There were already Templars in Scotland, dating back to the order’s earliest days. The knights hooked up with Henry Sinclair, the Earl of Orkney. In the late 14th century, the story runs that Sinclair and the knights used old Viking routes to sail to Iceland, Greenland and then to Vinland in modern Canada. There, they founded a kingdom that the native Iroquois referred to as Saguenay.

Nicolas_Poussin_-_Et_in_Arcadia_ego_(deuxième_version)
Is this painting trying to tell us something about the Templars?

Stories of Saguenay and the Scottish connection were picked up by French missionaries in the 17th and 18th centuries who duly reported back to the Vatican. One theory is that the 17th century French artist Poussin hints at knowledge of Templars in the New World in his painting Et in Arcadia Ego, also referred to as The Arcadian Shepherds.

I will explain this theory in more depth in another blog post.

 

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The Legend Quest – Holy Grail – Ashley Cowie

Roslin or Rosslyn Chapel - geograph.org.uk - 1...
Roslin or Rosslyn Chapel 

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.

Rosslyn – the mystery of the human bones now revealed

What on earth were the remains of three skeletons doing under the central aisle at the Scottish chapel of Rosslyn – featured in the Dan Brown book, the Da Vinci Code?  Archaeologists have been trying to get to grips with this conundrum – could they be Knights Templar or medieval knights?   Well, it now seems they are from slightly later in history – the 17th century – when the chapel was abandoned during the Protestant Reformation.

In a report in Scotland on Sunday – it appears the bodies were found when the authorities were instaling a new heating system in the church and had dug up some slabs in the aisle.  The bodies were placed there when locals took to burying their dead within the church to ensure they were interred in consecrated ground.  This may seem odd to us but burials under church floors and in the walls were standard practice up to the nineteenth century.  Most old churches in London are absolutely jam-packed with bodies under the floor and in the ground immediately around the walls.  The creation of out of town cemeteries in the nineteenth century – a return to Roman practice if one thinks about it – largely put an end to this practice.