Chapter Two

The Mystery of the Lost Templar Knight


I now return to that moment when I sat again at my own desk, heart beating, poring over the yellowing paper.
At first I used a magnifying glass to look for any faint markings which I might have missed in the dingy archive in France. But there was nothing apart from the dark bloodstains. Next, I became more drastic. I held a blow-dryer to the blank space, moving it rapidly across the page to avoid scorching, hardly daring to breathe. Nothing appeared, but the paper became scorched and brittle as a dead leaf. I was about to dampen the sheet to try and reverse this effect, but thought better of it, and rushed off to the library. I got out the most technical books on alchemy I could find, and rushed back home. I devoured the books, looking for a technique that might have been used at that time for the invisible writing I was sure was on the letter. I learned that steganography (from the Greek ‘covered or hidden writing’) is the art of hiding the presence of a message, which may or may not itself be encrypted. The challenge is always, how does one hide it in such a way as to be easily enough revealed by the right method, but concealed from all other methods? I learned that invisible inks, being wet, often leave a tiny disturbance in the fibres of the paper, or tiny crystals, or make it shinier, so that viewed obliquely in strong light or under a magnifying glass the writing can possibly be discerned – unless the paper is dampened and dried again before writing. And heat will reveal any inks made from organic substances, by carbonising. So, I knew it was not an organic ink, having nearly incinerated the paper! I read on. ‘Sometimes, if there was nothing else available, the sender of the message would use water only…usually there would be some word in the ‘cover text’ to alert the recipient as to the method used. For example, “cabbage” would indicate the use of vinegar, which being acidic turns red cabbage-water blue…’ I glanced back at the letter. Nothing about cabbages…but the last sentence leapt out at me:


Farewell from across the water

‘That’s it!’ I cried. I went back to the book, and read, ‘The recipient would then use iodine fumes to reveal the tiny disturbance in the fibres. The disadvantage of this method was that if the paper became wet before being received, the message would be lost.’ I felt sick – I had so nearly dampened the letter after scorching it! I looked carefully for any sign of disturbed fibres – nothing. I would have to try iodine. ‘But did they even have iodine in those days?’ I wondered as I dashed off to the chemist’s. Then I remembered, the Templars were up on Alchemy, and may well have known of it.
Back at my ad hoc laboratory, I heated some crystals of iodine in the oven, put the letter in, and reeled back as the purple, choking fumes billowed out. I opened all the windows (a neighbour putting out her washing stared up disapprovingly; I waved. ‘Old battle-axe!’ I muttered, and tried unsuccessfully not to grimace). Turning off the oven, I pulled the letter out with serving tongs and put it on the kitchen table.
‘Eureka!’ I cried. There was new writing, in brown iodine, where all had been blank. It was not in code, but very faint, as the background was scorched, thanks to my earlier efforts. I read it greedily, struggling a little with the archaic French.


Dear reader: If you be my mother or a Friend, read on, and the blessing of our Lady be upon you. If Foe, read no further, or be accursed by Her.

‘It’s all right, I am a friend – I hope!’ I muttered, not liking the idea of being cursed by a dead woman...


Dear Mother, I write this as a witness in case our mission fails:
My Beloved spoke of a strange silver medallion found in that hoard which remains secret.

‘That will be the treasure they found under the Temple!’ I thought, and feverishly read on.


It was locked in a small wooden casket along with a map marking the location of a magical place within a grove of giant trees. An inscription in Hebrew was written on the map:

Where is the door to the Garden of Aeden?
What is the way to the Tree?
Sail south to a land where the stars are strange
Then you must use the Key.

One of the founding brothers, Gondemare, late in life, secretly set sail on a ship named the Dove, in search of that unknown southern land, taking with him the map and the medallion. Gondemare’s ship never returned. We mean to follow after him, for my beloved has now a copy of that map. I will draw it for you…

But there the writing stopped. There was a short scrawl which may have been the beginning of the map, but it trailed off. I imagined the terror which had interrupted that urgent message, and shook my head, tears forming in my eyes. I screwed up my eyes, and grimaced until my head began to hurt. But I could not help myself; I kept thinking. What, I wondered, was this ‘key?’ Was it perhaps the medallion? And how did the ancient writer of the poem know of a southern land so far south that the ‘stars are strange’? I began to hope and dream that the medallion could be from an earlier, as-yet unknown civilisation, perhaps even (via Sheba or Egypt) the mythical Atlantis. I conceived a strangely urgent desire to go to that southern land, wherever it was – in spite of the fact that I fear travel to strange places (France, strangely, was an exception to this phobia). I looked up the atlas, to check what lands are at the bottom of the globe. There were not many choices. It had to be Antarctica, or Australia, or New Zealand. Even then, I had a strange sense of déjà vu, a premonition that the mystery of the past would be unlocked there. Little did I know what a strange future would also unfold in that place...

Meanwhile I was, in a sense, no further ahead. As I sat in a daze at the kitchen table, waiting for the kettle (metal, not plastic – what is this modern faith in the safety of chemically concocted materials?) to boil for a much-needed cup of tea, sunlight streamed in the window and illuminated the letter. Just as the book said, the iodine began to evaporate, and the blank area slowly returned to its previous state. I felt a strange sense of desolation, as if a window on the past had been shut in my face. Then emotion overcame me, and I wept for the tragedy of those times, and the couple who never lived to set sail and follow Gondemare, and the grieving mother who never received the letter.
When I finally got over my sadness and disappointment, with the help of tea and toast, I noticed that the grimacing had gone, and I felt more peaceful than I had for a long while. I now turned once more to the known (or alleged) early history of the Templars.
After their stupendous find beneath the Temple, the Knights Templar brought back the rest of the treasure, including (so the popular non-orthodox account goes) the lost Ark of the Covenant and the Tables of Testimony, and with the knowledge of Sacred geometry which they learned therein, built the great Notre Dame cathedrals: Reims, Amiens, Paris, Evereux, Bayeux – and Chartres. These contained many secrets, it is said, of geometry and the laws of light and sound. And in Chartres was a circular pavement Labyrinth on the floor beneath the great rose window. The pattern of this Labyrinth is said to have healing virtues when walked in meditation, tracing the winding path of the soul to the mystic Centre, or Womb, then back out into the World, transformed – reborn, as it were.
The cathedral of Notre Dame de Chartres was built over the site of the Grotte des Druides, dedicated to the Mother Goddess, a place of pilgrimage for thousands of years. There, it is claimed, the telluric earth currents or ley lines are most powerful, opening the site to other dimensions.
It was to Chartres, I felt, that the trail of the Knights Templar was now leading me. Another trip to France followed – much to my father’s concern, when he heard of it. He knew that something was happening to me; the pace and intensity of my quest was increasing, and he expressed grave doubts at the direction I was taking. ‘Given your past, it isn’t wise,’ he said, ‘and your mother agrees.’
But at Chartres I was rewarded with an exciting new lead. I found, and took rubbings from, some little-known stone carvings and inscriptions in the Crypt, and elsewhere in the cathedral. I was about to pack up when, underneath the French and Latin names of more familiar ancient pilgrimage sites in France, I noticed some words in English, scratched faintly, as if hastily added to the list. I strained to make out the letters:


In Iffley by Isis lies the star key

Next to these words was a roughly scratched circle with a small five-pointed star in the centre. I was about to dismiss the thing as the raving of some neo-pagan nutter – the pentacle made me nervous, even as a nominal Anglican, because of the association with paganism and even Satanism. (I did not then know what this once sacred symbol had meant before it was ‘demonised’ by the Church). But I could not dismiss the message. I knew of a church called Iffley, in Oxfordshire not too far from my home, near the river Isis, and the mention of a Key sent a thrill down my back. Could this be the Key in my Templar letter? What did the pentacle mean, if anything, and what did an English church, Iffley, have to do with Chartres? Also, who had left this message – if it was any more than graffiti written by some eccentric – or satanic – English tourist?
Once more back in Oxford, I collapsed into the well-padded oak swivel-chair I loved, and pulled it up to my old oak desk, the comforting centre of my daily life. I reached out and switched on the gramophone. The scratchy old LP which had been playing when I first perused the stolen letter began to revolve, filling the little room with uplifting music (I subscribe to a theory that the analogue sound from a record has better effects on the mind than ‘digital’ sound, and notice that Gregorian chants, in particular, have a very soothing effect on frayed modern nerves). There was one more thing I needed. I jumped up, got a cup of tea and returned to my desk. There had been many questions raised by my research in Chartres, and I had almost forgotten the graffiti mentioning Iffley – I had made up my mind it was nothing but a silly, modern scrawl. Now, on impulse, I pushed aside the manuscripts of the Templars I had been reading, and going to my crowded bookcase which threatened to spill its piled-up contents onto the floor – where further books, oversized or awaiting sorting, lay in piles. I carefully pulled out an old volume on the churches and cathedrals of Europe. Perhaps, a credulous part of me whispered, against my better judgement, there was something recorded there that would indeed confirm a link between Chartres and Iffley?
The short article on Iffley Church contained nothing directly of help, but I read with interest that the sacred yew tree there greatly predates the church itself. As I went to put the book away and return to my ‘serious’ work, I suddenly thought, ‘Perhaps the link between Chartres and Iffley is much older than the churches and goes back to the pagan sites?’ Grimacing with nervous tension and guilt at the ‘side-tracking,’ I dived back into the quest.
At first there was nothing of relevance, though it absorbed and diverted me for an hour or more, while my suppressed guilt threatened to turn into another headache. I got another cup of tea, and began to feel better. ‘After all,’ I reasoned with my guilty academic conscience, ‘it’s my life and my research. If I find nothing, be it upon my head.’ More false leads and fascinating red herrings followed. Then, in an appendix on the history of the pagan sites the churches were built upon, I read about the sacred yews, trees of Life (and also of Death if one were silly enough to eat their leaves), which were often found at these sites. As an aside, the writer included as an illustration of the ‘uncanny’ reputation of the yew, a rather cryptic account of a knight, claiming to be a Templar but not wearing the Templar uniform, who simply appeared one day ‘under the haunted yew tree’ in a small village churchyard! This knight was ‘put to the question’ (a euphemism, I am afraid, for torture) by the local authorities as a suspected worker of black magic. He refused to speak except to say that he had seen ‘Our Lady and the holy Tree of Life in Eden,’ and was released (possibly with the intervention of the Templar Order), being deemed a madman, but not a heretic.
The tale ended there, and did not name the church. But I quickly checked the various possible sites in Oxfordshire (those that had ancient yew trees), and with a sense of impending discovery, I decided the best candidate was the yew at none other than Iffley Church. Located not twenty miles from where I lived, it was the very church mentioned in the scrawled inscription at Chartres, a cathedral which is full of Templar influences!
I resolved to cycle to Iffley Church the next day, a Saturday, straight after marking some undergraduate essays on the influence of the Cistercians on the Gothic movement. My PhD supervisor had asked me to see him on Monday, and given my recent unbudgeted trips to France ‘chasing Templar myths,’ I decided I had better at least get up to date with my marking.
The essays took a long time to get around to, and longer to mark, but finally I was finished. I decided to set off that day, even though it would mean staying overnight at an inn. I packed a few things for taking rubbings, a notebook and a photocopy of the Templar letter, plus the rubbings from Chartres, and also a few fossicking tools, and a crowbar, just in case. The sun was low and a chill was in the air as I turned my old ten-speed onto the road that led to Iffley – and the glorious prospect of new discoveries. Also, I must admit, the thought of vindicating my unorthodox opinions, and thereby proving my father wrong about the Templars and the wisdom of my quest, added spice to my elation.
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O Lady of Aeden, where will it end?