In October of last year, A+E Networks filed a trademark application asking for priority consideration for their use of the clunky name Buried: Knights Templar and the Holy Grail for a new television series. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office moved with exceptional speed to grant A+E the use of the name, which they slapped on a program that began airing last week on the History channel as part of the network’s massive push to spread Templar-themed content across its television properties. This included the Knightfall drama series about the Templars, and a refocusing of Curse of Oak Island on fictitious Templar mysteries. All of this is part of what the channel’s head of programming described last year as an intentional push for Templar programming because of audience demand for it
Buried is a clunky, unfinished series that relies heavily on the audience’s presumed familiarity with the Templars. Its four-hour runtime contains about an hour of content, if I am being generous. The series opens in media res with two familiar faces taking the typical History channel role of rugged, iconoclastic investigator. Mikey Kay, a Welsh former soldier and frequent television personality on ABC, CNN, and the Travel Channel, and Garth Baldwin, an archaeologist formerly of the Hidden Bible series are the adventurers du jour. They make quite plain that television is its own form of inertia, and once you’ve been on one show, you will inevitably be awarded another, unless acted upon by an outside force. The two men are bland, and the choice to use an outside narrator means that they have little personality to show. After four hours, I didn’t feel I knew anything about them other than that they were standard issue manly white guys. Presumably their grizzled appearance, Indiana Jones attire, and full beards makes them a stand-in for how their audience imagines themselves.
In the first episode, which aired on January 31 along with the second episode, our heroes visit caves where they believe the Knights Templar hid out after the suppression of their order. However, the program, like most History shows, is not interested in actually teaching you anything about the Templars, so bits of the backstory are scattered at random in an ineffective way that never quite builds to a narrative. Instead, the fractured presentation allows the series to get away with creating the impression that there is a mystery where none actually exists. Specifically, our heroes are investigating whether the Templars continued on after the dissolution of their order by reforming as secret societies across Europe. The fate of most of the Templars is quite well known from medieval records, so it is only by breaking the narrative into a postmodern mishmash of material that they can build enough confusion to make space for their “investigation.”
In episode 1, “Holy City, Holy Grail,” the investigators look at potential ways that the Templars might have secreted the Ark of the Covenant out of Jerusalem by using a series of underground caves. This supposedly happened in 1187, but our heroes happily let the structure of the show elide the fact that this was 120 years before the Templar order fell prey to royal French and papal ambitions. If you enjoy watching middle aged men drive around dusty roads and wander through caves, then you likely had a great time watching Kay and Baldwin propose possible ways that the Templars could have moved the Ark, if they actually found the Ark. But they neglected to provide any compelling evidence that the Templars ever did—and with good reason. The story was made up in the 1990s, as I discovered in 2016, by combining Freemason conspiracy theories about the Ark with Templar conspiracies from the twentieth century revolving around secret “documents” and a good dose of Indiana Jones. At the end of the first episode, the hosts allow 1187 to slide into 1307 as though it was only a few days, not more than a century.
“The Knights Templar allegedly vanished off the face of the Earth in 1307,” the narrator says at the opening of the second episode. This is a total lie. When the French king and the pope suppressed the order, they dissolved its governing body and prosecuted its leadership, but they did not cause the men to vanish. Legal records remain detailing what became of them. Some were thrown in jail, some executed, but the vast majority were either discharged from their office or allowed to join another order of knighthood. The Knights of St. John absorbed some of the former Knights Templar, for example, and legal documents allowing it still exist. But the show needs a mystery, and having failed to establish that the Ark of the Covenant was ever in the Knights’ possession, the second episode simply proceeds on the assumption that it did and imagines how the Templars might have hidden the relic in their castle at Acre from 1187 to 1291. “I’m bringing that fucking thing here,” Kay announces triumphantly and vulgarly (it isn’t his only vulgarity of the series), having invented a fictional narrative and matched it to extant ruins.
The Templars, and all the other Crusaders, were pushed out of Acre in 1291, when the Mamluks recaptured the city. A writer known as the Templar of Tyre (section 3 of the Gestes des Chiprois) recorded that the Templars followed their tunnels to escape by ship, but he said nothing about the Ark of the Covenant, which you’d think religious types might have been interested in. From this silence, our heroes speculate that the Templars might have thrown the Ark overboard to lighten their load—as though they would risk God’s wrath by destroying God’s earthly embodiment. So they go swimming, and we watch them searching the waters off Acre, which—and this should come as no surprise—results in absolutely nothing, so the men move on to Cyprus, where the Acre Templars decamped in 1291.
I’ll just pause here to say that this show was so boring that I actually started to notice the narrator’s bad grammar, at one point saying “have began” instead of “have begun.”
Anyway, none of this has anything to do with the supposed thesis of the four-part series, that the Templars survived their dissolution in 1307. Instead, after two episodes, we have followed real events—the evacuation from Acre—for a fictitious purpose that the show didn’t even bother to try to prove, instead relying on its audience to come with the belief that Templars had the Ark.
Finally, in the third episode, which aired this Wednesday, Kay and Baldwin begin to spin a fantasy about how the Templars survived their 1307 dissolution—using “military survival tactics.” What? Did you forget that these are manly men doing man-things on a man-channel? Anyway, the third episode reviews the history of the final days of the Templars and the royal effort arrest the knights. The men believe that the Templars had been tipped off a month beforehand and secured their treasure. The trouble here is that they are silently eliding the Templars’ monetary wealth with Christian holy relics, as though there were evidence of the Ark. The narrator says that the Templars might have evolved into the Illuminati or the Freemasons. “So could they have done it?” the narrator asks. Viewers are not expected to recognize that the narration is setting up the rest of the episode to be a counterfactual what-if. See, I half expect the producers to say, we never actually said this happened!
Since the show is named Buried, a big chunk of the run time is devoted to looking for cellars, tunnels, caves, and other underground places that Templars on the run might have hidden themselves or their treasures. This involves some examination of actual French archaeological sites where Templars had medieval commanderies, but everything is framed in a speculative fantasy about hauling the Ark across France to hide it from the king and pope, rendering what might have been a legitimately interesting look at the real operations of the Templars into pointlessness, running off into strange digressions into what the Templars “could” have done, but never actually using the historical record to say what they did do.
Proceeding from this, the show then moves the action from France to Spain and suggests that the Templars hid their treasure where “X marks the spot.” They point to a series of Templar sites which can be joined together by straight lines in the form of two overlapping X’s, which the show compares to the Templar’s eight-pointed cross. The narrator says that the alignment is “so precise and intricate it would take a computer to draw today.” Funny, though, that their graphic omits one of the sites on the map from the alignment, and two points of the figure lack any sites. It’s hard to see from the graphic, but that map is the whole of Spain and Portugal.
The Templars had many more sites in Castile, Leon, and Portugal than those on the map depicted in the show. It is unclear why only a few were selected to create this “alignment.” The Spanish fringe writer who came up with the idea doesn’t say, but he believes that the Templars learned from the Muslims of the Holy Land the lost scientific secrets of the Egyptian pyramids (yes, it’s the Arab-Islamic pyramid myth again!) and used antediluvian wisdom to lay out their map and build their churches and castles. Personally, it seems like a piss poor way to use the forbidden secrets of the Nephilim, but that’s just me. Anyway, the center of the alignment is a monastery where they feel that treasure might be buried. It isn’t, but the Spanish conspiracy theorist tells them that window tracings in the shape of hearts and pentagrams imply that the Holy Grail (the heart) and magic powers (pentagram) are contained within. They are not.
The narrator compares the monastery with its hearts and pentagrams to Bohemian Grove, home to “known Freemasons.” Without any factual support, the narrator speculates that Templar elites—you know, the ones who were arrested and on trial—met at the monastery in October 1307 to plot how to become Freemasons and, as Hay says, “regenerate the order.”
There is no evidence, I will repeat again, that anyone ever traveled to or met at the monastery in 1307 for that purpose, let alone conspired there before getting arrested back home.
Also: Why would you decorate your secret headquarters with what amounted to big billboards announcing TEMPLAR SECRET HEADQUARTERS! NO GIRLS ALLOWED!?
The season (and, I hope, series) finale fourth episode is scheduled to air on February 21, but, you lucky people, History has already made it available for viewing. Sadly, it required me sitting through about 30 commercials for inflammatory bowel syndrome medicine, but I guess it was worth it?
Picking up from the previous episode, the fourth speculates about where the Templars went after being disbanded. They dismiss Scotland and Switzerland, two popular choices, and focus in on Portugal, where the Templars had a deep establishment going back to the first king of Portugal, Afonso Henrique. His monogram featured an anagram that appears to spell Portugal, but following a fringe claim proposed by Freddy Silva in 2014, we are apparently supposed to use the center column of letters both vertically and horizontally to reveal a hidden message: “Por tu, O Gral,” or “For you, O Grail.” This is cute, I guess, but based on no logical rules, especially since Afonso lived from 1109 to 1185, and the Templars did not become associated with the Holy Grail until Wolfram von Eschenbach included a fictitious version of them in his Parzival in the early 1200s. The Grail didn’t really exist at all before Chrétien de Troyes published his Perceval, without Templars, in 1190 and offered the first literary account of the Grail. Oh, and it was spelled graal, the Old French word for bowl, back then. It came from gradalis, a medieval Latin word, and, long story short, while I don’t know Old Portuguese, the Portuguese form was almost certainly not gral. It isn’t in any medieval form of the related languages I do have a passing familiarity with such as Spanish, Catalan, and Provencal.
Anyway, the show correctly notes that the Order of Christ in Portugal included many former members of the Knights Templar in Portugal at its founding by King Denis I. This is neither controversial nor secret. It was common knowledge in Victorian encyclopedias and books, so it surprises me that the show sets it up like a major discovery. As a technical matter, however, the Order of Christ was not a continuation of the Templars, as the show implies, nor was it 100% staffed with Templars. It was a new order made up of many former Templars and some others, much as the Hospitallers had taken in other Templars. The Order of Christ preserved the most of the old Templar order, but it was not “a possible alias for the Templars 2.0,” as the narrator said.
Here, the show begins to build speculation upon speculation. Visiting the same church where Scott Wolter looked for Templar secrets in Tomar, Portugal, the show asks if the Order of Christ contained a secret inner brotherhood, unknown to its rank and file members, who were the “missing link” to the Freemasons. The narration never bothers to support or explain this leading question, but asking the question is meant to serve as proof in and of itself. Just as Wolter did in Pirate Treasure of the Knights Templar, Buried asks us to accept—without evidence—that the Templars passed to the Order of Christ plans to explore and colonize the entire world in the name of the Holy Grail and ancient wisdom. Seriously, they didn’t even bother to offer superficial evidence in support of this hypothesis. Instead, they use implications and innuendo, implying that Portugal could never have sailed the seven seas without ancient secrets to guide them. The watchword here is the repeated phrase that “many believe” that the Templars had found ancient maps and scrolls of Egyptian provenance hidden under the Temple Mount. Again, this is a modern invention, a myth derived from Masonic pretentions to Templar heritage—claims that date back no further than the late 1700s.
The show spins into full fringe territory, asserting that Columbus stole a Templar map to find America, for example, but always prefacing such evidence-free claims with “some say” or “many believe”—code for “some idiot made this up and we ripped it off for cash.” They even repeat the old canard--a fringe history lie from some of our usual authors—that the Templars flew the Jolly Roger. But as the show nears its end, it can’t help but start to embrace the ugly religious message hiding under many fringe ideas. In this case, the buried message is anti-Catholic, and Baldwin happily tells the camera that the Templars were not heretics as charged, nor did they adopt Muslim practices, as many scholars have concluded; instead, he tells us that they are the true Christians, who had rediscovered the original teachings of Christianity from lost gospels and therefore represented the real legacy of Christ against what is implicitly a corrupt and evil Catholic Church, the enemy of our heroes and therefore the sub rosa enemy of the show’s viewers. Indeed, the narrator says that the Templars had “a direct line to the divine through rituals,” and that the Catholic clergy had “betrayed” the Templars. He adds, apparently in seriousness, though in the form of a rhetorical question, that the Templars could view the past and the future through channeling the power of God in hidden grottos.
The show finished by suggesting that the Order of Christ “secretly infiltrated” world governments and secret societies like the Masons and Skull and Bones. The show chose not to explain how Portuguese knights infiltrated these groups without anyone noticing that they were Portuguese. Without any evidence, the program asserts that the Knights helped found the Masons and therefore the United States, founded by a group of Masons, is really a Templar country. Now, keep in mind that the show previously declared the Templars to be the only true Christians and directly connected to God and God’s magic powers. I think you can see the conclusion that the producers want you to draw, but which the show itself chose not to spell out.
I was disturbed by the attempt to claim America as God’s chosen receptacle for the real and most pure Christian faith. This is a blatant attempt to flatter the network’s Christian, conservative, and nationalist base, but it is also a disturbing bit of propaganda, subtly twisting even fake history to give America a new origin story for the Trump era, where heresy is now purity, where rich men making decisions in secret is now God’s glorious will done on Earth, and where lies are now the only acceptable truth.
This show wasn’t just a shitty documentary. It was also more than a little evil.
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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