Adventures

The Riddle of the Knights Templar
In Colonial Veracruz:
Solved By the Man
Who Feeds the Pigeons

Photos and Text by John Todd, Jr.

Interesting Friends on the Zócalo in Veracruz
I had several months off until the next construction project was to start, and would have mid morning coffee at one of the well known Cafes in the downtown area of Veracruz. Veracruz is a very old city, and has it´s own special cast of characters who have been here for a long time.

Don Alfredo is a Veteran Film Actor
Don Alfredo is rather old and still shines shoes next to the Cathedral. He is really an actor in many of the movies filmed in the area around Veracruz. I enjoy listening to his stories about how he acted in Romancing the Stone and was the Fifth King of Chac in Mel Gibson´s film Apokalypto.

The Knights Templar
Don Alfredo knows a lot about movies, and one day we talked awhile about Nicolas Cage´s recent film about the Knights Templar that had finally come to Veracruz. He said:

"If you want to know more about the Knights Templar, and how they came to Veracruz, you might want to talk to that man over there", and he motioned towards an old man across the Zócalo feeding a group of pigeons.

"He knows a lot about history."

A Local Historian Who Feeds the Pigeons
That´s how I first met the Man who Feeds the Pigeons.

The Don Alfredo got busy shining the shoes of one of the local lawyers on his way back to the office after having his morning coffee, and I thanked Don Alfredo as we shook hands and he got back to work.

There was still some time left and I approached the man who was feeding the pigeons. I began my conversion with:

"Don Alfredo suggested I talk to you because you know some stories about the history of Veracruz. Perhaps you have heard of the Knights Templar?"

"Yes", he said, "I know many things the real historians don´t know about. They are paid a salary and should know better," he said abruptly.

"Are you one of those historiadores?", he asked somewhat contemptuously as if they were mercenaries who only worked for the highest bidder.

The Good Fortune Not to Have a Job?
"What kind of work do you do?", he asked me casually.

"Well, I´m an administrator for construction projects for Pemex, but right now I don´t have a full time job," I replied, a little embarrassed.

"Ah, you don´t have a job?", he said.

"No", I replied, and looked down at one of the pigeons.

"That is good", he said.

The Time to Enjoy Life
"Now you have the great treasure of TIME to enjoy life!," he said with great pleasure.

At first I didn´t understand what he was saying, but I knew that for some reason he had accepted me into his confidence as perhaps one who had time to listen, and that at the same time, I wasn´t a "mercenary" out to make money.

"But, please accept my apology because I am busy right now and have an important appointment," he said politely.

"Please excuse me. If you can come back another day, I would enjoy talking to you. I know many things about the Knights Templar, and how they came to Mexico a long time ago. It is a story that not many people know."

La Catedral de la Asunción
La Catedral de la Asunción
The Quiet Man Who Feeds the Pigeons
Intrigued, the next day I went back down to the Zócalo to talk to the man who feeds the pigeons, and during the following days listened more of his stories.

From our conversations, he gave me the original idea of exploring the Old Camino Real of the Jesuits in Veracruz. During these trips tracing the route of an old map, I met a lot of new people and heard some interesting legends.

He also knew a lot about downtown Veracruz, and told me about the Old Convents of Veracruz which turned into another interesting project to track these places down.

The Old Man and his "True Stories"
As time went on, I got to know the old man a little better. He revealed that for many years he had been a sailor in the merchant marine and had travelled the 7 seas. He said that he´d been to 27 countries.

"My father was a sailor, and also my grandfather and I guess it's a tradition in our family."

"My travels have taken me to Spain and to London, and to the Far East and Manila and India, and I have found many friends in these far away lands. Even the relatives who were friends of my grandfather. We have kept our friendships for many generations. "

"Many times when we were in port, I had no money, I would visit the museums and churches during my times off. In the process, I made new friends in these countries who taught me some of their language and told me the stories and legends the old people had told them. Many times they were the stories that were left out of the history books in many countries, including my own."

"So, when I am in a foreign country I always have friends to visit and we enjoy sharing the stories we have heard in our own travels. At the same time, after hearing so many different stories, we know which ones are the true ones."

For example, when I was in India, I heard the story of Mirra, the girl who was taken as a slave by Portuguese pirates to Manila and sold to a Spanish sea captain. He later gave her to his dear friend in Puebla, Mexico and she became the La China Poblana: The Slave Girl from India Who Brought Color to Mexico. He went on to say that he had been to Puebla and had seen her final resting place in the church of the Compañía de Jesus.

Now I began to believe there might be some truth in his stories. It was because he had lived the experience and not just read about it in a book somewhere.

The Historic Zócalo Built in 1725
A Film About the Knights Templar
A couple of weeks before, the Nicolas Cage movie, "National Treasure" had come to Veracruz, and I wondered what Veracruz was like back in 1776.

By that time, Veracruz, established in the year 1600, by 1776 was an important bustling port city in America, perhaps more important than New York in those days.

Later, I began to notice documentaries and read stories about the Knights Templar, and wondered if they might have come to Veracruz instead of the United States?

Out of History Come the Legends
Most tourists who come to Veracruz don´t realize that Veracruz is one of the oldest cities on the American continent, and much of the history has been lost or converted to legends.

Forgotten Nuggets from the Past
My friend on the Zócalo told me about the origins of the song La Bamba, and how many verses were added later, but the original verses in the chorus are like little nuggets of information about forgotten events of the past.
"Refreshment" Stands Under Los Portales
Sometimes you really have to dig hard to find the truth behind some of these legends, and now it felt good to have some time to explore more of these legends.

Many of these legends have been adorned over the years and are not entirely true. But, some are partially true, and it´s fun to try to document these legends. This is what I wanted to ask the old man about.

The man who feeds the pigeons always had an opinion, and at the very least, I knew I would probably hear an unusual story.

Morning Coffee on the Zócalo
To have coffee with a friend in the mornings on the Zócalo is a special event.

It´s a time when the streets are freshly swept and clean after an overnight shower.

Later in the morning it would become hot and humid and the rest of the day would be uncomfortable to even walk in the streets for any length of time.
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Shoe Shine
A Shoe Shine in the Morning
It feels good to in Veracruz in the mornings, and to have time to enjoy life in a leisurely manner much like the people who live in the tropics do.

The day before, a friend who also knows many of the legends of Veracruz, had suggested we meet for coffee at one of the restaurants in front of the Cathedral on the Zócalo.

Some Time for a Shoe Shine
I had arrived a little early, and my friend hadn´t arrived for coffee yet, so after getting a shoe shine, I still had some time to look for my friend who feeds the pigeons.

He´s usually at the same place each morning at this time.
Los Portales
Fresh Mornings at Los Portales
As expected, he was sitting on the same bench, and I sat down near the man and watched him feeding the pigeons for awhile.

Then he turned to me and said,

"It is good to see you again. How have you been?"

Not in Nueva York!
I told him about the film I´d seen about the treasure of the Knights Templar, and asked him if he´d ever heard the story.
The Pigeons of Veracruz
"John, Let me tell you about the Knights Templar, and how they brought their treasure to Veracruz, and not to Nueva York!"

"The clues are there, and I will tell you the story that not many people know about how they came here and what became of their wealth."

"The interesting part is that their treasure passed not far from where we now are sitting."

Then, as he continued to feed the pigeons, he began to slowly tell me the strange story about how the Knights Templar came to Veracruz.

Part I--The Story of the Knights Templar, and How they Got to Veracruz

The Pilgrimages to Jerusalem
The Story of The Knights Templar
A long time ago, in Europe, in the 11th century, the nine men that made up the original Knights Templar returned to France from Jerusalem.

Their original mission had been to make safe the roads for Christian pilgrims visiting the Holy Land.

It is said these early Templarios had found King Solomon's Temple and an immense treasure of unknown wealth under the stables where they were camped out.

When they returned to Europe, they received a hero's welcome and built the tiny group into an important religious order of warrior monks.

Like many of the religious orders of those days, they were an independent group who reported directly to the Pope.

The Treasure was Divided Up and Europe´s First Bank was Formed
It is true that there was a vast treasure, and when each Knight returned to his home country and family, it was divided up among the early Templarios and each was given his share.

Remember that these were warriors of Christ, and as in the Parable of the Talents they were not to bury their share of the fortune.

Young men from the wealthy families of Europe flocked to join the order, pledging their inheritance.

The Templarios of Scotland were few, but they were frugal, and promised to defend King David I. Others in Scotland joined the new order and the beautiful Rosslyn Chapel was built just outside Edinburg.

In later generations, the money had to be used to stay alive, but there were political differences that led to the formation of different groups which later became the Freemasons of Scotland and England. But I am getting ahead of myself.

The Templar Cross
A License to Kill and a Special Cross
Because the mission of their order had been to protect the pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem, they became the only holy order with a license to kill.

Back in those days, each religious order had a special cross, and the Templarios adopted the symbol of two swords in the form of a red cross, to reflect the blood they had shed protecting Christians from the infidels during the pilgrimages.

Problems for the Templars
Europe's nobles pledged jewels and land, as well as their estates, as collateral for loans, and soon, the Templars grew into one of Europe's first banks. Ironically, their success as bankers contributed to the order's downfall.

As things turned out, some of the nobles became envious of the wealth and power of the order. The debt of King Felipe of France was great. When the king asked to join the order, he was refused. He then mounted false charges against the Templars and brought in the Pope.

On Friday, October 13, 1307 the armies of France attacked Templar headquarters and hundreds of knights were arrested. They were tortured until they were forced to confess to the charges presented by their torturers. This was also the justification to seize their vast properties.

However, before these arrests began it is said that 24 Knights took 18 ships out of their Atlantic port, La Rochelle, France, and were never heard of again.

The Iberian Templars
Many historians think that in fleeing the French Oppression of 1307, they set their fleet towards Portugal where they joined the newly formed "Order of Christ" which had been established to offer sanctuary to the Templars of France.

In reality, for many years prior to the Opression of 1307, the Knights Templar had been strong on the Iberian peninsula. The Portuguese Templars had simply changed their name and became the "Knights of Christ."

The patron saint of Spain is Santiago and because they had the license to kill they were give the new mission to protect the pilgrims along the road to the holy shrine at Compostela.

Columbus Ship
with the Cross of the Knights Templar
Financing the Explorations of the World
Their wealth continued to grow and over the years they invested in many enterprises.

Some of these were some of the expeditions of the early explorers, especially the Portuguese and Spaniards who later became famous for their explorations in Africa and the West Indies.

The old man continued,

"For example, in 1492, the sails of Columbus' ships were emblazoned with the Templar cross because the Templarios had invested in his project to explore the New World."

The famous King Henry the Navigator was a known Grand Master of the Order, and explorers like Vasco da Gama were also members.

With New Wealth, Wars Came to Europe
Over the years, and with the generations that passed, the Empire of Spain became very wealthy, and jealousies among the various countries in Europe began. And controversies within the courts of the these countries, including the court of Spain began to increase.

Even the Church was not free from controversies, and there were problems with the declarations of Martin Luther. The Church of England had separated from the Mother Church in Rome.

The Templarios realized that their carefully hidden treasures in Spain and Portugal were no longer safe. They needed to diversify and spread their treasure to safer places and America was next in their sights.

1550 to 1650--The Golden Age
The Golden Age, from 1550 to 1650, in Spain created an image of boom times in America, at least from the point of view in Spain, and Mexico, and from a bankers point of view, looked like the place for a good investment in the future. It had a stable population that was responding to the efforts of the Christian missionaries sent to Mexico.

The banking people of the Knights Templar looked at the 19 religious orders, now established in Mexico, and from discrete visits by representatives from these orders, funds were needed to build new churches and convents in the large cities as well as the small villages in Mexico.

San Juan de Ulua
Expanding the Order to America
By the year 1600, when the town of Veracruz was moved from Antigua to its present location , the fort of San Juan de Ulua had been in operation for almost 75 years.

The fort was well known throughout the world because it had become the repository and warehouse for all the treasures of the Spanish Empire, not only from the vast gold and silver mines of Mexico, but from the Orient as well.

Everyone in the civilized world of those days knew about the riches of the American Continent, and Veracruz was well known.

Unstable Future
The Knights Templar were still an almost secret order in their operations, and many of the officers at San Juan de Ulua were members of this almost military order.

Because of the difficulties among Spain, France, and England problems and instability loomed on the horizon.
The Waterfront in Veracruz in 1615
The Safety of Veracruz
The Templar bankers looked into the future and foresaw more instability in Spain, and realized America might be safer than Europe.

Mexico, known then as New Spain, had enjoyed several hundred years free from the strife that had been seen in Europe during the same time period.

Perhaps it was in the early 1600´s, or maybe earlier, that the Templarios decided to begin moving their treasures to a safe place in America.

It looked like Veracruz would be one of the best choices, especially the fort of San Juan de Ulua. The Templarios had friends in Veracruz and knew it would be a safe place to send their treasure and invest in the the religious orders established there.
The New Wall Was Built
The Waterfront in Veracruz by 1840
Slowly a Plan was Hatched.
The authorities as well as pirates were more interested in the return trips to Spain of the Gold Fleet than anything of value that might be coming from Spain.

It would take many years, but the treasure could be smuggled aboard the ships among the trade goods being shipped from Europe to the fortified castle of San Juan de Ulua.

Perhaps it could be smuggled inside the olive oil jars, or the gold was melted into small unnoticeable one pound cannonballs, and mixed in with the regular shipments.

The Raid of Lorencillo the Pirate
In 1683, a group of pirates led by Lorencillo devastated the small town of Veracruz and made the authorities wake up to the need for better security.

It was then the construction of a protective wall around the city was begun. Now Veracruz would be completely safe from the threat of pirate raids.
A Short Trip in a Skiff
The Plan Becomes a Reality
After years of planning, the venture became a reality, and in the late 1600s, the smuggling operation began.

Once the treasure was in San Juan de Ulua, it would be a simple matter to smuggle it across the harbor in small chunks to the only dock in town.
The Waterfront in Veracruz
Friends Among Other Religious Orders
During the previous centuries, as part of their banking operation, the Templarios had made contacts with other religious orders and also helped finance the construction of many of their churches and missions.

In Veracruz, they had contacts among the Franciscans who owned the whole block from Independencia to Zaragoza.

Today, it is the downtown Holiday Inn. Where the Franciscan Chapel used to be is now the Benito Juarez lighthouse.

"The chapel of the Third Order of the Fransciscans now houses the first Masonic Lodge in Mexico, and that is not a coincidence. I will tell you about that later," the old man said.

Once the valuables reached the dock, they were easily transferred to the Franciscan Convent across the street and stored in a secret room under the altar where it would be safe.
Convents of Many Orders in Veracruz
Many Convents in Veracruz
Although there´s not much left today, Veracruz is still an unusual city. In those days, there were something like 10 convents for a small town with a population of about 6,000.

The local people used the Cathedral and the Iglesia de la Pastora, and the other churches were for the private use of the religious orders and their special projects.

At the same time, since Veracruz was a relatively small town, there had to be cooperation amongst these orders to face common problems and work together on common projects, such as the lack of a fresh water system.
Convents and Tunnels in Veracruz
The First Potable Water System
The Tunnels of Veracruz
One of the first projects was an early potable water system that connected the fountains in the patios of each of the convents.

Sometimes these small tunnels were empty and could be used as hiding places during times of danger or the occupation by foreign armies.

Apparently they didn´t think the wall around the city would be enough, or perhaps you never knew when there might be enemies from within the walled city.
Cathedral
A Magnificent Cathedral
in Otatitlán, Veracruz
Later, in 1723, Fray Pedro de Buzeta, a civil engineer, was brought in by the Viceroy to improve on this aqueduct system that already existed.

Other Projects
The Templarios realized that financing the projects of the 19 different religious orders in Mexico was also good business, and the hiding places of their treasures began to include the other convents in Veracruz.

These religious orders needed money to expand their own religious efforts, especially in the small out of the way villages and towns in the interior of Mexico.

Most people think that these projects were financed by local patrons in Mexico who had become wealthy from the mines or from commerce, but that is not entirely true.
Cathedral
An Ornate Church in Molaxac, Puebla
Building Churches for Other Orders
In those days, these churches were built on such an immense scale that to realize these projects with local funding, it would have been impossible.

That is why you can see some beautiful churches in the small yet poor villages in the states of Puebla and Oaxaca.

The local Indian population had the manpower, but not the money for materials. Without these funds the local people could never have built these magnificent structures.

"And, that is what became of most of the treasure of the Knights Templar that was sent to Mexico," the old man concluded.
Cathedral
The Quiet Church in Zentla, Veracruz
Searching for the Evidence
I thought for a moment, "In Mexico, there are churches everywhere."

Each town, and even some of the hamlets, have some very old churches that look like that are two or three hundred years old and were probably constructed at the time the old man was talking about.

The Bust Comes
The old man continued on, "Later in Mexico, there were problems with famines and revolutions, and the people in the communities were very poor and could not afford to repay the loans to the Templarios."

Even though many are almost abandoned and some are in ruins now, they look like they are only used during the town´s annual fiesta celebrating the local patron saint.

"Basically, the treasure of the Knights Templar was loaned to the different religious orders in Mexico who later could not repay the loans."
The Convent at Cuautinchán, Puebla
The End of the Treasure of the Knights Templar
"And that was the end of the treasure. It´s not in Nueva York, but in the churches of all the little towns and cities in Mexico."

Later, I wondered if anyone has made a census of all the old churches in Mexico built before the year 1710. Perhaps, with that information an approximate construction cost can be placed for each building to prove what the old man was telling me.

So, for now I will accept his version of what happened to the Treasure of the Knights Templar. It´s probably more plausible than the Nicolas Cage movie.

Part II--The Masons and the Knights Templar

One More Question:
My next question was why do the Masons use titles like the Grand Knight Templar? Is there a connection?

"Yes," the old man said, "let me explain it to you".

Formation of the Masonic Orders
There were people from many countries among the early crusaders to the Holy Shrine in Jerusalem.In those days, people didn´t pay much attention to someone´s nation of origin.

There were no requirements for national origin among the Templarios either, so in addition to the Templars from France, Spain, and Germany, there were also members from England and Scotland.Of this latter group there weren´t many, but a smaller part of the treasure also belonged to them, and it was brought home to Scotland where new orders were secretly formed.

Rather than Treasures
Rather than treasures, the Templars of Scotland were given many of the writings recovered from King Solomon´s treaure in Jerusalem. They brought back with them the secrets of the construction of the ancient pyramids of Egypt.

The City Museum
Ancient Symbols and Different Rites
Over time they adopted many of the ancient seals and symbols that appeared in these writings.

Rather than being an almost military organization or a bank, the Templars in Scotland and England became involved in philosophy, construction, and mostly law.

In the early years, there were many different rites in the United Kingdom.

There were the Lancasterian, Yorkian, Londonian, and Scottish Rites and they continued these secret traditions because there were periods of time when their ideas differed from those of the king in power.

One of these masonic rites was called The United Religious, Military and Masonic Orders of the Temple and of St John of Jerusalem, Palestine, Rhodes and Malta, or simply the the "Knights Templar".
Next Door to the Masonic Lodge
On la Calle Benito Juarez
An International Fraternity
With the settlements of the English in the United States, new Masonic orders were founded on the same principles as their European counterparts.

Over the centuries, the Masons became an international fraternity, and there was close contact among the members of many countries.

They continued to be a secret society because of the politics of those days, yet many well known politicians of the day were members.

The Free Masons have always placed more importance on principles rather than personalities.

In spite of occasional controversies conflicts with various Popes of the Roman Catholic Church, on a local level, there continued to be close contact and cooperation with the individual members in all countries.
Next Door to the Masonic Lodge
The Masons in Mexico
In the late 1700´s, and especially the early 1800´s there were many different Masonic rites in Mexico. Santa Ana was even a Mason. So was Don Benito Juarez.

Although in the early years, the Masons were secret societies, and the first formal Masonic Lodge in Mexico officially organized was founded by Don Benito Juarez in Veracruz in 1857.

The site for the lodge was the Chapel of the Third Order of the Franciscans.

This order was a somewhat monastic order for religious people who lived outside the convent and wished to live their lives according to the principles of the Franciscans.

The Chapel of the Third Order
It had operated in Mexico for at least 200 years before its nationalization by the government of Benito Juarez.
Benito Juarez Lighthouse
The old man continued:

Later, this side chapel of the old Franciscan convent was purchased by the Masons when it was private property after the nationalization of church properties in the times of Benito Juarez.

The reason they chose to buy the Chapel of the Third Order of the Fransciscans, was that some of the treasure of the Knights Templar was still left in the tunnels of Veracruz, and they were now the custodians.

And like the movie, "National Treasure" you told me about, the secret of the location was kept in the hands of very few of the elders.Now these men have passed on, and the papers have not been found.

It is possible that they were destroyed during the violence Mexican Revolution or the Cristiada in the early 20th Century, or they are still being kept in a safe place.
The Masonic Lodge in Veracruz
It is believed that a portion of the treasure was found during the construction of the Benito Juarez lighthouse and Customs Offices in the 1890´s.

However, later it was attributed to money apparently stolen and hidden there by one of the previous employees.

An Interesting Possibility
It was then that I thought about the Nicolas Cage movie, and how in the film the treasure of the Knights Templar was stored in the basement of an old church.

Many times I had passed the Masonic Lodge in Veracruz and didn´t think much about it.

The old man concluded, "In Veracruz there are many legends of lost treasures, perhaps in the old tunnels underneath the city. "

Regretfully, I looked at my watch and realized I was late for my appointment for coffee. Maybe she would still be there.

Pigeons and Sailors are Messengers
Just as I was getting up to leave, the man reached down and picked up one of the pigeons. It had a small cannister. He opened the cannister and read the message inside.

"It's a message from a friend of mine in Ocotlan, Tlaxcala", he said seriously. "He will be in Veracruz next week and has some news about another church for me."

"You may not know it, but pigeons have always been used as messengers," he added. "And so have sailors."

"There's a ship leaving in the morning taking oil field steel pipes to one of the sheikhdoms of the Persian Gulf, and I must get this good news to my mate who has been waiting for this news to take with him to our friends over there."

Some of the Secrets Remained in Jerusalem
"Most people know that in 1492 when the Moors and Jews were exiled from Spain, many of them openly converted to Christianity to avoid deportation, but remained faithful to their own religions. These people were called marranos."

He added, "But what many people don't realize is that when Jerusalem fell to the Muslims in the 11th century, the Templars also had muslim friends who secretly converted to Christianity and remained behind as their contacts to be the caretakers of the secrets that were not taken back to Europe by the Templars. "

"King Solomon was very wise and what the Templarios found was only a portion of the total that was cached in several secret places in his kingdom, not only in Jerusalem.

As the Muslim Empire expanded up into Spain and to key places along the coast from the Middle East to the Orient, so were portions of this precious cache."

The man became quiet, as if he had revealed too much about the secrets he carried.

Could this be the reason why the man feeds the pigeons each morning? Maybe one day I would find out more.

Midmorning Coffee with a Friend
Coffee at Midmorning
"You are always late, John," said María Elena, "but that´s OK."

"I´ve ordered your favorite café americano and a tall glass of orange juice. The basket of the French bread you like should be here in a minute."

"When I crossed the Zócalo, you were busy talking to a man who was feeding some pigeons." I don´t like being late and apologized.

Over coffee, we talked about the story about the Knights Templar the old man had told me.

She is from Puebla and said, "These are interesting stories, but I wouldn´t believe everything the people of Veracruz tell you."
An Old Sailing Ship
"When we finish, can we go over to the City Museum? I want to take a look at a model ship," I asked.

Looking at the Old Sailing Ship
Later we went over to the City Museum to take a look at the model of the ship I´d remembered seeing earlier.

Sure enough, there was the cross of the Knights Templar emblazoned on its sails.

I guess there´s a certain amount of truth in the legends you hear from the people in Veracruz. But still, you never know.

Still there are times when I wonder how much of what the old man had told me might really be true?

Right now, it´s good to have the time to explore the old city of Veracruz, and listen to the stories the people like to tell.

Part III--Like Another DaVinci Code

Searching for More Clues that Perhaps Don't Exist
In the old streets of Veracruz there are still many overlooked clues to what I was looking for. A lot of times you won´t find these clues in the archives, because like the Templar Cross on the sails of ships of Columbus, many of these things weren´t written down, and yet they are in plain sight for anyone to see.

You have to get out and talk to the people and look at the old buildings and try to imagine what it was like.

Yet, from time to time I still search for clues in the old history books, and really think that none of this is true. It just makes a good story to tell others who also like to dream about old pirate treasures that never exisited.

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