Forget The Da Vinci Code: this is the real mystery of the Knights Templar

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Not so long ago, casually throwing the Knights Templar into polite conversation was a litmus test of mental health. One of Umberto Eco’s characters in Foucault’s Pendulum summed it up perfectly. He declared that you could recognise a lunatic “by the liberties he takes with common sense, by his flashes of inspiration, and by the fact that sooner or later he brings up the Templars”.

But all good things come to an end. The enigmatic medieval monk-knights are no longer a fringe interest for obsessives. They are now squarely mainstream. And as 18 March 2014 draws closer, Templarmania is going to be ratcheted up several more notches.

Everyone loves an anniversary, and this is going to be a big one. It will be exactly 700 years since the legendary Jacques de Molay, last Grand Master of the Templars, was strapped to a stake in Paris and bonfired alive. For centuries after de Molay’s execution in 1314, everyone wanted to sweep the ashes of the whole dreadful affair under the carpet. The official line was that the Templars, the former darlings of Christendom, had fallen from grace. Power had gone to their heads, and they had degenerated into something unspeakable (for a medieval order of monks, at any rate): spitting and urinating on crucifixes, worshiping idols, and finding sexual release with each other.

King Philip IV “the Fair” of France had personally overseen seven years of inquiry into the order’s suspicious practices. Based on the information it unearthed, he was convinced that he had exposed something rotten in society. The world, he was sure, would be better off without their sort — so he moved to have the Order stamped out. In the end, faced with Philip’s sustained pious outrage, the yellow-bellied pope of the day (a stooge who owed everything to Philip) had little alternative except to close the Templars down on the basis their reputation was irreparably shot. Philip then spent the next few years getting his hands on the Templars’ vast wealth, which he justified as compensation for having financed the enquiry to expose their dreadful sins.

For the following centuries, no one really spoke of the Templars. They were an embarrassment, and the less said about them the better. It was as if they had never been.

An attempt to rehabilitate them came first from a Scottish Freemason in the early 1700s, but his views did not spread wider than the royal Jacobite court where he presented them. A century later, the Order’s traditional reputation as depraved deviants re-emerged, but this time as the arch-villains in books – most famously in Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe. But fast-forward to 2013, and for some reason the Templars are everywhere. Promotional stands in bookshops buckle under the weight of credulity-busting Templar plots. Bug-eyed computer gamers, cloaked in the Templars’ iconic white robes and blood red crosses, slash and parry through historical adventures of derring-do. Cruise-ships of sightseers descend on original Templar buildings. And in central London, you can now even unwind with a pint in The Knights Templar pub.

Yet the increasing popularity of the Templars is something of a mystery, because it is hard to see how or why the modern world identifies with the Order at all. The Templars were medieval monk-knights, the crack troops of the Crusades – so effective and feared on the battlefield that Saladin once famously executed all captured Templars for fear of ever having to face them again. As a sideline to fund their wars, the knights experimented with international finance. They proved so talented at it that they were soon richer than Europe’s leading kings, whom they dutifully bankrolled.

They were, by anybody’s standards, then or now, a startling bunch: one only the medieval world could have conceived of. It is difficult to imagine what a modern equivalent would be. Perhaps a massive international army of chaste militant Christian zealots who also happened to own most of the world’s investment banks? It is hard to see how such a modern group would be remotely popular with the public. So what do people see in the Templars?

Darker interests focus on the Templars as the rallying point of a network of violent European white supremacism – a lodestar of racial hatred around which extremism can gravitate. The appeal of the Templars to extremists is probably inevitable. The Templars were founded during the Crusades, which can hardly be described as a time of religious and cultural tolerance. But the Templars are always full of surprises, and the historical record shows that even in that climate, the Templars’ sworn mission was in fact to protect pilgrims and the vulnerable. Nowhere in the over 600 provisions of their medieval Rule does it ever refer to anything approaching a mandate for ideological murder of people holding a different faith.

The extremists’ vision of the Templars as a kind of proto-SS ethnic extermination squad is simply ahistorical. The evidence does not bear it out. For instance, take Usamah ibn Munqidh, an adventurous 12th-century Syrian nobleman, diplomat, and poet. He recorded that when he used to visit Jerusalem, the Templars, who were his friends, would let him into their headquarters in the Temple of Solomon (the al-Aqsa mosque), where they would clear a space for him to pray. On one occasion, a nameless European knight repeatedly seized him, and spun him so he was facing East, ordering him to pray as a Christian. The Templars quickly intervened and ejected the knight, before explaining apologetically to Usamah that the knight was fresh off the boat from Europe and new to the ways of the Orient.

Accounts like this have spawned a growing camp of people who look to the Templars’ spiritual side, and see in the Order a fascinating enigma. The idea that the Templars had an alternate spirituality, perhaps even a slightly mystical one, is, interestingly, not a New Age invention. People were saying it before the Templars were closed down. The poet-knight Wolfram von Eschenbach, writing sometime between 1200 and 1225, gave the German people their first Holy Grail epic: Parzival. In it, he described how the Grail was kept at the castle of Munsalvaesche, guarded by a company of chaste knights called Templeise. This is the earliest association between the Templars and the magical supernatural, and predates The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail crowd by at least seven-and-a-half centuries.

The other ancient association of the Templars with the supernatural is perhaps better known, but sadly more garbled. It was reported by medieval chroniclers that as the flames of the funeral pyre began to lick at Jacques de Molay, he prophesied that within a year the king and pope (who had together effectively destroyed the Templars and condemned him to a heretic’s death) would meet him before God’s celestial tribunal, where they would be judged for their corruption. Although both men died within the year, the story of Jacques de Molay’s “curse” seems to have been embellished from his actual words, which may have been a simpler threat that God would avenge his unjust death.

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Nevertheless, versions of this legend are widespread, and have long added to the Templars’ mystique. Although all King Philip’s public statements on the Templars were steeped in a viscous piety and an endlessly-repeated desire to act as the Church’s protector, the reality was the magnetic opposite. His “inquiry” was, in fact, a brutal persecution, which involved seven years of barbarous incarcerations, horrific tortures, and multiple burnings at the stake. Philip was not remotely motivated by religion, despite his sanctimonious flannel. His coffers were filled with nothing but dust and air, and he urgently needed eye-watering sums of money to fuel his appetite for European wars. At the same time, pope-baiting was high on his list of hobbies, and he clearly felt that destroying the Vatican’s invincible army would be a distinct milestone in his effort to position France as the dominant power in Europe.

Unsurprisingly, it was fashionable for many years to see the Templars as the wholly innocent victims of Philip’s squalid politics. Philip was indeed shameless in the way he hurled as many charges at the Templars as he thought were necessary to whip up public outrage and disgust. He was an experienced master at the all-important game of spin, having garnered support against the previous pope using the identical charges of heresy and homosexuality. It had worked magnificently on that occasion – his men even kidnapped the elderly pope, and when the old cleric died of shock, Philip insisted on a posthumous trial to prove the trumped-up charges against the dead pope. So there is no doubt that Philip was a gifted bully – a spectacularly unscrupulous manipulator with no concern at how much blood needed spilling for him to get his way.

However, there are always twists in the tail when it comes to the Templars, and it seems Philip may have found a tiny ember of genuine Templar heresy, which he deftly fanned into a fire big enough to consume the Order. A detailed reading of the complicated sequence of confessions and retractions made by both the rank-and-file knights and the leaders of the Order leaves little doubt that the Templars were up to something. King Philip’s allegations of them worshipping a head that could make trees flower and the land germinate were plainly fabricated, and no evidence of anything remotely related was ever unearthed. Likewise, his accusations of institutionalised homosexuality proved to be invented. But many knights, including Jacques de Molay and some of his most senior lieutenants, did openly admit, at times with no torture, that new members of the Order were pulled aside in private after their monastic reception ceremonies and asked to deny Christ and spit on a crucifix. None of the knights could give an explanation why this was done. They said it had simply always been a tradition, and that the new brother usually complied ore sed non corde, with words but not the heart.

After so many centuries, we can only guess at the bizarre ritual’s significance. It may originally have been a character test to get some idea of how the new recruit might react if captured and subjected to religious pressure. But no one can say for sure. Nevertheless, it does clearly demonstrate that the Templars were subversive when they wanted. In fact, the clearest evidence that the Templars were not all they seemed is largely unknown, even among Templar experts. But it is potentially extraordinarily important. It takes the form of an original Templar building, still standing, nestled in a quiet corner of green countryside. Inside, it contains an enigma that may yet cause experts to revisit the entire question of the Templars’ religious beliefs.

It is not Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland, which has no Templar connections at all, having been built a century and a half after the Order was suppressed. Instead, it is a small mid-12th-century chapel in the village of Montsaunès, set in the foothills of the French Pyrenees, on one of the principal medieval highways leading from France into Spain. It was in a critical location. The fight to wrest Spain back from Islam was in full flow, and Montsaunès was on a strategic defensive line. Surviving medieval charters prove beyond doubt that the chapel was unquestionably built by the Templars, then occupied and maintained by the Order for 150 years. It was the heart of one the Order’s great European commanderies (fortified monasteries), although nothing else of it survives.

The reason for its importance to the question of Templar spirituality is immediately apparent the moment you enter the ancient building. The whole interior is painted, as most medieval churches and cathedrals were. But the Templars’ chosen decorations for this particular chapel were not saints, bible scenes, and the usual range of religious imagery. The surviving frescoes are a bizarre collection of stars and wheels, rolling around the walls and ceiling in some mysterious, unfathomable pattern. Interspersed among them are also grids and chequer-boards, painted with equal precision – but also with no apparent sense or meaning. There is nothing remotely Christian about it. The overall effect is calendrical and astrological, with a whiff of the Qabbalistic. It is like some strange hermetic temple, whose meaning is obscured to all except initiates.

The conclusion of the few experts in medieval art who have looked at the frescoes is that they are unlike anything else they have ever seen. They are “unknown esoteric decoration”. Anyone studying the startling paintings quickly realises that they transcend the small French commune where they remain unnoticed, 850 years on. They demand answers. What did they mean to the Knights Templar? Why did they paint them so meticulously? And what prompted them to put them in their chapel, the building at the heart of their spiritual life, which they entered to pray in nine times a day?

We simply do not know the answers. But the chapel at Montsaunès is proof, in its own enigmatic way that the religious life of the Templars was not as straightforward as we have perhaps come to believe. As Umberto Eco’s lunatics, and a growing swathe of more ordinary people, prepare to mark the anniversary of Jacques de Molay’s death, there will be discussions about individual freedom and the abuse of power, about political show trials and miscarriages of justice, and about Europe’s transition from theocracy to autocracy. But there will also be time to think again about what knowledge went up in flames with Jacques de Molay, and to the grave with the other knights.

The little-known chapel at Montsaunès reminds us that there is much we still do not know about the Templars, who increasingly baffle us the more we discover about them.

Dominic Selwood’s new thriller The Sword of Moses features the Templars, Montsaunès and a number of the themes discussed in this article.

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

This is the man who turned Christianity into a global religion. Do you even know his name?

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Who founded Christianity?

It is an age-old debate.

Christ? Well, yes. Of course. Obviously.

St Peter? Also yes. Christ built his church upon the rock — so the faithful believe, following the Gospel of St Matthew.

St Paul? Yes again. In first century Galilee, there were no schools for those who farmed, fished, or worked with their hands. St Peter was a simple workers from an agrarian community, and there is no reason to suppose he could read, write, or speak any language other than his native Aramaic.  By contrast, St Paul was a highly educated and literate intellectual. He was a Roman citizen of Cilicia (south-eastern Turkey), and his native language was Greek — which enabled his letters and public speaking to be understood across the vast reaches of the empire. His indefatigable thinking, preaching, and writing unquestionably defined great swathes of Christianity.

Yet in some senses, asking who founded Christianity is a fatuous question. The Greek honorific title Christos (meaning the Annointed One) and the word Christianos (Christian) would have meant nothing to Yeshu’a, which was the Aramaic name Jesus would have answered to. The words were never used in his life time. The first recorded occasion was years later, miles to the north-west in Antioch.

Beyond the words, how many of Christianity’s reported 41,000 denominations would they recognise today? Would any of the buildings, activities, liturgies, theologies, vestments, ecstatic glossolalia, and all the rest be familiar?

Whatever the answer, there is, in fact, one more person to add to this list — and he definitely would recognise the 1.5 billion Catholics and Orthodox Christians alive today. He was not a founder of Christianity. But he was definitely one of its most important figures. Ever.

Flavius Theodosius was born in Spain in AD 347, and one of his two most memorable achievements was to be the last man to rule over both the Western and Eastern Roman Empires.

But his truly lasting achievement was perhaps one of the ten decisions that have most shaped the post-Roman world.

Today, the 27th of February, in AD 380, Theodosius proclaimed Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire.

It is our desire that all the various nations which are subject to our clemency and moderation should continue in the profession of that religion which was delivered to the Romans by the divine Apostle Peter, as it has been preserved by faithful tradition, and which is now professed by the Pontiff Damasus … . We authorise the followers of this law to assume the title of Catholic Christians. (Theodosius I, Cunctos populos)

At the time, the empire heaved with colourful temples to everything you can think of. Cicero called the Romans “the most religious people” (religiosissima gens), and the sheer variety of popular cults proves it. Worshippers could find everything from traditional Graeco-Roman deities, the Egyptian cults of Isis, Osiris, and Serapis, the ubiquitous near-eastern mystery religions of Mithras, Cybele, and Attis, and hundreds of others — all spiced up with the usual sacrificial fare and traditional temple prostitutes.

But enough was enough. To reinforce the status of Christianity as the sole imperial religion, Theodosius outlawed all pagan practices.

It was a highly controversial move, and he must have been aware of its enormity.

Even the Serb, Emperor Constantine I (AD 305 to 337), had not gone that far.

It is true that Constantine is reported to have fought and won the decisive battle of the Milvian Bridge with the Chi Rho daubed onto his men’s shields. He had apparently seen a vision of the Christian symbol in the sky, along with the Greek words ἐν τούτῳ νίκα (en touto nika, “In this, conquer”), and it had inspired him. Once emperor, in AD 313 he promptly enacted the Edict of Milan to guarantee freedom of religion throughout the empire.

Of the things that are of profit to all mankind, the worship of God ought rightly to be our first and chiefest care. Christians and all others should have freedom to follow the kind of religion they favour. We therefore announce that all who choose Christianity are to be permitted to continue therein, without any let or hindrance, and are not to be in any way troubled or molested. At the same time, all others are to be allowed the free and unrestricted practice of their religions; for it accords with the good order of the realm and the peacefulness of our times that each should have freedom to worship God after his own choice. (Constantine,The Edict of Milan)

Perhaps the drafters of the First Amendment to the American Constitution had this edict in mind, although they expressed their version significantly less eloquently:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

Constantine did not stop with freeing everyone from religious persecution. In AD 325 he convened, presided over, and paid for the first ecumenical Church council. He held it at Nicaea (modern-day Iznik in Turkey), where it oversaw the resolution of numerous key decisions regarding the early Church and its structure. Yet Constantine did it all while still a pagan and pontifex maximus, or head of Rome’s pagan priesthood — a role he officially retained until his death, even after his personal conversion to Christianity late in life. Theodosius was, unsurprisingly, the first emperor to abandon the priestly title, which in time migrated across to the pope.

Today, Christianity has 2.2 billion followers (32 per cent of the world’s population), making it by far the largest, and most evenly spread, religion on the planet. Islam is next at 1.6 billion (23 per cent), followed by Hinduism at 1 billion (15 per cent).

Theodosius is perhaps more responsible for the massive spread of Christianity than either St Peter or St Paul, for the simple reason that religions and their denominations benefit from political backing to light the afterburners and tear free from the pack. This should come as no real surprise — it is how human society generally works.

We have even seen it in England. In the late middle ages, Lollards and the occasional disgruntled theologian grumbled on and off. But it took almost a century of the sheer absolutist power and political resolve of the Tudor monarchs to carve a new church into the ages-old landscape of England.

The same union of religion and politics can be seen elsewhere, too.

Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703–92) was an Islamic preacher and reformer who wished for a simpler form of Islam that better reflected early practice. In many ways, he was the equivalent in Islam of those medieval Catholics who sought the apostolic life of the early desert fathers, or the later Protestant reformers of Europe who strove to take the Church to a perceived former simplicity. Abd al-Wahhab’s ideas were powerful, but they truly became globally significant after they were endorsed and promulgated by Muhammad ibn Saud, whose legacy has shaped the modern state of Saudi Arabia, and whose influence can be felt throughout the Arab world.

Therefore, when Theodosius adopted Nicene Christianity as the imperial religion in AD 380, he set a precedent whose impact is now felt globally. For as the Roman Empire in the West fell, the monarchs who were to fill the void in Europe for the next millennium and a half largely kept Christianity as their state religion. And when they conquered and colonised, they took their religion with them.

Unlike ancient Rome, we no longer exterminate those who profess other religions.

So as Prince Charles ponders becoming Defender of the Faith (a title first given to Henry VIII by Pope Leo X, but then revoked and now conferred by Parliament instead), he has a few questions to consider.

What does it mean, historically, to defend the faith? Henry VIII was given the title in recognition of his most Catholic written refutation and execration of what he saw as Luther’s pernicious heresies. Henry wrote up his passionate arguments in a book he nattily entitled Defence of the Seven Sacraments, which he dedicated to the pope.

That is what it meant to defend the faith in the early 1500s. But what does it require now? In the 21st century, is Defender of the Faith an honorific title, or does it mean something more?

And equally as important. should the Defender of the Faith choose to be a Constantine or a Theodosius? Should he rule over a realm in which he protects his subjects’ freedom to practise a religion of their choice, or should he defend only the state religion?

Prince Charles has made his position clear. He will be the Defender of Faith. Happily the Latin, fidei defensor, does not change with the loss of the definite article.

He has history on his side. For it is interesting to note that everyone has heard of Constantine the Great’s religious toleration — but, for all his seismic historical importance, how many remember Theodosius I?

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

A Jug of Wine, A Loaf of Bread – and Thou; Isis, Iraq and the real Islamic caliphates

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A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread — and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness —
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!

As a bunch of gun-toting religious maniacs tear apart the Middle East, I’ve been thinking about this verse. It’s from Edward FitzGerald’s 19th-century translation of the 12th-century Persian poet-philosopher-mathematician Omar Khayyam’s quatrain. There have been a few rather different translations, but they seem largely to address the same thing: being with the person you love, singing songs and drinking wine.

That’s the image I tend to associate with an Islamic caliphate, although there is some argument over whether or not Khayyam was a religious Muslim: he is described as a Sufi, a member of a spiritual branch of Islam, but also as a hedonist and agnostic. But according to Remi Hauman, a Khayyam scholar, a version of that verse goes even further back, to an actual Umayyad caliph, Walîd Ibn Yazîd, who ruled briefly in AD 743 to 744:

Leave me, Sulaymâ, wine, a singing girl, and a cup. I don’t need any more possessions.
When life is pleasant in Ramlat ‘Alij, and I hold Salmâ in my arms, I would not change places with anyone.

I’ve been thinking about this because the Sunni fanatics of Isis have now called the little territory they’ve carved for themselves on the Iraq-Syria border a new Islamic State, and in fact a “caliphate”. Isis believe that Shias are heretics who should be killed, demand that all Muslims worldwide pledge allegiance to their leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who they call the Caliph, and wish to impose an especially brutal form of Sharia.

“They want to build a caliphate,” says Tom Holland, the author of In the Shadow of the Sword, “and that raises the question of what they mean by that.” The original caliphate was the Islamic Arab empire that arose in the years after Mohammed’s death. And, like the Roman empire and the British empire, says Holland, it evolved over centuries – and then “invented its own backstory”, created a tale in which it was set up in the way that Mohammed was instructed by God to set up an empire. “Caliph” means “successor”: the caliphs were supposed to be the successors of the Prophet.

The Sunni/Shia divide, incidentally, stems from a disagreement over whether the caliph should be chosen by the Muslim people, as the Sunnis believe, or appointed by God.

Anyway. As the Khayyam poem suggests, the caliphates were not always what Isis would think of as Islamic. The Caliph al-Mutawakkil, we are told, was murdered by his guard after a night of heavy drinking. As well as the wine, at least one caliph, Al-Hakam II, the Caliph of Cordoba, was openly homosexual, and had a harem of boys; he only bore an heir by having a female concubine dress up in male clothes and take a male name, Jafar. According to the Encyclopedia of Medieval Iberia, in the final centuries of Islamic Spain:

…because of Christian opposition to it and because of immigration and conversion of those who were sympathetic, homosexuality took on a greater ideological role. It had an important place in Islamic mysticism and monasticism; the contemplation of the beardless youth was “an act of worship”, the contemplation of God in human form.

And the harems, the world of Scheherazade and the 1,001 Arabian Nights:

The girls sat around me, and when night came, five of them rose and set up a banquet with plenty of nuts and fragrant herbs. Then they brought the wine vessels and we sat to drink.

With the girls sitting all around me, some singing, some playing the flute, the psalter, the lute, and all other musical instruments, while the bowls and cups went round. I was so happy that I forgot every sorrow in the world, saying to myself, ‘This is the life; alas, that it is fleeting’. Then they said to me, ‘O our lord, choose from among us whomever you wish to spend this night with you’.

Of course this wouldn’t have been the whole story of an Islamic caliphate. But this is part of the story; the caliphates were not, always, harsh puritanical places, but places of learning, places of sybaritic pleasure, places of wine and song.

But, says Tom Holland, Isis aren’t interested in the historical realities as they try to make their own “Caliphate”. “They’re not interested in Omar Khayyam, they’re not interested in the real caliphates: they want to bring to light God’s plan, to restore the civilisation they believe Mohammed built in Medina.” Their image of that civilisation has no basis in historical reality, and they wouldn’t care if it did. But the real story of the caliphates is both more interesting and more complex than their simplistic, brutal vision.

No doubt it would do no good at all. But I wish someone would read Omar Khayyam to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

in The Telegraph

by: Tom Chivers
Tom Chivers is the Telegraph’s assistant comment editor. He writes mainly on science.

Priceless ‘Holy Grail’ stolen from house after being loaned to seriously ill woman

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Burglars have stolen a priceless religious artifact believed to be the mythical Holy Grail – after it was loaned to a seriously ill woman.

The Nanteos Cup, an ancient wooden chalice, was rumoured to have been carried over to Britain by Joseph of Arimathea, years after the crucifixion of Christ.

The revered Catholic figure later founded a religious settlement at Glastonbury and legend has it that the “grail” then came into the safekeeping of monks.

Over the centuries the mysterious wooden bowl was said to have magical healing powers and in later years it came into the ownership of the Steadman family, who kept it in a bank vault in Wales.

But the Birmingham Mail discovered the cup has now been stolen by burglars after being temporarily loaned to a seriously ill woman connected to the Steadman family.

Raiders struck after she had been admitted to hospital and stole the cup – sparking a major police investigation by West Mercia Police.

It is understood burglars struck at the property in Weston under Penyard, between last Monday and yesterday.

The cup was previously included in a Channel Five documentary called Search for the Holy Grail. In the programme, experts claimed it was actually made at least 1,400 years after the crucifixion.

But the cup has a long held reputation for healing, with people drinking from it in the hope of curing their illnesses.

The Holy Grail has been a issue of controversy and debate amongst historians and theologians – with some religious figures claiming the grail is actually the Holy Chalice, used by Jesus Christ at the Last Supper.

The search for the mythical religious artefact was the plot for one of the 1980s’ biggest blockbusters, Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade.

 

in DailyMirror

Programa RTP 2 – Visita Guiada – Convento de Cristo

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O claustro principal do convento de Cristo está referenciado na história da arte universal como um dos mais belos exemplares da arquitectura renascentista europeia. Mas este claustro é mais do que um tesouro da arte do renascimento, é a construção que enterra de vez a Idade Média em Portugal e o alinha com o novo humanismo europeu.

Convidado: João Paulo Martins, arquitecto
Visita Guiada é um programa de televisão e de rádio sobre os tesouros do património cultural português. Tesouros com reconhecido valor universal, peças que qualquer país ocidental se orgulharia de integrar no seu património, e pouco conhecidos dos portugueses.

De um cálice de prata com decoração moçárabe e mil anos de idade a um claustro que está referenciado como obra-prima do renascentismo europeu, passando por uma colecção de arte africana classificada como uma das melhores do mundo, a natureza dos objetos, o seu contexto geográfico e o seu tempo histórico variam de episódio para episódio.
Conhecer o Património Cultural português

Visita ao Convento dos Capuchos – Instrução de Escudeiros

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Realizou-se no dia 13 de Julho uma visita ao Convento dos Capuchos de Sintra, organizada pela Comendadoria de Sintra do Priorado Ibérico da Osmthu, com o intuito de proceder à Instrução de Escudeiros.

Esta segunda visita de Instrução versou o tema da via monástica, depois de se ter estudado o tema da via cavaleiresca através das lendas da Demanda do Santo Graal, há poucas semanas em visita ao Palácio da Pena e seus jardins. Completa-se assim a abordagem aos dois pilares fundamentais da Cavalaria Templária, ao mesmo tempo militar e monástica, numa contradição aparente apenas resolvida pela prática estrita da Regra.

O grupo, composto de Cavaleiros, Damas, Escudeiros e Escudeiras bem como de alguns familiares, foi convidado a explorar o Convento dos Capuchos de forma autónoma, sem mais explicações para além das fornecidas pelos elementos escritos dados a qualquer turista pelos Parques de Sintra ao adquirir uma entrada. Contudo foi-lhes dito que observassem com atenção cada detalhes e que questionassem tudo o que vissem, abrindo o coração às impressões intuitivas de modo a poder trazer dados relevantes quando todos se juntassem no pátio de entrada pouco depois.

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E assim partiu cada um por si, em demanda. A maioria não conhecia o Convento ou a sua história. O Convento dos Capuchos em Sintra fazia parte da Província da Arrábida dos Capuchinhos Franciscanos, mas era um lugar especialmente humilde e inóspito, mesmo para os padrões franciscanos. Estende-se ao longo de uma colina da Serra de Sintra, pejada de largos rochedos, que as construções contornam e assimilam como parte integrante do seu corpo. A penha imensa que constitui o tecto da capela, ao mesmo tempo que é o soalho de suporte das celas e parede do refeitório, antes de mergulhar misteriosamente no chão telúrico do lugar, impressiona e está de tal modo organicamente integrada na construção que, aos poucos, se vai tornando quase invisível ao olhar do visitante. A pobreza é absoluta e não existem decorações sumptuosas ou obras de arte de relevo. Mais depressa faz lembrar uma casa de aldeia antiga ou um mosteiro nos confins do Tibete do que uma casa de religiosos cristãos, não fosse pela altura insignificante das portas das celas, a exigir uma vénia para se transporem e pelo seu tamanho exíguo e impraticável como lugar de descanso.

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Cada um destes pormenores não deixou de chamar a atenção aos Escudeiros, que os reportaram, um após o outro quando se reuniram no átrio de novo, após a primeira volta de reconhecimento. Numa segunda volta foram então abordados vários aspectos relacionados com a via monástica e conventual, procurando sempre entender de que modo se enquadravam no caso particular dos Templários, na sua época. Mergulhando num meio somente conventual, pode o grupo perceber essa vertente sem mais distracções e, depois, recordando a experiência da instrução anterior, compreender como um Cavaleiro pode ser humilde, mesmo numa cela com varanda e vista sobre o mar e senhor numa cela exígua e humilde com a dos Capuchos, numa feliz expressão de um dos Escudeiros. A história do lugar foi  depois contada, sem esquecer as suas associações a várias figuras ilustres (e notáveis de todos os pontos de vista), que incluem D. João de Castro, Vice-rei da Índia e Cavaleiro da Ordem de Cristo; D. Sebastião e o Cardeal (depois Rei) D. Henrique, bem como o incontornável Frei Honório.

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O dia terminou com uma reflexão conjunta e um período de perguntas e respostas no claustro conventual. Tinham passado quatro horas desde a entrada, voando que nem uma ave. Não se deu pelo tempo passar. Foi então que um dos Escudeiros do Alentejo mostrou que se tinha preparado para a viagem, tão longe da sua terra, exibindo pão e um belo salpicão que fizeram as delícias de todos, numa improvisada refeição fraternal de encerramento, de regresso ao pátio dos Capuchos de Sintra.

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Fotos:

Com logo “Templar Globe”, por: Susana Ferreira

Outras: Internet e Parques de Sintra

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