Month: August 2007

Knights in white sashes

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TUCKED away in Clerkenwell in the heart of old London, close to Smithfield meat market and ignored by office workers as they scurry past, is a remarkable link with the Crusades: it is St John’s Gate, which, with the nearby Grand Priory Church, is all that remains of the English headquarters of the Knights Hospitaller of St John of Jerusalem, one of the two great Crusader orders.

The other order, the Knights Templar, is better remembered because it was so viciously crushed, amid sensational false accusations of blasphemy, sodomy and heresy, by Philip of France and the Pope in the 14th century.

The Knights of St John were not suppressed – on the contrary, they were given some of the disgraced Templars’ property – but they changed their name over the centuries, as their main base moved from the Holy Land to Rhodes, then again to Malta; and their English Priory, along with all other monastic foundations, was dissolved by Henry VIII.

The Knights of Malta still exist as a Roman Catholic order, whereas the present English Order of St John, a 19th-century revival granted an order of chivalry by Queen Victoria, is now a non-denominational, charitable organisation that admits non-Christian members.

St John Ambulance Brigade vehicles and staff are such a familiar sight at public events that few of us stop to wonder why the brigade is so-called; in fact, it was created in 1877 by the Order of St John, which also founded the St John Opthalmic Hospital in Jerusalem five years later.


In the centuries between Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries and the revived English order’s purchase of St John’s Gate in 1874, the building had a chequered career – first as the office of Elizabeth I’s Master of the Revels; later as the coffee house where the artist Hogarth spent his early childhood (his father’s advertised boast that Latin was spoken at the coffee house seems to have discouraged, rather than drawn, patrons, and his business failed). The gatehouse then became the home and printworks of Edward Cave, publisher of the Gentleman’s Magazine. On the staff was the great Dr Johnson, who locked himself into a room to write without distraction.

A spell as the parish watch house followed, then, in the 19th century, the gatehouse became the Old Jerusalem Tavern. Somewhere along the way, as prints show, the stone building lost its crenulated roofline, but this has been restored and St John’s Gate today looks much as it did when rebuilt in 1504, with one significant difference: it has lost several feet in height, through the road surface having been built up over the centuries.

Adjoining it at right angles is an Edwardian extension in the same style, with a flamboyant, rooflit Chapter Hall and a fascinating museum of items relating to the Knights of St John’s history and the work of the St John Ambulance Brigade.

Objects on show include superb pieces of silver, such as a 17th-century shaving bowl the size of a washbasin; Majolica pharmacy jars; intricate wooden models of Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre, inlaid with ivory, ebony and mother-of-pearl; two panels of a fine Flemish triptych, marked with the arms of the 15th-century prior John Weston; the exquisitely illuminated Rhodes Missal, completed in 1504; and a cleverly designed late-19th-century litter, or hand-wheeled ambulance.

Although the medieval Knights of St John developed a military role as time went on – culminating in their conquest of Rhodes, which they ruled as a sovereign power for 200 years until 1522 – they began as hospitallers, pure and simple. Their great hospital in Jerusalem held 2,000 patients, Muslim and Jew as well as Christian, who were treated not just well, but luxuriously – provided with feather beds, the finest food and wine, daily washing with hot water and twice-weekly pedicures. Brothers would scour the streets of the city for people too sick to make their own way to the hospital, and for mothers and babies in need of care. The hospitallers believed that the poor represented the person of Christ, and were therefore to be venerated.

The lavish treatment of the sick was continued at their infirmaries in Rhodes, and later in Malta, where patients were fed from silver dishes and beakers. Malta was given to the order by Emperor Charles V, after Rhodes was conquered by the Turks under Suleiman the Magnificent in 1523. The Knights ruled Malta until Napoleon captured the island in 1798.

The English branch (or Langue, meaning tongue, as it is called) of the order was re-formed in 1827, with both Catholic and Protestant members. Harking back to the days of chivalry, it began as a Romantic movement, whose members did little more than make excursions along the Thames to dine at Kew or Greenwich. Only in the 1860s did the success of the newly formed Red Cross inspire members to provide a similar service for civilians at home, particularly industrial workers, and thus to find a role in the modern world.


Visitors to St John’s Gate can also see the Grand Priory Church. This now necessitates stepping out along the street, although the church was originally the focal point of the Priory’s enclosed 10-acre site. It is only a fraction of its original size, having lost its nave during Edward VI’s reign when Lord Protector Somerset used the stone to build his palace in the Strand. Lady Burleigh repaired what remained of the church and used it as her private chapel in the early 17th century. It was a Presbyterian meeting-house from 1706 until it was gutted during the Sacheverell Riots of 1710; repaired again, the building became an Anglican parish church until 1931, when it was finally given back to the Knights of St John – only to be gutted by bombing just 10 years later.

Now restored very simply and used for the order’s investitures, the church’s main interest lies below ground, where the beautiful 12th-century crypt has miraculously survived. Its nave of five bays is partly late Norman, partly in Transitional style, and there are two wonderful tombs: one topped by the skeletal figure of William Weston, the order’s last, pre-Reformation prior; the other of alabaster, bearing the effigy of Don Juan Ruiz de Vergara, 16th-century Proctor of Castile. At his feet nestles the effigy of a boy.

“His son?” I inquired naively. “I hope not!” replied curator Pamela Willis, laughing, “As a member of the order, Don Juan was supposed to be celibate. We believe the boy was his page.”


The Museum of the Order of St John (020 7324 4000, is in St John’s Gate, St John’s Lane, Clerkenwell, London EC1. Nearest Tube stations, Farringdon and Barbican. Museum open Monday- Friday, 10am-5pm; Saturday, 10am-4pm (closed bank holiday weekends). Admission free. Guided tours, taking in the gatehouse’s other rooms and Grand Priory Church, 11am and 2.30pm, Tuesday, Friday, Saturday.

Letters remain the holy grail to code-breakers

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For 250 years it defied all code-breakers. Darwin had a go; Dickens, and Wedgwood too. But the 10-letter inscription – DOUOSVAVVM – carved into a monument on the Shugborough Estate in Staffordshire thumbed its nose at the curious.

Those of a romantic (or deluded) disposition believed it to be a coded message of the kind used by the Knights Templar and their successors to point to the whereabouts of the Holy Grail or some other religious relic. Others believed it to be a private affirmation of love.

Whatever the truth, the mystery was supposed to have been cleared up yesterday at a press conference at Bletchley Park, where British code-breakers conquered the German Enigma system during the Second World War.

The people at Bletchley, now a museum, promised to lift the veil on the Shugborough Code. They wheeled out some veteran code-breakers to announce the results of months of effort by competing teams of professional and amateur cryptanalysts.

About halfway through the process, eyes began to glaze. Then, as talk of decryption matrices progressed, an expression of helpless incomprehension bloomed on the faces of the assembled media.

And when the final explanation came, it was somewhat less climactic than that in the best-selling Da Vinci Code.


The Shugborough mystery arose in the years between 1748 and 1758 when the monument containing the code was installed. The estate was the home of the Anson family, whose most illustrious member was George Anson, one of Britain’s greatest admirals.

In 1740, Anson led a fleet of seven ships on an epic circumnavigation, the highlight of which was the seizure of the Spanish bullion ship Nuestra Senora de Cavadonga.

Anson’s share of the booty ensured him a happy retirement and the expansion of Shugborough, the home of his brother Thomas. The estate is now owned by the National Trust but still partially occupied by his descendant, the Earl of Lichfield.

The Anson brothers were thought to have been members of secret societies, which abounded at the time.

One, the Priory of Sion, was regarded as a successor of the medieval Knights Templar, persecuted as heretics for their belief that Christ was not divine. Legend had it that they were the guardians of relics recovered from the Holy Land, including the Holy Grail, the cup used by Christ at the Last Supper.


The monument carried a relief based on a painting by Poussin, Et in Arcadia Ego. The artist was thought to be a member of the Templars. The monument carries the title of the painting, and below are the 10 letters with the D at the beginning and the M at the end, slightly lowered.

Recently, an American formerly involved with the military used the painting as a key to unlock the code.

Using a series of grids, he came up with the words Jesus H Defy, interpreting the H as chi, the Greek letter used to denote the Messiah.

Result: a Templar message defying the description of Jesus as the Son of God. The American, who refuses to be identified, believes other messages reside in the matrix. GCHQ endorsed his methodology, but not necessarily his conclusions.

So, what is to be made of it all?

Richard Kemp, the general manager of the Shugborough Estate, said: “This confirms a link with the Templars. It’s a very exciting discovery that confirms what was always rumoured to be the case.” And with that he took off in search of the Grail.

Some might think the “discovery” is less than convincing. But Murlyn Hakon, of Bletchley Park, said: “There is something there.”

However, there was another explanation.

Sheila Lawn, 81, a code-breaker at Bletchley during the war, favoured a solution offered by another team. They say the eight central letters, represent a Latin poem to a departed loved one, which goes: “Optima Uxoris Optima Sororis Viduus Amantissimus Vovit Virtutibus”.

The lines are translated as: “Best Wife, Best Sister, Widower Most Loving Vows Virtuously”.

She said: “I believe in the simple approach, and this appears to be an elegant solution.”


Igreja Ortodoxa acusa forças turcas de agressão contra fiéis

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O arcebispo da Igreja Ortodoxa no Chipre, Chrysostomos 2º, afirmou nesta segunda-feira que “a liberdade dos cristãos está mais uma vez ameaçada” no país. Ele divulgou um comunicado afirmando que a celebração de uma missa no monastério de São Barnabás de Famagusta, no território ocupado pelo exército turco, foi impedida com uso de violência.

O terço norte da ilha de Chipre e a parte norte da capital encontram-se sob ocupação militar turca. A administração militar proclamou uma república turco-cipriota, reconhecida apenas pela Turquia. O episódio anunciado hoje é o mais recente das tensas relações na região do Chipre ocupada pelos militares turcos desde 1974.

“Quando o arquimandrita –superior de mosteiro na Igreja Ortodoxa– monsenhor Gabriele se dirigiu para o monastério, transformado pelos turcos em um museu e até o momento acessível aos cristãos por meio do pagamento de um ingresso, um grupo de membros da polícia turco-cipriota –uma milícia– interveio ordenando a suspensão das atividades”, informou a nota divulgada hoje pela embaixada do Chipre junto à Santa Sé.

“Enquanto o religioso se obstinava em terminar a missa, [os policiais] cobriram a voz do celebrante com insultos e ofensas contra a fé cristã. Todos os presentes foram fichados”, afirma a nota.


Recentemente o arcebispo Chrysostomos 2º, preocupado pela liberdade dos cristãos em Chipre, mandou um apelo ao primeiro-ministro italiano, Romano Prodi, à chanceler alemã, Angela Merkel, e ao presidente da Comissão Europeia, José Manuel Durão Barroso, para que lhe fosse consentida a restauração das 500 igrejas destruídas que se encontram nos territórios ocupados pelos turcos.

O incidente, segundo a igreja ortodoxa, “condiz com as últimas declarações do chefe de Estado Maior das forças armadas turcas, o general Yasar Buyukanit, o qual no último dia 30 de julho em Ancara [capital da Turquia], em ocasião da celebração da invasão do Chipre, declarou que o Exército turco não abandonará nunca as terras conquistadas com as armas”.

da Ansa, na Cidade do Vaticano
em Folha Online

Turks expel Cyprus abbot from historical monastery

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At the time that religious freedom is preached by Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdogan, the Turkish occupation forces brutally expelled the abbot of the oldest Greek Cypriot Orthodox monastery this week.

Government Spokesman Vasilis Palmas condemned Thursday the expulsion of the abbot of the monastery of Apostolos Varnavas (Saint Barnabas) in the northern occupied part of Cyprus in the middle of a church service.

“Unfortunately this is not the first time that such phenomena take place. Needless to say that we condemn such behaviour which does not contribute to the creation of a positive climate between the two communities,” Cyprus government spokesman Vassilis Palmas said.

On the contrary, Palmas added, it creates tension and raises suspicion, sentiments which do not help at all the effort to build a positive climate with regard to the Cyprus problem.
Apostolos Varnavas is the founder of the autonomous Church of Cyprus. The monastery bearing his name is situated outside the Turkish occupied town of Famagusta, under Turkish military control since the 1974 invasion.

Earlier this week, the Cyprus government allowed for the smooth passage of hundred of Turkish Cypriots from the occupied north to an outpost on the north western coast of the island to commemorate the battles between Greek and Turkish Cypriots 43 years ago.


Tomar – Last redoubt of the Knights Templar

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Persecution drove the warrior monks of the Middle Ages to Tomar in Portugal. There, Richard Robinson finds, they built their Camelot

“I SEE that you are not Jewish,” said the only person, other than my wife and I, inside the sparse, four-pillared chamber. My wife shot me a reprimanding look, as if I had done something really stupid. “You took your hat off when you came in,” he explained. “It is our custom to cover our heads.”

Luis Vasco, wearing the serge cap of his previous career in the Portuguese navy, then showed us around the synagogue – the only one in Portugal to have survived the Inquisition. It had been used as a jail and a barn until it was rescued earlier this century, and now it is a museum, housing a collection of Hebrew-inscribed tombstones salvaged from hidden corners of the country.

Before the king of Portugal ordered their expulsion in 1496, the Jews got along well enough with the Knights of Christ, successors in Portugal to the Knights Templar and the elite of this town of Tomar. Discredited and persecuted everywhere else in Europe, the knights withdrew to the west and built this redoubt, their Camelot.

Outside the synagogue a stony lane led upward towards the castle and abbey of the warrior-monks. For four centuries it was the headquarters of the knightly orders, a church on a bold hill, walled about with battlements. A town grew beneath the walls.

The day before, we had stood on the platform of Lisbon’s new Oriente railway station. Our train followed the river Tagus into the rural past. By a blunder on my part we travelled second-class and shared the carriage with students and weather-beaten peasants, mouths agape in sleep.

We trundled out of Lisbon’s industrial fringes and rattled into cork-tree country, and the vineyards of Ribatejo. This was the riverbank land where the boundary fluctuated, for 150 years or so, between Christian and Moor. It was a shifting frontier where the Templars, charged with the task of driving the Moor from the Iberian Peninsula, built their castles.

We arrived at Tomar station, its concourse lit with oil lamps, its cobbled platforms frustrating the use of wheeled suitcases. In the booking hall, an old-fashioned coin-in-the-slot machine posed the question “How much do you weigh today?” adding the injunction: “for persons only”.


The following day, we walked up to the castle, past the unusual circular chapel of the Charola (where the knights are reputed to have attended Mass on horseback) and beyond the main cloister where a stair led us to the Corridors of the Cross. The transept was getting on for 200 yds long, a tunnel-like hall lined with small, locked doors to the monks’ cells. The disembodied tramp and chatter of tour groups echoed from distant chambers. We were drawn to the light of a window at the extreme end, and to a sound of shouting and cheering from outside.

Below us, on the rough turf of the friars’ vegetable garden, appeared to be a medieval gathering. A crowd of villagers from centuries past was listening to a speech delivered from a balcony, when a plague of mice erupted on the scene. Scores of small children in mouse-costume swarmed from the wings, orchestrated by the director and shepherded by teams of matronly minders.

They chased and harassed the scattering crowd with great enthusiasm. They were rehearsing for their part in next month’s festa dos tabuleiros – Festival of the Trays.

Tomar holds the tabuleiros every four years, a festival in honour of the Holy Spirit, in which beef, bread and wine are given to the poor. It goes back to the founding of the Order of Christ. The townswomen are central to the procession, each in white, traditional dress and bearing a towering headdress of flowers and loaves equal to their own height. “In the old days they were all virgins,” the forewoman of the headdress makers told me. “But it is no longer practical to insist on this precondition.”

This is not a touristy area, but the authorities have recognised a marketable theme and developed the Templars’ Wine Route, one which we sampled with the help of farmer Jose Vidal. Actually, the frugal Templars were denied wine and all other luxuries. But somehow, the expression “drunk as a Templar” had crept into the English language by the time the hapless knights were suffering sham trials and burnings at the stake in 1307.

Lunch with Jose took place in a country dining-room – a plain roadside building with no sign outside – where we ate dried salted cod and baked potatoes with garlic served in a pot of boiling olive oil. While we ate, locals would amble in to refill their glasses at the wine vats which lined the wall.


Essential viewing on the Templar trail is the fairytale island castle of Almourol, which appears to float on the river Tagus. At nearby Constancia, a pretty town famous as the birthplace of the poet Camões and for its annual flower spectacle, there were graphic reminders of how unpredictable this once-navigable river could be. The black-and-white depth gauge scaled the grassy bank of the Tagus and continued across the road, high up a flight of stairs. In the winding streets of the old town, lines had been daubed on walls to illustrate the worst of the 1978 and 1979 floods – a good 15ft above the town square.

Almourol, though, is high, dry and pretty well impregnable. The romantic, towering walls rise from the summit of a crag jutting from the middle of the surging waters. A boatman, of the thickset stoical kind, stood on the bank waiting. I thought he was sure to overcharge: boatmen are notorious for it. We embarked anyway, and after scaling the heights and scrambling the ramparts, found that our return trip came to all of 35p each.

Our single visit to Tomar Castle and the Convent of Christ was not enough, and on our final day we climbed once again the stone-paved spiral of the wagon road. Purple blossom of the Judas tree carpeted the way and high above, the flags of the Templars and of Portugal flapped softly in the warm breeze.

The Chapter House was added to the Templar’s circular chapel by Dom Manuel, Grand Master and future king. This was the crowning glory of Tomar, and its masons employed all their powers in the creation of its jewel, a window of unrivalled complexity.

Here was all the mystery and romance from medieval chivalry to the Age of Discovery expressed in stone. Anaconda coils, scaly serpent swags, fat drapes of cable and chain, heraldic insignia, coats of arms, festoons of seaweed and tropical fruit all worked together in a marvellous fantasy of the mason’s art. It was worth coming to Tomar just for that.

Tomar basics

Getting there
Air Portugal (020 7828 0262) operates three flights daily from London Heathrow. Take a taxi to Lisbon Oriente station and then a train to Tomar (2hrs).

Staying there
Stay in the Hotel dos Templarios (00 351 49 321730), a comfortable modern hotel five minutes’ walk from the town centre.

Further information
Contact the Portuguese Trade and Tourism Office (0171 494 1441) or Templarios Regional Tourist Office, Rua Serpo Pinto 1, Tomar (00 351 49 329000).


Photos by Luis de Matos (c) 2007

FINDING MY RELIGION II – The Rev. Ken Barnes saw alcohol as a gateway to the divine – then the bottle turned on him

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Alcohol has long been part of spiritual practices, from the Grecian rites of Dionysus, the god of wine, to the observance of the Christian Eucharist. The Talmud, a sacred book of Jewish law, insists that the celebration of Purim is not complete until a person has drunk so much that he “cannot tell the difference between ‘Cursed be Haman’ and ‘Blessed be Mordechai.'”

But there can be a dark side to divine intoxication. Ken Barnes, a 67-year-old pastor and Oakland native, has struggled with alcoholism for much of his life, including the 22 years that he served as senior minister at the Arlington Community Church in Kensington.

Initially, Barnes says that drinking brought him closer to God, but eventually his addiction threatened to destroy everything he held sacred. With the help of recovery groups, meditation and other spiritual work, he has been sober for more than 30 years. He is now the interim pastor at Community Congregational Church in Tiburon. I spoke with him recently at his home in Kensington.

You’ve been clean and sober since the early 1970s. When did you start drinking?

I started drinking in college, a little bit before I turned 21. That was mainly beer, and at parties. But as I look back and piece things together, I realize I had a desire to get high much earlier than that.

I can remember in about the fifth grade someone teaching us that if you take 10 deep breaths, and then if you kneel and put your thumb in your mouth and blow as hard as you can, you’ll keel over. Well, we all did this once to show how macho we were. But I loved it and I’d do it regularly.

Then I got totally immersed in athletics. I was the one who they had to chase off the practice field — I always wanted to go out for one more pass. I’m realizing now exercise put my body into different states — changed my body chemistry. Now we call it “getting in the zone.”

I actually went to school on a football scholarship, at Redlands University. And then I switched to Cal because I played football for two years and didn’t like it. And I got an injury. Looking back on it, I believe my increase in drinking started when I no longer got high athletically. Drinking, from the very beginning, just put me in the zone in a similar way that athletics did.

When you say drinking “put you in the zone,” what do you mean? It made you happy?

It made me happy, made me free. Later on, I had this little mantra I would say to myself: God is in the heavens and everything is right on earth. And that’s what alcohol did for me.

At the early stages of my drinking, before I lost control of it, I’d be amazed when I played basketball with my buddies that most of them wanted to stop drinking after one beer or so. They just wanted to focus on basketball. But I’d want another beer or two. I thought maybe I’d play better. I thought they were so strange! Drinking was my favorite joy — my recreation.


You told me earlier that drinking was sort of a key to a spiritual doorway for you — until it started killing you. Tell me more about that.

It was for me at that time. I felt a sense of transcendence. Of course, alcohol has always been that for people. In the Middle Ages, it was called aqua vitae, the water of life. Jews and Christians have always used it in sacred ceremonies.

When I went to seminary at the University of Edinburgh, in Scotland, I would study at night with this Irish friend of mine, and after looking at visions of Isaiah and the Hebrew words behind the verb tenses, we’d close our books up and run down to this pub that we liked. And the person would see us coming and he would pour us a glass of whisky and a pint. And we would sit and talk about what we had been studying. And as we got the buzz on, we felt like we really understood what we had been studying meant at a deep level. I used to love doing that.

At what point did alcohol become a problem for you?

Sometime in my mid-20s drinking went from being a recreational activity — something I tried to bring into most social events — to a daily part of my life. Partly, it was when I had the financial means to procure alcohol, after I got my first [job at a] church.

Most evenings I was either at the pub or at home with the bottle. And most of the time I didn’t get rip-roaring drunk. I tried to maintain that high and the spontaneity that it gave me. But pretty soon I crossed that invisible line where I lost control.

Did anyone try to confront you about it?

I dated a couple of women, and they would at times wonder about it. But then I would back away from them. So no, I was for the most part a very congenial, sensitive, aware drunk. And I’d feel so good that I would just be so interested in whomever I was with.

What about your congregation? Didn’t they notice?

Not right away. I was a good pastor. Most of my folks just loved me, and I loved them. And when there were important events at night, I would work really hard to keep my drinking down. I probably drank addictively for five to seven years before things started getting bad. And then I really got scared.

What happened?

For one thing, I started having partial blackouts where I couldn’t remember or piece together everything that had happened the night before. Sometimes I would go through a radical personality change. I’d be so delighted with my wife, and then suddenly I’d get quarrelsome with her for no good reason. And later it would confuse the heck out of me. It didn’t seem like the real me who was acting this way.

Then I started getting hangovers. For a long time I never got them. That’s how I decided I wasn’t an alcoholic. I’d drink my buddies under the table. They’d be puking in the morning, and I’d be fine. But then I started getting them, too. That was pretty serious. And I started doing some things that I didn’t like, like hiding my drinking and not being truthful in other ways.


Denial is a big temptation for alcoholics. At what point did you decide you had a problem and needed to stop drinking?

I got pulled over a number of times by the police. Two or three times it was city cops who stopped [me], and since I chaired the fire liaison board for the city, they just took me home and told me where my car was. But one time I was on [Highway] 880 and the highway patrol pulled me over. I ended up in the Santa Rita jail.

My wife bailed me out, and the whole thing really scared me. Plus, we were expecting our first daughter. At that time, I practically kept a furniture repairman in business by falling and breaking things [when I was drunk]. I was terrified that I would fall while I was holding her and hurt her.

So I called a pastor friend of mine who I knew was in recovery, and he took me to my first meeting. And that was the beginning of my recovery process.

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Tras la pista de san Guillermo

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SAN GUILLERMO fue un caballero-monje muy admirado por las órdenes de caballería debido a su valentía y religiosidad. Tanto es así que una de estas órdenes le erigió una ermita que dio nombre a un monte de Fisterra.

El cardenal Jerónimo del Hoyo, que visita la ermita en 1607, dice que había un sepulcro donde estuvo el cuerpo del santo. Además, cuenta la leyenda de un ermitaño de Fisterra que pretendía subir desde la costa por la ladera del monte hasta su refugio un tonel de vino que le había sido regalado por unos franceses, cuando un demonio disfrazado de campesino se le presentó, y lo hizo rodar cuesta abajo, estrellándose el barril e hiriéndose su portador.

Este relato coincide, como sugirió Benjamín Trillo, con un pasaje del libro Vie de Benoît d’Aniane, del año 823, escrito por el hermano Ardon, sobre un monje al que se veía con frecuencia llevar pellejos de vino sobre el asno que montaba. Este monje era Guillermo, conde de la ciudad de Toulouse, Francia, y que más tarde fue nombrado duque de Aquitania por Carlomagno, primo de su abuelo Charles Martel.


Cuando los sarracenos invadieron el sur de Francia en el año 793, Guillermo con su ejército los expulsó, y en el 801 cooperó en la reconquista de Barcelona. Regresó a su patria, y en el año 806 se retiró a la abadía benedictina de San Salvador de Gellone, que él mismo fundó en el 804, en la vía tolosana que va a Santiago; plantó viñas, creó una biblioteca, enriqueció su iglesia con reliquias como un trozo de la cruz del Señor y es allí donde hoy reposan sus restos.

A este convento se refiere, en 1417, Nomper II Señor de Caumont y caballero de la Orden del Santo Sepulcro, cuando visita la ermita de San Guillermo: «Allí hay una gran montaña donde está ubicada una ermita que recuerda a la de Saint-Guilhem en el valle de Gellone», hoy llamada Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert en Hérault, Francia.

En 1426, Sebald Rieter visita la ermita y escribe: «Allí yace el cuerpo del venerable señor San Guillermo que hizo en Fisterra muchos milagros».

Nicolas Popplau escribe en 1484, que en la Iglesia de Santa María de Fisterra se exhiben las reliquias de un brazo de San Guillermo en un relicario de plata; pues bien, en 1151 Raimon, abad de Sant-Guilhem-le-Désert, hizo este regalo a los Templarios de la iglesia de Sante-Eulalie-de-Cernon, al sureste de Millau, encomienda principal de Larzac, que traerían a Fisterra años más tarde. Y esto explica varias cuestiones…


Primero, que una escuadra francesa haya robado en 1552 las valiosas reliquias del santo que estaban en la iglesia; segundo, que Fray Martín Sarmiento en 1745, cuando llega a la ermita, se encontrara una imagen de «…San Guillermo de piedra vestido de agustino…», siendo que el santo era benedictino, pero la regla de San Agustín fue la que observaron los Templarios originalmente; tercero, que la Orden del Temple que erigió la ermita fue prohibida por el Papa, hecho que explica la negativa arzobispal de 1901 al pueblo de Fisterra en su intento de reconstruirla (iniciativa que valdría la pena retomar hoy día), y, cuarto, que existan varios textos extranjeros haciendo referencia a esta villa y a su santo foráneo.

Por todo lo expuesto, difícilmente podríamos creer que San Guillermo sólo fue un eremita que el pueblo canonizó y no percatarse de la importancia de este santo, como sí lo hicieron un cardenal y un fraile benedictino.


Esqueletos Templários Enterrados no Jardim

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 A câmara de Santarém realizou uma prospecção arqueológica preventiva para requalificar o jardim da República, recolhendo dez esqueletos de época medieval e uma estela funerária, segundo o arqueólogo da autarquia, escreve a Lusa.

António Matias disse à Agência Lusa que a obra de requalificação do jardim contíguo ao convento de S. Francisco «será acompanhada por arqueólogos» e «avançará sem qualquer problema», acrescentando que os achados remetem para um período entre os séculos XII e XIV.

O arqueólogo afirmou à Lusa que na prospecção, que terminou na segunda-feira, foi encontrada «uma sucessão de três planos de enterramento, depois dos dois primeiros, foram recolhidos mais oito indivíduos» em dois metros quadrados de terreno, explicando que «o mesmo espaço funerário foi sendo utilizado ao longo do tempo».

«Utilizavam a mesma fossa para sepultar mais indivíduos», afirmou António Matias, acrescentando que serão feitas «análises para saber se havia aproveitamento familiar, ou não».

Segundo o arqueólogo, a estela funerária «não tem indicação de idade, mas é da época medieval, apresentando numa face a cruz dos templários e na outra uma estrela de oito pontas», que «identificava uma sepultura de uma criança com idade entre os dois e quatro anos».

O vice-presidente do município disse à Lusa que a «prospecção preventiva já foi dada como concluída» e serviu para «preparar a intervenção» no espaço contíguo, salientando que os achados «não vão condicionar a intervenção» que tem início previsto para Novembro.

Segundo o arqueólogo António Matias, os esqueletos e a estela funerária estão armazenados na reserva do Museu Municipal a aguardar tratamento, lavagem e marcação.

in Portugal Diário

China Detains Priests From Underground Catholic Church

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BEIJING (AP) — A U.S. based monitoring group says four more priests from China’s underground Roman Catholic church have been detained by police.

The Cardinal Kung Foundation says three priests were detained Tuesday after fleeing their hometown to avoid arrest for refusing to join the state-sanctioned church, while the fourth priest was detained in early July.

China’s Catholics are allowed to worship only in churches run by a government-monitored group with no ties to the Vatican. But millions who remain loyal to the pope worship in secret “house churches.”

The Kung Foundation says five bishops from the underground Catholic church also are in jail. It urges the Chinese government to release all jailed believers and stop persecuting people of faith.

By Associate Press

Catholics called to Second Life

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VATICAN CITY, Roman Catholics are being encouraged by a Vatican-approved journal to preach the word of Jesus in the virtual world of Second Life.

The Rev. Antonio Spadaro wrote in La Civilta Cattolica that Christian teaching is the answer to the rampant sinning, including gambling and prostitution, The Telegraph reported Monday.

Second Life, an Internet-based game that features lifelike avatars representing virtual versions of players, allows users to buy and sell virtual goods and services with real money while interacting with other players.

“It is not possible to turn a blind eye to this phenomenon, or offhandedly pass judgment glorifying or condemning it,” Spadaro said. “Instead it must be understood … the best way to understand it is to enter it and live inside it to recognize its potential and dangers.”

John Lester, of Second Life producer Linden Lab, applauded the religious interest in the virtual world.

“I think it’s a cool idea for folks to want to make sure that their side of spirituality is being represented,” he said.

By UPI News Agency

FINDING MY RELIGION I – Tau Malachi, a Sophian Gnostic bishop, talks about Gnosticism and ‘The Da Vinci Code’

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No matter what you think about the book or the movie — love it, hate it or totally sick of hearing about it — “The Da Vinci Code” has sparked a debate about the nature of faith and the foundations of Christianity. It’s also turned a spotlight on some lesser-known religious traditions that have been operating quietly for centuries.

Among the religious groups brought blinking into the “Code”-inspired publicity glare are Gnostic Christians. The word Gnostic, from the Greek word for knowledge, expresses the central tenet of this faith — Gnostics believe Jesus’ mission was to teach people that the divine lives within each of us, and that salvation can be achieved through spiritual knowledge rather than faith and good works. Only through truly knowing God can humans transcend the sins and flaws of this world.

Gnosticism was declared a heresy in the early days of Christianity. But the religion didn’t die, and it’s flourishing in the 21st century. As in the Protestant faith, there are many separate factions within Gnosticism. Gnostics, like most initiatory mystical faiths, refer to these sects as “traditions.”

Tau Malachi is a Gnostic bishop of the Sophian tradition, which teaches that Mary Magdalene was also a savior and spiritual teacher, equal to Jesus and an embodiment of the divine. He is the author of several books, including “St. Mary Magdalene: The Gnostic Tradition of the Holy Bride.” He spoke with me last week by phone from his home in Nevada City.


Gnostic ideas figure prominently in “The Da Vinci Code.” What is your take on the book’s presentation of Mary Magdalene and Gnostic beliefs? Is it on target?

Well, I think it hints at things. But I’m not sure the spiritual content that Gnosticism teaches is really present in the book. To give you an example, Magdalene is referred to in “The Da Vinci Code” as the grail and mother of the royal blood because she is a close disciple to Jesus — she is his wife and has his children. That’s kind of painting her as being similar to the Virgin Mary, simply because she has had children.

In Sophian Gnosticism, she’s viewed as a spiritual master, a close disciple to whom Jesus pours out the fullness of the light, or the Christos, and she becomes a Christ-bearer (messiah) also. She is the apostle to the first apostles, igniting what we call the Gnostic apostolic succession. And in this end she is mother to the royal blood on a spiritual level. So the issue for us wouldn’t be whether she literally had children or not. Either way, it wouldn’t make a difference.

How did you feel about the book in general?

The book didn’t have quite the same power for me that it did for other people, I think, because I’ve been practicing the tradition that honors Magdalene since I was 8 years old. Really, I felt like I was reading a thriller like any other. But I could also see that if I knew nothing about Magdalene this would be a very powerful book. To many, these are revolutionary thoughts — the idea of Magdalene being innermost disciple, wife and consort [to Jesus].

It seems like there’s no end to the controversy about the book and the movie. Do you think it’s worth all the fuss?

For some mainstream Christian churches, alternative views of Jesus, of Christ, of Christianity are very threatening. So in that sense it’s understandable.

Personally, I think it’s interesting that we are having discussions about traditions and ideas based on a novel. Not to say that there aren’t grains of truth in it, but it wasn’t written to be something other than fiction — it’s entertainment.

Your latest book, “St. Mary Magdalene: The Gnostic Tradition of the Holy Bride,” presents what are described as secret oral traditions concerning the Gnostic view of Mary Magdalene. Why publish those secrets now? Did the popularity of “The Da Vinci Code” have anything to do with it?

No. Actually, all this was underway before the “Da Vinci Code” phenomenon. Sophian Gnosticism has been moving away from a more private or secretive mode for some time. We’ve been progressively sharing teachings more and more openly over the years.

Why was this information kept secret in the first place?

Sophian Gnosticism has a known history that goes back to about the mid-18th century. That was a very dangerous time to hold alternative Christian beliefs — there was a great deal of persecution by mainstream Christians. So that drove a lot of Gnostics underground.

What originally drew you to Gnosticism?

As a very little boy, I guess you could say there was a propensity in me toward a spiritual life, and apparently toward a Gnostic Christian spiritual life. But when I met a Sophian teacher, whose name was Tau Elijah ben Miriam, and I started to get to know him, it just fit. It was so familiar to me. I felt like a duck in water.

Eight years old is pretty young to get started with a spiritual teacher. What was that like for you?

Elijah was a very fascinating spiritual master. When I met him, he was 81 years old but a very active gentleman. He was a brilliant man. I basically became his sidekick when I wasn’t in school. Hanging around him and his circle became much of my childhood life.

And your parents were OK with that?

Yes. My mom actually had been a student of his when she was younger, but due to illness couldn’t continue [working with him]. So she was very happy that one of her children had this interest.

Your story reminds me of the Dalai Lama and how the Buddha of Compassion is believed to reincarnate in an infant who begins his religious training as soon as he is identified as such. What are the Gnostic teachings on the afterlife?

It’s actually very similar to those found in Bhagwan or Tibetan Buddhism. We believe that one continues to go through many lifetimes until one’s soul is fully realized, or awakened.

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