Old churches; what secrets they can hold. What tales they could tell.
I’m not religious but I’ll always pop into any historic or interesting church I pass. In some I marvel at the jarring opulence (a grand church filled with a mix of ostentious artefacts and paupers in ragged clothes in Sri Lanka was one of the greatest examples of the chasm between those who preached and those who were preached at). In others I’m impressed by their sincere simplicity.
Their atmosphere invariably has me walking with quiet steps and talking in hushed tones.
They are often marvellous works of artistic architecture whose beautiful structures exude a sense of history that lingers in the air. Whatever anyone’s views of religion, these and temples of any religion are, or have been, an integral part of the community in which they are located.
In short, if you’re interested in history, then a visit to the church is an essential.
There are plenty dotted around Tenerife, occasionally they throw up curious and unexpected surprises.
Like the time we came across a skull and crossbones set into the stone floor of a church in La Laguna.
The instantly recognisable symbol of those miscreants of the high seas was not exactly what you’d expect to find inside a house of God.
It was a Dan Brown moment. Why was there the crypt of a pirate in a church in La Laguna, a UNESCO World Heritage Site? There must be a story.
It didn’t take much digging to come up with the explanation. The skull and crossbones may be best known for being flown as pirate flags but they were originally a symbol of the Knights Templar. The SAS of the Crusades, the Templars’ power, wealth and fame grew with their exploits in the Holy Land until they fell from grace, were disbanded and, in some cases, hunted down and tortured, in the early 14th century.
Like many fighting men without a cause, it’s said that some took to mercenary activities; sailing the high seas, attacking and robbing merchant vessels… whilst flying the Knights Templar flag.
Over time the symbol became the emblem for piracy whilst its connections with the Templars faded into the mists of history.
Why a skull and crossbones in the first place?
This is shrouded in mystery and legend. There are all sorts of stories. My favourite is the one about the Templar who fell in love with a noblewomen who tragically died before the Templar could demonstrate his love… physically. Anyway, he didn’t let her death get in the way of his desire so he made love to her lifeless body.
The story goes that afterwards, when he was no doubt having a puff on a Medieval cigarette, a disembodied voice told him to return to the woman’s grave in nine months and he would find a ‘son’. When he did what he was told, all he discovered was a skull and two leg bones. The same mysterious voice advised him that if he guarded these well he would be rewarded.
So he did, and discovered that by displaying the head and bones, they protected him in battle and he was easily able to defeat his enemies.
Eventually, the rest of the order of Knights Templar adopted the symbol as their own.
The La Laguna crypts, there were more than one set of skull and crossbones, clearly were the last resting place of a couple of these old Knights Templar.
On the other hand, they may have been pirates… I’m no Dan Brown.
Jack is co-owner, writer and photographer for BuzzTrips and the Real Tenerife series of travel websites as well as a contributor to lots of other places. Follow Jack on Google+