Monday, December 20, 2010

Medieval Manuscripts: Legend of Jesus' Great-Grandmother

Catherine Lawless, a history lecturer at Ireland's University of Limerick, has studied newly discovered manuscripts from 14th- and 15th-century Florence, Italy that tell a tale of Ismeria, reputed to be Jesus' great-grandmother. Lawless studied the St. Ismeria story in two manuscripts: the 14th century "MS Panciatichiano 40" of Florence's National Central Library and the 15th century "MS 1052" of the Riccardiana Library, also in Florence.The manuscripts assert that Ismeria was the mother of St. Anne, who later gave birth to Mary.

From her paper's abstract:

This article will examine an unusual legend contained in Florentine fifteenth-century manuscripts concerning St Ismeria, the ‘grandmother’ of the Virgin. Unlike more well-known versions of the Holy Kinship of Christ, where Ismeria is described as the sister of St Anne and grandmother of St John the Baptist, in this legend she is instead firmly described as St Anne’s mother and thus the grandmother of the Virgin and the great-grandmother of Christ. Most of the legend is concerned with Ismeria’s life of penitential piety as a wife and widow and has little in common with standard legends of the Virgin or of St Anne, but has strong resonances within the world of late medieval Florentine piety and the type of ‘new’ sanctity defined by Vauchez, where sanctity is earned by a life of penitence rather than with blood martyrdom. The contents of the codices which house the legends are typical of medieval vernacular writings and contain more traditional lives of the Virgin and accounts of the Holy Kinship. The way in which these legends lay side by side with such contradictory material suggests a fluidity in the way holy narratives were accepted.

From an article on AOL News by Theunis Bates:

There is no biblical-era evidence to support the manuscripts' assertion that Ismeria was the mother of St. Anne, who later gave birth to Mary. (Other medieval sources suggest Ismeria may have been Anne's sister). Instead, Lawless suspects that the story may have been created by a religious order as a "morality tale" intended to teach Florentine women how to be good wives, and later, widows.

The manuscripts, analyzed by Lawless in the latest issue of the Journal of Medieval History, tell how the lovely Ismeria -- "the daughter of Nabon of the people of Judaea, and of the tribe of King David" -- married St. Liseo, who is described as "a patriarch of the people of God."

As a sign of her piety, Ismeria asked Liseo to only call her to the matrimonial bed one night a month. (During the month of holy fasting, they'd avoid each other entirely). "They lived together for 12 years in great joy and in penitence," writes Lawless, "and then had a beautiful daughter whom they named Anne." Twelve years later, Liseo died and Ismeria willingly allowed her relatives to walk off with all of her riches.

Reduced to poverty, Ismeria sought sanctuary in a hospital, where she carried out two Jesus-esque miracles. First, she restored a deaf-mute man's hearing and speech, and then she filled a shell with enough fish to feed all of the clinic's patients. Satisfied with this act of spontaneous seafood generation, she returned to her room and prayed for God to release her from the "vainglory of this world." Angels promptly whisked her soul off to heaven. The story concludes with Mary, Jesus, Mary Magdalene, the 12 apostles and others heading to the hospital and honoring her body.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

2,000-year-old Holy Thorn Tree of Glastonbury Cut Down By Vandals

Sticking up out of the English countryside like a big geological lump stands Glastonbury Tor, a high, oblong hill that can be seen for miles. At one time, it was an island, but the sea has receded, leaving this strange geographical sight. It has been identified over the centuries as the mythical Isle of Avalon of King Arthur’s time. What makes Glastonbury such a startling sight today is the ruined entryway of the abbey’s tower that sits at the top of the knoll.

The source of the belief that that Glastonbury could be the location of the Holy Grail is in the legend of Joseph of Arimathea. Christians in Britain have long told the legend that Joseph came to the island shortly after Christ’s ascension, and that he and his fellow travelers founded the monastery at Glastonbury. The tale goes that he was accompanied by the Bethany sisters Mary and Martha, Lazarus, Mary Magdalene and others followers. A variation of the tale is that Joseph even brought the teenaged Jesus to Britain even before he began his ministry. Of course, much of this legend may have had more to do with claiming that Christianity was alive in Britain long before the Roman Catholic Church was established, as part of the British feud between Catholics and Protestants, than it did with history.

Today, the Daily Mail reports that vandals have destroyed a site of pilgrimage at Glastonbury, one of the most important Christian sites in Britain—a tree that legendarily sprung from the staff of Joseph of Arimathea, 2000 years ago:

The Holy Thorn Tree of Glastonbury, Somerset, is visited by thousands every year to pay homage and leave tokens of worship. Those visiting today were moved to tears on finding the tree cut to a stump.

The sacred tree is unique in that it blossoms twice a year - at Christmas and Easter - and sprigs taken from the thorn are sent to The Queen each year for the festive table.


Christian legend dictates that Jesus's great uncle, Joseph of Arimathea, came to Britain after the crucifixion 2,000 years ago bearing the Holy Grail - the cup used by Christ at the Last Supper.

He visited Glastonbury and thrust his staff into Wearyall Hill, just below the Tor, planting a seed for the original thorn tree.
Roundheads felled the tree during the English Civil War, when forces led by Oliver Cromwell (pictured) waged a vicious battle against the Crown.

However, locals salvaged the roots of the original tree, hiding it in secret locations around Glastonbury.
It was then replanted on the hill in 1951. Other cuttings were also grown and placed around the town - including its famous Glastonbury Abbey.

Experts had verified that the tree - known as the Crategus Monogyna Bi Flora - originated from the Middle East.

A sprig of holy thorns was taken from the Thorn tree by Glastonbury's St Johns Church on Wednesday and sent to the Queen.
The 100-year-old tradition will see the thorns sit on Her Majesty's dinner table on Christmas Day.

In 1190 A.D., after a fire that consumed the abbey at Glastonbury, two massive oak coffins were discovered buried below the ruins, with the inscription Hic jacet sepultus inclitus rex Arthurus in insula Avalonia (“Here lies King Arthur in the island of Avalon”). Since that time, many have believed that the remains really were King Arthur and his wife Guinevere.

As you might expect, there is a Holy Grail associated with Glastonbury. Known as the Nanteos Cup, it is a bowl, said to have been made of olive wood. For many years it was in the care of the Nanteos family, but is now in a museum in the Welsh village of Aberystwyth. True believers have drunk healing water from the cup over the centuries, some going so far as to nibble bits of wood from its edge. As a result, little is left of it today.

The Welsh Commisioner of Monuments has said that the artifact is, in actuality, made of Witch Elm wood, and is actually a bowl from the 1400s. Others believe it to be the genuine grail brought to Britain by Joseph of Arimathea.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

New Book by Stephen Dafoe: Illustrated History of the Knights Hospitaller

Author Stephen Dafoe has followed up his two recent Knight Templar books—Nobly Born (2007) and The Compasses and the Cross (2008)— with an equally beautifully illustrated third volume, on the Knights Hospitaller.

From the Lewis Masonic website:

by Stephen Dafoe
Lewis Masonic, 2010. £19.99
ISBN: 9780711034976

This richly illustrated book recounts the entire history of the Knights Hospitaller, from their beginnings nine centuries ago to the present day. Founded during the medieval crusades ­their full name is the Knights of the Order of St John of Jerusalem -to run hospices. They grew in power and royal favour, conquering territories, including the island of Malta, with which they have long been associated, and Rhodes, building formidable castles such as Krak de Chevaliers in the Middle East. For a while they led the fight against the Barbary pirates in the Mediterranean but the increasing power of European nations meant that their territory and powers were gradually taken away in the ensuing centuries but they still survive today.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Templars Discover America!

Last week while I was traveling in the northeast, I drove through Newport, Rhode Island and visited one of the legendary —with a strong emphasis on the word "legend"—sites of the supposed presence of the Knights Templar in America, the Newport Tower.

There is absolutely no evidence that the Knights Templar had known about the Americas in the 13th and 14th centuries, but that hasn’t stopped the speculation that they did. Various researchers have claimed that the Templars had based much of their wealth on Aztec gold and silver. Aztec tales abounded of a “great white god” from the East who had come to bring civilization to them. But there is no archeological evidence of any European presence in the region prior to the Spanish conquistadors. And that “great white god” stuff was ancient history to the Aztecs by then. That they meant Templars is highly unlikely.

Authors Tim Wallace-Murphy and Marilyn Hopkins, and several others, have advanced the notion that, while the Order flourished, the Templars ventured across the North Atlantic, following a similar path as the Vikings, and traded with the Native American population of northeastern Canada. After the dissolution of the Order, the Templars moved to Scotland, so the legend goes, and the Saint-Clair (or Sinclair) family became their protectors. And this is where the tale of the Templars discovering America really kicks in.

Henry Saint-Clair and the Zeno Narrative
In 1396, it is alleged that the Earl of Orkney, Henry Saint-Clair, went into partnership with a Venetian merchant family known as the Zenos. Saint-Clair is said by some to have made two trips across the North Atlantic almost a full century before Columbus. Based on a document called the Zeno Narrative, it has been speculated that the Sinclairs and the Zenos hoped to establish colonies in the Americas, away from the influence and reach of the Catholic Church.

The Zeno narrative is based on letters between real brothers from Venice, Antonio, Carlo and Nicolo Zeno, and was published anonymously in 1558. In it, a voyage is described by Nicolo Zeno in 1385 from Venice to England and Flanders, in which he claimed to have been shipwrecked on a large island called “Frislanda.” It is a mythical place, complete with a mythical prince. Referred to in the narrative as Prince Zichmni, Nicolo claims to have undertaken voyages to what is presumably Greenland for him over the space of two decades. At the end of the tale, after encountering strange and exotic people and places, Prince Zichmni remains in Greenland, starting a settlement called Trin.

True believers say that Prince Zichmni is in reality the Earl of Orkney, Henry Saint-Clair, and that the giant island nation of Frislanda is actually the smallish Orkney Island off the coast of Scotland – curious, since Nicolo described an island larger than Ireland. The Zeno Narrative comes complete with a map, but while portions of it and the narrative sort of match up with Iceland, Scotland and other North Sea and North Atlantic geography, the glaring flaw is the mythical “Frislanda” doesn’t.

A series of authors have made convoluted attempts to explain how Zichmni and Saint-Clair are one and the same, beginning in the late 1700s. In the 1870s, a geographer named Richard Henry Major took up the Sinclair cause and the Zeno narrative, and it is his fiddling that is the principal source of the nonsense. There had never been any suggestion in any record of the family history that Henry was an explorer of any kind, nor that he had ventured far from Orkney or Scotland at any time in his life, but that never kept a good myth down. Major took huge leaps of imagination, not to mention outright fabrication, in his mistranslation and interpretation of the narrative, forcing it to fit the Henry Saint-Clair mold.

Saint-Clairs and Sinclairs around the world were ecstatic. Here was “proof” that the Saint-Clairs, descended from the Knights Templar, builders of Rosslyn Chapel, founders of Freemasonry in Scotland, had also been the “discoverers” of America, a hundred years before that upstart Columbus. New Zealand resident Roland Saint-Clair wrote a glowing “biography” of Henry, calling him an “Orcadian Argonaut.” Thomas Sinclair in Chicago started a “Society of Sancto-Claro” and made announcements about Henry’s fame as the “Discoverer of America” as a counterpoint to the Columbian Exposition that was celebrating the 400th anniversary of Columbus. Never mind that, even if Henry really had sailed across the North Atlantic and established a colony at Tinn, it was Greenland, not America. Pesky details, we know. So, others have added further conjecture to the tale, claiming Saint-Clair explored into Nova Scotia, and as far south as what is now Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

The Zeno Narrative has been debunked as a hoax by scores of researchers, and it has been shown to have actually been copied from Columbus’ own descriptions, and others, of Mexico and the Caribbean islands, with some artful name changes. And the accompanying map was apparently copied from a chart made in 1539. Finally, Nicolo Zeno has been conclusively placed in Italy during the period he was supposed to have been sailing and exploring. Court records show that he was less than heroic, being convicted of embezzlement in 1396 and imprisoned for five years.

Author Andrew Sinclair today continues to cling to the story, and has claimed that the mythical expedition was a secret mission of Templars, Gnostics and Freemasons to establish a religious and military empire in the New World, with Venetian cooperation. Most historians, geologists and archeologists place little credence in the theory. Well, okay. None, really. But there are some curious items that have been linked to the tale: the Westford Knight and the Newport Tower. And, of course, Rosslyn Chapel.

The Westford Knight
Located near the town square in Westford, Massachusetts is a slab of rock that is purported to have been carved with the image of a Knight Templar, holding a sword and a shield. Most who have examined the rock say it appears to have been a combination of natural erosion lines with a “punch-carving” of a sword hilt, while the shield has been painted on recently. True believers say it was placed along a popular path for tribal traffic in the late 1300s by Henry Saint-Clair’s expeditions. Archeologists say that’s nonsense. It was more than likely buried under a hillside at that time, and the sword carving was made in the 1800s by a pair of boys. The Templars themselves had not existed as an Order for almost 100 years at the time of Saint-Clair’s alleged expedition, so the question is obvious: why would anyone take the time to carve a 12th century image of a knight on a rock when there was no real connection to them to begin with?

The Newport Tower
A little bigger and a lot more enigmatic is a round, stone tower in Newport, Rhode Island. At first glance, it certainly looks like the ruins of a medieval European tower. And without a great leap of imagination, if you believe that post-trial Templars were stomping around the New England coast three centuries before it became New England, it might even look like a round Templar church.

Of course, it’s looked like other things to other researchers too, depending on their personal pet theory – everything from a Viking observatory, to a Portuguese or Irish signaling tower, to a 14th century Scottish church, which would place it right up Henry Saint-Clair’s bailiwick. Of course, like the Westford Knight, the Newport Tower is only “near” Saint-Clair’s mythical settlement in Greenland, in the same way that Miami is “near” Las Vegas, but who cares when trying to shore up a good myth? Naturally, the fable has been altered to suit the “evidence,” and claims have been made that Saint-Clair explored as far south as Nova Scotia, and, just so he could build this tower, Rhode Island.

Unfortunately, what it looks most like is exactly what local folklore has claimed for centuries: a windmill, patterned after an almost identical structure in Chesterton, England, and built in 1675 by Rhode Island’s first governor, Benedict Arnold (not the famous Revolutionary War turncoat of the same name). Arnold was originally from the area around Chesterton, and it has long been said that he patterned the Newport windmill after the one seen back home in his youth. Some researchers have discounted this theory, saying the Chesterton windmill hadn’t yet been constructed when Arnold was in the area, so controversy remains. But the tower is far too narrow to be anything even remotely resembling a church, even if there was once an outer wooden structure encircling it (of which there is no archeological evidence).

Carbon-14 dating made of mortar from the tower in 1992 placed the probable construction date between 1635 and 1698. But Scott Wolter in his book "The Hooked X" attempts to connect the tower to Templars, the Kensington Rune Stone in Minnesota, and more. Claims that findings from a 2008 excavation at the tower turned up shells with mortar on them dating to the 1400s have not been published for peer review, and there is speculation that the sea shells, and not the mortar, triggered the medieval period carbon date.

A-maize-ing Rosslyn Chapel “Evidence”
It is hard to pick up a book that talks about Scotland’s Rosslyn Chapel without encountering an almost breathless description of an archway decorated in carvings that “proves” the Sinclairs came to America and returned with knowledge no one else could have had when the chapel was built in 1446. The “proof” is a decorative band of carvings that are usually described as “corn” or “maize” plants, and aloe vera – vegetation that existed at the time only in the Americas. There’s only one way that they could have gotten there: Henry Saint-Clair and his Templar explorers had to have gone to America and seen them!

In Greenland? Forgive us, logic returned for a second. But again, the question arises, if you believe the Zeno narrative, what was corn or aloe vera doing in Greenland for Henry Saint-Clair to find it there, since any backyard gardener can tell you Greenland is a lousy place for a cornfield? Of course, no one can say when those particular carvings were made, apart from the certainty that they wouldn’t have been put in until the building itself was completed. And there’s also the possibility that they are just carvings of wheat, lilies and strawberries, in which case all of this is just huffing and puffing.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Ongoing Battle Over Jerusalem's Temple Mount

On the list of history's top ten colossally stupid failures of international diplomacy has to be the 2000 Camp David Summit between Palestinian leaders and Israel, brokered by then US president Bill Clinton. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak made the incredible concession to divide Jerusalem between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, as long as Jews would still be allowed to continue visiting the Western Wall of the Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest site. PA leader Yasser Arafat had the ultimate victory over Israel in the palm of his hand. And he turned it down. Because, you see, the Palestinians' position is that Solomon's Temple, and the later Temple rebuilt by Herod, never existed. At least, they never existed on the Temple Mount.

The Crusaders who came to Jerusalem and found the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, both standing on the Temple Mount, assumed that what they were seeing was actually the King Solomon’s Palace and the Solomon’s Temple described in the Bible, and not more recent buildings constructed by the Muslims. Whether the Templars believed this or not, no one can say.
The place called Solomon’s Stables is actually below the upper level of the Mount itself, and is a large area made up of arched passageways that acted as sort of a supporting sub-basement for the area of the Temple above, probably constructed when King Herod rebuilt the Temple. The Mount itself is a wild combination of natural rock, monumental stonework and clever engineering, and the “stables” were part of an extensive attempt to make the top of the plateau level. During the period of the Crusades, they were actually used as stables, with room, it was said, for 2,000 horses, or 1,500 camels. Humps take up more space.

Today there is little visible evidence of the Templars’ presence on the Mount – and Muslims today deny that the Temple of Solomon was ever on the Mount to begin with. Such is the battle between politics and archeology. If they admit the Temple existed here before the arrival of Islam, then it would mean that Jews could claim “first dibs” on the Mount, yank down the mosques, rebuild the Temple and trigger Armageddon, as prophesized in Revelation 16. And, politically, whoever controls the top of the Mount has psychological and spiritual control over Jerusalem, regardless of what the U.N. may say. It’s sort of an ecclesiastical game of “king of the hill,” and they take it very seriously.

The Islamic authorities that have control of the Mount, called the Waqf, absolutely forbid any messing about in the foundation of the site, while engaging in a feverish building program themselves up top (Nuances aside, Waqf, in Arabic, literally means hold, confinement or prohibition). In 1996, Israeli archeologists opened a subterranean tunnel’s entrance, which erupted into riots by enraged Muslims. Eighty-five Palestinians and 16 Israelis were killed, and more than 1,200 Palestinians and 87 Israelis were wounded. The Palestinian press frequently reports that the Israelis are attempting to weaken the structure of the Mount, in order to cause the collapse of the mosques and the Dome of the Rock, and therefore, start a new war.

As for Solomon’s Stables, they were converted into a mosque in 1996, capable of holding 7,000 people. Hamfisted excavation was carried out hastily by the Waqf, and many critics say that much archeological material was destroyed by the Arabs, further obscuring evidence of the original Temple. Others day that the Waqf has done a credible job, only removing material that was in the area after the Crusader period.

The latest salvo in this rewriting of history happened this past week, as the Palestinians once again alleged that the Mount is not the previous location of Solomon's Temple. Or Herod's Temple. Or that it was ever even Jewish. Really.

It's sort of the archeological version of "These aren't the droids you're looking for."

From a Reuters article, Israel angered by Palestinian report on Western Wall:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on the Palestinian leadership on Thursday to renounce an official Palestinian report asserting the Western Wall, one of Judaism's holiest sites, is not Jewish.

Al-Mutawakil Taha, deputy information minister in the Palestinian Authority, published a five-page study on Wednesday disputing Jews' reverence of the shrine as a retaining wall of the compound of Biblical Jewish Temples destroyed centuries ago.

The wall is adjacent to a politically sensitive holy complex in a part of Jerusalem that Israel captured in a 1967 war. The area, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif, is home to al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock.

"Denial of the connection between the Jewish people and the Western Wall by the Palestinian Authority's Ministry of Information is baseless and scandalous," Netanyahu said in a statement issued by the prime minister's office.

"The Israeli government expects the leaders of the Palestinian Authority to renounce the document and condemn it, and to stop twisting historical facts," he said.

In the report, Taha wrote the Western wall is a "Muslim wall and an integral part of al-Aqsa mosque and Haram al-Sharif," a position echoing past statements by the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Taha issued the document after Israel approved on Sunday a five-year renovation plan for the Western Wall area.

Israel annexed East Jerusalem, where the Western Wall is located, after the 1967 conflict and claimed all of Jerusalem as its capital in a move that has not won international recognition.

Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of the state they want to establish in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

U.S.-brokered peace talks are supposed to address the issue of Jerusalem, but the negotiations were put on hold by the Palestinians shortly after they began in September when Netanyahu refused to extend a partial building freeze in West Bank settlements.

Netanyahu said the Palestinian position paper on the Western Wall "raises a very serious question" as to whether the Palestinian Authority truly intends to reach a peace agreement with Israel "based on co-existence and mutual recognition."

From Israel Today Magazine:

On Monday, the Palestinian Ministry of Information in Ramallah published a “study” claiming that the Western Wall is an integral part of the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Haram al-Sharif (the Islamic term for the Temple Mount).

According to the study, what the Jews call the Western Wall of the Temple compound originally built King Solomon and expanded by King Herod is a wholly Islamic site with no connection to the Jews whatsoever.

“This wall was never part of the so-called Temple Mount, but Muslim tolerance allowed the Jews to stand in front of it and weep over its destruction,” wrote the study’s author, Al-Mutawakel Taha. “During the British mandate in Palestine, the number of Jews who visited the wall increased to a point where the Muslims felt threatened.”

Taha ignored the mountains of archeological and written evidence that affirm ancient Jewish life and temple worship in Jerusalem, and insisted that the Jews have utterly failed to prove their connection to the holy site.

The study concludes that “no Muslim or Arab or Palestinian had the right to give up one stone” of the Western Wall, signaling once again that peace between Israel and the current Palestinian leadership will be impossible without the Jews surrendering not only their land, but their faith and identity.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Raymond Khoury's Newest: The Templar Salvation

The Last Templar author Raymond Khoury has just released (October 19th) the sequel, The Templar Salvation.

From the publisher's description:

In 1310, Templar knight Conrad of Tripoli stumbled on a trove of writings documenting the early days and divisions of Christianity. The Catholic Church has kept this material hidden since the fall of Constantinople in 1453, fearful that its release would undermine the church's authority and rock the foundations of Christian belief. In the present, Mansoor Zahed, an Iranian motivated by revenge for the CIA killing of his family in the 1950s, is bent on finding the trove and releasing it to undermine Western religion and stability. Meanwhile, FBI special agent Sean Reilly visits the Vatican on a quest to find a document that may help in his effort to rescue his love interest, Tess Chaykin, who's been kidnapped.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Rennes-le-Château, Corjan de Raaf, and the Masonic Magician

If all you know about France's Rennes-le-Château, the Priory of Sion and Father Bérenger Saunière came out of Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, spend some time on Dutch researcher Corjan de Raaf's huge and expanding website Rennes-le-Château Research and Resource.

Corjan de Raaf is also a musician, and he has just released a song and music video, titled "Masonic Magician."

Last year, Philippa Faulks and W:.B:. Robert Cooper published The Masonic Magician: The Life and Death of Count Cagliostro and His Egyptian Rite, the story of the fascinating life of occultist Giuseppe Balsamo, better known to history as Count Alessandro di Cagliostro. After an amazing life of adventures, crimes, intrigues, and inventive tall tales, he was arrested in 1789 by the Inquisition and sentenced to death for the crime of being a Freemason. His sentence was commuted to life imprisonment by Pope Pius VI, and he died in the Fortress of San Leo in 1795.

De Raaf's song and video were inspired by the book. In fact, Philippa and her husband Martin Faulks of Lewis Masonic publishing both make cameo appearances in the video's photos.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Of Sheep and Medieval Books

Alan Butler and my friend Stephen Dafoe collaborated on two books about the Knights Templar over the years: The Warriors and Bankers and The Knights Templar Revealed. Eventually they parted company, and Butler went on to pen several books that curiously seem to include mildly obsessive chapters about sheep. How they are raised, sheep population, and how they are barometers of civilization. As the sheep go, so goes Man, apparently.

Insert your favorite amorous shepherd joke here.

So, today I stumbled into Carl Pyrdum's blog, "Got Medieval?" and his article "Why are books so big?"

The answer, as Alan Butler already knows, is, of course, sheep.

H/T to Jonah Goldberg

Monday, September 6, 2010

London Templar Program on Tuesday

This Thursday Sept. 9th, the South East London Folklore Society presents Robert Stephenson speaking on "The Knights Templar in London." His illustrated talk will discuss places in London that were either occupied, owned or had some connection with the Knights Templar and their dramatic downfall, including the sites of their imprisonment and interrogation.

Stephenson is the chairman and lecture organiser of RILKO - the Research Into Lost Knowledge Organisation.

The talk will take place at 8PM at The Old King's Head Pub, 45-49 Borough High Street, London SE1 1NA (near the London Bridge tube station and Guy's Hospital, on the South Bank).

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Walking the Templar Trail to Jerusalem

Two modern-day pilgrims are setting out to follow the trail from Wales to the Holy Land on foot. From the BBC article Cardiff 'troubabours' on 'Templar trail' to Jerusalem:

Two musicians aim to spend up to a year walking the 13th Century route to Jerusalem used by medieval pilgrims.

New Zealanders David Delia, 21, and Max Evenbly, 20, say they want to be modern-day troubadours on the 3,600-miles (5,800km) to Temple Mount.

They leave on Sunday, the 914th anniversary of the first crusade, but insist their mission is non-religious.

The Cardiff-based pair said: "After 65 years of European peace, it is time for this path to be walked again."

The first crusade had the aim of reclaiming Jerusalem and holy sites for the Christian church following an appeal in France by the Pope.

The friends aim to visit 13 countries on the "templar trail", the route to Jerusalem which the Knights Templar were charged with protecting.

Follow their trip at

Friday, August 13, 2010

Friggatriskaidekaphobics: Happy Friday the 13th

For all of you friggatriskaidekaphobics out there, Happy Friday the 13th.

Tellers of tall tales blame the fear on the Knights Templar, or maybe just on King Philip IV. The order was famously arrested all across France on Friday, October 13, 1307. The story of this genesis of the superstition was trotted out as factual in Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code.

Fears of the date Friday the 13th don't really appear anywhere in print much before 1907. In fact, the phobia may have been popularized by the 1907 novel Friday, the Thirteenth by Thomas W. Lawson, about a creepy stockbroker who engineers a panic on Wall Street on a Friday the 13th by playing on superstitious fears of the number 13.

For everything you ever wanted to know about Friday the 13th, read Nathaniel Lachenmeyer's book, Thirteen : the story of the world's most popular superstition.

Several readers wrote to insist that the proper term for fear of Friday the 13th is

Paraskevidekatriaphobia was a recent term created in the 1990s by Therapist Dr. Donald Dossey for fear of Friday the 13th. The older term is friggatriskaidekaphobia. Friday is Frigga's day. Frigga was an ancient Scandinavian fertility goddess, analagous to Venus, who was worshipped on the 6th day of the week (so I suppose people have gotten frisky on Fridays for a very long time). Frigga was pegged as a witch by early Christians, and so the 6th day of the week was referred to as the witches' sabbath.

Triskaidekaphobia is the fear of the number 13. Friggatriskaidekaphobia combines frigga with triskaidekaphobia, and first appeared in 1911.

Mass murderers Charles Manson, Jeffrey Dahmer, Theodore Bundy all have 13 letters in them, in case you are the kind that worries about such things. And if you are the sort who is really concerned about it, stay away from Sacramento, California, as it contains a street corner at the convergence of 13th Street and 13th Avenue.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Rosslyn Chapel: The Shed Is Off! is reporting that the steel shed roof and scaffolding that covered Scotland's Rosslyn Chapel for fourteen years have at last been removed, and the 15th century chapel can finally be seen in its full glory. The temporary covering was installed in 1996 when massive leaks in the chapel's 1950's era asphalt roof were discovered, causing extensive deterioration of its detailed carvings. The ceiling and walls were permeated with green algae, and an earlier, misguided attempt to stabilize the sculpted interior by covering the stonework with a thin wash of plaster resulted in trapping the moisture even further.

Now, thanks to the massive crowds brought to the chapel in the wake of Dan Brown's novel and the subsequent Hollywood film version of The Da Vinci Code, a new watertight roof has been installed, landscaping has been tidied up, and a new visitor's center constructed.

See Rosslyn Chapel's resurrection revealed.

Visitors had to clamber up a steel walkway to get a close look at the building, which will have newly landscaped grounds in the next few weeks to celebrate its restoration.

The grounds of the chapel may still resemble something of a building site as the building is still halfway through the £9 million programme, but the trust responsible for its upkeep heralded yesterday's removal of the last major scaffolding from the chapel as key milestone.

Colin Glyne-Percy, director of the Rosslyn Chapel Trust, which started planning the refurbishment in the wake of a surge in visitors after the success of Dan Brown's 2004 novel and the subsequent Tom Hanks blockbuster movie, said: "It's a hugely exciting moment for us. No-one has had a proper view of the building for 14 years as the protecting covering had to be kept in place for so long to ensure the original roof was dried out, while we put a fundraising plan together.

"We went right back to the original stonework to ensure it was fully restored and the new watertight roof ensures that the roof is properly preserved underneath. We think the removal of the canopy structure and the scaffolding will generate more interest in the chapel.

"We had just 40,000 visitors a year before then, and although it reached a peak of 175,000 visitors we still had 136,000 through the doors last year, and we can still attract 1,100 visitors on a good day."

By next spring, when a new visitor centre next is due to be unveiled, the chapel's stained-glass windows and organ will be fully restored, and new heating and lighting equipment will have been installed. By the end of the following year, all the stonework in the building will have been repaired.

Buy from Amazon here.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Knights Templar chapel and tomb in Laon, France

The village of Laon sits about 80 miles northeast of Paris, and is the location of a well-preserved chapel built by the Knights Templar. The local museum has a collection of Roman and medieval jewelry, and the chapel itself sits within the museum's gardens. The chapel was built around 1180, serving the local commandery. Following the dissolution of the Order, the property was transferred to the Knights of St John (the Hospitallers).

While there are several round or octagonal churches in France, only three of them were actually built by the Templars. Laon's octagonal design was used as a model for a similar Templar chapel in Metz. The third was in Paris (Villeneuve du Temple).

From The Knights Templar Chapel and Tombs in Laon by Francois Hagnere:

[I]n 1128, Bishop Barthélémy de Vir attended the Council of Troyes where, upon approval of Pope Honorius II, Bernard de Clairvaux participated in the elaboration and writing of the Knights Templar Rule. As soon as he came back, the prelate welcomed the Knights Templar and offered them a house on the Rue sainte-Geneviève that would soon become Rue des Templiers. His liberalities towards the knights bearing the white cape and the red cross pattée did not stop here and donations followed at Puiseux where only an underground gallery remains today, at Thouny where a ruined chapel still exists and at Cerny-en-Laonnois and Bertaignemont where not even a stone of the old Templar houses still stands.

As from 1134, by derogation of Pope Honorius II, the Order was entitled to erect a chapel on their own cemetary in Laon. This is the chapel we visit today. The octagonal rotunda is shouldered by buttresses, the windows still belong to the Romanesque Style and the basis of the roofing presents a denticulated carved decoration with modillions that recalls the Mozarabic Style. The choir is quite simple with the same décor and the apse has a half dome. The bell tower is at the junction of the octagon with porch. This square porch has an ogival vault and later received a floor with a tribune towards the inside of the chapel. This octagon with a cupola confirms Viollet-le-Duc’s theory on Templar architecture, like in Metz, and also this sanctuary seems to have been created after the same plan as the chapel of Sainte-Madeleine (destroyed in 1690) in the nearby Benedictine Abbey of Saint-Vincent. At this time in Laon, the monks alone were allowed to possess cemetaries with a chapel and this architectural arrangement might have inspired the Knights Templar. The chapel housed the sepultures of the most illustrious of them.

Three tombs are still visible. Two of them belonged to Hospitallers of the Order of Saint-John of Jerusalem. The most recent one (XVIth century) shows an erased inscribing, the other one is that of Jacques de Haute-Vesnes who died in 1335. The Knight Templar tomb is the one of chaplain Grégoire, dead on the day of Saint-Martin, in 1268.

Remains of St. John the Baptist May Have Been Found in Bulgaria

An ancient alabaster reliquary containing bones purportedly belonging to St. John the Baptist have been found in a 5th century Bulgarian monastery on Sveti Ivan Island ("Sveti Ivan" is St. John in Bulgarian and other Slavic languages).

From an article in the Telegraph today:

The remains – small fragments of a skull, bones from a jaw and an arm, and a tooth – were discovered embedded in an altar in the ruins of the ancient monastery, on the island in the Black Sea.
A Greek inscription on the stone casque contains a reference to June 24 – the date on which John the Baptist is believed to have been born.

"We found the relics of St John the Baptist - exactly what the archaeologists had expected," said Bozhidar Dimitrov, Bulgaria's minister without portfolio and a former director of the country's National History Museum, who was present when the stone urn was opened.

"It has been confirmed that these are parts of his skeleton."

Exactly how the relics ended up on the island is a mystery, but Mr Dimitrov said they may have been donated by the Christian Church in Constantinople when Bulgaria was part of the Byzantine Empire.

But other experts cast doubt on the claim, saying carbon dating tests were needed before the bones could be identified as belonging to Christ's baptiser.

Many countries around the Mediterranean claim to have remains of St John, including Turkey, Montenegro, Greece, Italy and Egypt.

Most famously, the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul purportedly has bones of the Baptist. Undoubtedly the Sveti Ivan Island monks believed the bones were authentic, placing them within the altar of their monastery.

From a CNN report on the find:

Fabrizio Bisconti, superintendent of the Vatican Pontifical Commission of Sacred Archaeology, told CNN that the commission "will wait until a more thorough study has been conducted, including anthropological analysis, before it will express an opinion on the finding."

Bisconti also said there are thousands of alleged relics of John the Baptist scattered around the world. He said the pontifical commission has not been contacted by the Bulgarian archaeologists, and that it normally does not get involved in the sacred archaeology studies carried outside of Italy.

Christians believe John the Baptist heralded the arrival of Christ and baptized Jesus in the River Jordan. According to the Gospels, John was put to death by beheading on the orders of the local ruler, Herod Antipas. He is considered a particularly significant figure in the Orthodox Church.

The newly discovered reliquary is made of alabaster and dates from approximately the middle of the 5th century, [Excavation leader Kazimir] Popkonstantinov told reporters. The southern Black Sea coast was then part of the Byzantine Empire, ruled from Byzantium, now Istanbul in Turkey.

The bones will be installed today at Sozopol's Church of Saint George, which also contains a supposed piece of the true cross and relics of St. Andrew.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Researchers Identify What May Be King Arthur's Round Table

A group of researchers exploring on the trail of legendary King Arthur and his kingdom of Camelot now believe it was built on the site of a recently discovered Roman amphitheatre in Chester, England. And they have a new explanation of the famed Round Table.

From the, "Historians locate King Arthur's Round Table" by Martin Evans:

Legend has it that his Knights would gather before battle at a round table where they would receive instructions from their King.

But rather than it being a piece of furniture, historians believe it would have been a vast wood and stone structure which would have allowed more than 1,000 of his followers to gather.

Historians believe regional noblemen would have sat in the front row of a circular meeting place, with lower ranked subjects on stone benches grouped around the outside.

Historians believe regional noblemen would have sat in the front row of a circular meeting place, with lower ranked subjects on stone benches grouped around the outside.

They claim rather than Camelot being a purpose built castle, it would have been housed in a structure already built and left over by the Romans.

Camelot historian Chris Gidlow said: “The first accounts of the Round Table show that it was nothing like a dining table but was a venue for upwards of 1,000 people at a time.

“We know that one of Arthur’s two main battles was fought at a town referred to as the City of Legions. There were only two places with this title. One was St Albans but the location of the other has remained a mystery.”

The recent discovery of an amphitheatre with an execution stone and wooden memorial to Christian martyrs, has led researchers to conclude that the other location is Chester.

Mr Gidlow said: “In the 6th Century, a monk named Gildas, who wrote the earliest account of Arthur’s life, referred to both the City of Legions and to a martyr’s shrine within it. That is the clincher. The discovery of the shrine within the amphitheatre means that Chester was the site of Arthur’s court and his legendary Round Table.”

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The First Templar video game due in early 2011

Kalypso Media and Haemimont Games will release The First Templar, an action-adventure game for the Xbox 360 and Windows PC in the first quarter of 2011. The First Templar follows a French Knight Templar, and a noble lady who has been pronounced a heretic by the Church. Players uncover a massive conspiracy, explore the mysteries of the Templars, and discover the secret of the Holy Grail—while fighting the forces of the Saracens, King Philip IV of France, and the Inquisition. According to the publisher, twenty historically accurate 13th century locations have been recreated for the game.

Watch the preview.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Templar “Superfine Small Car”

It’s a fair bet to say that when you think of the Knights Templar, you probably envision fearsome guys with swords and lances riding on powerful, snorting, majestic steeds, and not tooting around in four-cylinder, wooden-spoked, open roadsters. But in 1917, that’s just what appeared on the market in America.

Born in Lakewood, Ohio, just outside of Cleveland, the Templar Motors Company came into being. For reasons known only to its founders, they chose to name their upstart company after the Order, and adopted the Maltese Cross as their logo. World War I was raging in Europe, and the new car factory was almost immediately pressed into service manufacturing war munitions. Nevertheless, a few of the company’s first cars rolled off the assembly line, and they were unlike other cars on the road at that time.

From the start, the Templars used an innovative four-cylinder engine design that was more fuel-efficient than most cars of the day, and for the size of the engine, its 43 horsepower output was impressive (by comparison, the 1911 Model T Ford was rated at 22hp. A modern-day Ford Escort manages about 110hp, while a new Corvette cranks out almost 350hp). It’s overhead valve design inspired its name, the "Templar Vitalic Top-Valve Motor."

Templar Motors offered a two-passenger roadster and four- and five-passenger touring cars, priced between $1,985 and $2,255, ($33,000 to $38,000 in 2010), at almost four times the price that Henry Ford was hawking Model T’s. The Templars were truly luxury cars, sporting 27 coats of paint, wooden-spoked wheels, an electric horn, an onboard tire pump, a searchlight, a clock, a locking ignition switch, a windshield wiper, a dashboard light, a complete set of tools, and a unique “neverleak” convertible top. The car also had a special outside compartment that housed a compass and Kodak camera. The company’s advertising called it “The Superfine Small Car.”

In 1920, a Templar Sportette driven by Erwin “Cannonball” Baker (who went on to be the first commissioner of NASCAR) set a series of speed records, including driving from New York to Los Angeles in 4 days, 5 hours, and 43 minutes across mostly mud-soaked, barely passable dirt and gravel roads.

The Templar cars were successful and became the #15 car company out of more than 40 operating in the United States at the time. Between 1917 and 1924, 6,000 Templars were sold by more than 160 dealers. Unfortunately, their history would be similar to the Knights who were their namesake. After a brief period of notable success, they would end literally in flames. Financial mismanagement and a catastrophic fire at their Lakewood plant finally killed off the company by 1924.

Templar Motors is not the only company to use the symbolism of the Order. There are more than 1,900 businesses in the U.S. alone with “Templar” as part of their name. And the next time you are in the grocery, look for King Arthur Flour. Founded in 1790, it is the oldest flour company in America. Its label depicts a Templar knight, carrying a banner with a red cross.

From The Templar Code For Dummies by Christopher Hodapp and Alice VonKannon.

Photo from See also an AW article about this particular car, one of two owned by John L. Smith of Newburgh, Indiana. There are an estimated 30 Templar cars still in existence.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Visiting Cathar Castles

Interesting article in Sunday's New York Times about traveling and exploring Cathar castles in France's Languedoc region.

See The Besieged and the Beautiful in Languedoc by Tony Perrottet.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Knights Templar Featured In "Solomon's Thieves" Comic

"Prince of Persia" video game creator Jordan Mechner is interviewed today at Comic Book Resources, and he talks about one of his many new projects under development - a three-part comic book series based upon the Knights Templar, called "Solomon's Thieves."

"Solomon's Thieves" is set in the period of the Knights Templar in France in the 14th Century. I've been fascinated by the Templars for many years, and this was a story I came across while doing research for "Prince of Persia." You can't read about the Crusades without the Templars being mentioned. For many years, I thought this story was fascinating, but I didn't really see how to do it as a movie or a book. Then it really clicked was when I thought to do it in the spirit of Alexander Dumas, one of my favorite writers – something that would be, like "Prince of Persia," a fun swashbuckling adventure that would also be set against a real historical event. It's very rooted in history and I think also very relevant to the modern day. . .


"Solomon's Thieves" is really told from the point of view of two knights who come back from the Templar Crusades to find that the world has changed. Like returning veterans of any unpopular war, they have trouble fitting into society. In this case, they arrive in Paris just in time for the entire order of Knights Templar – hundreds of knights in the rank and file up to the grand master himself – to be arrested in a single morning and hauled before the Inquisition on charges of blasphemy and heresy. This is an actual historical event – the overnight destruction of what had been one of the most powerful military religious organizations in Europe. And so the fun of the book is to see these great, sweeping historical events – the conflict between the church and the king and all of it – from the point of view of the small fry, the small fish who slipped between the cracks. They don't necessarily understand what's going on, but we deeply sympathize with their plight because these are guys who joined up to be heroes.

The Knights Templar were like the Japanese Samurai or the Jedi Knights of their time. They represented an ideal. They weren't just the best fighters – though the Templars considered it even odds when they were outnumbered ten to one – but they were the best, noblest knights. They were above material gain at a time when normal knights just fought for plunder. As boys, they dreamed of growing up to be Knights Templar. The red cross on white was a very potent symbol in the Medieval Age, so that's why their fall was so shocking, and the plight of these knights as ordinary enlisted men was something I felt modern audiences could connect with and empathize with.

"Solomon's Thieves" is due in stores May 11th.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Human Remains Found In Rosslyn Chapel

STV in Scotland is reporting that human remains may have been found in Rosslyn Chapel.

An article by Graham Fraser reports that workmen found bones in the Chapel during conservation work:

The bones, which were found on February 19, have now been removed from the site to be examined by archaeologists to discover their age, type and if they are human or animal. They were discovered under a slab while a new heating system was being installed inside the chapel. There is no record of a burial site in this particular area of the chapel.

The local police are not treating the discovery as a crime, which implies the bones are very old. Rosslyn Chapel authorities have declined to comment. The crypt has been used for the burial of descendants of William St. Clair who built the chapel, and the Sinclair family, but the new discovery is not in an area historically used for interment of bodies.

The famous 15th century chapel is associated by various authors with early Scottish Freemasonry, the Knights Templar, and wide range of pseudo-historical claims, along with being the location of the climax of Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code. It is undergoing a US$20 million renovation and restoration project.

March and April Are Dummies Months

Pardon a shameless bit of capitalistic promotion, but it's one that ultimately helps you. The good folks at Wiley Publishing have had a regular program every year at this time, and March has officially been "Dummies Month" . Buy a Dummies book or audio set and get a $5 rebate (up to two per family). But this year, the term has been extended until the end of April. That means two Dummies Months in a row!

Now that means you can buy one or two Dummies books with a purchase price of $6.99 or more, on any subject (not just ours) between March 1st - April 30th, 2010, and get $5 smackers each delivered to your majestic manse's mailbox direct from the publisher.

Now obviously we would like you to take this opportunity to plunk down your hard-earned pelf and procure our books: Freemasons For Dummies, The Templar Code For Dummies, and Conspiracy Theories & Secret Societies For Dummies. Think of it as an economic stimulus package. We do have a poodle to support, after all. But there are more than 1,300 Dummies titles out there, and we would certainly understand if you already own ours...

You can download a pdf of the rebate form here.