Templars in Denmark: Bornholm Island

There are no records of any Templar activity in Denmark.1 I realize that recently a book, The Templars’ Secret Island,2 has made a case for the Templars living in round churches on the Danish island of Bornhom, just off the south coast of Sweden. The authors of this book, Elring Haagensen and Henry Lincoln, further state that the Templars used this island for mystical astronomical study. Part of this book contains geometric studies of possible results the Templars might have come up with on Bornholm. But first they give historical background to prove that the scholars are completely wrong in their belief that the Templars never settled in the area. The trouble is the history is based on a few pieces of data and several assumptions that rely on inaccurate information.

First, let’s look at the “historical” narrative as given in this book and how it doesn’t match known information.

I have already given a short essay on Bernard of Clairvaux and his connection to the Templars. The story of his life in The Templars’ Secret Island, doesn’t exactly agree with the information I found. In fact, it sometimes directly contradicts it.

The biography begins with the standard information about Bernard’s birth and entry into the monastery of Citeaux.3 The footnote for this is the Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913. This is the same version that is in the online Catholic Encyclopedia of 1917, which is online because it has been replaced in print by an updated version.4 But it’s essentially the same information concerning Bernard. So far, so good.

The authors continue to say, as is also well established, that Eudes I, the duke of Burgundy, had donated the funds to keep the monastery going in the early days. The next lines are: “The Burgundian nobility seemed unquestionably to be deeply involved in the Order’s creation. The Abbot of Citeaux was ex officio Prime Counsellor of the Burgundian Parliament with the right to sit at the assembly of the States General of the Kingdom, as well as the Province of Burgundy.”5

There is no footnote for this piece of news and I am very disappointed because, as far as we know, there was no Burgundian Parliament in 1113. The first one was in 1349 at Beaune.6 The Estates-General of France began as a mandatory meeting attended by members of the nobility, bourgeois, and clergy at the order of the king. This happened now and then in the thirteenth century, but didn’t get going again until the fourteenth century.7 And, of course the Burgundian Parliament, even if it had existed, wouldn’t have mattered to the Estates-General because Burgundy didn’t become a part of France until 1316. Before that it was part of the Holy Roman Empire.8

I think that if the authors have really discovered that these institutions existed two hundred years before any records have been found for them, they should share their sources. Graduate students the world over are hungry for thesis topics.

Now, having established in the mind of the reader that the Cistercians were movers and shakers at the court of Burgundy, the authors then go over the history of the foundation of the Templars and Bernard’s part in it (a subject I discussed in the section on Bernard). Then they take the connection another step further, linking Bernard and the Cistercians to the establishment of the crusader kingdoms.

One statement they make is that “Godfrey of Bouillon and Baudwin [Baldwin, first Latin king of Jerusalem] were of the nobility of Lower Lorraine, the dukedom adjacent to Burgundy and of course, Clairvaux [the monastery founded by Bernard].”9 The authors apparently never bothered to look at a map, odd since so much of the book is based on geographic connections. In the eleventh century, Lorraine was just north of Champagne and affiliated with the county of Flanders. While borders have changed, the land hasn’t moved. Burgundy is, and was, much farther south. Clairvaux, just north of Dijon, was not in existence when the First Crusade took place.10

From this and other equally inaccurate or unconnected statements, the authors come to the conclusion that Bernard of Clairvaux was “the real—if covert—Grand Master of the Templars.”11It’s true that Bernard was an early and enthusiastic supporter of the Templars but I’d need more proof to believe that he directed their actions, especially based on an inaccurate assumption of the secular power of the Cistercians along with a conclusion that relies on mistakes in chronology and geography.

Let’s move on to the Danish connection.

Eskil, archbishop of Lund (in Sweden) from 1137 to 1177, was a big fan of Bernard of Clairvaux. Eskil was a progressive bishop in many ways. He has been called “the first European from the North.”12 He came from a rich family in what is now Sweden and was educated in the cathedral schools of Germany.13 His uncle Asser was archbishop of Lund and it is reasonable to think that the family expected Eskil to follow him. Eskil was determined to drag Denmark into the modern world of the twelfth century. This was shown by his enthusiasm for the new religious orders. In the first half of the twelfth century, the Cistercians were the latest thing. Bernard of Clairvaux was arguably the most famous monk in Europe at that time. In 1144, Eskil asked to have a group of Cistercian monks come to Denmark to establish a monastery there and to show Danish monks the customs of the order.14

Just the year before, at the request of the king and queen of Sweden, the Cistercians had sent monks to start two monasteries in that country.15 They were happy to send monks from Citeaux to Denmark to start the monastery of Herrisvad, as well.

Eskil’s main goal for his archbishopric was to make it truly Scandinavian, free of its dependence on the archbishopric of Hamburg-Bremen. 16 Eskil’s uncle Asser had convinced the papal legate under Pope Paschal II (1099-1118) to create the archbishopric of Lund—in Sweden, but Hamburg continued to lobby for its return to German dominance.17 This struggle for primacy was very important to the bishops and archbishops of Europe. A great number of the church councils of the twelfth century spent a large part of their time in the very bitter wrangling over who answered to whom.18

Eskil was also hampered by the problems within the Danish royal succession. This, in turn, was tied to the struggle for the control of the Scandinavian church. In the late 1150s Eskil supported Knut Magnussen for the throne. Knut’s rival was Swein, who was supported by the German emperor, Frederick Barbarossa. Frederick’s relative by marriage was Hartwig, archbishop of Bremen, who wanted to return the archbishopric of Lund to submission to Hamberg-Bremen. Now, Pope Hadrian IV (1154-1159) was in conflict with Emperor Frederick about a number of other things. So Eskil was a strong supporter of Pope Hadrian, who returned the support by making Eskil a papal legate.19

(If you want to take out a notebook and start making diagrams of the connections, I wouldn’t blame you. Use different colored pens; it helps.)

Eskil had met the pope when he was still called Nicholas Break-spear. The future Hadrian IV was leader of the delegation sent by Pope Eugenius III to set about dividing the Scandinavian archbishopric into two new ones, Sweden and Norway. The pope also wanted to see that the custom of collecting “Peter’s pence,” a tax to support the papacy, was established in the north.20When the delegation arrived in 1152, Eskil was at Clairvaux, meeting with Bernard and collecting more monks for a new Danish monastery.21He returned in time to convince Nicholas not to divide his archbishopric at this time.

Nicholas was elected pope shortly after his return to Rome in 1154. In 1156 or 1157 Eskil made the journey to Rome, at which time he was made permanent papal legate in Scandinavia.22 However, on the way home, while going through Burgundy (a part of the Holy Roman Empire, see above) he was kidnapped, perhaps by supporters of Emperor Frederick. Pope Hadrian wrote a letter of rebuke to the emperor that was read at an imperial diet held at Besançon in October 1157. Due to a mistranslation of the letter from Latin into German, the emperor took offense and, in the ensuing fuss, Eskil seems to have been forgotten.23 He was released at some point before Hadrian’s death on September 1, 1159.

The dispute that followed Eskil’s imprisonment, which had little to do with him, escalated after the death of Hadrian. The struggle, which lasted for centuries between the papacy and the Holy Roman Emperors, caused two popes to be elected at the same time. The first, supported by Eskil, was Alexander III. The other, supported by the emperor and Denmark’s new king, Valdemar, was named Victor IV. Eskil didn’t want to have to choose between King Valdemar and the popes, and so he kept away from Denmark. He wandered about Europe and made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem at some point between 1161 and 1167. There he could have met the Grand Master of the Templars, Bertrand of Blancfort, but we have no record of such a meeting. It’s quite possible that Bertrand was not even in Jerusalem at the time of Eskil’s visit.24

In 1177, Eskil resigned his bishopric and retired to become a monk at Clairvaux.25 He spent his last four years as a simple monk and often regaled the younger brothers with stories of his friendship with their founder, Bernard.26 He died there in 1181.

While he admired Bernard greatly and chose to end his life at the monastery he founded, Eskil was friends with other monastic leaders, notably Peter, abbot of Celle in Champagne.27 He wrote to both of the abbots in friendship, asking for advice and sharing his problems and frustrations. They wrote him letters of support.

So what has this to do with proving that there were Templars in Denmark? Nothing that I can see. Because Eskil and Bernard were friends, and Bernard was a supporter of the Templars, there was no reason for Eskil to establish the Templars in Denmark. Nor is there any indication that he did so.

As I have already said, there is no sign at all of the Templars ever having had a commandery in Denmark. The Hospitallers had a Scandinavian province that was made up of Denmark and Norway but that order seems to have concentrated its efforts in the region on the hospital side rather than the military.28

Well, it may have been that there were Templars in Denmark but that all the documents have been lost. So, let’s look at the physical evidence as presented by the believers.

The churches on the island of Bornholm are indeed round. That is indisputable. We can see them, touch them, and walk around them. However, one can’t assume that because a church is round, it was built by Templars. For a time after the First Crusade there was a vogue for them all over Europe.

The idea of building a church in the form of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem wasn’t new. A hundred years before the Templar order was founded, the Benedictine church at Saint-Benigne at Dijon was built with a round nave in imitation of the Holy Sepulcher, as were the churches at Lanleff, Saint-Bonnet-la-Rivière, Rieux-Minervois, and Montmorillon, all in different parts of France.29 In most of these churches, there are four or eight columns inside. However, “the churches on Bornholm have one central column. They are simply a different type.”30

Even the Hospitallers built round churches.31If the churches on Bornholm are connected to any military order, it would make more sense that it would be the Hospitallers, whom we know were in Denmark, or even the Teutonic Knights. But that would ruin the hypothesis. For some reason, it has to be Templars or nothing.

One shouldn’t try to build a very complicated theory based on the idea that Templars were in Denmark, because the basic premise is too shaky to support much of anything. It is based on a lack of understanding of historical data and many leaps in which the logic is not supported. I wouldn’t want to risk standing on it.

One positive thing that has come out of this imaginative and unhistorical theory of Templars in Denmark is that it has made serious historians stop and say, “We know there is no evidence for Templars here, but why weren’t they in Denmark? What was different about Denmark (and all of Scandinavia) that this didn’t happen?” Since it takes much more time to do serious research than to build a castle in the air, few papers have come out on the subject yet, but I look forward to them.

I wish I could believe that my explanations would clear up the confusion surrounding these very badly researched ideas about the Templars. But I don’t hold out much hope. What chance do plodding historians have against Mr. Haagensen and Mr. Lincoln, a filmmaker and a journalist, neither of whom seem to feel compelled to waste their time combing through dusty archives for proof?


Vivian Etting, “Crusade and Pilgrimage: Different Ways to the City of God,” in Medieval History Writing and Crusading Ideology, ed. Tuomas M. S. Lehtonen and Kurt Villads Jensen (Helsinki: Finnish Literary Society, 2005) p. 187. “However the [Hospitaller] Order had no military functions in Denmark and the competing Order of the Knights Templars [sic] was never established in Scandinavia.”


Elring Haagensen and Henry Lincoln, The Templars’ Secret Island (Barnes and Noble, 2002).


Ibid., p. 29.



Haagensen and Lincoln, p. 29.


Ferdinand Lot and Robert Fawtier, Histoire de Institutions Françaises au Moyen Age, Tome II, Institutions Royales (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1958) p. 486.


Achille Luchaire, Institutions Française (Paris, 1892) pp. 201-2.


Georges Duby, France in the Middle Ages 987-1460, tr. Juliet Vale (Oxford: Blackwell, 1991) p. 285.


Haagensen and Lincoln, p.153. At least Mr. Lincoln now knows that Godfrey of Bouillon was not king of France, as was stated in one of his earlier books (The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail ). Bravo!


Clairvaux was founded in 1115. See Louis J. Lekai, The Cistercians: Ideas and Reality (Kent State University Press, 1977) p. 19.


Haagensen and Lincoln, p. 30.


Brian Patrick McGuire, The Difficult Saint (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1991) p. 126, quoting Lauritz Weibull.


Ibid., p. 109. For more on the cathedral schools, see C. Stephen Jaeger, The Envy of Angels: Cathedral Schools and Social Ideals in Medieval Europe 950-1200 (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994).


Ibid., p. 110.


Brian Patrick McGuire, The Cistercians in Denmark (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1982) p. 40.


McGuire, Saint, p. 110.


Anders Bergquist, “The Papal Legate: Nicholas Breakspear’s Scandinavian Mission,” in Adrian IV: The English Pope (1154-1159), ed. Brenda Bolton and Anne J. Duggan (Ashgate, Aldershot, 2003) p. 41.


There are many examples, but the one I know best is the 1148 Council of Rheims, during which the archbishop of Tours demanded primacy over the bishopric of Dol. But that’s a subject for another book and probably not one that would interest anyone but die-hard students of ecclesiastical government.


I. S. Robinson, The Papacy 1073-1198 (Cambridge University Press, 1990) p. 467.


Bergquist, p. 42.


McGuire, Saint, p. 110.


Johanis Mabillon ed., Sancti Bernardi Opera Omnia Vol. I (Paris, 1889) col. 948. “Eskilum non-modo archiepiscopum Lundensem in Danis, sed et primatem Succiae et decretoAdriani IV papae fuisse lego.”


Robinson, pp. 466-70; Bergquist, p. 47.


Please see chapter 15, Grand Masters 1136-1189, for more about Bertrand.


McGuire, Saint, p. 111.


Geoffrey of Auxerre, “Bernardi Abbatis Vita I,” in Mabillon, Vol. IV, cols. 2229-30.


Mabillon, Vol. 1, col. 948.


Helen Nicholson, The Knights Hospitaller (Woodbridge, UK: Boydell and Brewer, 2001).


Henry de Curzon, La Maison du Temple de Paris (Paris, 1888) p. 87.


Prof. Kurt Villads Jensen, private correspondence, October 10, 2006.


Nicholson, p. 7.

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