If you have never seen The Seventh Seal – then watch it. A tortured medieval knight is played by a very young Max von Sydow, who you may have seen in The Minority Report and other movies. In this scene, he plays a game of chess with Death in order to remain alive. It’s a Swedish movie with subtitles but don’t let that put you off.
Arn Magnusson – our heroic knight – hails from West Gothia and is hopelessly in love with Cecilia. Needless to say they are torn apart from each other and Arn’s quest is not just to be a great knight but also to be reunited with Cecilia.
I have one small sartorial quibble about Arn and that is the cross emblazoned on his white mantle. To me, it more closely resembles the later cross used by the Order of Christ in Portugal after 1314 – over 150 years after Arn would have been alive. The Order of Christ was what the Templars became in Portugal after they were dissolved. The Templar cross was simpler.
Key facts about Arn:
- He is part of the Swedish Folkung aristocratic dynasty, a family originating from Östergötland in the south of the country
- Arn grows up in a Cistercian monastery. This order of monks were very closely related to the Templars, so much so that the Templars have sometimes been referred to as their military wing. The biggest spiritual influence on the knights was a Cistercian abbot in France called Bernard of Clairvaux who led a very severe and self-punishing existence
- Arn has to become a Templar as penance for having premarital relations. It is true that some knights had committed crimes and sought to redeem themselves in the order by fighting for Christ in the Holy Land
- Arn meets Saladin, the great Saracen leader, but is then instrumental in defeating him at the Battle of Montgisard. Unfortunately, Saladin would later inflict an even worse defeat on the crusaders and Templars at the Battle of Hattin
- Arn making friends with Saladin may seem far fetched but the Templars were later accused of being on way too cordial terms with the Muslim enemy, something used against them at their trials from 1307 onwards
- The movie about Arn is based on a trilogy of novels by Jan Guillou, an author and journalist who also writes spy fiction
Here’s a reminder of what a great movie Arn is: