Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Sex, Lies and The Holy Grail

A lunatic is easily recognized...You can tell him 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.
-Umberto Eco Foucault's Pendulum

It was only a matter of time until my cover was blown and I was exposed as the lunatic I am, but if it wasn't for the headline in the Spanish newspaper El Pais, I'm sure I could have kept it secret a bit longer. "Los Templarios Demanden al Papa" (Templars Sue Pope), must click..., reveal the truth, unlock the mystery! Maybe we'll learn the truth about Mary Magdalene or even the location of the Holy Grail. Afraid not...

It seems that a group claiming to be Spanish Templars (La Asociación Orden Soberana del Temple de Cristo - something along the lines of The Association of the Sovereign Order of the Temple of Christ) are simply suing the pope to restore their ancient order. The reason they are suing poor ol' Benedict XVI (B16) is that he is the heir of Pope Benedict V who put the ban on the Templars order way back in 1307. Yawn, but for those of you who haven't read everything to do with the Templars since they first got their hands on the DiVinci Code, the Orders story is truly fascinating, from their birth to gory demise.

Around 1115 a small group of knights banded together for the purpose of escorting pilgrims to the newly won holy lands. In 1118 the group swore an oath to protect the pilgrims and observe the monastic vows of poverty, obedience and chastity and it was their devotion to these ideals that led to their rapid growth and their estabilishment as a military-religious order in 1124 by the Council of the Catholic Church. Generous donations began to flow in and their power and range grew along with the increased wealth. Preceptories (look it up, a word specifically meaning a subordinate house or community of the Knights Templar - basically branches, think banks) were opened in Jerusalem, Antioch, Tripoli, Aragon, Portugal, Hungary, Germany, Sicily and Greece. By 1129 they also were well represented in England, France and Scotland. This created the perfect base for what essentially became the world's first international banking network. So, having been founded on the basis of poverty, they were now into usery, money lending, deposit and withdrawals, just like any bank.

Until the fall of Acre to the muslims in 1291 the order had a purpose, but with the holy lands lost, the purpose of existence seemed to be lost with it. Charges of blasphemy, idolatry and sodomy were brought to Phillip IV (The Fair) in France who, hungry for a share of the Templar wealth informed the pope in 1305. Eventually on September 15th of 1307 Phillip sent sealed instructions for the seizure of all members of the Order and their property throughout France. Once confessions were extracted under torture, the pope issued a command to all Christian princes to arrest Templars on their lands, their wealth confiscated and passed on to the Hospitallers.

That's the short story, but the Templars have given us much more than just modern banking and DaVinci Code spin-offs. The day the order was rounded up and executed, Friday the 13th, 1308, could be the origins of, at the very least has added to, the bad luck image of that day. The final Grand Master Jacques DeMolay lent his name to DeMolay International (or the Order of DeMolay), an organization started in Kansas City in 1919 as an international fraternity for young men. Currently with 17,000 members worldwide, some of it's past and present members include Bill Clinton, Walt Disney, seven US governors, a few men who have been to space and even Mel Blanc.

The Templars first headquarters and home for 75 years was the Temple Mount, believed to be the former location of Solomon's Temple and home to the Ark of the Covenant. Did they find it? No one knows for sure, but it's a good story. How about the Holy Grail? Well, the story seems more realistic in terms of the discovery of and passing down of the knowledge of the bloodline of Christ. Most interesting of all are the stories surrounding their demise and resurrection in far-flung lands. Stories abound that the Templars were tipped off before their arrest and that their treasures were loaded on ships bound for a variety of destinations, from Portugal to Scotland and as far away as the New World. The Scottish case rests with the Battle of Bannockburn, where it is alleged that the Scots, led by Robert the Bruce, were able to defeat the English due to Templar aid. In Portugal the Templars didn't disband, they simply changed their name to the Knights of Christ and we're among the navigators on Columbus' voyage to the Americas. Vasco de Gama was a Knight of Christ. Perhaps they fled east and founded Switzerland. Most far-fetched of all, some believe that the Templars actually beat Columbus to the Americas by a century.

Finally, the legends surrounding the death of that final Grand Master, Jacques DeMolay. Before being burned on an island on the Seine, many have claimed that DeMolay's last words summoned the king of France and the pope to meet him in a tribunal before God before the end of the year. Pope Clement died a month later and King Philip died later that year in a hunting accident. Furthermore, legend tells of three Templars searching the site of his burning and finding only his skull and femurs. Taking these with them, they were allegedly the inspiration for the first Jolly Roger flag of piracy, a symbol also used by the Yale Skull and Bones society as well as the Bohemian Grove.

And what of the Templar treasure? Many say it is hidden within Rosslyn Chapel, near Edinburgh, Scotland with the Grail or even the mummified head of Christ hidden within the Apprentice Pillar. Or, it could lie buried deep underground on a small island off Nova Scotia. Oak Island has been labelled the Money Pit, as many believe that treasure valued over a billion dollars could lie hidden deep underground, protected by an intricate system of booby traps straight out of The Goonies.

That's not even the half of it my friends, it's not hard to see why the Templars are featured in so many books. It seems that the general feeling about the order switched from the 18th century when most writers portrayed them as devil worshippers, praying to idols such as Baphomet, whereas modern writers take a more sympathetic view and convert things such as Baphomet to the Shroud of Turin or even the head of Christ (more legends attached to the Templars). Enough's enough however, go find out more on your own!