A unique glimpse of the everyday life of the Knights Templar

everyday lifeProfessor Helen Nicholson is a globally recognised expert on the Knights Templar. I’m very honoured to be sharing a platform with her at the Bradford Literature Festival on 30 June, 2018 discussing all things Templar related.

Ahead of that, I want to bring to your attention Helen’s most recent book that reveals the daily life of the Knights Templar – with fascinating insights. The book is called The Everyday Life of the Templars and I heartily recommend it.

What did the Knights Templar eat and drink? What was their daily routine? If you could be transported back to a Templar preceptory (one of their rural estates), what would you have seen going on?

Well, to give you a flavour of the answers to those questions to be found in her book, I’ve just interviewed Helen and here – exclusively for my users – she gives some glimpses of the secretive life of the Knights Templar. To find out even more, you’ll of course have to get a copy of her compelling read from Amazon and other online retailers.

So, here is Professor Nicholson in conversation with me:

What motivated you to write a book about the everyday life of the Templars?

I have been researching the surviving inventories and records of the Templar estates in Britain and Ireland from the period from the Templars’ arrest early in 1308 until the point when the estates were handed over to the Hospitallers. The inventories from Ireland and the sole inventory from Wales were published many years ago but the records from England remain unpublished. There is an enormous amount of information about the crops being grown on the Templars’ estates, the livestock being raised, the people employed there, manufacture of cheese, butter, cider, wine, which brothers were living in each Templar house and the other people who lived there. So the records give an insight into life in these Templar properties early in the fourteenth century. Other scholars have studied similar records from the Templar properties in France, Italy, Spain and Portugal. So I thought it would be interesting to draw this material together to give wide picture of how the Templars and their tenants and workers would have lived.

Where did you find most of the source material, given the Templars didn’t write much about themselves?

When the Templars were arrested, full inventories were made of their properties. Their properties were administered by royal or church officials, until the pope decided the fate of the Order. Many of these records survive: from England & Wales, Ireland, France, Italy, and the Iberian Peninsula. They give a snapshot of what was in the Templars’ properties on the day the Templars were arrested, and an ongoing picture of day-to-day activity over the next few years. Many records were not retained, or have been mislaid or destroyed, but enough survives to give an overall picture.

If we had visited a preceptory in the 13th century – what activity would we have seen going on?

There would not have been many Templars living in each house; most preceptories/commanderies in England were home to only four brothers or fewer, and many were leased out to tenants and had no Templars in residence. The rural commanderies/preceptories were like manor houses, running the estate farm. The farm workers would have been busy maintaining the fields and crops, taking care of the livestock and doing maintenance around the estate. The cook would be making potage (a type of oat porridge) for the workers’ daily meal. There might be a clerk attached to the commandery who kept the day-to-day records. There would have been household servants looking after the house. Any Templars in residence would have administered the estate, holding the manor court, ensuring rent was paid, farm work was done, workers were hired and paid as necessary. There would also be non-Templars living in the house: some of them were former Templar employees who now received a pension, while others had made a donation to the Templars in return for food and lodging for the rest of their lives. In addition, the Templars had wide networks of supporters who could come into their houses to make donations or transact other business. Some Templar houses had valuable religious relics which pilgrims would come to see. Travellers would come to find lodging, and Templar houses made regular weekly donations of food to the poor. So Templar houses would have been busy places.

Was the day punctuated by prayer?

The Templars’ regulations expected the Templars to follow the normal monastic pattern of prayers at fixed times during the day. The Templars should go into the chapel for these services, but as not every house had a chapel in actual fact they might have to say their prayers as they went about their work (as the regulations allowed them to do if they were on a military campaign). Most Templar houses with a chapel did not have a Templar priest, but employed a secular priest or a friar as priest in their chapel.

How effective were the Templars as farmers (compared to the monasteries for example) and did they engage in any other kind of business?

So far as the records show, the Templars were effective farmers who made careful judgements on the most effective way of working their land for good long-term returns. Apparently they were more generous employers than the Benedictine monks. Their livestock produced meat and other products such as wool and hides, which they could use or sell. They manufactured some food products (cheese, butter, cider, wine) and sold some of this produce as well as consuming it within the estate. The records from after the Templars’ arrests also show that some people owed money to the Templars — not large amounts — so, like other religious orders, they did make loans, but this was not a major business for most Templar houses.

What role did women play on Templar estates and were they allowed to be members of the order?

The estate records show that women were employed as cooks and to do the laundry. They were also employed on farm work: for example, picking grapes, milking the sheep, helping with the harvest. In addition, the estate records from the Templars’ commandery at Payns in Champagne refer to a Templar Sister (her name isn’t recorded; she’s simply refered to at ‘the sister’) and her female servant, Hersant. So, yes: women could be members of the order and women could live in the Templars’ houses.

Did all this activity in the preceptories across Europe really fund the military ventures of the Templars?

Yes — that was the purpose of the Templar properties in Europe! But clearly a lot of money would have been needed to maintain the Templars’ estates, invest in property, pay their workers and carry on the charitable work they did in Europe, so not all the income from their estates would have gone to the East.

How did it all end? What happened to the property owned by the Templars after 1307?

At the Council of Vienne in spring 1312, Pope Clement V gave the Templars’ former property to the Hospitallers. The Hospitallers were able to claim some of the properties, but some properties were taken back by the families of the original donors, some were kept by the kings who had arrested the Templars, some property was given to other religious orders, and in Spain and Portugal much of the property was used to found new military-religious orders.

If you enjoyed this interview and you’re in the United Kingdom on 30 June, 2018 – try and join us in Bradford, Yorkshire for what will promise to be a hugely fascinating discussion. Click HERE for tickets.

 

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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Knights Templar – A Secret History: Interview with the author Graeme Davis

davisI recently mentioned a great book on the Knights Templar by Graeme Davis that explores the many stories and myths that surround this intrepid order of warrior monks.

Graeme got in touch and I leapt at the opportunity to review his book and connect with the man himself. 

On your behalf, I posed some searching questions and I think you’ll find this a fascinating read. Share your thoughts and views as ever. But without further do – let’s go meet Graeme Davis!

You have a fascination for myth and folklore – where did this come from? And tell us how it’s influenced both your books and work on games.

It started very young. At the age of six or seven, I saw Jason and the Argonauts on my parent’s black-and-white TV, and was fascinated by Ray Harryhausen‘s monsters. A week or two later, the traveling bookmobile brought a children’s retelling of Homer’s Odyssey to my little school, and I was hooked. That Christmas, I asked a rather nonplussed department-store Santa for a book on Greek mythology. For the rest of my childhood, I read Greek and Norse myths, the legends of King Arthur and Robin Hood, and anything else I could get my hands on.
About a decade later I discovered Dungeons & Dragonsand was immediately attracted to its use of creatures and concepts from mythology. I spent hours in the local library ploughing through a multi-volume set of English and Scottish folklore by county – initially to find new monsters for my games, but more and more I became intrigued by the stories themselves and the recurring motifs that seem to be independent of race and culture.

You wrote a compelling book on the Knights Templar – what interests you about the Templars? Why do you think they generate so much interest?

holyI first became aware of Templar conspiracy theories when I read The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail as a college student. I was studying archaeology and learning about the Middle Ages at the same time, and my penchant for myth and folklore had begun to develop into an interest in historical fantasy. The Templars of legend defied the worst that the Catholic Church and the crowned heads of Europe could throw at them, and are still active today, and that is a powerful narrative. Their secrets and their powers are just defined enough to make them intriguing without exposing them to detailed analysis, which ensure that they will always be intriguing.

In the book, you claim the revelations came from a certain Dr Emile Fouchet – am I correct in assuming that he may be an imaginary character? Where did you get the idea of Fouchet from?

Fouchet is completely fictional. My intention was to assemble all the Templar legends and conspiracy theories that I could find and weave them into a single narrative, but that required a framing device. By creating Fouchet and his research, I had a unifying fiction and a single voice for all the speculation that was needed to hold everything together.

The Templars have generated as much fiction as fact – do you think it matters if the boundaries are blurred or do you feel it might be even be impossible to wholly separate fact and fiction?

I think it has been impossible to separate Templar fact from Templar fiction since 1139, if not before. The events surrounding the Order’s dissolution added to the fiction, and with the rise of Templar imagery in Freemasonry that started in the 18th century, the legend grew and grew.

The Templars were accused of some pretty racy stuff back in 1307 – do you believe any of the charges were true?

Most of the charges were pretty standard for a group accused of heresy. Sodomy was a normal part of the package – we  get our word “bugger” from the name of the Bulgarian Bogomils who were accused of heresy in the 10th century. More serious, in many ways, were the charges of secret adherence to Islam, including the Baphomet-Mahomet connection remarked on by many historians. The practicalities of life in the Crusader States – and later, in the shrinking Christian foothold in the eastern Mediterranean – required those on the ground to make certain compromises for the sake of survival, and to the “armchair quarterbacks” who were safely at home in Christendom, this must have looked a lot like defection to the Islamic cause. The accounts of contemporary Arab historians show that the Templars were regarded as anything but allies.
The other charges were partly reiterations of these two – “every imaginable crime and vice,” “defy the authority of the Church,” and so on – and are too vague to shed any light. The story of trampling and spitting on the cross, one of the best-known to modern readers, emerged from questioning under torture, and was not among the formal charges.

What about the stories of treasure found under the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem – are you sceptical?

I see this story as a continuation of a legend that goes back to Roman times and before. The Temple was said to contain a secret chamber into which a mechanism could lower the Ark of the Covenant for safe-keeping if Jerusalem were attacked; certainly, the Ark was not among the treasures looted from the Holy of Holies by Roman troops in AD 70. It is easy to see how rumours of a secret chamber could grow into a story of hidden treasure, especially taking into account the Islamic view of Solomon as a powerful sorcerer in addition to a wise king.

You mention in the book the possibility that the Templars got to America. Do you think there’s any likelihood that could have happened and why would they have gone there?

The story of the lost Templar fleet implies that a great Templar treasure went somewhere, and it has not been found in Europe. Scotland, its most likely destination, has yielded nothing, and the next stop is Scandinavia, where the Templar captains could very well have learned of the old Viking sea-routes to Iceland and Greenland, possibly from former Templars who had sought refuge among the Teutonic orders. While it was in decline, the Norse Greenland colony did not die out for another century, and the routes would still have been known in 1308. From there, following clues in the Icelandic sagas, it would be possible to follow Lief Eriksson’s original route and find North America. Did the Templars do so? There is no conclusive evidence, and for all we know the lost fleet – if it truly existed – might just as well have gone into the Mediterranean.

Assassin’s Creed and other works have popularised the idea of a centuries old battle between Templars and the church/Inquisition – why does this idea clearly have so much appeal?

They are perfect for historical fantasy: a secretive organisation with mysterious powers, untold wealth and influence, and a shadowy agenda which can be fitted to almost any storyline for a book, movie, or game. The idea of a secret war that lays behind the events of history as we know it is endlessly intriguing, and whether the Templars are cast as vicious power-seekers or tenacious underdogs, their historical reality and centuries-long pedigree makes them an ideal secret society to use.

Are you planning any further writing or games based on the Templars?

Not at this time, although Templar history and Medieval history in general have informed a lot of my fantasy writing down the years, and this will no doubt continue to be the case.

Here is a list of other publications by Graeme Davis that feature the Templars:

Colonial Gothic Organizations Book 1: The Templars
A sourcebook on the Templars for Rogue Games’ tabletop roleplaying game set in America’s early history.
GURPS Crusades
A mostly-historical sourcebook on the Crusades, including the role of the Templars and the Hospitallers.
“The Knights Templar,” Pyramid #3/86, December 2015
Different versions of the Knights Templar, defined for the GURPS tabletop roleplaying game.
“Templars: The Fighting Priests,” Pyramid #3/19, May 2010.
A discussion of the Templars and Templar-like organizations in fantasy games.
You can join Graeme Davis on his blog (https://graemedavis.wordpress.com/) where he has posted some of the reviews of the book: https://graemedavis.wordpress.com/2013/10/09/knights-templar-a-secret-history/
For those who don’t like Amazon, the book can be ordered directly from Osprey Publishing’s web site at https://ospreypublishing.com/store/osprey-adventures/dark-osprey/knights-templar
The rest of the Dark Osprey line can be seen at https://ospreypublishing.com/store/osprey-adventures/dark-osprey
Last October, Graeme published a curated anthology of early American horror stories set in and around the Colonial era. Not related to the Templars as such but great stuff! It is available via most online booksellers and direct from the publisher at http://pegasusbooks.com/books/colonial-horrors-9781681775296-hardcover

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!

Avignon – seat of the pope who crushed the Templars

In the fourteenth century, the papacy moved out of Rome to France. Clement V was the first pope to be based in Avignon beginning the building of a palace that still dominates the city centre. It was Clement who would bend to the will of the King of France, Philip, and banned the Knights Templar. He was the pope who sent out orders to all the Christian rulers of Europe to round up the knights and seize their assets.

Clement’s immediate successors continued to reign from Avignon and enlarged the palace but by the end of the 1300s, the popes had returned to Rome. Gradually, the huge Gothic pile that had been erected began to decay. Decorations were ripped out and ornaments spirited away. The French revolution resulted in some damage inspired by anti-clericalism and then in the nineteenth century, the building became a barracks with a false floor installed.

Repairs were undertaken and some pseudo-Gothic additions, imaginings of what the palace would have looked like at its height. Regardless of all the indignities the palace has suffered, it is still a glorious sight today. I visited Avignon as well as nearby Arles and Nimes this year. Some images of the palace for you to view here.

 

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

 

The Battle for Acre – disaster for the Knights Templar

AcreIn 2012, I visited the ancient town of Acre in modern Israel (now called Akko). It’s still dominated by the castle built by the Knights Templar and underneath this might medieval construction is a secret tunnel – its purpose still shrouded in mystery.

In 1099, Christian crusader armies stormed into Jerusalem and established kingdoms along the Mediterranean coastline. But two hundred years later, the crusaders – and the Knights Templar – were in retreat. Jerusalem had reverted to Muslim control. The Templars found themselves holed up in Acre.

In 1291, Acre finally fell and with that the crusades began to disintegrate. By 1302, there was no crusader presence in the Holy Land. This undoubtedly spelt doom for the Knights Templar. Their reason to exist had disappeared.

 

Vatican scandal – a history of papal wickedness

Jean-Paul Laurens, Le Pape Formose et Étienne ...

The Knights Templar were answerable only to the pope. But some of those popes were thoroughly corrupt and venal. They were probably some of the biggest sinners in Christendom.

So, let’s take a look at some papal corruption down the ages!

When the empire of Charlemagne was slowly imploding in the ninth century, the Holy See passed to the cardinal of Porto – who took the name Formosus. He was accused in his lifetime of various acts of church corruption but may have fallen victim to the power politics of the time, in which he was an active participant.

After his death, his opponents decided that the small matter of not being alive should be no barrier to being put on trial. And so his corpse was exhumed, dressed in papal vestments and interrogated at the so-called Cadaver Synod. Formosus was found guilty of all charges, stripped of the aforementioned vestments, his fingers cut off to stop any benedictions from the grave and his body was tossed into the Tiber.

John XIIThe following century saw the pontificate of John XII who really was a dubious character. Celebrating mass without bothering to take communion was small beer compared to his other sins. He was reputed to have turned the Lateran Palace into a brothel and to have ordained a ten year old as a bishop. Blinding and castrating his enemies and toasting the devil – there was nothing John wasn’t capable of! He eventually died after suffering “paralysis” while in bed with a lady.

In 1032, the Count of Tusculum installed his own son as pope – never mind that he was barely 12 years old! Benedict IX went on to hold the papacy three times before his death at 43 years of age. His second term as pope ended when he decided to sell the office to his godfather! He then changed his mind and came back, seizing the papacy for one last time.

Another pope who took cash for religious positions – the crime of ‘simony’ – was Boniface VIII. He features prominently in the History Channel drama about the Knights Templar – Knightfall. I write about him at length in another blog post so please search for that.

Fast forward to the Renaissance! The Borgias ran St Peters like a family enterprise at the end of the fifteenth century. Alexander VI was the most infamous Borgia, the nephew of a preceding pope, Callixtus III.  Alexander was alleged by the lawyer Stefano Infessura to have bought the papacy with mule loads of silver and his claim to have gained a two thirds majority is highly suspect.

Needless to say, Alexander had several children who he brazenly installed in major ecclesiastical positions – most notably, Cesare Borgia. His daughter, Lucrezia, was married off to a nobleman but reputed to have an incestuous relationship with her father. She was also claimed to be an adept poisoner

In my own lifetime, I remember when the former head of the Banco Ambrosiano – a bank strongly linked to the Vatican – was found hanged under Blackfriars Bridge in my home town of London. This was back in 1982. Roberto Calvi was dubbed ‘God’s Banker’ and while his death was supposed to look like suicide, it didn’t escape the attention of many that the secretive P2 masonic lodge that dominated Italy’s elite at that time was known as the ‘frati neri’ – or black friars!

The death of John Paul I after only 33 days as pope in 1978 is now a largely forgotten papal scandal – but at the time, the conspiracy theories flew around like a blizzard. There’s even a story element in the movie Godfather III that alludes to the mysterious nature of his demise. Suffice to say that the Vatican did nothing to dampen the speculation by its hopeless handling of the affair.

Glastonbury, the Isle of Avalon and the Holy Grail

The Round Table experience a vision of the Hol...
The Round Table experience a vision of the Holy Grail. From a 15th century French manuscript. 

In 1976 when I was only 12 years old, my parents took me to the English county of Somerset.  We passed through the Roman town of Bath with its ancient ruins and eighteenth century additions.  Then to Wells with its impressive cathedral.  But it was Glastonbury that really fired my imagination.

The Isle of Avalon was surrounded by sea at the end of the Ice Age but that gave way to reedy swamps that could be navigated with small boats or crude wooden walkways.  Rising above the mists and fetid water was a hill called Glastonbury Tor.  It can be taken as read that for pagan Britons this would have already had a magical or mystical significance.  And not surprisingly, the sites that were venerated by pagans were appropriated by the later Christians.

holy-grail-2In the villages of Somerset, the talk went round that Jesus – the son of God – had worked in the county as a boy together with his uncle Joseph of Arimathea.  They had built a wattle and daub church (though it’s sometimes claimed that Joseph did this on his own after the death of Jesus).  It was even claimed that Jesus had toiled in a specific village called Priddy, where there was open cast mining.  Jesus of course went on to be crucified in the Holy Land but his uncle returned to Somerset with a cup used by his nephew at the Last Supper and containing some of the blood of Jesus after being speared by a Roman soldier.  The cup is best known to us as – the Holy Grail.

Resting on Wearyall Hill, near the Tor, for the night – Joseph stuck his walking staff in the ground and dozed off.  When he woke up, it had taken root and was sprouting leaves.  This became the Glastonbury Thorn.  A cutting from the Thorn would later be planted in the grounds of the medieval abbey that would be built nearby and this tree can still be seen.  Indeed a cutting is sent to the Queen every Christmas.  What she does with it – I have no idea!

The Holy Grail was buried by Joseph at the entrance to the kingdom of the dead near the Tor.  From that spot gushed a spring still called Chalice Well and it was said that this was the real fountain of eternal youth.  You may test the veracity of this claim should you wish – take a cup and try it.  The original wattle church was held very sacred by the early Christian church in England and over time became encased in a larger structure – and over the centuries, a monastic complex sprang up around it.  King Ine of Wessex in the eight century, seeing how many pilgrims were coming to worship there, promoted a new stone building to cover the ‘old church’.

Indeed, Glastonbury really became the most holy place in England during the Dark Ages.  As abbot of the monastery in the tenth century, St Dunstan enlarged and enriched it still further and though the Norman invasion brought some disruption, the Domesday Book recorded it as the richest monastery in England.  But disaster would eventually strike – and strike hard.  In 1184, fire destroyed the Norman buildings and the wattle church.

The monks not only lost their home and place of worship but – and let’s be frank about it – they lost a wealth creating machine.  But medieval monks were an industrious bunch.  Possibly a little unscrupulous too.  So, after a handful of years, they announced to the world that while clearing the site and digging around a bit – they’d found the bodies of King Arthur and his Queen Guinevere.  This was in the year 1191.  And why wouldn’t Arthur have been there – after all, he’d have been looking for the Holy Grail which had been buried by Joseph of Arimathea.

Arthur’s tombstone was handily available and in latin was inscribed his name and last resting place on the Isle of Avalon:  “Hic iacet sepultus inclitus Rex Arturius in insula Avalonia”.  The remains were put in pride of place and King Edward I built a black marble tomb over them.  All this was smashed up during the Reformation of Henry VIII in the sixteenth century and only a marker in the grass shows you were the tomb was once situated.

By 1278, when Arthur’s new improved tomb was unveiled, the abbey was simply vast.  St Mary’s Chapel had been built on the site of the Old Church and was relatively modest structure.  It was now linked by the Galilee Porch to a cathedral which rivalled Canterbury and St Paul’s in London for size.  A behemoth of a church stretching 580 feet.

One of the last additions was the crypt built by Abbot Richard Beere in 1500 which you can still lower yourself down in to.  A really atmospheric space and well worth seeing.  The abbot served guests sumptuous meals cooked in the octagonal pyramid shaped kitchen which is one of the few buildings still surviving.  Unbelievably, the abbot’s palace was demolished as late as the eighteenth century.

In this palace, kings were entertained.  One king entertained there was Henry VIII.  A monarch who started out as the staunchest defender of the Pope and the Catholic church against the heresies of Luther in the early sixteenth century.  But one divorced wife later, Henry turned on the monasteries and their enormous wealth.  Though never a Lutheran, he established himself as head of the church and set above the dissolution of the monasteries – including and especially Glastonbury.

Even though Abbot Richard Whiting took the oath of allegiance to the king when he broke with Rome – keen to keep his head – it didn’t work.  He was tried and hung, drawn and quartered before a crowd up on the Tor.  In case any of the monks were thinking of returning to the abbey, his head was stuck on a pole over the gateway.  Other limbs found their way to Wells and Bath to deliver a similar warning.

Over the next three hundred years, the mighty abbey became a source of stone for the local town as it expanded.  These were days before a tourism industry and a society where resources were scarce.  You could say, everything was recycled including the abbey.  So with little sentimentality, it was stripped down until the ruins that can been today.  But they are still incredible ruins that dwarf you and a visit is thoroughly recommended.

Here is a visitor’s video:

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.