Secrets of the Knights Templar |

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Secrets of the Knights Templar

They were the most formidable military order of the middle ages, feared as crusaders and answerable only to the Pope. How then, asks Dan Jones, did the Templars fall from grace so spectacularly?
Though pledged to penury, the Templars gained riches and glory beyond imagining

Alunatic is easily recognised,” wrote “ Italian novelist Umberto Eco in his A best-selling 1988 novel, Foucault’s Pendulum. “You can tell him by the liberties he takes with common sense, by his flashes of inspiration, and by the fact that sooner or later he brings up the Templars.”

This excerpt from Eco’s riddlesome, satirical book is famous among those who study the Templars, the medieval organisation of religiously sworn warriors who fought at the sharp end of the crusades and have, over the centuries, become the focus of speculation and conspiracy theorising.

It is a joke. But like most good jokes it prods at a truth. Eco’s story is a deliberately opaque tale of conspiracy and delusion, in which various characters become obsessed with the Templars – generally to the detriment of their own sanity. Yet the apparent silliness of the story plays against the fact that Eco does not really exaggerate very much. No other organisation from the middle ages – and very few from any other area of history – has spawned as much fantastical fever-dreaming as the Order of the Temple. From literature to cinema, and from television to video games, the Templars have provided generations with entertainment and intrigue in equal measure.

Pilgrimage was considered to be good for the soul, quite literally

The Templars have popped up in medieval romances, including the legends of Arthurian knights; Victorian historical novels, such as Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe; and Edwardian ghost stories in the vein of MR James’s Oh, Whistle and I’ll Come To You, My Lad. Dan Brown’s e Da Vinci Code spins out a tale connecting the Templars to the deepest, darkest secrets of the Catholic Church. The Assassin’s Creed franchise has made the Templars history-meddling evildoers. A new History Channel TV drama series, Knightfall, has developed its own set of tales about Templar adventure in early 14th-century France.

That the Templars are big business in the entertainment industry is beyond question. It’s also true that the Templar brand supports a cottage industry in pseudo-history on page and on screen, which usually ties the organisation one way or another to exciting but bogus mysteries, such as Jesus’s marital status and the existence of the Illuminati. The smash hit in this regard was a multiauthored 1982 book called e Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, which linked the Templars to a secret bloodline of Christ. Eco satirised this in Foucault’s Pendulum and Brown leaned into its conclusions in The Da Vinci Code.

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About BBC History Revealed Magazine

In this month’s issue… Secrets of the Templars They were the most formidable military order of the middles ages, feared as crusaders and answerable only to the pope. This month we tell the tale of how they fell from grace, and try to unpick their legends from the truth. Plus: the Jarrow March; the RAF and the battle of Britain; Martin Luther King; 26 weird facts surrounding royal births; how to make a mummy; and the crowning of Charles II