The Templecombe Head
The Templecombe Head is nowadays kept within the Church of St. Mary at Templcombe in Somerset, southwest England. It is a medieval painting on a wooden panel framed within a diamond lobata – a design commonly found in Byzantine art through to western manuscripts of the 13th and 14th Centuries.
The painting was discovered in an out-house building that was once the priest house of the Combe Templariorum (1185-1307) – a Templar Preceptory. Originally vividly coloured in green and vermillion pigments with gold stars around the bearded head, it was faded out to its present sepia appearance by an attempt at amateur restoration. Carbon dated to between 1280 and 1310, it is considered to represent the head of Christ. The lack of any redeeming features or halo means it could represent Jesus before his baptism, or John the Baptist.7
The lobata extend into what appear to be fleur de lys (French: lily flower). This classical symbol, with one of its roots in the Assyrian Tree of Life, grew into a symbol of French royalty (Merovingian origin). Until the end of the 12th Century it was associated with Christ, until slowly incorporated into the Cult of Mary, as the Song of Solomon relates (2:2): sicut lilium inter spinas (Like a lily amongst thorns).21
The Merovingian Charlemagne (Charles the Great, 748-814) was said to have brought together esoteric and exoteric Christianity. At least the image of this converging grail stream runs through the story of Floris and Blanchefleur (Old French: Floire et Blancheflor, c.1160) – the Rose and the Lily.15
The consensus among some medieval scholars, such as Barber,1 and Firth,8 are that the Knight Templars, “Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon” (Latin: Pauperes commilitones Christi Templique Salomonici) were a Catholic orthodox military order modelling themselves somewhat in parallel with the Cistercians. It was following the recommendation for Papal support by Bernard of Clairvaux at the Council of Troyes (1128), that the Order moved from the Rule of St. Benedict. They were initially (founded 1119) under the support of King Baldwin II of Jerusalem and, the Rule of St. Augustine.
Primarily, The candidate then vowed obedience, chastity and poverty, and to follow the good usage and customs of the house, and promised to strive to help conquer the Holy Land. After this, he was admitted to the Order and the mantle was placed on his shoulder. The chaplain said the psalm, Ecce quam bonum (Psalm 133) and the prayer to the Holy Spirit, each brother said the Paternoster, and the receptor and the chaplain kissed him on the mouth.1
Despite the scholarly lid of consensus, there are unquestionably Gnostic elements that attempt to seep through the veil of secrecy surrounding the Order. Not surprisingly, this latter has sold more books than any scholarly review.
For instance, there is the more obvious Kabbalistic element behind Psalm 133: The dew (Tau) anointing the head and running down the beard of Aaron on account of the Zoharian Arikh Aphim – Vastness of Countenance, or Macroprosopos (the White Head, or Skull), whereby the skull distils the dew from Ain Soph.17
Furthermore, a parallel with medieval grail literature exists:
St. Bernard gave them in his book In Praise of the New Militia stations of contemplation and inner training, which can be found in vivid pictures and parables in the Quest del Saint Graal [where] there is a reference to the ‘Templar’ psalm no. 133, quoted by the aunt of Perceval.
At this table sat the brethren who were united in body and soul, about whom the prophet David uttered a marvellous saying in his book: ‘Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!’ Peace, concord and patience dwelt in the brethren who sat at that table, and all good works shone forth in them.15
To return to the auspicious golden stars already mentioned surrounding the Templecombe head, these were similarly a feature of the Gnostic emblem Abraxas:
Abraxas was an emblem used widely on seals and amulets; it comprises a figure with a rooster’s head, human torso and snakes legs, sometimes with seven stars…It sometimes bears the Greek letters I A O (later transcribed as W) (iota, alpha, omega) for protection.
Notwithstanding, When used by some of the Masters of the Templars as a seal the emblem has the inscription SECRETVM TEMPLI, but as a seal it was used for stamping documents and not necessarily by a hidden elite. The emblem was used too widely in the Middle Ages to attract the attention of the Templar’s inquisitors and thereby incur a further charge of heresy.15
Not directly pertaining to Abraxas, but still carrying some resonance to it is a passage quoted as part of a series of essays by Rudolf Steiner. He covered some remarkable esoteric insights behind the evolution of Christianity in general, and the Templar order, in particular. Here he cites,
The cock, which is the symbol for both man’s higher and lower selves, ‘crows twice’ [Mark 4:30]. The cock crows for the first time when man descends [to earth] and materialises himself in physical substance; it crows for the second time when man rises again, when he has learnt to understand Christ, when the Water Carrier [John the Baptist] appears.20
The Sovran Cloth
Faith (2013), in her book, Glastonbury, the Templars, and the Sovran Cloth,7 lays out the idea that, because the wooden panel upon which is painted the Templecombe Head once had hinges, it might have been the lid of a vestment box. She hypothesises that some of the Templar confessions describe their prostration and kissing of an image consistent with the folded image on the Turin shroud.
He said that the head had four feet, two at the front part of the face and two at the back.” (i.e. front and reverse image of the cloth).1
The Templar ceremony would have involved folding the cloth so that just the head was visible.
In addition, somewhat akin to Veronica’s handkerchief, even the protective silk that held the shroud, if not actually bearing the image, would have carried something of the ‘etheric’ charge. Silk relics are recorded having being in the possession of some Templar preceptories.7
Faith’s hypothesis, after Ian Wilson (1978), is part of a contentious arena of speculation which, in this instance, draws upon Ordericus Vitalis’ (1130) chronicle to claim that the Mandylion of Edessa is the same object as the Turin shroud. Originally in possession of Joseph of Arimathea, the shroud travelled to Constantinople until, sometime around 1204, during or after the sacking of Constantinople, it fell into Templar hands.7
Even if the theory is questionable, considering the survival of such a relic against a northern temperate climate, through to its repeated unfolding and enfoldment in later Templar ritual, there might still be something of a spiritual resonance behind the proposition.
Again, R. Steiner cites, There was inwoven with their etheric bodies [people living in the first centuries following Golgotha], not Jesus’ own etheric body, but only a copy of the inborn original one of Jesus of Nazareth. In these centuries there were those who could possess such an etheric body, and who could thereby have a direct knowledge of Jesus of Nazareth, and also of the Christ. This was the reason also that the Christ picture became dissociated from external, historical, physical existence.19
Here again, Steiner is indicating an awakening in the etheric body unique to believers in the first centuries after Golgotha (place of the skull). When it faded out, around the 8th or 9th Centuries, Jesus of Nazareth became detached from this etheric memory of Palestine and awakened instead into the astral body of those receptive. This latter awakening is the light behind the Arthurian and Grail legends and, such Cistercian contemplatives of the likes of St. Bernard. The Franciscans were said to have been particularly awake in the sentient part of the astral body; the Dominicians, the Intellectual/Scholastic; and, Mystics such as Meister Eckhart, in the Consciousness part.
It remains to decipher what would be the spiritual effect of folding the Sovran cloth to hide the body?
For instance, during the trials of the Templars, often under torture, they were accused of, or actually confessed to, having spat on the cross and denied Christ.
Other Templars questioned after John of la Cassagne had seen, variously, an idol like a bearded head which was the figure of Baphomet, a figure called Yalla (a Saracen word), a black and white idol, and a wooden idol.1
The last Grand Master of the Order, Jacques de Molay (c.1240–March 1314) had confessed to being asked to deny Christ. He later revoked his confession because it had been made under torture.
Whether or not De Molay did or he didn’t, Steiner alludes to the symbol of the cockerel in respect to the apostle Peter’s three-fold denial of Christ. i.e. when we are asleep (asleep as in the kind of unconsciousness that we spend most of our waking lives) in the subtle bodies, we deny Christ. The threefold denial corresponds to being asleep in the astral (emotions), etheric (mind) and then physical bodies (will).
As Jonas (2012)15 points out, it is most difficult to decipher Steiner’s meaning behind this, since he approaches it from either the aspect of torture, whereby the spiritual principle is first misunderstood: when in delirium the principle subsequently mirrors itself as a demonic image, e.g. Baphomet. Conversely, it represents a more conscious denial of the cross, as a kind of initiation ceremony for the neophyte Templar. The purpose of this would be to penetrate behind the orthodox image of the crucified body, to awaken the spiritual Ego represented by the head.
Pope Pius IX (1846-78), in his Allocution of Pio Nono against the Freemasons, said that the Johannite pontiff Theoclete had handed the mantle of the tradition to the first Grand Master, Hugues de Payens, having installed him into the Mysteries.16
The question remains as to whom Hugues de Payens’ Johannine affiliation is likely to have been conferred? There is much written in alternative circles – Knight et al (2001)11 and Sinclair (1992)18 – concerning the Scottish St. Clair (Sinclair) connection from Hugues supposed marriage to Catherine, of the French branch of the St. Clair family. Hugues was indeed granted land for a Military Headquarters at Balantrodoch, probably by David I of Scotland. Unfortunately, concerning the land being a dowry of the Roslin St. Clairs, this area of speculation does remain contentious; other than the Scottish visit, Barber makes no mention of it.2 Leroy (1997) claims that local church cartularies dealing with the disposition of the Grand Master’s properties allude to a Elizabeth de Chappes as his wife in 1113.12
At any rate, the essential line, He must increase and I must decrease (John 3:30) is said to relate to baptism by John as a future Aquarian initiation.15 As such, the Templar consciously became Petrine now and denied the cross,20 in order to allow the Johannine stream to flow into the future.
This flowing through time is represented in the Vulgate The Quest of the Holy Grail (c.1225-30)6 by the legend of The Ship of Solomon. The three grail winners – Galahad, Perceval and Bors, under the guidance of Perceval’s sister, Dindrane – return the grail, along with the ‘sword of the strange straps,’ to the holy city of Sarras. The wife of King Solomon had the ship constructed: She incorporated into it three spindles – white, green and red – hewn from grown sprigs originally transplanted from the Tree of Life.6 There are, however, variants to the legend: one version relates that the sprigs were grown from three seeds [atma, buddhi and manas] planted by Seth from the Tree of Life.14
To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, until it was all leavened. (Luke 13:20–21)
A Question of the Grail
To illustrate further: in mythology the duel approach to the head was known and highlighted. In the latter part of Branwen Daughter of Llyr – the second branch of the Mabinogion – the severed head of Bran protected the contingency of seven (eight including Branwen), as long as the door “that looks towards Aber Henvelen, and towards Cornwall” was kept closed i.e. while they were awake. Then Heilyn the son of Gwynn – the “Judas” of the group – opened the door out of curiosity, or simply because they had been told not to do so (when literally falling asleep the door to the unconscious opens and we dream):
“One day said Heilyn the son of Gwynn, “Evil betide me, if I do not open the door to know if that is true which is said concerning it [the head of Bendigeid Vran].”
So he opened the door and looked towards Cornwall and Aber Henvelen. And when they had looked, they were as conscious of all the evils they had ever sustained, and of all the friends and companions they had lost, and of all the misery that had befallen them, as if all had happened in that very spot; and especially of the fate of their lord.”9
The consequences of falling asleep in the subtle bodies is further emphasised again in the Quest del Saint Graal. Here the passage relates directly to an admonishment by a Grail Maiden. It is on account of the Knight’s failure to ask whom is served by the Grail.
My head was right seemly garnished of hair plaited in rich tresses of gold at such time as the knight came to the hostel of the rich King Fisherman, but I became bald for that he made not the demand, nor never again shall I have my hair until such time as a knight shall go thither that shall ask the question better than did he, or the knight that shall achieve the Graal.6
To ask the grail question in full consciousness, it might be necessary to first realise what is behind the counter image of the head. i.e. What is missing from view, viz. the limbic system that reveals the subtle body as a whole, with its network of fine nadis; by extension, the system of energy nodes on the body of Natura with their interconnecting landscape leys.
The Black Virgin
Although circumstantial, it may be of interest to note some passages from Begg (1985). In addition to the legend that St. Bernard, while a boy, received three drops of milk from the Black Virgin of Châtillon, he went on to give extensive sermons on the theme of the Song of Songs. Accordingly, the epithalamion of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, whose versicle is ‘I am black, but I am beautiful, O ye daughters of Jersulalem,’ is the recurring refrain of the Black Virgin cult.2 Begg then surmises that Bernard cherished a theocratic vision of a new social order based on three pillars of the Benedictines, Cistercians and Templars, under a King of Kings.3
Conversely, the divine feminine or Sophianic current of ‘Our Lady from Under the Earth’ (Notre-Dame-de-Sous-Terre), was on an altar inscribed with the dative: Virgini pariturae (the maiden who will give birth); this druidic undercurrent should transform to the nominative: Virgo Partitura (the Virgin has now given birth).3
Considering the once venerated natural spring beneath Chartres crypt, this brings to mind the telluric leitmotif continued by Knapp (1926): She sees in the ‘water spirit’ Mélusine, who imprisoned her father within a mountain, something akin to both the mark of Cain and the Sophianic impulse behind the Gothic constructions of the Middle Ages.
Knapp continues: Since their construction of Solomon’s Temple (1000 B.C.E.) in Jerusalem, they [Masons] knew, according to the mystic Hermes Trismegistus (or the Thrice Great), that what existed beneath the ground also pointed toward heavenly spheres. Like the heavenly Jerusalem of the New Testament, referred to as “the mother of us all:” (Gal. 4:26). Mélusine’s fortified cities were built to contain the protecting and nurturing aspects of the archetypal Mother within them.10
It is so far suggested that St. Bernard, as per the Song of Songs, revered the Black Madonna; another source shows him equally disparaging of Mélusine: He predicted of Henry II that, De diabolo venit et ad diabolum ibid (From the devil he came, and to the devil he will go).
Bloy (1978) writes about the energy leys dowsed around the Templar preceptory of Shipley, Sussex, and also the Templar Church at Temple Claud.
They are in groups of 49 and are based on circles, squares, ellipses and spirals.4
Brady (2017) – referencing an article in Antiquaries Journal (1950) by Rev. Hugh Benson, concerning medieval church alignments – highlights further archaeo-astronomical evidence that Cistercian Abbeys in Wales were aligned in a geomantic fashion to solar rising points on the land. Particularly emphasised are the days that mark the Annunciation (25th March), Assumption (15th August) and Nativity (8th September) of the Virgin.5
Whether or not these Cistercian Abbey alignments were a result of the Templar’s geomantic knowledge or influence is not known. Moreover, Evelyn Lord writes that archaeological excavations reveal preceptories, in the British Isles at least, being modelled upon the Cistercian grange.
In addition, One characteristic of Templar architecture was the church with a round nave, presumed to have been modelled on Solomon’s Temple. This does not mean that all Templar churches had round naves, or that all churches with round naves once belonged to the Templars.13
In any case, the ‘round nave,’ was an architectural feature at least until the Romanesque period, whereafter they succumbed to new architectural fashions and were squared off.13
In summary, the essay highlights an apparently incongruent relationship between disparate spiritual factors and recorded historical evidence, as might pertain to the Order of Knight Templars.
Notwithstanding, my own confirmation of a living spiritual impulse behind the Knight Templars occurred under the midday Sun around St. John’s day. It was while taking a rest by the fine Norman style arch of the Parish church at Kirkliston (once a Templar preceptory) near to my present abode, in Scotland. An inner impression formed of a group of Knights forming a circle until, from within the land at the centre, a fountain of water burst forth. Within the resulting spring was the light and spirit of Christ. If any telepathic communion was possible it was only to learn of what they knew. Their return impression was that i’d be very surprised to learn of the knowledge they held but that, here and now, it was the Christic phenomenon that was paramount and the arcane knowledge, only incidental.
- Barber, Malcolm, (2006) The Trial of the Templars, Cambridge University Press (29th March, 2012)
- Barber, Malcolm, (1994) The New Knighthood: A History of the Order of the Temple, Cambridge University Press (29th March, 2012)
- Begg, Ean, (1985) The Cult of the Black Virgin, Deep Books, Revised ed. (1 July 2007)
- Bloy, Colin H., Telluric Lines, Journal of Geomancy vol. 3 no. 1st October 1978
- Brady, Bernadette, et al, The Solar Discourse of the Welsh Cistercians, University of Wales Trinity Saint David (14th May, 2017) (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ctykeyZOaR4)
- Comfort, W. W. The Quest Of The Holy Grail Paperback, Kessinger Publishing Co. (17th Jun. 2004)
- Faith, Juliet, Glastonbury, the Templars, and the Sovran Cloth: A New Perspective on the Grail Legends, The History Press (1st May 2013)
- Firth, Lori, BA History (BA Hons), A Comparison of the Cistercian and Knights Templar Orders, And the Personal Influence of Bernard of Clairvaux, being a Thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the Degree of MA Historical Studies in the Department of History in the University of Hull, (September, 2012)
- Guest, Lady Charlotte, The Mabinogion, (1902), Blurb (22nd May 2019)
- Knapp, Bettina, L., (1926) French Fairy Tales: A Jungian Approach, State University of New York Press, Albany (2003)
- Knight, Christopher & Lomas, Robert, The Second Messiah: Templars, the Turin Shroud and the Great Secret of Freemasonry, Fair Winds Press, 2001
- Leroy, Thierry, Hugues de Payns, chevalier champenois, fondateur de l’ordre des templiers (Troyes: edition de la Maison Boulanger, 1997)
- Lord, Evelyn, The Knights Templar in Britain, Routledge (21st Oct. 2004)
- Hopkins, Stephen C.E. Legend of the Holy Rood Tree, e-Clavis: Christian Apocrypha. (http://www.nasscal.com/e-clavis-christian-apocrypha/legend-of-the-holy-rood-tree/). Created August, 2018. Most recent update June, 2020.
- Jonas, Margaret, The Templar Spirit: The Esoteric Inspiration, Rituals, and Beliefs of the Knights Templar, Temple Lodge Pub (January, 2012)
- Douglas, J. Kenyon (edited by), Forbidden Religion: Suppressed Heresies of the West, Bear & Company; Illustrated Edition (22nd Sept., 2006)
- Mathers, S. L. MacGregor, The Kabbalah Unveiled, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (9th Sept., 2017)
- Sinclair, Andrew, The Sword and the Grail: The Story of the Grail, the Templars and the True Discovery of America (New York: Crown Publishers, 1992)
- Steiner, Rudolf, Christianity in the Evolution of Mankind: Leading Individualities and Avatar-Beings, GA109 (Berlin, 15th February, 1909)
- Steiner, Rudolf, The Temple Legend, GA093(Berlin, 22nd May 1905)
- Pastoureau, Michel, Traité d’Héraldique, (Paris, 1979).
- Head of Christ, oak panel, 141×74 cm, from Templecombe, a former Templar village, Somerset, England, 13th-15th century. (gettyimages.com.au)
- Baldwin II ceeding the location of the Temple of Salomon to Hugues de Payns and Gaudefroy de Saint-Homer. The fourth person is Warmund, Patriarch of Jerusalem. (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Baldwin_II_ceeding_the_Temple_of_Salomon_to_Hugues_de_Payens_and_Gaudefroy_de_Saint-Homer.jpg)