by, Leonard Howlett
What is a legend, truth or fiction? Usually, it is both. A legend is a story that is true on a level more essential than mere fact. All stories, fact or fiction, persist because they are inherently true. They strike a chord of relevance in the listener, somehow truer than mere recorded fact, like Robin Hood and the shooter on the "grassy knoll." What is history itself, but a story selected and edited to tell an essential truth about the past? And did it ever happen exactly as it is retold?
There are many stories that persist, sometimes going in and out of vogue, seemingly forgotten, only to resurface and gain new life. But nothing matches stories about the Knights Templar for longevity, except perhaps religious myths some of which they are a part of, as legends which seem to live forever, playing supporting parts in other myths, taunting us century after century, causing us ultimately to suppose that something in the jumble of dates and details is the truest thing in the world. Causing us to believe that for which authorities, both Church and State, have told us over the intervening centuries that there is not a shred of evidence.
Templars at BannockburnThere is a legend, perhaps too persistent to be discounted, that haunts the battlefield at Bannockburn. There on St. Johnís Day, June 24, 1314, scarcely two and one half miles from Stirling Castle, Robert I, The Bruce, wrested the sovereignty of Scotland from Edward II of England. Things had seemed set to go bad early on; calamitous, in fact. Robert had lost control of the country to Edwardís father, Edward ĎLongshanksí, in 1307. There had been several small victories since, but it all had come to this. Scarcely 6,000 of the folk of Scotland, armed with lances and farm implements, saw the sun rise on 20,000 battle-hardened, well-equipped professionals, seasoned in other skirmishes on the European continent.
That morning, The Bruce mounted his palfrey - his light horse - because it was more agile on that marshy ground, to survey his troops, armed with but a single battle axe. He moved back and forth in plain view of the opposing forces, assessing the 500 light cavalry and several thousand men-at-arms, probably planning how best to deploy them against such great disadvantage. He wore his golden crown over his helmet to make his presence visible to his troops and to taunt the enemy with his daring. Then, Henry de Bohun, an English knight on a dark warhorse, had left his fellows and moved toward the Scottish ranks, ominously, like rolling thunder. Without explanation, Robert the Bruce urged his horse forward and prepared to meet fate.
He had won some battles for Scotland of late. But this meant so much more. William Wallace was some years dead. Robert and, indeed, the entire country of Scotland had been excommunicated by the Vicar of Rome. And on this day Scotland hung in the balance by a tartan thread. On the very first pass the Bruce, confronting his own immortality, turned aside his agile pony, deflecting the lance of his better-armed opponent, stood straight up in his stirrups, and split the head of Henry de Bohun with a single stroke, breaking the handle of his axe with the force of the blow. Such was the way that freedom was earned and the true meaning of nobility was confirmed on that day.
But even at that, things seemed scarcely better. There were still the impossible odds, the vast differences in numbers and experience. At the charge and subsequent engagement the heartened clansmen fought furiously, heroically. However, the English king waited patiently with 500 mounted knights while his archers went about their work, preparing to join the battle at his leisure. His cavalry, 2000 strong, seemed destined to hack the Scottish infantry into oblivion. It was only a matter of time.
Then, suddenly, at the rear of the Scottish van, like the miracle of Scottish sunshine, burst a flash of white tunics. Four hundred and thirty-two mounted Knights Templar, most likely led by Sir Henry St. Clair (Sinclair) and including his sons William and Henry, advanced with grim intent, the red croix pateť visible on every shoulder. Hardly pausing to notice the English rank and file, beating the closest down in seeming afterthought, the Templars moved ever onward, toward Edward like certain death. The king and five hundred of the flower of English manhood fled the field. The English soldiers lost all sense of order and a rout ensued. Only 38 Scots died that day, according to some sources, and the free nation of Scotland was born. Thanks were due in large part to the Knights of the Temple of Jerusalem. This fact, which some detractors have dismissed as not being supported by a shred of evidence, has been supported by distinguished authors, such as HRH Prince Michael of Albany and Tim Wallace-Murphy, among others.
The outcome in itself was not remarkable. The Knights Templar were the Special Forces of their day, accustomed to confronting such numbers, sworn by a holy vow never to retreat unless facing odds of more than three to one. What was remarkable was that the Templars no longer existed, officially, at least.
Betrayed on Friday, October 13, 1307 by Phillip IV le Bel of France and his weak and treacherous puppet pope, Clement V, the Templars in France had been imprisoned, and their assets impounded. Although on the previous night, a contingent of Templars had taken certain of their treasures and slipped out of the port of La Rochelle in a small fleet led by a fast, sleek Genoan-built ship, the Falcon, Jacques de Molay, the Grand Master had been seized by Phillipís seneschals and imprisoned. His confinement and torture would last for seven years until March 18, 1314, when he was martyred in Paris, burned at the stake slowly from the feet up along with Geoffrey de Charney, the Preceptor of Normandy. In the meantime, the order had been officially disbanded by papal bull, in 1312. Thus, according to the Catholic Church and the lying, cowardly king of France, the Templars could not have been at Bannockburn. There are people who will insist to this very day that there is absolutely no evidence for the presence of the Knights Templar on the battlefield that day. This is probably because no Templars fell there and, thus, there was no evidence recorded in the body count. Thus goes the thinking that they could not have been there because they, in fact, no longer existed. But the Templars knew.
And they still remember.
So where is the evidence? Secretive organizations such as the Knights Templar and the Scottish Freemasons who, by their own admission and by any assessment of their ritual certainly were inspired by the Templars, are not given to willfully leave evidence of their existence. There can be no argument that the events in France would have served as a dissuasion to any candor on the part of survivors. But there are inferences that can be made, not from what was said, but from what was left unsaid. For instance, if the Templars no longer existed, why did Edward find it necessary the next year, in 1315, to issue an edict seizing all Templar land in Britain? What about the Sinclairs, a highly connected Templar family from the beginnings? And Rosslyn Chapel? The chapel was not built some two centuries later with such great effort, painstaking attention to detail, and Templar propriety on a whim, but as a living tribute to the Temple of Solomon. It is what it appears to be, a physical declaration that the Templars remain, unvanquished, alive, in Scotland.
The Heart of Robert the BruceIt is also a matter of historical record that upon the death of Robert the Bruce which occurred on June 3, 1329 when he was fifty-five years of age, five knights, including Sir William Sinclair and Sir James Douglas set out for the Holy Land with a small leaden casket bearing his embalmed heart. It was common at that time to take the hearts of knights who fell in battle in a foreign land back to their homeland for interment. The king had requested that his heart be buried on the site of the Templar Church of the Holy Sepulchre. There can be no mistake about how Robert the Bruce felt about Jerusalem and the Temple. Along the way, in Andalusia, on March 25, 1330 they encountered Saracens and an engagement ensued. Douglas is said to have taken the casket containing the heart of The Bruce, slung from a chain around his neck and to have hurled it at the enemy, uttering an extemporaneous verse, which seems a bit too elegant given the circumstances, but is perhaps noteworthy in its similarity to the title of a certain movie:
Sinclair and three of the other knights were lost in the skirmish, the fifth knight, Sir William Keith, being unfit to fight due to a fractured arm. Sir Keith Graham of Gawliston brought the heart back to Scotland where it was interred at Melrose Abbey. Sir William Sinclair was buried at Rosslyn Chapel.
The Larmenius TransmissionAnother very curious reference to Scottish Templarism exists. In 1804, a document was revealed by an ex-seminarian, sometime chiropodist named Bernard-Raymond Fabre-Palaprat. Reputedly written in 1324, ten years after the martyrdom of Jacques de Molay, by Johannes Marcus Larmenius, in a secret code with symbols based on the Templarís insignia, the croix pateť, it stated that the Grand Master had bequeathed his title to Larmenius shortly before his death. Fabre-Palaprat maintained that the Grand Magistracy of the order had been handed down in a line of succession unbroken to the present, and he was himself the current Grand Master. Coincidentally, Fabre-Palaprat had previously found a copy of The Levitikon, an eleventh century version of the Gnostic Gospel of St. John, previously thought to be extinct, in a Montmartre second-hand bookstall. Others, such as Stephen DaFoe and Alan Butler in The Warriors and the Bankers, have commented that finding these two documents, as well as bones of Jacques de Molay would seem to make Fabre-Palaprat the luckiest treasure hunter in Templar history.
A passage near the end of the Larmenius Charter states:
"I, lastly, by the decree of the Supreme Assembly, by Supreme Authority committed to me, will say and order that the Scot-Templars, deserters of the Order be blasted by an anathema, and that they and the brethren of St. John of Jerusalem, spoilers of the Knighthood (on whom God have mercy), be outside the circle of the Temple, now, and in the future."There are many problems with the Larmenius Transmission, not the least of which is the statement above. Here was a man, nearing seventy years of age, physically broken after seven years of torture by the Crown and Church, using what was virtually a last opportunity by which it would have been possible to bequeath best wishes, and directions for continuation of the Order which had been his life, to instead spew hatred against the brothers who had managed to escape the institutions which were about to bring about his death? It does not ring true. Should he not instead have been overjoyed at the prospect of the continuation of the order in a land free of the tyranny to which he had fallen victim? It is known that moments before his death, Jacques de Molay cursed both the King and Pope, inviting them to join him in death within a year. And his wish was fulfilled. Sometimes even the saddest stories surprise us with happy endings. But, once again, is this the act of a man who would expect the Templars now in Scotland to face some kind of papal justice? That seems doubtful.
There are still other problems with Larmenius. It took nearly five hundred years to miraculously surface. There was the strange behavior of Fabre-Palaprat and the other self- appointed heirs to the Charter. The order is said to have sought reconciliation and even absolution from the Church! As late as the mid-1800s, Prince de Chimay, then Grand Master according to the Larmenius succession, was still beseeching the Vatican to rescind the interdict against the Order to no avail. Once again, how likely would it be that Jacques de Molay or any of the original knights Templar would attempt to recover favor from the Church?
It has been explained that the outrage was the fault of one Pope only, Clement V, but what would that infer about the accepted fact of what later came to be known as papal infallibility? Besides, there is a much-supported belief that the Templars were covert Gnostics anyway. They were very likely heretics by the standards of the Catholic Church at the time. That was supposedly the cause of the purge. It is hard to imagine any such action as a request for reconciliation bearing out the legacy of de Molay.
Then there is the matter of the document itself. There is a paleographic problem; the Latin is written in a form too modern and precise to be accepted as contemporary with medieval. And there is the form of the signatures; the calligraphy is far too uniform to have been signed by different Grand Masters. Both of these questions have been answered by apologists with the explanation that the charter, along with the signatures, were corrected by archivists, presumably archivists who wrote uniformly alike so as to sign indistinguishably over the centuries. This "correction" was also used to explain the signature of one Bertrandus Duguesclin, who was known to be illiterate and to have signed his name with a cross. This seems a questionable admission. The original itself, blemishes and all, would be inestimably more valuable than any cosmetically improved copy. People do not wait in lines in the museums of the world to view reproductions of great documents - at least, not knowingly. Was the parchment copy on public view in London every touched by the hand of Larmenius?
The late John J. Robinson in Born In Blood dismisses the Larmenius Charter tersely as "a blatant forgery." Letters and personal correspondence from Tim Wallace-Murphy, co-author of Rex Deus, questioning the authenticity of the Charter may be found on a number of internet websites. Peter Partner has suggested that a Dr. Ladru, a contemporary of Fabre-Palapratís, may have been the documentís author. Carbon dating would be in order to help settle the question. It would almost certainly be effective in distinguishing between a parchment from 1324 and one from 1804, or thereabouts.
Many of the present-day Templar groups, including those of the Larmenius succession, purport to be chivalric Orders, fraternal organizations engaged in charitable deeds. That is undoubtedly true for the preponderance of them. But then that was also the stated aim for the original Order, with a little hand-to-hand combat and perhaps some archaeological excavation thrown in. Thus, it is doubtful that contemporary Templars would or should be forthcoming with any additional objectives. One can only infer, collecting and piecing together shreds of evidence. And, whether this is a story two hundred years old or seven hundred years old, it persists.
The Heart of Alisdair Rosslyn SinclairThere is another Templar story going around these days. It has been supported and refuted, for several years, and it seems it will not go away. Perhaps it asks too many questions and it answers too few, as is the tendency of legends generally and Templar stories in particular. And is that not the basis for these stories? Donít they always seem to indicate that there has been a concerted effort by various authorities down through time at repression, concealment of a closely-guarded truth by both sides for a different reason? Right or wrong, true or false, the supporters tie the stories together with the single fine thread of repression. And if even parts of this story are true, one thing stands out: someone has repressed it, and amended it, and disclaimed it and, ironically, made it seem familiar, similar to a lot of others.
In his online book, Who Murdered Yitzhak Rabin, Barry Chamish relates an interesting correlative sidelight to his title subject. On April 14, 1998, a long-haired 47 year-old guitar player, Alisdair Rosslyn Sinclair, died in a jail cell in Tel Aviv. He had come to the Holy Land six days before and had been arrested at Tel Aviv Airport with 9,000 Deutschemarks hidden in the false bottom of his suitcase. Although concealment of valuables is not a crime and many people hide money while traveling, and although Mr. Sinclair had not been suspected of anything on his entry into Israel, he was later said to have been suspected by authorities of transporting either "ecstasy or explosives" into the country according to a story written six months later, on October 30, 1998, by Netty C. Gross of The Jerusalem Post Service. The cause of death given was "suicide due to asphyxiation." He had supposedly hanged himself in his cell. Israeli authorities offered to bury the body in Israel. The family wanted the body returned to Scotland even though it would cost the equivalent of four thousand nine hundred dollars. They had to insist before authorities agreed.
When the body finally arrived in Glasgow, the second autopsy found that it was missing the heart and the hyoid bone. Alisdair Sinclair was a normal sized man both in height and weight. Friends and family described him as happy and intelligent, as outgoing and not prone to depression. It was said that it would be unlike him to think of suicide, and had not, in fact, ever spoken of the prospect of taking his own life. If it was strange to think of him as suicidal it was even stranger to realize upon closer investigation that there was not a fixture in the cell high enough for a grown man to suspend himself with his feet off the floor.
The explanation came that it was a towel bar between chest and waist height and that he had hanged himself with a combination of his tee shirt and shoelaces by repeatedly lunging up and falling backward and down, slumping toward the floor. Shoelaces would not seem strong enough to bear the weight of a man, and asphyxiation takes willpower that hanging does not. That is why hanging has been common down through time: it does not take much equipment and requires only an initial burst of willpower. And that is why very few people have ever choked themselves to death, and the ones who have managed auto-asphyxiation have rarely done it with towel bars and shoelaces.
What about the heart? I suppose the name of the victim was a strong tip-off here. The fore-mentioned story of the heart of Robert the Bruce and the quest to return it to Jerusalem would come to mind to anyone who hearing this news item. Itís another of those stories where nothing is certain except that it will not go away. The story has been popping up in the news and rumors on the internet for more than three years. The coroner in Israel, who has been involved in other controversies, said it was an oversight and, after several requests, sent a heart, which was said to be not acceptable for DNA testing. What that might mean is hard to say.
Additionally, the hyoid bone, which also disappeared, is a small structure adjacent to, and covering the larynx. It is broken in cases of asphyxiation, and in various ways depending on the method of asphyxiation employed. And if the scientific investigation cannot be done, there is no evidence, not a shred. Some historians have said lately that there is no proof for the existence of Henry de Bohun, the young knight whom the Bruce cleaved from crown to shoulder. Presumably, someone would have to produce the broken handle of The Bruceís axe for it to be given credence, and maybe not even then. The Jerusalem Post mentions an Israeli DNA test conducted, although it is not specific as to what was being tested. And any results obtained have not accompanied any subsequent news story until this time.
It has been suggested that the heart was taken for an organ transplant, but an organ is not suitable for a transplant unless it is harvested immediately, within scant minutes after the donorís death. Oddly, though, British records state that the Israeli police made an "informal request for an organ donation," but the police deny having done so. And there is another reason why the coronerís explanation of oversight is questionable. Conservative Judaism, which is a huge force in modern Israel, has traditionally had reservations about the dispensation of the body parts of deceased people. Severed limbs, in the case of amputations, are often preserved and held in mortuaries, to be buried with the person upon their death. Alisdair Sinclair was not Jewish, but it does not seem reasonable that forensic authorities in Israel would be so remiss about the body parts of any deceased person.
For that matter, one could question the reason for removal of the heart in the first place. It is not usual procedure in a case of suspected suicide by hanging. When asked, authorities explained that they wanted to examine the heart for evidence of prolonged drug use, another very questionable official statement.
There are those around who say that this is an urban legend, possibly because of its chilling, dramatically correct, thriller aspects. But there is an important difference here. This one is at least partially documented, and at least, some of the more fantastic parts were provided by the authorities, the "wild" explanations one reads on the internet being no less believable than the official version. The authorities accuse a man of being a smuggler, although they are not certain whether it was drugs or explosives, without evidence, and only on his own admission. If Mr. Sinclair had been a smuggler, organized and purposeful enough to move contraband internationally, and if he had been successful, would he have been likely to admit the crime to law enforcement on the strength of his having hidden ostensibly legal money in his luggage? Remember, Alisdair Sinclair was said to be intelligent. How many drug smugglers are stupid enough to admit a crime for which there is no evidence?
Robert Sinclair, Alisdairís brother, told Colin Grant in an interview in The Jerusalem Post that he and his brother had grown up proud of their heritage, told the stories of Knights Templar and the Sinclair destiny by their father, which is hardly surprising when you consider the middle name. The boys were taken to Rosslyn Chapel a number of times during childhood, and Robert supposes that the Templar tradition is why Alisdair decided to visit Jerusalem in the first place.
There are religious writers around who explain this story as a fulfillment of destiny for the Temple of Jerusalem. They compare it to Robert the Bruceís own ritual sacrifice of John Comyn on the altar at Greyfriarís Chapel, which led to his uncontested ascendance to the Celtic throne of Scotland. They point out the surname, that this was a Sinclair fulfilling some divine destiny, that the heart of a scion of the Templar families was required. Others have said it was an insult, or a warning, to the Templars. They recall the Celtic ritual of sacrifice of the Divine king, which was to confer new powers upon his successor. No one can answer suppositions like that, not with the evidence available, not now anyway. But there is one thing, it points to unmistakably.
There is a persisting belief that the Templars still exist as an operative entity in this contemporary world, if not admitted to and acknowledged openly by the present Templars themselves, or by the authorities in whose care the story is often held with the power to reveal or suppress. But then this modern tale of the Templars, like so many in the past, certainly keeps its fierce hold on the minds of the consistently significant numbers of people who continue to hand them down through the centuries, and who continue to believe that they know better than the authorities - Church, State, or otherwise - who continue to attempt to suppress them.