Well, it’s been an awesome season of The Curse of Oak Island, and we’ve thoroughly enjoyed covering it. This week’s episode of Oak Island: Drilling Down explores some of the findings made during this season, ties up a number of loose ends, and gives us an idea of where the Oak Island treasure hunt might be headed. Read on for a plot summary of this episode, and for a brief background of one of the groups referenced in it- the mysterious Knights Templar.
This episode begins with a five minute recap of the various operations carried out by, and discoveries made by, the men of Oak Island Tours Inc. throughout Season 4. Following the summary, host Matty Blake meets with Rick and Marty Lagina, Craig Tester, and Charles Barkhouse at the Money Pit area. There, he asks the men of Oak Island Tours Inc. a series of questions regarding these operations and discoveries.
First, Blake confirms that Borehole Valley 3- Oak Island Tours Inc.’s first Money Pit shaft, which the Oak Island crew initially believed might have intersected the famous Chappell Vault– did, in fact, intersect a section of the Chappell Shaft, dug in 1931 by Chappells Ltd.
Next, Blake learns that, although nothing of interest was discovered at the bottom of Borehole C1- the shaft prescribed by Charles Barkhouse, at the bottom of which an underwater camera revealed the presence of a shiny, gold-coloured object- by diver John Chatterton, Oak Island Tours Inc. is not yet ready to abandon it.
In a narration, Blake reminds us that Oak Island Tours Inc.’s next Money Pit shaft, Borehole T1, produced a number of old oak logs carbon dated from 1655-1695, but reached bedrock before intersecting anything else of interest. The Oak Island crew’s fourth and final shaft, GAL1, produced a number of mysterious metal items, including hammered sheet metal, screws, nuts, washers, and a thick iron bracket, in addition to wooden timbers. When prompted by Blake, Marty speculates GAL1 might have “cut the corner of a searcher shaft, or maybe the corner of something ancient.” When asked whether or not he would like to continue excavations in the Money Pit area, he replies “if all the data, 100%, said ‘there’s nothing here’, then we’ve accomplished our goal. But… it doesn’t say that.”
Next, Blake shifts our attention towards the Oak Island swamp, where he meets with Rick Lagina, Charles Barkhouse, and Jack Begley. In a narration, he reminds us how the swamp yielded a 1652 Spanish 8 maravedis in Season 1, a long wooden plank in Season 4, and, most recently, an iron object akin to a railroad spike, which experts revealed to be a barotte nail from a Spanish galleon. Rick suggests that this evidence, coupled with the late Fred Nolan’s discoveries of a ship’s mast and scuppers in the swamp, all seem to point to the possibility that Oak Island’s swamp once housed a Spanish galleon. When prompted, all three treasure hunters affirm their desire to explore the swamp further.
After that, Blake accompanies Craig Tester, Charles Barkhouse, Jack Begley, and Dan Henksee to Smith’s Cove, where the cofferdam Oak Island Tours Inc. erected there this past season is still in place. Tester explains that he is “90+ percent sure” that their excavation within the cofferdam verified the presence of a man-made French drain, which he believes feeds the Smith’s Cove flood tunnel which, in turn, leads to the Money Pit. Charles, Jack, and Dan all concur with Craig’s statement.
Next, Blake meets with Dan and Dave Blankenship and Rick Lagina at Borehole 10-X. In a narration, he describes how Dan Blankenship discovered ancient chain at the bottom of the shaft in the early 1970’s, and how Oak Island Tours Inc. airlifted material from Borehole 10-X in Season 4, Episode 11. Dave describes how the spoils from the latest airlifting contained fragments of old wood and metal, which are currently being tested. He goes on to suggest that he and the team ought to “dry it up, and get down there, and see what is there,” an operation which Dan maintains is “very dangerous” due to the high risk of collapse. Upon being prompted, all three treasure hunters express their desire to solve the mystery of 10-X. Blake concludes the meeting by asking Dan Blankenship a final question: “Did you ever think that some fifty years later we would still have questions about this spot?” Blankenship laughs, and replies “No, I didn’t even think fifty years later I’d be livin’.”
Following that, Blake meets with Rick and Marty Lagina, Craig Tester, and Charles Barkhouse on Oak Island’s Lot 24, the site of the former residence of one-time Oak Island landowner Samuel Ball, and the location on which metal detection expert Gary Drayton, earlier that season, discovered 18th Century British coins, a piece of lead used for crafting musket balls, and an identifactory musket plate inscribed with the name “Ball”. The treasure hunters discuss how the items Drayton unearthed may indicate a military presence on Oak Island prior to the discovery of the Money Pit in 1795. Rick explains that this supposition is congruent with Fred Nolan’s theory that Oak Island’s treasure consists of booty acquired by the British following the Battle of Havana in 1762. Upon being prompted by Blake, Marty estimates that Gary Drayton has explored “10% of the island or less”, and affirms that the team intends to invite the treasure hunter back to the island for additional exploration.
Following his various meetings with the members of Oak Island Tours Inc. on Oak Island, Matty Blake meets with Rick and Marty at Marty’s Tuscan-style winery, Mari Vineyards, located just north of Traverse City, Michigan. Marty briefly explains that the vineyard is something of an homage to his and Rick’s Italian heritage. The vineyard’s name derives from the maiden name of Rick and Marty’s grandmother, and owes its style to a cave their grandfather had chiseled out of solid granite near his home in Italy.
Before discussing Oak Island, Marty invites Blake to accompany him and Rick to the “coolest part” of the vineyard. The Lagina brothers lead Blake down a dark concrete hallway lined with oak casks and into dark a circular room. Marty asks Blake to stand on a particular section of floor. Blake obliges, saying, “you know you can’t kill me, right?” In response, a dilating mechanical iris situated directly above his head opens up, allowing sunlight to spill into the room. The camera man focuses on a stunned Matty Blake, his gaze towards the heavens and his palms upturned in stupefaction. The gathering sunlight gradually illuminates the place, revealing a giant compass rose painted on the floor; Blake is standing at the centre. The spectacle complete, Marty says, “this is what we affectionately call ‘The Occulus’,” to which Blake exclaims “You two are the two coolest people I’ve ever met in my life.”
Blake notes the Templar cross beneath his feet, situated at the centre of the compass rose. Although Marty neglects to disclose the reasons for the cross’ presence, Rick says, “to me… the Templars are a real mystery, just like Oak Island.” Blake, in a narration, then briefly describes how many Oak Island researchers believe that the treasure of Oak Island was interred by members of the Knights Templar following the suppression of their order in 1307. He reminds us of Rick Lagina, Charles Barkhouse, and Doug Crowell’s excursion to New Ross, Nova Scotia- where, some believe, lie the ruins of an ancient Templar fortress- in Season 4, Episode 1.
After visiting the winery, Blake meets with the Oak Island crew in what Marty refers to as ‘The War Room West’- one of the boardrooms of Rock Management Group Ltd., Marty and Craig’s exploration drilling company headquartered in Traverse City, Michigan. There, Blake inquires as to the carbon dating of the wood airlifted from 10-X. Craig Tester informs him that “the early date on [the wood] is from 1670-1780.” Rick expresses some interest in exploring the cavern at the bottom of Borehole 10-X with a new ultrasound-based downhole imaging technology called DarkVision, developed for use in oil and gas wells. Marty’s son, Alex Lagina, asks Rick if he is prepared to accept the results of a potential DarkVision operation, to which Rick responds “don’t be foolish- only if I see something.”
Blake asks if there is any more information the team can share regarding their discoveries this season. Rick explains that the testing of the mysterious metal pulled from GAL1 is currently underway, and that there are no results yet. Next, he discusses one of the two so-called ‘Templar maps’ introduced by New York-based Templar historian Zena Halpern in Season 1, Episode 1. He says that, using “the points of Nolan’s Cross [and] sacred geometry [geometric ratios and shapes ascribed with sacred significance],” a cypher on Halpern’s map has been interpreted to read “No Trap. There is a door.” Rick explains that this “door” appears to be the “hatch” which the crew investigated in Season 4, Episodes 2 and 5. Marty implies that they plan to excavate the hatch with an excavator.
Next, Rick explains that someone has “come forward with a singularly unique interpretation… and possible knowledge of” Oak Island’s legendary 90-foot stone. Alex ensures the team that he will follow up on this potential lead.
Having completed their discussion, Blake shows the team a video he put together documenting his various streetside interviews with Nova Scotians who live in the vicinity of Oak Island. Blake asked these Maritimers what they thought of Oak Island Tours Inc. and the Oak Island treasure hunt, and who, if anyone, they believed were responsible for Oak Island’s underground workings. Perhaps the most interesting part of the video is the section in which the interviewees put forth their theories regarding the nature of Oak Island’s original diggers. These candidates include pirates, privateers, the British military, the Vikings, and the Egyptians.
After the video has finished playing, talk once again turns to the future. Marty reads a list of projects Rick hopes to eventually complete on Oak Island. These projects include:
- An expansion of the Lot 24 search
- Searching for Fred Nolan’s “log wall” in the swamp
- Searching for the “hatch” indicated by Zena Halpern’s map
- Preparing for a larger dig in the Money Pit area
Blake references a saying apparently once profered by Rick and Marty’s mother to the effect: “in order to solve a puzzle, you start at the four corners and move inward.” He asks them how many corners they have solved on Oak Island. Marty cryptically says “three” without offering further explanation.
Rick then recalls another phrase that he and Marty’s mother used to say: “sempre avanti“, which is Italian for “always forward”. He suggests that they all take this expression to heart. And with that, the meeting is ended.
The Templar Theory
One of the most intriguing theories regarding the Oak Island treasure is that it is the fabled treasure of the Knights Templar, a medieval Christian military Order which emerged in 1119 AD in the wake of the First Crusade.
The First Crusade was a massive campaign which began in 1096, when more than 60,000 Christian knights and peasant soldiers, referred to collectively as ‘Crusaders’, left Europe for the Holy Land in the hopes of liberating Jerusalem from Islamic control. After pushing through Anatolia (present-day Turkey) – which was, at the time, controlled by the Turkish Seljuk Sultanate- the Crusader armies marched down the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea to Jerusalem and laid siege to it in 1099. After nine days, the Crusaders assaulted the city and breached its walls before infamously massacring many of the residents within.
Following the Christian conquest of the Holy Land and the establishment of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, pilgrims from all over Christendom flocked to the Holy City and transformed it into a thriving metropolis. Along with the pilgrims, however, came gangs of bandits who killed and looted the hapless Christians along the popular route from the port city of Jaffa to Jerusalem. In order to protect the pilgrims from these bandits, a monastic military Order of monk-knights known as the Knights Hospitaller was established in 1099.
Twenty years later, a French knight named Hugues de Payens, following the example of the Knights Hospitaller, gathered together eight knights to whom he was related and formed a similar Order. Like the Knights Hospitaller, these nine knights took monastic vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, and were determined to protect pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem. They called themselves the Poor Fellow Soldiers of Jesus Christ. Initially, these nine monk-knights were indeed very poor. According to legend, Hugues de Payens and Godfrey de Saint-Omer, another of the nine, were so poor that they had to share a horse. Because of this, the seal the Order eventually adopted depicted two men riding a single horse.
The nine knights travelled to Jerusalem, where they sought the blessing of the city’s King Baldwin II. Baldwin granted the Poor Fellow Soldiers permission to take up residence on the Temple Mount, in the Al-Aqsa Mosque. According to tradition, the Al-Aqsa Mosque, considered by Muslims to be the third holiest Islamic site, was the location on which Solomon’s Temple had once stood. Because of this, the Poor Fellow Soldiers of Jesus Christ earned themselves a new name: the Knights of the Temple, or the Knights Templar.
For the first nine years of their existence, little was heard of the mysterious Templars, as the members of the Knights Templar were known. According to popular legend, the original knights began to excavate the foundations of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and discovered the ruins of the ancient Solomon’s Temple beneath it. After exploring the Temple ruins for some time, they came upon a secret chamber which held a treasure of incalculable value. Some say that the treasure included the Ark of the Covenant, the chest holding the tablets on which Moses inscribed the 10 Commandments. Others say it included the Menorah, the seven-armed lampstand of pure gold used to illuminate the Holy of Holies in the Temple of Solomon.
One of the original nine Templars, a Burgundian knight named Andre de Montbard, was the uncle of a prominent French abbot named Bernard of Clairvaux. Bernard championed the then-unpopular notion of a monastic knight and wrote glowingly of his uncle’s Order to Rome. Due to Bernard’s patronage, the Templars quickly rose from obscurity. They made a name for themselves in Europe, were officially endorsed as a charity by the Church, and began to receive a flood of donations and new recruits. By the late 1120s, the Order of the Knights Templar was well established, and growing rapidly.
In the late 1120’s, Turkish armies recaptured the cities of Aleppo and Edessa. A number of prominent clergymen, including Bernard of Clairvaux, supported the idea of a new crusade to take back the cities. By 1147, the Second Crusade against the Seljuk Turks was underway.
During the Second Crusade and the subsequent Ayyubid-Crusader War, the Knights Templar earned a ferocious reputation as a fighting force. According to British historian Desmond Seward, the Templars quickly grew to become “the first properly disciplined and officered troops in the West since Roman times.” The heavily armoured Templar knights- who wore white surcoats emblazoned with red crosses, symbolizing their vocation to martyrdom- were often employed as shock troops against enemy forces. In these instances, a small squadron of Templars mounted on heavily armoured warhorses would smash into enemy lines at full speed, creating a hole which the Crusader armies could take advantage of. The combination of elite training, heavy armour, brilliant battle tactics and religious fervour made the Templars one of the most feared Christian forces of the Crusades. One of the rules of engagement the Templars famously abided by was to never retreat from or surrender during battle. Because of this, they often, by necessity, won victories against much larger forces.
Although the Knights Templar were initially established to serve a martial purpose, they soon outgrew its original function. Using the Crusader castles donated to them by European monarchs, the Knights Templar established the world’s first banks. Knights, nobles and pilgrims who wished to travel to the Holy Land would entrust their wealth with the Templars. The Templars would, in turn, safeguard the wealth in their strongholds until their clients’ return, giving their clients letters of credit which they could deposit at other Templar strongholds on the road to Jerusalem in exchange for money. Although, being a monastic order, they could not charge interest on the treasures they safeguarded, they could charge rent for the space the treasure occupied. The Knights Templar also earned revenue from landowning, farming, managing vineyards, and importing and exporting, all the while still receiving donations from Europe. In no time, the Poor Fellow Soldiers of Jesus Christ were extraordinarily wealthy, although individual
members were forbidden from personally owning any of the Order’s wealth.
Throughout this time, ancient holy cities were constantly being taken and retaken by various Crusader and Jihadi armies. Treasure was constantly switching hands. According to legend, during this time, the Knights Templar came into the possession of a number of priceless religious treasures. One supposed treasure was the Holy Grail, the Holy Chalice used at the Last Supper in which, according to legend, Joseph of Arimathea caught Christ’s blood following the Crucifixion. Other treasures believed to have been acquired by the Knights Templar include the Holy Lance (the spear used by the Roman centurion Longinus to pierce the side of Jesus during the Crucifixion) and the Shroud of Turin (the linen cloth believed by some to be Jesus’ burial shroud).
On July 4, 1187, a battle was fought at the so-called Horns of Hattin between Crusader armies, including the Knights Templar, and an army of the Egyptian Ayyubid Sultanate commanded by Sultan Salah ad-Din (also known as Saladin). Due to some poor tactical decisions, the Crusader army was drawn out onto an arid plateau and cut off from natural water sources. When the Crusaders were overwhelmed by thirst, the Muslim army attacked and utterly destroyed them. It was one of the most crushing defeats the Christian armies ever suffered during the Crusades. In the aftermath of this decisive battle, Salah ad-Din’s army swept through the Holy Land and captured a number of Crusader cities, including Jerusalem.
This Islamic conquest sparked the Third Crusade, in which King Philip II of France, King Richard I of England (also known as Richard the Lionheart) and the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I of Germany and Italy (also known as Frederick Barbarossa) led massive armies from Europe to the Holy Land. En route, the legendary 68-year-old Frederick Barbarossa drowned while trying to swim across the Saleph (now known as the Gosku) River in Anatolia, and his huge army immediately turned back. The French and English armies, however, continued on and retook a number of Palestinian cities. At the end of the Third Crusade, Jerusalem remained in Muslim hands. As a result, the Knights Templar- along with the other religious military orders the Knights Hospitaller and the Teutonic Order- set up their new headquarters in the freshly-recaptured city of Acre. Throughout the following century, their influence and wealth grew.
In 1291, an Egyptian Mamluk army under the command of Sultan Al-Ashraf Khalil laid siege to Acre. By Friday 18, 1291, all of the city save for the huge Templar Fortress had been captured by the Mamluk army. Al-Ashraf Khalil agreed to allow the remaining Templars safe passage to the nearby island of Cyprus, and sent in a force to oversee the evacuation. This force was promptly massacred by the Templars. That night, the Templar commander, along with a handful of hand-picked knights, fled to the docks by way of a secret underground tunnel (rediscovered in 1994) along with the fabled Templar treasure. These knights shipped the treasure to Cyprus, where the Knights Templar would later establish its new headquarters. According to legend, some of the most valuable artifacts from this treasury were later shipped to France. The following morning, the captain of the Templar Fortress, along with a small guard, rode into the Mamluk camp to discuss terms. The captain and his men were immediately executed in retaliation for the massacre perpetrated the night before. The remaining Templar knights and men-at-arms put up a last stand, which culminated in the destruction of the Templar Fortress. In the end, all of the Acre Templars were killed. This Muslim capture of Acre sounded the death knell of the Christian occupation of the Levant and was the beginning of the end of the Crusades.
During the late 13th Century, tensions grew between the Knights Templar and the French King Philip IV, also known as Philip the Fair. King Philip was deeply indebted to the Templars, having borrowed from them heavily in order to finance his war with England. He also feared that the Templars were too powerful, and that they might establish a monastic state in Languedoc, a region in southern France in which they had a strong presence. Secretly, Philip plotted to disband the Knights Templar, which had somewhat fallen from grace since the Muslim re-conquest of the Holy Land, and appropriate their enormous wealth.
In 1305, an ousted Templar knight accused his former Order of criminal activity. Although most agreed that the accusations were false, Philip took advantage of them and pressured the Pope to investigate them. At that time, the Catholic Church was headed by Pope Clement V- a French-born pontiff who, by many accounts, was a weak Pope who allowed himself to be easily manipulated by the powerful French monarch. Pope Clement V’s apparent willingness to bend to the will of the French king might be attributed, at least in part in part, to the fate of his predecessor, Pope Boniface VIII; in the fall of 1303, Pope Boniface was beaten within an inch of his life by members of a French- Italian embassy on the orders of King Philip, who disagreed with the Pope’s decree that Church property be exempt from taxation. Shortly thereafter, he came down with a fever, and little more than a month later he died.
On the dawn of Friday, October 13, 1307- a date which some have linked with Western superstition that Friday 13 is an unlucky day- French soldiers rounded up a large number of French Templars, including the Order’s leader, 70 year-old Grand Master Jacques de Molay, and seized the Templar assets in France. The knights were immediately thrown into prison cells and accused of all sorts of blasphemy, from spitting on the cross during initiation rites to idol worship- charges which many of the accused, including the Grand Master, confessed to under torture.
According to legend, a number of Templars had been forewarned of the French conspiracy against them. These men, in the early autumn of 1307, gathered together a number of important Templar treasures, which had been secreted away in various Templar strongholds in France, and brought them to the French port city of La Rochelle. When the Templars were rounded up by French authorities on October 13, 1307, several Templar galleys laden with this treasure left the port and were never seen again.
The October 13 arrests, and the confessions extracted from the Templar knights under torture, took the whole of Europe completely by surprise. In an effort to legitimize his actions, King Philip IV of France aggressively appealed to Pope Clement, and on November 22, 1307, the Pope issued a Papal Bull instructing all European Christian monarchs to similarly arrest and try the Knights Templar in their respective countries on threat of excommunication. Although most Christian kings were doubtful of the charges laid against the Templars, England, the Holy Roman Empire (Germany and Italy), the Spanish kingdoms of Aragon and Castile, and the Crusader kingdom of Cyprus (where the last headquarters of the Knights Templar was located) acceded to the Pope’s demands.
In the fall of 1307, Templar knights were rounded up all over Europe and imprisoned in castle dungeons. Templar lands and assets were confiscated. Inquisition trials were held. While under torture, some of the incarcerated knights confessed to committing all sorts of bizarre blasphemies. Although most later recanted their confessions, scores of Templars were convicted of heresy and burnt at the stake. Among those condemned to death was Grand Master Jacques de Molay, who was burned alive in a Paris square on March 18, 1314. Before he was executed, de Molay asked that his captors bind his hands as though in prayer and tie him to the stake so that he could face Notre Dame Cathedral.
Following the Templar trials, in 1309 Pope Clement V absolved Grand Master Jacques de Molay, along with the rest of the Templar leadership, of the charges brought against them. After restoring the good name of the Knights Templar, in 1312 Pope Clement V dissolved the Order and granted its assets not to King Philip, but rather to the Knights Hospitaller. And thus, the Poor Fellow Soldiers of Jesus Christ were no more.
To read about the treasures many believe the Knights Templar buried on Oak Island, and the evidence cited by proponents of the Knights Templar/Oak Island theory, check out our book Oak Island.
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