The Templars and the Shroud of Christ: A Priceless Relic in the Dawn of the Christian Era and the Men Who Swore to Protect It

The Templars and the Shroud of Christ: A Priceless Relic in the Dawn of the Christian Era and the Men Who Swore to Protect It

by Barbara Frale


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The most powerful military religious order of the Middle Ages and their sacred treasure.

For a certain period in history, the Knights Templar—the most powerful military religious order of the Middle Ages—secretly guarded the Shroud of Turin. Worshipped in a relentlessly secret manner, and known in its intimate nature by only a handful of the order’s officials, the swathe of fabric was kept in the central treasury of the Knights Templar, who were known for their expertise in the field of relics. The precious cloth’s history and whereabouts were known only to the highest dignitaries of the secretive order. In an era of widespread doctrinal confusion in much of the Church, the Templars considered the Shroud to be a powerful antidote against the proliferation of heresies.

Easy to read and thoroughly researched, this book tracks the Templars from their inception as warrior-monks protecting religious pilgrims to the later fascination with their secret rituals and incredible wealth, which ultimately led to their dissolution and the seizing of their assets. Following the Shroud’s pathway through the Middle Ages, Vatican historian Barbara Frale has gone back in time, to the dawn of the Christian era, to provide a new perspective on the controversial relic. The author also includes several photos of the Shroud itself that reveal in startling detail a human face, mysterious writing, and marks of a crucifixion that many have claimed identify it as the true burial shroud of Jesus of Nazareth.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781634502702
Publisher: Skyhorse
Publication date: 10/13/2015
Pages: 304
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Barbara Frale is a historian on staff at the Vatican Secret Archives. An expert in ancient documents, the Templars, and the Crusades, Frale is the author of several books including The Last Battle of the Templars, The Papacy and the Trial of the Templars, and The Templars. She is also the author of the acclaimed The Templars: The Secret History Revealed. Frale earned her PhD at the University of Venice. She lives in Italy.

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The Templars and the Shroud of Christ

A Priceless Relic in the Dawn of the Christian Ent and the Men Who Swore to Protest It

By Barbara Frale

Skyhorse Publishing

Copyright © 2012 Barbara Frale
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5107-0209-7


The Mysterious Idol of the Templars

Fascination with a Myth

It was Christmas in 1806. The French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte was camped with his army near the Polish castle of Pultusk, on the shores of the river Narew, some 43 miles north of Warsaw.

He was at the height of his power: One year earlier, his great victory at Austerlitz and the following Treaty of Pressburg had allowed him to extend his control to cover almost the whole of Europe.

That August, the Confederation of the Rhine had decreed at a gathering in Regensburg the entrance of the various German states into the French political orbit, putting an end to the 1,000-year history of the Holy Roman Empire.

Again, on October 14, he had inflicted a morally and materially shattering defeat on the Prussian army in the neighborhood of a town called Jena; now he was preparing to meet the Russian troops, who had enlisted to stop his worrisome advance into Polish land. They, too, were to suffer a mighty defeat at Pultusk, on St. Stephen's Day (Boxing Day). But at this moment the situation was still serious: The French troops were frightened by the cold and lack of supplies, and yet the emperor was taking a bit of time to deal with a matter that clearly concerned him.

The emperor kept thinking of a tragedy titled Les Templiers, written by a fellow Frenchman named François Raynouard, a lawyer of Provençal origin with a passion for history. The play covered the grim events of the trial ordered by the king of France, Philip IV the Fair, against the most powerful monastic and military order of the Middle Ages, the "poor fellow-soldiers of Christ," better known as the Templars. The tragedy described the unjust destruction of this order of knight-monks, who were also clever diplomats and expert bankers, and in Raynouard's view, the innocent victims of the French king who had treacherously assaulted them to make himself master of their wealth. The emperor had not liked the play: First because Napoleon, having crowned himself emperor in Notre Dame Cathedral on December 2, 1804, in the presence of Pope Pius VII, saw himself as the moral heir of the charisma of the French sovereigns of the Dark and Middle Ages, along with the consecrated oil that, according to legend, had been miraculously brought down from Heaven by a white dove during the baptism of King Clovis. Napoleon found the cynical and cruel depiction of Philip the Fair really out of place. Above all, though, Raynouard had mercilessly disappointed the solid beliefs felt by a whole culture — of which Napoleon himself was an illustrious representative — about that celebrated order of monks who carried swords, so suddenly fallen from the height of power, wealth, and prestige into ruin and the disgraceful charge of heresy. It was an adventurous story, full of mysteries and hints of dark things, and it was magnetically attractive to the rising romantic taste, glad to color everything with touches of the irrational. The emperor was a pragmatic soul, and his interest in the affair was wholly different. The doom of the Templars had been, in its time, the herald of a clear political plan. And paradoxically it went on being so, although the issue was five centuries old.

That fanciful, nostalgic way of looking at the ancient military order had appeared in Europe in the early years of the 18th century, born of the encounter between a genuine desire to renew society and a not wholly objective reading of history. By the end of the 1600s, all Western countries had a bourgeoisie that had grown rich on trade and the beginnings of industrial production, amassed genuine fortunes, and given their children the best educations along with the children of the most ancient nobility. Wealthy and highly prepared, the members of this emerging social group felt ready to take part in the governance of the country but rarely achieved it because society was still structured in the ancient fashion, in a stiff and closed system that concentrated political power in the hands of the aristocracy. The heirs of fortunes built on degrading, plebeian "trade" could only hope to enter the elite by marrying the daughter of some illustrious and recently ruined house, ready to let its blue blood be diluted with fluids of humbler origin. After the wedding, the bridegroom would start living as his new friends and relatives did, and was absorbed into the system. The renewal of thought caused by the Enlightenment led this new, emerging class to look for an independent way to gain power, a way that allowed them to work effectively to increase their societies and make them fairer. People looked back admiringly to the pasts of certain European regions such as Flanders, Germany, England, or the French area, where powerful corporations of merchants and artisans had been able to form and, through group solidarity, defend themselves against the arrogance of aristocrats. The corporations of builders who had raised great Gothic cathedrals such as Chartres, in particular, were suspected of owning scientific knowledge in advance of their age, and to have handed them down through the centuries under the most jealous secrecy. Legitimate historical curiosity mixed with the need to find illustrious origins, and in the early 18th century, this brought about the formation of actual clubs, motivated by Enlightenment ideals yet certain that they were carrying on a hidden tradition of secret societies going all the way back to Biblical antiquity. Their name was taken from that of ancient guilds of master builders, in French, maçonnerie — freemasonry. Eighteenth-century society still had a passion for the concept of nobility, especially of ancient origins, as when in the midst of the Dark Ages the ancestors of the great dynasties had performed the deeds that would build a future of renown and privilege for their descendants. An immense fascination was attached to ancient orders of chivalry; even though their reputation was imprecise, they were seen as a kind of privileged channel, a fast track to the heights of society for persons of natural talent unlucky enough to be born outside the aristocratic caste. And the Templar order, the most famous and debated of them all, seemed to lie exactly where all these interests converged.

From Legend to Politics

Maybe the scientific knowledge that had allowed the great cathedrals to be built was the same with which the legendary Phoenician architect Hiram had constructed in Jerusalem the most celebrated building in all of history, the Temple of Solomon. The temple was not only a colossal piece of architecture: It was the holy sanctuary built to contain the Arcane Presence, the Living God, and as such was not supposed to be touched except by the hands of those initiated into the highest mysteries. It was imagined that Hiram's ancient teachings had reached the European Middle Ages at a particular time, when the Westerners had arrived in Jerusalem for the First Crusade (1095–1099), establishing a Christian kingdom in the Holy Land. The history of the Middle Ages and of the Crusades in the Holy Land featured a particular presence that had even drawn its name from that of Solomon's Temple: the Militia Salomonica Templi, better known as the Order of Templars. Founded in Jerusalem immediately after the First Crusade to defend pilgrims to the Holy Land, the Templars had experienced a practically unstoppable growth that had made it, barely fifty years after its founding, the most powerful military religious order in the Middle Ages until it was overwhelmed, about two centuries later, by a mysterious and grim affair of heresy and dark magic that ended with the death by burning of its last grand master.

Celebrated intellectuals of the time, such as Dante Alighieri, had accused the Templar trial, without mincing words, of being essentially a monumental frame-up ordered by the French King Philip IV the Fair, who wished to take over the Order's patrimony, most of which lay in French territory. But in the 16th century, some lovers of magic such as the philosopher Cornelius Agrippa raised the possibility that the Order might have practiced strange and hidden rites, ones celebrated by the dim light of candles where mysterious idols and even black cats would appear.

There was no clear idea what role the pope, then Gascon Clemens V (1305–1314), had played in the affair. This man seemed ever hesitant, ever supine before royal will, and yet he had dragged on the trial of the Templars over no less than seven years, practically until his death, which took place only a month after that of the last Templar grand master. Many sources now readily accessible were then unknown, but even those that were known were studied using methods wholly different from today's.

History was treated as a literary endeavor, or a pastime meant to entertain and enlighten the spirit. Therefore, facts were selected from the past according to whether any moral teaching could be gotten from them, or whether they could stimulate the imagination like an adventure novel could.

What was known of this pontiff, whose lay name was Bertrand de Got, was that he had been born in France, that he had started the papal exile in Avignon, and that he had released Guillaume de Nogaret — the true "evil spirit" of Philip's reign, whom the king used for his most shameless actions — from excommunication. The king of France had been victorious in every confrontation with papal authority, and even in the matter of the Templars' trial, many facts seemed to indicate that the Church had easily bent to sovereign demands. But there was another fact that made minds lean toward this idea, a fact that had nothing to do with historical studies proper, but could have a major effect on them. The Church's attitude in the early 1700s was hugely cautious toward the aggressively rising new Enlightenment ideas — ideas that intended to promote a renewal of thought and of many social dynamics. At the root of this rejection lay several factors. Many of the high prelates who had leading roles in the hierarchy came from the same noble houses that managed secular power, and had a similar mentality and the same way of looking at the world. The Church had always been exempt from the social conditions that dominated the centuries, in the sense that it was possible to reach the height of spiritual and temporal power with one's own natural qualities, however humble one's origins. Many of the most famous popes were from decidedly poor families; we just have to think of the legendary Gregory VII, who, as a child, had to work as a porter, or the recent John XXIII, who came from a large peasant family that was not always certain where the next meal would come from. This, at least, was the theory, but in fact things were often very different: The immense patrimonies connected with so many Church positions made them very desirable prey for the nobility, who, by placing their younger sons within the hierarchy, could ensure a privileged life for them without making a dent in the family capital. The highest point of corruption in this sense had taken place in the Renaissance, when it became the practice to actually sell the most important posts — such as bishoprics, the richest abbotships, and the title of cardinal.

The scandals, and the impossibility of swiftly reforming such customs, had raised political as well as religious protests, and had resulted in the Protestant schism. At the beginning of the 1700s, no less than two centuries after Luther's protest, the violent polemics raised by Protestant thought in the 1500s and 1600s had hardly died down. The papacy was accused of having trapped mankind in a network of inventions set up for its own advantage, built upon the only real weave of Christian doctrine — the primitive Church. A school of historical studies had been set up in Magdeburg in Germany for the purpose of showing the whole endless queue of falsehoods that were believed to have been piled up by the Catholic Church over 1,000 years for the sole purpose of bending the faithful to its own material interests. Its members, called the Centuriators of Magdeburg from the name of their published works (The Centuries), had indubitable intellectual qualities, and as they had stuffed their writings with considerable imagination, they gave plenty of trouble to generations of Catholic scholars.

In short, the wounds opened by Luther's mighty schism were far from closed, and any innovation that seemed to place the well-established and reassuring Catholic tradition of thought in any doubt seemed the flag of yet another onslaught. Galileo Galilei had been among the most illustrious victims of this reaction. The tendency quickly established itself to see the Church as an ally of that oppressive secular power that needed to be overthrown, and several Freemason groups took a strongly anticlerical tinge that they had not had at their start. From the idea that reason was the favored, if not the only way to improve human life, there progressively developed a neardivine concept of intellect itself — reason as the spark of divinity entrusted to man by God. God himself was pure reason, praised as the Grand Architect who had built the universe. The mysteries whereby the highest builder had raised the cosmos called back to mind those by which another architect of legend, Hiram of Phoenicia, had built the Temple in the Holy City Jerusalem. Solomon, to whom divine wisdom had granted measureless wealth, had raised the temple, and the temple brought back to mind the Templars, also destroyed because they owned fabulous wealth, and possibly — everything seemed to prove it — were possessors of Hiram's secrets. That same Catholic Church that seemed then to be in the way of any progress, however small, was nothing less than the heir of the medieval papacy — an institution that had covered up the fragile bases of its historical claims for centuries by unleashing its most terrible weapon, the Inquisition, against those who held the proofs that could have unmasked it.

All these diverse ideas, born independently of each other but within the same context, ended up merging, and their outlines adapted till they fit each other like the pieces of a complicated puzzle. As simple victims of raison d'état and because of Clemens V's political weakness, the Templars became, bit by bit, the unlucky heroes of a wisdom many thousands of years old, older than Christianity, that could have spread progress and social welfare, but had instead been sacrificed to destroy the unjust privileges of an institution everlastingly allied with absolute power and its manifold abuses. Templarism — a highly colored, romantic view of the old order projected in the social reality of the 1700s — became so compulsively fascinating a phenomenon as to take a protagonist's role in the history of European popular culture, but there were serious differences in the shape taken by the phenomenon in various countries. If in France, the Templars appeared as champions of free thought against the oppression of the twin dinosaurs of the ancient regime — Crown and Church — in Germany, to the contrary, studies on the Templars were promoted exactly to strike at those very radical and subversive groups whom they inspired.

Prince von Metternich, the leader of the reaction against the upsets caused by Napoleon all over Europe, had started a cultural policy intended to destroy the credibility of the contemporary Freemason and neo-Templar groups. The intention was to prove that those heroic brethren of a secret order from which the French and the Revolution were proud to be derived, were in fact nothing but a bunch of heretics and perverts, the enemies of God, of the Church, of the State.

From champions of free thought and guardians of sublime knowledge as they had been in France and England, the Templars became in Austria the stronghold of the most unyielding heresy. Napoleon was probably aware of this political exploitation of the legend, and if he was, that must have increased his interest.

About Baphomet and Other Demons

In the same year the French emperor was to write his review of François Raynouard's none too brilliant tragedy on the Templars, the London publishers Bulmer & Cleveland published a book by Joseph Hammer (later Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall), called Ancient Alphabets and Hieroglyphic Characters Explained, with an account of the Egyptian priests. The author was a young Austrian scholar from the town of Graz in Steyermark who had joined the diplomatic service in 1796 and, three years later, became a member of an embassy to Constantinople. He was later to take part in several British expeditions against Napoleon in the Middle East, meanwhile studying the ancient civilizations and traveling widely. This intense research, and the remarkable openness of his mind, would lead him to become, over the next fifty years, one of the greatest Oriental scholars of his time, author of (among other things) a textbook on the history of the Ottoman Empire, which is recognized as the first significant treatment of a previously unexplored field. In 1847–1849, he was to crown his career by becoming chairman of the immensely prestigious Austrian Academy of Sciences, which was to count among its members such figures as Christian Doppler and Konrad Lorenz. What he had printed in 1806 were his first experiences of research and, possibly to support the wishes of his mighty patron Metternich and surely under the influence of the "black legend" of the Templars in his time, he placed in this review of ancient scripts a hypothesis born from a mere similarity in sound, which would however rouse great shock and interest. Hammer-Purgstall had in fact identified a word written in hieroglyphics, which in his reading sounded like bahúmíd, and which, if translated into Arabic, meant "calf."


Excerpted from The Templars and the Shroud of Christ by Barbara Frale. Copyright © 2012 Barbara Frale. Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


I. The Mysterious Idol of the Templars,
Fascination with a Myth,
From Legend to Politics,
About Baphomet and Other Demons,
Paper Secrets,
The Brothers of the Glorious Baussant,
Losing the Sepulchre, Losing Honor,
Under a Cloak of Infamy,
A Trial without a Verdict,
The Mysterious Presence,
A Mosaic of Fragments,
Idols of Islam,
The Shadow of Ridefort,
Many Faces,
II. Behold the Man!,
A Peculiar Sacredness,
A Man's Image on a Cloth,
The Power of Contact,
A Physical Icon,
"Et habitavit in nobis",
Of Flesh and Blood,
Four Times Doubled,
From Byzantium to Lirey?,
The Tragedy of the Fourth Crusade,
More Precious Than Rubies,
From the Amphoras of Qumran to the Nuns of Chambéry,
III. Against All Heresies,
A Map of Butchery,
The "Belt of Blood" and the "Sign of Jonas",
Mysterious Traces of Writing,
The Trail of the "Jewish Question",
Keep the Path of Peter,
Between Provence and Languedoc,
Amaury de La Roche,
A New Sepulchre,
Thomas and the Wound,
Abbreviations of Series and Periodicals,
Sources and Bibliography,

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