(CNN) – They were known as the guardians of the Holy Grail, an sometimes mysterious band of religious warriors whose exploits throughout Europe and the Middle East have inspired contemporary conspiracy theories and film plots.
But like all great travelers, the Knights Templar from the Middle Ages eventually needed a place to lay some roots, wash their socks, polish their armor, and perhaps build a few castles or cathedrals.
Famous examples of these 13th-century Gothic and Romanesque structures can be found throughout Britain, France, Italy, Portugal and Spain.
Less well known are the spectacular chapels and fortifications they constructed in western Poland, where the Knights Templar and other crusaders colonized land and began to weave their own mythology into the idyllic rural landscape.
A trip to the West Pomeranian region and the villages of Chwarszczany, Myślibórz and Rurka ̵
And according to at least one local legend, it is here that the Holy Grail, the cup which Jesus Christ drank at the Last Supper and which later kept his blood, could still be hidden.
The road to Chwarszczany, a village lost between fields and forests, is used only by those other than those who live there. The village itself is a collection of faded houses with fewer than 100 residents keeping chickens and growing tomatoes in the summer.
Farms are housed in a controlled lattice, the houses are built in traditional German style, testifying to the geopolitical upheavals that have affected the region over the centuries.
Archaeologists believe there is a secret tunnel entrance under the chapel in Chwarszczany.
Regards Małgosia Krakowska
This is where the temples established a place of worship.
The chapel of Saint Stanislaus was built in red brick on a granite base and was built in 1232 on a secluded site.
The chapel is built in accordance with the Templar Rule, an intricate codex that the knights obeyed for fear of being banished from the fraternity. The appearance of the building is defensive, its high walls are built to withstand attacks as well as the vandalism of the time.
It is still in use as a place of worship, although Sunday morning in Chwarszczany is quiet conditions, typically watching about 30 parishioners gather inside the chapel in private prayer and Roman Catholic worship services. On the walls there are two restored frescoes.
Here, discoveries are still being made that shed new light on the lives and deaths of the knights and their acolytes. Among the finds under the chapel’s shrine are the bodies of some of the knights themselves and a possible secret passage.
Przemysław Kołosowski, an archaeologist working to preserve Chwarszczany’s medieval heritage, says researchers during excavations in 2019 discovered several fortifications and a cemetery using ground-penetrating radar.
“Our GPR has discovered Gothic crypts with the remains of the Knights Templar under the chapel,” Kołosowski told CNN Travel. “According to legends and medieval documents, there was a well near the chapel. Rumor has it that the well served as an entrance to a secret tunnel. This still requires an exhaustive archaeological investigation.”
Indiana Jones inspiration
The “Holy Grail” chalice was used as a prop in the movie “Indian Jones and the Last Crusade.”
JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP via Getty Images
The Knights Templar have long fascinated historians and archaeologists, in part because of the shady aspects of some of their practices.
The order was founded in Jerusalem in the 12th century to protect the Holy Land pilgrims and became a powerful force throughout Europe, enjoying papal privileges, tax breaks and lavish donations, while also earning legendary status.
They are said to have become protectors of the Holy Grail and the Ark of the Covenant, a coffin said to contain remnants of the Ten Commandments – stories that have inspired the plot of the Indiana Jones films and Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code”. “
“The Knights Templar are always involved,” wrote Italian author Umberto Eco in his book “Foucault’s Pendulum.”
This certainly seems to be the case in the 12th and 13th centuries in Europe. In western Poland, landowners decided to prevent this involvement by inviting the knights to settle in what was then known as the Pojezierze Myśliborskie region.
When it’s possible to travel, the few visitors who come to this magical corner of Northern Europe have a few accommodation options thanks to local taverns Oberża Templum and Komandoria Chwarszczany, which are now trying to attract history fans and medievalists, especially from neighboring Germany. . (Oberża Templum Chwarszczany 3 B; +48 792 241 731. Komandoria Chwarszczany Guest Rooms, Chwarszczany 3B.)
Political power struggles
One of the restored frescoes in the Chwarszczany Chapel.
About 40 kilometers north of Chwarszczany, another Romanesque building owes its existence to the medieval order.
The Chapel of the Knights Templar in Rurka is a rough stone building dating from around 1250, built in the architectural style of the German Saxony region.
The Rurka chapel sat in a secluded wooded area and was sold into private hands in 1999 and is closed for renovation.
After 25 minutes drive, to the northeast, travelers reach Myślibórz, a tight community of narrow streets and surrounded by forest and four lakes.
It is an idyllic place, but the scene here is stolen by the city’s remarkably preserved fortifications, which look pretty much today, as they probably did during the Crusades.
The Knights Templar arrived in the town of Mysliborz in the 13th century.
Myślibórz’s defensive architecture provides an insight into what life was like in the time of the temples, when societies lived in fear of warfare and political power struggles.
Historical documents date the temples of Myślibórz from around 1238, when the land around the city was assigned to them by the local aristocrat, Duke Władysław Odonic.
“Back in those days, the emergence of knights on this earth was a popular trend,” Marek Karolczak, a local historian, tells CNN Travel. “This is the time of the crusade. Local rulers wanted to strengthen their power by inviting military orders to settle on their land and build commands.”
In medieval Europe, commanders were the smallest administrative units of land and property governed by a military order.
“The study shows that there were three commanders in this area: in Myślibórz, in Chwarszczany and in Rurka. The distance between them was about four hours by horse,” says Karolczak.
Nowogrodzka Gate in Mysliborz. One of the main entrances to the city.
The fortifications around Myślibórz were built in the 13th and 14th centuries. The city has maintained its medieval town planning with a square in the middle. Around this market square there is an 18th century Rathaus or town hall and dwellings.
Even today, the main entrances to the city are via two medieval portals, the Pyrzycka Gate and the Nowogródzka Gate, built at the beginning of the 13th and 14th centuries. Modern roads allow cars to enter the city through the gates.
Inside the fortifications stands a cylindrical stone stone tower, topped by crenelated battlefields.
Visitors should ask about a secret underground tunnel that runs under the city from the large church located on the market square to the Dominican convent, which according to Karolczak was originally the location of the Templar Knights Castle.
After the Templar Knights were expelled from Myślibórz in the late 13th century, their legendary treasure disappeared.
Karolczak says that according to local history, the tax was lowered by the temples even in a nearby lake.
“Legend has it that the Templars, under dark coverings, lowered a wooden box containing golden coins and the Holy Grail,” he says.
“The lake that used to be near the village of Świątki – also owned by the Knights Templar – has dried up and the treasure has either been stolen or lost forever in the swamp.”