[ilds] "as it happens, I am writing a biography of Lawrence Durrell"

Charles Sligh Charles-Sligh at utc.edu
Thu Jan 21 16:03:55 PST 2010

See the interview below for the latest on the biography and a bit on 

24 January 2010?  Yes, my sources send me this stuff from somewhere just 
ahead in the space-time continuum.

I enjoyed reading Michael's Templars book on the plane back from London 
this last July.



> *latimes.com/entertainment/news/la-caw-sirens-call24-2010jan24,0,4772757.story
> latimes.com
> *
> The Siren's Call: What really happened to the Knights Templar?
> A talk with Michael Haag, author of 'The Templars: The History and the 
> Myth.' Why did they disappear? Blame it on the king of France, Haag says.
> By Nick Owchar
> January 24, 2010*
> The Templars were an elite taskforce -- consider them the Green Berets 
> of the Middle Ages. They were known for their service to the pope, 
> their fierce determination to wrest Jerusalem from the enemy, their 
> great wealth and, like many groups, their secrecy.
> For a group so secret, though, they've received an incredible amount 
> of attention both in the years BDB (before Dan Brown) and ever since.
> Michael Haag, who has occasionally contributed to our pages, decided 
> to weigh in and settle the misinformation bandied about by various 
> recent books with his own, "The Templars: The History & the Myth" 
> (Harper: 384 pp., $15.99 paper). He shared some of his revelations 
> with the Siren's Call during a recent conversation.
> The Siren's Call: Why did the Templars appeal to you enough that you 
> set out to write a book on them? Was it the result of coming across 
> them in the course of writing your other books about Alexandria and 
> "The Da Vinci Code"?
> Michael Haag: I already had a pretty good knowledge of the history, 
> the landscape and the architecture of the Crusader period; writing 
> about the Templars brought things into sharp focus. I have traveled 
> widely throughout the Middle East and have visited every Crusader and 
> Arab castle of significance, including the Templars' last redoubt at 
> Sidon in Lebanon, their fortified city of Tortosa and their castle at 
> Safita. I've also been to the Hospitaller's great castle of Krak de 
> Chevaliers and the Assassins' eyrie at Masyaf, all in Syria, not to 
> mention the Temple Mount in Jerusalem where the Templars had their 
> headquarters, the mount itself giving the knights their popular name 
> (properly they were the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the 
> Temple of Solomon).
> TSC: They also figure in Lawrence Durrell's "Avignon Quintet," don't 
> they? You're writing about him, aren't you?
> MH: Yes, as it happens, I am writing a biography of Lawrence Durrell, 
> who, as you say, runs the Templars as a theme through his "Avignon 
> Quintet." There is an element of economy in this: informing myself 
> about Durrell's interest in the Templars by writing a book about the 
> Templars! Durrell's interest in the Templars, which goes hand in glove 
> with his interest in the Cathars and Gnosticism (also discussed in my 
> book), is one that is widely shared -- for the Templars have enjoyed 
> an afterlife that goes well beyond their destruction in 1312 and 
> continues to this day. Which is why I deal not only with the history 
> of the Templars, which lasted only two centuries, but also with the 
> myth of the Templars, which is rooted in the foundation of Solomon's 
> Temple 3,000 years ago and remains alive in various forms in the 
> present day.
> TSC: There are so many books now out there about the Templars, thanks 
> in large part to the interest Dan Brown created with his "Code." Was 
> there something that these books weren't saying about the Templars 
> that you felt needed to be told?
> MH: Books about the Templars fall into two categories. Some are 
> strictly history and confine themselves to the two centuries of the 
> Templars' existence. Others are speculative and deal in the many 
> stories surrounding the Templars, in what you might call the afterlife 
> of the Templars that continues in the popular imagination to this day. 
> I wanted to take a serious look at both the history and the mythic 
> afterlife and to show how they are intimately related and always have 
> been -- how the Templars became the subject of popular imagination 
> already at their inception, celebrities, you might say, the superstars 
> of the Middle Ages.
> Superstars?
> Already during their heyday, the Templars attracted to themselves many 
> associations, legends, rumors and romances. When the story of the Holy 
> Grail first began circulating in medieval Europe, it was immediately 
> associated with the Templars. This star quality of the Templars was 
> due partly to their prominent role in the central movement of the 
> times, the Crusades and the defense of the Crusader states in the 
> East, where the Templars were surrounded by potent historical and 
> sacred associations. After all, the Templars were founded on Christmas 
> Day 1119, within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the spot which 
> marks the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and 
> they were headquartered on the Temple Mount, which indelibly 
> associated them with stories surrounding the Temple of Solomon -- and 
> nothing in medieval Christendom could beat that!
> But being in the spotlight is not always the most favorable place to 
> be, certainly not when things begin to go wrong. And for the Templars, 
> everything went wrong when the Crusaders lost Acre in 1292; the West's 
> hold on the Holy Land was lost and so was the Templars' raison d'être.
> Their extinction was breathtakingly swift, wasn't it?
> It is the most dramatic thing about them; knights belonging to an 
> order of great power, wealth and reputation, owing obedience only to 
> the Pope, were arrested in dawn raids across France, tortured and made 
> to confess to abominable crimes and heresies, were often put to the 
> stake, and their order dissolved. The reasons for their fall have long 
> been shrouded in mystery and this has given rise to yet more fevered 
> speculations. What did the Templars really know, what did they really 
> possess, what were they really all about? And why did the pope, the 
> very man to whom they owed sole obedience, let them down, abolish 
> their order and let them go to the stake?
> Do we now have any answers to these questions?
> We do. New discoveries in the Vatican's Secret Archives, just as I was 
> considering writing this book, revealed the truth of the pope's role 
> in the end of the Templars and revealed the truth about the Templars 
> themselves -- and, no, the Templars were not heretics nor blasphemers, 
> and for what it was worth, they took to the stake and to their graves 
> the pope's blessings and absolutions. But the pope, and indeed the 
> papacy itself, the very independence of the Roman Catholic Church, was 
> under threat from the king of France, a fanatic with totalitarian 
> designs. My book has been the first book to revise the history of the 
> Templars, and revise their afterlife too, in the light of these 
> remarkable revelations.
> Whenever the Templars are mentioned in books and articles, I usually 
> find that it is in connection with their vast wealth - and, along with 
> this, their vast greed. Why?
> They were extremely expensive to maintain. They were the most superb 
> fighting force in the world at that time, something like supersonic 
> fighter-bomber pilots in our day, where each man and his equipment 
> costs a fortune to keep operational. A single mounted knight in France 
> in the 13th century required the proceeds from 3,750 acres to equip 
> and maintain himself, and for Templars operating overseas in the Holy 
> Land, the costs were much greater since much had to be imported, not 
> least their horses. The Templars' training, their armor, their horses, 
> their squires, their sergeants, not to mention building and 
> maintaining castles, required an enormous outlay. And the knights 
> themselves could suffer high mortality rates in climactic battles and 
> needed to be replaced. All these costs were met through donations from 
> the faithful back in Europe, usually in the form of estates large and 
> small as well as tithes from the Church.
> As individuals, the Templars were poor ascetics, but as an order, they 
> were extremely wealthy. In fact, they became so accomplished at moving 
> funds between Europe and the East that they soon set up as 
> international bankers -- the first bankers of modern times. Their 
> lands and their liquid wealth made them a ready target for greed, and 
> the greed came not from among the Templars but from Philip IV, the 
> king of France, who, after stealing the wealth and properties of 
> France's Jews and throwing them out of the country, turned on the 
> Templars. That was the real motive for the Friday the 13th arrests: 
> The king of France needed money to pursue his wars in Flanders and 
> against the English, and he also was asserting himself against the 
> papacy, laying claim to being the man who called all the shots in 
> Europe, whether secular or religious. It was a form of expropriation 
> and nationalization, accompanied by tortures and executions and, of 
> course, the necessary propaganda and lies -- blaming the Templars for 
> being blasphemers, for being heretics, for being haughty and greedy. 
> In the minds of many, the mud stuck.
> Few really seem to associate any other characteristic with them, 
> though, except greed. No one talks about, for instance, their 
> fantastic ability as military strategists and fortress builders. What 
> excellent qualities should people know about?
> Well, in comparison to the egregious greed, cruelty and lies of the 
> king of France, the Templars were honest in their faith and 
> straightforward in their conduct. They should be remembered for their 
> bravery, which was legendary, their dedication, which was absolute -- 
> a few dozen Templars could turn the weight of battle and save a 
> kingdom. Their attrition rate was high: At least 20,000 Templars were 
> killed either on the battlefield or after being taken captive and 
> refusing to renounce their faith to save their lives. Without the 
> Templars, the Crusader venture in the East would have lasted only half 
> as long as it did. After the Battle of Hattin, in which Saladin was 
> victorious, he ordered the decapitation in cold blood of all his 
> Templar captives, a hundred men, fearing them above all others because 
> "they have great fervor in religion, paying no attention to the things 
> of this world."
> As builders of castles and churches, they were men of powerful vision 
> and exquisite taste; they have left behind them in the Middle East 
> today numerous beautiful monuments speaking of the Romanesque and 
> Gothic styles of the France and England from which they came.
> Tell us a little bit more about their organization as an elite task 
> force - were they the first to submit only to papal authority? In 
> defending the Holy Land, why was this direct line of obedience only to 
> the pope so important?
> In the late 11th century, the Church was involved in the Investiture 
> Controversy over whether the secular powers of Europe or the papacy 
> itself had the authority to appoint high church officials in each and 
> every state. Secular kings and princes were eager to have the 
> authority for themselves, as it would give them control over the great 
> wealth and powers such officials could command. But in the event, it 
> was an argument that the papacy won. Papal assertion did not end 
> there; only the pope could establish a university or approve a 
> monastic order; and when the Byzantine Empire sent to Rome for help 
> against a fresh Muslim invasion, it was the pope who raised the First 
> Crusade.
> By means of a series of papal bulls in the early 12th century, the 
> Templars were recognized as an independent and permanent order within 
> the Catholic Church answerable to no one but the pope. Their "grand 
> master" was chosen from among the ranks of Templar knights who 
> conducted their elections free from any outside interference. The 
> Templars were also given their own priesthood answerable to the grand 
> master, which made the order independent of the diocesan bishops in 
> both Europe and the East. The First Crusade itself had been called for 
> by the pope, and the kingdom of Jerusalem, like the other Crusader 
> states, owed themselves to papal initiative and the continuing 
> goodwill and energy of the papacy for support and maintenance from the 
> West. The pope did not want to see the Templars fall subject to 
> religious or political rivalries. It is not that the pope actually 
> controlled the Templars; rather, by owing allegiance to no one but the 
> pope, the Templars maintained their independence from all and sundry 
> and could give themselves freely and single-mindedly to their supreme 
> task, the defense and preservation of the Holy Land.
> Defending Jerusalem, you said earlier, was their reason for existing. 
> When it fell, the Templars were in limbo, but didn't they try to find 
> a new mission for themselves?
> The Templars were founded to protect pilgrims on their way to 
> Jerusalem and other sites throughout the Holy Land. In time their task 
> became to defend the Holy Land itself -- not just Jerusalem but the 
> several Crusader states which included the kingdom of Jerusalem, the 
> county of Tripoli and the principality of Antioch. The city of 
> Jerusalem fell to Saladin in 1187, though it changed hands several 
> times thereafter, but meanwhile the new capital of the kingdom of 
> Jerusalem became the port city of Acre, and when Acre fell in 1292 the 
> Crusader venture was effectively over. Yes, there were a few attempts 
> to regain the Holy Land, and the Templars, who were temporarily based 
> in Cyprus, took the lead in these, but when finally they lost their 
> tiny island outpost of Ruad in 1302, they looked highly redundant.
> The Hospitallers were also a religious order of fighting monks, and 
> they might have found themselves in the same boat as the Templars. But 
> they quickly captured the island of Rhodes from the Byzantine Empire, 
> which was Christian, and turned it into a state of their own, which 
> allowed them to harass the surrounding Muslim powers and which also 
> gave them protection from jealous Christian powers in Europe. The 
> Hospitallers eventually retreated to Malta, finally to be driven out 
> by Napoleon in 1798, though the order still exists and even has 
> quasi-sovereign state observer status within the United Nations.
> The Templars might have enjoyed a twilight existence in this way had 
> they taken some large and defensible island, perhaps Cyprus, as their 
> own. But instead of putting their own interests first, they so 
> completely identified with their role as defenders of the Holy Land 
> that they placed their trust in the pope and the king of France, 
> Philip IV, who were contemplating launching yet another crusade. The 
> Templar grand master Jacques de Molay and other high officers of the 
> order were in France precisely to discuss such matters when they and 
> all other Templars on French soil were arrested at dawn in October 
> 1307 by Philip IV and accused of blasphemy and heresy.
> When people ask, "Who were the Templars?," they're not using the 
> correct verb tense, right? Some people believe they still exist today 
> through their connections to the Freemasons and others.
> In the mythic sense, the Templars are with us today, if only because 
> many people wish it to be so. Such people include the Freemasons, some 
> branches of which claim descent from the Templars who are said to have 
> survived the persecutions of Philip IV and gone underground, to arise 
> again wearing aprons and carrying trowels, among them such seditious 
> figures as George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. The French 
> Revolution was blamed on the Freemasons, who some people with lively 
> imaginations said were really the Templars in disguise. Bringing 
> matters more up to date, the Templars are behind the World Bank, the 
> IMF, the Trilateral Commission, the Bilderberg Group, and also NATO, 
> the European Union, the United Nations and the Skull and Bones Society 
> at Yale. All of this is discussed in my book.
> But the claim that the Templars discovered America, on the face of it 
> one of the most far-fetched claims of all, actually contains a great 
> deal more than a grain of truth.
> How so?
> They were not eradicated everywhere throughout Europe. In Spain and 
> Portugal, they had performed good service in the local crusades, what 
> we now call the Reconquista, against the Arab occupation of the 
> Iberian peninsula, and instead of being disbanded, they were simply 
> reestablished under other names and given royal protection and favor. 
> In Portugal, the Templars became the Order of Christ, and none less 
> than Prince Henry the Navigator became their grand master, using 
> Templar wealth and zeal to send ships down the coast of Africa and far 
> out into the Atlantic, to the Azores and Madeira. The achievements of 
> Vasco da Gama, who found the first sea route round Africa to India in 
> 1498; of Ferdinand Magellan, who in 1519 initiated the first voyage 
> round the world; and of Christopher Columbus, who discovered America 
> in 1492, were all the fruits of Prince Henry the Navigator's lifelong 
> endeavor as Grand Master of what had been the Templars.
> Thank you for your time.

Charles L. Sligh
Assistant Professor
Department of English
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
charles-sligh at utc.edu

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