Yesterday I discussed the French writers whose speculations led to the belief that the Knights Templar had intercourse with the New World. The story, according to (incorrect) French sources, originates in a 1948 short story written by Jean de la Varende, who claimed that “The property of the Temple was of silver. The Templars had discovered America—Mexico and its silver mines” (my trans.). This, in turn, led to a number of Francophone authors speculating about Templar invasions of the Americas, along with Spanish authors like including Alejandre Vignati, writing in El Enigma de los Templarios (1975). In researching this, I discovered a particularly bizarre effort to try to justify the claim, but one that dates back to a 1902 book about the Templars that I learned of in a roundabout way.
In the 2002 book Sociétés secrètes en Nouvelle-France, the French Canadian author Paul Falardeau adopts the widespread myth that the Knights Templar colonized Oak Island in the 1300s, but he also explores the earlier Francophone claims about Templars further south, specifically in Mexico. Citing the work of an earlier writer named “Eugene Beauvais”—unknown to me—he claims that there are extant Spanish writings that prove the Templars were operating in Mexico in the Middle Ages.
It looks like this is a reference to Eugène Beauvois, a nineteenth century French writer who connected Mexico to the Celts by identifying Plutarch’s references to the island of Kronos with Mexico. He apparently made the claim in the 1902 journal article, “Les Templiers de l’ancien Mexique et leur origine européenne.” I have not had the time to read this article in full, which I only just learned of this morning, but the claim appears on the very first page, so I guess that makes it the origin point for all the later versions: “The last of the emigrants who introduced into ancient Mexico the notions of Christianity and of White men carried the significant name Tecpantlacs (Templars)…” (my trans.; parentheses in original).
The specific text cited in support is that of Chimalpahin, whom Falardeau refers to by some of his Spanish names, San Antón Muñón. Chimalpahin was a Mexican writer of the sixteenth century who wrote a history of his people in Nahuatl. His Annals were translated into French and published in the nineteenth century. Falardeau and Beauvais, along with other writers such as Emilio Corbière and (in America) Steven Sora allege that Chimalpahin (or, more rarely, an unspecified “Vatican codex”) record the arrival of the “Tecpantlaques” in the middle 1200s and they etymologize this word as coming from tecpan (“temple” or “palace”), suggesting that they were the “People of the Temple,” and thus the Knights Templar.
I’ll be damned if I can find any such word as “Tecpantlaques” in Chimalpahin’s Annals. The relevant passages that the authors seem to describe refer to the “Tlacochcalcas” who, in the entries for 1272 to 1274, crossed the Great Sea after leaving Aztlan en route to Mexico, coming through a snowy land. Such references our authors want us to see as references to Europe and the Atlantic, though the plain meaning of the text is that the arriving people were future Mexican nations coming from the north.
The closest I can find is the two-word phrase tecpan tlaca, which is translated as gens de palais (“the people of the palace”). According to Spanish-language sources, a tecpantlaque was a member of a special class of Aztec workers who maintained a lord’s palace or a god’s temple, but this is a particularly rare Europeanized spelling, and I think our version is actually a Francophone author’s attempt to turn tecpan tlaca (modern: tecpantlaca) into a French word by Gallicizing its terminal vowel. This is especially strange because, after researching this, I discovered (as you can see above) that Beauvois actually spelled it the right way, and his copyists somehow got it wrong.
So how did the tecpan tlaca get promoted to an invading force of Templars? That’s a fun one involving the transitive property. In the introductory remarks to the seventh book of his Annals, Chimalpahin writes, as I translate it from the French and modern Spanish editions:
It is said that the Nonohualcas, Téotlixcas and Tlacochcalcas were not Chichimeca, but they were called the “people of the palace,” because they gave themselves over to and were servants in the house of that devil [i.e. god] Tlatlauhqui Tezcatlipoca … (my trans.)
Thus, by the transitive property, the Tlacochcalcas could be described as “People of the Palace” (and thus “People of the Temple”) before their arrival in Mexico, and fringe historians can simply avoid dealing with them as a real Native people by swapping out all references to them for the Templars! Of course this runs into the trouble of figuring out exactly why the Templars would be serving the Flayed God of the Mexica, but that’s the problem you run into when you base your hypotheses on word play. I did not find a French or Spanish Templar theorist who dealt with that problem, though I have not read all of their books in full. Perhaps they mention it somewhere.
What is perhaps most interesting is that this same set of material from Chimalpahin had also been used (apparently independently) by T. S. Denison in 1908 in an effort to prove that the speakers of Nahuatl were actually “primitive Aryans.” “One thing is certain,” he wrote in The Primitive Aryans of America. “We must dismiss all notion that the Nahua developed an indigenous civilization on American soil in spite of assertions to that effect by prominent writers. They distinctly inherited the old Aryan culture of Western Asia.”
Apparently everyone wanted to find white people in Mexico!
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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