This article is an edited transcript of The Templars with Dan Jones on Dan Snow’s History Hit, first broadcast 11 September 2017. You can listen to the full episode below or to the full podcast for free on Acast.
Much of the mystique surrounding the Knights Templar comes from the medieval military order’s perceived association with the holy grail. But if indeed the Templars did possess any secret treasure, then it remains a secret today – though there is no particular reason to believe that they did.
As for the holy grail specifically, there is, of course, a connection between the Templars and the holy grail but it’s like the connection between James Bond, Spectre and MI6: it exists in fantasy and is one of the most successful and long-running entertainment and business stories of the last 800 years.
The role of the entertainment industry
This story has its origins as early as the first part of the 12th century when Wolfram Von Eschenbach was writing King Arthur stories and plunked the Templars in as guardians of this thing called the grail.
Now, the idea of the grail, the history of the holy grail, is something that has a sort of a life of its own – a mystique and a mystery of its own. What was it? Did it exist? Where did it come from? What does it stand for?
Plug that into the Templars’ own extraordinary story and you have this sort of incredible concoction of myth and magic and sex and scandal and holy mystery that has proved understandably irresistible to screenwriters and novelists, to the people who were producing entertainment from the early 13th century.
But does that mean that the holy grail was an actual real thing? No, of course it wasn’t. It was a trope.
It was a literary idea. So we mustn’t mistake the connection between the Templars and the holy grail in the history books of the entertainment industry with actual history.
When put against the entertainment industry, historians can often come across as the fun police or joy suckers where such myths are concerned. Historians want to look at all these films and television shows and novels and say, “That’s what you got wrong. This is all nonsense”.
But although the business of all historians is to present the facts as best as they can discern them, it isn’t a zero-sum game and the Templars probably wouldn’t be fun if we took away all the myths.
But we have to remember that part of their story consists of history and part of it consists of myth. They can coexist though and one doesn’t have to kill the other.