It’s good to have a life where you can take a cold January Tuesday off and get a Templar church to yourself. At least for most of your visit. I used to live on Templar land in Bristol so their remnants have long been of personal interest to me.
A whole lot has been written about Templar remnants and probably with very good reason. Today we will concern ourselves with some hypothetical origins, instead. Staying with the remnants for just a bit longer… there isn’t a whole lot in terms of psychic resonance left at Temple Church, 800 or so years later. There is quite a bit of ‘remnant resonance’, if you follow me.
- After the King of France arrested all the Templars, Edward II of England actually took two whole years before resorting to extracting confessions via torture. In that time, he disseminated much of the order into other orders and monasteries.
- Temple Church and its grounds passed to the Hospitallers where it remained their property until the reformation, before it fell into neglect. James I gifted it two of London’s Inns at Court and it remains their property today.
- Interestingly, it seems like it was the Inns who agreed to maintain Temple Church in perpetuity (which they do). I will bet actual money that they were all proto-Masons to a man, given that the ‘hermetic underground’ was in full swing by then. It would not just have been the Templar connection but also the church’s involvement in the eventual signing of the Magna Carta that would have piqued their esoteric interest. (The Magna Carta being proto-Masonic in its own way, if you think of the influence it had on the Declaration of Independence and so on.)
I can’t find the exact date that James I issued the Letters Patent to the Inns, but it is interesting to note that the Queen -never one to miss an opportunity for a good ritual- inspected them in 1958 on the 800th anniversary of the founding of the Church (by Templars) on June 26… Close enough to St John’s Day to make me think it had a double founding. It was actually consecrated on Ascension Day, by the Patriarch of Jerusalem, no less. (You can see above the round part was based on the Holy Sepulchre… a tradition continued by later London wizards, even over the wishes of the Crown.) So she was off by five months, which is extremely unlike her. If it didn’t have a double-founding, then this is Lizzie winking at all those Masons working in the law offices in the surrounding buildings.
Those law offices are themselves interesting for where we are going next. As you leave Temple tube stop you walk through old courtyards and little laneways, up past the old Thames bank -the Templars had their own dock- to get to the church. You pass from London to the City. Ordinarily, this means the Queen would have had to send through permission in advance to the Lord Mayor for the visit. Why? Because the City was granted a legal and economic independence unique in all the world. By the Normans.
Although situated within the boundaries of the City of London, the Inner and Middle Temple are not subject to the jurisdiction of the Mayor and Corporation of London. They claim this exemption as successors of the Knights Templar, who constructed the Temple Church and surrounding buildings on the site in the 12th century. By Papal Bull, the Knights Templar were rendered exempt from all civic and ecclesiastical jurisdiction and were answerable only to the Pope. This exemption was also claimed by the Knights Hospitaller, who were granted the Temple Church and surrounding site not long after the abolition of the Knights Templar. On the dissolution of the religious orders under Henry VIII, the Temple reverted to the Crown and continued to be exempt from the jurisdiction of the Mayor and Corporation of London.
An exemption within the most exempt district on earth. You can see why the lawyers in James I’s day would have been so keen on the agreement. You can also see why the Templars moved to the area, after selling their first church in Holborn. It sits within the City, between St Paul’s -ie Rome- and Westminster which, at the time, was being built as the seat of national government. The Templars were even providing some of the loans for said building works.
That’s quite… ambitious.
Questions of formation
Dr Farrell’s Thrice Great Hermetica and the Janus Age makes a very strong case for viewing the Fourth Crusade as a Venetian/Templar project to extract texts and maps from the Byzantine Imperial archives, as well as a case for viewing the Albigensian Crusade and the suppression of the Templars as part of the same operation. In amongst this tale it becomes clear that Venice was vying with its old competitor, Genoa, for the biggest prize of the day: The New World. (Columbus was Genoese, and funded by both the Genoese and the Pope.)
These are some of the ‘hidden goals’ that become decidedly less hidden when you realise ‘conspiracies’ are not a modern phenomenon. And there is a textbook definition of the word ‘conspiracy’ -as in to breathe together– at the foundation of the Templars. The whole ‘nine knights to protect pilgrims visiting the Holy Land’ doesn’t make any sense militarily, as we all know. And if it’s possible, it makes even less sense given they spent the whole time tunnelling under the Temple Mount rather than doing any protecting.
As Dr Farrell points out, the Templars were the world’s first transnational legal entity, whose sole purpose was military in nature, whose funds and fundraising were entirely out of the hands of local dukes and kings. It was the first fulltime standing army since the days of the Roman Empire and it was the first ever European army. One with its own means of capital accumulation and movement.
If you consider the similar formation of the US national security state in the mid-twentieth century, this was clearly done for a reason or reasons that precede the creation of the order.
There are two topic areas that have the greatest bearing on the formation of the Templars:
- A prior understanding of what they might expect to find in Jerusalem.
- An awareness of the New World.
You’ll have to read the book for more on that second point, but the Templar/Venice/Zeno connection is sound; plus the vanished Templar fleet; plus the Templars who were invited into Portugal, became the Order of Christ and then immediately set off for fucking everywhere (not in Dr Farrell’s book, but I recommend Conquerors if you’re interested); plus the fact that Columbus was weirdly esoteric, had been to the New World before and set sail with an actual Templar sail even after the Pope had banned all Templar regalia.
Regarding that first point, in Thrice Great Hermetica, Dr Farrell devotes a lot of time -probably more than the topic deserves- to the various bloodline hypotheses that may have led up to the formation of the Templars. Given these are claims of descent from people who don’t appear to have physically existed (read carefully there) I would be surprised if 1,000-year-old family secrets are the vector for this hidden knowledge. Now, I don’t for a minute doubt that these families actually believe it. I’ve been to Rosslyn Chapel. That shit is off book. But these beliefs are beside the point from an historical perspective.
There is another another possibility.
There are a few cultures/civilisations, even within historical times, that it seems like academia would much rather you leave alone. The Phoenicians spring to mind. Certainly ‘The Sea People’. Also the Normans.
The Normans were originally Vikings. Vikings could sail from the Bristol Channel to the New World without losing sight of land, according to Christopher Knight in God’s Blueprint.
I was contacted by my literary agent to ask if I would take a phone call from Fred Olsen, the famous Norwegian shipping magnate and chairman of Fred. Olsen & Co. I was aware that he has a reputation for being a Scandinavian Howard Hughes due to his great wealth and preference for privacy, so I felt flattered that he wanted to speak to me. Besides running his business empire, Fred Olsen has a track record in investigative archaeology, having been closely involved with the exploits of explorer Thor Heyerdahl –including the famous Kon-Tiki voyage.
Mr Olsen rang the next day and spent around an hour and a half in conversation about my book in general and his knowledge of the history of transatlantic sailing. Fred began by stating that he wholeheartedly agreed that the notion that Christopher Columbus discovered America was foolish in the extreme. He stated that there probably has never been a time when Europeans were not travelling to the Americas. Norwegians have always been great sailors, ever since their longboats attacked towns and villages around the northern European coast. I was fascinated to hear from Fred Olsen that the English west coast port of Bristol had been the most important staging post for Norwegian sailors for many centuries. He went on to say that there are extant maritime documents in that city that record frequent voyages to North America long before the time of Columbus.
Fred then surprised me greatly by stating that these sailors could cross the Atlantic from Bristol to what is now Canada without ever losing sight of land. He explained that they would make their way up the west coast of England and Scotland past the Hebrides and up to the islands of Orkney. From there they continued the 23 nautical miles from North Ronaldsay to the small island of Fair Isle, and on to Shetland less than 20 miles away. Then these late medieval vessels would turn towards the Faroe Islands, which are 150 miles distant. Once they reached the top of that group they had the long stretch to Iceland some 240 miles across the ocean, and from the north of that landmass it was another 150 miles of open water sailing to reach Greenland. The next leg is the 180 miles across to Baffin Island in North America, after which it is all plain sailing down the eastern coast as far as one wishes to travel.
The greatest distance across the open sea that had to be covered on this journey was the 240 nautical miles from the Faroes to Iceland. The mountain of Slættaratindur sits right at the north of the Faroe Islands, reaching 882m above sea level –and in the opposite direction Hvannadalshnúkur is the highest point on Iceland at 2,110m. These distances are surprisingly small in terms of crossing the North Atlantic, but the span of 240 nautical miles seems a heck of a long way to cover without losing sight of land… However, as Fred Olsen was quick to point out, the atmosphere of the Earth changes this theoretical calculation quite considerably. Objects beyond the horizon appear in view long after they should have disappeared if there was no atmosphere on the planet. When you watch a sunset, for example, the Sun is actually completely below the horizon before it appears to even touch the sea. This refraction of the line of sight means that the sailor in the crow’s nest at the top of the mast would have made visual contact with the peak of Hvannadalshnúkur in southern Iceland just as he was losing sight of Slættaratindur on the northern side of the Faroe Islands.
Bristol, eh? Like where the Templars had property?
Having been Catholic for all of about five seconds, the Normans make straight for the holy land by way of Southern Italy. In Italy the Lombards pay them to attack the Byzantines, something they would go on to do of their own volition several times over the next century.
- A French monk who would go on to be Pope Sylvester II, having studied in Morocco in his youth, wrote that he hoped France “would recover the holy places so that a search could be made for the keys to Universal Understanding found there.” This was in the late 900s and suggests a wider ‘bleed through’ of Late Classical texts at an earlier date than is commonly presumed. On that note:
Norman ‘piety’ is weird. Soon after winning Normandy, they expand the monastery of Mont St Michel, initially in a Romanesque style, before Gothic-ing it a century or so later. The common suggestion that the Normans were so obsessed with St Michael was because ‘they were warriors’ strikes me as necessary but insufficient. When you consider that the remnants of the Carolingian Renaissance were to be found in monasteries, it is entirely likely they encountered some early Christian Neoplatonic texts there… My money would be on some quasi-gnostic angelic jibber jabber and some Pseudo-Dionysius. Why Pseudo-Dionysius? Angels, innit:
By 1017, Norman “pilgrims” were at Monte St Angelo in Southern Italy. This means these allegedly devout pilgrims literally rode past Rome itself to visit a place where an extradimensional entity they believed they had a special relationship with was said to have physically landed on earth. That’s what they chose for their ‘pilgrimage’. This strikes me as important given
(1) The Pseudo-Dionysian cosmology is shot through with angels that oversee the running of Creation in a quasi-technological way.
(2) The First Crusade, with significant Norman involvement, was soon to follow with all the subsequent tunnelling that implies. And
(3) The folkloric recurrence of the possibility of physical remains from the ‘other side’ of that archangelic conflict shows up later on in the Languedoc (assuming the Norman/Templar connection holds, which obviously I believe it does).
- My evidence for the Pseudo-Dionysian influence is twofold:
One, at the exact same time as the rise of the Templars -within the sphere of Norman influence- the gothic architectural project explodes onto the scene. This has never been adequately explained. In France alone it is believed to have required the quarrying of more stone than was used in all of Dynastic Egypt. These buildings are Neoplatonic/hermetic models of the universe and are thus magical ‘machines’ for the moral and spiritual regeneration of their congregations. It is interesting that modern scholarship has turned away from the idea that Abbé Suger re-designed St Denis -ground zero for the gothic cathedral project- in favour of ‘an anonymous master mason’ but the Pseudo-Dionysian inspiration nevertheless remains. If anything, anonymous master masons inspired by Late Classical Neoplatonism kicking around Northern France raises more questions than it answers.
Two, if they are not related, then a Norman interest in Neoplatonism and maps/ancient cartography runs parallel to the Templar interest, as we shall see below.
Norman expansion is also weird: England, Northern France… fine. Southern Italy and then Antioch? Especially as so many of these invasions were ‘independent’? It even led to the Pope himself unsuccessfully leading an army against the Normans in Apulia. This is not something Pontiffs do very often/ever. There is clearly a conflict of cosmologies going on behind the Pope’s decision to ride to the defence of lost Byzantine lands.
When the Norman Roger took Sicily, he then started work on the Cappella Palatina; a better early example of the architectural expression of the prisca theologia -combining eastern and western Christianity with Islam- you are unlikely to find. Below you will see he depicted himself being crowned by Christ himself, rather than the Pope. It’s important to realise that -even though his family had defeated and captured the Pope a few years ago- this is still not on. It is a Neddy no-no. It is also exactly the sort of Neoplatonic/Hermetic conception of kingship being whispered in Rudolph II’s and Elizabeth’s ears a few centuries later. (And Henry the VIII’s, of course. By a Venetian hermeticist he was consulting as a lawyer for some reason.)
Roger’s successor then commissioned a Muslim scholar to create The Book of Roger in 1138, a combination of 70 maps and hundreds of sailors accounts of the known world, suggesting an early interest in a presumed lost cartographic tradition.
- It was in Norman Sicily that the west country’s own Adelard of Bath went in search of ‘wisdom’. When he returned to England he took to wearing a green cloak and a green emerald signet ring that he admitted had astrological implications… which probably tells you everything about which texts he was ‘translating’ from the Arabic. This is in the early 1100s, centuries before Ficino got his hands on hermetic texts in Florence.
Hypotheses of Ambition
So, try these on for size.
- I think it was a Norman vector that led to some of the first Neoplatonic stirrings in France that made the creation of the Templars seem like the best solution (because it was). And I think that vector was a hybrid of Carolingian Renaissance leftovers and nascent contact with the Arab world.
- These stirrings, combined with whatever else the Templars found in Palestine and Egypt (don’t forget Egypt) -probably a whole bunch of stuff- combined with a prior awareness of the New World led to the hatching of a very Neoplatonic ambitious plan: triggering Christ’s return by absorbing the New World -and thus the whole world as they understood it- into the church. (It’s possible Columbus hinted at this, many years later, according to his son.) It was not a mission of discovery. It was one of magic. Note, this doesn’t invalidate any of the smaller goals, such as becoming fabulously wealthy via slave trading and gold theft.
- This is what I think the plan was: wholesale remaking of the world along Christian Neoplatonic/quasi-hermetic lines. Here we find some support for the contention that St John the Baptist was a little too prominent among the Poor Knights. If they’d been reading their Asclepius then they’d know he was the one who brought Christ down to earth magically. If they were intent on doing the same, then that’s who you’d want on speed dial.
- Such a plan also neatly explains -after the Templars had been smacked down- why, less than a century later, the hermetic underground kicks off, hermeticising various European monarchs, laying the foundation for modern education systems and generally promoting the rights of mankind. It’s important to realise that’s all going on at the same time Portugal -riddled with Templars- inexplicably goes from being a backwater shithole to a world naval power. England -less riddled with Templars but certainly riddled with wizards- begins American colonisation in earnest and creates an empire… with a monarch ordained by God, not a Pope.
So this is what I think about this morning, as I sit quietly in a pew of an empty Templar church, in a space that has been free of all jurisdiction but its own for more than 800 years. Surrounded by lawyers from many of the planet’s most powerful law firms, working hard for their even-more-powerful clients.
Busily, ambitiously, remaking the world.