August 2017 – my Templar quest in Portugal – don’t miss it!

Anybody who has been following this blog for any length of time knows that I’m obsessed with the Templar history of Portugal. I’ve been all over Europe and the Middle East to see Templar sites, but I always come back to Portugal. Being half-Portuguese of course has nothing to do with it ūüôā

August will see me visiting some incredible places and events and blogging to you direct from them:

  • Tomar – the evocative headquarters of the Knights Templar. A small town now dominated by a Templar fortress on top of a hill. The peaceful beauty of Tomar today belies its violent past as the front line between Christian and Muslim Europe in the Middle Ages. I’ll share with you some thrilling Templar stories and great pictures
  • Santa Maria da Feira – this town hosts an extremely popular festival called the Medieval Journey. They stage a huge mock battle and this year the theme is King Afonso IV. He was the son of King Dinis of Portugal who saved the Templars by cunningly renaming them the Order of Christ and giving the knights royal protection
  • Viana do Castelo – I’ve been visiting this town for over forty years and in August, it stages a festival for Our Lady of Agony¬†This includes several women who dress as Mary, mother of Jesus, with fake swords plunged in their chests (well, they appear to be!) to symbolise the agonies she endured at the crucifixion
  • Sintra¬†– A forest just outside Lisbon with fairytale castles, a huge wall built by the invading caliphate in the medieval period and tunnels some believe are linked to the Knights Templar
  • Porto and Lisbon – the first and second cities of Portugal both dripping with history but quite different. Porto, the launchpad for the crusader invasion of Lisbon, which was then under Muslim control and called Al-Usbunna
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Medieval Journey in Santa Maria da Feira, just south of Porto – a great event!



Best medieval walled cities in the world

All over Europe and the Middle East, you can still find towns that have retained their medieval walls.¬† It’s hard to imagine now but cities were often contained within imposing fortifications – there was even a massive wall that ran all the way round London from the late Roman empire (as barbarian attacks increased) through to large scale demolition in the eighteenth century.

Many cities burst out from their walls over the last two, three hundred years and then like London – dispensed with this restraint on urban growth.¬† But some have managed to hold on to their walls and it’s a huge pleasure to walk them.¬† Though I should warn you that in certain towns, the walls do not have protective railings – Obidos in Portugal being a case in point.

The most picturesque Рthough heavily restored Рis Carcassone in France, which was home to the Cathar revolt against the Catholic church in the Middle Ages.  As you approach it, Carcassone does look uncannily like one of those towns depicted in medieval illuminated manuscripts Рor a medieval version of Disneyland if you prefer.

Here is Carcassone then in its full glory!

Historic Tomar to host its first Templar festival

Tomar is a beautiful Templar town in Portugal where the order held out after being crushed throughout Europe. On top of a hill overlooking the winding streets of the medieval town is a Templar ‘charola’ or octagonal church built like a fortress. Attached to it is a semi-ruined convent constructed in the 16th century Manueline style.

Down in the valley is another church called Santa Maria Olival where the Portuguese Templar masters were buried including the legendary Gualdim Pais – vanquisher of the Moors!

Tomar was recently chosen to be the global HQ of The International Order of the Knights Templar – OSMTH – and this has led to the first ever Templar festival being held in the town. Quite why it hasn’t happened before I can’t imagine. Having visited Tomar every year since 2009, I can assure you that this is a must see for any Templar.

I wish I could have given you more notice but I only found out about the event yesterday, which is happening between the 23rd and 26th of this month. Full details in Portuguese can be found HERE.¬† If you can’t make it – then please browse the images below from my last visit in August, 2012.

Burial place of Templar Grand Masters

This is a Templar jewel – something everybody should visit. It’s the burial place of the Templar grand masters of Portugal – a church in the town of Tomar built in the very century that the order was formed by Hugh de Payens. Every Templar Grand Master from Gualdim Pais onwards was interred in this modest church until the Templars were suppressed by order of the pope. It’s difficult to find the graves of all the masters and a simple plaque indicates the remains of Pais – a legendary figure in his own lifetime who fought the Moors alongside the first king of Portugal.

These are photographs I took there in August this year.

Tomar – Templar jewel in Portugal

I have visited Tomar three or four times now and I just never get tired of going back again – always staying at the Hotel Dos Templarios of course. The town was located in a kind of no-mans land between the Islamic realm of Al-Andalus and the Christian crusader kingdom of Portugal to the north.

In the twelfth century, the Islamic caliphate that had ruled most of the Iberian peninsula from the year 711CE, was being rolled back by new Christian kingdoms like Aragon, Castile, Leon, Navarre and Portugal. The king of Portugal was a plucky chap called Dom Afonso Henriques and he relied heavily on the Templars as a kind of shock troops to soften up the Moors (the Muslims to the south) before the Portuguese then conquered another town for Christ.

In their role as shock troops, the Templars were the advance guard in to what was termed ‘nullis diocesis’ – the land in central Portugal where no prince or bishop ruled as it was still actively contested between Christians and Muslims. Tomar was part of this unruly domain.

The Templars built a many sided fortress like church termed a ‘charola’ that still stands today. It was circular in imitation of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem (though having been there, I can say the resemblance is rather slight) and they could also hear mass on horseback – ready to charge out and do battle at short notice.

Once the Templars were suppressed, the Portuguese hit on the novel idea of sort of nationalising them as the Order of Christ. And Tomar became headquarters to this new royal order. The Convent of Christ was bolted on to the old charola, built in the sixteenth century Manueline style.

The clerical occupants have now gone but what is left – is a magnificent historical site. There was a lot of cement being laid all over the hilltop approach last time I was there and I hope that the cement obsessed Portuguese don’t ruin the tranquility of the site by turning it in to a theme park (I’m half-Portuguese and can say these things!).¬† Here are my photos from my last visits.

Tomar features in my latest book Quest for the True Cross – which you can buy on Amazon in paperback and kindle. And watch the book promo trailer on YouTube.



Tomar – j√≥ia dos Templ√°rios em Portugal

Tendo sido duas vezes para Tomar, em tantos anos, posso dizer-lhe que este √© o destino dos Templ√°rios para se visitar. Voc√™ deve tratar-se de uma estadia no Hotel dos Templarios e durante o dia visitar o “Charola” ou igreja templ√°ria circular constru√≠da no s√©culo XII por Templar Portugu√™s Grand Master Gualdim Pais.

Com paredes espessas a Charola havia um altar no meio e cavaleiros templ√°rios seriam originalmente ter montado e foi capaz de se manter a cavalo, enquanto um servi√ßo foi dito por um capel√£o em p√© no meio. Ent√£o eles poderiam montar para fora para fazer a batalha com os mouros. Esta parte do meio Portugal era disputada pelos mu√ßulmanos “mouros” – que ainda governava o sul – e os reinos do norte cruzado por muitos anos. Foi uma esp√©cie de ermo, onde apenas os Templ√°rios eram bravos ou temer√°rio o bastante para enfrentar as for√ßas mu√ßulmanas.

Em minhas conversas com um historiador local, h√° caginess not√°vel sobre admitindo que este era uma vez uma cidade moura. A linha oficial parece ser que Tomar fica em duas cidades romanas, que era em grande parte despovoada na ocupa√ß√£o moura e depois de ter sido “libertado” pelos Templ√°rios, eles fundaram a cidade como a conhecemos. Mas parece-me claro que dentro da preceptoria dos Templ√°rios, tinha havido um acordo √°rabe (a Medina) e que os templ√°rios aproveitando t√©cnicas para suas paredes que t√™m uma forte influ√™ncia mourisca. Os nomes dos port√Ķes para a preceptoria indicam uma influ√™ncia √°rabe tamb√©m.

A Charola agora se junta a um complexo vasto convento constru√≠do em grande parte, no s√©culo XVI – 200 anos depois dos Templ√°rios tinha sido esmagado sob as ordens do Papa. O Convento de Cristo √© um impressionante edif√≠cio constru√≠do no ‘estilo manuelino’ estilo – lotes de motivos corda na pedra e uma janela famosa elaborado. Mas √© a Charola que eu estou sempre atra√≠dos. √Č um espa√ßo bonito, pintado muito elaborada – em parte, no momento, mas depois tamb√©m.

Soldados franceses durante as guerras napole√īnicas do s√©culo XIX fez algum dano ao convento e da Charola mas nada que possa arruinar a sua visita. A coisa toda √© assustadoramente deserta de ambos os templ√°rios e os habitantes mais tarde mon√°stica. Existem linhas de c√©lulas vazias de acompanhamento longos corredores – muito assustador.

Tomar tamb√©m tem uma igreja onde v√°rios dos Grandes Mestres s√£o enterrados – Santa Maria do Olival. √Č um pouco decepcionante como um pr√©dio e situado ao lado que parece ser um conjunto habitacional. Mas note a janela pentagrama. Voc√™ ter√° que perguntar onde est√° sepultado Gualdim Pais, porque ele n√£o √© f√°cil de encontrar. Pais √© visto pelo Portugu√™s como algo de uma figura da lenda arturiana – embora, ao contr√°rio de Arthur, sabemos Pais existia com certeza. Mas ele est√° envolta em um certo grau de mist√©rio. Uma coisa √© certa √© que ele lutou contra os mouros para tr√°s o tempo e, novamente, incluindo um vasto ex√©rcito que amea√ßava dominar Tomar em 1190.