I was in Berlin in February 2020 just before the Coronavirus struck and led to the city going on lockdown. It seems incredible that at the time of writing this, I was in Berlin three weeks ago and walked around the incredible Pergamon Museum – whose doors are now closed.
But – I don’t want you to be denied the amazing sights of the Pergamon Museum just because of this wretched virus. So luckily, I had my iPhone and captured the incredible Roman gateway that was shipped a hundred years ago from what is now Turkey to Germany. The Gate of Miletus was then reconstructed at the Pergamon Museum in a vast room.
I am appearing as a contributor on the new Discovery channel history investigation series Rob Riggle Global Investigator presented by Mr Riggle – who you will have seen previously on Saturday Night Live and the Daily Show as well as several comedy movies.
Scottish Grail quest for Rob Riggle Global Investigator
He brings his comedic talents, military background and ability to connect with TV audiences to this new fun history series. I was honoured to be asked to appear with Rob on his special investigation into the Holy Grail.
We filmed at Kilwinning Abbey – a Scottish ruined medieval structure. Some believe that when the Templars fled the wrath of the King of France – they ended up in Scotland with their treasure.
So we went hunting to see what we could find!
Templars, Grail and off to Scotland!
The story behind this episode of Rob Riggle Global Investigator is that when the Knights Templar were crushed in 1307, they fled France with all their treasure. A very popular theory – though contested – has them boarding ships at the French port of La Rochelle and setting off for Scotland.
Once there, they helped Robert the Bruce defeat the English at the Battle of Bannockburn. In gratitude, the Scottish kings let the Templars hole up with the monks at Kilwinning Abbey. Over time, they blended and merged with the monks and used their skills as masons to erect a beautiful place of worship.
One local historian claims that the Grail chalice used by Jesus at the Last Supper was brought to the abbey by the Knights Templar and is hidden in a secret chamber. While another claim is that a wooden cross that once stood there included part of the True Cross – on which Jesus was crucified.
The Masonic connection
In Freemason lore, the Heredom of Kilwinning dates back to the 12th century while the Rosy Cross was a Masonic rite established after the Battle of Bannockburn. The two were merged and the clear inference is that the Templars were indeed the first Freemasons.
The Mother Lodge of Scotland – numbered as zero – is based at Kilwinning. It’s sometimes referred to as Mother Kilwinning.
There are reputedly secret tunnels under Kilwinning – one of them leading from my hotel. But for some curious reason, the hotel owner built a toilet over the tunnel entrance. She showed it to me with some trepidation. And claimed that a Catholic priest had warned her to block it (the tunnel not the toilet!) so nobody could go down. I suppose a toilet is an effective obstacle!
Anyway – enjoy!! And tune into Rob Riggle Global Investigator!
In the last two weeks, I finished filming for a new series of Forbidden History and for a new documentary series on the History channel that will accompany The Curse of Oak Island. There’s great Templar related content on both programmes and I think you’re going to have some amazing viewing in 2020. I’ll tell you when those programmes appear – of course!
Plus – three months ago I was up in Scotland filming with broadcaster and top comic talent Rob Riggle for a brand new series for Discovery called Rob Riggle Global Investigator. As with the other programmes above, I’m sworn to secrecy on the content but needless to say, more Templar secrets will be revealed.
American visitors to the blog may have seen me on the last series of Strange Evidenceand NASA’s Unexplained Files – where I covered an extraordinary breadth of topics. Plus there was my outing with Scott Wolter on America Unearthed where Scott and I investigated a possible Templar link at Rosslyn Chapel back in January of this year – which has now been aired on the Travel channel.
So, all in all, 2019 has been a good year for taking history on to TV and hopefully making it accessible and fun for global audiences. If there are any subjects you think I should be covering on TV in 2020 – please do tell me and comment in the usual way.
Tony McMahon – the bearded historian – is coming to a history TV screen near you!
It was 79 AD when a mountain near the Roman city of Pompeii did something rather unexpected – it exploded into life revealing itself as a volcano.
The green slopes of Vesuvius had hidden its true nature for centuries. But in that year, a cataclysmic eruption tore it apart sending a plume of fire far into the sky.
Pompeii volcano described: “Tree with a flaming trunk”
One contemporary account described it as looking like a tree with a flaming trunk and streaks of fire and smoke high above. That whole area of Italy was plunged into darkness only lit up by thundery streaks.
Death didn’t come instantly to thousands of people living nearby and many chose not to flee straight away. Instead, the stunned citizens of Pompeii decided to stick it out. Maybe they were still overcome with a degree of incomprehension – the sight before them was too much to absorb.
What happened next was the collapse of the enormous volcanic plume sending hot gas and rubble fanning out across Pompeii, Herculaneum and other the surrounding countryside.
At temperatures over a thousand degrees celsius, people were fried where they stood, sat or lay. It didn’t matter if they sought shelter – there was no escape from the Pompeii volcano.
It took 1500 years for Pompeii to be accidentally rediscovered under many feet of solidified volcanic material. Gradually, over the centuries, streets have been uncovered as well as town houses, temples and bath houses.
By pouring concrete into the spaces left behind by vaporised human bodies, we’re even able to see the positions that people died in. Sometimes their hands are raised and you can certainly see their mouths open for one last gasp.
I just visited Pompeii and felt the need to share some great images with you. Hopefully, you will get the opportunity to travel to southern Italy and see it for yourself!
We’ve been spoiled with historical TV series on Netflix, History and HBO. So, choosing the top ten medieval TV series is tough. But here goes!
THE LAST KINGDOM
A drama series set at a terrifying time in English history when the very idea of being “English” was being defined. Saxons and Vikings have divided the realm seizing territory and slaying each other viciously. This is a period of history that was largely ignored when I was a kid. We skipped from the Romans to the Tudors. But these days, the so-called Dark Ages are being mined for great drama and documentaries. A light shone on this amazing and compelling time.
You can’t really go wrong with the Vikings. Blood, guts and battles. If you enjoy the History series, try watching some older movies for a different perspective. The 1958 movie The Vikings is a good Sunday afternoon watch over biscuits and coffee!
Pillars of the Earth brought us a murderous romp from the civil war that engulfed England under the reign of King Stephen. It was a period called The Great Anarchy that tore families apart and reduced some aristocrats to outlaw status. This was at the beginning of the Templar era and a very violent time for England. I loved this series – absolutely faultless.
Going a big vintage here. But this late 1950s/early 1960s TV adaptation of the novel Ivanhoe by Walter Scott deserves an honourable mention. Scott revived interest in the medieval period among 19th century Victorians. However, he cast the Templars as baddies. Scott saw them as enforcers for a cruel Norman nobility in old England.
How Knights Templar looked forward to this series from History. The first season struggled to find its feet and Mark Hamill of Star Wars fame was introduced in season two as a hardened old Templar master. But it’s not done as well as it should have. And that surprises me because the subject matter is truly compelling. What seems to be the problem is a lack of confidence in the whole project. I’m praying for a third season but it truly needs a kick up the backside to get to where it should be.
GAME OF THRONES
It’s mythical, Tolkein with attitude and full of gory violence – but strangely, it captures the flavour of the Middle Ages quite well. Full of court intrigue and belief in strange beings that dwell in the forests, what’s not to like as a medievalist? I’m always of the view that the Targaryen family are basically the long reigning Plantagenets of England who went a bit off the rails with Richard II. The dynasty ended with his murder and a usurper Henry taking over. Sounds familiar?
WORLD WITHOUT END
Like Pillars of the Earth, this comes from the pen of Ken Follett – only now we’ve moved about 150 years ahead. This is the reign of Edward III and again, it’s after another civil war. The last king, Edward II, has been killed….or has he? Edward II, by the way, was the last king to preside over the Knights Templar before they were crushed.
THE WHITE QUEEN
BBC drama series takes us to the War of the Roses – the bloody end to the Middle Ages in England when the aristocracy tore itself to pieces. This focuses on the strong women who emerged in this conflict.
Merlin had a long grey beard when I was a kid but the BBC re-imagined him as a youth for this very dynamic and rather scary kids series.
This was a 1960s French TV series about a crusader – I just like the theme tune to be honest! It’s a classic depiction of the Templars all neatly laundered white tunics and long flowing hair. Nobody seems to ever get filthy and dirty in the battle scenes.