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This is an index of the chapters in the novel which contain substantial claims about history. Those chapters which contain only action scenes or plot elements have been ommited.

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CHAPTER THIRTY-SEVEN

The 'Priory of Sion' and the Knights Templar

The Creation of the Knights Templar

The Real Origins of the Templars

Treasure in the Rubble

The Fall of the Templars

King Philip Cancels His Debts

King Philip and the Popes

The 'Sting Operation' Against the Templars

Brown's Fiction and Historical Facts

Friday the Thirteenth

The Templar Myth

The 'Priory of Sion' and the Knights Templar

"Tell me about the Priory of Sion," Sophie said.
Langdon nodded …. He wondered where to begin. The brotherhood's history spanned more than a millennium … an astonishing chronicle of secrets, blackmail, betrayal and even brutal torture at the hands of an angry Pope.

(Chapter 37, p. 157)

The 'Priory of Sion' described in The Da Vinci Code never existed. Far from having a 'history (that) spanned more than a millennium', it was a hoax created by the convicted fraud and anti-Semitic French royalist, Pierre Plantard, in the late 1950s. See The Priory of Sion.

"The Priory of Sion," he began, "was founded in Jerusalem in 1099 by a French king named Godefroi de Bouillon, immediately after he conquered the city."
(Chapter 37, p. 157)

Godefroi de Bouillon was not 'a French king', he was the Count of Lorraine. Since the 'Priory of Sion' did not exist prior to the 1950s, despite the claims by the fraud that created the whole 'Priory of Sion' hoax, it is untrue that Godefroi de Bouillon or anyone else founded it in 1099. There is absolutely no evidence linking Godefroi de Bouillon to any so-called 'Priory of Sion' or any other secret society. This entire story never appeared until it was invented by Pierre Plantard in the 1960s and propagated by the amateur, sensationalist authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail in the 1980s.

"King Godefroi was allegedly the possessor of a powerful secret - a secret that had been in his family since the time of Christ. Fearing his secret might be lost when he died, he founded a secret brotherhood - the Priory of Sion - and charged them with protecting his secret by quietly passing it from generation to generation.
(Chapter 37, p. 158)

Again, there is zero evidence that Count (not 'King') Godefroi founded the so-called 'Priory of Sion'.

"During their years in Jerusalem, the Priory learned of a stash of hidden documents buried beneath the ruins of Herod's temple, which had been built on top of the earlier ruins of Solomon's temple. These documents, they believed, corroborated Godefroi's powerful secret and were so explosive in nature that the Church would stop at nothing to get them."
Sophie looked uncertain.

(Chapter 37, p. 158)

Sophie had good reason to 'look uncertain'. Nothing Brown says here has any foundation whatsoever. The idea that the Knights Templar excavated under the Temple and found something 'explosive' in nature is a mainstay of occult, conspiracy folklore. Precisely what it was they supposedly found varies from conspiracist to conspiracist - allegedly they found the Temple treasury, 'documents', a lost gospel, the bones of Jesus himself, Jesus' skull, the Ark of the Covenant or evidence of extraterrestrials, depending on which conspiracist you read. The fact remains, however, that there is no evidence at all that the Templars excavated under the Temple or that they found anything at all.

Brown follows the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail by switching this older esoteric myth of the excavating Templars to the more recent myths of the so-called 'Priory of Sion'.

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The Creation of the Knights Templar

"The Priory vowed that no matter how long it took, these documents must be recovered from the rubble underneath the temple and protected forever, so the truth would never die. In order to retrieve the documents from the ruins, the Priory created a military arm - a group of nine knights called the Order of the Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon." Langdon paused. "More commonly known as the Knights Templar."

Sophie glanced up with a surprised look of recognition.

Langdon had lectured often enough on the Knights Templar to know that almost everyone on earth had heard of them, at least abstractedly. For academics, the Templars' history was a precarious world where fact, lore and misinformation had become so intertwined that extracting a pristine truth was almost impossible. Nowadays, Langdon hesitated even to mention the Knights Templar while lecturing because it inevitably led to a barrage of convoluted inquiries into assorted conspiracy theories.
(Chapter 37, p. 158)

'Assorted conspiracy theories' indeed. In his witty, well researched and erudite satirical novel on conspiracy theories, Foucault's Pendulum, Italian author and academic Umberto Eco depicts a group of publishers who, for amusement, create a conspiracy theory that binds all such speculation together. Their dictum is "THE KNIGHTS TEMPLAR ARE CONNECTED TO EVERYTHING".

The Templars have been a mainstay of conspiracies and occult speculation since at least the Seventeenth Century. In the three centuries since they have attracted a bewildering array of nutty theories and multiple, confused, contradictory and baseless claims have been made about them, largely because the Masons claimed they were 'descended' from the suppressed knightly order. About this much, Brown is correct. Where he is in error is in his claim that it is somehow impossible to sort the historical facts from the frenzied fiction. The real Templars' history is well documented and it is quite possible to sort out what can be said about them and what is nonsense.

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The Real Origins of the Templars

To begin with, there is absolutely nothing to indicate that Count Godefroi de Bouillon had anything to do with the founding of the Templar Order. The Order was founded in 1118 when nine French crusader knights led by Hugh de Payns took vows to protect pilgrims to the Holy Land in the wake of the successful capture of Jerusalem in the First Crusade. King Baldwin I of Jerusalem gave this small group of knights quarters in his palace on the Temple Mount and they took their name from this location.

The group did not gain much momentum until Hugh de Payns returned to France, gained approval for the new order at a local church council at Troyes in 1128 and won the support of the powerful Cistercian polemicist, Bernard of Clairvaux. Bernard had a kinsman amongst the nine founders and wrote a 'Rule' for the new knightly order based on the Cistercian monastic rule. He lent his weighty support to the novae militia Christi (new knights of Christ) in the hope that this new form of knighthood would come to replace the pride, brutality and warlike nature of secular knighthood.

The new order now began to attract widespread support and recruits from across Europe. In 1139 the pope granted them independence from local bishops and made them answerable directly to the papacy - much as had been done for the other new military order, the Knights Hospitaller, in 1113.

The Templars in Palestine soon gained a formidable military reputation. Supported by non-knightly sergeants, they became an elite force in the Crusader Kingdoms' increasingly desperate efforts at holding on to the territory captured in the First Crusade. The Crusader Kingdoms were crippled by a manpower shortage, since most crusaders treated service in Palestine as a kind of pilgrimage - something to be achieved and then returned from. As a permanent, professional and skilled fighting force of dedicated believers, the Templars were a prime military asset in the struggle for survival. They were recognized as such by their Muslim enemies, who tended to ransom many other prisoners, but who always executed any captured Templars.

Their numbers in Palestine were never large. It is estimated that there were only three hundred actual knights in the order in the territory at any time, commanding only a few thousand squires, sergeants and support troops. The tide began to turn against the Crusader Kingdoms with their crushing defeat at the hands of Saladin at Hattin in 1187 and by 1291 the last crusader strongholds fell, with the Templars retreating to Cyprus and back to Europe.

In Europe the Templars had attracted many recruits and set up 'preceptories' in many major cities and towns, where they received donations of land from patrons and supporters. The Templars soon became rich, and began to act as prominent bankers, managing to get around the Church's bans on lending money at interest. This made the order richer, but also gained it powerful (heavily indebted) enemies.

This was the real nature of the Knights Templar. They were originally a purely military order which later increased its power and prestige by becoming a financial institution. As a closed organisation, they attracted rumours about supposed inner rituals and secret initiations, but only to the same extent that any closed society always does.

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Treasure in the Rubble

Brown's assertion that the 'real' purpose of the Templars was to dig up hidden documents from the rubble of the ruined Temple in Jerusalem is without any foundation at all. He never explains why this excavation would require the co-called 'Priory of Sion' to create 'a military arm'. Why would digging under the Temple require 'a military arm'? Why did this supposed 'Priory' need to create another organisation for this digging?

The whole story of Templar excavations under the Temple is also based on no evidence at all. There is nothing in any sources of the time or anything that was written about the Templars later to indicate that any such excavations took place. Once again, this whole idea did not even arise until very recently and has only ever been asserted, without any evidence, by amateur, sensationalist conspiracy theorists. Real historians regard such things as wearisome nonsense.

Sophie already looked troubled. "You're saying the Knights Templar were founded by the Priory of Sion to retrieve a collection of secret documents? I thought the Templars were created to protect the Holy Land."

"A common misconception. The idea of protection of pilgrims was the guise under which the Templars ran their mission. Their true goal was to retrieve the documents from beneath the ruins of the temple."
(Chapter 37, p. 158)

What Brown has Langdon dismiss as 'a common misconception' is actually the truth, supported by all the actual evidence. The fantasy about secret excavations under the Temple, on the other hand, is a modern myth supported by nothing at all. Brown has lifted this directly from Holy Blood, Holy Grail, despite the fact it has no foundation whatsoever.

"And did they find (the documents)?"

Langdon grinned. "Nobody knows for sure, but the one thing on which all academics agree is this: The Knights discovered something down there in the ruins … something which made them wealthy and powerful beyond anyone's wildest imagination."
(Chapter 37, p. 158)

The only wild imagination at work here is Dan Brown's. No actual academic who has studied the Templars regards these supposed 'excavations' as anything other than a set of modern myths, so the assertion that they somehow 'agree' that the Templars 'discovered something' in excavations which never actually took place is pure nonsense. Throughout the book Brown has Langdon and Teabing make several statements about what 'scholars' and 'academics' apparently agree on, and they are usually used to bolster concepts that real academics regard as arrant nonsense. Brown seems to be trying to prop up his wilder assertions by reassuring his non-specialist readers that they have scholarly support, when they simply do not.

The Templars did become wealthy, but there was no mystery or secret to their wealth - it derived from their activities as bankers to the nobility of Europe. Their wealth was also not 'beyond anyone's wildest imagination', but was precisely what we would expect from an organisation lending money at interest to nobles in need of ready cash.

For almost a decade the nine Knights lived in the ruins, excavating in total secrecy through solid rock.

Sophie looked over. "And you said they discovered something?"

"They certainly did," Langdon said, explaining how it had taken nine years, but the Knights had finally found what they had been searching for. They took the treasure from the temple and traveled to Europe, where their influence seemed to solidify overnight.

Nobody was certain whether the Knights blackmailed the Vatican or whether the Church simply tried to buy the Knights' silence, but Pope Innocent II immediately issued an unprecedented papal bull that afforded the Knights limitless power and declared them "a law unto themselves" - an autonomous army independent of all interference from kings and prelates, both religious and political.
(Chapter 37, p. 159)

The idea that the Templars' approval from the papacy and the growth of their wealth and influence in Europe was due to some 'discovery' is totally without foundation. Leaving aside the fact that there is absolutely no evidence for these supposed 'excavations' under the Temple, let alone any vastly significant 'discovery' or 'treasure', the growth of the Templars in Europe was no more 'sudden' than that of any other new order of the time - the Cistercians before them or the Dominicans and Franciscans after them for example.

The papal bull Brown refers to here is the one issued in 1139 and it was in no way unusual, let alone 'unprecedented'. Precisely the same form of immunity had been granted to other orders many times since it was first granted to the Cluniac order in the Ninth Century. And the Templars were not even the first military order to gain such papal privileges, since the Knights Hospitaller were granted them 26 years earlier in 1113. Once again, Brown uses quotation marks to make it seem as though his statements are coming from some (unnamed) authoritative source, but these papal privileges did not make the Templars a '"law unto themselves"' at all. This is also one of many places where Brown anachronistically refers to the Catholic Church and the papacy as 'the Vatican' - a modern expression which is meaningless when used in relation to the medieval Church.

Everything Brown says here is either without any foundation or is a distortion or wild exaggeration of the truth.

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The Fall of the Templars

"By the 1300s, the Vatican sanction had helped the Knights amass so much power that Pope Clement V decided that something had to be done. Working in concert with France's King Phillipe IV, the Pope devised an ingeniously planned sting operation to quash the Templars and seize their treasure, thus taking control of the secrets held over the Vatican. In a military manoeuvre worthy of the CIA, Pope Clement issued secret sealed orders to be opened simultaneously by his soldiers all across Europe on Friday, October 13 of 1307.
(Chapter 37, p. 159)

Virtually everything Brown writes in this passage is, in fact, completely incorrect. After the fall of the last strongholds of the Crusader Kingdoms in Palestine, the Templars rapidly became considered an obsolete institution. By the early 1300s there was strong pressure on them to merge with the Knights Hospitaller - pressure which their Grand Master, Jaques Molay, resisted. But with their raison d'etre - the defence of pilgrims in the Holy Land - now gone and with growing resentment of their pride and the debts owed to them via their banking activities, the Templars were making powerful enemies.

Chief amongst them was King Philip IV of France. The kings of France had been deep in debt to the Templars since the Second Crusade, but Philip's wars against King Edward I of England had left him virtually bankrupt and he was soon greatly in debt to Jewish bankers in France, bankers from the great financial houses of Lombardy and, of course, the Templars.

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King Philip Cancels His Debts

Phillip soon hit upon a sure fire way to eliminate his crippling debts: eliminating his creditors. In 1306 he was doing badly in his wars, not only running up huge debts to fund them, but losing valuable and lucrative territory: Edward I had conquered Gascony and the rebel Countess Margarite had seized control of her native Flanders. Facing financial ruin, Philip debased the coinage, causing rampant inflation and turning the people, especially in the cities, against him.

Looking for a source of funds and a way to relieve his debts, Philip chose to strike against France's Jews. He expelled all Jews from the kingdom, arresting them in lightening raids and seizing their property. Having used this technique successfully against the Jews, Philip next turned on the Lombard bankers, expelling them in 1311, seizing their wealth and canceling his debts to them. He was soon to turn these same techniques on his final group of creditors - the Templars.

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King Philip and the Popes

Brown maintains that it was Pope Clement who orchestrated the fall of the Templars, 'working in concert with France's 'King Phillippe IV'. Yet again, Brown gets his history completely backwards. In 1307 the papacy was actually almost completely under the thumb of the French king and it was Philip, not Clement, who orchestrated, initiated and executed the strike against the Templars.

Brown plays on popular modern ideas about the medieval papacy; depicting it as a vastly powerful theocracy that virtually ruled Europe. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. The Middle Ages were marked by a drawn out, centuries-long struggle by which the papacy sought to assert its independence and shake off the political domination of Lombardic dukes, then Frankish emperors, then German kings/Holy Roman Emperors, Italian nobles and the kings of France. By the time the Frenchman, Bertrand de Got of Gascony, was elected Pope Clement V, the papacy was well and truly under the thumb of King Philip IV of France.

Once again, this was because of Philip's debts and the need for money. To fund his wars with England, Philip had levied a substantial tax on the lands owned by the Church. Seeing this, King Edward I of England followed suit. In an attempt at preserving the independence of the Church, the then pope, Boniface VIII, issued a papal bull in 1296 called Clericos Laicos forbidding any clergy to pay a tax to a secular lord without papal permission.

This led to a war of words, pamphlets and propaganda between Philip and Boniface, with the French king attacking the Pope for pride and greed and the Pope issuing a stream of bulls asserting the political independence of the Church. Eventually Philip arrested the Pope, accusing him of heresy and sodomy, and Boniface VIII died in a French prison soon afterwards, in 1303.

His successor, Benedict XI, only reigned for a year and it was widely thought that he was poisoned by Guilliame de Nogaret, a close friend and agent of the French king, because he would not submit to the French king's requirements.

It is in this context of French royal pressure, with one previous pope having died in a French royal prison and his successor having been poisoned by a French royal agent, that the cardinals elected a Frenchman as Pope Clement V.

Clement V never even set foot in Rome. At King Philip's insistence, he was crowned in France, at Lyon, on November 14, 1305, in the presence of Philip. He established his papal court in France, at Avignon, and one of his first acts was to approve Philip's taxing of the French clergy and to promptly absolve the French king of any wrongdoing in his arrest of Boniface VIII. Despite some feeble token resistance to Philip, Clement V remained under the thumb of the French monarch throughout his pontificate and throughout Philip's persecution of the Templars.

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The 'Sting Operation' Against the Templars

With the papacy now under his control, King Philip now turned his attention to the Templars. Brown pretends that this 'sting operation' was orchestrated by Pope Clement, depicting him sending 'his soldiers all across Europe' with secret sealed orders to arrest and imprison the knights. This is pure nonsense. The Pope had no 'soldiers', the initial strike against the Templars was in France only and the Pope had absolutely nothing to do with it.

Citing the claims of heresy (supposedly) made by a renegade Templar, Philip insisted that Clement investigate the Order. Clement, who suffered from chronic stomach problems, replied that he was too ill to begin any such investigation, so Philip - as impatient as ever - struck against the Templars anyway.

On October 13, 1307, he arrested the Templar Grand Master Jaques de Molay and several thousand other Templars in France. Lacking any condemnation from the Pope, he sent letters to the kings of Spain, England and Scotland, accusing the Order of heresy and sodomy (the same charges he had made against Pope Boniface VIII and the French Jews), but these letters were met with disbelief and a diplomatically polite refusal to act.

Far from initiating the strike against the Templars, Clement V initially condemned it. He wrote a furious letter to Philip saying 'You have …. violated every rule and laid hands on the persons and property of the Templars …. Your hasty act is seen by all, and rightly so, as an act towards ourselves and the Roman Church.' ( Malcolm Barber, The Trial of the Templars 1978 p. 48-49). This was because, like the Hospitallers, the Templars were under the direct jurisdiction of the papacy. In an belated attempt at re-asserting authority over the situation, Clement issued a papal bull ordering that all Templars in Europe be arrested until the issue was settled. In 1308 he also suspended the members of the Inquisition in France who Philip had been using to interrogate the arrested French Templars.

The tide of opinion and evidence began to swing against King Philip. Those Templars who had confessed to (widely varying accounts of) heresy under torture promptly revoked their confessions and Templars from across Europe came forward to defend their Order against what they insisted were false accusations. Clement also insisted that the Templars could only be tried in a papal court and set up a papal commission in Vienne to fully investigate the whole affair. The Vienne Commission first met in 1311, but by this time King Philip was becoming impatient with his puppet Pope.

On May 12, 1312, King Philip took the Templars he had in his custody and who had retracted their confessions, including Grand Master Jacques de Molay, and had them publicly burnt at the stake as heretics. He then put massive pressure on Pope Clement and the Vienne Commission, marching an army up to the town as a blatant threat, and Clement eventually relented and ordered the Order of Knights Templar to be dissolved.

But he never condemned the entire Order. No Templars outside of France were ever executed or jailed - most of them simply joined the Knights Hospitaller, formed their own, new, orders of knights or simply entered monasteries or civilian life. King Philip got what he wanted though - his debts to the Templars disappeared and the Knights Hospitaller bought the Templar properties he has seized from him for a vast sum of money. He solved his financial problems.

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Brown's Fiction and Historical Facts

Brown's entire depiction of the fall of the Templars is entirely without foundation. There was no 'secret' that gave the Templars power over the papacy, Clement V did not initiate the move against the Templars, the attack on them was not Europe-wide, there were no secret papal orders and the Pope had no 'soldiers' to orchestrate in his CIA-style 'sting operation'. The attack on the Templars was made by King Philip as part of a pattern of such strikes for financial reasons and the Pope, despite being ultimately crippled by the dominance of French royal power, actually did everything in his (rather feeble) powers to resist and thwart the King. Brown's version of events is complete and utter fantasy.

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Friday the Thirteenth

Clement's letter claimed that God had visited him in a vision and warned him that the Knights Templar were heretics guilty of devil worship, homosexuality, defiling the cross, sodomy and other blasphemous behaviour. Pope Clement had been asked by God to cleanse the earth by rounding up all the Knights and torturing them until the confessed their crimes against God. Clement's Machiavellian operation came off with clockwork precision. On that day, countless Knights were captured, tortured mercilessly and finally burned at the stake as heretics. Echoes of the tragedy still resonated in modern culture; to this day, Friday the thirteenth was considered unlucky.
(Chapter 37, p. 160)

The 'vision' Brown refers to here never happened, was never claimed to have happened, is never mentioned in any of the medieval sources on the suppression of the Templars and is not even mentioned in the New Age/sensationalist books that Brown uses for many of his wilder claims. It seems to be yet another product of his imagination. Far from being the 'Machiavellian' orchestrator of the fall of the Templars, Clement V was actually a reluctant bit player in a drama engineered by King Philip of France.

The tradition that Friday 13th is 'unlucky' actually seems to be a reasonably modern one. The number 13 has been considered unlucky by the Egyptians, Hindus and others for a very long time - long before 1307. This is variously attributed to a Viking belief that the evil god Loki formed the thirteenth member of the feast at which Baldur was killed or a similar belief about Judas Iscariot and the Last Supper. Fridays have also long been considered unlucky and the idea that Friday 13th is unlucky is a more recent conflation of these two superstitions.

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The Templar Myth

Sophie looked confused "The Knights Templar were obliterated? I thought fraternities of Templars still exist today?"
"They do, under a variety of names. Despite Clement's false charges and best efforts to eradicate them, the Knights had powerful allies, and some managed to escape the Vatican purges. The Templars' potent treasure trove of documents, which had apparently been their source of power, was Clement's true objective, but it slipped through his fingers. The documents had long since been entrusted to the Templars' shadowy architects, the Priory of Sion, whose veil of secrecy had kept them safely out of range of the Vatican's onslaught. As the Vatican closed in, the Priory smuggled their documents from a Paris preceptory by night onto Templar ships in La Rochelle."

(Chapter 37, p. 160)

Once again, Sophie was right to look confused (something she does with remarkable regularity during Langdon's discourses on 'history'). The campaign against the Templars was King Philip's, not Pope Clement's, and it was aimed at eliminating his debts and seizing the Order's wealth, not at seizing any fictional 'secret documents'. And the modern Templar fraternities have no real connection with the original medieval military order at all.

In the Seventeenth Century it became fashionable for men to join secret societies of various kinds, one group of which were to give rise to Freemasonry. The Masons created a variety of legends linking themselves to much older societies and traditions. The main legends connected them to actual historical medieval guilds of stone workers, which did (like the later modern Masons) have a closed structure, a strict hierarchy and secret, ritual initiations. The medieval mason guilds were actually simply trade unions, designed to protect knowledge of stone working from outsiders and maintain pay and conditions for stone workers.

Other Masonic legends linked the modern Masonic clubs to a much older and rather more fanciful legacy: saying they were founded by Hiram, the legendary architect of Solomon's Temple, and to the builders of the Pyramids. The first Mason to claim a link between the Masons and the Templars was Andrew Michael Ramsey (1696-1743), claiming a secret order of Scottish crusading knights were the original founders of Freemasonry; though he did not say they were Templars.

The 'Scottish Rite' and parallel 'York Rite' of Freemasonry developed this idea, linking Masonry directly to the Knights Templar. The legend developed that surviving Templars fled to Scotland and founded Freemasonry there, though there is no evidence of this. The 'York Rite' thus has 'Knight Templar' as its highest degree and the thirtieth 'Knight Kasosch' degree in the 'Scottish Rite' has a ritual where the images of the 'three abominables' - a king, a pope and a traitor - are beheaded.

This evolving legend eventually led to the point where the myth that the Templars survived in the Masons became widely accepted in Masonic circles and where the connection between the Masons, the Templars, the Holy Grail, the Gnostics and many other wild speculations have become a mainstay of occult speculation. This tangled set of myths found its way into Baigent et al's Holy Blood Holy Grail and, from there, into The Da Vinci Code.

The facts, however, are quite different. In most parts of Europe the Templars were neither imprisoned nor executed, but simply passed into civilian life or joined the Knights Hospitaller. In Portugal the Templars merely changed their name to The Knights of Christ and went on operating under a new banner. No-one 'fled' anywhere, there was no secret treasure or hoard of documents 'smuggled' out of La Rochelle and all the modern fraternities of so-called 'Knights Templar' are only as ancient as some Seventeenth Century men's social clubs with a penchant for dressing up and indulging in rituals.

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History vs The Da Vinci Code is copyright Tim O'Neill 2006. All rights reserved.