Chapter Five: The Templar Mosaic

The Templar Mosaic had me hooked from the very beginning. Even the introduction, something I usually avoided, was fascinating because it outlined the unusual—almost uncanny—set of circumstances without which the book would never have been conceived in the first place. The author, W. F. H. Whitmarsh, Professor of Late Medieval History at Kings College London, described how, whilst translating and editing a batch of fourteenth century Florentine diplomatic correspondence, he had chanced upon a seemingly insignificant phrase. In one of the despatches passing mention was made of something called the ‘Mosaic of Truth’, a reference Whitmarsh had not come across before. Subsequent enquiries shed no further light on the matter, so he added a footnote to the text, explaining that the Mosaic of Truth was evidently something known to the correspondents but now lost; probably not an actual mosaic, but perhaps the title of a painting, a poem or a story. And that would have been that, except that he was to come across the same phrase again in a very different context just a couple of days later.

 

That context was an academic article on the life and work of Leopold Metzner, the distinguished nineteenth century historian. Metzner, a professor at the University of Vienna, was considered one of the most brilliant historians of his generation. Only his tragically early death at the age of forty-nine had prevented his reaching even greater heights. In 1903 Metzner was in Damascus, preparing to return home after three years of research leave that had taken him to Malta, Cyprus, Rhodes, Egypt, Turkey and the Holy Land. He was known to be an authority on the Crusader States, but on this occasion had kept the nature of his research secret. Two days before he was due to leave for Constantinople his rooms in the Old Quarter were ransacked, and the Professor was found brutally murdered. The investigating authorities assumed robbery as motive for the crime, and indeed everything of value had been taken. Those responsible were never found. Nor was a single page of the Professor’s research.

 

Whilst interesting in itself, none of this would have held Whitmarsh’s attention for long had the article not included extracts from a recently published letter Metzner had written from Damascus to a friend and colleague at the University of Cologne. In the letter he informed his old friend he was about to publish findings so momentous they ‘would make the discovery of the Rosetta Stone seem as nothing’. Whilst clearly reluctant to go into detail before publication, he did add that this, the culmination of his life’s work, would be entitled The Mosaic of Truth.

 

Whitmarsh’s curiosity was piqued, and he resolved to find out if there was any connection between the two references. What began as a part-time hobby soon turned into a full-time obsession as the author discovered that not only did a link indeed exist, but also that the mosaic itself was something far more profound and mysterious than he could ever have envisaged. Over the next few years Whitmarsh pursued many lines of enquiry in an attempt to get to the bottom of the matter, but time and again the exact nature of the mosaic, its origins and its meaning, proved elusive. He gave up many times in despair, only to resume a quest he simply could not forego. Finally his years of persistence were rewarded when, more through luck than judgement, he hit upon the trail that was to lead him to the source of the mosaic. It turned out to be twelfth century France, an obscure priory—long since ruined—located near Le Mas-Saintes-Puelles in the Languedoc region, and a humble friar whose name is lost to history.

 

I had always viewed medieval Christianity as a severe, narrow, unforgiving faith that brooked neither question nor reproach. And whilst the cruel persecution of heretics, unbelievers and anyone else considered inimical to the Church was all too real, I was to learn that this was by no means the whole story. For one thing, Christianity at this time had a deeply mystical dimension that flies in the face of the uncompromising image we have of it today. There was also a contemplative, philosophical strand amongst those Christian scholars who sought to illuminate their faith with a greater understanding of the wonders of God’s creation and man’s place within it. One cleric in particular who would spend long hours considering such lofty matters was our unnamed friar at Le Mas-Saintes-Puelles. Since he was to play the central role in this story, Whitmarsh chose to give him a name: Ebrulf, the anglicised form of Evroult, a sixth century saint from Normandy.

 

Like all good Christians, Brother Ebrulf knew that God had sent His only begotten son, Jesus Christ down to this earth with a message of truth and love that was meant to redeem all mankind. And yet, more than a thousand years hence, it was clear mankind remained as far from redemption as ever. All around Ebrulf was confronted by daily examples of man’s wickedness and folly, not least amongst his brother friars. Since the perfection of Christ’s teachings was beyond question, why, he wondered, had we lost our way? He could only conclude that something must have happened to the original message. Perhaps part of it was missing, or perhaps the Lords words themselves had become distorted in the early days of the Church: diluted, gradually and imperceptibly, as they were passed on countless times by word of mouth. If that were indeed the case, then the only way to lead mankind back to the path of salvation was to restore Christ’s message to the divine purity of its original form.

 

It is doubtful whether Ebrulf’s pious musings would ever have gone beyond the theoretical had not fate (or was it Providence?) lent a hand one summer’s day in 1134 when he was sent on a scholarly mission to the city of Toledo. Alfonso VI, King of Castille and León had taken Toledo from the Moors in 1085, and had found in his new possession a city that was far more advanced, more culturally refined, than any in Western Christendom. In fact Toledo was one of the beneficiaries of a much wider phenomenon, an intellectual revolution that had been taking place throughout the Islamic world over the previous three centuries. Rightly considered a golden age of innovation and creativity, this period was, in both its scope and its significance, on a par with the Renaissance it preceded by over six hundred years. Great strides had been made in almost every field of human endeavour: arts and sciences, architecture and engineering, medicine, mathematics and philosophy. The environment in which this astonishing progress had been achieved was made all the more propitious by a religious tolerance that pertained throughout the Islamic world at this time, an enlightened policy that rewarded the skills and imaginations of Jews and Christians as well as Muslims.

 

This comingling of cultures and cross-fertilization of ideas, or convivencia, achieved perhaps its most complete expression in Moorish Spain, whose major cities, Toledo, Córdoba, Lisbon, Barcelona and Valencia, became great centres of culture and learning. Of the many examples Whitmarsh gave to illustrate this, one for me stood out above all others. At a time when a well-stocked library in Western Europe might boast four hundred volumes, the Sultan’s library in Córdoba was said to hold over four hundred thousand. And it was by no means the only library in the city.

 

Toledo too, had its libraries, and when Alfonso and his subjects entered the city they found an incredible treasure trove of  writings from classical antiquity long believed lost in Western Europe. Translated into Arabic and updated with a full apparatus of explanatory notes and commentaries were works by Euclid, Archimedes, Ptolemy, Galen, Hippocrates, Plato and Aristotle. There were also many ground-breaking and hitherto unknown works by Muslim and Jewish scholars on everything from agronomy to metaphysics. It is difficult to over-estimate the significance of this discovery, which historians now consider to be a turning point in the history of Western thought.

 

Alfonso was wise enough to appreciate the importance of the library and took steps to ensure it was preserved for posterity. His successors went even further, and in 1126 the new Bishop of Toledo Raymond I set about the huge task of having the entire collection translated into Latin. One cannot help but admire the vision of Raymond for allowing this great body of non-Christian learning to be translated and disseminated without censorship. Scholars and translators came from all over Christendom to supplement those already in Spain. Raymond also invited Muslim and Jewish experts to come and assist his own. It was to this unprecedented gathering of learned men that Ebrulf, through his knowledge of Hebrew and Greek, was summoned to take up a minor position as a copyist.

We can only try to imagine the sense of awe the young friar must have felt when he first passed through the gates of the magnificent city of Toledo. It was everything he had dreamed it would be and more: a paradise of stately palaces, spacious squares, cool, secluded gardens and ornate fountains.  And of course there were its libraries, with their seemingly endless store of wisdom and knowledge. After his strict and monotonous life at the abbey, Ebrulf loved the open-minded atmosphere of his new home, where he was able to learn so much simply by listening to the debates of the scholars who had gathered there. But most of all he loved delving into the great works of classical antiquity he had access to for the very first time. He felt inspired by the immense intellectual power and moral refinement of these works, and yet at the same time he was troubled. As a devout Christian he felt it was sinful to be so deeply moved by the ideas of men who had never known the teachings of Christ, men who in fact believed in a multitude of false gods, took part in profane rites and worshipped graven images. But there was so much wisdom and beauty in these works- how could the authors not have been inspired by the one true God?

 

Then one day whilst reading one of his favourite passages from the Book of Genesis, the account of Noah’s Ark and the Great Flood, Ebrulf had an epiphany. The scriptures described how, once the waters of the flood had finally subsided, God summoned Noah and his sons Shem, Japheth and Ham, to give them His blessing and send them forth to repopulate the world. What became of Shem’s descendants was well known. They formed the tribes that were to become the Children of Israel, who, after long centuries of trials and tribulations, were rewarded for their faith in the Almighty when He sent His only begotten Son Jesus to live amongst them. But the sons of Japheth and Ham were barely mentioned. All that was known was their descendants, who became the peoples of Europe, Africa and Asia, had failed to keep their covenant with God and had fallen into ignorance and wickedness. But why had they fallen from grace? Had God blessed Shem, but not his brothers, with a divine revelation- a gift he had passed on to his descendants, which enabled them, and them alone, to keep their faith in Him? No! The scriptures made it clear that all three brothers were sent forth with God’s blessing. That could only mean that at some point the descendants of Japheth and Ham had strayed from the path of righteousness and this most precious of gifts had been lost.

 

Lost perhaps, but not irretrievably so. From what he had seen in the libraries at Toledo Ebrulf now knew that faint echoes of God’s gift had endured even amongst the non-Jewish peoples, unrecognised and all but forgotten, deep down in the collective psyche. For it was these echoes that could be discerned in the works of great classical thinkers such as Aristotle and Plato. Since the Almighty would never have allowed pagans to express His truth in its original, pristine form, it followed that these writings did not reveal all they contained, but were as crude lumps of ore waiting to yield the pure gold of divine truth.

 

It was at this point that God confirmed Ebrulf’s theory with a revelation in the form of a wondrous vision. He was awoken from his slumbers one night and saw before him a mosaic depicting a beautiful white cross. As he watched, transfixed, more pieces, of every conceivable shade and hue appeared and, as if by some invisible hand, were added to the mosaic, forming an elaborate pattern with the cross as its centrepiece. But that was not all. As each new piece was added, the cross grew larger and started to glow with an inner light. The glow became steadily brighter and then, just as the last piece came into place, became so dazzling Ebrulf had to shield his eyes. When he looked again, the mosaic was gone. After a while the figure of a man came into view. The young friar’s heart leapt with joy when he saw it was the Lord Jesus Christ standing before him. This was not the Christ of pain and suffering he had seen so many times in church, but a happy, smiling figure free from all worldly cares. The Lord was soon joined by his disciples who took up their rightful place at his feet. Then still more people came to join the throng. Ebrulf recognised all the great Old Testament patriarchs, Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Noah, as they came to take their place by the right hand of the Lord. Yet still more people came, this time taking their place on the Lord’s left hand. Ebrulf did not recognise these figures, but from their faces and garments, he knew they were the sons of Japheth and Ham who had journeyed from the four corners of the Earth so they too could join the Lord. Then, as before, just as the final figure reached his place, the whole vision was enveloped in a blinding white light... And Ebrulf awoke.

 

The miraculous vision filled the soul of the young friar with immeasurable joy. Even as it was unfolding its meaning was crystal clear. The cross at the centre of the mosaic represented the teachings of Christ and the coloured pieces that attached themselves to it were the strands of divine wisdom God had passed on to the sons of Noah after the Great Flood. Just as a beautiful solo voice is rendered even more sublime by the background harmonies of an accompanying choir, so Christ’s message of peace and love would be experienced in its full majesty when supplemented by these other facets of divine truth. And when that day came the whole world would be filled with celestial light, heralding the dawn of the Kingdom of Heaven here on Earth. Ebrulf knew what God wanted him to do. He wanted him to build the mosaic he had seen in the vision.

 

For sometime afterwards Ebrulf was in a state of ecstasy, but his joy gradually faded and was replaced by a raft of terrible fears and doubts. Was he worthy of such a momentous task? And even if he was - where was he to begin? The Almighty had told him what He wanted him to do, but had given no indication about how he was to do it! He beseeched God to give him guidance, and when his prayers were finally answered he saw the solution to his problem lay literally on his doorstep.

During his time in Toledo Ebrulf had become friendly with a number of his non-Christian colleagues. He grew particularly close to a Jewish scholar named Isaac, a devout, kindly and very learned old man. Isaac had no family of his own and came to look upon the young friar as something of the son he had never had.

 

Ebrulf regularly went round to his friend’s house of an evening—ostensibly to consult Isaac’s impressive personal library—and the pair would talk long into the night about a subject dear to both their hearts, the culture, especially the literature, of classical antiquity. They never tired in their admiration of Homer’s epic verse, nor did they ever fail to be moved when considering the tragedies of Aeschylus and Euripides. Isaac was blessed with a mischievous sense of humour and it was he who first introduced his young friend to the comic delights of Aristophanes. But they did not confine themselves to the classics. As pious men they would invariably turn their attention to the one book they cherished above all others: the Bible. Or at least the part both traditions shared, the first five books of the Old Testament, which Isaac called the Torah.

 

Isaac’s sight was failing, and he would often ask his friend to read him his favourite verses from the Torah. As Ebrulf struggled through the ancient Hebrew, the old man would sit there, quite still, eyes closed, and many were the times the young friar thought Isaac had dozed off, only to hear him suddenly chuckle and correct a mispronounced word. Sometimes, after Ebrulf had finished reading, Isaac would add a commentary of his own. It was those occasions that Ebrulf particularly treasured, for the old scholar would give familiar passages new, wondrous layers of meaning.

 

Ebrulf once asked his friend how he had acquired such profound insights. Isaac smiled knowingly then told him that since time immemorial there had been an elect few from amongst his people whose path in life was to try and penetrate the great secrets that lay behind God and His creation. These men, the ba ’alei ha-sod, or ‘Masters of the Mystery’, were a race apart who devoted their entire lives to study, contemplation and prayer. They alone were allowed access to sacred texts denied all others, texts that were said to reveal truths too terrible to contemplate. As a young man he, Isaac, had been given some instruction from one such master, and the humble musings he was now sharing were but a faint glimmer of those teachings. In the light of his own revelatory experience Ebrulf was able to see how one of Isaac’s ‘humble musings’ led straight to the Mosaic of Truth.

 

The pair had been discussing the passage from Exodus in which God gathered together the Children of Israel to give them His commandments. Isaac happened to mention that there was an old tradition in Judaism which held that when the Almighty addressed the multitude His words could be heard simultaneously in every language of the world. When Ebrulf asked why this was, Isaac explained it was necessary because man’s salvation lay in the restoration of the divine light, and that fell to all the sons of Noah. Seeing Ebrulf ’s puzzled look the old man added—equally cryptically—that only through the righteous actions of all men could the world ever be as God had intended it to be.

 

The next day, having had time to think over Isaac’s words more fully, Ebrulf began to suspect that the ‘restoration of the divine light’ his friend had alluded to and the dazzling white light he had seen in his vision were one and the same. If that were the case it meant that the completion of the Mosaic had long been foretold in the mystical teachings of Judaism. Therefore if he was to carry out the task God had given him the first step must surely be to penetrate the divine secrets those teachings contained.

 

Ebrulf called on Isaac that very evening and told him everything. For a long time after he had finished the old man sat in silence, seemingly lost in thought. When he finally spoke he confirmed that what he had just heard accorded with many of the ancient writings of the ba ’alei ha-sod. However when Ebrulf asked to see these writings, the old man flew into a rage, saying such knowledge could never be revealed to the Gentile. But there was too much at stake for Ebrulf to be deterred. He argued. He pleaded. He appealed to the fundamental beliefs they both held in common: could he not see that building the Mosaic would bring about the restoration of the light, and thus the salvation of mankind? Was it not he, Isaac, who had said that the responsibility for that salvation lay with all the sons of Noah? And did not both of them, despite their different faiths, ultimately answer to the one true God?

 

In the end the old man relented, but before he went any further he warned his friend he was about to enter a strange, mystical realm that contained many wonders but also many terrors. Not all who entered that realm returned unscathed. Many lost their reason; some had lost their very souls... With these forbidding words began Ebrulf’s introduction to the age-old esoteric system future generations were to call the Kabbalah.

 

The path to illumination is a long and difficult one, and it took Ebrulf many years before he had gained even a basic understanding of the hidden nature of God’s universe. But one thing was apparent from the very first day: nothing in heaven and earth was as he had hitherto believed it to be. Even the act of creation, the beginning of all things, was not as it was described in the Book of Genesis. Indeed he was to discover, to his absolute horror, that God’s plan had gone catastrophically wrong.

 

In the beginning, when the Almighty first decided to emerge from His infinite hidden self, the Ein-Sof, and bring to bear His creative force, He fashioned great vessels to act as crucibles. Into these vessels He poured mighty shafts of light which He shaped into the heavens, the earth, the rivers, the mountains and all living things. But just as the creative process was reaching its climax, some of the vessels could not withstand the incredible pressure placed upon them any longer and they shattered, casting sparks of celestial light into the void. It was a catastrophe of unimaginable proportions, for it meant the act of creation was left unfinished. Everything was in a state of chaos: nothing was in the place that had been assigned for it and nothing was as it was intended to be. And worst of all, evil had been released into the world.

 

And thus it remains to this day. But it need not have been so, because on the seventh day, the very first Sabbath, God gave Adam—then still an entity composed purely of spirit—the opportunity to repair the broken vessels, restore the divine light and thereby complete the act of creation. Alas Adam, as it is known, succumbed to temptation and failed. His Fall meant that he and all his descendants were condemned to take on physical form and wander the earth in exile. But it is also known that God’s powers of forgiveness are boundless, and the Bible cites a number of occasions where He gave His chosen people further opportunities to bring about the salvation of mankind. Every time, whether through ignorance or sin, they failed Him.

 

The last and greatest of these failures occurred when Moses spent forty days and forty nights on Mount Sinai, receiving the commandments from the Almighty. In his absence the Children of Israel grew restless and fearful, turned their back on God and set to worshipping the Golden Calf. God was greatly angered, yet even then He chose not to deny future generations the possibility of redemption, for He was mindful that the Law passed down to Noah and his sons was both a gift and an opportunity for us all. For every righteous man—regardless of faith—who acts in accordance with that Law contributes towards the restoration of the divine light and therefore the restitution of the world as God had meant it to be.

 

Ebrulf was in no doubt about the truth of these teachings. But he could see an even greater truth that lay beyond them, one that Isaac, as a Jew, would never be able to comprehend: namely that the Children of Israel were no longer God’s chosen people. Their final act of defiance had occurred not during the time of Moses, when they had elected to worship the Golden Calf, but many centuries later, when they refused to accept His only begotten son Jesus as Messiah, and gave him up to suffer and die on the cross. That was why God had allowed them to be cast out of the Promised Land and scattered to the four corners of the Earth, and why He had entrusted the building of the Mosaic, the final act of creation, to one of the followers of Christ.

Under the careful tutelage of Isaac Ebrulf delved deeply into the mysteries of the divine realm. He was to learn that God, insofar as He can be apprehended by the human intellect, is reflected by mighty emanations of light that appear in ten stages or aspects called sephiroth. These are the ten dimensions of His hidden self, the ten rivers of cosmic consciousness that flow from the Ein-Sof, the well of infinity. It is they that give life to all reality, for every created thing exists only because some aspect of the sephiroth lives and acts within it.

 

He also learnt that the Hebrew language, the word of God, was the instrument by which He gave shape and meaning to the universe, and that the Torah was originally created as a purely spiritual vessel to express this divine word. That was its original form and that was how He had intended us to see it. Alas, because of the Fall our poor sinful eyes are only able to perceive the Torah in its literal sense, great and wonderful though that is. But, Isaac added, there are still those, an elect few, whom He allows to glimpse His words in their true splendour. The chosen achieve this by combining a divinely-inspired state of mystical insight with an age-old method of textual interpretation called gematria.

 

Isaac proceeded to teach his pupil the secrets of gematria- a complex numerological system that assigned magical values to the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Ebrulf immediately recognised this as the tool that would enable him to build the Mosaic. Without ever doubting the sacred status of Hebrew, he felt sure the system could be adapted and applied to any language. And so, guided by his revelation, Ebrulf set about creating a new form of gematria, one illuminated by the teachings of Christ.

 

God gave Ebrulf both strength and inspiration and within a few months he was ready to test his new method on the sacred texts of the Holy Bible. He was overjoyed to find it worked even better than he had hoped, and time and again he was able to locate the hidden truths he sought, ‘smelt out’ these truths and purify or ‘reduce’ them to the pristine form God had originally given them. Each of these reduced truths became a piece of the Mosaic. It was difficult but rewarding work, and though he did not doubt the sanctity of what he was doing, he was careful not to reveal it to anyone. He was wise enough to know that many in the Church would have viewed the Mosaic as an act of folly, a false and vainglorious pursuit inspired by none other than Satan. People had been sent to the stake for far less.

 

After three years of intense effort Ebrulf had finished extracting and purifying all the hidden truths to be found in the Bible. He then turned his attention to the works of the great philosophers of classical antiquity. He discovered that these writings too, as he had long suspected, had been inspired by the one true God, and was gladdened to see his method worked as well with Latin and Greek as it had with Hebrew. And lest the reader should think the idea of a medieval Christian monk using a Jewish esoteric system to extract divine truths from the writings of pagan philosophers might be pushing the bounds of possibility to breaking point, Professor Whitmarsh thought it apposite to mention the work of later mystical thinkers such as Pico della Mirandola and Johannes Reuchlin who, aided by Jewish scholars, were known to have employed the Kabbalah both to demonstrate the truth of the Christian message and inform their own Neo-platonist worldview.

 

After another two years spent working through all the philosophical texts at his disposal Ebrulf could see that the Mosaic was beginning to take shape. But many pieces were still missing. His Muslim and Jewish colleagues had often spoken about the great civilisations that lay far to the East, beyond even distant Baghdad. If he was ever to finish his task it was clear he would need to consult the collected wisdom from those lands too. But how was he going to lay his hands on sacred writings originating from places no God-fearing Christian had even heard of, let alone seen?

 

Had it been fifty years earlier, Ebrulf probably would have made his way to Byzantium, the former capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, but now that the Holy Land had been captured by the Crusading armies and Jerusalem was once again in Christian hands, where better to complete his mission than the City of David, where Christ had suffered, died and risen again? What is more Jerusalem had for centuries been a crossroads for civilisations, East and West, a major destination for the great caravan routes that originated in faraway lands. Ebrulf asked for permission to go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, though he was careful not to reveal his true purpose. In the spring of 1143, after bidding a painful farewell to his teacher and friend Isaac, Ebrulf set sail for Jerusalem.

 

His journey entailed a number of stops, one of which proved to be highly fortuitous. Sicily had been wrested from the Arabs in 1072, and in a situation with close parallels to that of Toledo, the new Norman overlords found a civilisation that was far more advanced than their own. They kept much of what they found, and soon Sicily’s capital Palermo, already a prosperous, cosmopolitan city, became a centre of arts and science to rival any in Moorish Spain. Its culture particularly flourished during the reign of the learned king, Roger II and it was at Roger’s court that Ebrulf met Abu Abd Allah Muhammad al-Idrisi al-Qurtubi al-Hasani al-Sabti, the foremost cartographer of his day. Al-Idrisi was in the King’s service, working on what was intended to be the most authoritative atlas and geographical compendium ever written. Al-Idrisi clearly recognised Ebrulf as a kindred spirit and was happy to supply him with much valuable information about the lands and peoples that lay beyond Persia. He also gave the young friar a number of letters of introduction in Arabic, Hebrew and Greek that would be of use once he reached Jerusalem.

 

When he finally set foot in the Holy Land, Ebrulf immediately resumed work on the Mosaic of Truth. But he also spent time visiting the holy sites, preaching, and helping the sick and needy amongst the pilgrim community. Ebrulf performed these duties partly to conceal his true purpose for being in Jerusalem, but mainly because this deeply pious man never lost sight of his vocation as a Christian monk. The letters of introduction he had been given by al-Idrisi proved invaluable- through the contacts he made he was able to acquire rare and valuable manuscripts from the East, such as Zoroastrian teachings from Persia and Buddhist texts from India and beyond. His contacts also found him the experts necessary to translate and help illuminate these documents. At the same time Ebrulf was given access to a large body of early Christian writing not known in the West but faithfully preserved in the archives of the Coptic, Maronite, Armenian and Nestorian Christians he encountered in Jerusalem. After just a few months the number of texts Ebrulf was having to deal with became so overwhelming he realised that working alone, he would never be able to complete the Mosaic in his own lifetime. Therefore he began the slow process of selecting, vetting and inculcating a small group of like-minded clerics into the mysteries of his sacred mission.

 

Ebrulf’s work involved a certain amount of travel, which was by no means straightforward in the Holy Land at that time. Though nominally under Crusader control, much of the country remained lawless, and journeys undertaken without an armed escort were highly dangerous. On one occasion Ebrulf needed to get to the city of Antioch and the knights assigned to provide safe passage for him and his fellow travellers turned out to be members of the Poor Fellow Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon: the Knights Templar. It was the beginning of a fruitful association that was to last the rest of the friar’s life.

Ebrulf was impressed by the Templars’ piety, humility and unflagging devotion to duty, and it is apparent the respect was mutual, because from that point on they began to employ the friar’s services on a regular basis. His learning made him useful as a scribe and copyist; few of the Knights could read Latin, and book learning was discouraged amongst the brothers lest it distract them from more martial pursuits. Ebrulf’s command of Greek, Hebrew and, increasingly, Arabic, made him useful as a translator and interpreter. But it was perhaps his other qualities, his subtle reasoning skills, his tact and discretion that the Templars valued most highly, and they often sought his counsel on legal and diplomatic matters. However, despite the genuine loyalty Ebrulf felt toward the Knights Templar, he never joined their order. Nor did he reveal the real reason for his being in the Holy Land. And yet they were still destined to play a crucial role in the story of the Mosaic, without ever becoming aware of it.

 

After nearly ten years in the Holy Land the friar had to accept that even with the help of his trusted assistants, he was never going to live to see the completion of his beloved Mosaic. He knew the others would continue his work after him, recruiting more help when needed, but, he wondered, how could he ensure all the pieces of the Mosaic thus far collected were safely hidden until the glorious day came for it to be unveiled to the world? Try as he might the poor friar could not think of a single place safe enough to hold such a treasure. And then, with one of those flashes of divine inspiration I was finding increasingly difficult to swallow, he realised that both his problem and the solution to it were one and the same, since no single place was safe enough for his purposes...

 

It was the organisational structure of the Knights Templar that had given Ebrulf the idea. The wealth, power and prestige of the order were increasing all the time, allowing them to establish a network of landed properties throughout the Holy Land and virtually the whole of Europe. These preceptories were well-run, prosperous and above all secure, not just because they were heavily fortified but, since they belonged to a supra-national body answerable only to the Pope, they remained above and beyond the feudal conflicts that saw fortresses, cities, even whole kingdoms change hands with depressing regularity. Ebrulf saw that the stability of this system could be used to safeguard the Mosaic, and resolved to conceal each piece of it in a different Templar property.

 

The method of concealment Ebrulf devised was ingenious in its simplicity. Firstly, once a divine truth had been derived from a text, it was ‘reduced’ to one hundred words or less and translated into Latin. These one hundred words were then broken up and embedded into the text of another document, something innocuous like a legal agreement, a family history, a devotional tract, even lines from an epic poem. Finally Ebrulf arranged for this document to be sent to a given Templar possession and kept there for safe keeping, always making sure he received word of its safe arrival. The system was not complicated, but then it did not need to be. The words embedded in a given document could only be located and correctly sequenced using a key that was never sent along with it. And besides, why would anyone even be looking for a hidden message when there was no reason to suspect it was there in the first place?

 

Alongside the system for breaking up and concealing the Mosaic, Ebrulf devised another, equally ingenious, for recovering and assembling the pieces. He began writing a chronicle. Chronicles were common in the twelfth century, typically recording recent events and adding personal commentaries, devotional musings and anything else the author wished. The anonymous Chronicle of a poor sinner in the service of Christ looked much like any other, except that it contained, for the few who knew how to decrypt it, the location of each hidden piece, the key for lifting the embedded text from the parent document and instructions on how to reassemble the Mosaic.

 

Ebrulf died sometime in the 1170’s, having passed on the secrets of his chronicle to his assistants. He was confident they would carry on his work till the day came when the completed Mosaic could be revealed to the world. And indeed for a century or so everything went according to plan. But then at some point, and for reasons that have never been fully explained, disaster struck and all trace of the Mosaic disappeared. Whitmarsh cited a number of contributory factors, such as the loss of the Holy Land to the Saracens in 1291, and the beginning of the persecution of the Knights Templar in 1307, which eventually led to the breakup of the order and the confiscation of all their property. But he also made it clear that although these events would have greatly impeded the work of Ebrulf’s successors, they would not have curtailed it altogether. He concluded that some other tragedy, leading to the sudden, unforeseen death of all those involved, must have occurred around this time.

 

Whatever the truth of the matter, some word of the Mosaic must have survived; perhaps one of Ebrulf’s ‘brotherhood’ had told part of the story to someone in the hope that their work would not be lost forever. And so it lived on as an obscure myth, a carefully guarded secret that surfaced from time to time in odd places, such as the diplomatic despatch that had sparked off the author’s interest in the first place. But Whitmarsh now knew it was much more than a myth. He also knew that without some startling new evidence coming to light, his quest was over.

 

And that, basically, was where the author left it. Except for a kind of post-script that posed a number of intriguing questions. Was it possible, he asked, that Leopold Metzner had actually managed to track down Ebrulf’s chronicle? If so, was he able to unlock the code that led to the hidden pieces of the Mosaic? Was this the momentous discovery he had alluded to when he wrote to his colleague at the University of Cologne? And, perhaps most tantalisingly of all, was that the reason Metzner was murdered- to stop him revealing the secrets he had uncovered?

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