The Birth of a Templar Nation

How the Knights Templar Created Europe’s First Nation-State and a Refuge for the Grail

On Easter Sunday 1118, Baudoin de Bourcq was chosen as the new king of Jerusalem. Barely had he gotten used to his newly appointed seat when he received a visit from Hugues de Payen and Godefroi de Saint-Omer, as though the two intrepid knights were presenting credentials. They may have received a less enthusiastic reception than from his predecessor, Godefroi de Bouillon, for Baudoin II was in desperate need of warrior knights above spiritual warriors. Nevertheless, whatever Hugues and Godefroi pitched the new king it sold him, and shortly after, a close-knit group of knights moved into premises on Temple Mount to become officially known as the Knights Templar.

But what if it could be shown that, seven years earlier, the Templars were already a formal organization and materially active in another land two thousand miles to the west and, through direct intervention, this became their greatest and least-known accomplishment—the creation of Europe’s first independent nation-state?

It’s the close of the eleventh century. Europe is a hodge-podge of counties, duchies, and kingdoms. There is no France, no Spain; the German states are largely under the tutelage of the Holy Roman Empire. Around 1083, two cousins from the House of Burgundy—the noble knight Henri and his distant but far more ambitious cousin, Raimond—rode into northern Iberia from Dijon at the request of Alfonso VI, king of Castilla e León, Galicia e Portucale. Alfonso’s instruction to the knights was straightforward: recapture the parts of Galicia and Portucale that had been stolen by the Moors, which the two would do admirably, both Burgundians earning a great reputation for services rendered over the course of eight years by re-conquering territory south to the river Tejo, including the city of Lisbon.

As a token of appreciation, Henri—descendent of the Frankish kings in the male line, son of Duke Henri of Burgundy—received the hand in marriage of Alfonso’s illegitimate daughter Dona Tareja, along with a dowry of lands in Castilla.

News of the impending First Crusade soon reached Affonso, but with the king too occupied with his own campaign at home, he asked his new son-in-law to sail in his stead. In return, Henri was granted full governorship of the Atlantic port city of Porto Cale and its surrounding territory—the small county of Portucale—whereupon Henri changed his name in Portuguese to Count Dom Henrique.

Little did Dom Henrique know that his decision to sail to Palestine would mark a pivotal moment in the history of his newly acquired land, for the people he’d meet in Jerusalem would one day shape the destiny of his territory.

Dom Henrique set sail to Genoa on the north Italian coast, joined forces with one of the Crusader armies, then continued with the fleet to the ancient port of Jaffa, disembarking 33 miles to the west of Jerusalem. His timing coincided with the arrival of the Crusading army, dusty from months of laborious march through the Levant. Count Dom Henrique’s adventure is rarely acknowledged in history, and yet a chronicler of the Cistercian Order asserts his travels. The Cistercian monks were consummate scribblers, and in one account they state that whilst in Palestine, Dom Henrique “venerated the Sacred Places,” and in return for his faithful assistance, a grateful king of Jerusalem—Godefroi de Bouillon—gave him custody of various holy relics, including the cloak of Mary Magdalene. A later account by a member of the Templar Order goes so far as to state that Dom Henrique “was known by Pope Urban II who named him as one of the twelve leaders of that sacred expedition.”

Dom Henrique made a second voyage to Jerusalem in 1103. This time it coincided with the arrival of two proto-Templars: Hugues de Payns and Count Hugh de Champagne. Originating from the same Duchy, it is likely that both Hugues and Dom Henrique got to know each other well over the next three years, especially as both men shared the vision of a temporal new kingdom accountable only to God.

With Dom Henrique was another man of French parentage, Pedro Arnaldo da Rocha, born in Santarem (in what is today Portugal), whose family, the la Roche, were supporters of the burgeoning Cistercian Order. In time, the abbot of this order, Bernard de Clairvaux, would become the Templars’ main benefactor.

Young Arnaldo’s presence in Jerusalem was opportune, arriving as he did shortly after Godefroi de Bouillon installed members of the secretive Ordre de Sion in a rebuilt abbey on its namesake hill. To say he made a favorable impression on the monks is an understatement, because by 1116, Pedro Arnaldo resurfaces as a full member of the Ordre, his signature inscribed on an original document from the Abbey de Notre Dame du Mont de Sion, in which he is addressed in Latin as Prior Petrus Arnaldus.

Such a position imbued Pedro Arnaldo with immense political leverage. The abbey had established close ties with the knights and monks in the nearby church of the Holy Sepulcher right from the time both fraternities were installed by Godefroi de Bouillon. It therefore afforded the prior direct access to two individuals who’d been living there—Hugues de Payns and Godefroi de Saint-Omer, the nucleus of the Order of the Temple. That relationship was revealed on July 19, 1116, when a document signed by both Prior Arnaldus and Hugues de Payns declares “good relations are assured between the two Orders.”

In the relationship between the Order of the Temple, the House of Burgundy, the Ordre de Sion and the incipient Portuguese kingdom, Arnoldo da Rocha would prove to be the lynchpin. He was Portuguese by birth, his friendship with Count Dom Henrique granted him favor within the Portuguese court, and through his family’s status, connections with the nobles and ecclesiasts in and around the Portuguese city of Braga, many of whom were of Burgundian heritage.

But Portuguese chroniclers give Prior Arnaldo even more credit. They cite him as a key founder of the Knights Templar in the county of Portugale, if not one of the original Templars in Jerusalem: “Arnaldo da Rocha, who was a Templar knight, was one of the first nine originators of this illustrious Order of the Temple in Jerusalem,” wrote the historian Alexandre Ferreira in 1735, quoting a seventeenth century source, Manuel de Faria e Sousa. And Sousa would have been in an excellent position to state the facts, for not only did he study original source material in Braga, he was himself a Templar knight.

Prior Arnaldo da Rocha as one of the original Templars is both provocative and explosive, because it brings into sharp focus an unsettling proposition: were there really only nine original Templar knights? Or was this number merely a talisman, the kind of flourish employed by secret societies throughout that period? We may never know the truth for certain; however, an esteemed chronicler of the seventeenth century, the monk Bernardo de Brito categorically states in the Cistercian chronicles that the original Templars consisted of “Hugues and Godefroi and nine other knights,” raising the original core group of proto-Templars to eleven.

Meanwhile, Count Dom Henrique passed away in his adopted homeland of Portucale in 1114. Back in Jerusalem, the Order of the Temple was still in its embryonic stage, yet accounts claim the Templars by this time were already present in Portugale: “After D. Affonso VI married his daughter to Count Dom Henrique, they [the Templars] always came to his aid, and did not stop doing so even after the death of his son.” An independent German source also states categorically that the proto-Templars forged a working relationship with Count Dom Henrique: “The acquisition of an important property, such as that of the Castle of Souré, which was given to them [the Order of the Temple] by Count Henrique in 1111 proves that these knights had already rendered some services and that he was convinced of their usefulness.” Such a donation places the proto-Templars firmly in the county of Portugale a full seven years before their official establishment on Temple Mount.

The donation of Souré gave the proto-Templars a foothold in Portugale. But shortly before he passed away Dom Henrique signed another document providing them with a second property, a residence in the city of Braga. The property is described as being ‘beside a Templar hospital,’ which would be the hospital for the poor founded by Archbishop Payo Mendes of Braga, “annexed to the main houses he had earlier donated to the Templars in the hermitage.” These acts of goodwill from the Archbishop seem unusual until one discovers Payo Mendes’ second—and secret—title was Prior of the Knights Hospitaller, the equivalent to Templar Grand Master.

The Templars continued to amass properties in and around Braga, and inevitably the city became their headquarters. As one Templar Master asserted: “De Domo Templi, quest est in Bracharensi Civitate,” translated as: “the home of the Temple, which is in the city of Braga.” The rate at which they were receiving properties on Portuguese soil far eclipsed donations given to the Order elsewhere in Europe, and particularly so around the year 1126.

In the early part of that year the Templars grew noticeably active on Temple Mount; several knights returned to Europe, as evidenced by the appearance at the Cistercian abbey in Clairvaux of the Templars André de Montbard and Brother Gondemare, the latter being of Portuguese origin. But they were by no means the only knights stirred into action by Hugues de Payns. In May 1125, the Templar Grand Master co-signed a document in which he and Prior Arnaldo of the Ordre de Sion once more established good relations between their respective brotherhoods, after which the prior also becomes noticeably absent from Mount Sion. Writing of this, the chronicler Lucas de Santa Catarina states how “the Grand Master soon dispatched several knights with powers to establish the Portuguese crown. Four of the Knights were Dom Guilherme, who supervised the others, Dom Hugo Martiniense, Dom Gualdino Paes, and Dom Pedro Arnaldo. They had the title and the power of Procurators of the Temple, which they exercised in due course, as many writers agree, while the Order sought to establish a home and proceed as planned.” Joining them on the voyage to Portugale was a fifth Templar Procurator, Raimund Bernard.

No doubt Brother Gondemare and André de Montbard shared this explosive piece of news with Bernard de Clairvaux in his abbey in Champagne. And yet, to the Cistercian abbot, such a daring move would not have come as a surprise. Bernard may also have been contemplating the idea of establishing a temporal New Jerusalem, a model nation-state that would come to represent the epitome of his ideals, because in 1119, Bernard had dispatched a delegation of monks from Clairvaux to the Portuguese county, domain of his late uncle Count Dom Henrique, to found a monastery. One of the eight monks was Brother Roland, a founding Templar knight.

No sooner had the five Templar Procurators landed in Portugale than they received two major donations. The first was for a small town near Braga. It reads, “I, Queen D. Tereja give to God and the Knights of the Temple of Solomon the village called Fonte Arcada… with all its rights and benefits, for the good of my soul.” Meticulously written in pen and ink, it is signed, “I, Guilherme, Procurator of the Temple in this territory, receive this document.” But Guilherme Ricard was far more than that. His name appears on a second grant—this time as Magister Donus Ricardus—for half the estate of Villa-nova donated “to God, and the brotherhood of the Knights Templar.” This man is also the first Master of the Knights Templar in Portugale.

Two years later the Templars, with full support from Prior Arnaldo, helped establish Portugal’s independence, with the late Count Dom Henriques’ son (and Bernard de Clairvaux’s nephew) Afonso as prince of what would shortly become Europe’s first nation-state, Portugal.

The big question is, why did the Templars create a new country as far from Rome and the long arm of the church as was then possible?

The first clue lies in the wording of Portugal’s charter of independence, in which the new king addresses the Templars and reveals that, “within your Brotherhood and in all your works I am a Brother.” Essentially, the Templars groomed a young man as a Templar knight and placed one of their own on the throne of this new nation.

The second clue is a document in the Cistercian archives that outlines the rites of succession of Templar Masters in Portugal, in which the swearing of allegiance unambiguously declares a vow “to protect the bloodline of David.” Such a blatant line item would hardly be featured unless there was a holy bloodline to protect, suggesting the Templars hid the lineage of Mary Magdalene in Portugal. And given how every church they built was dedicated to her, or her mentor John the Baptist (they did not dedicate any to Christ), it may just be so.

The third clue lies in the seal used by Afonso Henriques on the charter that gave the Templars one third of Portugal, where they erected the most famous monument, the rotunda of Tomar. The king’s seal reads like an anagram. Secret societies love their symbols because, just like parables, to the casual viewer they convey one message while to initiates of the Mysteries they conceal another. To the casual viewer, the circular seal of scrambled letters anagram the word PORTUGAL. To the esoteric reader it reveals something altogether deeper, PORTUGRAL. And to the initiate it reads, in Portuguese, POR TU, O GRAL: “Through you, the Grail.”

Could it be the Templars deposited an aspect of the Graal in the town of Thamar, the namesake of the daughter of Jesus and Mary Magdalene?

The rotunda of Tomar (as it is spelled today) was named charola by the Templars. It is an unusual name to ascribe a round building because it means ‘a salver.’ How does a building become a ceremonial silver tray?

On the day that the charola’s cornerstone was laid, Crétien de Troyes begins writing his Graal opus in the French city of Troyes, home to many of the people in this Templar drama. In his version of the legend, a beautiful maiden carries this sacred object on a salver. Could it be the Templars created Portugal from scratch to hide there the Graal, free from all ecclesiastical interference?


Freddy Silva © 2017. From the author’s new book First Templar Nation: How Eleven Knights Created a New Country and a Refuge for the Grail. Available from

By Freddy Silva