The mass roundup of the Knights Templar and seizing of their property happened exactly 700 years ago today, on October 13th, 1307 – to some, the original unlucky Friday the 13th. It may not seem that long, for the Templars are usually characterised by modern writers as having survived - as a secret order guarding the secret of the Grail, perhaps evolving into the Freemasons (which has a Templar degree). The ghost of this officially long-defunct order seems in fact to be getting stronger, as if we are witnessing the Order being reborn - growing in strength again, like something out of an MR James ghost story, becoming ever more manifest. Perhaps “Templar redux” would be a better way of putting it. 'Redux', from the Latin reducere is defined as meaning 'brought back, revived or restored' - though the root meaning is from the same words found in dux, leader, and education, literally a “leading out.” This is a phenomenon I’ve noticed growing over the past several years, while investigating a ghostly Templar 'survival' mystery local to my home ground here on the south coast of England. Interestingly, the photo [below], of the 1900s grave-find of a large, well-built “warrior“ at Christchurch Priory, of the local grave-find of this possible ‘last English Templar’ was sold as a postcard, I was told, exactly a century ago, in 1907 – the previous, or 600th , such Templar-downfall anniversary. (The reality inevitably proved a bit more complicated when I investigated. See my earlier blog post ‘Here Lies England’s Last Templar?’ and the linked illustrated feature I put together on my researches, On The Trail Of England’s Last Templar.)
To commemorate the 700th anniversary of the Templars’ downfall, the Vatican is releasing, on the 25th, the documents regarding the findings of its own investigation of the time into the accusations of blasphemy, perversion, and so on, made by the king of France. The Vatican says it hopes the issue of its manuscript facsimile edition of Processus Contra Templarios will correct many of the myths about the Templars. Reportedly, the document absolved the Templars of heresy, but it was never promulgated due to pressure from the much-feared king of France. (Although this will not be generally accessible, this month the online library Project Gutenberg also released, in 2 volumes, free downloadable versions of the standard account used by historians of the French Templar trials, edited by Jules Michelet in 1841, Le procès des Templiers, or “Trial Of The Templars”. (Click to download Volume I and Volume II). Note that although the title is in French, the text is in Latin, reducing the possibility for the text being mangled or censored during translation into French.)
The newspaper coverage of the anniversary naturally focuses on this Vatican press release about their upcoming book, but ignores the odd back story to this, dating from November 2004. At that time, the national press reported the Vatican had received a demand for an apology to be made in time for the 700th anniversary of the Templars’ mass arrest, “for the torture and murder of our leadership”. This demand was sent from a PO Box in Hertford (just outside London), from a Templar "Council of Chaplains” who claimed to be acting “for and on behalf of “the Grand Master of the Poor Fellow Soldiers of Jesus Christ and the Temple of Solomon Grand Preceptory.” This uses the original historic full formal name of the Templars, as opposed to various neo-Templar groups, which use variants. (These advertise for members on the web, and in the sort of magazines which also advertise ceremonial swords, like Fortean Times.)
The letter implied a more official approach to bring back the original Order. This may have alarmed the Vatican, for they reacted, first by making official enquiries about the group and then contacting them directly. The Times’ Religion Correspondent Ruth Gledhill reported the Vatican was giving ‘serious consideration’ to an apology. (The Hertford Templars may have been encouraged in their plan by the fact there had already been Papal apologies for the Inquisition, the Crusades, anti-Semitism, the persecution of Galileo, etc.) The local paper, the Hertford Mercury, suddenly found its articles being read all round the world. The press identified, as the Templar contact person, Tim Acheson, described by the Mercury as ‘Templar Tim Acheson, who is descended from the Scottish Acheson family that has established Templar links’ and who had grown up in the local manorial hall said to be linked to Templar tunnels. Soon it was claimed there was a maze of tunnels around Hertford Castle, some being sealed off since their use as Cold War official shelters. Acheson also claimed, "Hertford's labyrinth could in fact provide the final proof that the Templars disappeared underground - both literally and metaphorically." He suggested the Holy Grail might be hidden down there.
It was the mention of secret Templar tunnels, with its sacred-treasure-hunt undertones, that kept the story going in the press. Hertford is not far from Temple Dinsley, the English Templars’ key preceptory, and there is speculation this was where any surviving English Templar treasures would be buried. The preceptory itself is long gone, but there have been hopes of discovering some nearby site like Royston Cave, an underground cell under a crossroads, where “Templar” graffiti-style sketches had been found. Much of the tunnel speculation came from the local newspaper-run online forum.
One forum member who kept posting about tunnels was ‘TVA’, who was soon accused of being the same person as Tim V Acheson, trying to stir up interest, which he denied. Acheson said he had a twin brother, Ben, who was also quoted in the press, but forum posters said it was funny how you never saw “the Templar twins” together. TVA was also accused of being the same shadowy figure who acted as intermediary to set up an interview, for Sky One’s Conspiracy series, with a member of the Hertford branch of the Illuminati. (In the event, the Iluminati spokesman got “cold feet” and never appeared on air). TVA denied this but had posted inside information about the making of the programme. Acheson listed himself as a journalist and independent researcher, writing for an online ‘conspiracy-news’ publication called The Insider. (Its onsite metatags describe it as about “Conspiracy Theory News: New World Order, Conspiracy Theories, News, Government, Secret Societies, Freemasons, Extraterrestrials, War... News and reports on serious current Conspiracy Theories, including the New World Order, Freemasons, extraterrestrials, religion, and secret societies“). A whois lookup on the Insider.org web domain shows it registered to Tim Acheson, of United Lodge, Ware (the adjoining town to Hertford). His posts evidently quoted his own Insider articles as news. Fortean Times magazine also did a feature on Acheson and the tunnels, with a photo showing him standing guard with a ceremonial sword and white gloves, in the manner of a “tyler” who stands outside Masonic ceremonies. (Later, the editor posted a comment online saying “I do hope this doesn't come back to bite us on the ass.")
The local Templars were evidently looking for lost treasure, and there was more press coverage when they were refused permission by a local landowner to dig, the letter of refusal somehow finding its way into the press. There were also veiled threats flying around regarding “outsiders” exploring the tunnels, which Ben Acheson claimed were being used for secret meetings by local Templars and Illuminati (described here as “a shadowy and powerful group said to be bent on world domination and boasting President George W Bush among its members”. The Illuminati are of course the villains in The Da Vinci Code followup film now being made, Angels And Demons, where they enact revenge on the Vatican. Like the Neo-Templars, the Illuminati have their own websites, which reported the Hertford tunnels mystery, cf here.) When members of the organisation Subterranea Britannica, described as ‘archaeologists, geologists and historians based at the University of London’, proposed exploring the tunnels, there was (to quote the Mercury) ‘a threat from a sinister secret society based in Hertford, which warned people not to delve deeper into the town’s subterranean secrets’. One threat posted on the online forum by ‘Retiarius’ (a Latin name for a type of gladiator) said “Those responsible had no business publicising any of the Templar tunnels, disused or otherwise.” Another said “Hertfordshire Mercury Explorers: UPON THE EARTH/ IS FOR THE LIVING / BELOW THE EARTH / IS FOR THE DEAD / DO NOT GO UNDERGROUND / IT IS DANGEROUS”. Commented the Mercury, “the message sent a shiver through the spine of Templar twins Ben and Tim Acheson, who exposed the secret tunnels to the Mercury. But Ben said: “As long as we’re responding to emails and calls, and unless there is blood on my sword, or my brother’s sword, I think you can safely assume that we have not been ‘dealt with’ yet.” It was suggested parts of the tunnel network were booby-trapped, as if it were some Nazi lair in the ruins of 1945 Germany. In fact a connection with the Nazis was suggested: Acheson said he and Ben were grandsons of an MI5 man who went into Hitler’s bunker and recovered certain secret documents.
I’m sure I’m not the only person who senses all this is building up to something, but what exactly? A book publicizing the finding of the long-lost Holy Grail under Hertford Castle? A ‘coming out’ of the original Templar order after 700 years underground?