The Knights Templar and Oak Island
For over 200 years, Oak Island has mystified the general public and defied scores of treasure hunters. Vast sums of money have been pumped into it, lives and fortunes have been lost and state-of-the-art technology has been used – all for naught. We are no closer to the truth about what might have been deposited on Oak Island and by whom, when and why. Just when we ponder throwing in the towel and declaring the treasure a hoax, Oak Island slips us a new clue, such as the triangle rock from Season 3 of The Curse of Oak Island, which doesn’t figure in any of the known theories. These include pirate treasure, Viking gold, Aztec gold, the bones of Jesus Christ, the lost manuscripts of William Shakespeare and even the medieval Knights Templar, among others. The Templar theory is one of the more colourful ones. It is usually dismissed as fantasy due to a lack of hard evidence. And yet the Templars continue to hover in the back of our minds and those of the protagonists of the History Channel’s series. Oak Island and the Knights Templar have much in common in terms of secrecy, mystery and lore. Oak Island and the Templars were made for each other.
The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon, as the Knights Templar were officially known, were a military monastic order formed during the Crusades. Their main job was to protect Christian pilgrims journeying to Jerusalem, a mission clearly stated at the founding but not carried out until years later. It is said that the first nine Templars spent nine years digging beneath their headquarters, located in the former stables of King Solomon. We do not know what they found, but they left something behind. In 1867, a British expedition led by Charles Warren discovered numerous tunnels under the Temple Mount that were explored again in 1912. Crusader-era artifacts were found, including a spur, a lance, a sword fragment and a Templar cross. (1) Many Old Testament treasures could have been hidden in the heart of the Temple Mount, the greatest of which was the Ark of the Covenant. Indeed, Solomon’s Temple was built specifically to house the Ark. Did the Knights Templar get a hold of it and use it as a catalyst to their fame, power and fortune?
It appears that they looked for the Ark – and not just in Jerusalem. Legend has it that the Ark was given to Menelik, the son of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Menelik supposedly took it to Yemen, where it was buried in an underground chamber with him in it. (2) Another version sees the Ark spirited away to Ethiopia, home of the Queen of Sheba. Ethiopian tradition places the Ark inside one of the churches of Lalibela. These remarkable 12th-century edifices were hewn from basalt, one of the hardest rocks on earth. They look as if they were made with a cookie cutter shaped like a Crusader cross. (3) Who built them and with what tools? Ethiopians believe it was angels who took 24 years to accomplish the task and who stamped their creation with Templar crosses. (4) Not surprisingly, other parties took a deep interest in Ethiopia and the Ark: Portugal’s Knights of Christ in 1454 as well as the Jesuits in 1557.
There is no solid evidence that the Templars possessed any of the great religious relics from the Bible, be it the Ark of the Covenant or the Grail. We suspect, however, that they owned the Shroud of Turin, which is believed to be the shroud of Jesus Christ. It surfaced in the 1350s, when it was put on public display by the de Charnay family. The de Charnays had strong ties to the Templar order: Geoffroi de Charnay, preceptor of Normandy, died next to grand master Jacques de Molay in 1314. (5) Curiously, no relic such as the Shroud of Turin was recovered from the Paris Temple, commanderies or Templar churches during the raids of 1307, when Philip IV had all of the Templars in France arrested. If the Knights Templar had the shroud and were able to keep it a secret from most of their members and King Philip, it opens up the possibility that they did the same with other treasures as well.
With the return of the Crusaders and Templars from the Holy Land, Grail romances started to flourish and circulate. In Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival, the guardians of the Grail are called Templeisens. Templeisens, or the Grail company, were knights who travelled overseas on secret missions, past Rohas (now Lalibela in Ethiopia). (6) Was it a beautiful literary coincidence or a not-so-subtle clue? More such clues exist in Chartres, whose magnificent Gothic cathedral was allegedly financed and masterminded by the Templars. As author Louis Charpentier describes: “There are at the north door of Chartres, called the door of Initiates, two small columns, carved in relief, one picturing the transport of the Ark by a couple of oxen, with the inscription Archa cederis; the other showing an Ark that a man is covering with a veil, or is taking hold of with a veil, near a heap of corpses among which one discerns a knight in his coat of mail, with the inscription, Hic amititur Archa cederis … or ‘Here things take course, you are to work through the Ark.’” (7) Were the Templars the last keepers of the Ark?
The idea that the Templars had any sort of sizable treasure, let alone the Ark or the Grail, is not accepted by most historians. They see the Order of the Knights Templar as aged, defunct and broken in 1307. It is true that little of value was found by King Philip’s men when they ransacked the Paris Temple and all the commanderies. But it is also true that King Philip witnessed the Templars’ riches when they sheltered him from a rioting Parisian mob in 1306. He also saw the bullion brought by Jacques de Molay upon his return to France in 1307. Yet, within a year, all the visible or portable wealth was gone, as well as weapons and ships. Logically, we must ask ourselves if the Templars were forewarned and took precautions prior to the hour of doom on October 13, 1307.
There is a long-standing tradition that a contingent of Templars escaped to Portugal and to Scotland. In Portugal, a kingdom they had helped create, they were welcomed by King Diniz, who incorporated them into a new order, the Knights of Christ. In Scotland, they allegedly entered the service of Robert de Bruce, who controlled the Highlands and who had been excommunicated by the Pope. For this reason alone, the Bruce-controlled part of Scotland was a perfect haven for the outlawed Templars. Robert de Bruce, who until then had mostly engaged in small battles, saw his luck change after 1308, when the Templars are believed to have boosted his ranks. His fight for independence culminated in 1314, when his army, outnumbered by three to one, won at Bannockburn. (8) Whether he sheltered the Templars or not, the knights were always treated leniently in Scotland. Despite King Philip’s urgent letters and a papal bull, the Scottish Templars were not brought in for questioning until 1309, two years after the trouble in France. At that time only two knights could be found. One of them explained that his brethren had fled overseas. We would assume he meant Ireland or continental Europe, but there is a possibility he was talking about Nova Scotia or North America in general.
We learned in school that North America was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492. But long before Columbus dreamed of sailing west, it was already known to the Norse, who even resided in it. The Columbus throne shook in 1960, when Helge Ingstad came upon the remnants of a Norse settlement in L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland. It is generally agreed that the place served as a stopover and was not the famous Leifsbudir (Leif Eriksson’s abode). There are various theories about how far south the Vikings actually travelled, and the destinations include Nova Scotia’s Yarmouth (9) and Cape Breton (10). Based on archaeological findings and written records, the Norse frequented North America for over 300 years, with the first voyage occurring around the year 1000 and the last one in 1347. In 1121, Bishop Eric Upsi (or Gnuppson) took it upon himself to sail to the continent. (11) Is it possible that the knowledge of North America was not limited to Norwegian monarchs and the Catholic Church but trickled down to the Knights Templar? Could the Norse have supplied the fledgling knights with a means of transportation? Among their crews were men from Orkney, and Orkney is only a raven’s fly from Scotland, metaphorically speaking.
Why couldn’t the Templars stay in Scotland under the protection of Robert de Bruce? Initially, the Scottish king might have welcomed them, especially if they offered manpower, weapons, money and provisions from their properties in Scotland and Ireland. (12) However, things would have changed after Bannockburn, when the excommunicated king sought reconciliation with the Church, and harbouring fugutive Templars would not help the matter. They had a choice: throw off their white mantles and blend into the woodwork or find a new homeland where they could practise their (Gnostic) beliefs without fear. What of their treasure? Did it factor in their decision? Many people believe it remains hidden in the vaults under Rosslyn Chapel, a church famous for its pre-Columbian stone carvings of maize, aloe vera and other plants indigenous to North America. But there is also a legend that sees the treasure in Iceland (13) and, of course, on Oak Island.
The Templar theory usually only considers 1307 as the year when the Knights Templar set foot in Nova Scotia for the first time. Templar researcher Gerard Leduc believes this happened much earlier and that Oak Island’s Money Pit was marked on a 1500s map by Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano. The map shows the inscription “Cavo di Brettoni CLMERI,” which was translated as “the well of Brittons in the year 1150” by Professor Emilio Spedicato, University of Bergamo. (14) Professor Leduc points out that the Templar order had property and commanderies in Brittany, France. If both professors are correct and the Money Pit dates back to 1150, the Templars came to Oak Island as explorers, not as fugitives, and at a time when they were in full power. Can we find an artifact that would fit this scenario?
Interestingly, there is an artifact from Oak Island just like that – one that throws colonial theories in disarray: coconut fibre. It is said that treasure hunters removed large quantities of it from the Money Pit and heaped it on the ground. Unfortunately, none of the Money Pit’s coconut fibre remains, and what samples we have come from the beach in Smith’s Cove. This wet fibre was subjected to numerous tests by reputable laboratories over a span of decades. The results were startling, dating it to 1168-1374, a perfect time frame for the Knights Templar. Skeptics dismiss this as a fluke or say that pirates, too, could have brought old coconut fibre with them in the 16th or 17th centuries. But why do this when coconut has annual growth and there is a fresh crop of it every year? If, however, the coconut fibre was actually brought by the Templars, it makes us wonder which route they took to Oak Island. Did they take the southern route to North America (like Christopher Columbus) or did they come from the north to Nova Scotia, sail south to the Caribbean and return to Oak Island? Why did they need coconut fibre? What delicate item was in their cargo hold?
In 1168, the earliest year shown by the coconut fibre carbon-14 tests, the Templars were not yet in need of emptying the treasury in the Paris or London Temples. But if the treasure they protected was not monetary but religious, then a 12th-century journey is not so far-fetched. This was during the time when Prince Lalibela lived in exile in Jerusalem (from 1160 to 1185). After his return to Ethiopia, perhaps in the company of the Templars, he started building his seven churches. (15) The Ark of the Covenant would have been a hot item during the Crusades, and it is easy to picture the Templars with their hands on it. Similarly, the Grail became increasingly popular around this time – the first story about it was composed in 1182 by Chrétien de Troyes, followed by the Cistercians’ Queste del Saint Graal in the 1200s. (16) As romantic as it sounds, the 12th century was the prime time for the Templars to come in contact with the Ark and the Grail and to be entrusted with their safe removal from areas of deadly conflict.
If these magical relics were not the reason why the Templars sailed to Nova Scotia in the 12th century, then what was? The majority of the theories of Oak Island see it as a repository, a place to which treasure was brought. Should we turn it around and consider it a place that was a source of treasure, we may find an explanation for the strange lines on the bathymetric map of Oak Island or for the triangle rock found in Season 3 of The Curse of Oak Island. What if the Templars mined gold on Oak Island? Its proximity to the Gold River and the Ovens, which experienced a gold rush in the 1800s, indicates such a possibility. The parallel shapes on the bathymetric map could be tailings from a mining operation. Are these tailings in the water because the gold digging happened in a distant past, when the ocean levels were lower? Or were they dumped there so as to not leave a visible trace on land? The Templars were involved in all kinds of industries, including mining. We know they owned mines in France and Scotland, and it is said that they also mined silver in Mexico. (17) If they could have accomplished that (i.e., extracting silver as far away as Mexico), mining gold on Oak Island would be much closer to home. Indeed, it has been suggested that Robert de Bruce’s secret source of income for his wars came from overseas. It would be quite the twist of fate if it were the Templars who had brought it to him from Oak Island.
The Templar theory of Oak Island received a brief boost during Season 2 of The Curse of Oak Island, when treasure hunter Gary Drayton found a coin on the ridge above the Money Pit. It was cleaned up and held in front of the camera, where it flashed a tantalizing but very faint cross on its surface. The object was quickly dubbed a Templar coin and sent to the Nova Scotia Museum. Then came the crushing blow: The coin was not really a coin but a copper disc without any markings whatsoever. It was put on display in the Museum of Natural History in Halifax, next to authentic coins such as a Spanish piece of eight. That seemed to be the end of it – there were no medieval, let alone Templar, coins on Oak Island. But other coins have surfaced, ones that the museum is not aware of. These were allegedly found in Chester during road construction some time ago. They were identified as being from the Republic of Genoa, Italy, and dated to the 13th-14th centuries. Interestingly, among the Templars who fled to Scotland were Templars from Italy. But coins are notoriously unreliable proof – especially when they are found on the wrong side of the Atlantic Ocean – and so we cannot be certain how the Genoese coins came to be there.
A much more substantial artifact that could be associated with the Knights Templar is Nolan’s Cross. It was discovered by Fred Nolan, who surveyed the island in the early 1960s and ended up owning a portion of it. He soon realized that a group of boulders, known as cones, formed a Latin cross with arms of 360 feet and a stem 867 feet long. (18) Where they intersected was a stone resembling a human head. The mystery deepened in 2003, when author Petter Amundsen located additional cones and proposed that Nolan’s Cross was part of a much larger design, the Cabbalistic Tree of Life. This symbol consists of 10 points called Sephirot, each representing a mystical or divine concept. The Sephirot have names – one of them is called Mercy. If we may bring up the Ark of the Covenant again, its gold lid was referred to as a mercy seat. Our thoughts stray to Nolan’s Cross and its cones, one of which could be Mercy. In classic Oak Island style, the Mercy point is missing or hasn’t been located yet, and so we are unable to ascertain if the Ark of the Covenant was buried under it.
Petter Amundsen’s theory centres on the Rosicrucians, a secret society very active at the time of William Shakespeare and Sir Francis Bacon. The Rosicrucians sought to build the New Temple in a spiritual and intellectual, rather than physical, way. That they adopted the Tree of Life concept from the Cabbala is likely, but were they the first and only Christians who could have installed it on Oak Island? According to Rabbi David Joseph Hayim Azulai, Zohar, a book of Jewish mysticism and source of the Cabbala, was brought to Spain on a Templar ship. (19) It would appear that the Knights Templar, who professed to be “of the faith of Solomon,” (20) might have gleaned the design of the Tree of Life before the Rosicrucians.
Did they actually use this symbol and leave us with an example? In Domme, France, which served as a Templar prison, there are many pieces of Templar graffiti. One looks like a group of crosses arranged in a pattern resembling the Tree of Life. (21) The Templars were accused of devil worship, but it is more likely that they held Gnostic and perhaps mystic beliefs. These beliefs would have had to be hidden, for the Templars were the champions of the Catholic faith. Nolan’s Cross is a good example of a pattern within a pattern, of a complex symbol hidden in plain sight. It is a Christian cross but also a Jewish Tree of Life. It is a directional marker but also a homing beacon for it is aligned with Jerusalem, as demonstrated by researcher Øystein Bruno Larsen. Incidentally, Oak Island is not the only place with a large directional cross. Another one is in the Pentland Hills in Scotland, where trees form a Templar cross on a 60-degree axis, also pointing to Jerusalem. This Templar “wooden cross” lies on a straight line from Balantrodoch, the former headquarters of the Knights Templar in Scotland, and Rosslyn Chapel. (22)
Getting back to earthly matters, could any of the legendary underground works on Oak Island be attributed to the Knights Templar? The Order was renowned for its impregnable fortresses and castles. Even their churches had walls that were several feet thick and could be defended from within. The Templars always thought of exit strategy and often equipped their buildings with spacious underground tunnels. (23) Some of these were discovered only recently, making us wonder what other surprises the Templars have in store for us. The knights are known to have employed master masons Sons of Solomon, and the grand master himself “carried an abacus, the master builder’s staff.” (24) When we consider that masons such as these built Chartres Cathedral in just 26 years (1194-1220), the stone works of Oak Island pale in comparison. That being said, we have no proof that either the Templars or the Sons of Solomon built the coffer dam, artificial beach, box drains, flood tunnels and Money Pit on Oak Island, as much as some of us wish they had.
Taken as a whole, the clues and artifacts from Oak Island do not make sense. They contradict one another. Why spend years building booby traps and a secret Money Pit only to leave a stone triangle pointing to the treasure’s location? Why cover up excavation by dumping the tailings in the ocean but then erect a giant stone cross to state “We were here”? Why pack ship crates with 500-year-old coconut fibre when fresh fibre is waiting on the coconut tree? Why make a triangle stone marker and place it on the bottom of the ocean so that only squids and divers can study it? It does, however, make sense if we perceive Oak Island as a project of multiple groups who came in different centuries and incorporated the existing structures into their own design.
Nolan’s Cross could have started as a Christian cross, perhaps left by the Templars, and been expanded upon by the Rosicrucians. Colonial-era pirates in need of hiding loot could have come across an old mine on the island and turned it into a flood tunnel and the Money Pit. In that case, the big question is which early European group was on Oak Island first? Was it the Vikings, Saint Brendan and his monks or the Knights Templar? Of the three, the Templars were the most capable of massive earth works and had the strongest motivation to turn the island into a bank vault. (25) Where did they go after Oak Island?
The Templar theory sees them returning to Scotland or Portugal, where they passed the secret of the Money Pit on to future generations. On the other hand, they could have stayed in North America, where they were free to live and practise their beliefs. There are numerous artifacts strewn over the East Coast and along major waterways – from Newfoundland to the Great Lakes and New York State – that bespeak of a Templar or other medieval presence. (26) Equally intriguing are the tiny Templar crosses marked on the early maps of Canada by its 16th-century explorers. Are we the first ones to look for the Knights Templar on this side of the Atlantic?
The architects of Oak Island’s enigma did not want to be identified. They made sure that the more we’d dig, the deeper into the earth the elusive treasure would sink. We can theorize that they were the medieval Knights Templar, who would have been the envy of Indiana Jones. But short of finding an intact Templar tomb on Oak Island or the Ark of the Covenant wrapped in a Templar mantle, we simply cannot prove it. This does not mean, however, that we should scrap the theory altogether – none of the other theories fare any better when pressed to produce sufficient and irrefutable evidence. Until such time as Oak Island has yielded its last clue and all of its artifacts have been made public, the Order of Knights Templar will continue to be a contestant for the truth.
(1) Ralls, Karen (2003) “The Templars and the Grail,” p. 223
(4) Hancock, Graham (1993) “The Sign and the Seal,” p. 120
(5) Hopkins, Marilyn (2007) “The Enigma of the Knights Templar,” p. 84-85
(6) Hancock, Graham (1993) “The Sign and the Seal,” p. 113
(7) Charpentier, Louis (1975) “The Mysteries of Chartres Cathedral,” p. 75
(8) Ferguson, Robert (2010) “The Knights Templar and Scotland,” p. 115-125
(10) Stewart, Wess (May 20, 2005) “No Mi’kmaq Legend About Chinese, says Marshall,” Cape Breton Post
(11) Holand, Hjalmar “The Kensington Rune Stone,” p. 15
(12) Ferguson, Robert (2010) “The Knights Templar and Scotland,” p. 102
(14) Leduc, Gerard “Evidence of Pre-Columbian Contact Between Native People and Cross-Atlantic Immigrants in North Eastern North America,” p. 30
(15) Hancock, Graham (1993) “The Sign and the Seal,” p. 105
(16) Ibid., p. 59
(18) Crooker, William S. (1998) “Tracking Treasure,” p. 85
(19) Hogan, Timothy (2015) “The Way of the Templar,” p. 34
(20) Loucao, Paulo Alexandre “The Templars of Portugal”
(22) Sinclair, Andrew (2002) “The Secret Scroll,” photo between p. 154 and p. 155
More tunnels under former Templar castles and commanderies were uncovered in Slovakia (Slovenská L’upča, Mnich) and Austria (Kronberg).
(24) Charpentier, Louis (1975) “The Mysteries of Chartres Cathedral,” p. 49
(25) There is a theory that Oak Island’s gold was tapped by American revolutionaries in the 1700s. Many of the founding fathers were Freemasons, and Freemasonry has a strong Templar tradition. A different theory, discussed by D’Arcy O’Connor in The Secret Treasure of Oak Island, claims that it was the British who hid money on Oak Island because they feared it would fall into the revolutionaries’ hands.
a) A Templar cross carving found in the crypt of Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel in Montreal. This cross was either placed there by 17th-century missionaries or the chapel was built on a former Templar site and the cross was simply incorporated into the crypt. More information can be found in The Templars’ Legacy in Montreal, the New Jerusalem by Francine Bernier, p. 62-63.
b) The Sulpician seminary in Montreal has a stone tower that dates back to the 17th century. In the walls of the tower are very small arrow slits that we would normally expect in a medieval building. Were the Sulpicians fighting monks? Correspondence with Gerard Leduc has revealed that these slits are not large enough for a gun barrel. He has also determined that they are aligned with equinoxes and solstices, similar to Newport Tower in Rhode Island.
c) The Haystack Rock in Newfoundland was carved with a symbol that appears in medieval churches in England, some of them Templar (Temple Bruer). It also appears in the Wemyss Caves, Scotland, where it was suggested that the symbol might be of Templar origin. https://nlarchaeology.wordpress.com/2014/02/14/graffiti-part-two/
d) An old stone medallion with a Templar cross found by a diver in New York State.
e) The Codex Canadensis, written and illustrated by Father Nicolas in the 17th century, shows drawings of the Iroquois with Templar crosses painted on their bodies.
f) Father Le Clercq, a 17th-century missionary in New Brunswick, found that the Mi’kmaq he had come to preach to already knew of the cross symbol. Theirs was a double cross, which they venerated and displayed in a prominent place in their abodes. Curiously, the double cross can be found among the Knights Templar, on a seal of the preceptor of Poitou, as well as on the shield of Hugh, Count of Champagne, one of the founding knights.
g) Chain mail found in the ground in Vermont, early 1800s. There is no surviving picture of it, but it was reported to the British Archaeological Association and described as being of a fine oriental design.
h) A gargoyle-like stone head and dam on Lake Memphremagog.
i) A castle and orchards in the Genesee Valley, New York, described by W. L. Stone in the early 1800s. The Mohawk leader Joseph Brant was aware of pre-colonial settlements by white people who, unfortunately, got slaughtered by the Mohawks. He took it upon himself to investigate their origin and ended up in archives in France.
Leduc, Gerard “Evidence of Pre-Columbian Contact Between Native People and Cross-Atlantic Immigrants in North Eastern North America”
j) In Swords at Sunset, Michael Bradley mentions a study by Concordia University that took a sediment core sample from Adolphus Reach. There was a layer of lye at a depth corresponding to the pre-colonial era. The Iroquois did not manufacture soap.
k) Newport Tower, Rhode Island. This colonial “windmill” was built in the medieval Norse style that can be found in Orkney. The unit of measure corresponds with Scottish ells.
The tower also bears a resemblance to the round Templar churches of Bornholm, Denmark, as well as the Templar baptistery in Convento de Cristo, Portugal.
l) Westford Knight, Massachusetts. This stone carving is believed to be the effigy of Sir James Gunn, a knight in the service of Henry Sinclair, Earl of Orkney. Sinclair’s journey to the New World was described in the Zeno Narrative; however, it is not taken seriously by mainstream history. If the effigy does not represent Sir James Gunn, the question arises as to which other 14th-century knight it could have been.