Jerusalem

Saladin’s long shadow

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More than 800 years later, Saladin’s victory over the Crusaders at the Battle of Hattin, west of Tiberias, still echoes in modern history.

For James Reston Jr., the conflict between the Arab warrior Saladin and Richard I, King of England – one of its climatic battles was fought 810 years ago – still echoes not only in the modern politics of the Middle East, but throughout modern history, from Afghanistan to Lebanon. Reston is not alone in his thinking, reflected in his recently published book, “Warriors of God.” The entire world knows that the Arabs are waiting, with growing impatience, for another Saladin. His total victory over the Crusaders at the Battle of Hattin, west of Tiberias, is engraved on the collective Muslim memory as one of the greatest achievements of the Arab nation.

It was not by coincidence that the late president of Syria, Hafez Assad, used to meet his Western guests in an office where the victory was depicted in a painting that covered an entire wall. In Damascus, the Syrians still hold demonstrations in front of the heroic, equestrian statue of Saladin near the entrance to the central Al-Hamadiya market. And after the collapse of Camp David 2, all of the Gaza Strip welcomed the uncompromised winner, Yasser Arafat, with a blaze of banners, proclaiming him to be the “Palestinian Saladin.” Watching the inflamed crowd, even Israeli writer Amos Oz had to admit, in The New York Times, that “the specter of Saladin” was once again hovering over the Middle East.

The heroic legacy of Richard I of England, known as Lionheart, has also not been forgotten. The brave king was a cruel warrior, a superb tactician and a well-known lover, and is still one of the most romantic figures in all of English history. Generations of children grew up reading about his adventures at bedtime and riding with him and his knights through countless Hollywood films. According to Reston, he had a brilliant military mind and understood the strategy and tactics of large forces far ahead of his time. However, Richard did not return victorious from the Third Crusade, which he commanded.

The Arabs, of course, see Israel as another Crusade. It is an article of faith for them that through the slow, mysterious, but inevitable forces of history, the Israelis, like the Crusaders, will eventually be forced out of Palestine. “Arab ideology,” writes Reston,” embraces the long view of history: It took 80 years to displace the Crusaders; the State of Israel is scarcely more than 50 years old.”

At this point, one is compelled to remind the American author, who quotes repeatedly from the Koran, that the Jews have ties connecting them to the Land of Israel for 3,000 years. Judea and Samaria are the cradle of Hebrew culture, and Jerusalem was “great among nations and princess among the provinces” – to quote the Book of Lamentations – hundreds of years before the first Muslim reached it. The Israelis do not consider Richard the Lionheart to be their model. In any case, as David Passow, a veteran of the early Zionist struggle, now a professor of history at the Hebrew University and a friend of the author, explained to him, “the difference is that we made it and he didn’t.”

`The city stank’

“Only the First Crusade, was successful, in the sense that it managed to capture Jerusalem,” Reston writes. “In its wake, an orgy of slaughter began. For two whole days, the Christian soldiers massacred every living creature not of their own kind. At the Temple Mount, it was said that 10,000 were killed. In the city as a whole, an estimated 40,000 Muslims were slain – men, women and children, and the narrow alleys turned into rivers of blood. This was something no Muslim could forget.

“If the city itself still stank six months later from the carnage,” Reston writes, “the memory still stank 90 years – and 900 years – later. It was burned into Saladin’s mind and psyche, central to his education and his determination, abhorrent in the extreme.”

The legendary commander, according to Reston, was actually not even an Arab, but a Kurd. He was born in Takreet, in 1137, 40 years after the Europeans had captured Jerusalem. By that time, the Crusaders’ kingdom, although somewhat smaller, was essentially still intact after eight decades of continuous warfare. It was comprised of the greater part of Palestine and the coast of Syria, from Latakia in the north to Gaza and Darom in the south, and from the river to the sea.

However, the constant war of attrition eventually took its toll. The grandchildren of the warriors of the First Crusade gradually lost their European discipline and values and grew accustomed to the pleasures of the East. In due course, some of the occidentals intermarried with Syrian, Armenian and Byzantine women and these unions created a new class of European Syrians, known as Franks. “The Franks shed their woolens and donned the burnoose and turban, the kaffiyeh and the upturned soft slippers of the East. They sat crossed-legged on patterned carpets and feathered divans … perfumed their ladies with cosmetics and their rooms with incense and started to talk Arabic.”

In the 12th century, writes Reston, “Visitors from Europe to the East were shocked at the corruption and hubris, the softness and even effeminacy of their distant cousins. `Hardly one in a thousand,’ wrote the bishop of Acre about his wicked flock and their city, `takes his marriage seriously. They do not regard fornication to be a deadly sin. From childhood they are pampered and wholly given to the carnal pleasures, whereas they are not accustomed to hear God’s words, which they lightly disregard. Almost every day and night people are openly or secretly murdered. Men strangle their wives and wives poison their husbands. The city is full of brothels. Even clergymen, nay, even monks, rent their houses all over the city to public brothels.'”

Resentment of the Crusaders grew steadily. “`They are for the most part untrustworthy,’ wrote the same bishop. `Double dealers, cunning foxes even as the Greeks, liars and turncoats, lovers of success, traders, easily run over by bribes, men who say one thing and mean another, who think nothing of theft and robbery. For a small sum of money they become spies and tell the secrets of the Christians to the Arabs, among whom they are brought up, whose language they speak rather than any other, and whose crooked ways they imitate.'”

Twelve thousand knights, virtually the entire noble population of the kingdom, gathered at the citadel of La Safuri on July 3, 1187. Twenty thousand foot soldiers – the largest Christian army ever assembled in the Holy Land – supported them. Saladin’s army had about 30,000 warriors – other sources later claimed that the actual number was 80,000, perhaps even 180,000, and after the defeat the estimate would soar to 800,000. In any case, the vast plain, west of Tiberias, north of Mount Tabor, was too narrow to accommodate all the warriors and “the dust cloud of their march darkened the eye of the sun.”

The heat was almost unbearable. The fields were barren. The blinding sun rose higher into the east. The Christians were without enough water, and as usual a dispute broke out. The hawks urged the King of Jerusalem, an unimpressive character, to allow them to charge into the enemy. The doves wanted to retreat, even to compromise on Tiberias (“Saladin’s army would probably disperse if it captured Tiberias”). Saladin, as Reston surely knows, was well versed in the Koran and knew that the devil had seduced his enemies into doing the opposite of what was wise.

They charged, were flanked by the Muslims, cut off from behind, pushed into a trap and defeated. After the victory, the prisoners were bound and taken to Damascus. The poor foot soldiers were sold into slavery. Some of the rich knights, who were able to ransom themselves, bought their freedom. However, the will of the Templars and Hospitalers – the very heart of the Christian army – could not be broken. They were unshakable in their dedication and commitment to the cause, and as such they had to be killed.

`”I shall purify the land of these two impure cults,'” Saladin promised, and executed all of them. James Reston, who seems to tread very cautiously around the dignity of the Muslim leader, writes that this massacre was “a singular blot on his record of generosity.”

After the victory at Hattin, the Muslim army moved south and took over Caesarea, Arsuf (which was once Appolonia, north of Herzliya) and Jaffa, and stood outside the walls of Ascalon, the southernmost stronghold of the Latin Kingdom. While negotiating the surrender of the outpost, Saladin’s army took over the lightly defended Gaza, Latrun, Ramla and Darom, and went up to Jerusalem.

“The sanctity of Jerusalem,” reports Reston, in his politically correct manner, “was the very heart of Islam.” 583 years earlier, according to the Muslim canon, the Prophet Mohammed took off from Mecca, landed at the farthest mosque of Jerusalem and, after a lavish feast with all the prophets of the past, including Jesus, ascended to heaven. “The nocturnal journey of Mohammed from the Dome of the Rock,” marvels the American writer, “is one of the great mythic stories of all religions.”

Saladin entered Jerusalem on Friday, October 2, 1187. The sad evacuation of the city lasted 40 days. Among the captive population, women were the big prize. To the Arab scribe Imad ad-Din, “the wailing of the women was amusing, for he regarded all European women as licentious whores, glowing with ardor for carnal intercourse. The mere thought of them sent him into rapturous flights of medieval pornography. European women were `proud and scornful, foul-fleshed and sinful, ardent and inflamed, tinted and painted, desirable and appetizing, exquisite and graceful, seductive and languid …'”

It seemed as though the Muslim men took revenge only against the women of Christianity, states Reston. At the same time, he determines that the manner in which Saladin took charge of Jerusalem secured his reputation for gentility and wisdom forever. His actions “seemed to define what it meant to be a good Muslim.”

Spontaneous charge

Richard Lionheart set sail from Famagusta on June 5, 1191. Three days later, he sailed into Acre bay with his battle group of 25 galleys and took over the command of the Christian army, which laid siege to the city. Soon after his arrival, Saladin sent him baskets of fruit and tried to confuse him with conciliatory gestures and a willingness to make peace – while waging war. All the gifts, the advances and the gestures of compromise throughout the campaign, assumes Reston, were designed merely to determine the king’s state of mind and to undermine his fighting spirit.

Richard was unimpressed. He returned all the lavish gifts and even rejected the rumors that Saladin was contemplating conversion.

After conquering Acre, when it became obvious that Saladin could not fulfill his promise to produce some 600 prisoners of war, the king ordered to that 2,700 Muslim soldiers be tied together. He marched them out of the city and had his soldiers slaughter them, one by one, on the road to Nazareth.

On that fateful day, September 7, 1191 – exactly 810 years before the writing of these lines – the second battle of Hattin, the biggest of King Richard’s life, took place south of Jaffa. Saladin decided to defend Jerusalem on the ground between Alonei Hasharon forest and Arsuf, southeast of Kfar Shmaryahu. Ten thousand Bedouin riders, “blacker than soot,” charged against the Christian phalanx, inching its way toward Jaffa. The terrified Crusaders closed ranks. The danger intensified. Lionheart displayed restraint and maturity, ordering the soldiers to hold back and not to charge. “Why do we not charge them at full gallop?” his men shouted at him. “We shall forever deserve to be called cowards. Never has such disgrace befallen so great an army in combat with unbelievers!”

Finally, a spontaneous charge erupted. The infantry line parted at the center and without the king lifting his hand, the cavalry charged. The Muslim ranks broke in terror and general confusion. The front line was cut down totally. King Richard, the bravest of them all, cut down Arabs in every direction. None could escape the force of his arm. Wherever he turned, brandishing his sword, he carved a wide path for himself. “`Bearded heads lay thick as swaths at harvest time,'” Reston quotes one of his sources. Over two miles, the Muslims could be seen fleeing in all directions. “`Fear alone added wings to the feet.'” Across a wide expanse, the bodies of Muslims were strewn in the sand by the thousands, amid the carcasses of horses and camels.

The Third Crusade lasted for five years. Toward its end, King Richard gave up and did not lay siege to Jerusalem. On September 2, 1192, the two sides signed a peace agreement. The only rights left to the Christians in Jerusalem were those of pilgrims, for a fee. Acre was recaptured by the Muslims about 100 years later and gradually Europe lost interest in the Holy Land. In 1492, Columbus discovered America and everyone turned west, to the New World. Palestine was left in the hands of the Muslims until the 20th century, the British victory in World War I and the rise of the Zionist movement.

“Warriors of God; Richard the Lionheart and Saladin in the Third Crusade” by James Reston, Jr., Doubleday, 2001, 240 pages, $27.50

This article was written a few days before the suicide attacks on New York and Washington [in 2001].

in Haaretz

This Day in History / August 15

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On this day in 1096, the armies of the First Crusade officially set out for the Holy Land. They were responding to Pope Urban II’s call the previous November for people of the faith to travel to Jerusalem and liberate the Church of the Holy Sepulchre from the Muslims. The pope chose August 15 because it is the date of the Feast of the Assumption.

His armies were preceded by the so-called People’s Crusade, which was organized several months earlier by the itinerant preacher Peter the Hermit and decimated by the Seljuks in Anatolia before ever making it to Jerusalem.

While reclaiming Jerusalem was the pope’s nominal goal, he was also responding to an appeal for help from Alexios I Komnenos, the Byzantine emperor in Constantinople, who too was fighting off Seljuk Muslims from the east. Only on June 7, 1099, the pope’s Crusaders, led by Raymond of Toulouse, Robert of Normandy and Tancred, arrived in Jerusalem, which the Fatimids of Egypt had by then wrested from Seljuk control. After a siege of more than a month, the Crusaders conquered Jerusalem on July 15. Their new Kingdom of Jerusalem lasted until it was routed – almost completely – by Saladin in 1187. The Crusades continued until early in the 14th century.

in Haaretz

Secrets of Templar tunnel under central Tel Aviv revealed

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Templer tunnels under the Sarona complex in Tel Aviv were used to reconstruct ‘stolen’ planes in pre-state days.

Visitors to the restaurants and shops at the Sarona complex opposite the Kirya Defense Ministry compound in Tel Aviv are unaware of the secrets of the past that are concealed in the cellars. One of the secrets is the Templer tunnel that was opened before Independence Day, which connected the cellars of two wineries. The story is being told here for the first time by two veterans of the air force and civil aviation in Israel, who participated in the operation to dismantle, smuggle, renovate and reassemble 15 planes that were used by the pre-state Yishuv before and during the War of Independence.

“In 1943-44 I was very active in a flight club. We flew model airplanes, heard lectures and started gliding on Givat Hamoreh. Later we joined the pilots in Ramle – the location of the Royal Air Force headquarters and the planes that were used by the flight school. There were several planes, some of them Polish. That’s where the members of the Palmah, the elite commandos from nearby Kibbutz Na’an, trained. At the end of 1947 they were transferred to Sde Dov because they were afraid of the Arab gangs who controlled the area. They transferred six planes and one was undergoing repairs.

“After the Arabs discovered that they had transferred the planes they managed to burn them in Lod. Those planes were used by the Haganah (the pre-state undeground army) for reconnaissance above places controlled by Arab gangs, and to bring provisions to locations in the Negev. They would even throw 50-kilogram bombs from them because the plane was a two-seater,” Asher Gerson, 86, a graduate of the second Israel Air Force pilots’ course and later the chief pilot of Arkia Israeli Airlines, told Haaretz.

“At a certain point, early in 1948, because we were involved in volunteer work helping the teams of mechanics and loading bombs onto the planes, we were asked to come the next day with a few sandwiches and to tell our families that we would be gone for two or three days. The next day we came and they explained to us that in present-day Tel Nof, then called Aqir after the nearby Arab village, there were 15 Oster planes in the hangar – a three-seat British plane similar to a Piper.

“There are several theories, one that they bribed the commander of the British air base to disappear when we came and stole the planes. We arrived with the Rapid – a two-engine plane that held eight passengers.

“They picked us up from Sde Dov to Tel Nof. The plane made two trips – 15 people. They took us into the hangar that was secured outside by our forces. The place was a secret and they didn’t know that we were inside. We started to dismantle the planes – to remove the tail, wings, and then trucks came to transport them to the north. We worked there, none of the Brits approached. It was important for the Arabs not to find out. We dismantled what we needed and in the evening the trucks arrived. Since we didn’t finish all the work they loaded six planes onto trucks that drove toward Tel Aviv that same evening – to Sarona, to the winery, and dismantled them there,” he continued.

A second group stayed in the hangar and continued until midnight to dismantle and load so that they would set out in the morning with trucks to Tel Aviv again. At the exit from Tel Aviv there was a village, an area of Arab rioters who regularly attacked traffic going from Tel Aviv to the south. They saw that a lot of trucks left and only a few returned and realized that they would come back in the morning. They set up a big barrier at the exit from the village and then in the morning a van with watchmen – Jewish policemen – started out in order to break through the barrier. They encountered an ambush, a barrier through which we had to pass, and were all murdered. For that reason the community at the site was called Mishmar Hashiva (“the watch of the seven”).

“We were supposed to return and the road was closed. They brought us back via Nes Tziona and the coast. The trucks passed and we reached Sarona via [the agricultural school] Mikveh Yisrael. They put all the planes into the cellar that was the winery, and in effect my work was over. They brought experienced teams and mechanics who repaired the planes there at night. Each plane that was repaired was transferred in parts to Sde Dov, and there they were assembled and made usable. Every civilian plane has a registration number. In order to camouflage the 15 planes they all had the same registration number and that’s how they flew fictitiously. Those planes did all the work of the War of Independence until planes arrived from Czechoslovakia. They secured convoys and communities that were cut off. We continued to work at Sde Dov until we were drafted on May 13, 1948,” said Gerson.

Gerson participated in an air force course in Italy. “I was a pilot for a short time. I completed the course and then American Jews sent a gift to the flight club – 10 brand-new Pipers. They had to start a flight school. Because I was known and active they asked the army to release me in order to establish the flight school. Two years later I started working for Arkia. I was the first Arkia pilot and the second commercial pilot in Israel. I retired in 1995.”

His colleague, Yossi Gidoni, 85, who also participated in the secret operation, expands: “In January 1948 about 15-20 Oster planes were brought, with American engines from World War II, which were purchased from a junkyard. The planes were hidden in the cellar of the winery in Sarona. Upstairs there were workshops where we worked. We dismantled them and removed the fabric from the wings and body. The wings were made of wood. We repaired the planks, did carpentry work and stretched new fabric. They dismantled the engines and sent parts to workshops in Tel Aviv. We also had a department of instruments, engines and paint, which was run by two girls.

“They let us learn how to do the work. I was 18, a high-school student who left in my senior year, and I was drafted in March 1948. They let me travel home for the matriculation exams. The place itself was four times the size of today, and was reduced in order to build the highways below, the Begin Petah Tikva Highway, and that’s where all the wagons to unload were – where you see cafes today – they took up three halls. One cellar and Templer tunnels that connected the old winery to the distillery remained.”

Gidoni didn’t participate in transferring the plane parts, but he did help to build and renovate them. Eventually, when the Air Service became the Israel Air Force, “I was in a unit with nine soldiers that was transferred to Tel Yosef. We were the first mechanics who flew the planes from Czechoslovakia that arrived with the first light. In 1948 I attended the fourth pilots’ course. I was in the first course taught in Israel. I stopped and returned three years later.”

After serving in various capacities, Gidoni decided that he had had enough. He flew Dakotas until the age of 48 and then transferred to the Hawkeye as a reservist. After his discharge from the army he studied at the Technion-Israel Technological Institute and worked for Israel Aircraft Industries.

in Haaretz

Secret orders and supposed traitors — TV’s ‘Dig’ and religious history

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The pieces of the religious puzzle that make up the USA Network’s biblical conspiracy action series “Dig” are beginning to fall into place, and the picture they are revealing is one of history — highlighted by a colorful streak of fiction.

Here be spoilers! Read on only if you are up-to-date with the 10-part series, or want to ruin it for yourself and others.

“Order of Moriah”

This secret religious order, supposedly dating from the Crusades, seems to be a product of the “Dig” writers’ imaginations. But, like many of the show’s fictional aspects, it is based on historical fact.

The Crusades, which mainly took place from 1095 to 1291, were an attempt by the Rome-based Catholic Church to retake the Holy Land — Jerusalem and its environs — away from its Muslim rulers.

During that time, the church founded several monastic religious orders whose members traveled to Jerusalem. Some fought with the armies; some cared for the wounded and sick. The most famous of these orders were the Knights Hospitallers, the Knights Teutonic and the Knights Templar.

It is perhaps the Templars that the Order of Moriah is based on. Officially named “The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon,” the Knights Templar were anything but poor. They owned land from Rome to Jerusalem and were involved in finance throughout the Christian world. They loaned money to King Philip IV of France and the church.

That’s where they got into trouble. When the king didn’t want to pay them back, he pressuredPope Clement V to disband the knights. The resistant knights were charged with heresy and many members were arrested, tortured and burned at the stake. Legend holds that some members went into hiding — and took a lot of loot with them.

Writers have been making fictional hay with the Knights Templar and other so-called “secret” religious orders since Sir Walter Scott’s “Ivanhoe” in 1820. The most famous example is Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code,” in which a Templar-like order called the “Priory of Sion” keeps a really, really big secret about the nature of the “Holy Grail.”

Enter “Dig,” whose evil archaeologist, Ian Margove (Richard E. Grant), is after the “treasure” the Order of Moriah is supposed to have buried somewhere in Jerusalem.

Flavius Josephus

Archaeologist Margrove says that “according to Flavius Josephus,” the breastplate will pinpoint the location of the treasure.

Flavius Josephus was a first-century Jewish historian. Contemporary Jews are most familiar with him for his firsthand account of the revolt of the Maccabees, a Jewish sect that rose against Roman rule, while Christians know him for his description of Jesus’ early followers.

But Josephus’ own biography is as fascinating as his historical works. He was born to well-to-do and noble Jews in 37 C.E. in Jerusalem. At 16, he went to live with a desert hermit — perhaps an Essene — but returned to Jerusalem at age 19 and joined the Pharisees, a Jewish priestly sect. During the First Jewish-Roman War, he was in charge of a section of Jerusalem’s forces.

At one point, Josephus and 40 of his followers were trapped in a cave. Rather than surrender, Josephus persuaded them to commit group suicide, with each man drawing lots and killing a companion, so no one would have to kill himself. For whatever reason — an act of luck or the hand of God — by the time the lots got around to Josephus, he and another soldier were the last ones standing. And they surrendered to the Romans. Josephus went on to become a friend of the Emperor Vespasian and the recipient of a Roman pension.

For this reason, many have considered him a traitor — he’s been called the “Jewish Benedict Arnold” by some scholars. But in the past few decades, some scholars are rehabilitating his image, claiming he joined the Romans out of a sense of deference or even unwillingly.

Whatever the truth, the characters of “Dig” are right to turn to Josephus for information about early Jewish rituals and practices. His book “Antiquities of the Jews” describes first-century Jewish religious garments and ritual items, including a priest’s breastplate that is critical to the “Dig” plotline.

But using such a breastplate as a treasure map is fictional — not historical — at all.

YS/MG END WINSTON

What really happened to the Knights Templar?

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A talk with Michael Haag, author of ‘The Templars: The History and the Myth.’ Why did they disappear? Blame it on the king of France, Haag says.

By Nick Owchar

The Templars were an elite taskforce — consider them the Green Berets of the Middle Ages. They were known for their service to the pope, their fierce determination to wrest Jerusalem from the enemy, their great wealth and, like many groups, their secrecy.

For a group so secret, though, they’ve received an incredible amount of attention both in the years BDB (before Dan Brown) and ever since.

Michael Haag, who has occasionally contributed to our pages, decided to weigh in and settle the misinformation bandied about by various recent books with his own, “The Templars: The History & the Myth” (Harper: 384 pp., $15.99 paper). He shared some of his revelations with the Siren’s Call during a recent conversation.

The Siren’s Call: Why did the Templars appeal to you enough that you set out to write a book on them? Was it the result of coming across them in the course of writing your other books about Alexandria and “The Da Vinci Code”?

Michael Haag: I already had a pretty good knowledge of the history, the landscape and the architecture of the Crusader period; writing about the Templars brought things into sharp focus. I have traveled widely throughout the Middle East and have visited every Crusader and Arab castle of significance, including the Templars’ last redoubt at Sidon in Lebanon, their fortified city of Tortosa and their castle at Safita. I’ve also been to the Hospitaller’s great castle of Krak de Chevaliers and the Assassins’ eyrie at Masyaf, all in Syria, not to mention the Temple Mount in Jerusalem where the Templars had their headquarters, the mount itself giving the knights their popular name (properly they were the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon).

TSC: They also figure in Lawrence Durrell’s “Avignon Quintet,” don’t they? You’re writing about him, aren’t you?

MH: Yes, as it happens, I am writing a biography of Lawrence Durrell, who, as you say, runs the Templars as a theme through his “Avignon Quintet.” There is an element of economy in this: informing myself about Durrell’s interest in the Templars by writing a book about the Templars! Durrell’s interest in the Templars, which goes hand in glove with his interest in the Cathars and Gnosticism (also discussed in my book), is one that is widely shared — for the Templars have enjoyed an afterlife that goes well beyond their destruction in 1312 and continues to this day. Which is why I deal not only with the history of the Templars, which lasted only two centuries, but also with the myth of the Templars, which is rooted in the foundation of Solomon’s Temple 3,000 years ago and remains alive in various forms in the present day.

TSC: There are so many books now out there about the Templars, thanks in large part to the interest Dan Brown created with his “Code.” Was there something that these books weren’t saying about the Templars that you felt needed to be told?

MH: Books about the Templars fall into two categories. Some are strictly history and confine themselves to the two centuries of the Templars’ existence. Others are speculative and deal in the many stories surrounding the Templars, in what you might call the afterlife of the Templars that continues in the popular imagination to this day. I wanted to take a serious look at both the history and the mythic afterlife and to show how they are intimately related and always have been — how the Templars became the subject of popular imagination already at their inception, celebrities, you might say, the superstars of the Middle Ages.

Superstars?

Already during their heyday, the Templars attracted to themselves many associations, legends, rumors and romances. When the story of the Holy Grail first began circulating in medieval Europe, it was immediately associated with the Templars. This star quality of the Templars was due partly to their prominent role in the central movement of the times, the Crusades and the defense of the Crusader states in the East, where the Templars were surrounded by potent historical and sacred associations. After all, the Templars were founded on Christmas Day 1119, within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the spot which marks the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and they were headquartered on the Temple Mount, which indelibly associated them with stories surrounding the Temple of Solomon — and nothing in medieval Christendom could beat that!

But being in the spotlight is not always the most favorable place to be, certainly not when things begin to go wrong. And for the Templars, everything went wrong when the Crusaders lost Acre in 1292; the West’s hold on the Holy Land was lost and so was the Templars’ raison d’être.

Their extinction was breathtakingly swift, wasn’t it?

It is the most dramatic thing about them; knights belonging to an order of great power, wealth and reputation, owing obedience only to the Pope, were arrested in dawn raids across France, tortured and made to confess to abominable crimes and heresies, were often put to the stake, and their order dissolved. The reasons for their fall have long been shrouded in mystery and this has given rise to yet more fevered speculations. What did the Templars really know, what did they really possess, what were they really all about? And why did the pope, the very man to whom they owed sole obedience, let them down, abolish their order and let them go to the stake?

Do we now have any answers to these questions?

We do. New discoveries in the Vatican’s Secret Archives, just as I was considering writing this book, revealed the truth of the pope’s role in the end of the Templars and revealed the truth about the Templars themselves — and, no, the Templars were not heretics nor blasphemers, and for what it was worth, they took to the stake and to their graves the pope’s blessings and absolutions. But the pope, and indeed the papacy itself, the very independence of the Roman Catholic Church, was under threat from the king of France, a fanatic with totalitarian designs. My book has been the first book to revise the history of the Templars, and revise their afterlife too, in the light of these remarkable revelations.

Whenever the Templars are mentioned in books and articles, I usually find that it is in connection with their vast wealth – and, along with this, their vast greed. Why?

They were extremely expensive to maintain. They were the most superb fighting force in the world at that time, something like supersonic fighter-bomber pilots in our day, where each man and his equipment costs a fortune to keep operational. A single mounted knight in France in the 13th century required the proceeds from 3,750 acres to equip and maintain himself, and for Templars operating overseas in the Holy Land, the costs were much greater since much had to be imported, not least their horses. The Templars’ training, their armor, their horses, their squires, their sergeants, not to mention building and maintaining castles, required an enormous outlay. And the knights themselves could suffer high mortality rates in climactic battles and needed to be replaced. All these costs were met through donations from the faithful back in Europe, usually in the form of estates large and small as well as tithes from the Church.

As individuals, the Templars were poor ascetics, but as an order, they were extremely wealthy. In fact, they became so accomplished at moving funds between Europe and the East that they soon set up as international bankers — the first bankers of modern times. Their lands and their liquid wealth made them a ready target for greed, and the greed came not from among the Templars but from Philip IV, the king of France, who, after stealing the wealth and properties of France’s Jews and throwing them out of the country, turned on the Templars. That was the real motive for the Friday the 13th arrests: The king of France needed money to pursue his wars in Flanders and against the English, and he also was asserting himself against the papacy, laying claim to being the man who called all the shots in Europe, whether secular or religious. It was a form of expropriation and nationalization, accompanied by tortures and executions and, of course, the necessary propaganda and lies — blaming the Templars for being blasphemers, for being heretics, for being haughty and greedy. In the minds of many, the mud stuck.

Few really seem to associate any other characteristic with them, though, except greed. No one talks about, for instance, their fantastic ability as military strategists and fortress builders. What excellent qualities should people know about?

Well, in comparison to the egregious greed, cruelty and lies of the king of France, the Templars were honest in their faith and straightforward in their conduct. They should be remembered for their bravery, which was legendary, their dedication, which was absolute — a few dozen Templars could turn the weight of battle and save a kingdom. Their attrition rate was high: At least 20,000 Templars were killed either on the battlefield or after being taken captive and refusing to renounce their faith to save their lives. Without the Templars, the Crusader venture in the East would have lasted only half as long as it did. After the Battle of Hattin, in which Saladin was victorious, he ordered the decapitation in cold blood of all his Templar captives, a hundred men, fearing them above all others because “they have great fervor in religion, paying no attention to the things of this world.”

As builders of castles and churches, they were men of powerful vision and exquisite taste; they have left behind them in the Middle East today numerous beautiful monuments speaking of the Romanesque and Gothic styles of the France and England from which they came.

Tell us a little bit more about their organization as an elite task force – were they the first to submit only to papal authority? In defending the Holy Land, why was this direct line of obedience only to the pope so important?

In the late 11th century, the Church was involved in the Investiture Controversy over whether the secular powers of Europe or the papacy itself had the authority to appoint high church officials in each and every state. Secular kings and princes were eager to have the authority for themselves, as it would give them control over the great wealth and powers such officials could command. But in the event, it was an argument that the papacy won. Papal assertion did not end there; only the pope could establish a university or approve a monastic order; and when the Byzantine Empire sent to Rome for help against a fresh Muslim invasion, it was the pope who raised the First Crusade.

By means of a series of papal bulls in the early 12th century, the Templars were recognized as an independent and permanent order within the Catholic Church answerable to no one but the pope. Their “grand master” was chosen from among the ranks of Templar knights who conducted their elections free from any outside interference. The Templars were also given their own priesthood answerable to the grand master, which made the order independent of the diocesan bishops in both Europe and the East. The First Crusade itself had been called for by the pope, and the kingdom of Jerusalem, like the other Crusader states, owed themselves to papal initiative and the continuing goodwill and energy of the papacy for support and maintenance from the West. The pope did not want to see the Templars fall subject to religious or political rivalries. It is not that the pope actually controlled the Templars; rather, by owing allegiance to no one but the pope, the Templars maintained their independence from all and sundry and could give themselves freely and single-mindedly to their supreme task, the defense and preservation of the Holy Land.

Defending Jerusalem, you said earlier, was their reason for existing. When it fell, the Templars were in limbo, but didn’t they try to find a new mission for themselves?

The Templars were founded to protect pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem and other sites throughout the Holy Land. In time their task became to defend the Holy Land itself — not just Jerusalem but the several Crusader states which included the kingdom of Jerusalem, the county of Tripoli and the principality of Antioch. The city of Jerusalem fell to Saladin in 1187, though it changed hands several times thereafter, but meanwhile the new capital of the kingdom of Jerusalem became the port city of Acre, and when Acre fell in 1292 the Crusader venture was effectively over. Yes, there were a few attempts to regain the Holy Land, and the Templars, who were temporarily based in Cyprus, took the lead in these, but when finally they lost their tiny island outpost of Ruad in 1302, they looked highly redundant.

The Hospitallers were also a religious order of fighting monks, and they might have found themselves in the same boat as the Templars. But they quickly captured the island of Rhodes from the Byzantine Empire, which was Christian, and turned it into a state of their own, which allowed them to harass the surrounding Muslim powers and which also gave them protection from jealous Christian powers in Europe. The Hospitallers eventually retreated to Malta, finally to be driven out by Napoleon in 1798, though the order still exists and even has quasi-sovereign state observer status within the United Nations.

The Templars might have enjoyed a twilight existence in this way had they taken some large and defensible island, perhaps Cyprus, as their own. But instead of putting their own interests first, they so completely identified with their role as defenders of the Holy Land that they placed their trust in the pope and the king of France, Philip IV, who were contemplating launching yet another crusade. The Templar grand master Jacques de Molay and other high officers of the order were in France precisely to discuss such matters when they and all other Templars on French soil were arrested at dawn in October 1307 by Philip IV and accused of blasphemy and heresy.

When people ask, “Who were the Templars?,” they’re not using the correct verb tense, right? Some people believe they still exist today through their connections to the Freemasons and others.

In the mythic sense, the Templars are with us today, if only because many people wish it to be so. Such people include the Freemasons, some branches of which claim descent from the Templars who are said to have survived the persecutions of Philip IV and gone underground, to arise again wearing aprons and carrying trowels, among them such seditious figures as George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. The French Revolution was blamed on the Freemasons, who some people with lively imaginations said were really the Templars in disguise. Bringing matters more up to date, the Templars are behind the World Bank, the IMF, the Trilateral Commission, the Bilderberg Group, and also NATO, the European Union, the United Nations and the Skull and Bones Society at Yale. All of this is discussed in my book.

But the claim that the Templars discovered America, on the face of it one of the most far-fetched claims of all, actually contains a great deal more than a grain of truth.

How so?

They were not eradicated everywhere throughout Europe. In Spain and Portugal, they had performed good service in the local crusades, what we now call the Reconquista, against the Arab occupation of the Iberian peninsula, and instead of being disbanded, they were simply reestablished under other names and given royal protection and favor. In Portugal, the Templars became the Order of Christ, and none less than Prince Henry the Navigator became their grand master, using Templar wealth and zeal to send ships down the coast of Africa and far out into the Atlantic, to the Azores and Madeira. The achievements of Vasco da Gama, who found the first sea route round Africa to India in 1498; of Ferdinand Magellan, who in 1519 initiated the first voyage round the world; and of Christopher Columbus, who discovered America in 1492, were all the fruits of Prince Henry the Navigator’s lifelong endeavor as Grand Master of what had been the Templars.

Thank you for your time.

The Siren’s Call appears monthly at http://www.latimes.com

What the Crusades tell us about shifting borders in the Middle East

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The Levant, the region running inland from the eastern seaboard of the Mediterranean, has been fought over for millennia. Its vital trade and military roads linking Anatolia to north Africa and Arabia have been guarded and coveted since time immemorial. Control is everything, as Moses found out to his cost when he wanted to move north up the ancient King’s Highway out of the Sinai and into Edom (modern day southern Israel):

“Now let us pass through your land. We will not pass through field or vineyard, or drink water from any well; we will go along the King’s Highway, not turning aside to the right hand or to the left until we have passed through your territory.” But Edom said to him, “You shall not pass through, or we will come out with the sword against you.” The Israelites said to him, “We will stay on the highway; and if we drink of your water, we and our livestock, then we will pay for it. It is only a small matter; just let us pass through on foot.” But he said, “You shall not pass through.” And Edom came out against them with a large force, heavily armed. Thus Edom refused to give Israel passage through their territory; so Israel turned away from them.
(Numbers 20:17–21)

Countless cultures have fought for dominance in the region — Canaanite, Philistine, Hebrew, Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Rashidun, Umayyad, Abbasid, Fatimid, Seljuk, crusader, Ayyubid, Khwarazmian, Mamluk, Ottoman, British, French, Jewish, the list goes on. Most of the conquests have been bloody. All have caused regional upheavals. Some have spread even further, sending international shockwaves east and west.

This week marks two major anniversaries of crusader history, both of which had a profound impact on the whole of Europe. On 4 July 1187, Saladin crushed the crusaders at the battle of the Horns of Hattin — one of the most important military encounters of the medieval world. Ninety years later, on 1 July 1277, Sultan al-Malik Baybars died. Although less well known in the West than Saladin, Baybars was a far more brutal and effective warlord. It was his devastating campaigns that finally ripped the heart out of the crusades, propelling the whole project into its darkening, twilight years.

When the crusaders had first conquered Jerusalem in 1099, waves of elation crashed across Latin Christendom. Jerusalem was the umbilicus mundi, the centre of Europe’s conception of the world as depicted in medieval maps like Hereford’s glorious Mappa Mundi. God clearly favoured the Christian settlers, and had given their armies Jerusalem to prove it.

The crusades were not the first time Jerusalem was under Christian rule. The Holy Land had been Christian in the days of the Byzantine Empire (c. AD 325–637). Emperor Constantine the Great and Empress Helena had Christianised the city, renaming it “Jerusalem” and wiping out the pagan remains of Aelia Capitolina built by Hadrian in AD 130 on the rubble of Jerusalem. At the heart of his new Jerusalem, Constantine built the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and made it the pre-eminent Christian pilgrimage destination. However, since the Rashidun Caliphate under Umar the Great had conquered the Near East in AD 637, Jerusalem had been under Islamic rule.

Hand in hand with the crusaders’ initial elation in 1099 came the practical problem of controlling vast swathes of conquered territory far from home in their new land of “Outremer”, the place “beyond the sea”. The result was countless famous battles in which the pendulum swung one way then the other during the 192 years of crusader presence in the Levant. Although many of the engagements are still famous  — like Jacob’s Ford and the Field of Blood — the Horns of Hattin stands head and shoulders above them as one of the turning points of world history.

Map of the crusader states before Saladin’s conquests

Today, as the politically unrelated and separate conflicts in Syria and Iraq coalesce and evolve into an all-consuming regional power struggle, it is worth looking at the battle of the Horns of Hattin as a reminder of the region’s merciless ability to keep redrawing its borders and reinventing itself in blood.

First, put Ridley Scott’s epic 2005 film, Kingdom of Heaven, out of mind. It excels in evoking the existential crisis of the crusader kingdom at the tail end of the reign of the leper king, Baldwin IV. And it is a seductive and visually sumptuous world, where faith, honour, ideals, and love vie alongside ambition, bloodlust, venality, and the ugly side of unchecked militarism. But it is not a faithful account of the events leading up to the cataclysmic battle of Hattin and Balian of Ibelin’s doomed defence of Jerusalem. For a start, the real Balian was 44 years old at Hattin, did not know one end of an anvil from the other, was married to a member of the Byzantine royal family, and was born and lived his whole life as a powerful, wealthy noble in the crusader states.

The true story of Hattin is nevertheless every bit as soaked in romance and ambition as Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven.

Some years earlier, Lucia of Botrun, a beautiful and wealthy Levantine heiress, was ignominiously placed onto a huge set of scales and publicly weighed. A merchant from Pisa piled up the pan on the other side with gold bezants until he had measured out her weight in gold, which he then gave to her overlord as payment for her hand in marriage. In the wings, a headstrong Flemish crusader, Gerard de Ridefort, vowed revenge. He had previously asked Lucia’s overlord, Count Raymond III of Tripoli (of Toulouse) for her hand, but his request was refused. Despite the fact Raymond was one of the kingdom’s wisest and coolest heads, Gerard immediately left Raymond’s service, nursing a grievance that would lead to the downfall of a kingdom.

After recovering from a serious illness, or perhaps sensing faster promotion as a professional crusader, Gerard soon took the dramatic step of professing solemn monastic vows as a Knight Templar, devoting himself to a celibate community life of praying and fighting. His exceptional abilities were quickly recognised, and he rose swiftly through the Order’s ranks to become their tenth Grand Master. This unique position gave him privileged access to Christendom’s royalty — especially in Jerusalem — an influence he used, among other things, to oppose and thwart Raymond whenever he could.

In 1185, on the death of the leper King Baldwin IV, his seven-year-old nephew took the throne under the regency of Raymond. But when the young king died within a year, the crown passed to his mother and step-father: Sibylla of Jerusalem and Guy of Lusignan. The kingdom promptly tore itself into two poisonously opposed factions — those like Gerard de Ridefort and the Templars who supported Queen Sibylla and King Guy, and those like Count Raymond who backed Isabella, Sibylla’s half-sister.

With the kingdom hopelessly divided, the scene was set for a catastrophe. It just needed someone to light the touchpaper.

King Guy counted among his camp a maverick one-man army: Raynald of Châtillon, “the Elephant of Christ”. Raynald had been in the crusader states since the second crusade, and had spent 15 years in a Muslim jail before leading the crusader forces to a spectacular victory against Saladin at the fêted battle of Montgisard, Saladin’s most crushing defeat. Raynald was therefore a seasoned operator in the region, and had been rewarded with the lordship of Oultrejourdain (the lands beyond the River Jordan). However, he is usually most often remembered for his cruelty, endless piracy and plundering, unwillingness to obey kings, and repeated breaking of delicate truces to the annoyance of all sides.

In 1187, when Raynald again broke a truce and attacked yet another Muslim caravan travelling the King’s Highway near his Red Sea outpost at Kerak, Saladin could stand by no longer. He declared the truce to be a sham, and led an invasion army across the Jordan. Raynald’s lawlessness had finally provoked the largest united Muslim force the crusaders had ever seen.

The end began quickly. On 1 May 1187, at the Springs of Cresson near Nazareth, a small group of around 140 Templars and Hospitallers found themselves confronting a 7.000-strong detachment of the Muslim army under al-Afdal, Saladin’s son. The master of the Hospitallers and several senior Templars counselled retreat, but Gerard de Ridefort accused them of cowardice and ordered an attack. The result was a charnel house. Gerard de Ridefort and two other Templars were the only known survivors.

Back in Jerusalem. King Guy and the royal court knew that a full-scale onslaught from Saladin’s 30,000 men was now imminent. All they could do was wait to see where it would come.

Saladin made the first move. He advanced to Tiberias on the west shore of the Sea of Galilee. The castle belonged to Count Raymond III of Tripoli, who was away with the royal court, leaving it garrisoned by Eschiva, his wife.

On 2 July, King Guy held a war council to decide on a response. And it was here, at this critical moment in the history of the crusader kingdom, that the memory of Lucia of Botrun on the gold scales filled the room. Count Raymond calmly advised King Guy that Saladin was setting a trap, trying to get the crusaders to leave the safety and water of Sepphoris. He was, Raymond explained, hoping to lure the crusaders onto arid open ground where the Muslims’ numerical advantage could be best used. But whatever Raymond said was always wrong in the eyes of Gerard de Ridefort and Raynald of Châtillon, who shouted him down, accusing him of cowardice. They argued long into the night that King Guy should immediately lead the crusaders to march on Tiberias. In undoubtedly the worst decision of his life, Guy allowed himself to be persuaded by Gerard and Raynald, and ordered the army to ready itself. He was a politician not a soldier, and his lack of experience was about to cost the crusaders dearly.

The following day, 3 July, the pride of the crusading army thundered out of the springs of Sepphoris heading east for Tiberias and the Sea of Galilee. From the moment they left, the outcome was sealed. Saladin had to do very little. The summer heat was unbearable, and the mail-clad crusaders lacked water. To make them even thirstier, Saladin lit brushwood fires around them, engulfing the advancing columns in clouds of billowing smoke. Panicked, choking, and dehydrated, the crusader army broke apart, allowing Saladin to encircle them. The crusaders were finally corralled on the two hills known as the Horns of Hattin, just six miles short of Tiberias, where the massacre began.

Map of the battle of the Horns of Hattin (from arsbellica)

King Guy, Gerard de Ridefort, and Raynald of Châtillon were all taken prisoner. The crusaders’ most sacred relic, the True Cross discovered by the Empress Helena in the AD 320s, was also captured, taken in triumph to Damascus, and never seen again.

As depicted in Kingdom of Heaven, Saladin invited King Guy and Raynald of Châtillon into his tent, where he offered a groggy Guy a cup of iced water to slake his thirst. When Guy then passed the cup to Raynald, Saladin responded that he had not personally offered refreshment to Raynald, and was therefore not bound by any rules of hospitality towards him. He asked Raynald why he had broken so many oaths over the years. Raynald replied that kings had always acted thus, and he had done no more. Saladin then personally beheaded Raynald, before dragging his decapitated body over to a terrified Guy. “Kings do not kill kings”, he reassured Guy, but explained that Raynald was an oath-breaker whose repeated “maleficence and perfidy” had warranted immediate death.

Guy and the other captured nobles were all eventually ransomed, apart from the 230 Knights Templar and Knights Hospitaller whom Saladin judged too militarily dangerous to be allowed freedom. He ordered them beheaded on the spot:

With him was a whole band of scholars and sufis and a certain number of devout men and ascetics, each begged to be allowed to kill one of them, and drew his sword and rolled back his sleeve. Saladin, his face joyful, was sitting on his dais, the unbelievers showed black despair.
(Imad ad-Din, On the Conquest of the Holy City)

With their army decimated, the crusaders could only watch as one by one their cities then fell. Queen Sibylla and Patriarch Heraclius mounted a last-ditch defence of Jerusalem, before roping in Balian of Ibelin, who had dropped by to collect his family. Balian’s involvement was in strict defiance of an oath of non-belligerence he had given Saladin in order to be allowed to travel to Jerusalem, but he wrote to Saladin to explain his predicament, and Saladin seemed happy for Balian to try to organise Jerusalem’s defences. In any event, they both knew Jerusalem could not withstand a siege. Balian had only a handful of knights, so spontaneously knighted the city’s squires to help in the effort. But it was largely symbolic. On 2 October, Balian went to Saladin’s tent. Saladin confirmed that he had sworn to kill all Jerusalem’s men and to enslave the women and children. In response, Balian threatened to execute the 5,000 Muslim prisoners in Jerusalem, kill the crusaders’ families and livestock, destroy all treasures, and raze the al-Aqsa mosque and Dome of the Rock to the ground before he and the men marched out to meet their glorious deaths at Saladin’s hands. Unnerved, Saladin suggested a peaceful surrender, which Balian accepted. Saladin then granted safe passage to all inhabitants who could pay their way, and sold the remaining men, women, and children into slavery.

The reaction across Christendom was utter disbelief. It was unthinkable that Jerusalem was no longer a Christian city. Four generations of Western children had grown up knowing that Jerusalem was part of Christendom. The grief at losing it tore deep into the soul of the West. On hearing the news, Pope Urban III died of shock. Within two years, Europe’s leading warrior, Richard the Lionheart, was personally in Outremer to set things right. But the tide had turned, and he failed ever to set eyes on Jerusalem.

Although the crusader states would limp on for another 105 years from their new headquarters at Tyre and then at Acre, medieval Christendom never again owned Jerusalem outright, and life became immeasurably harsher for the remaining crusaders and settlers — notably as a result of the campaigns of Sultan al-Malik Baybars, who died on 1 July 1277, providing the other major Levantine anniversary this week.

Unlike any of the crusaders’ previous opponents, Baybars was a military machine. On some levels, Saladin was not an especially talented general — over the course of 17 years of campaigning against the crusaders, he was regularly not successful on the battlefield. Baybars, on the other hand, was a highly effective general. He rose to power by murdering two Sultans of Egypt (including the last Ayyubid of Saladin’s dynasty), before finally taking personal control as Sultan, leading a hardened army of Mamluks from Egypt and Syria. He was a warlord who had built Egypt’s military caste of slave soldiers (mamluk means slave) into a juggernaut that dominated without opposition, steamrollering both the crusaders and the Mongols invading from the east. To put that into perspective, the Mongols had recently blitzkrieged their way from China to Poland, slaughtering entire populations. No terror like it had ever been seen. In many cities, there was no one left to clear away the mountains of rotting bodies. When Baybars and his Mamluks defeated them in AD 1260 at Ain Jalut (in the Jezreel Valley, Galilee), it was the first time the massed Mongol forces had ever been convincingly beaten. It is little wonder that the Islamic world has always told stories of Baybars, whereas Saladin fell into relative obscurity until resuscitated by Western interest.

Saladin may have broken the crusaders’ hearts, but it was Baybars who effectively snuffed out the crusade movement. As the news from Syria and Iraq in the last few weeks now makes clear, the complexion of the Levant region is changing again. The vacuum in Iraq and the disintegration of society in Syria have created new groups, alliances, and interests. We do well to remember that the region is one where nothing has ever stood still for long.

in The Telegraph

by: Dominic Selwood
Dr Dominic Selwood is a former criminal barrister, novelist and historian with a passion for the less visited corners of the archives. He is the author of the crypto-thriller, The Sword of Moses (2013), and the textbook on the Knights Templar, Knights of the Cloister (1999). He tweets as @DominicSelwood

New Programs Explore Theories Put Forth in The Da Vinci Code

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The questions and theories put forth in The Da Vinci Code contradict old, accepted beliefs and have electrified debate around the world. Could Mary Magdalene have been the wife of Jesus, and did they have a child together? Was Mary’s reputation as a prostitute in fact a libel created by the early Church? What were the real circumstances of Jesus’ death? Were the Knights Templar founded to guard the secret of Jesus’ bloodline?

Secrets of the Cross, airing on the National Geographic Channel, is an exciting new four-part series, uncovering the tantalizing mysteries at the heart of the Christian tradition. Stories that have shaped Western culture are scrutinized in the light of compelling new evidence, as the series strips back the layers of history to reveal surprising and provocative truths.

At the heart of each program is new archaeological and historical evidence that explodes the myths embedded in the traditional tales. With the help of expert witnesses, they discover the conspiracies and cover-ups that have obscured the truth, and finally uncover the historical reality at each story’s heart.

Secrets of the Cross avoids the familiar reverential treatment of biblical history; it’s a fast-paced present-day quest. The subject may be the ancient past, but the investigation is in the here and now, amidst the tourists and traffic, the hustle and bustle of modern Jerusalem and Rome.

The Mary Magdalene Conspiracy
The gospels say almost nothing about Mary Magdalene. The early Christian church branded her a prostitute and western art and literature have constantly reinvented her down the centuries. She remains one of the most mysterious women in history.

This program draws together a picture of the real Mary Magdalene. Was she the bad girl of the gospels or the wife of Jesus, perhaps even the mother of his child? Or do all the conspiracy theories hide an even greater truth of Mary Magdalene as the leader of the early church?

Trail of the Knights Templars
The rise of the Knights Templar had been rapid, and their fall was equally as swift. In the blink of an eye, the considerable wealth the Templars had amassed was also to disappear, giving rise to myths that have shrouded the order ever since. And it begged the biggest question: what was the real purpose of the Knights Templars?

Away from the celebrity glare of The Da Vinci Code, new light is now shed on the Knights Templars, based on fresh evidence. The truth starts to emerge about an idiosyncratic conglomerate of warrior-monks, ultimately leading to an extraordinary conclusion: corporate greed and until recently, the Vatican’s best-kept secret; The Chinon Parchment, revealing Templar confessions of taboo rituals.

Who Killed Jesus?
This program examines the conspiracy of silence that protected Pontius Pilate and the Roman Empire for two thousand years. Why was Rome’s real role in Jesus’ death covered up? What was the secret agenda of the early Christian writers who detailed the trial and execution of Jesus in the gospels? This show exposes their motives for pinning all the blame on the Jews and shows how this skewed accusation has resounded through the ages. The gospel version of Christ’s death is revealed to be fatally flawed, and finally Pontius Pilate stands alone in the spotlight as the man who killed Christ.

The Jesus Tomb
In 1980 an ancient tomb was unearthed on a building site in the Jerusalem suburb of Talpiot by archaeologists. Inside were a number of bone boxes dating from the 1st century CE. The inscriptions on the sides of these boxes were an archaeological bombshell–they included; Jesus son of Joseph, Mary, Mariamne, Jose, Matthew and Judah son of Jesus–all names potentially associated with the New Testament family of Jesus of Nazareth. This finding strikes at the heart of traditional Christianity which is based on the belief that Jesus was physically resurrected from an empty tomb near the Holy Sepulchre Church–the traditional site of crucifixion. Yet the archaeologist argues that it would have been easy for the disciples to simply remove Jesus’ body from the tomb at Golgotha and place him in a tomb at Talpiot.