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The Templar Code For Dummies 1st Edition

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    Wives Beware

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  • Aboaz
    Rennes-le-Chateau, France
    Ever since Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln published Holy Blood, Holy Grail in 1982, a stream of tourists have made their way to the tiny, out of the way, and hard-to-get-to village of Rennes-le-Chateau in southwestern France, on the trail of the Templars, the treasures of King Solomon, the Holy Grail, Mary Magdalene, and the Priory of Sion. In 2006 alone, the little hamlet was choked with more than 100,000 tourists. We talk more about this intriguing little village in Chapter 11, but suffice it to say, there’s enough here to keep the average treasure hunter busy for quite some time.

    Stuck between the Pyrenees Mountains in the south and the Cevennes Mountains in the north, the rugged countryside around Rennes has seen its share of bloody battles and rapidly changing landlords. One version of the story says that the Cathars who lived in the area actually had the treasure of Solomon’s Temple, and the Templars moved in and took it from them.

    Ruins from long-gone castles are everywhere, so you’ll have plenty of places to dig. Just don’t get caught. Between Holy Blood, Holy Grail and The Da Vinci Code, the town has been plagued by late-night digging and impatient, would-be Indiana Joneses setting off explosives to blast their way into what they believed were the secret hiding places of a vast fortune.

    The best news for Templar treasure hunters is, thanks to the incredible highspeed TGV train system in France, you can get from Paris to this formerly isolated neck of the woods in just two hours.

    Chateau de Gisors (Normandy, France)
    This incredible fortress in Normandy has been tied to the Templars in a variety of sources, most notably in Gerard de Sede’s book, The Templars Walk Among Us. Gisors Castle was built in the 11th and 12th centuries, and located about 40 miles northwest of Paris, in an area once known as the Norman Vexin. Built by the English who temporarily owned the property for a while, it was at the center of a struggle between King Henry II of England and Louis VII of France.

    In 1158, the castle was handed over to the Templars for a while as neutral observers to keep the peace between the two kings. The castle later fell into the hands of the French and became a royal prison. It was reputed to have been the final prison of Grand Master Jacques de Molay in 1314.

    The castle is an unusual round design that seems to rise up out of a coneshaped mound of earth. Much of the building is underground, and a complex warren of subterranean tunnels and rooms exist. So it seems that an explorer back in 1946 claimed to have been doing some unauthorized digging down in the dungeon and struck pay dirt: 19 stone coffins and 30 metal boxes.

    The story reemerged in the 1960s, and local authorities were compelled to do some digging of their own. They found nothing — or so they say. Modern authorities strongly discourage treasure hunters who are convinced that the Templar treasure is hidden at Gisors. The authorities say nothing is there. Who do you believe?

    Okay, it’s a small country, but it gets big when you’re standing there with your shovel in your hand, trying to decide where to dig. As authors Alan Butler and Stephen Dafoe lay out in their book, The Warriors and the Bankers, Switzerland just appeals to common sense as the real haven for fleeing French Templars. It was close, it was friendly, it had lots of places to hide in, and in later years, it became world-renowned for international banking. Even its flag features the Templar Cross, in Templar colors, albeit in reverse: a white cross on a red field.

    Switzerland was not a country, per se, in the days of the Templars. It was largely a smattering fiefdoms and dukedoms. But if you had to pick a spot to start digging, one town in particular jumps out with a suitably Holy Land-like, Templaresque name: Sion. High up in the Alps, it is the modern-day capital of the canton of Valais, and its medieval buildings are unique. Two enormous castles, both built around A.D. 1300, stand up on two opposing peaks in the middle of town: the Chateau Valere (home of the world’s oldest playable organ, installed in 1390) and the ruins of the Chateau de Tourbillon.

    If the treasure isn’t there, you may be out of luck. Switzerland is known the world over for its strict laws of preserving the secrecy of its banking customers, and if somebody found it before you, you’ll probably never know who it was.

    Trinity Church (New York City)
    If you saw the 2004 movie National Treasure, then you already know that Nicolas Cage has beaten you to the treasure. In the opening scene of the picture, a montage shows the building of Solomon’s Temple, the Templars’ discovery of its riches, their voyage across the Atlantic, and the revolutionary War-era Freemasons who protected the treasure. (We haven’t spoiled anything yet — they do all this in the first two minutes of the movie. But stop now if you haven’t seen it before, because we’re about to ruin the end for you.)

    In the end, the vast treasure of the Templars gets found at the bottom of a pit with an ingeniously designed 18th-century elevator, underneath Trinity Church in New York City. Trinity Church has an unusual history, and it sits on some of the most valuable real estate in the world, at the corner of Broadway and Wall Street, surrounded by massive skyscrapers and the New York Stock Exchange. With room in the church for just 550 members of its congregation, how have they been able to hold out for so long — since the 1600s — against what are undoubtedly lavish offers to sell the place? We know how — they’re really financed by the Templar treasure. And all that loot underground in such close proximity to Wall Street and the center of commerce for the free world can’t possibly be a coincidence.

    Don’t go digging in the adjacent graveyard — Alexander Hamilton is buried there, and he’ll haunt you. He was the first Secretary of the Treasury and the biggest promoter of the U.S. government starting a national bank. With Templar gold perhaps?

    Washington D.C.’s Rosslyn Chapel
    We think we know what has become of the Templar treasure. It has never made sense that a group as shrewd as the fabled Knights would go roaming the countryside with trunks of gold and silver and burying it in a hole somewhere, any more than Donald Trump or Goldman-Sachs would. Theory after theory has been concocted about locating the Templar’s treasure, but to no avail. Many such conjectures involve so-called “sacred” locations and convoluted claims of bizarre astronomical or geometric calculations, star charts and other such stuff and nonsense. Well, we’ve discovered the treasure. We know where it is, we know what it is, and it is hiding in plain sight.

    Many books have been published over the years connecting the Freemasons mysteriously with Washington D.C., including Chris’s own Solomon’s Builders. But most people don’t know that there is a neighborhood due west of, and across the Potomac from, the White House, called Rosslyn. It is named after the famous chapel in Scotland, and it is part of a larger bit of sacred geometry of its own.

    The Freemasons and the Templars are bound together in legend, and maybe even by a few facts (see Chapter 8). And everybody knows that the Freemasons were somehow involved in the building of Washington, D.C.

    If you believe that, drag out your map of Washington, D.C., and start connecting the dots. Start at the White House and draw a line north up 16th Street to Rock Creek Park. Like the Rose Line in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, the 16th Street meridian is believed by some researchers to be of mystic and spiritual origin — so much so that several “secret” societies and literally dozens of churches are built along it.

    Follow 16th Street to the entrance of Rock Creek Park. It is a little known episode of history that, in the 1860s, there was a brief notion of the city planners to build a new presidential mansion at what is now Rock Creek Park,

    because of the noise, smells, and general yuckiness of the swampland around the existing White House. The tradition of the original White House prevailed, the president’s residence stayed put, the swamp got filled in, and Rock Creek Park is now a beautiful, rustic recreation area for D.C. residents. But, nevertheless, here are two potential White House spots located at either end of the “sacred” 16th Street meridian.

    Now for the really clever bit. Draw a line straight west of the White House, just across the Potomac to the Rosslyn Metro station. Draw another diagonal line from the Rosslyn Metro stop up to the entrance of Rock Creel Park. Voila! Sacred geometry! A right-triangle that connects the two White House locations with a neighborhood named after one of the most enigmatic Templar locations in the world, Rosslyn Chapel!

    So what, you say? Here’s what. Just across the street from the Rosslyn Metro Station is another Rosslyn Chapel. And like its Scottish cousin, it is one of the most peculiar churches anywhere in the world. More important, its underground vaults hold a modern-day Templar treasure, one of the most valuable riches on Earth.

    The Arlington Temple United Methodist Church is located at 1835 N. Nash Street, dead center in Rosslyn. And its treasure? It seems that the church elders decided in the 1970s that it would be good fiscal planning to have a steady income, so when the building was constructed, it was designed on top of a gas station. Its underground tanks hold several thousand gallons of gasoline, and with oil prices at what they are today, this modern-day Rosslyn Chapel has it made.

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  • Aboaz
    Chapter 17

    Ten Places That May Be Hiding the Templar Treasure
    In This Chapter
    ● Digging for Templar treasure
    ● Discovering medieval hiding places
    ● Looking for secrets in plain sight

    Let’s cut to the chase.
    This chapter is the real reason you picked up this book. You aren’t buying for a second that the Templars only had some lofty spiritual treasure, or that the bloodline of Christ was the most valuable thing they were hiding. You know the Templars fled France with a whopping wad of swag, lucre, and pelf. There’s just gotta be a buried treasure somewhere — there’s just gotta! And all you need is a map and a shovel. So, in this chapter, we list ten places that the Templars are alleged by various sources to have stuffed their loot.
    Please obey all No Trespassing signs, and remember that if you’re caught packing explosives, we’re not bailing you out of some foreign jug.

    Rosslyn Chapel (Roslin, Scotland)
    This is it. This is the Mother of All Hiding Places. We discuss Rosslyn Chapel throughout this book, and it’s the location of the big finish of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. The Chapel is the focus of a huge spectrum of speculative scrutiny, and every year brings a new theory — or five — about what its thousands of peculiar carvings really mean, what’s hidden in its columns, and what’s buried in its crypt. Never mind that, so far, all that’s been found in its floors are dead Scotsmen.

    There’s an old legend rattling around that if you stand on a special spot in the chapel and blow a particular note on a special horn, the secret passage will open and the treasure will be revealed. It hasn’t happened yet.
    If you’re a careful reader, you’ll notice that we also include Rosslyn Chapel in the list of possible locations of the Holy Grail in Chapter 16. It’s all there.

    Oak Island Money Pit (Nova Scotia, Canada)
    This tiny island off the coast of Nova Scotia has been the subject of speculation since the discovery of a mysterious hole in the ground in 1795. So far, no one has reached the bottom, and manmade barriers have been struck regularly enough during the troublesome excavation that those involved have been convinced a massive treasure is just beyond the next layer. Although speculation has raged for more than two centuries about what’s at the bottom, nothing of serious value has ever been found. Still, enthusiasts have claimed that the pit hides pirate treasure, lost Spanish gold, bizarre otherworldly deposits from UFOs, or, most important for our discussion, Templar treasure.

    Author Steven Sora has speculated that the pit is the hiding place of Templar treasure, moved to Nova Scotia by the Catholic Sinclair family from its underground vaults in Rosslyn Chapel in 1545 to keep it out of Protestant hands. Seems like a lot of effort and expense, but who are we to argue with a zealous fascination with treasure?

    So much of the area has been churned under by major excavations in the last 100 years that the original opening to the pit has been bulldozed and lost. Since its first discovery, at least six people have been killed while digging for the treasure that always seems to be just beyond the next scoop of mud. In spite of recent hopes that the Canadian government would turn it into a tourist destination, the pit portion of the island was sold recently to a U.S. drilling company for $7 million. In 2006, a group of Michigan investors said a new expedition would begin soon.
    We discuss the Oak Island Money Pit extensively in Chapter 7.

    Temple Bruer (Lincolnshire, England)
    About 200 miles due north of London is the village of Lincolnshire. Nearby stands Temple Bruer, built by the Templars between A.D. 1150 and A.D. 1160. It was reputed to be the second richest preceptory in England, second only to London’s. Temple Bruer was passed to the Knights Hospitallers in 1312 when the Templars were suppressed, and was dissolved as a Hospitaller preceptory in 1540.

    Like many Templar preceptories, Temple Bruer featured a circular church, patterned after the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The church itself no longer stands, nor do most of the other buildings of the compound, apart from a tall tower that has been rebuilt several times. But an excavation from the 1800s revealed some lurid and tantalizing finds.

    The Reverend George Oliver, Doctor in Divinity, Vicar of Scopwick, and Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in Edinburgh, was a respected historian of the Victorian era. In 1837, he made an excavation of the Temple ruins and was shocked by what he found. Dungeons were uncovered, with the remains of corpses that had been beaten, tortured, and burned. Labyrinths of tunnels and vaults were everywhere, and there were more that hadn’t been excavated.

    Recent speculation has placed Temple Bruer at the center of a five-pointed star (or pentagram) made up of intersecting lines drawn from other significant churches. If this design is truly based on an intelligent design of sacred geometry and not just wishful thinking, the significance could be that there is something far more important than old bones buried in undiscovered vaults hidden under the Bruer heath. Could it be the Templar treasure?

    Hertfordshire, England
    While we’re still in England, there’s another location that has stirred up controversy in the last few years. The Templars had another preceptory in Hertford, at Temple Chelsin in nearby Bengeo, and recent discoveries of tunnels beneath the town have drawn international attention. Tunnels connect the dungeons of Hertford Castle with the County Hall, and other locations.

    The story goes that the Templars literally went underground in Hertford after their suppression, and that they continued to meet secretly beneath the town for centuries. Even today, rumors fly of secret, mystical Templar groups meeting in these subterranean passages, including a short-lived group from the 1940s and 1950s called the Knights Templar of Aquarius.

    The tunnel network is extensive, and many of the vaults seem to have been sealed up in the 1800s. Rumors abound of secret, booby-trapped vaults that may be hiding the Holy Grail, or, you guessed it, the vast Templar treasure. King Edward II imprisoned many of the local knights, and was desperate to find their hoard of gold and silver. He never did. Maybe it’s still there, waiting for you.

    Bornholm Island, Denmark
    Buried treasure is almost always on islands, so here’s another one to weigh anchor at. Located in the Baltic Sea, this Danish island lies smack-dab between Denmark, Sweden, Germany, and Poland. Its obviously strategic position has made it the object of military tug of war for centuries, and it played a vital tactical role to the Nazis in World War II.

    For a little place, Bornholm Island has a large number of medieval churches — 15 in all, and 4 of them are of a distinctive round shape, a favorite design of the Knights Templar.

    Speculative authors Erling Haagensen and Henry Lincoln have postulated that the churches on Bornholm Island were, in fact, built by the Knights Templar. And more important, when they are aligned with other important archeological sites — Rennes-le-Chateau in France, in particular — it becomes clear (to them, anyway) that what the Templars built was a colossal network of astronomical observatories. Haagensen and Lincoln laid all this out in their book, The Templars’ Secret Island, with a bewildering array of maps and geographical plotting that show the churches arranged in the pattern of a five-pointed star (or pentagram). But what if all those lines aren’t pointing at the round churches? What if those lines get followed back to the center and the churches themselves point to a position that hides the Templar treasure?

    Here’s a tantalizing tidbit of Templar treasure temptation: Nearly 3,000 pieces of stamped gold ingots depicting a strange human figure have been found on the island, and no one can definitively say where they came from or who they depict.

    Behage indromme mig den skovl!

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  • Aboaz
    Kilmartin Church (Argyll, Scotland)
    In their book The Temple and the Lodge (1989), Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh traveled to the Scottish village of Kilmartin and closely examined some unusual headstones in the churchyard there. In amidst the many family gravestones are 80 curious ones, unmarked and anonymous, except for the carving of a sword. The authors believe that these graves are solid evidence that the Knights Templar really did escape from France and come to Scotland to seek safe haven from arrest, and that the namelessness of the slabs reveals their origin. Templars fleeing arrest could not use their real names and might very well have been buried in this manner.

    Some people scoff at this theory. They claim that Templar headstones were never designed in such a way. Of course, this presupposes that Templars in Scotland escaping the dark days of excommunication and arrest would want to be identified in their graves. Go, visit, and decide for yourself.

    Chinon Castle (Chinon, France)
    Chinon Castle (shown in Figure 16-2) in France’s Vienne River Valley is an important place at several stages in French history. A fortified pile of some sort has existed on this plateau overlooking the river ever since the Romans wandered through (and back when “all Gaul was divided into three parts”). In the fourth century, it was a monastery, but it was expanded into an extensively fortified castle. Over the centuries, it has been held by both English and French kings, as those who get their history from movies like The Lion In Winter will quickly attest. England’s King Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and their son King Richard the Lionheart were buried nearby. And followers of the Joan of Arc story know it as the place where the young Joan recognized the dauphin as the heir to the throne, Charles VII, and implored him to declare himself King of France and pitch the English out on their collective arses. The English burned her at the stake for her trouble.

    Figure 16-2: Chinon Castle overlooking the Vienne River.

    What makes Chinon important to Templar mavens is that its dungeon, known as the Coudray Tower (or keep), was where King Phillip IV tossed many members of the order — including Grand Master Jacques de Molay — when they were arrested in 1307. The cylindrical structure still stands today, and graffiti attributed to the knights can barely be made out among the modern defacement of centuries of tourists.

    In 1308, Pope Clement V ordered a team to travel to Chinon and interrogate the Templars. The results of their questioning and subsequent absolution of their confessed sins were revealed in a document referred to as the Chinon Parchment, which remained hidden from researchers until the 1700s. Templars were kept at Chinon for seven years, as King Phillip slowly meted out torture and death sentences, and Clement did nothing to stop him. (We discuss the Chinon Parchment in more detail in Chapter 6.)

    The castle later became a state prison for more than 200 years. Today it is a fascinating complex to explore, in case you needed an excuse to go visit the Loire region of France — apart from beautiful scenery, magnificent chateaux, great food, and fine wine.

    Templar Villages (Aveyron, France)
    The Templars didn’t just build castles and churches. A Templar preceptory or commandery was often a self-contained village, with homes, farms, and other services for the many people who lived and worked there. These areas have not survived undisturbed over the last 800 years, but there are still places to catch a glimpse of what life in a medieval European Templar community was like.

    Probably the best can be found in the Aveyron region in south-central France — the villages of La Couvertoirade and Sainte-Eulalie-de-Cernon. The area was part of the busy pilgrimage trail that led from Paris to the Mediterranean, and on to the Holy Land, so it made sense for the Templars to establish settlements there. The farmland was perfect for raising crops and grazing horses and sheep — all essential goods needed to support the long journey to Jerusalem. The villages developed in the classic style of the period — a castle was built for defense, and the supporting community grew up around it.

    Like most of the Templar property in France, the villages were turned over to the Knights Hospitaller when the Templars were dissolved. The new landlords added to them, but the general feel and flavor remain much as they were when the Templars built them.

    Nearby, the village of La Cavalerie was also a Templar town, although little remains of the Templars’ influence apart from the ruins of a Templar church. Its fortifications largely came from the Hospitallers. The other major ruins of the period are in Viala du Pas de Joux, where a tall tower built by the Hospitallers still stands. And in the village of Sainte-Eulalie-de-Cernon, on every other Sunday in July, a procession passes through the tenth-century village carrying relics from the Crusades, including one of the sacred thorns from Christ’s crucifixion crown.

    The Aveyron region is famous for Roquefort cheese, in case your traveling companion has no interest in Templar stuff. And try not to get completely white-knuckle terrified while driving over the world’s highest bridge, the Millau Viaduct, on your way there.

    For more information on the Templar villages in the Aveyron region, check out

    Tomar Castle (Tomar, Portugal)
    The mother of all Templar sites in Europe is Tomar Castle in central Portugal, about 85 miles northeast of Lisbon. The Templars came to the aid of the Spanish and Portuguese Christians in an effort to push the Moors off the Iberian Peninsula. Muslims made other attempts to reoccupy the area, but the Templars’ defense succeeded.

    Muslims continued to occupy the southern portion of Spain and Portugal from 711 until 1492, but the defensive line drawn in the sand by the Templars prevented the Moors from mounting any more serious incursions north. The infamous Spanish Inquisition was actually started to root out both Muslims and Jews who may have falsely converted to Christianity in order to stay in the country. The eight centuries of battling the Moors for control of the Iberian Peninsula is known as the Reconquista.

    As a reward for their victories against the Moors, the Templars were given a large fiefdom surrounding the area of Tomar in 1159, which became the Portuguese headquarters of the Order, as well as the first Templar province established outside of Jerusalem. Tomar was in a largely unpopulated part of the frontier, and the Templars had their hands full while they both defended against the Moors and encouraged new Christian settlers to move in. Continuous victories extended the Templars’ holdings in Portugal.

    The castle at Tomar, known as the Convento de Cristo (Convent of the Order of Christ), was built by Gualdim Pais, the provincial Grand Master of the Templars, in about 1160. Using designs learned the hard way under battle conditions, it features round turrets at the corners — trickier to build, but simpler to defend than square ones. Central to the commandery is the large octagonal church, or charola (see Figure 16-3). Like the Templar church in London, its design is said to have been inspired by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, but more likely, the Dome of the Rock, in Jerusalem. The church was used in Templar initiations of new members, who were brought in on horseback. (A similarly magnificent example of this design can be found in Veracruz, Spain.)

    The nearby Church of Santa Maria do Olival was the first Templar church in Tomar and became the burial place of more than 20 knights of the order. In and around this church, as well as on several Templar gravestones, can be found the image of the five-pointed star, or pentagram. Though associations between the pentagram and witchcraft and Satanic worship are common today, such a connection is largely a modern invention, in spite of hysterical claims otherwise. The Templars may very well have brought the symbol to Tomar from Jerusalem, where early Christians attributed the symbol to the five wounds of Christ’s crucifixion.

    Figure 16-3: The octagonal church at Tomar, Portugal.

    Tomar is the largest European Templar settlement still standing today. It is also unique because of Portugal’s treatment of the order after their suppression in 1312. Unlike many other European nations, Portugal did not arrest the knights. Instead, the new Order of the Knights of Christ was created in Portugal, with the express encouragement of King Dinis, and the Templars simply changed their name (see Chapter 7). Tomar never fell into the hands of the Hospitallers, so it has retained its original Templar structure and character.

    Domus Templi — The Spanish Route of the Templars (Aragon, Spain)
    In the Aragon region of Spain, about 200 miles south of the border with France, where the Iber River flows into the Mediterranean Sea, the Templars assembled a string of Commanderies, known as the Domus Templi (Dominion of the Templars). The stream of Spanish pilgrims traveled the path down the Iber toward the sea for passage across the Mediterranean. The seaport at Peniscola became a strategic point from which the Templar fleet could ferry knights, pilgrims, and supplies.

    For Templar fans, the Spanish Domus Templi is a gold mine of medieval castles, towers, houses, churches, and more. Commanderies of the order were clustered in Gardeny (known in Templar days as Lleida), Monzon, Miravet, Tortosa, and Peniscola; all are worth visiting today. The tenth-century castle at Tortosa is especially impressive, while Peniscola’s castle on a peninsula overlooking the ocean is the best preserved (see Figure 16-4). It was the location used in the film El Cid (1960) starring beefy Charlton Heston.

    Figure 16-4: Peniscola Castle.

    For more information on the Domus Templi, check out

    Where It Ended: Isle de la Cite (Paris, France)
    Paris is a place where only ghosts of the Templars can be found. The vast portion of the city — nearly one-third of it — once belonged to the order, no doubt a contributing factor to King Philip IV’s jealousy of them. The mighty Templar Preceptory with its tall, fortified citadel, is long gone. It survived as a dungeon until after the French Revolution, when Napoleon had it destroyed. (The royal family had been imprisoned there during the Revolution before meeting Madame Guillotine, and Bonaparte didn’t want it to become a shrine for royalists.) Today, there is a quiet park on the site, and the Temple Metro station is on nearby Rue du Temple.

    The order’s last Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, died on a tiny isolated island adjacent to the Isle de la Cite, called the Ile-des-Juifs (Island of the Jews) in the middle of the Seine River west of where the magnificent Notre Dame Cathedral stands. The island itself, now part of the Isle-de-la-Cite, is shaped almost like the prow of a ship, and there is a park there now, the Square du Vert Galant. It was there that de Molay and his friend Geoffroy de Charnay were tied to a stake on March 18, 1314. (The plaques on the island say the 19th, but historians agree that it was the 18th.) The old Grand Master, weary after seven long years of imprisonment, asked to be faced toward the cathedral and his hands tied such that he could fold them in prayer. As the fire was lit, he called out for both King Philip and Pope Clement V to join him before God’s tribunal within the year. The pope obliged and died a month later, followed by King Philip on November 29th.

    There is a legend that, when the fires died and the ashes settled, the bones of the Grand Master were taken away and kept. Believers in the tale of the Larmenius Charter (see Chapter 9), a secret document that passed control of the order onward to the present day, say that when the document was rediscovered in the 1700s, the charred bones of Jacques de Molay were still contained in the box with it, wrapped in white cloth.

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  • Aboaz
    Temple Church (London, England)
    When walking through the old capitols of Europe, you come across the word Temple in the names of streets and neighborhoods, even subway stations. In almost every case, it’s a pretty safe bet that you’ve come across property held at one time by the Knights Templar. Not every Templar commandery or preceptory was enormous, but two of the biggest chunks of the Order’s real estate were in Paris and in London.

    Hidden behind the walls of the Inns of Court in London, just off Fleet Street at Chancery Lane, stands the Temple Church, with its distinctive circular design and stone effigies of buried Templar knights. The oldest portion of the church is the round end at the west, said to be patterned after the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the place of Christ’s burial, in Jerusalem.

    The Templars’ original home in London had been up the hill at the north end of Chancery Lane near High Holborn Street, but they quickly outgrew it. Templar holdings in London covered a massive area, from the Thames River north to High Holborn Street. The Temple Bar, where Fleet Street turns into the Strand, was the western boundary of the City of London (literally marked by a gate or bar) and the beginning of the Templar property.

    The church was completed and consecrated in 1185, and such was the prestige of the Templars that Heraclius, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, came all the way to London for the ceremony.

    Well, not exactly. Heraclius had a lousy reputation as being ignorant, degenerate, and something of a crook, and he was really in town looking to give his blessing to anyone who would be willing to come back and be king of Jerusalem (and his willing stooge). As protection, Heraclius brought with him the Grand Masters of both the Knights Templar and the Knights Hospitaller. While in London, he offered the job to King Henry II, who wasn’t impressed. Phillip II Augustus of France had been offered the job before him and had turned it down, and Henry didn’t much like being second on anyone’s list, but especially any list that started with the king of France — not a big surprise given that Henry owned more of France than Philip did. He, too, refused the job.

    Nevertheless, the consecration of the new headquarters of the Knights Templar in England was a momentous event. The interior of the church looked different than it does today. Stretching east of the round portion was a rectangular chancel, much like what is there today, but considerably shorter. The stone walls and carvings seen these days were lavishly painted in bright colors.

    The church has been altered and rebuilt many times since the Templars were dissolved and the property handed over to their rivals, the Knights Hospitallers. Eventually, the Templar holdings were rented out to two different colleges of lawyers, and the area is known today as the Inns of Court. The church is jointly used and maintained by the colleges, known as the Inner Temple and the Middle Temple. When the area became home to the legal profession and the Inns of Court, the term passing the bar literally meant crossing the old city boundary at the Temple Bar into the judicial section of town.

    World War II was not kind to the church. Nazi bombings of London destroyed the roof and gutted the interior. The architect Christopher Wren had constructed a detailed choir, pulpit, and other pieces after the Great Fire of London in 1666, but these had been removed during a remodeling in the 1840s. Wren’s old pieces had been displayed in a museum for a full century, and were reinstalled in the 1950s to replace what the German bombing had destroyed.

    The Temple Church is a key player in The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, and scenes from the 2006 film were shot on location.

    The marble effigies of knights in the floor are the clearest reminder of the Knights Templar themselves. The Temple Church remains a working church, and concerts are often performed there.

    The church can be a devil of a place to find, and its hours are very haphazard; it’s usually open Wednesdays through Sundays. Even worse, the Temple and Chancery Lane Tube (London Underground, or subway) stations are generally closed on Sundays, so plan your visit carefully, and still expect the occasional disappointment. Consult the church’s Web site ( for the latest schedule — it can change at the drop of a hat. After you visit the church, walk a few blocks up Chancery Lane and have lunch at the Knights Templar Pub, built in a former bank.

    Royston Cave (Hertfordshire, England)
    We talk about the many unique underground tunnels that crisscross under Hertfordshire in Chapter 17, but the Royston Cave in particular has been well explored and contains no gold or silver. It does, however, contain another kind of enigmatic treasure of the Templars.

    In 1742, a mysterious underground shaft was discovered underneath a large, flat stone in the marketplace in Hertfordshire. Excited discoverers did what they usually do any time this sort of thing gets found — they sent a kid down to see what was there. What he found was a man-made cave, a few human bones, and walls covered with religious drawings.

    Researchers believe the circular design, combined with certain construction techniques and the nature of the drawings, are the work of Knights Templar in the 13th century. The carvings are extensive and detailed, and include the signature symbol of two knights sharing a horse, the seal of the Templars. It may have been a chapel used in secret after the suppression of the Order, or even a hiding place. No one knows.

    For more information on the Royston Cave, check out its Web site at

    Rosslyn Chapel (Roslin, Scotland)
    We discuss Rosslyn Chapel in many places throughout this book (see especially Chapters 8 and 12), so it seems almost superfluous to reiterate it here. The legends wrapped up with this place are so numerous that it’s hard to separate sense from silliness, but we try to keep the qualifying statements to a minimum.

    Its full and proper name is the Collegiate Chapel of St. Mary, and it’s located just south of Edinburgh in the little village of Roslin. The chapel was built by William Sinclair (or St. Clair, depending on who’s doing the spelling), Third Earl of Orkney, Baron of Roslin, and First Earl of Caithness. Started in 1446, it took 40 years to complete. Some have suggested that the small chapel was intended to be part of a larger cathedral to be built later, while others claim it was intentionally small, for use as a family chapel, or even a Gothic representation of the Inner Chamber of King Solomon’s Temple.

    Although an inscription in the church identifies William Sinclair as a Knight Templar, even that has never been proved conclusively — the inscription is a fairly recent addition. His descendant, also named William, became the first Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Scotland, and it’s entirely possible that the inscription was added to strengthen the theoretical story of a Templar origin of Freemasonry (see Chapter 8).

    The principal points of fascination within the chapel for most people are the many carvings that detail every nook and cranny: pre-Christian, pagan, leaf-covered, Green Men faces; knights on horseback; men in postures that resemble Freemasonic rituals; American plant life carved before Columbus ever got there — the list goes on. Many of these descriptions seem far-fetched when you see the actual carvings in person, but go and judge for yourself.

    Present-day visitors to the chapel may be startled to discover a supremely ugly temporary roof erected over the building. Previous attempts to preserve the delicate carvings and stone walls with sealant resulted in more harm than good, sealing water within the stone, and causing hairline cracks to develop. The goal is to dry out the entire building — difficult in Scotland’s soggy natural state.

    Since the publication of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, the little chapel that is the location of the book’s finale has been choked with visitors. Code fans are a little disappointed to discover that the chapel does not have a six-pointed Star of David (or Seal of Solomon) in the floor, that the Knights Templar didn’t build the place, and that Rosslyn is not the Scottish form of Rose Line. (Ross means “cliff,” and lyn means “running water” in the language of the Scots.)

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  • Aboaz
    Chapter 16

    Ten Absolutely Must-See Templar Sites
    In This Chapter
    ● Sightseeing in Templar territory
    ● Discovering the Order’s castles, churches, and villages

    The Templars were the “Bob the Builders” of the crusading period. If your job was to protect pilgrims, hold the Holy Land, and conceal cash, you needed someplace to do it from. Or in the case of the wide reach of the Templars, you needed a couple of hundred places to do it from.

    A few surviving Templar sites are in the on-again/off-again war zones of the Middle East, and depending on the day of the week and the prevailing winds of international politics, places like Syria aren’t really tourist-friendly for Westerners. But in spite of the daily reports of suicide bombings, air strikes, and ongoing battles between Palestinians and Israelis, pilgrims still flock to the holiest sites of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, literally by the millions.

    It adds an extra touch of swashbuckling adventure to risk your life for a great photo of you standing in front of a 12th-century Crusader castle in the middle of a war zone, but there are plenty of places outside the Middle East where Templar castles still stand. You can walk the battlements and imagine life in a very different time and place, without risking being the subject of potential hostage negotiations. When the Templars were dissolved, their castles across Europe didn’t just fall down; in many cases, the Knights Hospitaller got handed the deed and the keys to the drawbridge, made improvements, and kept the old commanderies functioning for several hundred more years.

    Despite the devastations of eight centuries of war, neglect, adaptive reuse, natural disasters, and urban development, some dazzling Templar buildings have survived, either intact or relatively so. Here are ten of the best.

    Where It All Began: Temple Mount (Jerusalem, Israel)
    The Temple Mount in Jerusalem (shown in Figure 16-1) is where the order was born. King Baldwin II turned over much of the Temple Mount to the Poor Knights of Christ in 1119, including the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which became their headquarters, along with the subterranean area that came to be known as Solomon’s Stables.

    Figure 16-1: The Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

    The Crusaders who came to Jerusalem and found the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, both standing on the Temple Mount, assumed that they were seeing the King Solomon’s Palace and the Solomon’s Temple described in the Bible, and not more-recent buildings constructed by the Muslims. Whether the Templars believed this or not, no one can say.

    The place called Solomon’s Stables is actually below the upper level of the mount, and is a large area made up of arched passageways that acted as sort of a supporting sub-basement for the area of the temple above, probably constructed when King Herod rebuilt the temple. The mount itself is a wild combination of natural rock, monumental stonework, and clever engineering, and the stables were part of an extensive attempt to make the top of the plateau level. During the period of the Crusades, they were actually used as stables, with room, it was said, for 2,000 horses or 1,500 camels. (Humps take up more space.)

    Today there is little visible evidence of the Templars’ presence on the mount — and some Muslims today deny that the Temple of Solomon was ever on the mount to begin with. This the official position of Adnan Husseini, director of the Islamic waqf, the trust that oversees the Dome of the Rock. It is also the official position of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), stated by Yasser Arafat, that, “historically, the Temple was not in Palestine at all.” Such is the battle between politics and archeology. If the Muslims admit that the temple existed before the arrival of Islam, then it would mean that Jews could claim first dibs on the mount, yank down the mosques, rebuild the temple, and trigger Armageddon, as prophesied in Revelation 16. And, politically, whoever controls the top of the mount has psychological and spiritual control over Jerusalem, regardless of what the United Nations may say. It’s sort of an ecclesiastical game of King of the Hill, and they all take it very seriously.

    The Islamic waqf absolutely forbids any messing about in the foundation of the site, while engaging in a feverish building program themselves up top. In 1996, Israeli archeologists opened a subterranean tunnel’s entrance, which erupted into riots by enraged Muslims. Eighty-five Palestinians and 16 Israelis were killed, and more than 1,200 Palestinians and 87 Israelis were wounded. The Palestinian press frequently reports that the Israelis are attempting to weaken the structure of the mount, in order to cause the collapse of the mosques and the Dome of the Rock and, therefore, start a new war.

    As for Solomon’s Stables, in 1996 they were converted into a mosque capable of holding 7,000 people. Ham-fisted excavation was carried out hastily by the waqf, and many archeological critics say that much archeological material was destroyed by the Arabs, further obscuring evidence of the original temple. The Arab authorities say this isn’t the case.

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  • Aboaz
    Takt-i-Taqdis, Iran
    The Holy Mountain of Shiz in Iran has long been believed to be the origin of the ancient religion of Zoroastrianism, in what was once the eastern part of Persia. There, a curious ruin still exists today of a temple erected in A.D. 660, the Temple for the Throne of Arches. The Temple itself only lasted 30 short years before being destroyed and looted by the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius. And yet, it has been rumored to be the resting place of the Holy Grail.

    The tale goes that the builders of the Temple captured Jerusalem in A.D. 614 and discovered the True Cross (of Jesus’s crucifixion) and the Holy Grail.

    The relics were promptly hauled off to the Throne of Arches, where they remained until the invasion by the Byzantine forces. Contemporary accounts speak of the cross being taken back to Byzantium, but not the Holy Grail — which means it could still be there.

    The temple itself was lost for centuries. In the 1200s, a German poet named Albrecht von Sharfenberg found it after reading about it in a manuscript he had translated. He simply went right where the legend said it was and found it. Until its second rediscovery in 1937, it was still believed to have been a mythical place. Its location and setting closely match a medieval description of the location of the grail castle setting in paradise, surrounded by a lake, a meadow, a stream, and a mountain.

    The Santo Caliz (Valencia, Spain)
    In the Our Lady of the Forsaken Basilica in Valencia, Spain, there is a chalice that has long been thought to be the Holy Grail. The chalice as it exists today is a simple, brown, stone cup, set into a larger, more ornate, gold base.

    Researchers believe the stone cup really is a Middle Eastern artifact that dates back to the first century, while the gold base was added during medieval times. It is inset with pearls, gemstones, and alabaster. A curious part of the more modern base is that it is partially composed of an inverted bowl that also dates to the first century.

    The legend of the Santo Caliz is that it was taken to Rome after Jesus’s resurrection by St. Peter, for safekeeping. It was believed to have been given to St. Laurence in A.D. 258 by Pope Sixtus II to Valencia by Emperor Valerian in the third century. Both Laurence and Sixtus became martyrs, murdered by the Romans for practicing Christianity and for refusing to turn over the chalice to them. Documents exist verifying its Spanish history since the 11th century.

    The chalice was endangered during the period of Moorish occupation of Spain in the eighth century, and again during the 20th-century Spanish Civil War. That it has survived with a provable pedigree so many centuries is miraculous in and of itself. In 1982, Pope John Paul II became the first pope since Sixtus II to celebrate a mass with the chalice, and Pope Benedict XVI used it at a mass in July 2006.

    Sacro Catino (Genoa, Italy)
    The Sacro Catino (Holy Basin) in Genoa, Italy, is another longtime contender for being the Holy Grail. According to the medieval author William of Tyre, it was discovered in a mosque in Caesarea in 1101. Long thought to have been a bowl cut from a giant emerald, it’s actually made of green Egyptian glass (discovered by accident when it was broken by Napoleon’s butterfingered henchmen in the early 1800s). This came as a rude surprise to the Genoese, who had accepted it as payment for a large debt, thinking it was really made of emerald.

    Over the years, some embroidery has been added to the tale of this particular cup. Not only is it claimed to have been used by Jesus at the last supper. It is also purported to have been given to King Solomon by the Queen of Sheba, some 3,000 years ago.

    Rosslyn Chapel (Roslin, Scotland)
    Somehow, Rosslyn Chapel ( in Scotland manages to make every list when it comes to the Templars, the Freemasons, or the Holy Grail. We talk about the many legends associated with Rosslyn all throughout this book, but here’s its Grail connection:

    The legend goes that the Templars fled France when their arrests were imminent, and fled to Scotland, hauling the Temple treasure from their Paris vaults. The treasure may have included the Holy Grail and other sacred relics. When the Saint-Clair family built Rosslyn Chapel in the mid-1400s, it was constructed with hidden crypts and other hiding places to tuck the treasure into. Some researchers believe that the Grail is hidden within the presumably hollow Apprentice Pillar in the church.

    Wewelsburg Castle (Buren, Germany)
    In the western part of Germany, known as Westphalia, is a town whose skyline is dominated by a massive Renaissance-era castle. And during the period of Nazism between the 1930s and 1940s, it was a very curious place indeed.

    Heinrich Himmler, Reichsfdrer of Hitler’s Schutzstaffel (better known as the SS, Adolf Hitler’s feared internal secret police and engineers of the Holocaust), came to Buren in 1934 and took over the imposing castle. On the surface, the plan was to make Wewelsburg Castle a school for new SS officers. But Himmler had other plans for it as well. He had visions of the SS as an elite Knightly Order, like the Templars and the Teutonic Knights, and Wewelsburg Castle would become the place of initiation of this new order. It would become the new spiritual center of the Nazi paganism that was based on Germanic legends.

    The Reichsfdrer’s plans were grandiose, and he eventually wanted to take over the entire village, making it a community inhabited only by members of the SS and their families. But such plans were never realized. Refurbishing the castle was a large enough task to accomplish. In 1939, a small concentration camp was established in the nearby Niederhagen forest to provide prison labor for the project. Of the 3,900 prisoners brought to the village, more than 1,200 died — literally worked or starved to death as they labored on Himmler’s building project.

    In the imposing North Tower, a round chamber known as the Obergruppenfhhrersaal was constructed, with a sunken area in the floor and a round, oak table. Wewelsburg was Himmler’s private Camelot, and this was the chamber for his round table. There were just 12 seats around it, for the top dozen officers of the SS. In the domed ceiling there remains today a stylized swastika set in stone, modified with the symbol of the SS at each corner. Meanwhile, the round chamber immediately below this room was a crypt with a well set into the floor. This was to be where the ashes of all dead SS members were to be interred, adorned with an eternal flame.

    The Holy Grail enters into this lurid tale via two paths. The first is through the work of a dedicated Grail seeker named Otto Rahn. Rahn was inspired by Wolfram von Eschenbach’s epic poem Parzival, in which it is said that the Grail was kept in the “marvelous castle at Montsalvat in the Pyrenees.”

    Rahn’s research led him to Montsegur in France, a former stronghold of Cathars near Rennes-le-Chateau. There he explored caves, grottos, and castles in search of the Grail. Rahn was seduced into joining the SS by Himmler, who wanted his expertise in Cathar and Grail studies.

    The second legend was that Himmler himself secretly visited the Spanish abbey of Montserrat near Barcelona in 1940. He, too, was inspired by Parzival, but he believed the Montsalvat in the opera was Spain’s Montserrat, where a supposed grail castle stood during the Middle Ages. It is said that Himmler went there in search of the Grail, but came back empty-handed. That’s not a big surprise — the monks at the abbey were well aware of Himmler’s (and Nazi Germany’s) anti-Catholic positions and sent him packing.

    The curious aspect of associations between the Nazis and Christian relics like the Spear of Destiny (that stabbed Christ’s body as he hung on the cross) and the Holy Grail is that these were sacred items that belonged to a Jew, which would seem to be contradictory with Nazi doctrine. But the Nazis went to great lengths to engineer an elaborate explanation that Jesus was descended from Jacob, who, they said, was not Jewish at all, but an Aryan. The Ahnenerbe Forschungs-und Lehrgemeinschaft (Ancestral Heritage Research and Teaching Society) was created to use the methods of science to bend history and archaeology enough to suit the Nazis’ racial and cultural policies. Ahnenerbe’s headquarters were based in Wewelsburg Castle. One of Himmler’s goals was to find the Holy Grail, and he put Ahnenerbe to work on it. There was even a special room in Wewelsburg set aside for the Grail when it was found.

    As for Otto Rahn, rumors abounded for decades that he discovered a crystal believed to be the Grail, and that it was, in fact, placed in the special room at Wewelsburg. This is likely a myth, given that Rahn once wrote that he believed that the Grail had perished with the end of the Templars in 1307.

    The truth of what Rahn may have found in the south of France may never be known, but it was rumored that a large quartz crystal stone was placed in the castle that was reputed to be the Grail — interesting because the Grail described in the Parzival poem is not a cup, but a stone.

    After an altercation with Himmler, Rahn was consigned briefly as a guard at Dachau Concentration Camp. In 1939, he requested dismissal from the SS, but shortly after his request was made, he died while mountain climbing. Whether he fell, was murdered, or committed suicide, no one can say.

    Rahn is curious for other reasons. His works were not translated from German until recently, but his influence on research into the Cathar and Templar regions in the Languedoc are everywhere in the speculative books written since the 1970s. In addition, Rahn has long been believed to have been an inspiration for the fictional character of Indiana Jones.

    Montsegur, France
    The heart of the Languedoc in France was once Cathar territory, until their destruction at the hands of the Catholic Church in the Albigensian Crusade. One of their last strongholds was the village of Montsegur, in the Pyrenees Mountains. In 1243, approximately 10,000 Catholic troops surrounded and laid siege to the village. The Cathars held out until May of 1244. When they finally surrendered, more than 200 of them were burned as heretics for refusing to renounce there faith.

    The legend goes that two dozen Cathars escaped before the fall of their fortress and smuggled out a treasure of some kind. Some have speculated that part of it may have been the Holy Grail.

    As we mention in the preceding section, the German researcher Otto Rahn believed that Montsegur was the legendary grail castle referred to as Monsalvat in Wolfram von Eschenbach’s tale of Parzival, because both words mean “safe mountain.” In addition there are other connections between Montsegur and the Parsifal legend: Raymond de Pereille, commander and builder of Montsegur’s Cathar fortress in 1210, had similarities to Parsifal. And a later telling of the Grail tale, Albrecht von Scharfenberg’s Jungerer Titurel (1272), identified the first Grail King as Perilla. That was close enough for Rahn to start looking in Montsegur.

    If Rahn did, indeed, find the Grail in Montsegur while he was working for the Nazis, he never said so and neither did they. The fortress walls that stand around the village today are not those built by Raymond de Pereille and the Cathars, no matter what the tour books and local guides may tell you. Their fortifications were torn down and completely reduced to rubble after the Cathars surrendered in 1244. The walls there today were built by royal French troops in the 1600s.

    The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City)
    In 1910, Syrian workers digging a well near the ancient city of Antioch discovered a curious artifact: a silver cup or chalice that held a simpler, inner cup. The exterior depicted images of Christ and ten others, along with vines, scrolls, a rabbit, a lamb, and an eagle. The belief for many years was that the inner cup was the cup of the Last Supper, and the exterior was a later, more ornate and ceremonial addition. This artifact became known as the Antioch Chalice and is believed by some to be the Holy Grail. But what was it doing in Antioch?

    The legend goes that the Grail had indeed been found in England, centuries after Joseph of Arimathea brought it from Jerusalem. Then, when the Crusaders conquered the Holy Land in the 1100s, the desire was to return it to its rightful place of honor in the Holy City of Jerusalem. Unfortunately, the people delivering it to Jerusalem were attacked outside of Antioch by Muslim forces and knew they faced certain defeat — so they buried the Grail so the infidels couldn’t possess it.

    Today, the cup is in the Cloisters section of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Experts have dated the exterior silver chalice to be from the fourth to sixth century A.D., and they do not believe the inner cup is from the time of Christ. But who is to really say? Have a look for yourself at

    Castle Stalker (Argyll, Scotland)
    A tall narrow castle, built on an impossibly tiny island scarcely larger than the castle itself, Castle Stalker ( is isolated — and the perfect location for the Grail. Built in 1320 by the MacDougall clan, the Lords of Lorn, it passed to the Stuarts in 1388. The long history of the castle is filled with murder, intrigue, sieges, and the occasional loss in a drunken bet.

    The ruined castle became a labor of love for Lt. Col. D. R. Stewart Allward and his family beginning in 1965. They spent decades restoring it to its present condition. Allward died in 1991, but the family continues to own and operate the castle as a tourist site. Owing to its lonely, forbidding location near Port Appin, it can only be reached by a rowboat at high tide, and a wet, sloppy walk at low tide.

    What makes this a candidate for the Holy Grail? Come on, everybody knows it’s there. At one point, occupying French forces in the castle even admitted to King Arthur they had it: “We’ve already got one, you see?”

    Besides, it’s the castle at the end of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the “Castle Aaaaaagggh.”

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  • Aboaz
    Part VI
    The Part of Tens

    In this part . . .
    It can’t be a Dummies book without these fun chapters of ten tantalizing topics. Chapter 15 points you toward ten possible candidates for the location of the Holy Grail. Check the expiration date on your passport before venturing into Chapter 16, because we plan your itinerary with ten must-see Templar sites. And break out your whip and fedora and channel your inner Indiana Jones — Chapter 17 gives you ten starting points to start hunting the famous long-lost Templar treasures such as the Ark of the Covenant, the Holy Grail, the Spear of Destiny, or even secret parchments that might change the world. Holy cow.

    Chapter 15

    Ten Candidates for the Site of the Holy Grail
    In This Chapter
    ● Seeking the hiding places of the Grail
    ● Examining grails that survive today
    ● Discovering surviving grail castles

    The earliest reference to a claim as being the actual cup used by Jesus at the Last Supper came from a seventh-century Anglo-Saxon pilgrim to Jerusalem named Arculf, who wrote that he saw a two-handled silver chalice in a Jerusalem chapel between Golgotha and the Martyrium. It disappeared long before the Crusaders got there.

    The period of the Crusades was a bull market for the trade in sacred relics coming out of the Holy Land. During the Middle Ages, there were no less than 20 candidates for the Holy Grail floating around Europe and the Middle East in various locations.

    We discount Dan Brown’s contention that Mary Magdalene is the real Holy Grail, the sacred vessel that contained Jesus’s offspring, and that her bones are buried under I. M. Pei’s glass pyramid at the Louvre in Paris. In this chapter, we list ten possible locations where the Holy Grail may have been over the years, or may still be today.
    For more on the origin of the Holy Grail legends, turn to Chapter 10. Glastonbury Tor, England

    Sticking up out of the English countryside like a big geological lump stands Glastonbury Tor, a high, oblong hill that can be seen for miles. At one time, it was an island, but the sea has receded, leaving this strange geographical sight. It has been identified over the centuries as the mythical Isle of Avalon of King Arthur’s time. What makes Glastonbury such a startling sight today is the ruined entryway of the abbey’s tower that sits at the top of the knoll.

    The source of the belief that that Glastonbury could be the location of the Holy Grail is in the legend of Joseph of Arimathea. Christians in Britain have long told the legend that Joseph came to the island shortly after Christ’s ascension, and that he and his fellow travelers founded the monastery at Glastonbury. The tale goes that he was accompanied by the Bethany sisters (Mary and Martha), Lazarus, Mary Magdalene, and others followers. A variation of the tale is that Joseph even brought the teenaged Jesus to Britain before Jesus began his ministry! Of course, much of this legend may have had more to do with claiming that Christianity was alive in Britain long before the Roman Catholic Church was established, as part of the British feud between Catholics and Protestants, than it did with history.

    In A.D. 1190, after a fire that consumed the abbey, two massive oak coffins were discovered buried below the ruins, with the inscription Hic jacet sepultus inclitus rex Arthurus in insula Avalonia (Here lies King Arthur in the island of Avalon). Since that time, many have believed that the remains really were King Arthur and his wife, Guinevere.

    As you may expect, there is a Holy Grail associated with Glastonbury. Known as the Nanteos Cup, it is a bowl said to have been made of olive wood. For many years, it was in the care of the Nanteos family, but it’s now in a museum in the Welsh village of Aberystwyth. True believers have drunk healing water from the cup over the centuries, some going so far as to nibble bits of wood from its edge. As a result, little is left of it today.

    The Welsh Commissioner of Monuments has said that the artifact is, in actuality, made of Witch Elm wood, and is actually a bowl from the 1400s. Others believe it to be the genuine grail brought to Britain by Joseph of Arimathea.

    Hawkstone Park (Shropshire, England)
    When the term Holy Grail gets mentioned, most take it to mean the cup or chalice used by Christ at the Last Supper before his arrest. But others have a different view. Some have said that the Grail is a jar used by Joseph of Arimathea or Mary Magdalene to collect blood, sweat, or tears from Christ as he hung on the cross. And it is from this notion that a tiny alabaster or onyx jar in England enters the picture.

    In Hodnet Church in Shropshire, England, there is a stained-glass window that depicts, among other saints, St. John the Evangelist. Unlike the others in the panel who are older, with beards (Sts. Matthew, Mark, and Luke), this is a young, almost feminine John, shown holding a chalice. Some have suggested that this person is, in fact, Mary Magdalene, and not St. John.

    As we discuss in Chapter 13, Mary Magdalene is often misconstrued as the “woman with the alabaster jar,” who anointed Christ with oil before his arrest. Curiously, in 1920, a small alabaster cup, the size of a shot glass or an eggcup, was found in a hidden recess of a statue’s base, deep within a grotto in Hawkstone Park, Shropshire. Author Graham Phillips is a believer that this cup is, in fact, the Holy Grail.

    Hawkstone has long been in the running as a possible location for the final resting place of King Arthur, and it’s through him that the legend of the little cup first came to be associated with the Grail legend.

    The statue was commissioned in the 1850s by Thomas Wright, who had long claimed that he possessed the Holy Grail. The statue was part of a set of four in the grotto — of a lion, an angel, a bull, and an eagle. These were early Christian symbols of the four gospels, and they do, in fact, appear over the heads of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in the stained-glass window in Hodnet Church. The eagle appears over the head of John, and it was the eagle statue that contained the cup.

    Through a complex story, Phillips suggests that the image in the stained-glass window is Mary Magdalene, not John, and that the little alabaster cup that is attributed to the “woman with the alabaster jar” was hidden in the eagle statue, with the window as a clue. Others must have believed it, too — in 2006, vandals were caught trying to remove the John/Mary panel from the church with a crowbar.

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  • Aboaz
    Christian celibacy, and why Paul stuck us with it
    Actually, if you cruise through the New Testament, you’ll find that Jesus didn’t have much to say on celibacy. So, as for who’s to blame, we’ll come right out and say it. St. Paul did it in I Corinthians 7:

    I would that all men were even as myself; but every one hath his proper gift from God. . . . But I say to the unmarried and to the widows, it is good for them if they so continue, even as I.

    Paul was a great believer in purity for Christians. Even so, in his defense, he stood by the words that “the two shall be of one flesh” regarding marriage, and spoke of its blessed state. It’s just that celibacy was better, a higher calling, as far as Paul was concerned.

    To be fair, many scholars have theorized that the emphasis on celibacy in Paul’s time grew out of the apocalyptic bent of mind a lot of early Christians had. When Christ said he was coming back, and the judgment was at hand, they thought he meant next week. And if that were true, then keeping yourself ritually pure was more important than the directive to “be fruitful and multiply.” But as a couple of centuries passed, and the Church began to realize that they may have been over-anticipating a bit on this apocalypse thing, then the attitudes in the last books of the Bible toward marriage warm up, including some of Paul’s later letters. By that time, the Church was building a system, with a bureaucracy and with a congregation. And you don’t get a congregation by telling people to remain celibate.

    The Catholic tradition
    The Roman Catholic Church based its rules about celibacy for the clergy around the concept of imitating the life of Jesus. Priests are considered to be acting in persona Christi, literally “in the person of Christ,” when performing the sacraments, and with no evidence to the contrary, Jesus was assumed to be celibate. Moreover, Jesus does have a few words to say on the subject. In Matthew 19, Jesus mentions men who do not marry living as “eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven.” In Luke 18, he says that anyone who gives up marriage, children, and possessions for the sake of the Kingdom of God, he shall be repaid many times over. And Paul speaks of chastity in I Corinthians. But there is absolutely no scriptural doctrine against marriage. Roman Catholic rules of celibacy among priests are a part of Church tradition, which is subject to rulings by the pope or ecumenical councils. As recently as 1965, Pope Paul VI stated, “man cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.”

    Earlier Church practices seemed to reflect the view that priests may marry, but that higher ecclesiastical positions could not be entered if a man had a wife. (The Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches do this today. Both allow priests to marry, but bishops must be unmarried, or their wives must enter a monastery). Priests were required to abstain from sex prior to performing the miracle of the Mass, the transubstantiation of bread and wine into Christ’s body and blood. It didn’t take long for the Church leadership to figure out that this rule was pretty flagrantly ignored. The simple solution was to disallow married priests altogether and to require complete celibacy.

    The Synod of Elvira in the early 300s met in Spain to hammer out a series of ecclesiastical issues, and one of them was clerical celibacy. Its Canon 33 prohibited marriage for bishops, priests, and deacons. If they were already married, they weren’t forced to leave their wives, but having children was out. Throughout the next century, St. Augustine, St. Ambrose, St. Jerome, St. Hilary, and others all wrote in favor of celibacy among the clergy.

    Pope Siricius in A.d. 385 declared that the apostles had abstained from sex, and therefore, so should the clergy. Subsequent popes reaffirmed the opinion. The decrees were apparently being ignored on a wholesale basis, because in 1074, Pope Gregory VII finally decreed that married priests would not be allowed to say Mass or “serve the altar in any way.”

    Between the fifth and ninth centuries, the Church really began to put the pressure on about married priests. Early on, many had married in all innocence, thinking it was all right. Later, when asked to put away their wives, it was a crushing blow. Afterward, for many centuries, in the countryside it was common enough for a priest to have a woman about the house, someone the villagers called a “housekeeper” but knew to be a wife. Cardinals may have lived in luxury, but parish priests were poor, humble, and generally loved. So, that tension between what the hierarchy of the Church in their scarlet robes said your parish priest should do, and what he really did, was just a normal, accepted part of life. Man lived in sin and did the best he could to earn forgiveness. Then came the shrug. The average villager loved his priest, and didn’t see why the poor man should have to live without the comfort of a wife. After all, it was Augustine, the most passionate of celibates later in life, who famously said when he was young, “Oh God, give me chastity and continence, but not yet!

    Bear in mind that the early Christians had many other examples of celibacy among priests in earlier religions, from the ancient Egyptians’ cult of Isis, to the earliest Gnostic Christian sects and various Hermetic movements that practiced sexual abstinence among their priests. Curiously, Islam went the opposite direction. It was against Islamic law to be a celibate; the whole concept was derided as “monkery.”

    Married to the Church
    The one thing that the New Testament did seem to have plenty of references to was that a man should only have one wife, and that he shouldn’t remarry if he was widowed. And I Timothy 3 clearly said that a man who wanted to be a bishop should only have one wife. So, a new explanation arose in the 400s that seemed to paper over this subject. Clergy were considered to be “married” to the Church. Thus, if a priest took the Church as his “bride,” he had to be faithful to her, and therefore, celibate. Likewise, nuns are considered to be the “brides of Christ.” This is the terminology applied within Roman Catholicism today.

    You may be surprised to hear that there are, indeed, married Roman Catholic priests today. The catch: Since Pope Pius XII in the mid-20th century, the rule is that any Protestant minister who is already married and wants to become a Catholic priest may do so and remain married. Defrocked or laicized priests who still want to remain Catholic may get married by special dispensation of the Church. (For more about celibacy and the Catholic clergy, see Catholicism For Dummies, by Rev. John Trigilio Jr., PhD, ThD, and Rev. Kenneth Brighenti, PhD [Wiley].)

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  • Aboaz
    The Apocrypha and the Bible
    The term apocryphal appears through this book, and it has a couple of meanings. Apocrypha is derived from a Greek word that means “to hide away.” If you’re the sort of person who tends to believe in conspiracies, this alone should raise your hackles. And when the term gets applied to certain books that are or aren’t in the Bible, you’re definitely venturing into Dan Brown territory.

    There seem to have always been two views of the term Apocrypha. The first is applied to a particular group of Old Testament books that were first included in the original Latin Vulgate versions of the Bible, and then removed from the King James Version editions published after 1640. Most Protestants have never seen the deleted books called the Apocrypha, while Catholic Bibles have always included them.

    The other use of the term Apocrypha is in the case of books such as those found at Nag Hammadi that were not included in any official bible after the Synod of Carthage. Some speculative authors have claimed that the books were “hidden” because they contained esoteric knowledge that was too mysterious, subversive, or dangerous to become common knowledge.

    Others argued that they were hidden because they contained ideas that were heretical to current Church doctrine.

    Early Christians largely decided the makeup of their Old Testament based on the books accepted by Jewish scholars, but there were additional books that were of perhaps equal antiquity, rejected by most Jewish traditions. First-century Christians argued for their inclusion in their biblical canon, which may very well have led to the final split between the Jews of Jesus’ era and the Christians who incorporated gentile practices (who didn’t follow Jewish dietary and circumcision laws, for example).

    The Old Testament Apocrypha
    The earliest Christian Bible came from first-century Greek sources of the Old Testament, known as the Septuagint, and not the Hebrew texts. Seventy-two Jewish scholars had translated the Septuagint into Greek in the third century b.c. for King Ptolemy II, but there were many differences between it and the first-century Tanakh. The version of the Septuagint that the Christians in Alexandria were working with after the death of Christ included the books of the Apochrypha, or as they are known in Roman Catholic writings, the Deuterocanonical books.

    The Deuterocanonical books include: Wisdom; Sirach; Tobit; Judith; 103 additional verses of Esther; 1st and 2nd Macabees; Baruch; an expanded Book of Daniel that includes the Prayer of Azariah, Song of the Three Holy Children (or the Three Jews), Susanna, and Bel and the Dragon.

    The early Christians argued for the inclusion of these books because they seemed divinely inspired, and because their original source material had included them. Later scholars, including St. Jerome between A.D. 380 and A.D. 405, believed the Greek Septuagint was extremely flawed, and preferred to go back to Hebrew sources.

    Why most Protestants have never heard of the Apocrypha
    The Apocrypha became part of Martin Luther’s list of complaints against the Roman Catholic Church. The growing 16th-century Protestant movement in Europe finally argued strongly against the inclusion of the Apocrypha. In particular, heated arguments erupted during the Protestant Reformation over items that are discussed only in these books that became Roman Catholic rules or traditions (in particular, the concept of Purgatory, as well as the practice of offering Masses for the dead, which are contained in 2 Maccabees). The King James Version of the Bible included them for three decades, but editions published after 1640 eliminated them.

    In 1592, the Roman Catholic Church responded to the Protestant furor by reaffirming most of the books of the Apocrypha as being part of their official canon. This remains the position of the Church today.

    But wait, there's more! The Gnostic Gospels
    The discovery of the Nag Hammadi Library in Egypt in 1945 and the Dead Sea Scrolls in the West Bank between 1947 and 1956 turned up more biblical era documents that some scholars believe should be considered as part of the New Testament. These additional books include the Gospel of James; the Gospel of Phillip; the Acts of Peter and the Twelve; and many more. (The Gnostic Gospel of Mary Magdalene was discovered in Egypt in 1896, but it was not contained in the Nag Hammadi texts.)

    Gnosticism itself can be a very difficult term to understand, because it encompasses many different sorts of beliefs. Also, in the last couple of decades, people have been tossing around the term Gnostic with unbelievable irresponsibility, using it as an adjective to describe almost anything that’s either esoteric, occult, or not an orthodox belief. Remember: Gnosticism is a generic term that covers a wide variety of beliefs. There is no one, single Gnostic Church. Gnosticism was partly a pre-Christian concept that teaches that God is infinite and incomprehensible to humans. Gnosticism’s essential belief is dualism, the idea that good and evil are in a constant struggle for supremacy in the Universe. Christian Gnosticism became a popular movement up in the Christian Church of the second century A.D.

    Dan Brown’s characters in The Da Vinci Code argue that the Gnostic Gospels are every bit as valid as what’s in the commonly accepted New Testament, but biblical scholars almost completely disagree with that viewpoint. The Gnostic Gospels were not excluded from the biblical canon simply because they contradicted what Church fathers wanted to hear. The Gnostic Gospels were written, in most cases, 150 to 200 years after Christ, with a few notable exceptions (the Gospel of Thomas, possibly written in A.D. 50, being the most famous of these exceptions, though its date of origin is disputed). In the case of the almost purely Gnostic writings discovered in Nag Hammadi, they were most certainly hidden in about A.D. 390 by the monks of the monastery of St. Pachomius after the rulings of St. Athanasius that Gnostic texts were heretical.

    Conflict over celibacy
    One of often-repeated themes of The Da Vinci Code is that so-called Gnostic Gospels have a more open attitude about sex, and that is one of the reasons why the Gnostic Gospels were “suppressed “ by the Church (even though reading them doesn’t supply any evidence to back this up). Because of The Da Vinci Code's overarching theme that Jesus was married, and that a Church terrified of that fact has been willing to kill to cover the secret up, it does seem important to say a few words on the subjects of sex and celibacy.

    Celibacy in the ancient World
    The Catholic Church didn’t invent celibacy. The concept of shamanism, the wise ascetic living alone in the desert, is nearly as old as man, and usually included celibacy. The most famous Roman celibates were the Vestal Virgins, a community of priestesses who took a solemn vow to abstain from sex for 30 years. (After that, if someone wanted you, go for it.)

    Although Robert Langdon and other characters in The Da Vinci Code speak wistfully of some peaceful, all-natural, bygone era of goddess worship, those religions could be pretty brutal, and celibacy was a cruel part of it. High priests and priestesses of pagan goddesses were often expected to remain celibate. In one particularly gruesome example, “The Great Mother of the Gods,” a popular figure in Eastern and Greco-Roman paganism required priests to castrate themselves in order to enter the order. Then, every March at the goddess’s annual festival, the “Day of Blood,” the priests lacerated what little was left of themselves and swirled madly, sending blood flying onto the altar. It’s a bit difficult to accept Dan Brown’s assertion that the reason our society is so violent is that we’ve lost goddess worship as part of Western culture.

    Cathars, heresy, and the Albigensian Crusade
    The Cathars appear throughout this book, and they touch on Gnosticism, heretical philosophy, and the Knights Templar. They also illustrate, along with the Inquisition, the darkest page of Catholic history.

    Catharism was a Gnostic belief that arose in the years leading up to the 11th century, and it grew throughout southern France and into Spain. What put the Cathars into conflict with the Roman Catholic Church was their view that the world was created by a lesser, imperfect "god," who was analogous to Satan, and not the true God. Catholicism taught that resurrection — both in the case of Jesus, as well as the resurrection of the faithful on the Judgment Day — was a physical resurrection of the body out of the grave, into the Kingdom of Heaven. Cathars, on the other hand, taught that resurrection was simply a spiritual rebirth. In addition, they were anti-sacerdotal, meaning they did not believe that bishops, priests, or any other mortal human could perform the works of the "true God" on Earth. Cathars were very critical of the corruption they saw among the hierarchy of the Roman Church, and they weren't shy about it.

    Cathars, like other Gnostic sects, had the appearance of almost being a "secret society" — not just in keeping their beliefs low-key to outsiders, but within the organization itself. There was the general population of the faithful and there was an inner core of ascetic elders; the latter group practiced extreme self-sacrifice and deprivation in their efforts to attain the most supreme inner knowledge of the true God. The sacrifice of worldly goods and pleasures were meant to keep the evil things of the physical world that were created by the lesser god, or demiurge, from corrupting the spirit and the body. They did believe in Jesus, but not in the form that the Church had at last settled on. To the Cathars, Jesus was like a divine hologram — a projection of spiritual energy who appeared to be a man, but was more of a ghost. The God of the Old Testament was an evil imposter, but Jesus was sent by the true God as His messenger.

    All this may seem harmless enough, but the Roman Catholic Church didn't see it that way. Catharism was clearly heresy, and it was quickly growing in popularity. The first known Cathars popped up in Limousin in central France in the early 1000s; they were promptly put to death by the Church as heretics.

    As the movement grew and came to be centered in the Languedoc region of France, the Church attempted to send missions to the Cathars to change their ways, including Templar patron Bernard of Clairvaux, all of them ultimately unsuccessful. Worse, local noblemen and regional royalty seemed to be protecting Cathar strongholds. The largest concentration of Cathars coincided with Knights Templar outposts in the south of France and northeast Spain, but the order did not seem to take any interest in assisting the Church in rooting out the heretics.

    After a little more than 200 years, the Church finally was at its wits' end. In 1208, the pope sent his personal legate, Pierre de Castelnau, to excommunicate Count Raymond VI of Toulouse for supporting the heretics. Raymond reacted a little disproportionately and had the pope's representative murdered.

    Pope Innocent III retaliated by calling for a new Crusade (known as the Albigensian Crusade) against these heretics living in the very midst of Europe. In 1209, the town of Beziers was attacked by the crusading army. When the pope's commander, Cistercian abbot Arnaud-Amaury, was asked how to tell Catholic from Cathar, his famous reply was, "Kill them all. God will know his own." Arnaud had spent years trying to convert the Cathars and had been humiliated at their reception of his attempts. At Beziers, he got his revenge. He had 20,000 men, women, and children burned alive.

    The crusaders then turned to attack Carcassonne. Its Viscount, Roger-Raymond, was taken prisoner during truce discussions and murdered, but unlike Beziers, Carcassonne's population was allowed to surrender.

    Arnaud-Amaury needed a true military commander to finish the big job ahead. He pressed Simon IV de Montfort into service, with the promise of new land possessions as a reward. De Montfort reluctantly took the job, but when he got started, killing Cathars was like eating potato chips, and there was no stopping him. He burned 140 Cathars at Minerve, and at least 50 at Casses. Between 1210 and 1218, he took Lastours-Cabaret, Bram, Termes, Lavaur, and Castel. In 1213, he defeated King Peter II of Aragon in Spain, and then turned back for sieges and battles that ended for him at the endlessly troublesome Toulouse in 1218. Simon was killed by a rock dropped on his head by several women in the village.

    The crusade began to suffer setbacks, largely as a result of the rebellious Raymond of Toulouse, followed by his son, Raymond VII. France's new 18-year-old King Louis VIII was eager to expand his realm and entered the crusade with great ferocity in 1224. By 1229, the fighting was ended by a treaty, and the Inquisition officially began to exterminate the last of the Cathars. In 1233, mass burnings of them took place, and the Inquisition went so far as to dig up dead Cathar bodies and burn them as well. Further uprisings occurred, and a brief holdout at the French village of Montsegur has been the topic of wild speculation for centuries about a secret Cathar treasure or secret being smuggled out — perhaps even the Holy Grail (see Chapter 10). The last known Cathar burning by the Inquisition in the Languedoc happened in 1321. An estimated 1 million Cathars and their neighbors, nearly half of the population of the Languedoc, were killed in the first true genocide of Europe.

    Finding celibacy in just about every major world religion leads inevitably to the conclusion that there’s just something in the human mind that wants to separate the spiritual from the physical, and that a denial of the physical pleasures of life will help in focusing on the divine.

    The Da Vinci Code contends that Judaism “condemned” celibacy, and that all Jewish men were married, but this is clearly not true. Few of the apostles mention wives. And the most prominent sect of Jewish celibates was the apocalyptic Essenes. It is believed by many researchers that the Essenes were the men who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls. Jesus may well have studied with them, and John the Baptist was probably an Essene. But as far as we know, no one has claimed to have found any evidence of a lost wife of John the Baptist.

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  • Aboaz
    The real Council of Nicaea and what happened there
    The Ecclesiastical Council at Nicaea in A.D. 325 was not the first of its kind. The first “general council” of Christian leaders, the Council of Jerusalem, was called in A.D. 49, only 16 years after Christ’s crucifixion, in an attempt to settle differences between Jewish and Gentile practices within the two types of followers of Christ’s teachings. And there would be many more to follow Nicaea, as important as it was. Dozens of councils over the centuries would decide important issues of the Catholic faith, right up to the 20th century’s Vatican II, between 1962 and 1965.

    The Council of Nicaea is usually listed as the first ecumenical council, but there have been at least 21 of them over the centuries. They are called general councils, because cardinals and other officials may attend. These 21 councils have decided an incredibly wide variety of issues over the years, from Nicaea in 325, right up to Vatican II from 1962 to 1965.

    From the beginning, Christians viewed Jesus Christ as divine. The more than 300 bishops, along with 1,300 other deacons, priests, and interested bystanders who attended the Council of Nicaea, viewed Christ as divine. The argument wasn’t over his divinity, but over the nature of his divinity, a question that would plague the Church for centuries (if not to the present day) and would spawn major heretical sects with a different opinion. At Nicaea, the biggest bone was being picked by the Arians, who believed that Jesus was like God, but not actually God, per se.

    The Council of Nicaea had other fish to fry as well, like deciding the proper day to celebrate Easter (in order to separate it from the Jewish Passover). But the most important thing the Council did, after 300 years of arguing, was to achieve consensus on one set of principles, one calendar, and one set of definitions that would, at last, achieve common ground from which Christianity could proceed. Consensus wouldn’t last long, but the Council of Nicaea did achieve it for a time. And it took a 900-pound gorilla like the Emperor Constantine to get everybody to do it.

    Keep in mind that Constantine was a neophyte Christian. We’re certain that, like any new convert, he came in excited and full of questions. When he was confronted by priests and bishops who couldn’t answer them, his solution was to get the movers and shakers of the faith together and force them to make the rules and decisions that needed to be made to put an end to the organizational chaos.

    The arguments that led to the Council of Nicaea
    The main reason that the Council of Nicaea was called was to deal with the growing problem of the Arian Heresy, which was a fundamental argument over the exact nature of the divinity of Christ. Was he a god or a man? Was he part of God, of the same substance? Was he a human being, touched by the divine? Was he just some kind of ghost or vision who didn’t actually have a physical body? And what makes it worse for the non-historian is that every philosophy, creed, sect, and point of view had a name. Here’s a brief rundown of the major players in this debate:

    ● Docetists believed that Jesus was not human at all but strictly divine, and his humanity was only a facade. Cathars and many other Gnostics believed this as well.

    ● Adoptionists believed that Jesus was human in every way, but that he was the best and most righteous human on the planet, so God chose him, adopting him, to be his son.

    ● Patripassianists believed that Jesus actually was the Father and that they were one, an idea pretty roundly rejected by most people. (After all, how could God suffer and die?)

    ● Dualists believed that there were two forces in the universe — good and evil — and that the world was created by the evil side. Dualism was the foundation of most Gnostic faiths.

    Early Church fathers were trying to avoid anything in the faith that might smack of more than one god — they left belief in more than one god for the pagans. But how do you explain an overarching God on high, one whom Jesus spoke to, but Jesus is down here on Earth, and he’s God, too?

    The unspeakable name of God
    In The Da Vinci Code, supposed professional symbologist and super genius Robert Langdon blithely explains that the "tetragrammaton," which is four Hebrew letters that are sort of analogous to YHWH, comes from the name Jehovah, which he claims is a union of the masculine Jah and the pre-Hebraic name for Eve, havah. Try this one on a rabbi. It's wrong in so many places, it's tough to choose where to start. The word Jehovah is English. It wasn't even invented until the late Middle Ages. It came into use because it was an attempt, in English, to come up with a pronunciation of those four letters. The letters of the tetragrammaton, YHWH, are sacred to Jews. They are four letters of the Hebrew alphabet: yodh, heh, vav, and heh. At the burning bush, when Moses asked for God's name, he got the reply, "I am that I am. Tell them 'I am' has sent you" (Exodus 3:14). In Biblical Hebrew, YHWH is a form of the words to be, as if they were calling him "I am." For Jews, it was blasphemy to even attempt to speak the name of God. We say "Yahweh," the Hebrew word, but by the third century b.c., this word was forbidden to Jews. They have many acceptable names for God, the most common being Adonai, which simply means "My Lord," or Elohim, meaning "god," a generic word for a god of any religion.

    During the period of Constantine, there were two large sects of Christians causing the biggest headache for the more mainstream or orthodox church leaders:
    ● Manichaeism, based on the dualist beliefs of the Persian prophet Mani. Even St. Augustine had once been a Manichaean.

    ● Arianism, a rather complex brand of dualism that said there was only one God the Father. His first creation had been Christ the Son, who then went on to create all things, but who was subordinate to God the Father. Christ the Son then became human in order to bring his message and to die for our sins, before he died to rejoin his Father in heaven.

    Arianism was a far worse betrayal to the Church than Manichaeism because it was founded closer to home, by a highly respected teacher of religion in Alexandria named Arius. Arianism became very popular all over Europe, and would remain so with the newly converted Goths, Franks, and especially Germanic peoples.

    Arius’s chief critic was another Alexandrian, a church deacon and eventual bishop named Athanasius. Athanasius believed that Christ was divine, had always been divine, and was not a created entity. Christ and God shared the same essence.

    The Nicaean Creed defines Christ's divinity
    The Council of Nicaea discussed and voted upon many issues, but the most important thing to come out of the council was a final statement of position from the Church on the nature of Christ, known as the Nicaean Creed. This statement not only remains the Church’s position on the nature of Christ’s divinity, but it is also accepted, with minor differences, by virtually every Christian denomination. The Nicaean Creed spelled out the concept of the Holy Trinity: one God, but with three natures (three faces), all equal: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

    "Closing the Canon": Determining the books of the Bible
    In The Da Vinci Code, the character Leigh Teabing claims that over 80 “gospels” were considered for the New Testament, but only four were chosen, only the ones that showed Jesus as divine, with no human traits. He goes on to say that the rest of these discarded books were burned or otherwise destroyed.

    No one has any idea how many gospels were considered for inclusion in the canon that became the new Testament. Jesus’s life was not recorded by “thousands of followers,” as Teabing says in The Da Vinci Code. Not only were these people illiterate for the most part, but he makes it sound as if, before the Council of Nicaea, everyone had a gospel of his own, until some evil jack-booted goons in the Church came along and confiscated them.

    Constantine and the Council of Nicaea had absolutely nothing to do with deciding which texts would be in the Bible, and which texts would be omitted. Here’s the straight dope on Dan Brown’s claims:
    ● The 4 gospels and 27 books of the New Testament were not decided upon at Nicaea. The four main gospels were a bedrock of the Christian faith long before then. The inclusion or exclusion of the others is the process called closing the canon. It was the product of a long, drawn-out debate in all corners of the Christian world that went on for about five centuries — long before Constantine’s birth, and longer after his death.

    ● The contention that any books not included in the New Testament canon were rounded up and destroyed is nonsense. Not only is there no historical evidence to prove it, but there is ample historical evidence that such a roundup and destruction never occurred. These alternative gospels remained popular all over the world, whether they were actually in the Bible or not. Some weren’t even written down, but they became part of myth and folklore all over the Christian world. And some of them were included in the Catholic Bible that were not included in the King James Version.

    ● The Latin Vulgate Bible did not come about until a.d. 380, when the books in common use by the church were translated by St. Jerome.

    ● The contents of the Bible were officially hammered out and agreed upon at the Synod of Hippo in a.d. 393 and the Synod of Carthage four years later in 397.

    Pre-Vulgate copies of New Testament gospels are remarkably similar to the ones we have now. As for the books left out, there’s no question this was a subjective judgment call.

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  • Aboaz
    Christianity underground
    A visit to the catacombs of Rome is a unique glimpse at the very different culture the new religion created in the center of the Roman Empire. The bodies of the first Christian martyrs were buried in the Roman-style necropolises. Wealthy Roman Christians offered up their own private aboveground cemeteries for the burial of some members of the Christian community, but with the persecutions that started under the Emperor Claudius in a.d. 41, they were soon defaced and destroyed. The solution was to go underground, out of sight and out of the easy reach of troublemakers.

    In a.d. 150, the Cecili family gave their private burial ground on the Appian Way outside of the city walls to the Christian community, and the digging began in earnest. In time, more than 60 different sites of catacombs were dug all around the city's walls, through the fourth century.

    Romans referred to a necropolis as a "city of the dead," but Christians called theirs a dormitory (coemeterium), which was a place of rest until the physical resurrection of the body. Burial niches were carved into the volcanic rock walls, like endless rows of four-story-high bunk beds, and bodies were interred as Jesus was — wrapped in linen, anointed with scented oil, and sealed behind a slab of stone. And this kind of burial was not only for the rich. The astonishing size of the catacombs is a testament to the desire for the rich and the poor to have a proper burial. Even criminals and abandoned babies had their places in these subterranean vaults. More important, there was a curious sense of community in being buried together in these massive places. And digging down to almost 70 feet allowed them to bury thousands of bodies under a relatively small piece of topside real estate.

    Larger areas were excavated for subterranean chapels, often attached to the tomb of a saint or martyr. Families would dig out family-size crypts so they could all be buried together. Some were decorated with fresco paintings as well. However, the longstanding myth that these were underground hiding places where Christians concealed themselves from Roman search parties are largely untrue. The Romans knew exactly where these places were all around the city, and the stench of hundreds of rotting corpses would have been unbearable for any length of time.

    The catacombs declined in popularity after Christianity was declared a state religion and bodies were allowed to be buried in church cemeteries. The catacombs were largely forgotten until large-scale exploration of them began in the 1800s. The largest that can be seen today are the catacombs of St. Calixtus, near the St. Sebastian Gate. There are 12 miles of tunnels that actually interconnected four different burial sites; they're estimated to contain as many as 500,000 graves.

    In the early 300s, Christianity was not popular (making up no more than about 8 percent of the Roman population), lower class, pretty much illegal, and not exactly the sort of religion that would attract an emperor (after all, emperors were being worshipped). The period immediately before Constantine took the throne was, for the Christians, called the era of the Great Persecution. They had suffered oppressions off and on since their inception, the worst being under Nero. But the two co-emperors just before Constantine — Diocletian and Maximian — passed some of the most oppressive laws against Christians yet, burning their churches, outlawing their Mass, burning their sacred books, and putting them to death. As far as we know, Constantine, as well as his father, the Emperor Constantius, fully approved these laws.

    Dan Brown's version: Teabing does the talking
    Some of the biggest historical whoppers in The Da Vinci Code begin in Chapter 52, in a key sequence between Sir Leigh Teabing, Robert Langdon, and Sophie Neveu. Most of this scene consists of pronouncements on Brownian history from Teabing, described as one of Britain’s foremost historians, who has devoted his life to the study of the Holy Grail and its “real meaning.” Here are some of Teabing’s claims about the Council of Nicaea and Constantine:

    The Emperor Constantine made the important decisions at the Council of Nicaea in a.d. 325. According to Teabing, Constantine was not, as history tells us, a Christian, but a lifelong pagan, converted on his deathbed when he was “too weak to protest.”

    Constantine’s conversion was a strictly political move to bring peace to the two warring factions of Christians and pagans in the city of Rome.

    Jesus was not considered divine before the Council of Nicaea.

    Constantine pushed through the idea of Jesus’s divinity so that he could follow through with his dark plan to invest absolute power in the Vatican, in order to consolidate his own.

    Church leaders voted at Nicaea on Christ’s divinity, and that it was “a relatively close vote at that.”

    Over 80 “gospels” were considered for the New Testament, but only 4 were chosen, only the ones that showed Jesus as divine, with no human traits. The rest were burned.

    Mary Magdalene was Jesus’s wife; she carried his child; the Holy Grail was in reality Mary Magdalene; and the “blood in the cup” was the holy bloodline.

    What Boring Old History Books Say
    Back in the days of the very first Star Trek series, it was a common event in almost every episode for the U.S.S. Enterprise to get whacked with a photon torpedo from some alien ship, and when they did, the camera shook and everybody on the bridge fell out of their chairs. When a fan asked the series creator, Gene Roddenberry, why there weren’t seat belts in the seats, he answered, “If there were, they couldn’t fall out of their chairs!” People falling out of chairs is more dramatic than people just getting shaken around. The same is true with The Da Vinci Code. We know that if Dan Brown had stuck to the facts of history, he wouldn’t have sold 60 million copies and set the world talking about Jesus, Mary, and the Bible. And people wouldn’t have fallen out of their chairs.

    The problem comes in when Brown claims that people and events were facts when they weren’t — and the readers don’t know the difference. So, here we crack open some moldy old history books and see what they say about the claims of Brown’s characters about the early days of Christianity.

    The Christian conversion of Constantine
    The Roman Emperor Constantine I was converted to Christianity on October 28 in the year A.D. 312, just before a battle at Milvian Bridge. Constantine saw a vision of a cross in the sky, one he later had cast in gold — it was a chi-rho cross, the cross with two Greek letters at the top, the first letters of Christ’s name in Greek (see Chapter 1).

    When Constantine had his vision of a cross in the sky he was already an emperor and an extremely successful general — hardly someone who could be called a wannabe looking for some new followers. At that time, Rome was ruled by two emperors — one in the East and one in the West — because of the cumbersome size of the empire. Constantine was engaged in a civil war with the emperor of the West, with whom he was about to do battle at the aforementioned Milvian Bridge.

    According to Constantine, his vision occurred at dawn just before the battle. He also said that Christ came to him in a dream that same night and revealed the same sign to him, promising him protection from his enemies. Constantine’s vision, accompanied by a voice that told him, “In this sign, conquer,” can’t be dismissed out of hand; its effect on the course of history was too great. So, he was a liar, he was a lunatic, or he got a message from God. Constantine’s nimble handling of the reins of power in the coming years made one thing clear: The man was no nutbag in need of a jacket that laced up the back. And a reason for lying doesn’t come quickly to mind. But modern, secular people don’t put much stock in visions, spiritual or otherwise.

    Rome = Vatican = Church
    Throughout The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown's characters persistently, constantly, refer to "the Vatican" as being in cahoots with Constantine, as suppressing fourth-century Gnostic Gospels, as being the dark force behind the Crusades, and other evil deeds. The Vatican wasn't even built until the 14th century, and it was quite some time after that before it came to be an interchangeable term with Catholic hierarchy.

    Even if Constantine’s religious experience is explained away in modern terms — like a narcoleptic seizure, a psychoneurotic episode, or, another popular theory, that what he saw was a comet — one question still rises above all others: How likely is it that a man of the highest rank would convert to the religion of this oppressed and despised minority of vagrants and derelicts because it was “politically expedient” or a “smart business move”?

    Dan Brown’s fictional character of Sir Leigh Teabing asserts in The Da Vinci Code that Constantine was never really a Christian. Many in the Brown/ Teabing camp have implied that Constantine’s contemporary, friend, and biographer, the early Church father Eusebius, exaggerated the stories of his conversion for his own dark purposes. Yet, shortly after his victory at the Milvian Bridge, Constantine issued the Edict of Milan, which proclaimed that all Romans were free to worship whatever divinity they chose, without fear. When he presented the edict to his legions and explained that he had become a Christian but that they in no way had to follow his example, the legionaries began to come forward in droves to be baptized by the bishop who was present — he was overwhelmed by the crowd.

    Constantine’s conversion to Christianity involved nothing shady — he didn’t “back the winning horse.” The Christians were an oppressed minority in the Roman Empire and had been since their beginning. It was quite simply against the law to be a Christian. They were despised by the upper classes, of which Constantine represented the cream at the top. They represented 5 percent to 8 percent of the population. There was no rioting between Christians and pagans — pagans ruled the city, and Christians spent a lot of time hiding from them, especially during the reigns of Nero, Diocletian (Constantine’s predecessor), and several other deeply anti-Christian emperors. This is the “winning horse” that the conquering hero Constantine is so eager to have on his side that he abandons his own faith?

    The Da Vinci Code also makes the astonishing statement that Constantine was “a lifelong pagan who was baptized on his deathbed, too weak to protest.” Constantine was a Christian from the time of his conversion, in A.D. 312. He was baptized on his deathbed in 337 by Eusebius in a ceremony that was quite common at that time. It was practiced by other heretical sects, and even later by the Cathars. The belief was that, after baptism, the soul is cleansed of all sin and heads straight for paradise. The ritual of the Last Rites, called Extreme Unction, was only beginning to be used in the late second century and took much longer to become a regular practice. The seven sacraments of the Catholic faith — Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Eucharist, Penance, Extreme Unction, Orders, and Matrimony — weren’t even finalized as doctrine until the Council of Trent, the 19th ecumenical council of the Church, in the 16th century. In Constantine’s day, a man could remain a practicing Christian, called a neophyte, and then be baptized on his deathbed as a sort of Last Rites ritual by another name. (The Cathars in the south of France did precisely the same thing, having their final ritual of swearing to the ascetic life, called the consolamentum, put off until they were aged or dying. If a Frenchman’s going to give up wine, women, and rich food, he’d rather do it when he can barely make it from the bed to the chamber pot!)

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  • Aboaz
    Chapter 14

    Getting Our Acts Together: Constantine and the Council of Nicaea
    In This Chapter
    ● Getting the scoop on the real Council of Nicaea
    ● Not knocking Gnosticism
    ● Discovering why priests are bachelors, and meeting some who aren’t
    ● Going to the source on celibacy

    If you picked up this book because of your interest in the Knights Templar, this chapter won’t hold much interest for you. But if you came to this book because of what you read in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, this chapter goes right to the core of his story: namely, that the direction of the Catholic Church and Christianity was decided by the Roman Emperor Constantine I and the Council of Nicaea.

    Brown’s book presents a view that has very little to do with the historical record. Like the Templars (see Chapter 12) and the legend of Mary Magdalene (see Chapter 13), The Da Vinci Code version of the Council of Nicaea and the early days of Christianity is almost completely fictional. Almost. The names are spelled right.

    In this chapter, we discuss two pivotal turning points in both Christianity and the Roman Catholic Church: the conversion to the faith by Constantine, and the activities of the Council of Nicaea. We explain some of those supposedly missing “gospels” commonly known as the Apocrypha. We examine the horrible destruction of the Cathars during the Albigensian Crusade. And, in case the only place you’ve ever read about this stuff was in The Da Vinci Code, we set the record straight on some of Dan Brown’s other historical howlers.

    Fiction, History, and the Early Church
    Go ahead and say it. “What part of the word fiction do you guys not understand?” The problem is not simply that much of what is presented as historical fact in The Da Vinci Code is wrong. It’s that it is so incredibly wrong, and that Brown carefully binds it all together with the patina of truth. Sure, that makes Dan Brown a talented author of fiction. The problem is that a substantial portion of his more than 60 million readers believe him when he says his fictional books are factual.

    According to The Da Vinci Code, much of what we know about Jesus is wrong because of Emperor Constantine I and the first Council of Nicaea that met in A.D. 325. The book alleges that the Christian conversion of Roman Emperor Constantine I was political rather than spiritual, that Jesus was considered merely a mortal man for four centuries up until the Council of Nicaea, and that the Church burned and suppressed gospels that did not conform to their vision of a patriarchal, male-dominated, sexually repressed version of Christianity. To understand the controversy, you need to take a closer look at the real Council, what it really did, and the evidence as to whether it tinkered with the word of God. And you need to understand the place of Christianity in Roman society after the death of Jesus up until Constantine and the Council.

    Early Christianity: A secret society
    When discussing the early Christians, the words of the ancient Roman nobility usually dripped with arrogance, if not venom. The Emperor Nero famously accused Christians of setting the Great Fire of Rome in A.D. 64. In telling Nero’s story, the Roman historian Suetonius really fries the mad emperor (who famously “fiddled while Rome burned”). But in an effort to be fair and balanced, Suetonius does present a list of some of the good things Nero did, including “punishments inflicted on the Christians, a sect professing a new and mischievous religious belief.”

    Tacitus, the noble Roman historian, called Christians “a dangerous cult,” hated because of their “shameless activities,” which had come out of Judea, “the origin of the evil.” He accused them of everything from cannibalism to using the blood of babies in their obscene ritual of the Mass. And the Emperor Trajan had Christians executed for breaking two laws: his edict against “secret societies,” and his law requiring the worship of the state gods and sacrifices to the god/emperor.

    On top of being a religion for the plebs and the mob, Christianity was also perceived as being a faith run by women more than men, and that it was women who were doing the bulk of the converting. Julian the Apostate, the fourth-century emperor who tried to return Rome to its former religion of gods and goddesses, grouses endlessly and bitterly about hordes of Christian women, who converted the lowest scum of the street by feeding them and giving them a place to sleep. Those bloody do-gooders.

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  • Aboaz
    The real burr in the saddle
    We think that a lot of the anger of women that Dan Brown tapped into so effortlessly grew not out of the way women have been treated for the last 20 centuries, but the way they’ve been treated in the last two. A whole lot of the harshness toward Christianity that runs through feminist doctrine, which lists it as one of the chief oppressors, grew out of this two-century period far more than it did ancient Rome or 14th-century Italy.

    During the Age of Enlightenment particularly between about 1750 and 1820, women were getting hot as a pistol in England and America. Painters like Marie-Louise Vigee-LeBrun, and Angelica Kauffman, founding member of the British Royal Academy of the Arts, writers like George Sand and Jane Austen, philosophers like Madame De Staёl, politicians like Madame Roland, even political assassins like Charlotte Corday, had their hands all over the cultural steering wheel. It was an eruption of liberty, not just political, but social and even sexual. Language, always a barometer of a culture’s openness, was free and easy, and remarkably vulgar, so much so that many a “father of our country” type returned to his journals in the 1830’s and 1840’s in order to clean up all that “coarse” language. Women moved more freely in society than they ever had before — they drank and they danced, they gambled and attended horse races, they played cards and flirted and read books on all subjects.

    This wasn’t only happening in New York, but in parlors and parties in Richmond and Charleston, Baltimore and Providence, all over the brand-new 13 states. Always eager to imitate Europeans, Americans were holding their own intellectual salons to discuss the great issues of the day, and they were very often hosted by women. Most important of all, women were interacting with men, and with the world around them. Even the clothing of women at the turn of the 19th century reflected this new freedom; easy, flowing and sometimes shockingly revealing garments that were extremely naturalistic, incorporating motifs of the newly unearthed societies of ancient Greece and Egypt.

    Then, somehow, though she could hardly be held completely to blame, Alexandrina Victoria Hanover came to the English throne at the age of 18 in 1837, and everything began to change. Chastened language became the order of the day, and one little “damn” could get you sent to bed without any supper. Young English girls increasingly became prisoners of the nursery, held from any knowledge of life or men, until they were unleashed on the world at the age of 17 or 18, utterly unprepared to be sacrificed on the altar of marriage. In America, the predominant religion, a comfortable Christmas-and-Easter sort of Anglicanism (with a large number of Congregationalists and Presbyterians), was being challenged by a massive wave of tent-revival style evangelism. Uneducated but fiery preachers were sweeping the countryside by the 1820s, winning souls in droves to the new religions, especially the Baptist and Methodist churches. Women had been the movers and shakers behind the family religion for centuries, and evangelists openly went after them in particular. In the journals of the early Victorian period, many of the most devout men, from senators and congressmen to millers and blacksmiths, make it perfectly clear that their wives had become converts to the new fundamentalism first, and that they had been drawn into it by their wives and mothers afterwards. It’s sad to think, because it’s like a slave fastening on her own shackles every morning after she brushes her teeth.

    Facing the future
    Of course, there were some good things about this new religious fervor. The Abolitionist movement to free slaves the world over was given an enormous boost by it, and as for sexual equality, Methodists in particular were known for the equal status they gave women, so long as it was expressed in preaching the Word. But overall, the toxic blend of religious fundamentalism and the new Victorianism turned into one of the heaviest weights of oppression women would ever bear. This is the oppression that modern feminists have battled for the last century, but it has little to do with the status of women 10 or 20 centuries ago, or of Neolithic women, for that matter.

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  • Aboaz
    The remarkable fems of the West
    An incessant theme of The Da Vinci Code is that the Catholic Church pretty much stomped women into the dust, grinding them under the Church's booted heel. It is stated so often, in such a variety of ways, that you really do begin to believe it.

    The problem is, there's an awful lot of evidence to the contrary. No one is saying that women haven't been considered second-class citizens in many respects. This was an attitude that had greater currency in some cultures, less in others. An amazing number of even ancient philosophies and movements preached the equality of women, from the Greek Epicurean and Cynic philosophers, right on through to the feminist giants of the Age of Enlightenment. Yet, it was an idea that ran like a constant thread through the history of the West (and the East, as well), that Woman was Man's helpmate, the keeper of hearth and home, and by implication, someone whose pretty little head was not to be bothered with weighty matters.

    But to hear Dan Brown tell it, men have called all the shots, and women were deliberately and maliciously persecuted by Christian patriarchy for 2,000 years. Yet, taking a long hard look at the history of that 2,000 years could easily lead to the label of its being a "proto-feminist period" — meaning a time when women were too busy handling things to stop and think that they were inferior. These dreary and oppressed little drudges of the Christian West have made a whole lot of noise in the last two millenniums.

    As we discuss in this chapter, women had an enormous impact on the spread of Christianity. The Romans often referred to the "priestesses" of this new faith, emphasizing their feeling that women were running the show. A good later example of women as power players involves the period of the Crusades and the Templars. Women, particularly of the nobility, played a vital central role in the warfare of the Middle Ages. The feudal system in Europe gave each noble a "fief," and that property was his to control and to defend as a vital link in the feudal chain. The lady of the fief was incredibly important to its daily life, and she was equally important to its defense. For a feudal warlord, his most important officer was his "marshal." The marshal was second-in-command, the lord's right hand in battle and his chief military advisor. It was as common as dandelions for a feudal lord to make his wife his marshal, especially his marshal in charge of castle defenses, so that his marshal/knight could accompany him to a battle.

    For example, one of the worst defeats suffered by the Knights Templar was the Battle of Hattin in 1187. Raymond of Tripoli, overlord of the feudal Crusader state the County of Tripoli, was in the city of Acre having a council of war when news reached him that Saladin's army was on the march, and that they had laid siege to the city of Tiberius, where his wife, the Countess Eschiva, was in residence. The countess took charge of the defense, rallying the few knights she had for a long and bitter siege. Raymond must have trusted her a great deal. When King Guy of Jerusalem began to push for an immediate response in order to relieve Tiberias, Raymond instead wisely counseled waiting until the troops were ready, an argument he eventually lost. We know that he loved his wife very much, so obviously this attitude didn't grow from an uncaring indifference. Clearly, Raymond felt comfortable that Eschiva had things under control.

    We also know of an even more famous example, in Spain in 1100. With the death of El Cid, the great knight who was the hero of Christian Spain in its struggle against the Moors, it fell to his wife, the legendary beauty Princess Jimena, to hold the city of Valencia for the king. She reorganized the army, and held back the Moors for over three years before she even asked for any help, which is clearly more than most of the knights of the period could manage, since the Moors had overrun three-quarters of Spain. El Cid had always sought her wisdom and counsel, and doubtless would not have been surprised by her skill as a warrior.

    But apart from these famous stories, we know of hundreds of examples of wives acting as their husband's war marshals. In the documents that tell these stories, they are generally related in a very dry tone, as if nothing at all unusual is going on. So much for the Second Sex. As for the rest of the Church's position on the status of women in society, it's extremely telling that, when Pope Urban II preached the First Crusade at the Council of Clermont in 1095, every version we have of what he said contains a particularly interesting admonition. As a fever swept the crowd, catching the pope off-guard, and the knights began to swell forward to take the Cross, he said that he would only accept this offer of service from single men. Married men were told to go home and talk this serious decision over with their wives. If their wives agreed that they should go, then they could return and take the Cross. And if their wives wanted to go too, then they should be allowed to do so, for the sake of their own souls. According to Dan Brown, the Church believed that women hadno souls. So, we ask the question: Does this sound like a Church that held women in contempt?

    As for the Renaissance, Enlightenment, and even the Victorian Age, women were no slouchers, there, either. This Church that supposedly hated women sure crowned a lot of them queen. In the 16th century, Europe was dominated by three of the most powerful and cussedly stubborn women who ever lived: Queen Elizabeth I of England, Queen Mary Stuart of Scotland, and Catherine de Medici, the don't-mess-with-this-lady Queen of France. Russia had its greatest age of glory in the 18th century under three remarkable women: Catherine I, the widow of Peter the Great; Elizabeth I, her daughter; and the immortal Catherine the Great, Elizabeth's daughter-in-law, a German princess who became more Russian than her Cossack guards. The two Tsars who reigned for blessedly brief periods in this century, Peter II and Peter III, were complete screw-ups, the worst of them being Catherine the Great's husband Peter III, who was mad as the proverbial hatter. Incapable of watching Russia go down the tubes, Catherine staged a palace coup and overthrew her ineffectual husband, just as her mother-in-law had done, ruling alone from 1762 to 1796. After her death, it took a great deal of time and a couple of assassinations for the Russian people to find a man who could fill her dainty shoes.

    No, all the influential women of the Christian world were queens. Historians could, and have, filled library shelves with books about shrewd, powerful, and influential women, from Venetian poet Veronica Franco to chief presidential advisor Abigail Adams, who didn't sit on purple cushions. And, although The Da Vinci Code contends that losing the feminine in the divinity of the Church caused our society to be more violent than it would otherwise have been, women are fairly well represented in the criminal classes as well. The Countess Elizabeth Bathory, "the Bloody Lady of Cachtice," in Hungary, tortured and murdered hundreds of young girls before her arrest in 1611. And in a footnote of history relevant to our own age, it was a woman named Sophia Perovskaya, who invented the suicide bomber. The product of a normal and pious middle-class upbringing, she nonetheless founded one of the most violent terrorist organizations in history, called the People's Will. They shot and bombed hundreds of innocent people, until at last they got their target, the most liberal tsar in Russia's history, Alexander II. Sophia was caught and hanged with the rest. She neither asked for nor received any mercy on account of her sex.

    A historian could easily go on all night about the highborn, rich, and important women who aided Christianity, from Helena, the mother of the Emperor Constantine, to Anna Comnena, the daughter of the Byzantine Emperor Alexius who had called for the First Crusade; she was one of the greatest scholars of the age. Paul even had a female apostle, St. Thecla. But it was the everyday saints who propelled the faith forward. Julian the Apostate, the fourth-century emperor who tried to bring back the pagan faith, griped endlessly about his disgust with these hordes of Christian women, who gave their charity, not just to other Christians, but to pagans, as well, turning them to a faith that he despised in the process.

    Flip open a roll call on the lives of the saints, and you’ll find it about evenly matched between men and women, not to mention representatives of every race, color, and creed on earth. Although some of these saints are invoked for some really dippy stuff, everything from mice infestations to eczema, you’ll also find that some of the most courageous saints of the early Church were women. From Genevieve to Joan of Arc, women fought and died for their faith, even to the present day: In 1980, four Maryknoll nuns were brutally assassinated in El Salvador during that nation’s bloody civil war.

    The Catholic Church's Relationship with Women
    Nowadays, Catholics must feel that they just can’t win for losing. In the wake of The Da Vinci Code, Catholics are accused of strangling the feminine side of divinity, choking it in a male-dominated tyranny. But for centuries, they’ve been taking it on the chin for something that’s about as opposite as you can get — the accusation that the Church was far too wrapped up in the feminine divine, obsessed with devotional figures from the Magdalene to St. Teresa, and most particularly Our Lady, the mother of Christ. In countless books, Protestant devotional tracts, and general histories, Catholic worship of the Virgin Mary has been compared to a pagan mother-earth cult. This negative attitude was worsened by the strange intricacies of the Catholic doctrine on the Immaculate Conception, something that confuses even some Catholics. They think it means the virgin birth of Christ through a miracle of God, and to some degree, it does. But it also means that Mary herself was free of any stain of sin, from the moment of her conception. This was a doctrine that smacked to Protestants of putting Mary on a par with Christ, and perhaps it does. So where’s the beef now with a supposed lack of respect for divinity in women?

    There’s no question that the Church has stumbled in one regard — or at least, they had a hand in the debacle: This was the growing ideology that sexuality was lust, lust was a sin, and that sin had to be fought at any cost, up to and including self-castration. This idea took hold in the Middle Ages, long after the establishment of the faith, and it became part of the mindset of medieval times. Medieval or not, it’s difficult for a lot of modern women to forgive a Church that cooked up ideas like original sin (Eve ate the apple and disobeyed God, so all of us are forever suspect) and celibacy, which these same modern women, we believe, somewhat mistakenly, can be interpreted as a hatred of women.

    Ideas of celibacy were hardly embraced by everyone in the Church; in fact, it took several centuries of struggle for the medieval Church to force priests, particularly in the countryside, to give up the wives they’d taken when they thought it was all right to do so. Paul speaks at length in Corinthians on the subject of the sanctity of marriage, and the importance of a just and fair relationship between husbands and wives. And as for original sin, many a Christian scholar spoke against it, on the doctrinal basis that Mary’s immaculate conception had wiped the slate clean, or that this sin was borne by Adam and Eve equally, since both disobeyed God.

    Of course, anyone who thinks that celibacy was an invention of the Catholic Church would be sadly mistaken. In fact, most of the world’s major faiths,

    either in the mainstream or in offshoot sects, have practiced religious celibacy. It seems to be something of a universal in logic: The most wonderful things in life are love, sex, family, wine, good food, and luxuries of all sorts, all of which are things of the senses, and should therefore be given up by anyone seeking a higher plane of contact with the spirit. Consequently, celibacy has been practiced by the clergy in various sects of just about every major faith except Islam. As a concept, it does not automatically imply a hatred of women. (We talk a lot more about the concept of celibacy and who stuck us with it in Chapter 14.)

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