Book Review

The Warriors and the Bankers:
A History of the Knights Templar from 1307 to the Present

by Alan Butler and Stephen Dafoe

An odd title for a non-fiction book, don’t you think? For the Knights Templar were supposed to have been extinguished when Philip le Belle of France had them arrested on various charges of heresy - with the help of his patsy Pope Clement V - on Friday, October 13, 1307. This of course is the reason for the superstition surrounding this date, and thus, by extension the reason why Jamie Lee Curtis gets chased around by a hockey-masked, knife-wielding assailant in that fabulous horror flick. So what ever happened to those scurvy scalawags with the red crosses on their white-mantles, muscular chests, all puffed out with bravery and love for the Holy Land? Well, world-renowned Templar scholars Butler and Dafoe have a few theories - a few coherent, logical, well-researched theories - and they’re not at all what you’d expect.

First of all, the Templar treasure. Most historians have talked about the “Templar treasure” as though it were a leprechaun’s pot of gold, the kind of thing you would expect to find in a sunken galleon or in a foot locker stashed beneath Betty Curry’s mattress. Not so, say these authors. Of course the Templar order was incredibly rich. They were, in fact, the world’s first bankers as we understand the term today, a practice they took up after loosing the last Crusade. Indeed it was they, and not Mayer Amschel Rothschild, as is so often stated, who invented the “fractional reserve lending” system which is used by all modern banks throughout the world. The services they provided were revolutionary. One could deposit money in one of their many preceptories throughout Europe, receive a “ciphered” deposit slip and withdraw it at another location on a given date. In the meantime the order played with the “float”, using the opportunity to lend out the depositor’s money and reap huge sums of interest. Thus, as the author’s point out, the “Templar treasure” was always in flux, always moving about, creating more money as it changed from hand to hand. “Templar treasuries there will certainly have been”, write the authors, “but it would have been economic and political suicide to keep it in one vast depository.” The authors also believe that the heads of the order, especially Grand Master Jacques de Molay, would have had ample forewarning about the impending arrests, given that they probably maintained spies within the king’s court and within the Vatican. “We know that the arrest orders were dated Sept. 14”, write the authors, “so at the most they had four weeks advanced notice. Ant attempt to recollect all of the outstanding loans certainly would have sent off alarms that the knowledge of their imminent arrest was in the Templars’ hands. So rather than run the risk of blowing their cover, we theorize that Templar Inc. did what any good business do, cut its losses and move on. With a depleted stockpile of workable assets...the Templars fled the area of immediate persecution before the hammer could fall. ...the money would be transferred to those branches still open and put to even greater use to recover the recent losses.”

This they must have done, for the greedy King Philip never found the vast shimmering gold supply that he had assumed the Templars possessed. Those who didn’t understand how they made their money suspected that they practiced alchemy or had found it underneath the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. They do not dismiss the idea that the Templars may have found something there, mystery writings, perhaps, as Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas (whom these authors thoroughly respect) suggest in their book The Hiram Key. They are even open to the idea that the treasure was hidden beneath the magnificent Rosslyn Chapel in Edinburgh, Scotland, and that there may be clues to this embedded in the chapel’s architecture. And they parrot Knight & Lomas’ notion that the “unfinished” chapel was never meant to be finished, because it was made to resemble the crumbling edifice of Solomon’s Temple after it was sacked. They point out that the “Grand Circle” distance from the chapel to the Temple Mount is 2,160 nautical miles, precisely 1/10 of the Earth’s circumference. They do, however, express doubt that the treasure is still located beneath Rosslyn, especially after The Hiram Key was published. The next question that comes to the readers’ mind is, “What became of the Templar order itself.” The authors assert that at least four-fifths of the order’s membership made it out of France unscathed due to the selfless and astute De Molay, who stayed on and continued the pretense that they did not know what was coming, sacrificing his own life so that the fraternity could continue. One of the most important aspects of this is the mystery of the vast Templar fleet, which almost completely vanished along with the majority of the order’s membership. “Everyone assumed”, wrote the authors, “that the entire Templar fleet was in the Atlantic French port of La Rochelle at the time of Philip le Belle’s attack on the order..... If Jacques De Molay had known the organization was going to be attacked he would have also been aware that the first possible route of escape for his personnel that the French authorities would observe closely would be La Rochelle.” Instead, the authors prefer to think that the that the fleet was, again, not all in one place, but dispersed throughout the globe conducting business. “The vast majority of Templars ships.. would surely have been doing what the Templars did best - plying the seas of the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, earning money to keep the order financially sound.” The authors suggest that over a number of weeks most of the fleet from La Rochelle could have been transferred over to other countries like Portugal, Spain, Ireland and Scotland, “deliberately planned so that no suspicion should be aroused.” They do not deny claims that Templars proliferated in Scotland after the papal crackdown, and even assisted in he Battle of Bannockburn with Robert the Bruce. But the idea that the entire French fleet fled there is, according to the authors, “preposterous.” However, they have no doubt that the Templars in Scotland were involved in forming the first Masonic lodges. In fact they theorized that this happened via the Sinclair family, “The patrons and protectors of Scottish masons” who were “stepped in Templar tradition, in the process of hiring stonemasons to build the world-famous Rosslyn chapel, now recognized as “Lodge #1 by modern freemasons. In order to keep the secrets of the sacred geometry and other symbolism embedded in this structure, it would have been necessary to bind these masons to oaths of silence by having them join a secret fraternal order, the mason’s guild. “These men were bound together by blood oaths that endured for generations, since there had undoubtedly been advantages of preference, welfare and mutual aid written into the original concept of the pledge made to William Sinclair. ...These matters conferred a “special status” on the workers involved, and one that their sons and grandsons did not wish to relinquish. Thus the Masonic fraternity was born.

In regards to Portugal, here the Templar order stood a very good chance of surviving. They already had a strong presence there and held a number of properties, including some magnificent structures such as a fortress in Tomar which to this day is a popular tourist attraction. In it there is a very mystical-looking castle called the “Convento de Cristo”, an octagonal structure modeled after the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. The Templars had received much support from Portuguese King Dinis during their persecution. In 1312 Pope Clement V issued a papal bull bequeathing all Templar holdings to the rival Order of St. John. But Dinis argued that the Templar holdings really belonged to the crown, and created his own “Order of Christ” to take over the properties. The Order was given a Cistercian Rule - just like the Templars - by Pope John XXII in 1319, and adopted a red cross much like the one that the Templars used. This order was later responsible for a number of explorational missions throughout Africa, the Indies, and maybe even the Americas. Today the organization survives as The Supreme Order of Christ, and is one of five pontifical order, such as the Knights of Malta, granted by the Holy See. However, their first member, Belgian King Baudin died in 1993, and no new members have been knighted since.

The authors also deal with the question of a neo-Templar order called the Sovereign Military Order of the Temple of Jerusalem (SMOTJ), which claims to be a direct continuation of the original order, and clings to a document called the “Carta Transmissionis”, a supposed list of all the Templar Grand Masters from De Molay to modern times. The authors deal skeptically with this document, which appears to be a possible hoax perpetrated by the man who claimed to have discovered it, named Bernard Raymond Fabre Palaprat, himself a Grand Master of the SMOTJ from 1804 to 1838. Palaprat had also claimed to have discovered the sword and charred bones of Jacques de Molay, as well as another strange document called the Leviticon, which stated that the true Templar beliefs were mostly Johannite and Gnostic. The Johannites, of course, believe that John the Baptist was the true prophet, and that Jesus was a heretic who rebelled against him.) As Grand Master Palaprat forced the members of his order to adhere to Johannism, but after his death the SMOTJ returned to a strictly Christian orientation. Today the order is vast and strong, with preceptories all over Europe and the Americas.

The authors end their book with an interesting and original theory about where the majority of the Templars may have gone after their persecution. At the time in question, the area now known as Switzerland consisted of “a system of nominally independent dukedoms and fiefs, most of which had come to fall under the sway of the Holy Roman Empire. At the end of the 13th Century”, state the authors, “three of these little regions, Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden too the first tentative steps towards autonomy, and by doing so showed where Templar influence was growing strongly.” In 1291, these three signed a contract pledging to assist one another The alliance was soon joined by other Swiss “Cantons”, as these regions were called, including Zurich, Glarus, Bern, Lucerne, and Zug. After fighting for many years, and with the help of a group of white-clad, red crossed, extremely brave warrior knights, the finally won their independence in 1499. The knights of which we speak were probably the Templars, for Switzerland was already a familiar and important territory to the Templars, as the Order had been moving goods and soldiers through the French Alps for many years. (It was also an important area to the Merovingians, who maintained a mint there in a town called Sion.) It is the authors’ position that when the Templars fled persecution they probably deposited much of their goods and personnel in their already-present Swiss strongholds. The authors believe that the Templars had a great deal of influence in the developing of the French nation, and thus accomplished their long-held goal of creating an independent Templar state. As evidence for this they point to the sophistication of Swiss banking and agricultural practices, both sciences the Templars had mastered, and to the flags of the Swiss Cantons, many of which contained Templar crosses. Even the modern flag of the Swiss nation bears on of these crosses, in white, on a red background. “We would suggest that in every known way Switzerland represents exactly what a Templar state would have been destined to become”, write the authors, “and we would go so far as to suggest that if ‘The Holy Grail’ or ‘The Ark of the Covenant’ truly did exist in the modern world, the most likely place to find either of them would be in the dark recesses of some bank vault in Zurich or Geneva.” I have no hesitation in saying that this is the most exciting, promising and sensible theories I have heard so far on the Templar subject. It’s hard to believe no one else thought of it first, but over the past few years Alan Butler and Stephen Dafoe have proven themselves to be among the most brilliant, insightful and provocative researchers in their field, completely unhindered by traditional historical assumptions. This most recent piece of galvanic scholarship cuts through the muck of cloudy suppositions to reveal an entirely new way of looking at this most mysterious and influential fraternal order. I can only assume that in the future they will continue to do the same.

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