Daybreak, Friday 13 October, 1307, and the seneschals1 of the King of France swooped to arrest members of the Knights Templar. This was a hush-hush operation, and as such was relatively successful. The Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, was arrested along with members of his hierarchy on trumped up charges of heresy. The incredulous Templars put up no resistance as Philip le Bel's men secured the Paris Temple and investigated the inner rooms.
They found evidence of what they believed were heretical practices, and forced confessions from arrested Templars admitted that they 'denied Christ' and 'spat on the cross'. At this, the fury of Philip's men knew no bounds, and without delay they called in the chief torturer and extractor of confessions – a man named Imbert.
At first Imbert was thwarted in his attempts, as the Templars were answerable to no man but the Pope. By use of some creative interpretation of the papal directive that ordered the arrest originally, they were able to overcome this legal obstacle. Imbert resolved to ‘interrogate' Molay in his own temple, but as this was the financial centre of the city, the temple did not come equipped with a torture chamber.
However, Imbert was nothing if not resourceful, and sadistically creative with it. As punishment for denying Christ, Imbert put Molay through what he thought Christ would have suffered. Imbert stripped Molay naked and secured his wrists and ankles with rope, and then proceeded to whip him with a multi-tailed whip. A crown embedded with sharp objects was thrust onto Molay's head with great force, cutting his scalp and forehead, and then for the final humiliation Imbert searched for a means of crucifying Molay.
Molay was dragged over to a large wooden door and made to stand on a footstool. His right arm was stretched vertically above his head and a large nail through the wrist, carefully positioned between the radius and ulna bones and avoiding the veins, secured this arm to the door. The nail's entrance caused his thumb to embed itself in the flesh of his palm. His left arm was dragged out horizontally to the side and nailed similarly. The footstool was removed and a nail positioned between second and third metatarsals of the right foot. The right foot was placed over the left so that the economical Imbert could secure both feet to the door with one nail. He was not hung in the classical position, but in a near straight line from the right wrist to the feet with the left arm out to the side. His right shoulder would have dislocated immediately. Blood loss would have been minimal due to the careful placing of the nails, and Molay would have been fully conscious but in incredible pain. The rack would have given the toturers great control over the amount of pain they could inflict on a victim, but they were denied this. However, the simple action of swinging the door to and fro and occasionally slamming it shut must have sent unimaginable waves of pain through Molay.
This version of events corresponds with the medical aspects of the wounds seen on the Shroud of Turin, as well as the direction of blood flow (see R Bucklin, The Medical Aspects of the Crucifixion of Christ).
The trauma inflicted on the body of the 63-year-old Grand Master caused metabolic acidosis – the production of large amounts of lactic acid, as seen in exhausted athletes. His inability to exhale properly caused respiratory acidosis - a build up of carbon dioxide. His heart would have been pounding, he would have been pouring with sweat, and his muscles would have been paralysed with cramp. Just as Molay thought he must thankfully have died, Imbert took him down to inflict further indignities.
He was laid on a length of linen, which was then folded over at the head to cover his front. He was then laid on the same bed from which he had been dragged that morning, his head and shoulders supported to assist his poor breathing. The man's morbid fluids (blood and sweat) ran over his body. The linen made contact with the back of Molay's body and was draped over the front. Pillows supported his body with his arms flat on the bed by his side.
Imbert was under orders not to kill Molay, but he was not going to be the one to nurse him back to health. As Molay had no family in the area, the family of his number two, Geoffrey de Charney, came in to look after both Molay and Charney. They would have removed the shroud and dressed the wounds. The perfectly good linen would have been washed and stored without further thought.
Molay confessed to the crimes levelled against his order just three days after his initial arrest. The next year Molay again confessed to denying Christ and the cross in front of the royal puppet Pope Clement. When, facing increasing criticism, Philip requested Clement set up a papal commission to investigate the charges against the Templars, Molay was brought before the Pope. He was read out a letter that purported to be his full confession to all levelled charges. When his supposed confession to the charge of homosexuality was read out, Molay flew into such a rage that the Pope ordered him to moderate his language, but Molay never denied the charge of denying Christ and the cross. He later said that the confession was forced from him and removed his clothing to show the torture scars.
The Templars never received a fair trial, and under Philip they were never likely to. In fact, the French king went as far as to force Clement to publish the results of the papal enquiry on 12 August, 1308, in which the 'confessions' of the knights who were interviewed on 17 August appeared.
On 18 March, 1314, Molay and Charney were burned alive over a hot smokeless fire as punishment for their heretical crimes. Care was taken so that their feet and genitalia would burn first. In his last speech to the crowd, Molay repeated his claim that the confessions to charges such as homosexuality2 and ritual murder were brought on by torture, but still never denied the charges of denying Christ. He called upon those who had judged him to appear before the Supreme Judge (God) within a year. Within three months, Philip le Bel, King of France, fell from his horse whilst hunting and was killed outright, and Pope Clement succumbed to bowel cancer. Not only that, but the church in which his cadaver was lying was struck by lightning and burnt to a cinder.
After de Molay
It is said that Molay's remains were gathered up secretly and retained as religious artefacts. Three of the main accusers of the Templars had died as per Molay's 'curse'; William de Norgaret, one of the king's most trusted henchmen, had died the week after Molay. The prophecies of Maimonides, concerning the second messiah and the events concerning his life and times, appeared to be coming true just a generation after Molay's death. A huge flood hit Rome, then a revolution, and then an earthquake damaged all three of the great Basilicas. The Black Death then struck Europe, which is believed to have killed a third of the population. These apocalyptic events led to a number of strange forms of religious worship, including self-flagellation. Scapegoats were sought, and as has been so often the case in human history thousands of Jews were killed first. The Church also took a huge amount of blame for not paying God due attention, despite the fact that thousands of monks died trying to help the sick during these troubled times.
At this point, Molay was attracting a cult following. The legends regarding his remains were growing. Those who knew he had been crucified started to spread the word, much to the alarm of the Church. After the crucifixion of Jesus, the Holy Land had been blighted and most of the population had died. Now it appeared to be happening again. The last thing that the Church needed to accelerate the myth of the second messiah was a miracle – and the Shroud of Turin provided it.
The Shroud at this time was still in possession of the de Charney family. Geoffrey de Charney would have been the grandson of Jean de Charney, who was roasted alive with Molay. Geoffrey de Charney was high in King John II's favour and was his standard bearer. Charney set up a church in Lirey in France with the permission of John II. On 28 May, 1356, the Bishop of Troyes inaugurated Charney's new church. At this time no mention of a shroud was made in a statement of the church's assets.
Four months later, Charney was fighting alongside his beloved King against the English at Poitiers. Charney was killed, and John II was held to ransom by the English. Geoffrey's widow, Jeanne, was left with an infant son and no husband, and no King to grant a royal pension. The Prince Regent had financial difficulties of his own (the ransom that the English had set was for 3,000,000 crowns) and was unable to help. As was usual, Jeanne was forced to sort through her husband's belongings. It was at this point that she came across the shroud that was used to wrap Jacques de Molay. Once opened up, the image, created by a chemical reaction, revealed itself to her
Within a short time, Jeanne had persuaded her husband's church at Lirey to not only display the Shroud, but also to sell commemorative medallions for visitors to purchase. The business of holy relics was on a strong footing at that time, and before long vast numbers of pilgrims were flocking to the site. The Church would usually promote this sort of thing because it tended to strengthen the superstitions of the populace, but not in this instance. Bishop Henry of Poitiers was sent by the Church to destroy the Shroud, because to have the true origins of the Shroud revealed – which Henry suspected he knew – would have shattered the Church's tenuous hold. Henry quickly 'located the man who made the Shroud' and informed the Lirey church to destroy the profane image immediately. These instructions are recorded in the archives of the diocese of Troyes. However, Henry never identified the forger, as might be expected. To produce the forger, possibly to make him stand trial, would have strengthened the Church's case and struck a blow against the credibility of the Shroud. But this never happened.
Jeanne hid the Shroud and claimed it had been destroyed. Henry appears to have swallowed this story because he remained on friendly terms with the Charney family for the rest of his life.
Jeanne, still a young woman, later remarried the wealthy Aymon of Genevainto. Her new family was of great influence within the Church, and by 1378 she was aunt to the new Pope, Clement VII. Interestingly, her son Geoffrey later married the niece of Henry of Poitiers. Mother and son began showing the Shroud anew in 1389.
Meanwhile, her husband's church at Lirey had become much more important due to the influx of pilgrims. A local bishop, Pierre d'Arcis, became interested in the Shroud and began his own investigation. He read through Henry's earlier investigation and was alarmed at what he found. Henry had wanted to record that this was not the image of Christ, but did not want to write down the real version of its creation to be preserved for posterity. Instead he merely recorded it as a fake and said he knew the man responsible for creating it, something else he never recorded.
D'Arcis wrote to Lirey to inform them of the fraud and to tell them to cease the exposition of the Shroud. The Dean of Lirey wrote back, saying that legal guardianship had reverted to Geoffrey de Charney; that the Crown was authorising the display of the relic; and that the Crown was now authorising an armed guard to stand with the relic at all times in case d'Arcis or anyone else try to retake the Shroud using force.
D'Arcis was a trained lawyer and wrote to the King requesting a halt to the displays until a papal ruling was obtained. Under the law the King was obliged to agree. The King authorised the bailiffs of Troyes to confiscate the Shroud, and surrender it to d'Arcis. The bailiffs came away with no shroud, because Charney refused to give it up. This stand-off lasted until the summer, when Charney arranged a meeting with the Pope (his cousin, by marriage). The result was that the displays were allowed to restart without reference to d'Arcis. By way of concession however, the church at Lirey had to display it as a 'copy or representation of the Shroud of Christ' and not claim it to be the real thing.
The astonished d'Arcis immediately wrote to the Pope, assuming material facts to have been withheld from him, and explaining the fullest details of his own investigation and that of Henry. The Pope responded by sending out three letters of his own. The first was to Geoffrey de Charney, confirming that he could continue to display the Shroud as a representation of Christ. The second was to Pierre d'Arcis, which totally ignored the contents of the previous correspondence. The Pope warned him that the matter was closed and that should he breathe one word of the subject to any living soul he would immediately be excommunicated. The last was to the senior clerics of Lirey and Troyes, informing them of the contents of the other two letters and entrusting them with seeing that the conditions were met. D'Arcis died five years later without ever mentioning the Shroud again.
After this the Shroud moved from the Charney family to the Savoy family when it was bought by Louis, the second duke, in 1453. The Savoy family ruled over Italy from its establishment as a country in 1861 until it became a republic in 1946.