Tomar, Knights Templars and the history of Portugal were deeply connected during centuries
My history with Knights Templar wasn’t love at first sight. It took several years and numerous travels in which I kept bumping into Templars either in Israel, Cyprus, Rhodes or Portugal to finally wonder myself ” Who the hell are these Knights Templars?”.
It was fortunate that without knowing I was following their footsteps: Acre, Safed, Rhodes, and Paphos, where I kept hearing about them and, still did not spark my interest. When traveling through Portugal, it became the elephant in the room that I kept ignoring. So, I had to know! I had to understand! How come they are almost omnipresent all over the Mediterranean region? I began my research, soon to discover that the history of Knight Templars is quite enthralling. Not only because of their legendary richness that proved to be their curse but also their blessing. But also because their actions that changed the history of humankind and influenced the history of Portugal. I discovered that Tomar was the center of the Templars universe for centuries, even after the fatidical Friday the13th of October 1307.
When arriving at Tomar is impossible not to contemplate the impressive defensive wall that seems to embrace the top of the hill. Inside those walls lies the Convent of the Christ. Built in 1118 by the Templars, is dominating from above the small town that stretches below. Once upon a time, Tomar was the stronghold in the war against the Moors and the Headquarters of the Order of the Knights Templar. They also built an entire network of castles close to the Spanish border and helped the Portuguese kings to defeat the Moors and the Castilians. But their contribution was not stopping here. The very existence of Portugal as a kingdom was acquired with their help. Bernard de Clairvaux, the founder of the order managed to persuade the pope to recognize the newly formed Portuguese kingdom. They helped build a country that, when the rest of Europe was aiming for their richness and properties, it became their country of refuge. After 1307, they rebrand, becoming the Order of the Christ and Order of Aviz, managing to keep the money and the properties. Consequently, the following kings become the head of either the Order of the Crist or the Order of Aviz.
Treasure hunters or Holy Grail hunters find in Tomar a fascinating place where clues might be hidden in plain sight. If it were not for the legends concerning their impressive treasure that was never found, probably the Knights Templars would not be so fascinating. Although everybody talks about their hidden treasures nobody talks about their influence on the Age of Discoveries. Well, in Portugal this is a well-known fact, but out of Portugal Templars equal treasure equal holy grail. This is a pity because the age of discoveries changed the history of human-kind marking a turning point in the evolution of our civilization. And Tomar was part of it, an important part.
The real treasures of the Knights Templars are not the hidden ones. In Tomar, the treasures are in plain sight. The round chapel, a statement for their system of beliefs. It is one of the features that can be recognized as Templar no matter where in the world you might find it. The Nave was built during the Age of Discoveries in a true Manueline style and is of astonishing beauty. Adorned with intricate carvings and rich marine motifs in which clues are cleverly woven. King Henry the Navigator, master of the Order of the Christ, was the ruler of Portugal when this period of exploration begins. It was the beginning of the expansion of Portugal the advent of the first colonial empire. Few people actually know that Portugal was a colonial empire long before Spain or England.
Visiting Convento de Cristo from Tomar is like reading a bedtime story. The shadows of the knights walking through cloisters. Words whispered when the wind is passing through the ruins, voices of the past, praying, talking, sunlight playing with the shadows like in a kabuki play. It is fascinating to see so much information carved on its walls but at the same time, unable to decipher. There is a sense of symmetry in everything. Maybe their vision of this world is one of perfect symmetry. Tomar was a center of power, a center of knowledge, but it did not strike me as a religious center. The Knights Templar were too pragmatic to be fanatics and this pragmatism is what saved them. I think that 1307 taught them some important lessons. As for the treasure, being the inventors of the first banking system, probably they were the first to invent offshores because they more than anyone understood that carrying around large sums of money is not smart.
I ended my visit in the garden. The autumnal colors were covering everything already. The red vines were covering the paths creating leafy corridors. The dark smoked crumbled walls of the Chapter House were rising in the background as a reminder that time is always taking its toll. I was thinking how the Knights Templars were able to become the Order of the Christ only to metamorphose again changing its form into a completely different order. Some will say they become the Freemasons building the new world. I would say ” Who knows?”. History is a matter of interpretation of known facts not always finding the right answer. It is a fascinating subject and since it happens that I visited so many of their castles I will probably continue to write about them.
The sun is setting and the gates of Tomar castle are closing. One last glance and I am telling myself that I will probably return one day because I still don’t have my answers…