The level of speculation surrounding this band of medieval warrior monks has become a kind of budgie-jumping historical sport, the rock-climbers version of academic fun. We have the Da Vinci Code and Holy Blood, Holy Grail to convince us of its continued and presently heightened popularity. But nothing reaches the justifiable ground wire like the news coming out of the Vatican these past few days...
From Thursday's edition of the Guardian Unlimited:
A couple of years ago, one wintry morning in Hertford, I met a mysterious man who claimed to belong to the Knights Templar. As readers of The Da Vinci Code will know, this secretive Catholic organization had been officially disbanded in 1307 by Pope Clement V, who had accused them of being heretics and devil-worshipers; their leader, Jacques de Molay, was burned at the stake. This Saturday, October 13, marks the 700th anniversary of the day their persecution began: Friday October 13, 1307, which may be the origin of the idea that Friday 13 is unlucky. But the Templars didn't go away. Instead, they went underground - taking with them, it was whispered, the Holy Grail itself, the cup used by Jesus at the Last Supper. Then, in late 2004, they resurfaced. A letter arrived at the Vatican, purportedly from the Templars' grand master, insisting on the knights' innocence, and demanding an apology. The Vatican said it would give the matter "serious consideration" - but for Templar-hunters, the exciting aspect was that the letter bore a Hertford address.So, after 700 years of supposed Templar heresy, they will finally be absolved. Fascinating how justice works inside the halls of the faithful.
A reporter at the Hertfordshire Mercury tracked down a local Templar, who explained that treasures of "immense importance" were hidden in a secret network of tunnels beneath the city, extending from the council offices, via Threshers, to Monsoon and Accessorize. Which was how I came to visit. Was the most fabled relic of Christ hidden underneath two boutiques on Market Place in Hertford?
I never found out, despite the best efforts of Gemma, the manager. But the other part of the tale has a happy ending: later this month, the Vatican will publish a book based on the Chinon parchment, a rediscovered fragment of the trial proceedings against the Templars. According to Professor Barbara Frale - who found it in the Vatican's secret archive, where it had been misfiled - it absolves the Knights Templar.
Just after the 700th anniversary of the day their troubles began, the Templars will get their apology. "We pray that, at the end of seven centuries, the soul of Jacques de Molay may now rest in peace for ever," says Ben Acheson, who describes himself as a Templar. "The Temple now considers the matter closed."
Now all that remains is to find the Holy Grail. If you need me, I'll be underneath Accessorize.
Update: (From the Times Online)
VATICAN CITY The Knights Templar, the medieval Christian military order accused of heresy and sexual misconduct, will soon be partly rehabilitated when the Vatican publishes trial documents it has closely guarded for 700 years.
It is publishing only 799 copies of the minutes of trials against the Templars, Processus Contra Templarios - Papal Inquiry into the Trial of the Templars, which will sell for €5,900 (£4,115).
The giant work will come in a soft leather case, with detailed reproductions of original Latin parchments and the wax seals used by the 14th-century inquisitors.
“Nothing before this offered scholars original documents of the trials of the Templars,” said Professor Barbara Frale, a medievalist at the Vatican’s Secret Archives.
The Templars were founded in 1119 by knights sworn to protect Christian pilgrims visiting the Holy Land. Legends of their hidden treasures and secret rituals and power have featured in films and bestsellers such as The Da Vinci Code. (Reuters)