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The Strasbourg Manuscript and the Swedish Rite’s legend about the Templars’ treasures

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deMolayThis Masonic legend, mostly told in the Swedish Rite lodges, is a curious variation of stories surrounding the final days of Jacques de Molay. The core of the legend is found in the so-called Strasbourg Manuscript, dating around 1760. The document is in French, although there are some indications that this was not the author’s native tongue. Carl Friedrich Eckleff (1723-1786), the originator of the Swedish Rite, is most likely connected to this document in some way. The manuscript is somewhat oddly entitled Deuxième Section, de la Maçonnerie parmi les Chrétiens (“Section 2, Masonry among the Christians”) and I will probably publish it as a curiosity at a later point. There are some additional later details for which I am mostly following Allgemeines Handbuch der Freimaurerei, by C. Lenning.

When Jacques de Molay became certain that his days were numbered, he arranged for his nephew, one count de Beaujeu, to visit him in prison. The Grandmaster had previously noted this young man as someone who could be trusted with the task of keeping the Order of the Knights Templar alive. De Molay instructed his nephew to go down to the crypt in which prior grandmasters of the Order were buried. There, underneath one of the coffins, de Beaujeu was to find a crystal box encased in silver and bring it back to the Grandmaster. The young man followed these directions and returned with the crystal box. De Molay was well pleased with his nephew’s loyalty and made him swear an oath, promising to do whatever it takes to preserve the Order until the day of the Last Judgement. It also turned out that the crystal box that had been retrieved from the crypt contained a precious relic, once given to the Knights Templar by King Baldwin of Jerusalem — the right index finger of John the Baptist. [click to continue…]

Legends of Château de Gisors

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GisorsCastleThe castle in the town of Gisors was originally built to protect Normandy from the territorial claims of the French crown. It ceased being a frontier fortress after the surrounding area fell into the hands of the King of France at the end of the 12th century. For a castle that has never been formally held by the Knights Templar, Château de Gisors has many ties to the medieval Order.

In 1158, a group of three Templar Knights was appointed to maintain castles Gisors and Neafle as a part of the dowry for Marguerite, the infant daughter of King Louis VII of France. Her eventual marriage to Henry, the infant son of King II of England, was supposed to forge ties between the two kingdoms. The names of the three Templars were: Robert de Pirou, Tostes de Saint Omer and Richard of Hastings. When in 1161 King Henry II decided to bring the wedding date forward and take over the castle, along with surrounding areas, the Templar guardians happily surrendered Gisors. King Louis was furious over this act and immediately exiled the knights. This so-called Gisors affair is well attested by Roger of Hoveden:

Shortly after this period, Henry, king of England, caused his son Henry to be married to Margaret, the daughter of the king of France, although they were as yet but little children, crying in the cradle; Robert de Pirou, Tostes de Saint Omer, and Richard de Hastings, the Templars who had custody of the said castles, being witnesses and consenting thereto; immediately upon which they surrendered those castles to the king of England. In consequence, the king of France was extremely indignant at them, and banished these knights from the kingdom of France, upon which the king of England received them and rewarded them with many honors.

This event may not have been the scandal of the decade, but it caused enough interest to produce a related legend, according to which the King of France apprehended the three Knights Templar and had them hanged on a tree. This dark and curious addition to the story was probably invented much later to “foreshadow” the future rift between the Order and the Kings of France. This connection is especially important because early in the 14th century the castle in Gisors served as prison for many Knights Templar, including reputedly the last Grand Master of the Order, Jacques de Molay.

Although official Knights Templar presence at Gisors amounts to only a few years, the castle is viewed as a possible location of the much rumored Templar treasure. In the 20th century a man by the name of Roger Lhomoy claimed to have excavated areas underneath the castle’s keep. Supposedly Lhomoy discovered a hidden vault with many religious statues, sarcophagi and metal coffers. Needless to say, no one else has ever been able to verify Lhomoy’s findings.

Image by Nitot.

See also:
Famous Templars
Knights Templar treasure

Jacques de Molay’s noble and pious death. March 18, 1314

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molayOn March 18, 1314 Jacques de Molay, the last Grand Master of the Knights Templar was burnt at the stake in Paris. A medieval poetic account tells the story of his bravery, composure and faith during the execution (Chronique métrique de Godefroy de Paris). According to this chronicle, Geoffroi de Charney was executed minutes after de Molay already became a martyr.

Keep in mind that the original text of the poem is in Old French, which explains the grammar and spelling. This translation is from the English version of Alain Demurger’s The Last Templar, an excellent recent biography of the last Grand Master.

The master, who saw the fire ready,
Stripped with no sign of fear.
And, as I myself saw, placed himself
Quite naked in his shirt
Freely and with good appearance;
Never did he tremble
No matter how much he was pulled and jostled.
They took him to tie him to the stake
And without fear he allowed them to tie him.
They bound his hands with a rope
But he said to them: “Gentlemen, at least
Let me join my hands a little
And make a prayer to God
For now the time is fitting.
Here I see my judgement
When death freely suits me;
God knows who is in the wrong and has sinned.
Soon misfortune will come
To those who have wrongly condemned us:
God will avenge our death.
Gentlemen,” he said, “make no mistake,
All those who are against us
Will have to suffer because of us.
In that belief I wish to die . . . ”
And so gently did death take him
That everyone marvelled.

 

Le mestre, qui vit le feu prest,
S’est dépoillié sans nul arrest;
Et, ainsi com le vi, devise;
Tout nu se mist en sa chemise
Liement et à bon semblant;
N’onques de riens n’ala tremblant,
Combien qu’en le tire et desache.
Pris l’ont por lier à l’estache.
Cil liez et joiant s’i acorde;
Les mains li lient d’une corde,
Mès ains leur dist: «Seingnors, au moins,
» Lessez-moi joindre un po mes mains,
» Et vers Dieu fere m’oroison.
» Car or en est temps et seison :
» Je voi ici mon jugement,
» Où mourir me convient brement;
» Diex set qu’à tort et à péchié ;
» S’en vendra en brief temps meschié
» Sus cels qui nous dampnent à tort:
» Diex en vengera nostre mort.
» Seiognors, dit il, sachiez, sans tère ,
» Que tous celz qui nous sont contrère,
» Por nous en aront à souffrir
» En ceste foy veil-je mourir:
» Véz ci ma foy; et je vous prie
» Que devers la vierge Marie
» Dont Nostre Seingnor Crist fu nez,
» Mon visage vous me tornez.»
Sa requeste l’en li a fet.
En ceste guise fu desfet,
Et si doucement la mort prist,
Que chascun merveillex en fist.

Geoffroi de Gonneville: confusions and theories

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demolayexecussionGeoffroi de Gonneville (born c. 1260) was the Knights Templar  Preceptor of Aquitaine and Poitou at the time of the infamous arrests.  He was imprisoned along with four other dignitaries of the Order, including the Grand Master, Jacques de Molay.

Ivy-Stevan Guiho makes a surprising  statement about Geoffroi de Gonneville in his L’Ordre des Templiers: Petite encyclopédie: “De même que Jacques de Molay, il se rétracta au dernier moment et fut brûlé comme relaps” (Just as Jacques de Mollay, he recanted at the last moment and was burnt at the stake as a relapsed heretic). This is a very strange assertion, especially because elsewhere in the book Guiho identifies Geoffroi de Charney as the only other Templar who was burnt at the stake at the same time as Jacques de Molay.

Regardless of this confusion, Geoffroi de Gonneville was an interesting character. While most Templars simply admitted to various charges (under torture and fear of torture), de Gonneville attempted to offer different explanations for “irregularities” in the Knights Templar initiation procedures. He said that, according to rumors, a certain Grand Master who had been held captive by the Saracines had to incorporate a foreshadowing hint of similar treatment into the Order’s initiation ceremony, that being a condition for his release. De Gonneville’s second guess was that brother Roncelin (presumably, Roncelin de Fos) may have introduced corruption into the Order’s life. Or it may also have been Grand Master Thomas Berard who was responsible for incriminating practices. Finally, de Gonneville surmised that denials of Christ were committed in imitation or remembrance of St Peter, who thrice denied his Savior (hoc fit ad instar seu ad memoriam beati petri qui abnegavit Christum ter). In other words, the Templars were admitting crimes against religion without having a good idea of why and what they were doing. [click to continue…]