Authors: Katherine Kurtz
During the whole of Eckhart’s second year of regency at Saint-Jacques, de Molay and the others languished in their prisons. Friedrich’s disappearance was complete. On occasion, Robert of Troyes came to the priory to attend lectures and became a great favorite among the younger student friars, who smuggled him into the external refectory for a proper meal whenever opportunity—and Nicholas Minor, who was student master that year—permitted. That was often enough for the rail-thin youth to begin to add flesh to his bones.
In mid-spring of 1313, on another wet and dreary morning almost a year after the end of the council that had witnessed the suppression of the Order of the Temple, Nicholas Trevet brought surprising news to Eckhart in his study. It was Wednesday of Holy Week, sometimes called Spy Wednesday. But lectures would continue until the Triduum began on Maundy Thursday morning, and with it, more solemn silence in the priory.
“Nogaret is dead.”
Eckhart set aside the book he was reading. “When?”
“Yesterday,” Trevet said. “Of what the doctors call ‘natural causes.’ Something about it struck me as unusual, however. It is only rumor, of course, but I thought you might be interested.”
“If only one thing bothers you, Nicholas, you will live a long and happy life. What was it?”
“Well, old friend, no one could remember who had brought it, but Nogaret had recently been served a plate of ripe figs.”
The Feast of Saints Peter and Paul arrived in due course, ending the academic year and with it Eckhart’s second residency at Saint-Jacques. Preparations were already under way for his return to Germany. Both Nicholases were subdued at the farewell gaudy, and Eckhart could cheer them only minimally by persuading the prior to let them accompany him as far as Porte Saint-Antoine in two days’ time.
Friar Guillaume was absent, as was expected, but in truth, it was generally known that his mind had begun to fail him more seriously over the past year. Eckhart had resolved to visit him once again before leaving, but amid the somewhat wistful celebration in the refectory, no one took particular note of a tall, burly lay brother making his way across the lower courtyard toward the Inquisitor’s apartment, bearing a plate covered by a fine linen napkin. The sounds of conviviality were audible in the corridor as the brother halted before the door and rapped softly.
came a muffled, metallic voice from within.
“A treat has been sent for you, Father,” the brother said in halting French, closing the door behind him.
Guillaume Imbert sat hunched in a chair near the empty grate, wrapped in a thick black fur, poring over a book in the dim light. He glanced up as the brother displayed a plate of ripe, succulent fruit.
“Set it there.” Imbert pointed a thin, bony finger at the nearby table. “I have not seen you before. Are you new to the priory?”
Towering over the shrunken figure of the Inquisitor, the brother stooped down and set the plate within easy reach.
“I am from Erfurt, Father. I have been sent for helping the Meister Eckhart to return.”
“The better for us all,” Imbert muttered. “What is your name?”
“You may call me Benedict, Father.”
“How were you injured?” Imbert pointed at the brother’s eye and hand.
“In the Holy Land. Fighting for Christ.”
The Inquisitor peered more closely at the man’s face. “Very well, Benedict. Please leave now. My regards to the prior.”
“Will you not eat?” the brother asked.
The red-rimmed eyes of the Inquisitor of France flicked over the gift of fruit. A fly buzzed somewhere in the room. Finally, he raised his glance to the grizzled, one-eyed brother who stood over him, unmoving and as large as death, and in whose maimed hand a dagger now gleamed coldly.
As comprehension dawned, an unpleasant smile briefly stretched the pinched features of the old man.
“The fruit, I think.”
After a moment’s consideration, he chose a moist, perfect fig, slowly brought the dark fruit to his mouth, then bit deeply.
“Sleep well,” Brother Benedict grunted, then bowed and departed.
“Thank you,” the old man called after him.
When the lay brother ordinarily assigned to wait on the Inquisitor came to his room after compline, he found the old man still hunched in his chair, still wrapped in the fur. The room was dark save for the unexpected light of a candle guttering on the serving table next to the chair. Beside the candle was an empty plate, and in Guillaume’s rigid hand was what seemed to be a half-eaten fig. From the temperature of the body, the brother calculated that the old man had been dead for several hours.
Eckhart’s departure was delayed for a day by the funeral, which while appropriate for the Royal Confessor, was not observed with much circumstance. The king was away on matters of state and few dignitaries attended. The following morning, Eckhart and the two Nicholases were joined at the gate of Saint-Jacques by a fit young man well known to them. He carried a travel bag and had several books for summer reading tied together with a strap.
“May I walk with you as far as Troyes?” he asked.
“You are welcome to come all the way to Erfurt, if you choose,” Eckhart said with a smile.
Nicholas Major and Nicholas Minor accompanied Eckhart and Robert a mile beyond the city gate, through the hovels and shanties eating their way into the fields that spread eastward toward the forest. There, on a grassy hillock, as they said their farewells, a lone horseman approached at a walk among the occasional farm carts and peddlers coming into the city.
“Good morrow, friars!” he called out.
Startled, the little company of friends turned. The familiar voice belonged to a well-dressed noble astride a powerful-looking warhorse. A scarlet plume swept down from his cap, and a patch covered one eye.
“I seek a young man who once thought to become a Poor Knight of Christ,” he said.
“He also wanted to be a Preacher!” Eckhart replied. “You will have to fight for him!”
“Come, boy!” shouted the grizzled Templar. “Choose!”
Without hesitation, Robert handed Eckhart the books. He embraced the friars quickly, then ran to the horseman, who grasped his hand and hoisted him up onto the saddle behind him.
“Can you ride pillion, Robert of Troyes?”
“I can learn!”
“Eckhart—till we meet again!” Friedrich shouted.
He wheeled his mount, then waving his cap, spurred the great charger to gallop.
Eckhart laughed and waved.
History has little to say about the specific fates of the individuals mentioned in the previous account. The virtuous Aymeric of Piacenza, who had given up his office rather than allow it to be used in an unjustified persecution, retired to the priory of Bologna after his resignation, honored by his brethren during life and revered after death, which came in 1327.
Little is known of Guillaume Imbert after 1308, save his arrest and prosecution of the Beguine, Margaret Porete, who was executed for heresy in Paris on June 1, 1310, less than a fortnight before fifty-four Templars followed her to the stake, protesting their innocence to the end. The chronicles of the Order are perhaps mercifully silent about his final years and death, which occurred sometime in 1312 or 1313, probably at Saint-Jacques. A plate of poisoned figs would not have been an inappropriate method for sending him to his Maker for judgment.
As for Meister Eckhart—he did, indeed, return to Germany after serving his second regency in Paris, but his distinguished career would end under accusation of heresy for teaching many of the doctrines that led to Margaret Porete’s condemnation. His trial, like those of the Templars and Porete, was more an exercise of political expedience than one of religious correction. He died in 1328, probably at Avignon, where he was defending himself against charges brought by the Inquisition of the Archbishop of Cologne.
And what was it all for? Considering how well orchestrated the 1307 swoop had been, surprisingly little of the reputed treasure of the Templars ever came into Philip’s hands. Most of the Templar treasuries had already been emptied by the time the king’s agents came to collect their ill-gotten loot, and many key Templars likewise had disappeared. Gerard de Villiers, Master of the Paris Temple, is said to have fled Paris with fifty horses and a treasure that included 150,000 gold florins. De Villiers was later captured and brought to trial, but none of the treasure was ever recovered.
Another notable asset of the Order that escaped confiscation by the French was the near-legendary Templar fleet, originally assembled to transport crusaders and their horses and equipment to the Holy Land, later to become an important support of the Templars’ vast financial empire. Eighteen of the Order’s galleys are said to have sailed from the Templars’ principal naval port at La Rochelle just ahead of the mass arrests. Neither they nor any of the rest of the fleet were ever heard from again.
Did the Order’s mighty galleys carry away vast treasures, secreting them in other parts of the world? How could several hundred ships simply have disappeared so thoroughly? Their ultimate fate is no mystery, for the life of a wooden ship of that period was only about twenty years; and the entire fleet cannot have been new. Nonetheless, these ships could have represented a formidable force for the first decade or so after the dissolution of the Order.
Some historians speculate that Templar ships might have landed fugitive knights on the Irish and Scottish coasts, or sailed farther north toward Russia, gradually dispersing their passengers and cargo to safe havens. Certainly some Templars found their way to Scotland, where the Order was never officially suppressed (Scotland being under interdict at the time papal legates tried to serve the writs). At the battle of Bannochburn in 1314, shortly after Jacques de Molay was burned, tradition has it that many Templars fought against the English with Robert the Bruce. Some say that the day was saved by the sudden and unexpected appearance of a band of knights wearing the distinctive white mantles and red crosses of the Templars. Their descendants are said to have championed the Stuart cause for at least another four centuries.
In England, Ireland, and Scotland, as well as in France, most of the former Templar lands ended up in the hands of the Knights of St. John, which Order many of the dispersed Templars are known to have joined. On the Iberian Peninsula, the Order simply changed names. In Portugal they became the Knights of Christ; in Spain, the Order of Montesa took up much of the Templar tradition. In Germany, where the Templars were found not guilty of the charges, they were absorbed by the Teutonic Knights. Other Orders in other countries emulated at least some of the Templar ideals.
At some point during this survival transmutation, the history of Freemasonry also becomes inextricably interwoven with that of the Temple. And, of course, spiritual descendants of the Knights Templar, both chivalric and Masonic, flourish today in many parts of the world—though mainline history is hard-pressed to provide a direct link through the centuries.
Here we begin to edge into the mythic. Scholars have long debated the truth or falsehood of the charges against the Templars, and have sought rational explanations for their vast power and influence. Orthodox history suggests partial answers, but there persists the unshakable suspicion on the parts of many that regardless of what the
say, there was something special about the Temple besides its unique attainment of power and influence: something mystical, magical. If so, what was the secret knowledge that they guarded?
Several speculations along these lines became the focus for the book
Adept HI: The Templar Treasure,
by myself and Deborah Turner Harris, which developed a scenario involving several of the specifically Scottish manifestations of the Temple after its official suppression in 1314. The fate of the Templar treasure of the title is resolved by the end of the book, partly with the help of a Templar neck cross said to have been found on the body of John Grahame of Claverhouse (Bonnie Dundee), when he fell at Killiecrankie. However, it occurred to me that another Templar question had been left unresolved, for Adam Sinclair does not take the time by the end of the book to return the cross to its present-day keeper, another John Graham (he of
). We can assume that Adam does so, between this book and the next; but we know that Sir Adam Sinclair has other Templar associations, both in this life and in previous ones.
The two senior Adepts, Adam and Graham, had worked well together in their brief encounter, and genuinely liked and respected one another. It got me to wondering whether, when Adam inevitably returned the cross, it might spark something more than a simple handing over of a piece of ancient regalia.…
ain was pelting down in earliest as Sir Adam Sinclair swung his hired car off the M-20 Motorway, skirting Ashford to head south along a single-track road. The Kentish countryside was bleak and cold in the early dusk, a promise of frost hanging in the air. As he adjusted the temperature control on the dash, he reflected that at least he could expect a warm welcome at Oakwood.
Thought of Oakwood recalled the reason for his journey from Scotland. The Templar neck cross resting in a flat jeweler’s box beneath his heart had been entrusted to him by Oakwood’s master on the occasion of his previous visit two months before. It had stood Adam and his allies in good stead. Now it must be returned, and report made of its part in their success.
Still reviewing what he planned to relate, he turned between the stone lions and wrought-iron gates that marked the entrance to the Oakwood estate, heading up the long, rain-swept drive beneath a skeletal canopy of bare branches. Soon he was easing through the open arch of the Tudor gate lodge and into the graveled forecourt, to pull up gently before the stone steps of the manor house. Before he could get out of the car, a dark figure wielding a large black umbrella emerged from behind the front door and headed down the steps to meet him.