Friday, April 13, 2007

Here Lies England’s Last Templar?

Today, the standard explanation (reproduced in The Da Vinci Code) why Friday the 13th is considered unlucky is that this was the date the Knights Templar were rounded up with papal authorisation in 1307, tortured into confessing heresy and blasphemy, their unrepentant leaders killed by various means. There is a related alternative explanation to do with Judas being the 13th disciple and Christ being arrested on a Friday, setting up parallels with the Templars’ last leader, Jacques de Molay, as ‘the Second Messiah’, the argument being made that his torture consisted of being crucified to mock the fact he had said his Order could absolve sins. (Knight & Lomas’s 1998 book The Second Messiah: Templars, The Turin Shroud And The Great Secret Of Freemasonry also argues the Turin Shroud is an artefact of this, preserved by family friends.) Though the fatal roundup occurred in October of 1307, this year the day-date combination of Friday the 13th falls now, at the end of Easter week. This year is the 700th anniversary of the Templars’ downfall, and so this seems as good a time as any to look at an event that has achieved ‘mythic’ status in more ways than one.
Tomb cover from the mid 14th Century with unusual designBooks on the Templars tend to refer to Jacques de Molay as ‘the last Templar’ – indeed there are at least two books with that as a title. The idea is the Order died with him when he was executed after 7 years captivity, in 1314. He had been kept alive for interrogation purposes, so that he could make a public endorsement of the confession he had made under torture. (Instead he retracted his confession, causing him to be at once roasted alive.) Many other Templars of course did not last that long, the effects of torture shortening their lives. Other were left maimed or crippled, in no shape to carry on the Order in disguise. Some are recorded as having died prematurely after their mistreatment, such as the head of the English order, who was imprisoned in the Tower of London. Recent books insist some escaped to fight their enemies, but there’s no record of any named Templars doing so – the ‘survival hypothesis’ seems a back-formation to support the Roslyn-as-Templar-chapel scenario. Now, a case study in English local history has come up with a named and historically attested Templar who seems to have survived until around 1350, when he was buried in an unusual tomb [see photo]. As it’s an even more complicated story than usual for this subject area, I’ve covered it on a separate page:
‘On The Trail Of England’s Last Templar’ [read feature]