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Chapter 6: The Real Templars

Brown picked up the supposed heterodoxy of round churches from The Templar Revelation, which cites no Church document as evidence. Yet round churches have never been forbidden nor cruciform ones imposed by ecclesiastical authorities. Not all the great churches of the Middle Ages were shaped like a Latin cross. Teabing’s allusion to the Pantheon (later repeated by Langdon) refers to a temple of all the gods in Rome that was rededicated as a Christian church in 609 in honor of St. Mary and the Martyrs. There are also round churches in Rome built by Christians, S. Costanza (ca. 350) and S. Stefano Rotundo (ca. 475). The shape has been revived in recent decades, see for example the Catholic Cathedral of Liverpool, designed in the 1950s and St. Louis Priory in St. Louis, Missouri, completed in 1962. Are we to imagine that all the architects were crypto-sun worshippers? If there’s an intrinsic connection between roundness and paganism, the ancient Greeks and Romans never heard of it, inasmuch as their temples were almost always rectangular.

The true inspiration for distinctive Templar churches was the Anastasis Rotunda, a high-domed circular structure that Constantine ordered built over the Tomb of Christ in Jerusalem, adjacent to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (in use by 350). Muslims adapted its double-walled design, building a circular core within an outer octagonal shell for their famous Dome of the Rock on Temple Mount (ca. 690). This shrine was reclaimed as a church during Crusader occupation and named the Temple of the Lord. Medieval depictions of the original Temple of Solomon were often modeled on the re-christened Dome. It gave the Templars their name and appears on the reverse of their seal. The image stuck: a domed, polygonal Temple appears in Raphael’s Espousals of the Virgin, painted in 1504.

Few Templar churches were circular. St. Sepulchre’s in Cambridge, England (1130) is a rare surviving example. The church within their huge Holy Land fortress Chateau Pélerin (ca. 1220) is imperfectly round but echoes the contours of the Anastasis Rotunda. The twelfth century Paris and London Temples had circular naves with oblong choir sections added later. Teabing’s claim of perfect circularity misrepresents the building’s actual appearance. And Brown appears so unfamiliar with churches that he can‘t tell one end of it from another. Brown’s hero Langdon thinks the "boxy annex" of the oblong portion is the nave of the church (343). The oblong part is in fact the choir, not the nave. (How did he overlook the opportunity to read an oblong part conjoined with a circular part as a pagan symbol of coition?) But not all round churches were built by Templars and not all centrally-planned Templar churches were round. Some were polygonal, recalling the Dome of the Rock.

Brown’s depiction of the London Temple is defective, although detailed descriptions exist in one of his sources, not to mention ample data and photographs available on the Internet. Brown’s characters are by turns too knowledgeable and too ignorant, as well as oblivious to what’s in front of their eyes. For instance, the building’s random patches of dark and light stonework caused by post World War II repairs aren’t noticed. The central arcade of columns somehow becomes a room-encircling stone bench. The characters count ten tomb effigies of stone knights before they notice that one tomb lacks an effigy. Teabing the expert historian wrongly assumes that the sculptures depict Templars when he should have known that they are figures of Templar admirers, including the famous Sir John Marshall and two of his sons.

The reason for belaboring these points is that fantasies about the Knights’ intellectual and artistic achievements loom large in Holy Blood, Holy Grail and The Templar Revelation. Brown had the chance to learn the facts from Peter Partner’s book The Murdered Magicians, which he lists in his bibliography, but he chose to ignore them. Brown’s bibliography contains no standard reference works on medieval architecture–a poor basis for his pretensions to scholarship. But then, Brown distorts the fate of the Templars even worse than their buildings.