Month: September 2007

Temple Mount

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Interesting YouTube clip from the History Channel about the Temple in Jerusalem


Templiers – Trésor et trésors

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Dans les premiers jours d’octobre 1307, ayant sans doute eu vent de quelque chose, le maître du Temple en France, Gérard de Villiers, s’enfuit de Paris avec une quarantaine de frères, et l’on ne sait pas ce qu’il lui advint. Il n’en fallut pas plus pour donner naissance à un racontar selon lequel ce personnage et son groupe auraient convoyé trois chariots – pourquoi trois ? – transportant « le » trésor de l’Ordre, bien entendu d’une valeur inestimable, qu’ils auraient enfoui au coeur de la forêt d’Orient, près de Troyes, ou enseveli dans une cave rémoise (1).

A moins que ces coffres regorgeant de métal précieux ne soient cachés au Luxembourg, à Gisors dans le Vexin, en Bretagne ou au Portugal, pour ne rien dire de Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises… Qu’un trésor du Temple n’ait jamais existé sous cette forme – puisque les agents de Philippe le Bel prirent possession des fonds déposés au Temple de Paris et les transmirent à l’Hôpital – permettra de le chercher longtemps encore…

Le seul trésor templier dont les archives ont livré la trace, précise Alain Demurger, est celui rassemblé par l’ancien visiteur de France, Hugues de Pairaud, qui le remit au commandeur de Dormelles, près de Moret-sur-Loing, Pierre Gaudes. Ce dernier, inquiet du sort à venir des Templiers, confia le 22 septembre 1307 ce « petit coffre » à un pêcheur, qui le cacha sous son lit. Là, il fut trouvé et remis à l’autorité royale. Il contenait 1 189 monnaies d’or et 5 010 d’argent, soit une vingtaine de kilos.

Pour le reste, les maisons templières ne livrent pas davantage de trouvailles que d’autres établissements d’exploitation seigneuriale.

L. T.

1. « Histoires mystérieuses des trésors enfouis », de Didier Audinot (Grancher).

Historical Genuine Military Orders

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The orders of any historical existence may be reduced to three categories: (a) The Greater Regular Orders; (b) The Lesser Regular Orders; (c) The Secular Orders.

The Greater Regular Orders
The great military orders had their origin in the crusades, from which they retain the common badge of every order of knighthood — the cross worn on the breast.

Military Orders

The oldest of these, the Knights Templars, has served as a model for all the others. After barely a century of existence, they were suppressed by Clement V; but two remnants remained after the fourteenth century, the Order of Christ in Portugal, and the Order of Montesa in Spain. In the twelfth century Portugal had borrowed their rule from the Templars and founded the Portuguese Order of Aviz. Almost at the same time there arose in Castile the Order of Calatrava and in Leon the Order of Alcantara.

Military/Hospitaller Orders

Contemporary with these purely military orders, others were founded at once military and hospitaller, the most famous of which were the Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem (Knights of Malta) and the Teutonic Knights (modelled on the former), both still in existence. In the same category should be included the Order of Santiago which spread throughout Castile, Leon, and Portugal.

Hospitaller Orders

Lastly, there are the purely hospitaller orders whose commanders, however, claimed the rank of knights though they had never been in battle, such as the Orders of St. Lazarus of Jerusalem and of the Holy Spirit of Montpellier. With these may be connected the Order of Our Lady of Ransom (Nuestra Señora de Merced, also called Mercedarians), founded (1218) in Aragon by St. Peter Nolasco for the redemption of captives. Including religious knights as well as religious clerics, it was originally considered a military order, but dissensions arose and each rank chose its own grand master. John XXII (1317) reserved the grand-mastership to clerics, with the result of a general exodus of knights into the newly founded military Order of Montesa.


Cross of Saint Lazarus

The Lesser Regular Orders
There is mention in the twelfth century, in Castile, of an Order of Montjoie, confirmed by Alexander III (1180), but difficult to distinguish from the Order of Calatrava, with which it was soon amalgamated.

In 1191, after the siege of Acre, Richard I of England founded there in fulfilment of a vow, the Order of St. Thomas of Canterbury, an order of hospitallers for the service of English pilgrims. It seems to have been made dependent on the Hospitallers of St. John, whom it followed to Cyprus after the evacuation of Palestine. Its existence is attested by the Bullarium of Alexander IV and John XXII; beyond this it has left but little trace except a church of remarkable architecture, St. Nicholas, at Nicosia in Cyprus.

Better known is the history of the Schwertzbrüder (Ensiferi, or Swordbearers) of Livonia, founded by Albert, first Bishop of Riga (1197), to propagate the Faith in the Baltic Provinces and to protect the new Christianity there against the pagan nations still numerous in that part of Europe. Against these pagans a crusade had been preached; but, the temporary crusaders having made haste to withdraw, it became necessary, as in Palestine, to supply their place with a permanent order. This order adopted the statutes, the white mantle and the red cross of the Templars, with a red sword as their distinctive badge, whence their name of Ensiferi. The order was approved in 1202 by a Bull of Innocent III. Thrown open to all sorts of persons without distinction of birth, overrun by aimless adventurers whose excesses were calculated rather to exasperate the pagans than to convert them, it endured but a short time, having only two grand masters, the first of whom, Vinnon, was murdered by one of his fellows in 1209, while the second, Volquin, fell on the field of battle in 1236, with four hundred and eighty knights of the order. The survivors petitioned to be allowed to enter the Teutonic Order, of which the Knights of Livonia thenceforward formed one branch under a provincial master of their own (1238). Their possessions, acquired by conquest, formed a principality under Charles V (1525), and the last of their masters, Gottart Kettler, apostatized and converted it into the hereditary Duchy of Courland under the suzerainty of the kings of Poland (1562).

The Gaudenti of Our Lady at Bologna, confirmed by Urban IV in 1262, and suppressed by Sixtus V in 1589, were not so much a military order as an association of gentlemen who undertook to maintain the public peace in those turbulent times.

An order of St. George of Alfama, in Aragon, approved in 1363 by Urban V, was merged in the Order of Montesa in 1399.

The Knights of St. George, in Austria, founded by the Emperor Frederick III, and approved by Paul II in 1468, failing to perpetuate their existence, owing to the lack of territorial possessions, gave place to a purely secular confraternity.

The Order of St. Stephen Pope was founded in Tuscany by the Grand Duke Cosimo I and approved in 1561 by Pius IV, being placed under the Benedictine Rule. It had its principal house at Pisa, and was obliged to equip a certain number of galleys to fight the Turks in the Mediterranean after the manner of, and in concert with, the “caravans” of the Knights of Malta.


Order of the Garter, England

The Secular Orders
Dating from the fourteenth century, fraternities of lay knights were formed modelled on the great regular orders; as in the latter, we find in these secular orders a patron, a vow to serve the Church and the sovereign, statutes, a grand master (usually the reigning prince), and the practice of certain devotions. Most of them also asked for the approbation of the Holy See, which, on the other hand, granted them spiritual favours — indulgences, the privilege of private oratories, dispensation from certain fasts, etc.

The chief of these orders are as follows:


In England, Edward III, in memory of the legendary Knights of the Round Table, established in 1349 brotherhood of twenty-five knights, exclusive of princes of the blood and foreign princes, with St. George as its patron and with its chapel in Windsor Castle for the holding of chapters. This, the Order of the Garter, takes its name from the characteristic badge, won on the left knee. The choice of this badge has given rise to various anecdotes of doubtful authenticity. Nothing is now known of the original object of the Order of the Bath, the creation of which dates from the coronation of Henry IV (1399). A third order, Scottish by origin, is that of the Order of the Thistle, dating from the reign of James V of Scotland (1534). These orders still exist, though they have been protestantized.


In France, the royal orders of the Star, dating from John the Good (1352), of St. Michael, founded by Louis XI (1469), of the Holy Ghost, founded by Henry III (1570), of Our Lady of Carmel, amalgamated by Henry IV with that of St. Lazarus were absolutely suppressed by the Revolution.

Austria and Spain

Austria and Spain now dispute the inheritance from the House of Burgundy of the right to confer the Order of the Golden Fleece, founded by Duke Philip the Good, approved by Eugene IV in 1433, and extended by Leo X in 1516.


In Piedmont, the Order of the Annunziata, under its later form, dates only from Charles III, Duke of Savoy, in 1518, but its first dedication to the Blessed Virgin goes back to Amadeus VIII, first Duke of Savoy, antipope under the name of Felix V (1434). There had, previously to this dedication, existed in Savoy an Order of the Collar, which held its chapters in the Charterhouse (founded in 1892) of Pierre-Châtel in Bugey. Here also the Knights of the Annunziata kept their feast of the Annunciation, so that they have considered themselves as successors of the Order of the Collar. After the cession of Bugey to France, they transferred their chapters to the newly founded Camaldolese monastery on the Mountain of Turin (1627).


In the Duchy of Mantua, Duke Vincent Gonzaga, on the marriage of his son Francis II, instituted, with the approbation of Paul V, the Knights of the Precious Blood, a relic of which is venerated in that capital.

Pontifical Secular Orders

Lastly there are a number of pontifical secular orders, the oldest of which is the Order of Christ, contemporary with the institution of the same order in Portugal in 1319. In approving the latter institution, John XXII reserved the right of creating a certain number of knights by patent, and it is now used to reward services rendered by any person whatsoever without distinction of birth.

The same is to be said of the Order of St. Peter, instituted by Leo X in 1520, of the Order of St. Paul, founded by Paul III in 1534, and of Our Lady of Loretto, charged by Sixtus V in 1558, to watch over and preserve that sanctuary. These distinctions were mostly granted to functionaries of the pontifical chancery.

There has been some question as to the Order of the Holy Sepulchre, formerly dependent on the Patriarch of Jerusalem, and reorganized by Pope Pius X. The Knights of St. Catherine of Sinai are not an order, either secular or regular.

in Catholic Encyclopedia, by CH Moeller

Santiago’s Golden Legend

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Santiago de Compostela has been a lodestar for visitors for more than a thousand years. The world’s first guidebook was written in 1130 by Aimeri Picaud, a French monk, to give information to travelers on their way there. In the early Middle Ages, between 500,000 and 2 million people came each year. They came, however, not for the sun or the architecture, but to visit the sacred relics of the body of St. James.

As a center of Christian pilgrimage, Santiago rivaled Rome and the Holy Land. The Camino de Santiago, or the Way of St. James, originated in towns all over Europe – in England, Germany, Italy, Scandinavia and, of course, France. Pilgrims set out alone, in small groups, or in large gatherings. For the most part, their paths converged in France, where the routes were organized by the Benedictines and Cistercians of Cluny and Citeaux and the Knights Templars of the Spanish Order of the Red Sword. By the time the pilgrims crossed the Pyrenees and entered Spain, they continued on two routes only – the northern coastal road, called the Asturian, and the more popular Camino Frances, or French Way. Along the latter, so much traveled over hundreds of years, and still used today, were built some of the most spiritual and magnificent of Spanish buildings. Yet nothing prepares one for the wonder of Santiago de Compostela itself.

In Spain it is often impossible to separate tradition and history. But there’s no doubt that a visit to this northwest corner of the Iberian Peninsula is made far more exciting by some knowledge of the extraordinary events that did (or didn’t) happen there. St. James the Apostle, brother of St. John the Evangelist, brought Christianity to Spain and then returned to the Holy Land, where he was beheaded; his body was conveyed to Spain by his disciples in a rudderless boat that found its way to a little inland port now known as Padron.

About 15 miles southeast of Santiago, Padron is a good introduction to the marvelous mysteries. If you’re lucky enough to find the priest to let you in, enter the little 17th-century parish church of Santiago by the River Sar, which flows through the town; under the altar you can actually see the granite stone to which the apostle’s boat was tied. Thus the name Padron, taken from ”piedra,” meaning stone.

After St. James’s body reached Spain, it disappeared for 800 years until Pelayo, a hermit, saw a brilliant star flashing over a woodland (hence, perhaps, Compostela, from ”campo de la estrella,” or ”field of the star”). An ancient burial place was unearthed and on July 25, A.D. 813, the holy remains were drawn triumphantly in an ox cart into the center of Santiago. On the busy Calle de Franco, there’s a little shrine to mark the spot where the journey ended, and near the city walls, by the fine stone market, there stands the Romanesque church of San Felix de Solovia, built near the cave in which the hermit Pelayo lived; the church is notable for a 12th-century tympanum of the Adoration of the Magi.

On the top of the Bishop’s Palace, facing the great Cathedral of St. James, there is a huge statue of a knight on horseback carrying a banner. Not much, you might think, to do with the James who watched with his brother at Gethsemane. But this is his reincarnation, Santiago Matamoros, the Moorslayer, who appeared miraculously to inspire the Christians in their battles against the infidels. His banner bore an ornamental red cross and it is still the city’s symbol, marking souvenir ashtrays, key chains and decals.

A third St. James was created by the pilgrims themselves. He is dressed as one of them, with a wide-brimmed hat and a heavy cloak adorned with the scallop shell that was – and remains – the pilgrims’ emblem. He carries a stout staff with a drinking gourd attached. This St. James appears above the Holy Door in the cathedral’s east facade, overlooking the Plaza de la Quintana.

The pilgrims usually entered the cathedral by the Puerta de Azabacheria, where the jet workers made and sold their wares. Jet and silver are still the two crafts of Santiago, and the silvermakers cluster round their own door, the Platerias, with its superbly carved Romanesque entrance and 17th-century clock tower.

There is an argument for never leaving the cathedral and the four great squares that surround it. The extraordinary many-layered building embraces, in its crypt, an 11th-century barrel-vaulted church; its gigantic Gothic cloister has a dazzling filigree trellis, and its Treasury Tower recalls a Thai temple.


The 18th-century Baroque Obradoiro (west) facade, with its double staircase, is the most ornate. Within is an older facade, decorated with a parade of stone figures carved by Master Mateo in the 12th century: the Door of Glory. The master carved a self-portrait on the back of the pillar on which St. James and, above him, Christ in Glory look out into the narthex. Here, St. James and, indeed, all the more than 200 figures, particularly the mysteriously smiling Daniel, have a warmth and gentleness that belie their granite material.

Inside, at the heart of the cathedral, yet another St. James, resplendent in golden cloak studded with jewels, dominates the center aisle from above the main altar. Steps leading upward allow pilgrims to walk behind the statue, kiss its mantle and embrace its shoulders. Steps leading downward uncover a small shrine where an ornate silver chest contains the bones of the saint.

Hidden from the buccaneering Sir Francis Drake in 1589, these relics were lost again for three centuries until a historian, Antonio Lopez Ferreiro, found them in 1879. An elaborate plaque commemorating him can be seen opposite the old university buildings now housing the geography and history faculties.

The quest for St. James leads into every corner of the city; the problem is to unravel fact from fiction. Indisputably real, because it stands four-square at the northwest corner of the cathedral in the Plaza de Espana, is the Hostal de los Reyes Catolicos, built by Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand at the turn of the 16th century to house and nurse the pilgrims who were pouring into the city. Forgetting for a moment Isabella’s terrible legacy of the Inquisition, her hotel/hospital is a tranquil and glorious monument to religious belief. It is built round four courtyards and displays the most beautiful hotel doorway in the world, ornamented with a profusion of carved figures, beginning with Adam and Eve. Since 1954, the Hostal has been run as part of the Spanish national chain of paradors. Yet it is still a charitable foundation: each day, up to 10 certified pilgrims can claim three free meals a day for up to three days. These contemporary pilgrims eat with the staff, the manager explains.

It is perfectly possible to visit Santiago and see it only as another splendid European city. Its Plaza de Espana rivals in magnificence the shell-shaped Piazza del Campo in Siena or the Piazza San Marco in Venice. The stone-paved streets have a multitude of cafes and bars that, in term time, are thronged with some of the 47,000 students who fill the thriving University of Santiago. Yet among the tourists you will spot the pilgrims: one morning two white-haired men with backpacks entered through Mateo’s Door of Glory and pressed their fingers into the holes made in the stone by their forerunners over eight centuries.


Inside the offices of the cathedral sits a representative of the secretariat whose one job is to certify the true pilgrims, those who have walked, bicycled or ridden (on horseback) over at least 50 kilometers (about 30 miles) to get to Santiago. They bring a card stamped in the town halls along the route and sign in at a registry. Under the heading ”motives for pilgrimage,” someone has written ”une promesse” and someone else ”100 percent por Dios” and a third ”religieux et sportifs.” A very ”sportif” Frenchman bounds in while I am there; he has bicycled from the Rue St. Jacques in Paris, the traditional start of the route, to Santiago in 10 days. The secretary tells me that the number of pilgrims has more than doubled in the past 10 years.

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On the Grail trail

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The final resting place of the Holy Grail is shrouded in mystery – or is it? Adam Edwards visits a remarkable mansion for sale in Wales, where many believe the sacred relic once resided. Was it the real thing? And is it now in a bank vault in Herefordshire?

The search for the Holy Grail has never ceased. This legendary, sacred vessel, from which Christ is thought to have drunk at the Last Supper, is the most important relic in Christendom, and has not been found. Or has it?

It is a story that has fascinated generations of Englishmen, from Malory to Monty Python. Many scholars believe that the bowl passed into the possession of Joseph of Arimathea, after he used it to gather the blood of Christ following the Crucifixion. Later, Joseph reputedly brought the olive-wood cup from the Holy Land to Glastonbury, in Somerset, where he founded an abbey in the first century.

And yet the final resting place of the Holy Grail remains shrouded in mystery. The Knights Templar were rumoured to have acquired it. Others believe it was taken to Nova Scotia in 1398. Many others, including a generation of hippies, think Joseph hid it either in the Chalice Well in Glastonbury or beneath the Tor.

And then there are those who are convinced it is lodged in a much less romantic resting place – the vault of a branch of Lloyds TSB bank somewhere in Herefordshire, taken there for safe-keeping from its last home – a grand, if fly-blown, house in west Wales.

It is a long and winding road to Nanteos Mansion. One must cross the Black Mountains and the Cambrian Mountains and negotiate the Devil Bridge Gorges before dropping down into the soft, remote countryside of lowland Ceredigion (Cardiganshire).

And then it is easy to miss the dowdy and discoloured hotel sign and to overshoot the hidden turning. Only after half a mile, when the narrow lane merges into an overgrown drive that hugs the hillside, does one finally arrive at the gravel apron outside the front door. Nanteos Mansion is, as far as anyone knows, the only Grade-I listed, 18th-century Palladian mansion that is a starless bed & breakfast.

Sadly, it has been allowed to degenerate into a run-down crash pad that is used for a few, down-at-heel Aberystwyth functions and by the occasional, penny-pinching tourist. It is a haunted shadow of its former self, a backwoodsman aristocrat of a building now on its uppers that is faded and might have been forgotten forever but for the search for the Holy Grail.

For hundreds of years, generations – in particular, the more drugged-up of the 1960s hippies – have believed that a cup housed at Nanteos was the Grail. The “Nanteos Cup”, as it became known, arrived there after the Dissolution of the Monasteries, when a group of Glastonbury monks, attempting to escape the ravages of Henry VIII’s commissioners, ran first to Strata Florida Abbey, in South Wales, and then over the hills to nearby Nanteos House, the old country home of the Powell family.

The former Prior of Glastonbury became chaplain to the family and the other monks became servants around the estate. Only when the last monk was on his deathbed did he reveal that the Holy Grail had not been left behind in Glastonbury but that his group had brought it with them. He entrusted it to the Powells “until the church shall claim her own”.

Nanteos, the Welsh name for Nightingale Brook, was rebuilt in 1739 by Thomas Powell, the MP for Cardiganshire, who was married to the wealthy sister of the then Lord Mayor of London. It was a square house of enormous grandeur, three miles from Aberystwyth, that drew elements of its design from Sir John Vanbrugh’s Castle Howard. It was similar in height and length and divided into three bays. Built of local stone with decorative stonework, it was set in broad, landscaped parkland. And in an upstairs room was housed the five-inch wide, three-inch deep Nanteos Cup.


For the next two centuries the cup stood behind glass, apparently performing miracles and attracting pilgrims by the hundred. Richard Wagner – who wrote the Grail opera Parsifal – made a visit to see it at the invitation of the then heir to the house, George Powell, a masochistic homosexual with a fondness for the birch and the works of the Marquis de Sade. Powell, who was friends with the poet Algernon Swinburne and fed roast monkey flesh to Guy de Maupassant, believed that the cup possessed miraculous healing powers. Water poured into it was sent around the world to those afflicted with various diseases and ailments.

Others mocked the idea that it was the Holy Grail and thought it more likely to be a 12th-century artefact that had been brought back from the Crusades. But, whether real or fake, it turned into little more than a sliver of chewed wood over the years, due to pilgrims biting large chunks out of it. And when the last of the Powells died in 1952, the house (and the cup) were sold to a Major Merrilees, who later moved to Herefordshire, taking the Nanteos Cup with him, and later depositing it in a bank vault somewhere in the county.

The current owners, apparently, neither want the publicity nor any more bites taken out of the cup. It did, however, make an appearance in a television documentary in 1997, although its whereabouts remained a tightly guarded secret.

Carys Hedd is the caretaker and, currently, the only resident of Nanteos. She is a slight, ethereal figure dressed in battle fatigue trousers and clogs. When I arrived, she was sitting at her computer in a spartan room that was cheered up by a few crystals dangling in the window and a cheap, portable hi-fi churning out New World music. The sound spilled into the barren grand hall, which was redolent of incense and the wood-burning fire of the previous night. It is where Carys plays her guitar at night… the last hippie at the last home of the Holy Grail.

We walked through the house and grounds, admiring the old gamekeeper’s cottage and the stables rebuilt in the 1830s with a neo-classical entrance. There is a dog cemetery outside the derelict, two-acre walled garden where Gin and Roman and the bones of other faithful old friends lie.


The main hall, with its fine, stone fireplace and moulded plaster wall panels, leads into a stone-flagged hall with a pair of massive Tuscan plaster columns and an elegant dog-leg staircase constructed from oaks from the estate. On the walls are a few portraits of forgotten Powell worthies.

Upstairs there is a magnificent music room, with elaborate cornices and plasterwork, and the main bedrooms (one of which is now a dowdy bridal suite labelled “boudoir suite” in brass on the door). Finally, I saw the room where the Nanteos Cup once lived. It is now an en-suite bathroom.

As we climbed up to the third floor, used some years ago as quarters for students from Aberystwyth University and since left to moulder, Carys apologised for not having the keys to give us access to the roof. It was not, as I imagined, because she wanted me to admire the fine view but because, as she told me breathlessly, the Incredible String Band had once played there.

Next week, Nanteos goes on the market for the third time in four decades. FPDSavills is asking for offers in excess of £1.25 million for the house that was, until the 1950s, a shrine to the “small shard of crumbling wood in its glass case”. The cup, wherever it is, cannot be bought – what price the Holy Grail? – but the Palladian mansion that became famous as its home can.

“It is the most important house to go on sale in Wales for years,” according to John Vaughan, of FPDSavills. The building is sound and structurally solid, although Mr Vaughan admits it is a little weary. “It is very unusual to find such a wonderful building in less than perfect repair,” he says. “They have nearly always been kept in reasonably habitable condition, passed on by the family and cared for. Nanteos is like a lost, Georgian house in Ireland or Scotland. It is a chance for somebody with real imagination to restore it to its former glory without huge expense.”

The odds are that it will become a boutique hotel. But Carys and I would prefer it to go to a sympathetic hippie.

It may be too late for the cup to do for Nanteos what the Shroud did for Turin, but pilgrimages by old hippies could still be on the cards as they come to worship where the Incredible String Band once played.