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Templarspotting in Tomar?

by Arjen Kolk

I n Umberto Eco's 'The pendulum of Foucault' a couple of bored lectors working for a third rate scientific publisher, decide to rewrite history starting from one assumption: all historic facts are somehow related to a secret plan. They use all the typescripts they have to read and try to fit these in to this new scheme of things. One of the mysteries that becomes pivotal in their reconstruction of the past is the disappaearance of the Templars. They ask themselves the following questions:

* How come the Templars, by no means stupid, where such an easy catch for the Inquisition?

* Why did they confess to all kinds of blasphemous and perverse conduct so readily? Torture can't be the whole explanation since they where hardened in battle with the Muslims.

T heir conclusion is that the Templars share a secret that is so important, that each one of them is prepared to die for it and that even the downfall of their order is of no importance compared to this secret. Bear this theory in mind when reading the following story.

I n the summer of '91 I visited the Convent of Christ in tomar to verify if the signs in the Charola [the original chapel of the Templars] that umberto Eco describes in his 'The pendulum of Foucault' where facts or fiction. Upon entering the convent I found the Templar's chapel closed for restauration. this was, as you can imagine, quite a deception. I had travelled a long way especially to see it and apart from its historic significance, Tomar hasn't got much to offer for people under sixty. Besides the convent, however, there are two more churches that have strong links with the history of the Templars. One of them is the humble looking Igreja da Santa Maria dos Olivais [the church of Saint Mary of the Olives]. Hardly a match for the massive convent, but being in Tomar I had no options but to visit it. Apart from boring myself to death for the rest of the day, that is.

T omar was founded on the righthand bank of the river Nabao [the Arabic name for this river was Tomar] in 1160 by Gualdim Pais, master of the Templars of Portugal, who started by building a hughe castle which later became the convent of Christ. Oddly enough the Igreja da Santa Maria dos Olivais lies on the leftbank of the river. It was built in the 15th century on the same spot where Gualdim Pais built a church three centuries earlier. The church, showing a Signum Salomonis in the front, is the pantheon of the masters of the Templars and the order of Christ. Some 22 of them, including Gualdim Pais, are buried within the church. Furthermore this church was the Igreja Matriz [motherchurch] of all churches that where built in Africa, America and Asia by the Portuguese during their voyages of discovery. So far for facts.

I arrived at the doors of the church a little after twelve . This was pretty bad timing because lunchtime starts at twelve o'clock precisely and lunch is a very serious matter in Portugal. To make things worse it goes on until about three and usually this is not a good time to do anything but eat and sleep. Needless to say the doors of the church were locked. I was about to give up on my quest and return to my very humble quarters when a man stepped out of the shadow of an olivetree with in his hand a big rusty key. Would I like to see the interior of the church? I must have muttered some words signifying 'yes', because he unlocked the doors and made an inviting gesture. There were some six steps leading down (!) to the floor of the church and the man, evidently the verger or janitor of the church, immediately began explaining how typical this was for the churches of the Templars*. Not only had he been willing to unlock the doors, he was also going to give me a private guided tour during lunchtime!

T he biggest surprise, however, was yet to come. After a thouroughly interesting half an hour we were about to leave the church. When I remarked how strange it was that such a powerfull order could have vanished, he turned halfway the steps and said: "Oh, but they still exist." I echood his sentence to see if I had understood what he had just said. In return he echood it right back at me and added: "They come here every year." "Yes," he continued, seeing the disbelief in my face, "that's exactly how I reacted when they called me the first year I had this job. So when they said they were coming and wanted the church closed for public when they were there I told them 'No'. But when I rang Town Hall to tell them about this they told me to go ahead and give them the key. So when they came I did, and I've been doing so ever since. They come from all over the world and meet in Lisbon. One day before they arrive here, they phone in. They come here by bus, I give them the key and they lock themselves in for three hours. Then they come out again, return the key, get on the bus and are gone. Every year. But always on a different date. I never know when they are coming until the day before." "And what do they do inside", I asked. By now we had climbed the steps and were standing just outside the doorway of the church. He shrugged his shoulders, lifted his arms and froze in this posture for a couple of seconds. "Nobody knows," he said, and locked the doors.

a ccording to the verger the Templars, always prepared for immediate action, attended their masses on horseback. In case of alarm/danger,they had to get out of the church fast. Horses take ascending steps much easier and quicker then descending steps.

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