The Curse of Oak Island- Season 5, Episode 12: A Key to the Mystery
The following is a Plot Summary and Analysis of Season 5, Episode 12 of the History Channel’s TV series The Curse of Oak Island.
The Oak Island crew members meet in the War Room, where they phone up Gary Glover, an expert on the Knights Templar who, in Episode 9 earlier this season, gave Rick Lagina, Alex Lagina, and Peter Fornetti a tour of the Templar prison in Domme, France. We learn that the team has sent Glover images of the mysterious lead cross found on Smith’s Cove in Episode 10, and have inquired as to his opinion on the artifact. Glover agrees with the team that the lead cross bears close resemblance to a particular crucifix carved on a wall in Domme prison by incarcerated Templar knights, and reveals that a similar shape was carved on a pillar in the nave of a 13th Century church in the village of Whitchurch, Buckinghamshire, England. Glover further discloses that a Jerusalem cross nearly identical to one carved on the walls of Domme prison was also carved into the church pillar at Whitchurch. When Marty remarks that the graffiti at Whitchurch, which is being projected onto a screen in the War Room, includes strange triangular-based crosses evocative of some of the carvings at Domme, Glover informs him that there is a possibility that Whitchurch carvings, like the carvings at Domme, were made by Templars.
Glover further affirms that the lead cross found on Smith’s Cove “has a 13th Century look about it,” and suggests that it could have been worn by “anyone in Christendom [Christian Europe], from an ordinary person, to a knight, [to a] clergyman… it’s made for personal use.” The narrator then suggests that the cross is a mortuary cross, which, he claims, was generally worn to ward off sickness in times of plague. After the narrator’s interjection, Glover states that the cross will need to be examined by an expert before a definitive connection can be established between it and the Knights Templar.
Later, Rick Lagina and Charles Barkhouse travel to Waverley, Nova Scotia, where they meet with construction contractor Tom Nolan, the son of the late Fred Nolan. Tom expresses his willingness to share his father’s work with the Oak Island team in order to solve the Oak Island mystery once and for all, and proceeds to show the treasure hunters the detailed survey maps Fred Nolan drew of the island. While Rick and Charles examine the maps, Tom directs their attention to the line of survey stakes his father discovered in the Oak Island swamp, which the narrator reveals were “carbon dated to as early as the 1500’s.”
Just as the treasure hunters prepare to leave Tom Nolan’s office, the latter shows them a folding skeleton key which his father found on Oak Island, in the tooth of which is an ornamental cross-shaped hole. The narrator then gives us a lesson on the history of skeleton keys, stating that “the use of skeleton keys dates back to the 8th Century B.C., with the invention of the first bronze and iron keys during the Roman Empire.”
The next day, Rick Lagina and Charles Barkhouse travel to Dave Blankenship’s home on Oak Island. There, they present Dave with Fred Nolan’s maps before spreading the documents out on the floor and examining them. The treasure hunters remark upon the tremendous quantity of survey lines on the maps and marvel at the time and effort that evidently went into the documents’ creation. Although there are a many items of interest indicated on the maps, Fred Nolan did not label them nor provide a legend by which they might be interpreted. Without the late treasure hunter’s guidance, Rick and Charles are forced to speculate as to the nature of these objects. “If only he were here,” Rick laments. “I would do anything for time with him again.” He then suggests that he and the team ought to do some survey work of their own and compare their findings with Nolan’s maps in order to contextualize them.
Later, Rick and Marty Lagina, Charles Barkhouse, and Gary Drayton head to Oak Island’s Lot 12, now owned by Fred Nolan’s family. The narrator reveals that Tom Nolan has allowed Oak Island Tours Inc. to explore his late father’s Oak Island property- land which has been off limits to Dan Blankenship and his ilk since the early days of the Blankenship-Nolan rivalry in the 1970’s. With the help of Tom’s associate, Jim Meagher, the treasure hunters excavate an area on Lot 12 at which Fred Nolan’s maps indicate an ancient dump site is buried. When prompted by Rick, Charles Barkhouse explains that this dump is the site at which former Oak Island treasure hunter Gilbert Hedden found “shards of pottery with traces of mercury in them” in 1936, giving rise to the Francis Bacon theory.
After Meagher finishes digging a trench at the site in question with a backhoe, Gary Drayton examines the exposed earth with a metal detector. In time, he recovers fragments of pottery- almost certainly the same sort of artifacts discovered by Gilbert Hedden in the 1930’s.
Meanwhile, Alex Lagina and Jack Begley have traveled to the Dawson Print Shop at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax. There, they meet with Joe Landry, an expert on medieval book binding, and show him and his apprentice the piece of leather book binding and scrap of parchment retrieved from the spoils of drillhole H8 in Season 5, Episode 7. Landry confirms that the scrap of suspected parchment is, indeed, parchment, and that the book binding appears to be composed of very durable vegetable-tanned leather.
Jack Begley then presents Landry with a shard of purple-stained wood, which the narrator reveals was discovered in H8 along with the pieces
of parchment and book binding. Landry examines the artifact and remarks that the purple dye with which it was stained resembles Tyrian purple, an extremely valuable dye secreted by a particular sea snail which was traditionally used by royalty and the Catholic Church. Landry explains that Tyrian purple has been around for millennia, showing the treasure hunters a 2000-year-old Egyptian parchment scroll in which it was employed. He goes on to state that, while the wood shard’s colour strongly evokes Tyrian purple, he believes that it was more likely stained by a vegetable dye, such as “rich red wine”. He also suggests that the wood fragment might have been part of a book board- ostensibly a piece of the same manuscript of which the piece of book binding and parchment fragment were parts- and that it might have attained its purple colour when the purple-dyed leather in which it was wrapped got wet deep within the Money Pit.
Later, Rick Lagina and Gary Drayton visit Dan Blankenship in his Oak Island home. There, they show the veteran treasure hunter the lead cross they found on Smith’s Cove, and highlight its resemblance to the carving in Domme prison. Drayton tells Blankenship that although he had initially been skeptical of the theory that the Knights Templar were connected in some way with Oak Island, the discovery of the lead cross changed his mind. Blankenship agrees that the lead cross certainly lends credence to the Knights Templar theory.
Later, at the Money Pit area, the Oak Island team stands by as the excavation of DMT, a new shaft named after the late Drake Tester, commences.
Graffiti at Whitchurch, Buckinghamshire
In this episode, Knights Templar expert Jerry Glover reveals that the lead cross found on Smith’s Cove is congruent with not only a particular crucifix carved into the wall of a Templar prison in Domme, France, but also with a design carved onto a pillar in the nave of a 13th Century church in Whitchurch, Buckhinghamshire, England. He points out further similarities between the Templar graffiti at Domme and the graffiti in the Whitchurch chapel, and suggests that the Whitchurch graffiti may also have been created by members of the Knights Templar.
In an article on his website, Glover reveals that the Whitchurch chapel introduced in the show is “the 13th Century church of St. John the Baptist.” Further research, however, suggests that Glover may have assigned the wrong “Saint John” to this chapel; although the village of Whitchurch does not appear to have a “church of St. John the Baptist,” it does boast a “Parish of Saint John the Evangelist,” an Anglican parish church built in the 13th Century.
Further on in his article, Glover points out another Whitchurch graffito “strongly reminiscent of the double-armed cross at Domme, even down to the triangular [form] at [its base].” He concludes his commentary on Whitchurch by stating that, although the similarities between the graffiti at Domme and Whitchurch may or may not be coincidental, it is interesting that the Whitchurch chapel “stands half-a-mile away from Creslow Manor, which was a Knights Templar preceptory before being turned over to the Knights Hospitallers after the Templars’ suppression.”
In this episode, the narrator states that the lead cross found at Smith’s Cove bears the characteristics of a mortuary cross, a simple cross worn around the neck in times of plague to protect the wearer from disease.
Although the term “mortuary cross” has been used to denote surficial cross-shaped grave markers (ex. cross-shaped tombstones), it has also been used by archaeologists as a name for small, crude crosses, many of them evidently designed to be worn around the neck, recovered during burial excavations in medieval monasteries. Archaeologists are divided on the intended purpose of these artifacts, which’s presence inside old graves appears to be a predominantly English phenom
enon. Some scholars, similar to the narrator in this episode, believe that these crosses were worn in an effort to ward off disease, as many of them have been found inside the graves of plague victims. This theory is bolstered by the fact that most mortuary crosses have been found inside graves dug during plague epidemics, from the devastating 14th Century Black Death to the 17th Century Great Plague of London. Other archaeologists suspect mortuary crosses were attached to the shrouds of monks, clerics, and nuns, while others still suspect that they were placed inside the coffins of the deceased by friends and relatives.
One particularly interesting mortuary cross in the context of the lead cross found on Smith’s Cove is one allegedly found along with the bones of the legendary British King Arthur and his queen Guinevere in the late 12th Century A.D. According to legend, the abbot of Glastonbury Abbey, a monastery in Southwest England, commissioned an excavation beneath the abbey floor in the year 1191. Although different versions of the legend disagree on the reason behind this excavation, most maintain that, at a depth of 7 feet, the excavators discovered a massive stone slab. Immediately beneath this stone was a lead cross bearing the inscription, “HIC IACET SEPVLTVS INLITVS REX ARTVRVS IN INSVLA AVALONIA“- Latin for “HERE LIES INTERRED THE FAMOUS KING ARTHUR ON THE ISLE OF AVALON.” Nine feet beneath this leaden mortuary cross was the trunk of a massive oak tree which had been hollowed out and converted into a coffin, and inside this treetrunk coffin were two human skeletons, the larger one presumably the remains of the legendary defender of Christian Britain, and the smaller one ostensibly his queen.
Glastonbury Abbey, the site at which this grave and the accompanying mortuary cross were allegedly unearthed, is located in the shadow of an ancient hill called Glastonbury Tor, which has historically been associated not only with the Isle of Avalon, a legendary island which features in the Arthurian legend, but also with the Holy Grail, an artifact which some believe lies beneath Oak Island. According to legend, Joseph of Arimathea, an early disciple of Christ, brought the Holy Grail from Jerusalem to England following the Crucifixion and buried it beneath a spring sacred to the local Druids, located at the foot of Glastonbury Tor. As soon as he had buried it, the spring water turned blood red. This spring, known as Chalice Well Spring, issues red-hued water stained with hematite to this very day.
In this episode, we learn that a shard of purple-dyed wood was brought up from the spoils of drillhole H8 along with the piece of leather bookbinding and the scrap of parchment introduced in Season 5, Episode 7. Joe Landry, a
Halifax-based medieval book binding expert, voices his suspicion that this wood fragment was once part of the book board of the manuscript from which the scrap of leather and piece of parchment also came, and that it likely acquired its purple colour when the purple-dyed leather in which it was wrapped got wet deep within the Money Pit.
Although Landry believes that the purple dye with which the wood was stained is likely plant-based, he remarks upon its similarity to Tyrian purple, a dye extracted from the glands of certain predatory sea snails. Many historians believe that this dye was first used by the Phoenicians, an ancient Eastern Mediterranean mariner civilization based around the city of Tyre in present-day Lebanon (the word ‘Tyrian’ derives from ‘Tyre’). The Phoenicians were so renowned for their exportation of purple textiles and pigment that, according to some etymologists, ancient Greeks called their territory “Phoinike”, or the “Purple Country.”
The notion that the shard of purple wood brought up from H8 was stained with Tyrian purple fits in well with the theory that Oak Island’s underground workings are attributable to ancient Phoenician mariners. The Phoenicians, however, were not the only people to make use of this substance. As Tyrian purple yields a rich, vibrant colour which only improves with age, as a very large number of snails are required to produce a very small amount of it, and as its manufacture is an extremely unpleasant process, this purple pigment fetched an exorbitant price. As a result, purple-dyed clothing was a luxury only afforded by the very wealthy, and served as symbols of status in Classical Antiquity. The Romans similarly adopted Tyrian purple as symbols of power and prestige, as did the Byzantines and the Roman Catholic Church.
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