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V. THE TEMPLARS
LAST REFUGE


Saturday, 14 October 1307

Dusk is falling by the time the friar leads his band of apprentices through the castle gates. Burdened by heavy baskets, the boys trudge across the open space towards the unfinished cathedral of Bellegarde past the line of troops surrounding the construction site. This gives Friar Lorenzo the time he needs.

“Draw near and listen well, lads,” he whispers in a low, urgent tone once they are past the baron’s men, breath trailing white in the cold air. “We’ve but one chance to rescue these men of God – and the sacred relic they carry. Their lives and our souls depend upon our performance. Therefore this is what we’ll do.

“This food and drink is for the men only, especially the wine. Do not, under any circumstances, taste any – Eugene, I’m talking to you – but offer it freely to them. If you drink it, you may go mad, for it contains a rare alchemical extract of mine which induces a kind of lunacy allowing us to hide the Ark.”

He looks around at their pinched, anxious faces. “Once they feel the effects – and trust me, it will soon be obvious – we will hide behind the piles of stones in the transept. Then you, young Heronimo, will climb atop the pile with a torch and distract them with the little sermon we prepared.”

“Master, why must I do this?” the youngest boy whines. “Why me?”

“Because you’re still beardless and apple-cheeked,” the monk says gruffly, “and your mind holds things better than this lot.” He stops to let them catch their breaths. “Here’s the plan – and the first one who laughs or tells anyone, now or later, ever; I swear I will devote myself to making such a hell that preachers will frighten sinners with it forever.” The boys become quiet.

“Heronimo will recite the speech pretending to be the Virgin Mary,” he continues. The boys titter and elbow each other, and the friar also has to suppress a smile. “While they’re busy listening, we will go to the Meridian. There, you, Georg, you’re the biggest, will pry up the floor with great care exactly where I tell you. Tomas, you’re good with knots, so you’ll tie the ropes Abel’s carrying under his robes. We’ll lower the Ark as softly as angels into that chamber we found, followed by the holy offerings that also burden them, all that we can.”

His young charges are no longer smiling. “The silver and gold’s not for us, lads; no, not a single penny. All of it belongs to God, just like the Holy Tub. We may never get anything from this but misery, especially if we fail. But we might save those men and keep the King and the Holy Father from committing a most terrible sin. I know we can do this; Providence graciously led the knights here instead of letting them be seized upon the road. On your feet, boys; with Heaven’s blessing and stout hearts, let us save Mother Mary’s Sacred Basin.”

He blesses them. They rise, hefting their heavy bags, and stagger forward. The priest prays, lips moving but silent. It is a desperate gamble, the one ploy he could devise to keep the Maundy Grail from the greedy grasp of King Philip.

“Who approaches? Stand fast!” a frightened voice shouts from atop the high scaffolding surrounding the roofless church. Lorenzo raises his cross high. “It’s I, Father Lorenzo. Baron Guilliame has allowed us to bring you the food you demanded in exchange for the workers.”

He holds his breath, waiting for a reply. The moment is not long, but time drags slowly. Finally, Sir Edwin calls out, “Well done, Father. You may come forward. We’ll send them out.” Time seems to resume its pace again.

The following dawn the unresisting Templars are found without the Sacred Basin, treasure, or a sensible explanation. During the horrific ordeals which follow, their stoic endurance is sometimes attributed to Father Lorenzo’s ministration. But none change their stories, and so they, like their superiors in Paris, are eventually burnt. In time, the Maundy Grail is forgotten by most, save for the Holy Inquisition.


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“Your Holiness,
I can no more believe in a washtub ascending to Heaven
than in a saucer flying;
both are affronts to reason.”

– Br. Gabriele of the University of Padua,
Letter to the Pope
on the Testimony
of the Templars
,

1316

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