Debunking Dan Brown: The Real Knights Templar

The Knights Templar are almost as fictional in Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code as the Jedi Knights are in Star Wars. Although hero Robert Langdon at first hesitates to bring up the Templars in his lectures because the very mention of them brings out the conspiracy lovers, Brown has no problem making them part of his own conspiracy theory.

Here are some of the Templar references (in boldface) in The Da Vinci Code, followed by some comments:

  • The true goal of the Templars in the Holy Land was to retrieve the secret documents of the Priory of Sion from beneath the ruins of the temple. The documents prove the sacred bloodline of Christ and Mary Magdalene. The true goal of the Templars was to protect pilgrims to the Holy Land. Although fanciful claims have been made that the Templars were digging for treasure, there has never been any record or proof of it.
  • The Templars did not grow beyond nine men until Hughes de Payens returned from a trip to France (where he went to secure funds and papal support). His trip was to deliver up the damning documents that the nine knights had unearthed in nine years of digging. Actually, there is ample documentary evidence of the job the Templar knights (who grew in number from the first year) were doing patrolling the roads of Jerusalem.
  • The secret documents were used to blackmail the pope into issuing the papal bull that gave them the various rights they enjoyed as the holy monks and warriors of God. De Payens supposedly returned with bullion stuffed everywhere but his BVDs. Overnight, they were wealthy beyond the mere dreams of mortal men. The boring truth is that, even though the central records hall of the Templars was destroyed on Cyprus after the fall of Acre in 1291, records exist all over Europe of the gifts of money, and principally of lands and manors, that were given over to the Templars by the faithful. The King of Aragon in Spain was so grateful for the work the Templars had done in helping to hold off the Moors from his kingdom that, when he died childless in 1131, he willed one third of his entire kingdom to the Knights Templar. The idea that they blackmailed the pope to gain their wealth is just plain stupid.
  • The Templars invented modern banking; traveling crusaders deposited gold and silver into their local Temple Church and could then withdraw it from any other Temple Church along the way to the Holy land. Sort of true, but not really accurate. Yes, the Templars did indeed invent international banking. But deposits were not made or withdrawn from Templar churches. The Templars were among the most devout Christians who ever lived, and they did not turn God's temple into a bank. They knew the story of Christ driving the moneylenders from the temple. Templar commanderies and preceptories across Europe and the East ran the gamut in size and wealth, but they were in effect small villages or small, fortified cities. The bank was usually a centrally located donjon or keep. The chapel or church was also centrally located, and for the same reason (safety from attack). But the bank was the bank, the vaults were the vaults, and the church was the church. The vaults below the Templar churches were for burying the dead knights and others of the faithful, as were the church graveyards.
  • The Templar Grand Master was more powerful than kings. The Grand Master was frequently an advisor to kings, not their overlord. On paper, the Templars were exempt from the laws and edicts of kings and could only be tried or disciplined by the pope. But remember that it was a king, Phillip IV of France, and not even a pope, who brought down the Templars.
  • The Knights Templar were killed by the pope, "unceremoniously burned at the stake and tossed into the Tiber." The Tiber River flows through Rome. But all the Templar knights who were burned at the stake were torched in France by King Phillip IV, not Pope Clement V. The pope wasn't even in Rome during the suppression of the Templars; he was in Avignon. Rome never had anything to do with it.
  • Rosslyn Chapel south of Edinburgh was built by the Knights Templar in 1446. The Templars were arrested and disbanded in 1314. The chapel was built by William Sinclair, and there is no evidence whatsoever that he was a Templar, even a 132-year-old Templar. The book further describes an enormous five-pointed star engraved into the floor by centuries of footsteps. There is nothing of the kind there, despite the hands-and-knees efforts of hordes of tourists to find it.
  • There are two direct bloodlines from Jesus, and these two families, Plantard and Saint-Clair, are in hiding, protected by the Priory of Sion. They weren't in hiding then, and they aren't now. But oh, how we wish they were.

Brown's misunderstanding of who and what the Templars were comes shining through near the very end of the book. Robert Langdon states that he has explained to Sophie the fact that the Knights Templar were the principal influence on modern Freemasonry, "whose primary degrees — Apprentice Freemason, Fellowcraft Freemason, and Master Mason — harked back to early Templar days." The Templars did not wear aprons and use the three degrees; this aspect of Freemasonry is drawn from the medieval guilds of the stonemasons. There are some tenuous and unproved ties between the Templars and the Freemasons, all of them strictly theoretical. Unfortunately, the Templars of The Da Vinci Code have little to do with their historical counterparts.

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