Lost Relics Hamilton White on why so little Templar artefacts remain
In season 1 of Lost Relic Hunters, one of the world’s most prolific yet unknown treasure hunters, Hamilton White, and his long-time friend, Carl Cookson, they traced the origins of an amazing hoard of relics – believed to have belonged to the legendary Knights Templar.
Hamilton spoke to Sky HISTORY about the hoard and what it can tell us about the fascinating and mysterious order of the Knights Templar.
Hamilton has been buying and selling ancient artefacts since he was a child. It all began with a 'desperately uninteresting little coin of Edward I’ that is still in his possession. In episode 1 of the series Hamilton gives a guided tour of his 'research and development facility' otherwise known as one of his sheds. It is packed to the gills with so much treasure, it'd give Aladdin cave-envy. Mammoth tusks, a bust of Marcus Aurelius, bits of the Mary Rose and Nazi bullion bars are just some of the items he points out as random.
Hamilton in his typical no-nonsense style explains how he became involved in the world of buying and selling extremely valuable rare items. ‘I'm totally unemployable. I haven't had a job since they kicked me out of school but by some bizarre freak of nature I ended up being quite good at this. Don't ask me how.’
In his 40-year-career nothing he has bought or sold can come close to the hoard of Templar treasure that Hamilton and Carl revealed to the public in season 1 of the show. Until today, no major items belonging to the Knights Templar – who acted as bodyguards for pilgrims venturing to the Holy Land – have ever been recovered. However, Hamilton and Carl believe they have at last discovered what everyone else has been looking for – a treasure trove of artefacts which reveal who the Templars were, how they worshipped, and why they were targeted, imprisoned and wiped out by Papal decree in 1307.
The hoard was first discovered in, Tomar, Portugal at a former Templar stronghold, the Convento de Cristo. It was split up and the individual items sold to collectors over the world. Hamilton, with Carl’s support has painstakingly pieced back together this treasure trove believed to be lost for all time. The first items from the hoard that were revealed in the show were a black obsidian chalice, a Templar sword, an alabaster libation vessel, and an iron reliquary box. These items and the hoard as a whole represents in Carl's words in episode 1 ‘the most significant find since Tutankhamun’.
Controversial is a term that is used a lot to describe the hoard. ‘It's only controversial in the sense that it actually exists,’ Hamilton explains. It’s a fairly blunt answer but gets to the heart of the matter. Even though the Knights Templar were the richest and most powerful military order in the medieval period, who had the largest standing army since the Roman Empire they have virtually left no trace.
‘When you get back to the Templar period, we're talking 700, 800 years ago, the number of specific Templar ritual artefacts that were owned by the order would have been quite small in the first place. When the dissolution happened in 1307 (King Phillip IV violently disbanded the order), it was a complete pillage. Everything associated with the Templars was considered so heretical and so criminal, that it was simply destroyed. Virtually all the paperwork was burnt. Everything that was seized of value, if it were a precious metal it would have gone to the crown. If it was coinage or gold or had a monetary value it would have simply been absorbed. The actual number of physical artefacts that even survived for a couple of years after 1307 would have been so tiny, it's incalculable.’ This Hoard potentially changes everything we know about the Knights Templar but Hamilton felt no trepidation in revealing the Hoard to the public, 'My only concern was about being on TV to be honest'.
Not only are these items incredibly rare they could shine a light on the forgotten practices of the order that was virtually wiped from the face of the earth in 1307. In season 1 each episode, follows Hamilton and Carl as they investigate the provenance of each item, revealing how they were made and how they were used to give a unique insight into the world of the Templars. This is less about rewriting Templar history than penning it from scratch, given how much has been lost.
The five items, uncovered as part of the Tomar hoard do suggest that there were some sort of secret ceremonies. Whilst we can never know what these ceremonies entail, at least we can know say that there were some sort of rituals. Though Hamilton is unwilling to speculate.
‘No-one, no matter how much research they do, will ever be able to tell you what those ceremonies comprised of.
‘Was it a simple ceremony based on Christianity? Was it a heretical thing? Were they using mind-altering substances?
‘They were obviously doing something that wasn't conventional Christianity because these rituals were held in secret and the details were not imparted to people outside of the order. So by a process of logic, I would deduce that there was something that they didn't want the regular church to see or know what they were doing. But beyond that, I really don't know.’
Potentially, the Hoard represents only surviving pieces of ritualistic and ceremonial Templar regalia. A number, of the agate and gold items match vessels known to have been taken from Constantinople in 1204 during the third crusade. In all probability many of the items left Acre in 1291 on the last Templar vessel that departed bound for Cyprus. This is recorded in period documents written by those at the fall of Acre.
While we can never guess about the exact nature of these ceremonies, these objects do offer clues to the Templar's secret beliefs. On the Iron Reliquary box, for instance, images of Christ and the Virgin Mary appear on the back of the box. With St George, depicted as a Templar on the front. Jesus’s position is intriguing, with a crown of thorns on his head, wearing monk's robes, he relegated to the back of the box? Each object raises an array of different questions that Hamilton and Carl set out to answer, travelling across Europe and the Holy Land following each tantalizing clue.
Watch season 1 of the Lost Relic Hunters to find out what they discovered about this mysterious order of knights?
In season 2, Hamilton and Carl and joined by cultural historian Janina Ramirez on a journey to breath-taking locations around the world, including Venice, Istanbul, Barcelona, Jerusalem and the Pyrenees in their quest to discover more about the rare and precious antiquities from Hamilton’s collection.
The brand-new and exclusive 5-part series Lost Relic Hunters premieres on Sky HISTORY on Monday 6th September at 9pm. Sky HISTORY is available on Sky 123, NOW, Virgin 270 and TalkTalk 327. All episodes will be available on catch up services.