Early on, while doing research for my novel The Templars Two Kings and a Pope, I was mystified by the recurrent mention of the Holy Grail in documents referring to the Knights Templar. It didn't make sense; by then I had defined that the core of the Templars, those who gave direction to the Order were without doubt Gnostic mystics who gave little importance to relics or anything in the material world, which they considered an illusion, something to be dismissed.
In those days of persecution by Church inquisitors, non-traditional Christians had to hide their practice and find secret codes to communicate. This could be something as innocuous as drawing a cross with all four legs the same size, this meant Gnostic balance, or a star of David which meant the coming together of male and female in all of us. When you met someone whom you thought might be a fellow Gnostic, you started with a salutation, "Beauseant". If they knew what it meant, then you casually drew a cross on the ground with your sword or a stick. They would probably respond by drawing a Star of David or a dove. Then you knew you were safe and could talk freely.
So with all of these secret codes, if a chalice stood for something else, what would it be? It definitely was not the cup that Jesus used in the last supper. This would mean nothing to those mystics, an actual cup?
When I dug deeper, I found that starting even earlier, perhaps back to the 5th century, the Heart, that is the spiritual heart as opposed to the human organ, was symbolized by a drinking vessel. Catholics are familiar with paintings of The Sacred Heart of Jesus, so we know that there was veneration for Jesus' Heart. The Gnostic Gospels refer consistently to the Heart of Christ that will open in all of us. David Richo in The Sacred Heart of the World makes the definite connection between the symbol of a cup and the heart of Jesus.
It's obvious that in the symbol of the cup, or Holy Grail, the Templars were referring to something that was a direct connection to the Heart of Jesus. If we take into account how revolutionary Jesus’ message of love was in relation to the harsh tone of Judaism, then it stands to reason that it is this singular aspect of his teachings that identified him as a vessel of love, ergo his Heart. Elaine Pagels in her Gnostic Gospels tells us that Jesus gave secret instruction, what became known as Gnosticism, to the select few, and spoke in parables to the general public. These teachings were banned by the Church starting in the 5th century, but for those who knew of them, they would embody the essence of Jesus, his love, his Heart. If we put all the facts together, and add that Jesus was a Rabbi, a well-educated man who spoke and wrote in at least Greek and Aramaic, and he wanted to propagate his teachings, it stands to reason that he must have committed them to writing.. Then it makes sense that a document written by Jesus would be what the Templars were hiding as the Holy Grail; Jesus’ Heart.
So what happened to the "real Holy Grail", a gospel written by Jesus? That was a line of inquiry I pursued in my novel. I found evidence that it was a real document, the actual words of Jesus written by his own hand. The Brotherhood kept it as a treasure for many centuries, after they found it, very likely in the place and manner similar to what I describe in my novel.
The Templars’ Real Holy Grail has been sought after, secreted away, possibly destroyed, only to surface again in the mysterious labyrinth of Christendom intrigue.
The legends point to the existence of a Holy Grail. Historical evidence defines it as a Gnostic Gospel written by Jesus. But where has it been all these centuries?
It is unknown to how many of his twelve disciples Jesus imparted his secret teachings, but what survives today as the Gnostic Gospels, what was found in a cave in Egypt in 1947 and is known as the Naj Hammadi library, contain the writings of Mary Magdalene and Thomas.
But why then wasn’t there a gospel written by Jesus as well? If he wrote something, wouldn’t there be at least references to such a document? Among the Gnostic Gospels there is one called the Gospel of the Savior, but no one knows who the author is as yet. Whatever the case might be about that document, wouldn’t a gospel written by Jesus been singled out and heralded through the centuries? Well, not if it started out as a secret document by the author himself, giving very specific instructions that it cannot be disseminated. Jesus meant his secret teachings for those who were ready, and these were few and far between. To the masses he spoke in parables, to the minds with limited understanding that could not conceive of God residing inside them. He knew that should his teachings be made public, they would be grossly misinterpreted, and indeed they were. People were burned at the stake in the Middle Ages for claiming that they had God inside them. If such a document had made its way to Church officials, in all probability they would have either destroyed it or hidden it, for the same reason that it was so valuable to the Brotherhood, the secret Gnostic organization behind the Templars: it validated Gnosticism as Jesus’ true teachings while doing away with the Church’s reason for being, the whole notion that one can only reach God and salvation through its priests, teachings and liturgy.
The first instance that the real Holy Grail surfaced was shortly after the founding of the Templar Order in 1119. The nine Gnostic knights who founded the order, almost immediately started digging around Solomon’s Temple where they were headquartered. In due course they stopped digging and made their way to Rome where they exacted huge concessions from the pontiff that guaranteed the viability of their new order. Historians have speculated as to what it was that they found that they could use to sway the pope. The Temple of Solomon had contained the legendary Ark of the Covenant, but the chances that it was still around after all those centuries would be unlikely, given that the Temple had been destroyed and rebuilt several times, and even then, its possession would not have given such a powerful bargaining position to the Templars. What would have done it, would be a Jesus Gospel that if made public, would have meant the end of the Church’s role as intermediary. But did they find it under the Temple? Not likely. Through the centuries the place had been just too much of a target, not a good hiding place for anything of value. It’s far more likely that the nine Gnostic Templars were after something buried near the Temple. What stood next to the Temple of Solomon in Jesus’ time was the Antonia Fortress, the Roman’s administrative center that had also housed a jail where Jesus had been held before being crucified. Several Roman jails had cells dug into the ground. It is then possible that Jesus’ cell could have survived. But why would it hold anything so valuable and who put it there and why?
When studying mystics, it pays to think like one.
In The Templars Two Kings and a Pope, William and Hughes are also after the Jesus Gospel. They are instructed to find Jesus' cell where he meditated and prayed for long hours, because this is the only place left where his essence has been left relatively undisturbed. They make the journey and imbue themselves with Jesus’ essence that leads them to where his gospel was hidden. This line of reasoning would have made perfect sense to a mystic of the time. For centuries, before embarking on a pilgrimage it was customary to seek the essence of the saint one wanted to reach through the pilgrimage. I believe this is what the nine Templars were after; they found Jesus’ cell, and in due course they found where the gospel was hidden. To us this whole process would seem like magical thinking, but in those days that’s how things worked, how people thought and acted, and is the process I applied in the novel given that I was writing about medieval Templars.
At any rate, by however process and means, it was found.
After the nine Templars originally found it, the next time the gospel surfaced was almost a century and a half later, on March 25, 1244, when the Cathar castle of Montsegur in the Languedoc region of France fell to the pope’s army. Legend has it that a handful of Cathars (who were Gnostics) within the Castle took the Holy Grail with them before the castle fell.
It makes sense that the Templars loaned the Gospel to other Gnostics. After all, it validated their faith as the true teachings of Jesus, and it was probably passed around from one group to another.
The next time we hear about the real Holy Grail, it’s back in Templar hands, that is their Brotherhood, and they make it to Scotland with it.
My theory is that these were copies, not the original. Even before medieval times, copies signed by reputable scribes were considered just as good as the original. In fact, it was necessary to make copies to safeguard the original. Anyone with a blade for scraping and a quill could make changes to a document, but copies made by reputable scribes was a way to safeguard the integrity of the text. The original in Jesus’ actual handwriting would have been treasured in a sacred place, much as the Ark of the Covenant had been because of its mystical rather than practical value.
In the novel, the gospel has to be a copy, for it came from the Library of Alexandria. For centuries the scribes at the library copied every document they came across. The law said that any ship containing books, or any traveler who came into the city had to surrender their books for copying. This is how the library became the foremost depository of knowledge in the Empire. In the article The Holy Grail’s Hiding Place (below), I describe how and why several copies made it from Alexandria to the depository called Hafiz Mountain in the Tibesti Mountains, in present day Chad. The Templars in the novel go after one of these copies because they know that their time in the Holy Land is running out as the Turks are about to expel all Christian armies.
It’s quite conceivable that the copy that the original Templars found in 1120, the one at Montsegnur in 1244 and the one the Templars took to Scotland in 1307, were all different copies; but I doubt it, you couldn’t have anything so potentially dangerous loose. Someone could alter the writing and make it say something different, and then the other copies would have to come to the surface to correct the falsehood, probably resulting in their destruction. There was probably one copy always guarded by Templars who had orders to destroy it if necessary.
My thought is that the copy found by the original nine Templars was the same as the one at Montsegur, and this one copy was destroyed before it fell into enemy hands. The Brotherhood decided at this point to leave the remaining copies where they were, safe in their original hiding place, the Hafiz Mountain in the novel, a very likely real depository for the Gospel and the other books from the Library of Alexandria.
It is at Hafiz Mountain that the Templars in the novel find a copy of the Gospel. This is one of several instances in the book where fiction approximates what really happened. The rest of the novel, the impact that the Gospel had on the Brotherhood, what they had to do to protect it, and how it shaped history, is very real.
The legend of the Holy Grail was born during the romantic era in the early middle ages; an era that gave birth to the concept of courtly love, gallantry, and the forbidden love that one was willing to die for. Many songs and poems were composed at the time by traveling minstrels, most having to do with beautiful damsels, but some with great adventures and treasures, such as the Holy Grail. During the middle ages they thought that it all started with King Arthur and his court, but actually it was the middle ages that gave birth to the Arthurian myth…yet another product of the romantic era.
However, we are talking about the real Holy Grail, a document. Where was it hidden all those centuries before the Templars found it? I concluded that in the same place where the bulk of the books from the Library of Alexandria were secreted to after Christian hordes started destroying everything that was not the approved Bible. According to what the Arabs recorded, monks who had been in charge of the library took their books to a secret location where they were translated into Arabic and disseminated throughout the Arab world, back in 421, two centuries before the Prophet Mohammed, when Emperor Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. That’s also the time when the Gnostic Gospels were buried, what was found in 1947 in a cave in Egypt and became known as the Naj-Hammadi Library, the finding that revolutionized our knowledge of Jesus’ teachings. Dr. Pagels’s book, The Gnostic Gospels is based on her study of these documents. Unfortunately there was no gospel written by Jesus among them, but this was to be expected, since Jesus meant for readership to be restricted to the very select few.
A thesis in my novel is that the monks at the Library of Alexandria had the secret Jesus Gospel. The reasoning is simple; Alexandria was not only the cultural center of the Empire, it was also its most progressive city, where Jesus learned what became his Gnosticism, from Buddhists. Buddhism did have an impact in the city where intellectual inquiry was the norm, where most of the greatest learned men came. So yes, it makes sense that whoever was in charge of the library would reflect the city’s culture, and the biggest, most complete library in all of the Roman Empire, ran by mystical Christian monks, would certainly have copies of Jesus’ document. Just the fact that they wanted to save the knowledge in their hands by handing it over to the Arabs speaks volumes about what they were like.
So where did the Library of Alexandria monks take their books including the Jesus Gospel? I placed myself in their place, studying what was known about the world at the time and what was happening around them. As fanatical Christian hordes started descending on the library to destroy its contents, the monks had to act fast. They looked for a safe place that was well away from invaders and fanatical hordes, and in a direction away from danger. To achieve this, from Alexandria you would have to look due west, towards what was then known as the Libyan wilderness, basically the western-most chunk of Africa that encompasses most of the Sahara. Well, fortunately for them, and for me, someone else had escaped in that direction centuries before, with a similar goal in mind, to find a safe haven away from violence, in this case, an invading army. These were the mystics who left Judea and Israel during the Assyrian invasion in 722 BCE and founded a colony hidden away in the Tibesti Mountains in what is today’s Chad. For well over two millennia this was a place known to the mystical underground, a place where one could find sanctuary away from so-called civilization, a place to pray and meditate in peace.
Looking at a map of that time, the Tibesti Mountains made perfect sense. In fact, it would have been hard to pass up. It is hard to get to, one has to cross many miles of desert, but once in the mountains there are valleys with 20 inches of rain a year, plenty to support a colony. No other location offered relative proximity, safe passage, habitability, and the promise of a peaceful life.
I figured that the place had a name, a code name that would not give away its location. In the novel I called it Hafiz Mountain, because Hafiz in Arabic means to preserve knowledge, as in writing, memorizing, or secreting it away, and I figured that’s what the mystical underground and then the Brotherhood would have called it, or something very similar.
In the book, the document is found and taken away to Europe by the Brotherhood. Centuries prior another copy was very likely found by the nine Templars who founded the Order, only to be lost. This time it made sense to keep the remaining copies safe until the last minute, because possession of such a document was so dangerous. In any case, the Holy Grail made its way to Europe, I believe in a manner very close to what I describe in The Templars Two Kings and a Pope.