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Hidden trail of the Midlands dark knights; AUTHOR UNEARTHS CLUES TO BRUTAL TEMPLAR ORDER.

Byline: BY LORNE JACKSON

SIMON Brighton first became interested when he learned about the satanic rituals.

He particularly liked the fact that they buried their victims alive... deep within the shadows of their hidden tunnels.

But, best of all, he adored the Knights Templar because they were local.

He discovered them in the Midlands.

Simon is one of the country's foremost experts on the mystical group of warrior knights who dominated Medieval England, and also played a key role in The Da Vinci Code.

In fact, his photographs were even used in the illustrated edition of the Dan Brown book.

Now he has written his own book, filled with remarkable images of Templar buildings in the UK.

And many of them are in the Midlands.

"There are some truly amazing sights in the area," he says.

"For instance, Temple Balsall in Warwickshire has some incredible carvings on the walls.

"There is one striking stone image of a knight emerging from a wall.

"He really looks tough and grizzled. But that's probably because the Templars weren't allowed to shave.

"Some of the other figures look genuinely sinister. Faces are blurred and indistinct, and there are gaping holes where the features should be.

"But that's probably just because the stone has been weathered over hundreds of years."

Simon's interest in the mystical knights was initially stirred as a boy, when he discovered a Templar sight next to his home -Temple Bruer in Lincolnshire.

These days there are many more Midland sights that fascinate the 49 year-old amateur historian, who currently works as a psychiatric nurse in London.

Sights he returns to again and again.

These include St Michael's Church in Garway, Herefordshire.

Once more, the church has many mysterious images carved into its stone, including a figure of death, a dragon and even a swastika.

But this is no proof that the Templars were an early group of fascists.

In fact, the symbol, was originally a sign of peace, before it was adapted for sinister purposes by the Nazis.

And just like the swastika, Simon reveals the reputation of the Templars has also been twisted and warped over the years.

"All the stuff I read as a kid about their satanic rituals and the bodies behind the walls was written by the Victorians," he says.

"But that was a long time after the Templars had been destroyed by their enemies.

"The Victorians were just repeating the propaganda that had been used to discredit them.

"The truth is we don't know much about their philosophies and thinking because they were very secretive and didn't believe in writing anything down."

However, one thing is certain.

The Templars were a spiritual bunch of blokes, and they were likely to have been involved in many mystical quests during the Middle Ages.

Although they probably were not in search of the Holy Grail, as some commentators have speculated.

Simon explains: "The search for the Holy Grail is actually a Christian adaptation of an old pagan myth.

"But that doesn't mean the Knights weren't searching for mystical objects.

"After all, they were involved in the Crusades and had their base in Jerusalem. So they would certainly have known about objects like the Ark Of The Covenant.

"Part of their job in the holy land was to look for holy objects.

"For instance, it was firmly believed at the time that the spear that pierced Christ's side when he was on the cross had been discovered."

So does Simon believe that the Templars were connected to a world-wide conspiracy, such as the one related in the Da Vinci Code?

"Probably not," he laughs. "The truth is they were a very successful group of men who dominated the political landscape for many years.

"The problem is that they left no written records, which is why they have such mystique, even to this day.

"But we can still see into their minds to an extent - by looking at the incredible buildings they left behind. And many of these buildings are in the Midlands."

In Search Of The Knights Templar - A Guide To The Sites In Britain, is available from Weidenfeld & Nicholson from July 13, price pounds 20.

SO WHO WERE THE KNIGHTS TEMPLAR?

THE Knights Templar was a military and religious order which dominated medieval Europe for nearly 200 years before it was brutally suppressed in the early 1300s.

Their reputation as formidable warriors and mystical thinkers has converted into myths, which have inspired many tales - including the Da Vinci Code.

CAPTION(S):

FIERCE: a knight at Temple Balsall church, Warwickshire, below' TEMPLAR: St Michael's Church and, below, Hereford Cathedral hold clues
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Jun 25, 2006
Words:771
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