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Unsolved mysteries

“Templar skulls” in Gavarnie

gavarnie_churchThe commune of Gavarnie in southwestern France boasts a unique and strange set of relics. The local church has an enclosed wooden case containing human skulls. Along the top the case there is an engraved inscription: Crânes des Templiers (Skulls of Templars). Perhaps the most colorful legend related to these skulls can be found in Henri Martin’s 16-volume Histoire de France (1839). According to this story, several Knights Templar were martyred in Gavarnie at the time of infamous arrests initiated by Philip the Fair. They say that on every anniversary of the Order’s dissolution, a figure appears at the local cemetery, dressed in Templar uniform. This apparition disturbs the night by asking three times, “Who will defend the Holy Temple? Who will free the Holy Sepulcher of Our Lord?” Following that, the seven skulls respond, “Nobody! Nobody! Is Temple is ruined!”

gavarnie-templar-skullsIt should be noted that the very existence of the Knights Templar in Gavarnie at any point in time is doubtful. It is more likely that the Knights of the Hospital had some presence in the area. Despite this, the way these skulls have been preserved at a local church is remarkable. It demonstrates the prominent role that the Knights Templar played in the minds of many generations that have passed since the early 14th century.

See also:

How can I become a Knight Templar? One of the most frequently asked questions!
Legends of the Knights Templar Obscure historic narratives and local legends about the Order.

King Melchior’s golden diadem and the Knights Templar

melchiorcrownThis story can be found, along with many other fascinating tales, in the book called Legends of the Knights Templar. This particular piece is very notable, because it tells of a very rarely discussed legendary artifact, King Melchior’s golden diadem. This miracle-working object supposedly belonged to the Knights Templar, prior to being lost forever after the Order’s dissappearance.

John of Hildesheim (born c. 1310-1320, died in 1375) was a Carmelite monk best known for his popular Historia Trium Regum (History of the Three Kings). This book relates the story of the Three Magi who came to worship Jesus Christ in his infancy. John’s original text includes an interesting twist, overlooked by Templar historians.

According to chapter IV of Historia Trium Regium, in the “Land of Ind,” there was a mountain called the Hill of Vaws, or the Hill of Victory. Ever since the times when Israelites came out of Egypt and conquered the Promised Land, the keepers of this hill watched for anything unusual in the West. The purpose of this outpost was mainly to prevent a sudden attack on the Land of Ind, but it was on this hill that the Star announcing the birth of Christ was first observed. [click to continue…]

The Sultan and the Grand Master

Vera Cruz in SegoviaThis story can be found, along with many other fascinating tales, in the book called Legends of the Knights Templar.

This medieval Spanish legend explains the origins of the Church of Vera Cruz in Segovia.

The Grand Master of the Knights Templar was once captured by the Sultan of Alexandria. The Sultan wanted to demonstrate the Saracens’ respect towards the Templars and perhaps make Islam more appealing to the Grand Master, so he invited the Christian knight to a banquet celebrating the recent victory over the Crusaders. During the feast it did not escape the Sultan’s notice that the Grand Master remained sorrowful. In an attempt to cheer him up, the Sultan offered him to choose any object among the trophies captured from the Christians, saying that this would be a pledge of friendship between the two, regardless of what came to pass later.

The Grand Master agreed. When he was shown a collection of gems, jewelry and relics he immediately pointed a piece of the True Cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified. Its encasement shone brighter than any other object. The Sultan nodded. He personally went to get the True Cross in order to give it to his guest. As he approached the pile of booty a beautiful communion chalice caught his attention and he also took it for himself. When the Sultan ordered to fill the cup with a refreshing drink the Templar warned him that desecrating this holy vessel would not go unpunished. The Sultan was not convinced by this argument. Suddenly the Grand Master got another idea. He suggested to the Sultan to touch the chalice with the True Cross before drinking from it, thus creating protection from divine wrath. The Muslim ruler reluctantly agreed, but as soon as the cross touched the chalice the drink inside it turned into wine, which his religion made it unlawful to drink. At first the Sultan was impressed by this miracle, but after the same process repeated multiple times he began to sense that his faith was being mocked. He abandoned his previous kind disposition towards the Grand Master and ordered his men to pour molten gold into the chalice and give it to the Templar to drink. Would gold be also turned into wine?

But the Lord did not permit such treatment of His holy relics. The moment when the Sultan’s soldiers seized the sacred objects and detained the Templar an even greater miracle happened. The Grand Master, the True Cross, and the chalice along with three guards disappeared in thin air. The suddenly reappeared a great distance away at the Church of Our Lady in Maderuelo in front of many Knights Templar who were gathered there for prayer. In complete astonishment they observed how the Grand Master came out of nowhere, kneeling down and holding the chalice in one hand and the True Cross in another, accompanied by three terrified Muslim soldiers.

Eventually these three Moors converted to Christianity and faithfully served the Grand Master. The church in which he miraculously appeared was renamed to the Church of the True Cross (Vera Cruz). There were many additional miracles, including the story of an unbelieving carpenter who wanted to make a replica of the True Cross, but was unable to do so because the relic kept changing its dimensions.

See also:
How can I become a Templar?

“Red Monks”


“Red monks”  (er menahet ru in Breton, moines rouges in French) is a term particularly used in Brittany (Bretagne) to designate the Knights Templar. Sometimes, however, in the context of this term no distinction is made between the Templars and the Knights Hospitaller.

The red monks are featured in many local legends in which they appear as cruel knights with dark and obscure motivations. The name may denote their blood thirst of simply be reminiscent of the Templar cross. Disappearances of young women as well as other crimes were blamed on these “red monks.” There are also local stories about recurrent apparitions, such as that of a man clad in red that can be seen riding a skeleton of a horse wielding a bloodied sword. He is sometimes believed to be a certain Templar Grand Master of extraordinary cruelty.

A rather well-known Breton ballad  about three red monks has been translated by Sir Francis Hastings Doyle and published in his The return of the guards: and other poems (1866). It is reprinted here along with Doyle’s noteworthy comment where he suggests that the existence of such legends can be attributed to a deliberate campaign that was designed to besmear the Knights Templar at the time of their persecution. One also wonders why Brittany with its non-French population gave rise to so many unfavorable legends about the Knights Templar.



This Ballad, besides its poetical merit, which appeared to me, when I read it, of the very highest order, is historically curious, as showing the malignant industry which was at work to pave the way for, or justify, the ruin of the Templars.

Through every limb a shuddering sense of pain and terror runs,
As I recall the ills that fall on earth’s unhappy sons;
As on my troubled soul returns that deed of shame and fear,
Which, nigh to Quimper’s ancient town, was wrought within the year.

Along the path young Katelik tripped, telling of her beads,
When three monks joined her, armèd men, high on their armèd steeds; —
Three monks on mighty steeds, all steel from head to foot, who sped
Straight down the middle of the road, wrapped in their mantles red.

“Come with us to the convent now; come with us, maiden fair;
“Nor silver, by my troth, nor gold, shall ever fail you there.”
“With your good leave, my noble lords, not I; I do not dare
“To do this thing, so much I fear the heavy swords you wear.”

“Now come with us, young girl; no harm shall happen, on my life.”
“With you, my lords, I may not go, for foul reports are rife.”
” Yes, foul reports are rife enough, which evil tongues let fall;
“A thousand times may those vile tongues be cursèd, one and all.

“Come with us, without any fear; come home, as we desire.”
“I will not; I would rather far pass straight into the fire.”
“Come to the convent; you will soon be happy there, no doubt”
“I will not to the convent come; I choose to stay without.

“Seven of our country girls, they say, entered that convent door;
“All fair young girls, for troth-plight ripe, who never left it more.”
“If seven, ere this, have entered in, the eighth art thou,” they say;
Upon their steeds they throw themselves, and gallop wild away.

Home flee they hurrying, with the girl athwart their horses thrown;
Her lips fast fettered by a gag, lest men should hear her moan.
When seven long months had passed, or eight — perchance, ’twas even more,
Upon that evil brotherhood there fell a trouble sore.

They said, as the time passed beyond those seven long months, or eight, .
“How deal with this girl, brothers, now, and what must be her fate? ”
“Deep under earth, or better far, below the cross — or  stay ! —
” ‘Neath the high altar — best of all — we’ll bury her away.”

” ‘Tis well ! we’ll bury her to-night, ‘neath that high altar’s base;
” Her kinsmen ne’er will look to find the corpse in such a place.”
Day sunk; it seemed as if the sky were bursting right asunder;
Showers dashed, hail beat, the wild winds raved, out-roared them all the thunder.

A poor knight then, from head to foot, drenched by the driving rain.
Was travelling on, belated, o’er the tempest-beaten plain.
He wandered round to find some house for shelter and repose.
When right before him, as he went, the Templars’ church arose.

Through the keyhole he looked, when lo! before his wondering sight,
Deep in that gloomy church there gleamed a little thread of light
‘Neath the high altar, on the left, three monks plied hard the spade;
With both small feet bound fast, a girl upon her side was laid.

That wretched girl for mercy begged, as bitterly wept she.
“For God’s sake, good my lords, at least, leave this I poor life to me !
“For God’s sake, good my lords, at least, leave me my life, I pray;
“Only at night will I go forth, and hide myself by day.”

No answer came; the light went out. At that barred door, the knight
Stood like a statue, stricken dumb by wonder and affright.
Till he heard the woman wail, from out the black depths of her tomb,
“I ask but rites baptismal for this creature of my womb;

“And for myself God’s holy oil, to bring the peace of death.
“If these were here, how gladly then would I give up my breath.”
*My Lord the Bishop, rise at once! Bishop of Cornwall, rise!
“Upon a couch of softest down your drowsy body lies;

“Upon a couch of softest down throughout the night you sleep,
“Whilst a poor girl is moaning near, in dark earth buried deep;
“Claiming but rites baptismal for the creature of her womb,
“And for herself God’s holy oil, down in that living tomb.”

‘Neath the high altar, ordered by our count, we plied the spade;
Just as the Bishop hurried in, we lifted out the maid
Out of that gloomy trench we drew the poor young thing away;
A little child, in slumber calm, across her bosom lay.

Both arms were bitten in despair, her breast was torn apart
Yes, she had torn her milk-white breast, down to the very heart
The good Lord Bishop, when he saw that sight, no measure kept;
Into the grave, on both his knees, he flung himself, and wept.

Three days, three nights, on that cold ground, he knelt and strove in prayer;
Barefooted all the time, and clad but in a shirt of hair.
The third night passed, whilst all the monks were ranged in order round;
Between its two lights stirred the child, then rose from off the ground.

It opened wide its wondrous eyes, and to the three monks red
Walked all at once — walked onward straight. “These are the men,” it said.
A child not three days old by God to walk and speak was raised;
The dark deed thus by miracle made known, His name be praised.

Then they were burnt alive, their ashes tossed to the random airs;
So, in the body, suffered they for that foul crime of theirs.