The Templar Treasure
Let us jump back to France for a moment. Most of the early attempts to cross the Atlantic launched from Portugal. However this legendary voyage to “the western sea” departed from the shores of France nearly two centuries before Christopher Columbus’ expedition.
The source of this legend was the deposition of a Catholic monk named Jean de Châon [aka Chalon] taken in 1308. The documentation of the deposition was found centuries later in the Vatican’s archives. Friar de Châon had been the precepter [teacher or leader] of the Knights Templar’s commandery [headquarters] in Namur, France, after the Templars left the Holy Land in 1303. Châon testified that he learned this story from older, aging knights in Namur. Knights were sworn to secrecy, especially about things like this. So the blabbing knights must have been very aging.
In our article on the Mongolian Empire, we explained how Baibar’s Mamluks chased the Knights Templar from their various land holdings in the Outremer. The Templar’s Chateau Pelerin was one of the largest citadels in the Holy Land, and one of the last remaining Crusader outposts to withstand the Mamluck’s assaults. The Templars ended up on the island of Ruad [aka Rouad] offshore from Tortosa.
The trouble was, there was no water on the island. Besides, the Muslims were closing in on them – fast. So in 1303, under the leadership of their Grand Master and Precepter Gerard de Villiers(1), the Templars fled to France.
One of the Grand Master’s duties was to rescue the Knights Templar treasury. As we have already noted, even though the knights themselves owned few personal possessions, the Order of Knights Templar was an extremely wealthy organization and acted as its own bank. The assets would have been in the form of precious metals and jewels. Legend has it that the Knights Templar were also the guardians of what was left of Solomon’s Gold after the Romans destroyed the Second Temple in the year 70 CE. That would include items rescued from the temple itself such as the golden chalices and plates used in religious ceremonies.
St. Geraldo’s Chalice and Paten held in the Braga Sé Historical Museum. Geraldo was archbishop of Galicia, Castile and the County of Portugal from 1099 to 1108.(2)
When the Templars fled to France, the Templar treasury traveled with them. As also mentioned, King Philippe of France borrowed some of that money. What he really wanted was possession of the whole treasury. When Gerard de Villiers would not let him have it, Philippe accused the Knights Templar of every sin he could imagine, including sodomy, idolatry, and treason. Then Philippe’s men rounded up Gerard de Villiers and his associates and threw them in prison. If the knights were found guilty, they were to be put to death. Then Philippe could have his treasure.
A trial took place, but, of course, it was not a fair one. The knights were found guilty and sentenced to death by fire.
But, don’t forget, the Order of the Knights Templar was a huge family. They had friends and relations in important places. Members of the Order took care of each other. Before the sentence was carried out, twelve [some say twenty-four] Templar leaders, including Gerard de Villiers, managed to escape. An army of some two thousand knights waited in the outskirts of Paris to protect and hide them. Jean de Châon would testify that a group of forty knights with fifty horses met up with Gerard de Villiers and his compatriots and escorted them out of Paris. On the way, De Villiers retrieved the Templar treasure from wherever it was hiding, camouflaged it under some hay in a hay cart, and smuggled it out of the city.
Jean de Châon finished his testimony by saying that the knights who followed Gerard de Villiers “put to sea with eighteen galleys, and … fled with the whole treasury …” It is believed the galleys left from La Rochelle and headed west.
It is fact that Gerard de Villiers disappeared forever. Maybe he was killed by King Philippe. There are many theories about what happened to the French Templar treasure. According to Edward Zaborovsky on his website, TheKnightsTemplar.org, rumors say it was taken from Paris and hidden in Lyon. There is also evidence the king got some of it. “…whether it was the whole Order’s treasury or just a part of it, the royal finances increased by 1189 gold coins and more than 5000 silver coins minted in 1303-1304.”(3)
One account claims that the eighteen galleys sailed to Switzerland. Another claims they went to Scotland. A third version, which is the one that interests us most, claims that the galleys headed “west across the Ocean Sea.” Some historians speculate they followed the Viking routes to Oak Island, Nova Scotia. Others think they ended up in the West Indies. They might have been sailing for St. Brendon’s Island or Antilla. Maybe they buried Solomon’s treasure among the reefs of the Bahamas.
As we know, the Volta do Mar would have made those voyage possible. And the Knights Templar had the technological know-how to make those voyages. The Templar libraries contained the most advanced knowledge on shipping and trade. Templar mariners knew all the stories about islands west “within a few days sail.” And the Knights Templar had astrolabes.
Some historians wonder if there is a connection between the Knights Templar, who built huge castles in the Orkney Islands of Scotland, and the many sophisticated stone circles there. Atlit, where the Templars had a stronghold during the Crusades, has one of world’s oldest stone circles. The Knights Templar in Portugal would have known about the Cromlech of the Almendres. When the Knights Templar acquired the ancient treasure, did they also acquire Bronze Age knowledge? Did they learn how the ancients measured the heavens with their megalithic structures?
The next mystery is, “If any of those eighteen galleys reached the Americas, did word get back to Europe and influence future exploration?”
There is a rumor that descendants of the aging Knights informed Christopher Columbus about the West Indies. It states that Columbus’ ships carried the Order’s skilled navigators to guide him on his journey, and that the Order, which helped fund Columbus’ expedition, placed their cross on his sails.
But getting back to Jean de Châon – in 1308, when the Catholic Church deposed him, they were trying to find out what happened to the Templars and their gold. Even though the Church claimed that Jean de Châon was an unreliable witness, the Church took his story seriously enough to file the deposition in their archives. With King Philippe breathing down the Church’s neck, it would be dangerous to admit that de Châon’s story was true.
Until evidence of fourteenth century galleys, knights, or treasure is found in the Americas, this myth will remain just myth.
- Not to be confused with Gerard de Villiers, preceptor of a Walloon commandery in Villiers-le-Temple, who died in 1273.
- Photo of Chalice and Paten in Braga Sé Historical Museum ©2015 Mary Ames Mitchell. All rights reserved.
- This great web site about the Knights Templar is run by Edward Zaborovsky. http://www.theknightstemplar.org/
Next article: Fourteenth Century Portolans and Planispheres