Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Templar Legends in Poland, part 2

Today about Templars who are remembered as good or neutral, not as crusaders only.

One type of legend talks about a wounded Templar. As an example: the tale  about a Knight Templar who was wounded, and not able to take part in a crusade to the Holy Land. Hi restored his own health after some time, as he was very knowledgeable about medicinal herbs. He lived as a hermit on an island on the lake, with only a white raven and a white dove as his companions. He worked as a healer, helping greatly the local population, giving them potions and herbs. When he was walking in search of medicinal plants, the white raven and the withe dove where always with him. They even where his  helpers, did their part whispering into his ear to diagnosed illnesses. This legend fits very much the category of legends about hermit Christian healers, with some supernatural mixed in. Maybe there was really a Templar who was very skilled at healing living a secluded life, and the collective memory about this particular person got clustered with the Hermit-type of legend, or the Wounded-Healer- type of legend.

Chant of Templars Pacem Domine

Another story is about a Templar as a victim. After a battle a wounded Templar was lying on the battle field, suffering terribly, his death was approaching slowly. One man came,  looked at the suffering Templar, and didn't help him at all, as what he set his greedy eyes on Templar's armor. The man was just so tempted to get the armor that he was staying close, waiting for the Templar to die. After the knight died, and his body wasn't even cold, the man took the armor and tried it on. It fitted! He was so happy! His happiness was not of the long living kind, and he wasn't living long either. After a while, when Templar's corpse was still warm, the armor started to burn and squeeze his body, and he tried to take it off quickly but he couldn't. He died in the stolen armor. Often among the hills there appear the ghost of the Templar and the ghost of the man who stole the armor, and they fight.

This legend is a moral tale for the purpose of teaching about the social mores, about the virtue of being a good Samaritan. But mostly it served in the reinforcing the taboo against the desecration of dead bodies. All dead people were supposed to get a decent burial; it was expected from Christians to fulfill such last duty. Taking something from a dead person very personal belongings was part of desecrating the corpse. In folk mentality if someone trespassed taboo, this person died.

Another story about the Knights Templars is that a fleet of Templar's ships came from the Baltic Sea, at the times of the Templars' troubles in France. Those ships were entering the Vistula River and were going upward the stream, and lowered their anchors at a specific town. There is also French legend about the fleet of Templar ships, carrying the Templar treasure, leaving the port of Marseilles when the king who was heavily in debt with them started to persecute them. There are of course also Polish legends about the treasure. Some are also very detailed, mentioning names of people and places, starting with: "When the king of Franks, le Bel heard that Templars escaped with their treasure to the town such-and-such, he did send some of his spies and knights to get it.” And so on, and so on. Actually the name of Phillip IV, who persecuted Templars, was in French Phillip le Bel. Are the accurate historical names inserted it the legends the proof of the veracity of the legend itself? Not necessarily. The treasure's story next time.

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.