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.