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Forgotten Cave of Worship

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Forgotten Cave of Worship

Post by Karen on Tue 7 Dec 2010 - 5:59


In a hidden hollow of the neglected park of a deserted villa on the Venetian plain lies the entrance to what the few who know of its existence believe to be the last of the secret shrines of the Knights Templars, writes J. Ward Price in the "Daily Mail."
For 120 years, in the dim light of the innermost of its artificial caverns, has stood a twenty-feet-high figure of Baphomet, the strange double-sexed god worshipped by initiates of that famous Order.
When the Templars were suppressed six centuries ago by Pope Clement V and King Philip of France, and many hundreds of them burnt at the stake on charges of heresy and sorcery, their Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, is said to have found means before his execution to pass on the secrets of their ritual to others. These founded four lodges - at Naples, Edinburgh, Stockholm, and Paris - from which the worship of Baphomet continued to be propagated.
It was doubtless through the Southern lodge at Naples that the Italian proprietor of the now forlorn estate where Baphomet still stands became, at the beginning of the last century, an adept of the powerful fraternity which once had over 9000 branches in Europe and whose castles in Palestine, bigger than the Tower of London, still stand today.
To most people the magic of modern science has made the enchantments of the Middle Ages seem ridiculous, but there are places where their memory still lingers.


I can imagine no more suitable surroundings for the invocation of the powers of evil than the cold, bat-haunted darkness of the underground temple into which one passed from the warm sunlight of the sequestered Venetian plain outside.
The entrance lies through a large cave, whose likeness to a vault is increased by the ancient memorial slabs of Knights of the Temple, brought here from their original burial-grounds. The walls are hung with armour, helmets, and weapons, all eaten away with rust.
This, however, is but the vestibule of the strange tabernacle of a forgotten god. In the gloom at the end of the cave a narrow gap leads to a flight of steps which open on to a deep circular chamber, dimly lighted by a round hole in its conical roof 30ft above the earthen floor.
Against the wall opposite the entrance a lofty seat in white marble rises like a bishop's throne, in front of which, on a narrow altar, lies a huge double-handed sword, red and scaly with a hundred years of rusting.
It was here that the would-be initiates of the Order of the Temple took their first oath of secrecy before passing on to learn the inner mysteries.
Dark and dungeon-like as this first vault is, what lies beyond is still more cramped, for the worshippers of Baphomet were admitted to the further rites only one or two at a time.
It is hard to find the way out of the "Chapel of the Sword." The narrow door leading to the inner part of the temple is hidden behind a screen of artificial rock. It leads to a steep, twisting passage that rises to another cave, on whose wall is a large marble bas-relief depicting the rite of "baptism" which used to take place there.


The carving is crude but forceful. It might well be a panel brought from one of the original chapels of the Templars that were destroyed in the fourteenth century. It shows three naked figures, two of which are pouring a flood of water over the head of another who lies stretched across an altar.
There is a corresponding panel in the next grotto, which was evidently the scene either of sacrifice or ordeal by fire. A hollow altar stands there, bearing signs of having been used as a furnace, and the carving above it depicts one of the three figures lying across a similar altar with flames rising on either side of him.
The narrow passage leading on to the heart of the shrine is brightened at its next turn by a gap in the roof that lets in the sun. This is said to symbolise the enlightenment of the neophyte who, after passing through the ceremonies of baptism and ordeal or sacrifice, is ready to enter the presence of the idol.
The path then slopes steeply down again to below the surface of the ground. One comes upon a cave of irregular sides, illuminated, only by an unseen opening in its roof. But as the eye grows used to the shadows, the monstrous figure of Baphomet stands out, rising to the roof from a shallow pit in the centre of the cavern.


It has the form of a powerfully built man with a thick black beard, but the figure is that of a woman, for the deity was supposed to combine both male and female qualities.
The head wears a triple-pointed crown. The uplifted arms hold, in one hand a reproduction of the sun, in the other of the moon. Between the straddling legs lies a skull, and at the feet of the idol is a small marble altar.
An uncanny effect of this underground image, which for a hundred years and more has stood here awaiting secret worship, is the transparency of the eyes. These are so made that as you move about the cave, the light from above suddenly shines through them, giving the startling impression that the stiffly standing figure has shot a swift glance in one's direction.
Last scene of all in this sanctuary of the Templars is the empty space behind the figure of the god, where his devotees, with magic symbols and words of power, are supposed to have tried to call up the demons of the abyss.
It was in "the year of the famine" - 1816 - that this underground shrine, according to local tradition, was built, a curious survival of medieval superstition into modern times.


The Templars who worshipped Baphomet were, of course, an entirely different organisation from that branch of British Freemasonry which now bears their name. The original Knights Templars, founded in Jerusalem in A.D. 1119, made it their covert ambition to rebuild the Temple of Solomon on the lines laid down by the Prophet Ezekiel. They hoped thereby to shift the centre of the Christian world from Rome to Jerusalem, and were secretly leagued with the Patriarch of that city in the aim of supplanting the Papacy.
The broadmindedness which they affected for this purpose brought them into contact with the occult sects of the East. The leaders of the Templars were initiated into the secrets of the Jewish Cabbala, and eventually the inner circles of the Order adopted the worship of Baphomet, a pantheist figure whom they propitiated with peculiar rites.
And now this, perhaps the last idol left in Europe, stands forsaken in a pit beneath the garden of a shuttered Italian country house, and the boys and girls of the village, on Sunday afternoons, do their courting or play their games in the dark chambers where the latter-day Templars once took their oaths and celebrated their mysteries.

Source: Evening Post, Volume CXXVI, Issue 34, 9 August 1938, Page 18

Karen Trenouth
Author of: "Epiphany of the Whitechapel Murders"
Author of: "Jack the Ripper: The Satanic Team"

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