Book Review

Sacred Sites of the Knights Templar

by John K. Young

review by, Aaron Garland

Although numerous works have surfaced recently on the Knights Templar, this book is perhaps the first to approach the medieval organization’s elusive and often speculative history from an astronomical standpoint. Published in 2003, author John K.Young cites numerous pre-historic megaliths all over Europe as having a functional role in determining the solar and lunar patterns over the course of the sky. Young proposes this astronomical significance of the megaliths was not lost on the Templars, and furthermore, that such knowledge linked them to the Freemasons as well. Along the way, Young uses this astronomical premise to help explain the mysterious architecture and locales surrounding various Templar and Masonic sites throughout Europe, devoting lengthy chapters to the famous Rennes-le-Chateau in southern France and Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain.

This book can be roughly divided into two parts: the first half devoting much space to Europe’s sacred stones and subsequent architecture, and the latter to the many facets of Freemasonry, using the Knights Templar as a fulcrum for these proverbial links to its past and future.

Chapter 1 begins in 3000 B.C. at Stonehenge, undoubtedly the most famous megalithic monument in the world. Young posits the question: Why did ancient peoples go to so much trouble to construct it? Young cites American astronomer Gerald Hawkins as being one of the first to propose an answer. Hawkins based his theory on one established fact: the Sarsen stone horseshoe inside Stonehenge is aligned with the course of the sun on the summer solstice. Subsequent research led Hawkins to conclude that other pairs of stones were aligned with the rising and setting of the moon as well, no mean feat when one realizes that the moon, unlike the sun, does not rise and set and the same position each year. Young’s own fieldwork in determining solar and lunar positions at the summer solstice led him to conclude that these precise alignments took much dedication and time from the people who built them.

The other aspects of Hawkins’ theory crucial to this book are the precise angles between the positions of the sun and moon in regard to the geographical locations of the megaliths themselves. For Stonehenge, the solar and lunar relationship at summer solstice is a 90 degree angle due to the precise latitude of the stones (51.1 degrees latitude) north of the equator. One can only surmise these precise angles gave a useful semblance of order and balance in the sky to the builders of Stonehenge.

In proceeding chapters, Young applies Hawkins’ theory to other megaliths and cathedrals as well, including Carnac, in Brittany (France), the Cathedral at Aachen in northwestern Germany, and most intriguingly, the churches and castles of Rennes-le-Chateau – whose placements form huge pentagons and pentagrams. Although these conclusions regarding the latter have already been established by other authors, Young takes it a step further by suggesting the huge, geometric patterns reflect pre-Christian astronomical alignments. For example, Young reports that the “sunrise line” proceeding from Rennes-le-Chateau through Blanchefort and the church at Arques occurs on or about August 15 – the day commemorating the day of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary into heaven! What’s more, Young notes that even Henry Lincoln himself hypothesized that Templar structures over Rennes-le-Chateau were already marked by pre-Christian ones.

Young, understandably, devotes an entire chapter to the idiosyncrasies surrounding Rennes-le-Chateau and their proposed links to sacred geometry, even Masonic symbolism. Of particular interest here are the four parchments found hidden in Sauniere’s church and the paintings of Poussin, including The Shepherds of Arcadia, The Assumption of the Virgin and Et in Arcadia Ego. When one considers the tumultuous history of the Knights Templar and the preceding Cathars had with the official Church (of which an entire chapter is devoted), it’s not hard to imagine that unorthodox practices, beliefs, and written and painted works were kept secret to ensure their preservation and avoid conflict. Once again, Young ties all of this into an astronomical framework. He states,

“Conceivably, the Templars may have sought reconciliation between unorthodox Christian thinking and the astronomy-based pre-Christian thought that was so prevalent in the regions the Templars controlled.”

Much of the same can be said for the remaining chapters of the book, where the author at length discusses the history of the Freemasons, the Priory of Sion, the Templars’ association with the Holy Grail, and the Shroud of Turin. In one particularly compelling chapter called “Astronomy and Religion in Ancient Europe”, Young draws similarities between the Templars, Freemasons, and the religion of Mithraism that rivaled Christianity in Europe between 100 B.C and A.D. 300. Although he cites much of his material for this chapter from David Ulansey’s pioneering work, The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries (a book which championed an astronomical explanation for Mithraism), Young makes his own case for striking similarities in the astronomical symbolism of Mithraism and Freemasonry. This symbolism includes the Sun, Moon, and seven planets represented as seven stars, which can be readily found on Mithraic sculptures across Europe, as well as Masonic Tracing Boards. Even more intriguing are the similarities found in the initiation rites of Mithraism and the Freemasons, which both involve a ceremonial “killing” of the initiate, in the symbolic sense.

Overall, this book is very palatable for newcomers to the cryptic and complex history of the Knights Templar while offering a unique and seemingly well-reasoned explanation that should attract Templar and astronomy enthusiasts alike. It will be interesting to see if it winds up as just another footnote in the ongoing cottage industry the publishing world has spawned, or if it will be recognized as giving astronomy its rightful place not only in the history of the Templars, but ancient European civilization as a whole.

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