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The Templars: Discovery of the Holy Frale

The Ultimate Template of the Knights Templar

By Professor W     February 07, 2009


Non Nobis: Knights Templar statue at the Temple Church, London.
© Memory Map

 

Now, don’t get me wrong. I like Mickey D’s as much as the next guy. I love the moment when you take the first fry, put it to your lips and you just know that everything will be just the same as it ever was. The familiar surge of salt, sugar and fat. Just right… but that feeling lasts only a few fleeting moments until your digestive system recognizes what you’re shovelling into it and that your “meal” is simply part of a journey from the griddle to the sewer—and that it might have been a good idea to flush the contents of the whole bag straight into the can and spare your gut the unwholesome experience.
 
However, on rare occasions you have the good fortune to enjoy a gourmet meal, prepared by an expert chef, with fresh ingredients, all balanced together to maximize flavor and thoughtfully presented to make the experience into a memorable event which you will carry with you, perhaps, for years to come. It’s then you realize just how good (or not!) the Big Mac ® actually was…
 
The gourmet experience is how I would describe The Templars: The Secret History Revealed by Barbara Frale (Little, Brown and Company, January 2009). This magnificent, entertaining, short book (it’s less than two hundred pages long) is the work of a truly skilful, authoritative and insightful author who presents a short history of the Templars from the period of the Templars’ foundation in 1129 to 1307--the only period when there is any verifiable, solid, historical information on the mysterious knights. It is based on information contained in the Vatican Secret Archives. As Umberto Eco, the Italian academic, novelist, essayist and polymath, says in his introduction to Ms Frale’s book:
 
“There are numerous books on the Templars. The only problem is that in 90 percent of the cases (I correct myself, 99 percent), they are pure fantasy. No other subject has ever inspired more hacks from more countries throughout time than the Templars. There are countless books about their continuous rebirth and their constant presence behind the scenes of history--among the Gnostic sects, satanic fraternities, spiritualists, Pythagorean orders, Rosicrucians, enlightened Masons, and the Priory of Sion. Sometimes these efforts are so obvious that the reader endowed with common sense can enjoy these books as the historical fiction that they are, as with The Da Vinci Code, which mimics and reworks all the previous literature on the subject. But we must be careful, because thousands of gullible readers then visit the site of another historical hoax, the town of Rennes-le-Chateau. The only way to determine if a book on the Templars is serious is to check if it ends in 1314, the year their last grand master was burned at the stake.”
 
Umberto Eco knows what he’s talking about. He’s written two of the finest historical thrillers of the late twentieth century: The Name of the Rose and Foucault’s Pendulum.
 
As prescribed by Professor Eco, Ms Frale starts her history of the Templars with an overview of the early history of the Holy Land, through the first recognition of the Knights Templar in January 1129, the arrest and interrogation of all the Templars on Friday, 13 October, 1307 and finally concludes with the burning at the stake of the last Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, on 18 March, 1314 on an island in the river Seine. Where Ms Frale has been unable to find historical evidence during this period for any events or practices (for example, the Holy Thursday ritual of the Passion of Christ and the traditions of the Templars as custodians of the Holy Grail and the Turin Shroud), she acknowledges this, but makes no speculation. Ms Frale is a historian, not a fantasist.
 
Soon after the formation of the Order, Bernard de Clairvaux, an abbot and mystic, was invited by the Templars’ first Grand Master, Hugh de Payen, to devize a chivalric code for the newly formed religious and military order, dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The code was founded on the key principles of penitence, spiritual poverty (knightly arrogance was out!), absolute obedience, extreme discipline, and the denial of physical pleasures. The order, which would answer directly to the Pope, was charged with the protection of the major Christian sites in the Holy land and of those travelling to and from the Holy Land.
 
The discipline of the Templars ensured their military success and their high moral standards ensured that they were entrusted with immense deposits from the major states in Europe, to whom they acted as banker. The Order’s golden age lasted from 1140 to 1216. However, the reconquest of Jerusalem by the Saracens in September 1187, the increasing resentment against the Order’s overwhelming financial predominance, corrupt members of the Order and the weakening of the Pope’s authority by the French monarchy saw a gradual diminution of the Templars’ authority in their remaining years. 
 
By 1307, there were rumors circulating against the Templars concerning corruption amongst the senior echelons of the Order and their initiation rituals (at their trial--following torture--they confessed to having newly-admitted knights spit on an effigy of the Christ, as well as lewd kissing of the new initiates). Following their arrest by Philip IV (Philip the Fair), King of France, the Templars looked to the Pope in Poitiers for protection which, for political reasons, was slow to come.
 
The book concludes with Ms Frale’s own discovery in the Vatican archives of a document called the Chinon Parchment. In order to thwart the King of France, who was determined to destroy all the surviving Templars, Pope Clement V sent two of his cardinals as emissaries to the castle of Chinon, in a dungeon of which Jacques de Molay and the surviving Templars were being held prisoner. A covert inquest was carried out by the cardinals on the Templars who were absolved of their crimes (including heresy) and placed under papal immunity. As a penance, the Order of the Templars would be combined with the Order of the Hospitallers to form a new order. Despite this, Philip the Fair prevailed, the Templars remained in prison and in 1314, when Pope Clement V was too ill to resist, the gruesome sentence was finally carried out on the Templars. The Order had ceased to exist.
 
At the end of Ms Frale’s book, you come away having a feel for what’s real about the Templars, what they stood for, how they operated and their value systems. Barbara Frale is a talented historian in the Vatican Library and her history is based on fact and evidence and not on the experience of a housewife in Idaho with an over-heightened imagination with a desire to make a fast buck. It makes all the pseudo-fiction accounts about the Templars you’ve read so far seem little more than the scribblings of charlatans, who’ve gleaned their confused knowledge from Wikipedia and Mickey Mouse “specialist” forums. The hacks’ “insights” into the Templars are historically shaky and entirely unconvincing. The long-term home of their “historical novels” is in the sewers with the Big Mac ® and fries and their short-term effect is no more than a salt, sugar and fat buzz which throws the brain into overdrive. They don’t nourish, because they have no lasting substance--other than for those who’ve never enjoyed real history and are quite happy to rely on unqualified hacks for historical “insights”.
 
Someone has described this sort of writing as “historic reimagining”. But there are real historians out there who can and have done this professionally (Niall Ferguson and Andrew Roberts, to name but two). However, unlike the “imaginative historians”, these historians are not out to write sensationalist drivel to get a book deal. Plagiarized pulp is not history.
 
To think that more golden Mc-Nuggets ® of Salamonic Illuminations and the Expectorant Two will be coming off the griddle in the course of 2009 is already starting to give me indigestion. But, if you’re looking for a great read and want to learn facts in a well-written book, then Ms Frale’s history is an excellent place to start.
 
The Temple Church in London was consecrated in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary on 10 February 1185 by Heraclius, Patriarch of Jerusalem.

COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

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1 
Rosenbaum 2/7/2009 1:57:28 AM

 I think I'll be making a visit this morning to my village bookshop to buy this book.  From the review it's exactly what I've been looking for.  I love the photo of the statue!

buzzkill 2/7/2009 8:28:46 AM

This is a great review, Professor - very succinctly put.  Really looking forward to reading the book now.  Also caught the ref to "The Expectorant Two" coming off the griddle (more like falling off the trash truck, IMHO), though that's one I'll probably skip as "The Expectorant One" was a waste of time and money.  Laughing heartily...

Mnemosyne 2/8/2009 7:20:24 AM

What an excellent review!  And what a concept--to actually write a "factual" book about the Templars--and by a respected  historian, no less.  What an added treat that Umberto Eco has written the Foreward.

I suggest anyone out there contemplating writing their own Templar book to first check out Frale's book before assaulting us with your speculations about the Templars--you know what I'm talking about: Templars on Mars; Templars guarding more secrets than I can shake a stick at; Templars protecting the secret bloodline of Jesus and MM and the millions of ancestral offspring-all with red hair no doubt.

Yeah...I know, Frale is probably on someone's secret payroll and I'm being deliberately sarcastic in hopes you will catch my hidden meaning that the truth is once again being surpressed by people calling themselves academics.

 

Rosenbaum 2/8/2009 8:49:21 AM

 I am feeling a little sad today.  I realise that I am not related to either Jesus or Mary Magdalene (or anybody famous).  My hair is blonde (which I used to think was cool).  I think I am a brilliant historian and writer, but I don't like to waste time reading other historians' writings or doing my own research.  I just allow myself to feel events in the past.  Are there any great bloodlines or celebrities  which would care to adopt me?

I do have an idea for a best-selling novel about the Templars.  In my novel (I have only written the first 17 pages!) the Templars are a group of men who live under the sea in the lost city of Atlantis.  Using very long air pipes to the surface of the sea, the Templars have managed to master underwater colonies.  When not protecting the Holy Grail (a very primitive form of snorkel originally used by a famous fisherman - I don't want to spoil the plot for future readers!), the Templars amuse themselves by playing a variant of water-polo on the ocean-bed.  I am currently suffering from writer's block because I can't fathom (sorry!) a way to explain why their horses don't drown.

If anyone has any brilliant ideas or they want me to dye my hair and become a long-lost princess, I should be delighted to hear from them.  Our ward-superintendent vets our mail, so please be discreet.

wessmith1966 2/8/2009 1:33:24 PM

 Excellent review. I'll definitely be picking this book up at the bookstore. Another good, factual, book on the Templars is Stephen Howarth's "The Knights Templar." Howarth's book follows the Templars from their beginning to end. I definitely recommend the book.

Leavis 2/9/2009 10:20:02 AM

 This whole debate about the need to distinguish fact from fiction reminds me of the recent controversy over Robert Harris' latest thriller, The Ghost,  www.amazon.com/Ghost-Robert-Harris/dp/1416551824/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1 , a fictionalised account about a ghost-writer writing Tony Blair's autobiography.  In the book the reader can see the author restraining himself in order to avoid a law-suit.  Some readers have described the book as nothing more than chit-chat or banter.  However, what Harris meant is not banter.

He merely takes facts and adds fiction to them to produce a fascinating novel.  But Harris clearly understands the difference between fact and fiction.  Those who don't are sadly unable to understand and appreicate either good factual works or fiction and, i suspect, will have larger problems.

StellaMaris 2/13/2009 12:26:14 AM

I've actually, got the book now, inspired by this review. I'm only on Chapter II, but it's brilliant. In fact, I'm so impressed I've even banged the review!

RogerXXII 3/2/2009 4:27:14 PM

I don't mean to intrude, but I have discovered on another forum, that it seems that there are some annoying departures, in this effort, from the excelent and serious original Italian version.

Can anyone enlighten me on this?

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