Templars in Tomar: a time travel to medieval Portugal

If I had to choose between clubbing or spending the night curled in a blanket, next to a fireplace and with a book on my lap, I would definitely choose the latter. I get my energy from these moments of stillness, and often spend them reading biographies and books on historical events. With the crackingly burning firewood in the background, I time travel to different places. The most fascinating ones leave a burning impression and urge me to visit them. That was the case with Tomar and its Templars.

A few years ago, I did one of those Myers-Briggs personality tests, and to my surprise I came back as an introvert. Not that I think of myself as the heart of a party, but I always saw myself as a communicative and engaging person, so the “introvert” tag came as a surprise. At the time I learned more about what it means to be an introvert (it’s not the same as being shy), and the different degrees of introversion. I’m definitely not like Verne, and five days alone hiking would be torturous! I have cataloged myself as a “communicative introvert”, someone that thoroughly enjoys the company of others provided I can sometimes take refuge on a good book.

When I look back to my childhood years, one of my fondest memories is of my parents getting me five books from Enid Blyton’s “Famous Five”. I felt in heaven and ran to my room to devour them. This passion for reading led to a second passion: a love for history which, living in a country with such a rich history, was not difficult to fulfil.

I would get thrilled with the stories of Kings and Queens, of battles and of the discovery of the New World. My parents fuelled this by taking me to places where significant events of our history took place. In one of these trips we went to Tomar, the birthplace of the Templars in Portugal. I was only ten or eleven but still remember vividly the beauty of the Manueline window at the Convent of Christ. It made me feel humble and proud at the same time: humbled at the presence of such a beautiful thing, proud of having such monuments in our history.

Many years later I went back to Tomar and felt the same sense of wonder and fascination when entering the Convent. I could still feel the Knights living among those walls, watching us stroll through those long corridors, keeping memories and treasures safe.

The Templars in Tomar started as a religious order with a rather convoluted name (the ‘Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon’), with the main purpose of protecting the pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land. Supported by the Roman Catholic Church and deeply involved in the Crusades, they grew in power and influence and soon abandoned their vow of poverty. Some say that the foundations of the Swiss banking system go back to these Templars, which back in the 14th century established the grounds for lending. Soon most of Europe’s aristocrats owed them money, including Philip IV, the King of France.

With the loss of the Holy Land the influence of the Templars faded. Philip IV, perhaps sensing an opportunity to default on a growing debt, persecuted the Order. Expelled from the majority of the European courts, the Templars found a safe haven in Portugal. King Dinis granted them protection and provided them with a new identity: the Knights of the Order of Christ. Under a different moniker, they held on to their legacy and bore the same red across the chest.

King Dinis did not harbour the Templars out of the kindness of his heart. Apart from their wealth, the Templars brought knowledge in the art of sailing and warfare. It was a mutually beneficial agreement: the Templars found a safe haven and the King gained access to intelligence that would became crucial years later, when the Portuguese ventured beyond the Mediterranean.

The Order of Christ had an important role throughout the history of Portugal and were favoured by important rulers such as D. Manuel I (the king that sponsored Vasco da Gama’s discovery of the maritime route to India). Their influence started to wane in the 16th century, when the order was demilitarised and became solely religious. In the 18th century Queen Mary I secularized it. Finally, by 1910 the end of the Portuguese monarchy also dictated the end of the order.

Jules *

87 thoughts on “Templars in Tomar: a time travel to medieval Portugal

  1. Great post! I also love a good book and beautiful historical places full of stories. If your ever in London, check out Temple church which was built by the Knights Templar. It was once a monastic site but now houses one of the four inns of court (companies of barristers). Check out the effigies of knights on their burial places with leg crossed over the other leg. Apparently a crossed leg over ankle indicated they died in the Christian faith. The leg crossed over the ankle indicated they had gone on one crusade, crossed over the knee meant two crusades and the thigh meant 3 crusades! Thanks again for the post – love these stories and historical nuggets!

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    1. Thank you so much! I’ve been in the outside of that church and to this day I regret not going inside. It’s (another) nice excuse to go back to London 🙂 Very curious the detail on the leg position. They were indeed masters in symbolism.

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  2. Great post. We were in Tomar earlier this year and fell in love with this small town with a rich history. I absolutely loved the convent – and like you enjoyed roaming the halls dreaming of prior times. Is there any book about the Templars in Portugal that you would recommend? I would love to learn more. Stunning pictures – it makes me want to go back and revisit Tomar.

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    1. Thank you so much! It’s such a nice little town, isn’t it? Did you get a chance to visit the gardens nearby the city centre? They’re also well worth a visit! Unfortunately all the books I read on the Templars were in Portuguese. I’ll see if I can find a good reference in English. If you’re interested in the history of Portugal I can recommend “The First Global Village”, by Martin Page. It is not exhaustive at all, but nicely highlights the major episodes of our history… and if you do come back to Portugal and are looking for some tips, let us know!

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    1. Wow! Your comment made my day🙂 Thank you so much! I’m so glad you liked it. I was looking at your (beautiful) blog and noticed that you’ve never been to Portugal… if you decide to change that and are looking for some tips, let us know🙂

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  3. Fireplaces? Portugal? Why was I so cold in March and had to take a towel warmer to bed? I wish I could commission you to write the Lisbon chapter for my book. Love your writing…merry Christmas from Australia, 34 degrees here….no fireplace needed! Nice book in air-conditioned bedroom…..love it!

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    1. Indeed Winter can be cold here! To compensate we have pretty warm Summer and Spring, and most of the years Summer goes well beyond October 🙂 You’re making me jealous of your 34ºC… already missing Summer! Where are you in Australia? We’ve been to Sydney and Cairns, but we’re planning on going back as soon as possible. There’s so much to see! We might pick your brain on ideas, if that’s ok!

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      1. Yes you do, I have no idea who writes what. But I thought that was kind of part of your “thing”. Merry xmas. I’m off to 6 days Woodford Folk Festival, biggest music festival in Oz……

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    1. Thank you so much Lalitha! It’s funny, when we did our round the world trip, we only took our phones to take pictures and in the beginning the photos were mainly to illustrate our writing. But soon they became an important part of the posts, and once we got back, we decided to invest in a camera and in learning the basics of photography, so it’s really nice to receive comments like yours: our efforts are paying off 🙂

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    1. Thank you so much Suzanne! We also felt the same: it is like this off the beaten path gem, in the middle of our country, full of history. And it’s not only the convent: if you start wandering in the cobblestone streets, you always end up in a picturesque place! (Jules)

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  4. Very interesting post (with beautiful photos) AND I now have a new description of myself: a communicative introvert – I love it! I get energy from being with people and chatting away, but I very much also need alone time and book time. My ideal day is trekking for hours with a group of people who come together to chat a while, then walk along deep in our own thoughts a while, then have some beers and a social meal together, then all go off to our own tents or cabins to read and sleep on our own. That is a combo made in heaven for me!

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    1. Ahahhahaha! Glad you liked the description 🙂 I totally understand you: I love interacting with people, but I totally need my space. Sometimes I don’t even bear to hear music, I just need the sound of silence 🙂 Your ideal day seems like something I would enjoy very much as well 😉 (Jules)

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  5. A fascinating post and, thanks to you, a place that we’ll put on our “Must See” list. Portugal has so many gems of history and architecture and I’m thinking a road trip sometime in the New Year would be an amazing way to see some of Central and Northern Portugal. Between reading, imagining and traveling it’s easy to feel very rich! Anita

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    1. Hi Anita! So glad that you liked it and that you’re considering it for your “must see” list: I’m sure you won’t regret… and it seems that we’ll be having some nice weather in the next week or so, so you should definitely take the chance 😀 (Jules)

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  6. absolutely extraordinary. I’m so looking forward to visiting Portugal. History is an incredible subject to delve into….so many different layers and levels…it sometimes does my head in….I want to dig and delve but time….oh. Loved this article.
    Wishes to you and your family for a wonderful Holiday Season and the best year; 2017.

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    1. Thank you so much! You should definitely come to Portugal… and of course, feel free to ask any tips 🙂 I totally agree with you on the idea of “layers of history”. The more you read on a subject, the more you get the feeling that history is a lot about perspectives, and the same thing can have various interpretations, depending on who’s telling the story… and for me that only makes it more interesting! Btw, congrats on your daughters’ engagement 🙂 Merry Christmas to you all (Jules)

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  7. Great post and fascinating history. I just finished re-reading all of my Famous Five Books and it was certainly a trip to the past. The sad thing about living in Australia is that our history is little more than a hundred and fifty years, but there is still bits of the colonial past scattered about.

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    1. Thank you so much! I was a huge fan of the Famous Five and the Secret Seven 🙂 We’ve been to Australia and loved it. We’re looking forward to go back. To compensate for the lack of history you have amazing natural landscapes! Seems like a fair trade 🙂 (Jules)

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  8. What a fascinating story! I have wondered about the Knights Templar in the past, and had the idea that they generally did not have a good reputation. It was interesting to read a little more about them. No doubt they were corrupted no more or less than any other group or person who had great wealth and power. On a completely different note I too would classify myself as a communicative introvert, and as a child devoured every one of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Secret Seven books. Did you read the Secret Seven books?
    Alison

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    1. Thanks Alison! I’ve also been fascinated with the Templars for some time now, and had to dig a bit more to write this article, which was a very interesting experience. They have such a rich and diverse history! Glad to find so many “communicative introverts” out there! It’s one of the good things about this blog: allows us to connect to people so much like us 🙂 And of course I also devoured the Secret Seven books… although I’ve always preferred the “Famous Five”. Funny thing is that I read them in Portuguese, and their names were adapted to our language, so when I finally saw them in the original English, they felt like different characters, not “my” Five 🙂

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  9. Thank you for visiting my blog and making it possible for me to discover yours. I love your writing and I feel our personalities have a lot in common. I visited Portugal in 2015 and fell in love with it. I feel it is one of Europe’s most underrated countries. I too am drawn to historical sites as opposed to touristy areas, but I remember a lovely little beach near Sintra that I would not mind revisiting!

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  10. It is perfect time to make some plans for the future and it is time to be
    happy. I have read this post and if I could I want to suggest you some interesting
    things or advice. Maybe you can write next articles referring to this article.
    I desire to read even more things about it!

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  11. Hola Leticia! So happy that you liked it. You should definitely include Tomar and let us know if you want any other tips – we’ll be glad to help. Disfruta tus vacaciones en Portugal! (sorry… this is all I can write with my very limited Spanish) – Jules

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  12. Thanks Gian and Sheila! I was checking your blog (and loved it!) and this seems indeed the kind of thing you’d enjoy! Let us know if you decide to drop by, and we’ll give you some more tips. (Jules)

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