Just what was it that the Knights Templar found beneath the ruins of Solomon’s Temple? Was it a vast amount of buried treasure? Was it the location of the Ark of the Covenant? Or was it, as some firmly believe to this day, the Holy Grail?
Believed to be constructed around the mid-10th Century BCE on an elevated area of ground in Jerusalem that would later come to be known as Temple Mount, Solomon’s Temple was said to be Phoenician in design. A magnificent, white marble and gold-covered building, the temple contained three chambers consisting of an outer vestibule, the main chamber and the ‘Holy of Holies’. The Holy of Holies was a small antechamber at the back of the temple where the Ark of the Covenant was traditionally thought to be kept. The Ark, as any Indiana Jones aficionado will tell you, contained two stone tablets on which were written the Ten Commandments. The jury’s still out on whether it also contained face-melting avenging angels.
At the entrance to the temple stood two twenty-seven-foot-high brass pillars adorned with ornately decorated capitals. The pillars were known as Boaz and Jachin, and they stood either side of the door that led to the temple’s vestibule. Replicas of Boaz and Jachin - which in Hebrew mean ‘In Him is strength’ and ‘He will establish’ respectively - can be found in most Masonic lodges. Hiram Abiff, the chief architect of the temple, is an important figure in Freemasonry, and the order’s lodges are referred to as ‘temples’ in honor of Abiff’s greatest creation.
The Temple of Solomon was not just a place of worship, but also one of ritual animal sacrifice and bizarre practices such as ‘sacred prostitution’, where pilgrims could pay to use the services of temple prostitutes who would ‘cleanse’ them of their sins by partaking in religiously sanctioned sexual intercourse. Sacred prostitution has been called into doubt by some historians who dispute the practice ever took place.
The temple met its end in 587 BCE when the armies of King Nebuchadnezzar II besieged the city of Jerusalem. The city was razed to the ground and the temple, which had stood for nearly five hundred years, was completely destroyed. The Ark of the Covenant has never seen again, had it ever existed in the first place.
A second, much more modest temple arose from the ashes of the first in 516 BCE. This temple would be vastly altered and turned into a huge and magnificent temple complex by Herod the Great, the king who is perhaps best known from his appearance in the Bible wherein he orders the so-called ‘Massacre of the Innocents’ at the time of the birth of Jesus Christ. Herod’s temple would eventually be destroyed by the Roman Empire in 70 BCE in retaliation for the Jewish Revolt that saw most of Jerusalem – the second temple included - reduced to rubble.
Following the end of Roman rule, the Temple Mount and the ruins of the second temple were used as a huge rubbish dump for the next six hundred years. It wasn’t until the city was in Muslim hands under Caliph Abd al-Malik that the site was cleared in order that a mosque could be built in 691 CE. The mosque, known as the Dome of the Rock, would eventually be joined by the nearby Al-Aqsa mosque, completed in 705 CE. The Dome of the Rock famously stands over the Foundation Stone – a huge slab of rough bedrock on which the Jews believe Abraham attempted to sacrifice his son Isaac. It was over this stone that the Muslims built their mosque. Today, the Dome of the Rock is the third holiest shrine in Islam after Mecca and Medina.
Jerusalem fell to the Crusaders in 1099 and, rather than sweeping away the two mosques that by this stage had stood on Temple Mount for four hundred years, they instead chose to repurpose them. The Dome of the Rock was handed over to the Augustinian order and converted into a church. The Al-Aqsa mosque, after first being used as a palace, was eventually given to the newly formed Templars in 1120. It was from the site of the long-gone Solomon’s Temple that the Templars took their full name - The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon.
Temple Mount would be the headquarters of the Templar order for the next sixty-seven years until Jerusalem was captured by Saladin in 1187. It was during their tenure at the Al-Aqsa mosque that the Templars were said to have carried out excavations on Temple Mount, supposedly unearthing treasures that have fueled speculation and conspiracy theories for centuries.
While the these treasures have disappeared from history, the Temple’s legacy lives on in the name of the holy order
Among the artifacts the Templars are said to have unearthed during their time on Temple Mount were the fabled Holy Grail, the Turin Shroud, the head of St. John the Baptist, the Spear of Destiny, the embalmed head of Jesus Christ and the location of the last resting place of the Ark of the Covenant, believed to be buried somewhere in modern-day Ethiopia.
The Templars were ousted from Jerusalem at the end of the 12th Century, and many people believe they took whatever they found during the course of their excavations with them, hiding the treasure of Solomon’s Temple in their headquarters in Paris until the order was brutally disbanded in 1307.
It was during the crushing of the order that the treasure was said to have been secretly smuggled out of Paris and put on a ship at the French port of La Rochelle. Several Templar ships, including the treasure ship, hurriedly left La Rochelle as members of the Templar order were being rounded up, tortured and burned alive across Europe. The ships were never seen again, or so the story goes.
While the these treasures have disappeared from history, the Temple’s legacy lives on in the name of the holy order - the Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon or the Templars who took their name from this ancient site and for Muslims for whom the Dome of the Rock, the site of the original Temple of Solomon is one of their holiest sites.