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.

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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.