Sunday, April 22, 2012

Templar Legends in Poland, part 1

   The Knights Templars' history can induce flights of imagination, and no wonder: given the rise to power, their wealth and tragic dismiss of this chivalric order in France. From the legends someone can have an impression that not many Templars stayed alive after the imprisonment, torture, and killing of some of the knights in France.

 Templar chant Salve Regina

However, Templars were present in other countries of Europe, and when the order got dissolved; they joined the ranks of the other chivalric orders, as for ex. Johannites, or the Teutonic Knights. After the land ownership was transferred to others, some Templars still were allowed to stay. French king's power didn't reach to other parts of Europe. But the power of the Pope who was pressed by the king did. The puppet pope decided to dissolve the order, and told Templars to change alliances. His word was taken seriously. However, the Vinci Code-style Templar pogroms across all Europe just didn't happen.

When we look closer at some Polish legends, we find a story where a Templar commander was killed by the burghers of a specific town.  There is a stone cross on the place of the alleged murder. I didn’t see the cross, if it is stone it may be so called “penitent cross” put often on a place of crime. Why the people killed the Templar? Most likely abusive conduct of the Templar in question, nothing to do with the events in France. The Knight Templars were crusaders after all, and similar to other crusaders in Poland they not always were treating the locals gently.

 Description in Polish language of someone who is nasty and arrogant as  "haughty like a Templar" may point to not-so-mysterious and holly direction. The knights are the stuff of legends and mystery, but also they took parts in rides against the pagan population. The massacres of civilian populations were seen by the crusaders of any kind as normal behavior towards the non-Christians. Teutonic Knights, the other crusaders in situ, also complained that the pagans in the region were very rebellious and rotten: they didn't want to submit to "proper" power. There were of course uprisings by pagan populations and by the Christians alike. And Templars, like any other crusading orders, got also great latifundia donated to them by the Polish dukes, with local population included.

One legend, written down nicely by Mr. Gralinski, relates to Templars’ memory when they are seen as murderous crusaders. Not painting a pretty picture of the knights. This legend is alive in the village Dankow. Centuries ago Dankow was a city on its own right, but  fires reduced it to today’s simple village with two  beautiful lakes, ruins of the castle fortification,  and decaying remnants of a manor house. Archeologist are conducting digs right now, trying to find what is left from one of the most powerful castle in the Brandenburg March. Also archeologists are diving, looking for ev. remnants of the Medieval pagan fort (Slavic Wends?)  whom the legends also includes. So far there seem to be some parts of armors and weapons on the bottom of the lake.
The legend talks about a great battle between the Knights Templars and the pagans. The pagan warriors lost the battle and were all killed, no prisoners were taken. Only the women and children remained. In addition some material goods and cattle were in the fort, as spoils of war. The pope’s legate was there, among the victorious knights, and the Templar commander Friedrich von Alvensleben (commander in years 1302-1305). Von Alvensleben was initially proposing that the population which was still alive was to be treated relatively gently, in order not to cause hatred toward Christianity, which could lead to future additional uprisings.

 All invaders went to the fortress, and the daughter of the slain chief was now the ruler there. She met the victors, and a group of beautiful young women stood behind her, all festively dressed. The female new chief tried to negotiate with the invaders addressing Friedrich von Alvensleben: "Please, let after the times of tears be times of joy and peace, let be here a better future. As an act of forgiveness, and as a peace offering, let the music play, and come ye knights, and dance with those women." This peace offering was very upsetting to the papal legate. He slurred some nasty insults toward the women accusing them of pagan seduction tricks, and gave a hand signal toward the Templars, ordering them to kill off all women and children. The massacre started, and amidst the horrible screams of the victims the daughter of the pagan chieftain cursed the knights and the legate, and high water rose from the lake and swallowed all which was left from the fort, and all the women and children, and all cattle. Since then every year during the evening of the Summer Solstice  from the lake appears a group of young and beautiful women, dressed festively, and they sing  trying to lure any young men do dance.