After Christian fighters captured Jerusalem during the First Crusade, groups of pilgrims began visiting the Holy Land. Around 1118, a French knight named Hugues de Payens founded a military order devoted to protecting these pilgrims, calling it the Poor Knights of the Temple of King Solomon (later named “The Knights Templar”). Eleven years later, the knights received formal endorsement from the Catholic Church, along with new recruits and lavish donations. Known for their austere code of conduct and signature style of dress (white habits emblazoned with a red cross), the Templars established chapters throughout Western Europe and developed a reputation as fierce warriors. They set up a network of banks, gaining enormous financial sway. At the height of their influence, they boasted a sizable fleet of ships, owned the island of Cyprus and served as a primary lender to European monarchs and nobles. While most historians agree that the Knights Templar fully disbanded 700 years ago, some people believe the order went underground and remains in existence to this day.
The holy grail has been the most sought-after Christian relic for centuries. It has been said that the Jesus drank from this cup at the Last Supper and that Joseph of Arimthea used the same cup to collect Jesus’s blood during his crucifiction. The French poet Chrétien de Troyes was the first to mention the grail in his early-12th century story, “Perceval.” Since then, it has become a common theme in King Arthur literature, possibly stemming from the presence of cauldrons and other mystical objects in Celtic mythologies. Although it is generally accepted as mythic, some believe the holy grail is more than just a figment of medieval literature. Some Arthurian tales claimed that Joseph of Arimathea brought the grail to Glastonbury in England. One legend has it that on the spot where he buried the grail, the water runs red because it runs through Christ’s blood, though scientists agree this is just the effect of red iron oxide in the soil. Others believe that the Knights Templar seized the holy grail from Temple Mount during the Crusades and secreted it away.
The Ark of the Covenant is a gold-covered wooden chest built by the Israelites some 3,000 years ago—it is the only holy relic or man-made symbol that the Jewish people worship. According to the Bible, Moses had the Ark of the Covenant built to hold the Ten Commandments. The Israelites carried the Ark with them during the 40 years they wandered the desert. King David later took the Ark to Jerusalem, where his son and successor, Solomon, eventually installed it in the Temple. It is the lid—gold-covered with two angel sculptures—that holds the real significance. Referred to as the “Mercy Seat,” it is believed that once a year the high priest would atone for his sins, and the sins of the Israelites, by sprinkling the blood of a sacrificed animal on it. Since its disappearance, some 2,000 years ago, numerous theories have arisen about its fate.
Here’s a peek at some of this week’s episodes:
- Over 20 years before “The Da Vinci Code,” Henry Lincoln shocked the world with the possibility that Christ had fathered a child. In Behind the Da Vinci Code, he explains the origins of “The Code” and reveals the results of his ongoing research.
- In 1898, a Minnesota farmer uprooted a large stone dating back to 1362 covered with mysterious runes. Is it proof that the Knights Templar discovered America? Has the Holy Grail been in America all along? Find out in Holy Grail in America.
- The existence and location of the Ark of the Covenant has remained one of the most enduring mysteries in archaeology. Quest for the Lost Ark follows global quest-detective Professor Tudor Parfitt as he decodes texts and clues to track it down.
Watch Decoded on your HISTORY Vault app available on Roku players, iOS devices and Apple TV (4th Generation). For a related collection, check out Myths and Legends, Haunted History and Spies.