A small island off the fog-shrouded coast of Nova Scotia may conceal the world's greatest treasure, that of the order of the Knights Templar. Missing since the fourteenth century, the treasure of the Templars is reputed to contain massive amounts of gold and silver bullion, the crown jewels of royal European families, religious artifacts sacred to both Judaism and Christianity and documents that may be as explosive now as when they were buried. The current owner of what has been dubbed "the Money Pit" estimates the value of the potential treasure to be over one billion dollars.
The history of the Oak Island excavation begins in 1795 when three young men with time on their hands decided to search for Captain Kidd's booty. On tiny Oak Island they found a ship's tackle hanging from a tree branch and a nearby depression in the soil. After digging two feet down they reached a level of carefully laid flagstones, not normally found on the island. They dug further and at ten feet reached an oaken platform. Successive platforms were found at twenty and thirty feet, encouraging the diggers but surpassing their abilities. Several years later a company, the Onslow Syndicate, was formed by several prominent citizens to explore further. The oak platforms continued until at the 90-foot level an inscribed stone with a simple code revealed that treasure would be found only "forty feet below". The code may have been a false clue leading them into a booby trap. The shaft was soon filled with seawater that would not only stop further excavation; it would remain an unbeatable obstacle for the next two centuries.
A series of flood tunnels had been dug from coves on both sides of the island. The seawater entered from clog-proof drains concealed with coconut husk and eelgrass. For nearly two hundred years work has continued in an on-and-off fashion as one treasure hunter after another would invest one fortune after another in pumps, in drills, in coffer dams to stop the seawater, and even heavy construction machinery. To date the money pit has yielded only a handful of items in exchange for millions of dollars and five lives it has claimed. Gold chain, an iron scissors, a piece of undecipherable parchment are among the paltry rewards to date. There has been a wealth of theories.
The popular but implausible treasure of Captain Kidd, has holes, the largest being that most of Kidd's treasure was found on Gardiner's Island, off the eastern end of New York's Long Island where the Gardiner family had allowed a host of pirates access to his domain. Hidden payrolls of French and British ships are possible, but the motive of constructing such a massive vault is thin. From Vikings to UFO's, Aztecs to Huguenots, the list gets longer, but the combination of means and motive is the litmus test. One plausible theory has a battered Spanish treasure ship driven off-course by storm, diverted by currents to Nova Scotia. Mining engineers construct the booby-trapped vault, hide their precious goods, and attempt a return to Spain to get a stronger ship. On route, another storm finishes the work of the first. The crew and their secret perish. Until the Money Pit gives up its treasure, the debate will go on unresolved. Concurrent with the two-hundred years of excavation, the owners of the Money Pit and several independent researchers have been attempting to determine just what treasure does lie below the surface.
In 1954 the owners of the Money Pit received a letter informing them that the treasure below tiny Oak Island was not pirate gold but a treasure of far greater value. The treasure, the owners were told, would contain sacred relics and gold of the temple of Jerusalem together with manuscripts and documents that will add to man's knowledge of human history. From other sources, the belief that the documents concealed may include the earthly genealogy of Jesus Christ. The Holy Grail, according to Holy Blood, Holy Grail authors, may not actually be a chalice or dish, but a bloodline extending from King David through Jesus to modern times. One intriguing clue is that Sir Francis Bacon wrote of preserving important documents in mercury. Flasks with a residue of mercury have been found on Oak Island.
While the debate remains unresolved, the indisputable truth is that someone with a great deal of knowledge and engineering expertise went through a lot of trouble to conceal something. And that they finished their complex project at least before 1795. The carbon dating process pushes the dates back as early as 1390 and as late as the 1660s. Who might have had the motive to construct such an elaborate complex before European colonization reached Nova Scotia? Who would had such an important treasure to protect? And who might have had the ability and the manpower to design and construct such a device?
Around the year 1118, the nine men that made up the original Knights Templar returned to France from Jerusalem. Ostensibly their mission had been to make safe the roads for Christian pilgrims visiting the Holy Land'a seemingly overwhelming task for a handful of men. The real purpose might have been completely different. The early knights stationed themselves in the stables of Solomon's Temple and basically conducted a treasure hunt. When they returned, they received a heroes welcome and were the subject of St. Bernard's attention. Bernard of Clairvaux preached so powerfully on behalf of the Christian warriors that he built the tiny group into an order, rivaling his own Cistercians. The difference was that the Knights Templar were warrior monks. Pledged to the church and their order, answering to no earthy power otherwise. Young men from wealthy families of Europe flocked to join the order, pledging their inheritance. Nobles donated land and estates. Soon the Temple would grow into Europe's first bank. Europe's first families would pledge jewels and land as collateral for loans from the Templar bank.
Ironically, Templar success would contribute to the order's downfall. Nobles grew envious of the wealth and power of the order, but it was not until the Crusading armies lost Jerusalem and the Templars surrendered the last Christian outpost that anyone would challenge the order. And then the challenge was so great the order would fail.
The debt of King Philip of France to the Templars was great, in terms of both the money they had lent the king and in saving his life from the mobs of Paris. There was, however, no mutual admiration between the borrower and the lender. When the King asked to join the order he was refused. His hostility to the order induced him to mount false charges against the Templars and to bring in the Roman Pope. In one fateful day, Friday, October 13, 1307 the armies of France would attack Templar headquarters and arrest hundreds of knights. They would be tortured until they confessed to any charges leveled by their torturers. These included devil worship, homosexuality, spitting on the Cross and worshipping an idol in the form of a severed head. Many would die during torture; others would be burned at the stake.
While the goal of defeating the order had succeeded, the real goal of King Philip had failed. Before that fateful October day, the Paris Temple, the headquarters of the world's only bank, had been tipped off. The treasures had been loaded on wagon trains and carried overland to the port of La Rochelle. There the wealth of the order was placed aboard Templar ships. The Templar fleet then simply disappeared.
The destination of the Templar fleet has been debated since. Templars might have found refuge in Portugal where their organization survived as the Knights of Christ. They might have found refuge in England under King Edward, who would take his time in seeking out and prosecuting Templars. The numerous islands off the west and north coasts of Scotland are a very likely refuge. Templars and the King of Scotland had much in common. Both suffered under the ban of excommunication, and both would soon be under attack by King Edward of England.
Robert the Bruce earned his excommunication by stabbing his rival to death on the altar of the Greyfriars Chapel. He gathered two important bishops and several nobles and had himself declared king on the Stone of Scone. After Robert the Bruce declared himself king of Scotland, he had ironically become an outlaw. He spent years living in caves, losing one family member after another to the English, only to emerge victorious at the Battle of Bannockburn. While history records many wars and battles where the English army was the better-trained and better-armed force and went to battle against Scots who were reduced to throwing spears and rocks, Bannockburn was different. The Scot forces at first seemed to be retreating, only to pull the English army in. Then a fresh force of knights emerged. The surprise to the English was devastating; they had expected an easy rout of their enemy only to find themselves fleeing for their lives. Scotland won its most critical battle in the war for independence. And the day was June 24, sacred in Templar tradition as St. John's Feast Day.
Robert Bruce was from a Norman family that had been part of the 1066 invasion. So were the Sinclairs of Rosslyn. The Sinclairs and their French relatives the St. Clairs were instrumental in creating the Knights Templar. In a time where families were often as powerful as nominal kings, both French and Scottish St. Clairs wielded great power. The Scotland branch would soon command a navy as great as any in fourteenth-century Europe and their ancestral home became Templar headquarters in hiding.
In 1398, almost a century before Columbus, Henry Sinclair of Rosslyn would lead an expedition to lands in eastern Canada and New England that had been visited by the Norse for centuries. His pilot was Antonio Zeno who kept detailed records and maps of the voyage. Landing in Nova Scotia on the second day of June in 1398, Sinclair sent a small army to explore. He would send his Italian navigator home and he would remain for at least one winter. From a base in Canada, Sinclair led a small army south. In Westford, Massachusetts, a skirmish with the native residents culminated in the death of Sir James Gunn. The Scottish force would leave a detailed carving in stone with the Clan Gunn coat of arms, which is still visible today. Another knight, unidentified, died or was killed on the route south, his skeleton and suit of armor to be discovered in Fall River in colonial times. The most remarkable monument to their expedition was the construction of an octagonal Templar chapel in Newport, Rhode Island. Modeled after the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, Templars would erect such structures in various places in Europe. The only other such temple in Scotland was in Orkney where the Sinclair family ruled. The "Newport Tower" would later become a matter of great debate, although the earliest European explorer to view the Rhode Island coast was Verrazano who recorded it on his map. Evidence of the pre-Columbian expedition would be brought home as well.
Starting in 1436 the Sinclair family planned the construction of a remarkably complex chapel in Rosslyn with carvings of pagan heads, and items allegedly unknown in Europe until after Columbus, like cornhusks and aloe. The brought construction workers, masons, from all over to build the chapel and to construct a massive hiding place in rock that could hold a treasure as well as an army. While the masons arrived in 1436, actual work in Scotland did not begin until 1441. It would make little sense to employ workers for five years without putting them to the task.
More likely, they were at work. The Sinclair fleet had brought their army of masons to the soon-to-be-discovered New World. There they would construct the booby-trapped Money Pit. Using engineering skills known both to the Templars and St. Bernard's Cistercians, the deep shaft, the long water tunnels, the false beach and concealed drains were all put in place.
For a century the Templar treasure would rest safe in Rosslyn. The descendants of the Templar knights would become organized as "free masons" and employed and protected by the Sinclair family. When James II became king he decreed the Sinclair family to be the hereditary guardians of the Freemasons. This connection has not been severed in Scotland.
The affairs of state and religion, however, would soon bring the Clan Sinclair to war again. Protestant mobs inspired by Calvin would sweep through Scotland. The target would be icons in Catholic Churches and the Sinclair family, ardent Catholics, gathered up the gold chalices and other goods of churches they supported. The English Crown, now in Protestant hands, rose against the families that controlled Scotland. In 1542, the Battle of Solway saw defeat for Scotland and the loss of Oliver Sinclair, the right hand of James V's reign, to English capture. The king predicted at the birth of his daughter Mary that his family dynasty would end. He placed Mary, later known as Mary, Queen of Scots in the care of the Sinclair family. Oliver, furloughed from English prison for a short visit to his home in 1545 disappeared from Scotland and history.
The premise of my book Lost Treasure of the Knights Templar, is that at this time the treasure was brought to Oak Island and sealed away. The remaining head of the Clan Sinclair, William would share the existence of the secret with Mary of Guise, the most powerful woman in France, and part of the extended Norman family. She proclaimed a "bond of obligation" to William. His "secret shown to us, we shall keep secret". The existence of a vault would be known to the Guise family, but the location would be a secret passed only within the family Sinclair. Subsequent wars and religious strife took a serious toll on the family. Along the way, Sinclairs would die suddenly, in war, in prison, and possibly of natural causes. At some point the secret location was not passed down to the next generation.
Today the most modern assault on the Money Pit will start anew. David Tobias, the current owner, first heard of Oak Island and the treasure search when he was a pilot training in Nova Scotia during World War II. He came back to Oak Island and the search for its treasure, first as an investor, soon as the owner of half of the island. He has not only brought millions of his own money to the table; he has brought the treasure search up to modern standards. Under his direction, the search has employed and consulted with corporations and with talent from the National Museum of Modern Science at Ottawa and the prestigious Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. Last December his group was granted a new treasure license, extending for five years. Once recent legal hurdles are overcome, Tobias and his group known as Triton Alliance will again challenge the capabilities of the guardians of the Templar treasure.