Friday the 13th
October 2017 experienced a Friday the 13th. It happens. Between one and three times every year. However, this recent 13th was a bit of a milestone, perhaps. Let’s discuss.
So what is Friday the 13th? An unlucky day, despite it ringing in the weekend. Its unlucky reputation heralded a long-running slasher film series (Jason takes Manhattan, Jason in Space…?). Port Dover, Ontario enjoys a motorcycle rally every Friday the 13. We all know buildings don’t have 13th floors, I suppose because residents wouldn’t be able to go home on Fridays that fall on 13? Or is it a human impulse to combine the good with the bad; take a Friday (good) and taint it with “thirteen” (bad)? I don’t know.
But What I do know is something happened exactly 710 years ago this past Friday, October 13, 2017, and it also happened on a Friday. It happened to a bunch of medieval knights.
Our Knights Templar
I first sussed the Knights Templar in a second-year middle-ages university course. My instructor had a sense of humour, and made light of “these guys riding around Europe everywhere on their horses.” I was fascinated, however, about this pan-national order of warrior monks protecting pilgrims to the Holy Land while housed in what they believed were the ruins of the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem (until the Crusaders were expelled from the Middle East, and the Templars resorted to, well, riding around Europe on their horses).
So, on Friday October the 13th 1307, exactly 710 years ago from Friday October the 13th, 2017, the Order of the Poor Knights of the Temple of Solomon*, in existence for 289 years, was supressed in a coordinated attack by King Philip IV (the Fair) of France and Pope Clement V, its members subject to arrest, torture and (forced?) confessions of heresy.
But let’s just back up a minute. Who were these people?
Well, back in 1118 (or 1119), the Order was formed, again on a Friday (well, maybe. I don’t know. It’s a 1 in 7 chance). Nine knights formed a religious order devoted to the protection of pilgrims journeying to Outremer, the Middle-Eastern lands captured by Europeans during the First Crusade. They were given residence in a palace ruin carved out of the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem on the legendary site of the Temple of Solomon (hence their “Templar” title).
Rise to power and fall from grace
Yadda-yadda-yadda, their numbers expand, they get rich (somehow…), they build castles everywhere, invent modern banking and leave Jerusalem and Outremer with the other Crusaders when Salah ad-Din (or Saladin) boots them out in the late 12th century. They spend the next several decades as a powerful, multinational entity flexing all over Europe before a financially indebted King Philip and agreeable Pope Clement decided enough was enough and had their soldiers arrest them to take their treasures, and most of their lives.
The Templars have been common special guest stars in several conspiracy theories, of which I am certainly not immune. From the whole “Friday the 13th” thing to the skull-and-crossbones “Jolly Roger” flag origins, these knights have been the stars of not a small number of modern tales of alternate history. Oak Island (shout out to Canada), Rosslyn Chapel, the modern-day Masons… there’s always a Templar around.
I’ve indulged in a small number of books and media that mention some of the finer theories behind the Templars’ staggering rise to success and complete fall from grace. This is an inexhaustive list of examples that have happened to cross my orbit through the years, with their theses and theories behind just what these knights were all about.
1. The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail (Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, Henry Lincoln) – This is the grandparent of conspiracy/alternate history books. A 1982 bestseller, this tome posits the theory that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and sired a royal bloodline (keeping in mind the Bible considers Jesus as a descendant of the legendary king David), a line of which intermarried with the Merovingian rulers of ancient France, forming a royal dynasty. The “grail” is literally “holy blood” (sang real), i.e. Mary Magdalene’s womb and her familial history. The authors introduce an organization called the Priory of Sion, tasked to preserve this royal bloodline. And where do the Templars fit in with this? Well, the book heavily implies that the Knights Templar became privy to this information while situated at the Temple of Solomon site, whether by design or accident. “The implication is that the Templars had … something so precious that not even torture would wring an intimation from their lips. Wealth alone would not have prompted such absolute and unanimous secrecy. Whatever it was had to do with other matters, like the Order’s attitude towards Jesus.” (1996 paperback edition, pp. 90-91)
The Templars are the supposed guardians of this bloodline, or at least had the evidence for it to blackmail the Vatican to give the Order the extreme wealth and privilege it enjoyed for a couple of centuries.
2. The Da Vinci Code (Dan Brown) – Ugh, let’s get this one out of the way. I’m putting this after The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail because the former was an obvious influence. The name of elderly character who provided the exposition in this piece of fiction, Sir Leigh Teabing (played by Gandalf in the film) pays homage to two of the three authors of Holy Blood: Richard Leigh, and Michael Baigent (“Teabing” being an anagram of “Baigent”). Not sure if Dan Brown, the author of The Da Vinci Code appreciated it when Michael Baigent sued him for copyright infringement, but whatever. This book is important to my list as it references two other books I have on this list below, and I need to disclose that I read them because they were mentioned in this novel. Anyway, this potboiler speeds through page-turning action to reveal the same theory as Holy Blood, and although I scoffed at this book earlier this paragraph, I’ve read it three times.
3. The Templars (Piers Paul Read) – This was an excellent source for Templar history, but the biggest spoilsport on my list. An academic work well referenced with multi secondary sources, this volume outlines the entire history of the Templars from formation to suppression, noting the names and dates of every battle, siege, castle foundation and political activity. Yet right from the introduction the author states “My aim in this book has been to uncover the truth about the Order, avoiding fanciful speculation and recording only what has been established by the research of reputable historians.” (2001 paperback edition, p. xii) Boooo! This book even poo-poos the Templars’ “stupendous treasure … discovered by a priest in south-west France” (p. xxi) which is a direct attack on Holy Blood. In any event, this work has a good index, and, like I intimated earlier, is a good source to look up names and dates. Just don’t expect a Holy Grail or Lost Ark to jump out at you. Speaking of which….
4. Assassin’s Creed (Ubisoft) – Yeah, when I finally got a laptop powerful enough to play video games only ten years out of date, I downloaded the original Assassin’s Creed game. Shout out to my nephew who’s a giant fan of this franchise. In the inaugural game, my persona, a knight of the middle ages (actually, my ancestor, whose life I relived through a scientific process and, yeah, not important) stumbles in the tunnels below the Temple of Solomon upon a bunch of Templars. They’re a bunch of jerks I need to fight, but before I do, I notice the treasure they’ve unearthed: the Lost Ark of the Covenant. So these Montreal video game developers are pushing the theory that the Ark is the treasure the Templars unearthed. Take that, Piers Paul Read.
5. The Hiram Key (Christopher Knight, Robert Lomas) – This work, by a couple of British Freemasons, seeks to pinpoint the origins and evolution of masonry from antiquity to the present. They make an argument for an ancient Egyptian origin of masonry, through the Temple of Solomon (of course) to the Templars. The Templars, in this book, discover secret scrolls of Moses and the Qumran community (the folks behind the Dead Sea Scrolls) that gave the Templars information and power to be an influential force in middle-ages Europe. When the whole Friday the 13th, 1307 thing happened, some Templars had the foresight to escape with these scrolls to Scotland (out of reach of the Pope) to be eventually placed in Rosslyn Chapel. The place where Tom Hanks goes with Audrey Tautou at the end of The Da Vinci Code. I love the way this book opens: “Henry Ford once declared that ‘all history is bunk.’ It may have sounded a little abrupt but when it comes to the ‘facts’ of the past which most Westerners are taught in school, it turns out that Mr Ford was right.” (1997 paperback, p. xv)
6. The Sign and the Seal (Graham Hancock) – The cover of this fun work invites the reader to “discover the most shattering historical secret of the last three thousand years…” Let me jump to the chase. The Lost Ark of the Covenant is in some church in Ethiopia. I think the author got close to seeing it, but was ultimately frustrated. Where do my knights fit in with this exciting tale? Well, apparently the Templars were looking for this relic with such relish that the Ethiopian guardians of the ark pressured Pope Clement to clamp down on the order, thus creating Friday the 13th. True, the author is only speculating: “Is it not possible that the purpose (of an Ethiopian embassy visiting France’s King Philip IV in 1306) was to stir up trouble for the Templars – and perhaps to give the Pope and the French King … an urgent motive to destroy the order? … With so sacred and so powerful a relic in their hands the Templars would have been in a unique position to challenge both the secular and religious authorities of the land…. (1993 paperback edition, p. 164). While this work really focuses more on the Ark and less on the Templars having anything to do with it, it has the best narration of the whole Friday the 13th thing out of the other material in my list: “Suffice it to say that quite suddenly, on Friday 13 October 1307, all Templars residing in France were arrested. This was a well co-ordinated operation that saw simultaneous dawn swoops on hundreds of Templar properties by the bailiffs and senechals of the French King, Philip IV. By nightfall 15,000 men were in chains and Friday the 13th had won a unique place for itself in the popular imagination as the most unlucky and inauspicious date in the calendar.” (p. 154)
7. Kingdom of Heaven (dir. Ridley Scott) – This fine film (director’s cut only, ignore the theatrical release) has Orlando Bloom at odds with a Templar. Again the Templars are the jerks of the story. One person of their Order, Guy de Lusignan, who historically was probably not a Templar but is in this film, is personally responsible for the loss of Jerusalem to Saladin and his army. He was a fanatic, which I can see as plausible for the Templars in the Middle East in that era. Sadly, no secret Templar treasure in this film. Yet I put it on this list as I think it’s an overlooked epic that should be in more people’s Blu-Ray libraries (director’s cut only, remember).
8. The Templar Revelation (Lynn Picknett, Clive Prince) – This is one of the books mentioned in The Da Vinci Code, and the edition I own proudly boasts this on its cover. In this book, the authors examine the works of Leonardo Da Vinci to unravel “a thread of heresy” to reveal the real truth of history. It’s this book that inspired Dan Brown in The Da Vinci Code to posit that it’s Mary Magdalene and not the Apostle John seated next to Jesus Christ in Leonardo’s The Last Supper. This text, similar to those above, argues for a continued Mary Magdalene – Jesus bloodline, and the evolution of the Templars into Freemasonry. I see it as an updated version of Holy Blood, albeit with more emphasis on the role of John the Baptist, esoteric code-making and a heretical belief in the feminine principle in Christian religion. One of the charges against the Templars on that fateful October Friday was that they worshipped a severed head called “Baphomet,” of which the authors equate with John the Baptist, of the severed head à la Salome and Herod Antipas.
9. The Woman with the Alabaster Jar (Margaret Starbird) – The other book I discovered from The Da Vinci Code, this work was definitely the most enjoyable and sincere on this list. It begins with a heartfelt revelation from the author, a born and bred Catholic, as to her anguish upon reading Holy Blood and her subsequent quest to unearth the truth behind her religion, however heretical. Starbird states the red-headed Mary Magdalene, wife of Jesus, was the holy grail, whose story was preserved through the years under the nose of the church through symbolism and allegory. The book includes colour pictures that display paintings and tarot cards to illustrate the author’s argument One illustration is Georges de la Tour’s The Penitent Magdalen, an intriguing painting showing a pregnant Mary with a skull in her lap. Starbird discusses this painting’s background appearance in Disney’s “The Little Mermaid,” (another red head) which was fun.
Anyway, as for the Templars, this book specifically highlights “the cosmic principle of the harmony of male and female energies” (1993 paperback, p. 80) as the secret plan of the Templars to preserve the Jesus-Mary bloodline. Starbird claims the tarot card titled “The Charioteer” depicts the return of the Templars to Europe from Palestine after the First Crusade carrying a great treasure. She goes on to claim that the card “Wheel of Fortune” (not present in all tarot decks) shows “the abrupt change in the fortunes of the Order of the Knights of the Temple … (on Friday October 13, 1307) the ‘wheel of fortune’ took a radical turn against the powerful Knights Templar on whom fate had once seemed to smile so favorable.” (p. 111)
Although this book doesn’t delve into the history of the Templars, and instead focuses on medieval symbols conveying secret and heretical knowledge through the centuries, I love its analysis of art and symbols. Not to mention its palpable sadness as to the loss of the sacred feminine in today’s world, what with the suppression of the memory of Mary Magdalene in favour of her rival, Peter, today being considered the rock of the Christian religion.
10. Foucault’s Pendulum (Umberto Eco) – This work of fiction is the ultimate conspiracy theorist’s holy grail, so to speak. In it, a trio of bored occult bookstore staff dream up an alternate conspiracy-laden history of the world, taking into account Templars, Rosicrucians and et cetera. The novel spends long tracts of text outlining theories that would be at home in any of the other works mentioned above, with the Templars discovering the knowledge to harness the power of telluric currents (which are a kind of natural energy flow) and a radioactive energy source. As the novel progresses, our heroes fun afoul of people who believe this made-up theory and are pursued with their lives on the line. As in any other Eco novel, the author goes to great lengths to explain back story and origins. I honestly believe I learned more about my horse-riding Templars through this piece of fiction than the other works on this list. Of course Eco is on record as dismissing people who believe these alternate histories, even saying Dan Brown of The Da Vinci Code is like one of the characters in this book who believes the occult stuff. But damn, the occult Templar theories that the characters discuss in this book make so much sense…!
That’s it. I’m leaving out a couple of works, one a 19th century masonic-published history of the Templars with a modern introduction challenged by grammar and spelling, and a couple of sequels to The Hiram Key. One of these sequels, The Second Messiah, forwards the idea that the image reflected on the Shroud of Turin was not Jesus, but in fact Jacques de Molay, the last grand master of the Knights Templar who was very tortured. Don’t tell this to the Vatican. There’s Jack Whyte’s fictional Templar series, of which I’ve only read the first, Knights of the Black and White. I don’t remember too much, except there was a Lost Ark in there. And The Last Templar by Raymond Khoury, later made into a low-budget film with Mira Sorvino. They find secret writings of Jesus. Plus there are several books I have not read, most notably Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe. Nonetheless, this has been one of the more fun posts I’ve written about things I may believe, may not believe, choose to believe, want to believe and totally dismiss – all at the same time. Heh.
For an easy introduction to these crazy Templar theories, check out the first episode of the series Forbidden History titled “The Lost Treasure of the Templars” on Netflix. It includes an interview with Clive Prince, co-author of The Templar Revelation above. And while you’re at it why not check out episode two for some Magdalene stuff, “The Bloodline of Christ.” What fun.
Until the next Friday the 13th….