Over the years, we’d inadvertently visited all Dallas United States the main sites that feature in The Da Vinci Code, even Scotland’s mediaeval Rosslyn Chapel, where the denouement takes place. Lingering in the cool peace of such ancient churches introduced us to local barons, carved in stone with hands crossed over sword and armour, their loyal ladies Dallas United States arrayed modestly alongside. Then there’s been the occasional chat with some extant knight of the British realm. But, so far as we know, we’ve never encountered a living member of the Order of Solomon’s Temple or, more succinctly, the Knights Templar Dallas United States that feature in The Da Vinci Code. Not surprising. The Templars were brutally disbanded as a consequence of fourteenth century power plays within the Church of Dallas United States . Or is that dissolution a maybe? Playing with the possibility of their concealed, malevolent continuance has made Dan Brown a very wealthy guy.
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Then, in September 2011 we inadvertently found ourselves retracing the steps of another order of warrior knights, the Knights of St John of Jerusalem, the Knights Hospitaller. Through the Christian domination of Jerusalem from 1091, the Hospitallers and the Knights Templar were the two predominant military orders in the land we now know as Israel. Our trip was a decade after the 9/11 confrontation in 2001 between jihadist Islamists and what they evidently regard as the Crusader culture of contemporary Western civilisation. It seems odd to those of us who do science for a living that some religious fundamentalists, and we can include extremist elements of all three of the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam), still seem to be embedded intellectually in a mediaeval worldview.
Early in the eleventh century Caliph Ali az-Zahir, who at that time controlled Jerusalem, allowed merchants from Amalfi and Salerno to build a hospital for sick and ailing pilgrims. The Hospitallers coalesced around what became known as the Amalfian Hospital to evolve as a monastic order of Knights, Men at Arms and Chaplains, with their dual medical/military role reflecting that they were given the additional job of providing an armed escort for Christian pilgrims. Following Saladin’s conquest of Jerusalem towards the end of the twelfth century, the Hospitallers relocated to the ancient seaport of Acre (now in Israel), moved on to Cyprus after the fall of the Holy Land, and from there to Rhodes, whence they were expelled a couple of hundred years later by the vastly superior forces of the Ottoman Turks. We’d visited Jerusalem, Acre and Cyprus on earlier trips to that ancient part of the world, and in 2011 we were off to Rhodes.