Podcast: White Friday 1916 – History’s Deadliest Avalanche occurred during WWI

The deadliest avalanche in history occurred at the worst possible time in the worst possible place.  A powerful avalanche killed hundreds of Austrian and Italian soldiers near Italy’s Mount Marmolada on 13 December 1916 in the middle of World War I. Over the next several weeks, more avalanches in the Alps killed an estimated 10,000 Austrian and Italian soldiers fighting Nature as well as each other.  Some claim the avalanches were purposefully triggered the armies against their enemies, but we’ll never know for sure.

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Tibet vs. China: 70 Years of Stalemate

Before Communist China, for over a 1,000 years, Tibet was a ‘protectorate’ of China’s Manchu/Qing Dynasty.  Tibet maintained its own language, governor, laws, army, and paid no taxes. China’s control over Tibet weakened during the 1800’s, as China had more external assaults from the likes of Japan and Britain.  By the turn of the 1900’s, its protectorate was largely symbolic.

When the Manchu Dynasty was finally overthrown in 1912, it gave the Tibetan government the chance to expel all Chinese troops and officials. Tibetan soldiers drove the Chinese military out, back across its borders.

For the first time in a millennium, Tibet was an independent nation, with Lhasa as its capital, and without Chinese interference.  It maintained diplomatic relations with neighboring Nepal, Bhutan, and India, as well as Great Britain.  Relations with the new Chinese Republic, however, were tense and strained. 

After the death of the 13th Dalai Lama in 1933, Tibet fell under the rule of a corrupt Regent.  Political unrest plagued the nation until a new Lama was found.  In 1937, a young candidate was discovered on a poor farm in the Chinese-controlled province of Amdo.  It took 2 years of negotiations with China, and a ransom to be paid, before the young boy, Tenzin Gyatso, and his entourage of lamas, were allowed to leave for Lhasa.  He was ordained and declared the 14th Dalia Lama in 1940 … at only 5!   The government would remain under the control of the Regent till he came of age.

The Chinese Republic continued to claim to the world that Tibet was one of China’s Five Races, and forever a part of China.  It sought to “liberate” Tibetans from their serf-like existence and return Tibet to the “motherland.”  Western countries, including Britain and the US, refused to recognize Tibetan independence. With the government still in chaos, and the country in need of modernization, Tibet was unprepared for a new and very different wave of Chinese pressure.

The founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 changed everything.

The Communists once again claimed Tibet as part of China, and this time had the military power to enforce it. China wanted more than a simple conquest – it wanted a formal agreement from the Dalai Lama himself towards reunification.  The Tibetan government refused, and the Chinese military invaded. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of the new Communist regime crossed Tibet’s eastern border. The small Tibetan army was quickly defeated and China occupied half the country.  As the Chinese army advanced towards Lhasa, religious leaders urged state power be transferred to the young Dalai Lama.  A month later, at age 15, the Dalai Lama assumed full political power in Tibet, with control over 6 million people.

China sent a military delegation to Lhasa calling for reunification.  Tibet pleaded to the world for help, but neither the US, Britain, India or the United Nations responded. Tibet face the entire might of Communist China alone.  The Dalai Lama reluctantly sent a small negotiating team to Beijing. Once there, the Tibetan negotiators were NOT allowed to communicate with Lhasa, and pressured to sign an agreement, despite having NO authority to do so. Under threat of a full scale invasion, they had no choice but to sign the 17-Point Agreement on Measures for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet in 1951. The young Dalai Lama chose not to flee into exile and abandon his people, but rather stay and accept the terms.  It forced Tibet to return to Chinese jurisdiction, while maintaining some domestic autonomy, including religious freedom.   The presence of 40,000 Chinese troops in eastern Tibet, the threat of an occupation of Lhasa, and the obliteration of the Tibetan state, left him little choice.  

Because it was signed under duress, the agreement lacked validity under international law.  The 17-Point Agreement also proved difficult to implement.  Throughout the 1950s, China’s Communist Party expected Tibetans to convert to Socialism.  ‘Reforms’ sparked resistance when authorities tried to take land from Buddhist temples and monasteries.  Relations between Tibetan Buddhists and Chinese Communists worsened as monasteries turned into places of resistance and shelter for rebels.  As resistance escalated, Chinese repression increased, including destroying religious buildings and imprisoning monks.  In order to avoid a full scale takeover, the Dalai Lama even visited Beijing in 1954, and met with Chairman Mao.  

“The Chinese government wants to me say that Tibet has always been a part of China.  Even if I make that statement, people would just laugh.  And my statement will not change the past.  History is history.” – his Holiness the Dalia Lama 

By 1958, rebellion was simmering in Lhasa, and the PLA military commander threatened to bomb the city.  After 8 years of occupation and repression, the Tibetan Uprising of 1959 began.  Tibetans rebelled in an attempt to overthrow the Chinese occupying government. The popular uprising culminated in March with massive demonstrations in Lhasa.  They were triggered by fears of a Communist plot to arrest the Dalai Lama and imprison him in Beijing. Tibetans banded together in defiance and took to the streets to protest in front of the white Potala Palace. Chinese military officers invited the Dalia Lama to visit PLA headquarters in Lhasa for an “official Tea,” including a theatrical dance show.  He was told however, he must come alone, with NO Tibetan military bodyguards allowed.

300,000 loyal Tibetans surrounded the Norbulinka Summer Palace, protecting the Dalai Lama from accepting the PLA’s invitation.  In response, Chinese artillery was moved in and aimed at the palace demonstrators.  With allegations of Buddhist lamas being arrested in the night, the Dalai Lama, now 23 years old, agreed with his advisors to evacuate Lhasa that night.  Disguised as a common soldier, he fled with about 20 followers, including family and 6 members of his cabinet.

Fighting broke out in Lhasa 2 days later, with Tibetan rebels hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned. The Chinese army began shelling Norbulinka Palace, slaughtering tens of thousands of Tibetan demonstrators, including women and children camped outside. The PLA executed the Dalai Lama’s guards and began destroying Lhasa’s monasteries and the Buddhist monks inside.  By the time China had crushed the uprising, 87,000 Tibetans were dead in Lhasa alone.

The Dalai Lama and his small entourage managed to flee the city south to India.  After 15 days riding horseback at night, they crossed the mighty Himalayas and the southern border into northeastern India.  He called a press conference, at which he formally repudiated the Seventeen-Point Agreement.

“The Chinese People’s Liberation Army occupation and rule over Tibet is a calculated and systematic strategy aimed at the destruction of Tibetan national and cultural identities.” – his Holiness the Dalai Lama.  

After the imprisonment of the Panchen Lama, Tibet’s 2nd ranking spiritual leader, China no longer felt bound by its earlier promises.  China abolished Tibetan government, violated human rights, and instituted agricultural communes.  This has often been described by the Tibetan people as a cultural genocide

Indian Prime Minister Nehru agreed to host the Dalia Lama, and he has lived in exile in India ever since.  The Dalai Lama now heads the Tibetan Government-in-exile, headquartered in Dharmsala, India in the Himalayan foothills. About 80,000 Tibetans eventually followed him into exile.  In 1963, he released  a new Constitution for a democratic Tibet, implemented by his Government-in-exile. 

The Chinese Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) attempted to destroy Tibetan religious life, including its temples and monasteries. Religious figures and other educators were forced into the infamous Re-education Camps. The vast Buddhist monastic system was dismantled, and religious activities prohibited. Tibetan monks were forced out of their monasteries and ordered to marry, a violation of their vows of celibacy.

After the death of Chairman Mao Zedong, these hardline policies shifted a bit.  The 1980s were a somewhat better period of China-Tibet relations. Some monasteries were allowed to be rebuilt and Buddhist monks returned to them. People were again allowed to practice their religion publicly and Tibetan culture was even promoted. There were also tentative talks again between the Dalai Lama and Beijing … but they broke down without any progress. 

Tensions between Tibet and China inevitably increased once again, until violence erupted in 1989

Riots once again spread throughout Lhasa and Martial Law was declared, resulting in the deaths of 400 protestors by Chinese military.   All foreign nationalists were evacuated.  Demonstrations for democracy and the exiled Dalai Lama, or even Buddhism, was seen again as treason in the eyes of the Chinese Communists. From India, the Dalia Lama proposed a compromise relationship with China.  One that would maintain Beijing control of defense and foreign affairs, and return domestic control back to him.  It went nowhere.

Today, Tibetan activists still call for China to leave Tibet entirely — even though the Dalai Lama is no longer seeking full sovereignty.  From a legal standpoint, Tibet never lost its statehood. It’s technically still an independent state under illegal occupation.  China’s military invasion and continuing occupation has never transferred the sovereignty of Tibet to China.  

Over the last 70 years, about 1.2 million Tibetans have lost their lives (almost 1/6th the population) as a result of the Chinese occupation. All throughout, China never succeeded in destroying the Tibetan people’s Spirit to resist, or their culture and religion.  The new generation of Tibetans seems just as determined to regain their independence from China as did their parents. 

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Podcast: Australia began as a Penal Colony 230 Years Ago

It is no longer a well-hidden fact, nor even a national embarrassment, that Australia was originally founded as the Botany Bay Penal Colony in the late 18th century.  Botany Bay is an inlet on the eastern coast of Australia, just south of Sydney.   But how exactly did an entire continent come to be settled by thousands of British convicts?

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Podcast: 9 Examples of Being on the Wrong Side of History

Here are 9 cases of ideas or theories that were once widely believed, but most definitely are on the Wrong Side of History – some are moral, some technological, and some philosophical.  Through today’s lens, some of these will appear ridiculous or even repugnant.  Yet at the time, in their day, they were deemed Fact and perfectly correct and acceptable. Some may even give you an unsettling sense of déjà vu.

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A Brief History of Modern Climate Change

It’s taken nearly a century of research to convince the majority of the earth’s population that we humans are changing the climate of our own planet.  Decades of data now shows that not only is climate change real, but that our disregard has now left us near the point of no return, with dire consequences ahead.  But how did we get to this point so fast?  Let’s take a quick look back.

By the 1800s, coal had replacing charcoal and wood as the common fuel across Europe.  Mining made it readily available and it took far less coal than wood to produce the same amount of heat.  The invention of an efficient steam engine by James Watt (fueled by coal), paved the way for the massive Industrial Revolution of mid-century, not to mention coal’s use in locomotives and steam ships.

As early as the 1820s, French physicist Joseph Fourier stated that some of the sun’s energy reaching the earth is held by the atmosphere, keeping our planet warm.  He proposed that Earth’s thin atmosphere acts the same way a greenhouse does.  Irish scientist John Tyndall explored which gases in the atmosphere played a role in that Greenhouse Effect.”  His tests in the 1860s showed that coal gas, containing CO2 and methane, was especially effective at absorbing heat energy.  By 1895, Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius wondered if increasing CO2 levels in the atmosphere from both natural AND manmade means might warm the Earth further. He investigated what might happen if atmospheric CO2 levels doubled. The possibility seemed remote at the time, but his results suggested that global temperatures would increase by a surprising 5C or 9F.

Meanwhile, several events outside the scientific world would change the planet forever. 

In 1859, Edwin Drake struck oil in Titusville, PA, jumpstarting the modern petroleum industry.  In 1886, German Karl Benz unveiled his curious-looking horseless carriage, the Motor-Wagon, the first true automobile.  It had a new fangled internal combustion engine, running on a fuel derived from oil called gasoline.  A 2nd Industrial Revolution exploded when Westinghouse’s AC electricity (created by burning coal or oil), expanded industries even further.  The 1920s saw the opening of vast oil fields in Texas, as well as far off places like the deserts of Arabia and Persia.  Add Henry Ford’s wildly successful Model T to the equation and you can see where this is going.

By the 1930s, British engineer Guy Callendar started to notice that carbon emissions from all those tall factory smoke stacks might already be having a warming effect.  He noted that the North Atlantic region had already warmed significantly following the Industrial Revolution.  He argued for the next 30 years that the greenhouse-effect was warming the planet.  Our oceans naturally absorb some of the CO2 in the atmosphere.  But in 1957, oceanographers Roger Revelle and Hans Suess showed that even our vast oceans will not be able to absorb ALL the extra CO2 that humans were blenching into the atmosphere.

Probably the most famous climate research project was done at a monitoring station on top of Hawaii’s Mauna Loa Observatory, started in 1958 by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.  Geochemist Charles Keeling came up with a way to record CO2 levels.  His data become known as the “Keeling Curve.” The upward, or hockey stick-shaped, curve showed an exponential rise in CO2 levels in our atmosphere. Computer modeling predicted the possible outcomes of such a rise, showing that doubling CO2 could produce 2 C or 3.6 F warming of the earth within 100 years.

But what exactly did climate change mean practically? 

Well, by 1968, polar studies suggested the future collapse of Antarctic ice sheets, which would cause sea levels to raise catastrophically over a century. Some island nations would quite literally disappear.  That same year Apollo astronauts orbited the Moon for the first time.  Humans could now see the Earth as a fragile blue marble, with a wafer-thin atmosphere protecting it, an atmosphere we were frantically dumping pollutants into.  In 1970, the first Earth Day took place in the US.  The new environmental movement had begun to attain political influence, spreading concern about global pollution.  US President Richard Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency and signed the Clean Air Act by year end.

In 1974, the earth’s population reached the 4 billion milestone, doubling in the roughly 50 years since the 1920’s.  It would double again in 40 more years to 8 billion in 2014.  Droughts in Africa, Ukraine, and India during the 1970s caused famine and world food crises, fanning fears about climate change and water shortages.  The deforestation of CO2-absorbing equatorial rainforests in Brazil, the so-called Lungs of the Planet, were recognized as a major factor in climate change.  In 1975, US scientist Wallace Broecker coined the term “Global Warming” in the title of a scientific paper and it was suddenly everywhere.

The election of Ronald Reagan in 1981 however brought a backlash against US environmental regulations. Political conservatism, along with the petroleum industry, became linked to loud skepticism about such “global warming.”  The US Three Mile Island incident and the 1986 meltdown of the Chernobyl Nuclear Reactor in Ukraine put a pause on replacing fossil fuels with more nuclear plants.  Japan’s Fukushima tsunami disaster in 2011 more or else put the nail in nuclear power’s coffin.  1988 turned out to be a critical turning point when its summer became the hottest on record (one beaten many times by subsequent years).

That year also saw more widespread droughts, wildfires and hurricanes within the US. 

Scientists sounded the alarm again about climate change and we finally saw the media, public, industry and governments pay closer attention.  A year later, in 1989, the United Nations established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to provide a scientific, economic and political view of climate impacts. Conservative UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, in a speech to the UN, called for a global treaty on climate change.  Researchers began accepting the ramifications of a warming Earth – rising ocean levels caused by polar ice melting, severe heat waves, famines, and more powerful typhoons/hurricanes fueled by rising ocean temps.  Studies predicted that as the poles melted, sea levels could rise between 11 and 38 inches (28 to 98 cm) by 2100, enough to swamp many of the Earth’s low-lying coastal cities like Miami and Amsterdam.

The UN’s IPCC produced an Assessment Report concluding that temperatures have indeed risen over the last century, that humans are indeed adding to the atmosphere’s greenhouse gases and influencing climate. Reports of the breaking up of Antarctic ice shelves and Greenland glaciers began affecting public opinion.  The Kyoto Protocol, adopted in 1997, was the first global agreement to reduce greenhouse gases, and was signed by India, China, EU Leaders and US President Bill Clinton.  It called for reducing the emission of 6 greenhouse gases in 41 countries by 2012.  The next year, a freak Super El Nino produced the warmest year on record … once again.  The controversial “hockey stick” graph appeared again, indicating that modern-day temperature rise is striking compared with the last, relatively flat 1,000 years.

In 2001 however, US President George W. Bush withdrew the US from the Kyoto Protocol (joining Sudan and Afghanistan), saying it was “fatally flawed” and that it would hurt the US economy.  2003 brought a deadly Summer Heat Wave across Europe, accelerating the split between European and US public opinion.  Former US Vice President Al Gore released a popular and controversial documentary in 2006, An Inconvenient Truth, on the dangers of climate change. The film won an Oscar and Gore won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.  Politicization of climate change, exploded with some industry and government skeptics arguing that IPCC predictions and films like Gore’s were nothing but overblown science fiction.

The next milestone treaty was the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, this time signed by US President Barack Obama.

197 countries pledged to set targets for their greenhouse gas cuts and to report their progress.  Its goal was to prevent a global temperature rise of 2 C (3.6 F), a critical limit, which, if surpassed could lead to more deadly and frequent heat waves, droughts, famines, wildfires, and hurricanes. The US had gotten a taste of that when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans a decade earlier, spurring debate over impact of global warming on storm intensity.  President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the Paris Agreement (joining Iran and Libya) in 2016, citing “onerous restrictions” and that “punished the United States.” That same year, NASA and NOAA found Earth’s 2016 surface temps to be the warmest in modern record. Sounding familiar?  By 2018, the UN IPCC concluded “rapid, far-reaching” actions were needed NOW to cap global warming in order to avert dire, irreversible consequences for the planet.

Meanwhile. the younger generation was watching the adults’ indecision and inaction impacting their future planet.  In 2018, a Swedish teenage girl named Greta Thunberg began protesting in front of her country’s Parliament. Her protests to raise awareness for climate change went viral and over 17,000 students in 24 countries participated in her climate strikes. In 2019, Thunberg was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. The UN Climate Action Summit has since set a deadline for achieving net zero emissions in 2050.

2020, in addition to the COVID-19 pandemic, also brought us multiple heavy impacts of climate change.

We saw a record breaking number of wildfires in the western US, burning 10 million acres.  A record number of named hurricanes in the Atlantic (30), exceeding the 26 letter alphabet, with 12 reaching US landfall. Record setting droughts experienced in East Africa, Central America and Australia.  Record setting monsoon season flooding seen in Bangladesh and eastern India.  Record setting typhoons, cyclones and flooding hitting the Philippines and South East Asia.

Fortunately, the same technology that invented electricity provides a ray of hope.  Over the last decade, new renewable energy systems have developed exponentially. Cost efficient solar and wind tech are surging in the marketplace. Renewable energy is now profitable and a new source of employment.  Investment in coal has stalled and in some countries halted.  More automobile manufactures are making electric vehicles.  Nevertheless, we are still a fossil fuel-based global economy and any transition faces a massive political struggle, with the entrenched and powerful petroleum industry fighting every step of the way.

Renewable energy is not a cure-all.  We won’t magically stop using oil and return to a clean atmosphere and normal temperatures.  The effects of greenhouse gases will take decades to work themselves out, if we reduce them soon. To not do so is frankly unthinkable.  But, our human adoption of carbon-based energy was turned on in the past, and can be turned off in the future.  Hopefully.

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The Long and Storied life of Mont-Saint-Michel


Mont-Saint-Michel is truly an astonishing site.  An awe-inspiring Gothic/Renaissance Abbey rising out the sea like something from Game of Thrones.  Today it’s referred to as the “Wonder of the West,” a UNESCO World Heritage Site with over 3 million visitors a year.  But how on earth did such a gem get there?

Mont-Saint-Michel is actually a rocky, pyramid-shaped tidal island sitting about a kilometer off the northwest coast of France, between Normandy and Brittany, near the mouth of the River Couesnon. The island itself covers only 17 acres. It’s connected to the French mainland by a silty tidal embankment that’s completely submerged at high tide.   The tides in the bay are quite dramatic and can vary by as much as 50 ft (15 m) depending on the weather and time of year.  Because of this unique phenomenon, the Mont has held great religious AND strategic value over the centuries.

Back in the 5th century, the forested Mont was named Mont-Tombe by Irish monks.  They established a small hermitage on the island, which over the next 300 years became a site of religious pilgrimage.  Then according to legend, in 708, Bishop (later Saint) Aubert of Avranches was visited by the Archangel Michael in a dream 3 times. In his visions, Michael told Aubert to build an oratory chapel in his name atop Mont-Tombe.  By 709, Aubert had fulfilled the Angel’s wish, building a small church on the island, and placing there holy relics of St. Michael he had brought in from Italy.

Norman domination of Mont-Saint-Michel began in 966 when King Lothair of France issued a charter, establishing a Benedictine monastery on the island. The monastery was built in the Romanesque style with thick stone walls, arched ceilings, and small windows.  The Benedictine monks, under the Duke of Normandy’s rule, managed their monastery extremely well, turning it into both a major center of religious pilgrimage AND, due to its strategic coastal location, a place of commerce. The Benedictine monks produced so many manuscripts on the island, Mont-Saint-Michel became known as the “The City of Books.”

Mont-Saint-Michel’s fame and fortunes grew steadily over the years.

During the 11th century, Norman rulers saw Mont-Saint-Michel both as a place of faith AND a strategic fortress, due to the increased rivalries within France. The Mont received a military garrison, put at the disposal of both the abbot and the Norman kings.  It was the Normans who built its larger Romanesque abbey church on top of the old Aubert chapel, which became its crypts.   During a successful siege by Philip II of France in 1203, Mont-Saint-Michel endured heavy damage.  But his subsequent patronage facilitated the construction of a larger, three-story stone Monastery known as La Merveille, “The Wonder.”  This impressive building is a masterpiece of Norman-Gothic architecture.  Built on the rocky, sea-side of the island, it consists of a pilgrim almonry, a Chevaliers Hall for royal guests, a monks’ Refectory, plus a beautiful Cloister.

The Abbey of Mont Saint-Michel continued to become a place of military, commercial and religious significance over the centuries. Benedictine monks translated ancient texts to Latin, and the relics of Saint-Michel attracted the faithful by the thousands.  Back in the Middle Ages, those pilgrims had to cross about 4 miles (7 km) of sea to reach the island (5 kilometers farther than it is today). Those crossings could be a deadly task as one had to time it carefully with the low tides.   Pilgrims routinely drowned trying to beat the tides and reach the Mont.  In addition to the abbey, a small thriving village flourished on the island’s shore, on the south and east sides, facing the French mainland.  Surrounded by high, thick walls, its narrow winding streets, with successive flights of stone steps, lead up to the abbey on top.

Mont-Saint-Michel’s success and strategic location also made it a target. 

French King Louis IX visited the Abbey in the 13th century and ordered the renovation of its defensive walls, including the addition of 8 military towers.  While Mont-Saint-Michel had been mildly fortified since the Norman days, the outer walls erected by King Louis proved to be impressive and impenetrable.  They came in handy during the Hundred Years War (1337-1453) between England and France.  The wrap-around wall and towers covered three sides and managed to defend the island from multiple attacks. The English attacked and blockaded Mont-Saint-Michel three times during a 30 year siege. The Abbey withstood all the sieges and blockades.  Mont-Saint-Michel was the only part of northwestern France to avoid occupation by the English during the Hundred Years War.  The story of the Mont’s survival inspired none other that Joan of Arc in Paris.

In 1421, during a siege by Breton knights, a fire resulted and burned down much of the abbey church’s chancel. It was then reconstructed a final time, now in the Gothic style, complete with tall stained glass windows and flying buttresses like Paris Notre Dame.  The church was heightened as well with a slender gothic tower above the transept, topped with a golden, armored Archangel St. Michael at 300 ft (91 m) high. 

But all good things must come to an end.  After the 14th century Renaissance and the 15th century Reformation, the island had lost both its military and religious significance.  Mont-Saint-Michel sadly fell into a period of slow decline.  By the time the French Revolution came about in 1789, there were only seven monks left in residence at the Abbey.  The French clergy, as well as its aristocracy, became target’s of the bloody Revolution and its notorious guillotine.

In 1791, the abbey was closed, and because of its extreme location, was converted into an infamous prison!

It held France’s political prisoners, deposed members of the aristocracy, and ironically, even priests, up to 300 at one time – anyone who went against the principles of Robespierre’s new Republic.  Mont-Saint-Michel sadly became known as the “Bastille of the Sea”—in reference to the despised Parisian prison that was stormed during the Revolution.  Emperor Napoleon continued to use the abbey as a prison, adding wooden floors into the high ceiling monk’s Refectory to hold even more cells.  A large treadwheel crane, manned by prisoners, was installed to drag supplies up the hillside. The beautiful Mont had turned from a admired place of worship and pilgrimage, into a feared fortress prison.

Mont-Saint-Michel continued to hold prisoners until 1863, when influential French figures, like writer Victor Hugo (author of Les Misérables), campaigned fiercely for its closure. Hugo wrote, “Mont-Saint-Michel comes into view like a sublime thing, a marvelous pyramid.”  The campaign was successful.  Its 650 remaining prisoners were transferred elsewhere, and the abbey was rented from the government by the Catholic church.

In 1874, the abbey was formally declared a French national historical monument and a major restoration project began. The French government, still owner of the abbey, managed the renovations.  To make access easier for visitors, a long causeway road was built in 1879, on an elevated embankment.  In 1922, monks and worship services finally returned to the Mont, making it a site of Catholic pilgrimage once again.  The Abbey was returned to the Benedictine order in 1966 to mark its 1,000 Year Anniversary.  Religious pilgrimages, and more importantly thousands of European tourists, came back in force. 

Mont-Saint-Michel and its surrounding bay became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. 

In 1983, a project to restore the island aspects of the Mont was begun.   Over the decades, the causeway road provoked silt and sand to build up along the coast, basically connecting the island to the mainland, making it into a peninsula! The old causeway and a car park were removed.  A new road, constructed on concrete pillars was built, again allowing the bay’s tidal waters to flow freely around the island.  It opened in 2015. 

If you visit Mont-Saint-Michel, and I highly recommend you do, be sure to have a hearty brunch at La Mere Poulard, a local restaurant since 1879, famous for its fluffy omelets.  And wear sturdy shoes for you will be climbing a LOT of stones stairs up to the abbey.  The challenge for our 21st century is to continue providing access to the abbey for the 2,500,000 visitors who come each and every year.  Only about 45 people live there in residence.   Today, it remains one of the top three most visited sites in France, outside of Paris.

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The Forgotten Palomares Nuclear Bomber Crash of 1966

There was a time during the Cold War when nuclear warheads were not only sitting in ballistic missile silos, but also flown 24/7 by large bombers. In 1966, a B-52 Stratofortress bomber took off from a North Carolina airbase, headed to Eastern Europe, and would explode over coastal Spain. The bomber was part of Operation Chrome Dome.  During the Cold War, it provided NATO with a rapid-response nuclear strike capability around the world.  For years, the US Air Force’s Strategic Air Command flew bombers to the very edge of the Soviet Iron Curtain. At least a dozen B-52s patrolled the skies over the North Atlantic and Western Europe at all times, each with a payload of HYDROGEN BOMBS.

The B-52 was carrying 4 MK28 hydrogen bombs, each with 1.5 megatons of explosive power, about 100 times as much as Hiroshima’s.

Fortunately, all four bombs were unarmed, so there was never any danger of nuclear detonation. Wreckage from the 2 military airplanes soon rained down on the unfortunate town of Palomares, a small seaside community of about 2,000, known for growing the best tomatoes in Spain. Townspeople looked up and saw a huge ball of fire streaking towards them as the two large planes broke apart.  Miraculously, no one on the ground was killed.  What the villagers didn’t know was that falling debris also included four thermonuclear weapons. Three crashed down near Palomares. None of the bombs caused a nuclear explosion, but the conventional explosives on two of them detonated upon hitting the ground. The third bomb landed intact and unexploded.  The 4 American survivors were soon rescued and taken to a nearby hospital.

Four “broken arrows” (US code for lost nuclear weapons), mobilized a small army of American military to quickly descend on tiny Palomares. Military police arrived by helicopter just a few hours after the crash.  They found huge pieces of smoking airplane wreckage all over the village. A large part of the bomber had crashed in the school yard.  The undetonated bomb had thudded into a soft sandbank near the beach and remained intact. Two bombs had hit hard and exploded, leaving house-sized craters on either side of the village.  While safeguards prevented nuclear detonations, explosives surrounding the plutonium cores exploded and blew radioactive dust over the houses and tomato fields of Palomares.  The two exploded weapons in essence acted like ‘dirty bombs,’ scattering radioactivity across the Spanish coast.

By the next day, truck loads of US troops arrived from nearby bases, bringing hand-held Geiger counters. Almost everywhere they pointed them, the highest reading were measured.  The Pentagon’s top priority was collecting those 4 bombs and largely ignored the danger of plutonium dust.  Villagers and troops were told they were safe since the radiation would not penetrate their skin. US troops searched for the bombs through highly contaminated tomato fields, with Geiger Counters, but no safety gear.

Reports leaked in the press that a nuclear device had been lost.  Both the US Air Force and Spanish dictator General Francisco Franco made no statement about Palomares. The silence only fed the rumor mill. The Soviet Union’s Radio Moscow reported that the entire area was covered in a ‘death rain‘ of lethal radiation.  Accounts of the crash became front-page news around the world. American and Spanish officials tried to play down the risk. They blocked the press from  the village and flatly denied any nuclear weapons were involved in the crash and there was NO radiation. In order to show this, Spanish officials allowed Palomares’ villagers to remain in the town!

After a week of searching, the 4th bomb still remained lost. Then a tip came in and they interviewed a fisherman who witnessed a crash at sea.  Now the search became far more tedious.  The US military became engaged in a massive search and recovery operation. The US Navy arrived and began trawling the Mediterranean waters off the coast of Palomares with an armada of ships and 2 submersibles, the Alvin and the Aluminaut.

By March, with still no sign of the missing bomb, the US military finally admitted it was hunting for a lost H bomb off the coast of Spain, and that another had ‘cracked,’ and released a small amount of harmless radiation on the coast.  Spanish officials described a rigorous cleanup and vehemently denied Soviet claims that the Mediterranean was contaminated. Worries the news would destroy Spanish tourism, on March 8, the Spanish Minister of Tourism, Manuel Fraga, and US Ambassador Angier Biddle Duke took a much-publicized swim at a nearby beach to ‘prove’ the waters were safe.

After 2 months of the largest undersea search in history, the missing bomb was finally located by the submersible Alvin, 5 miles off the coast, 2,550 feet deep. Then while the bomb was being winched to the surface, the cable suddenly snapped, causing the bomb to fall again, another 350 feet deeper! An unmanned recovery vehicle then became tangled in the bomb’s parachute.  Both were finally lifted to the surface by a US Navy ship on April 7th—nearly 3 months after the crash.  Reporters were allowed to photograph it the next day.

Spanish and American authorities assured villagers that they had nothing to fear. The villagers, accustomed to living under General Franco’s dictatorship, dared not question a thing.  Spain insisted the mess be cleaned up by the US before the summer tourist season.  The Air Force bought tons of contaminated tomatoes the Spanish public refused to eat. Troops hacked down contaminated vines with machetes.  The Air Force scooped up 5,300 barrels of dirt from the radioactive craters and loaded them onto Navy ships.  American troops hauled away some 1,400 tons of contaminated topsoil and vegetation, to be buried in a secure nuclear waste storage site in South Carolina.  

After all this, the incident was largely forgotten!  But there was still the matter of the people, both US troops and Palomores citizens, who’d been exposed to plutonium dust. Radiation near the bombs had been so high it sent the military’s monitoring equipment off the scales. Troops spent months shoveling toxic dust, wearing little more protection than military fatigues.  And the villagers were allowed to stay in their homes during the clean-up.

For 50 years, the US Air Force has maintained there was no harmful radiation at the crash site. It says the danger of contamination was minimal and strict safety measures ensured that all personnel were protected. Troops started to get sick soon after the cleanup ended. Healthy young men experienced joint pain, headaches, weakness, and skin rashes.  Decades later, some developed testicular cancer, and rare lung and lymph nodes cancers. Of 40 veterans who helped with the cleanup, 21 had cancer and 9 have died from it. Of course, it’s impossible to determine whether or not these men developed cancer as a direct result of Palomares, or through natural causes.

A medical monitoring system was established, and for the last several decades, the US and Spain have funded annual health checkups. Monitoring of Palomoras however has been random. While at least 5% show traces of plutonium in their bodies, officials maintain that the amount is well below the danger levels.  The US promised to pay for a public health program, but has provided little funding.  Spanish scientists lacked the resources to follow up on potential risks, including reported leukemia deaths in local children. Today, the long-term health effect on villagers is poorly understood.

In the late 1990s, new surveys of the village found some contamination that had gone undetected. About a fifth of the plutonium from 1966 was estimated to still contaminate the Palomares area. The Spanish government appropriated the land in 2003 and fenced it off to prevent further use.  In 2015, after several years of negotiations, the US government signed a Statement of Intent to assist Spain in finally finishing the 50-year-old cleanup process in Palomares. The US secretary of state, John Kerry, and the Spanish foreign minister, José Manuel García-Margallo, signed an agreement in Madrid to finish cleaning up the site and remove the remaining contaminated materials at a suitable location in the United States.

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The 10 Most Successful Vaccines in History

NR VaccineWe used to take vaccines for granted.  After all, they’ve been around for decades, some given to our grandparents and even great-grandparents.  So much so, we were shocked by a modern pandemic in 2020, due in part to the lack of a ready COVID vaccine.  How could that be?

Anti-vaxxers likewise have been with us since the dawn of vaccinations,  often questioning their safety or efficacy, or not trusting “big pharma” or “big government.”  But more often, objecting to the infringement on their Rights when mandated, even if for the public good.  So how did we get here?

Here’s a quick history of the top 10 vaccines and immunization campaigns over the last 225 years.

That’s right, we’ve have vaccines since the 18th century.

1) SMALLPOX 1796 – It all started here.  British doctor Edward Jenner speculated that protection from smallpox could be obtained through inoculation with a related cowpox virus. He boldly tested his theory by inoculating the arm of 8 year-old James Phipps with cowpox pustule liquid, taken from the arm of a milkmaid, Sarah Nelmes.  It worked!  And today smallpox has been all but eradicated globally.

2) RABIES 1885 – The first attenuated (weakened) live viral vaccine was developed by none other than Louis Pasteur, using desiccated rabbit brain tissue, inactivated with formaldehyde. Crude but effective.  A 9 year old boy in France, mauled by a rabid dog, was the first to receive the injections.

3) PERTUSSIS (Whooping Cough) 1914 – The vaccine, a suspension of whole cell, inactive Bordetella pertussis bacteria was first developed by American pediatrician Leila Denmark. Inactivated vaccines were prepared with a virus that had been killed, usually with a strong chemical like formaldehyde.

The “Spanish Flu” Pandemic 1918 – killed over 50 million people worldwide. This particular flu virus was unusual since it spread so quickly around the globe AND was so deadly among the young and healthy adults. About 1/3 of the world (over 500 million people) were infected over its 2 year scourge.

4) DIPTHERIA (the Strangler) 1924 – Diphtheria toxoid was prepared from inactivated bacterial toxin, that lost its toxicity when heated, but kept its antitoxin and immunogenic properties. French doctor Gaston Ramon discovered the diphtheria toxoid at the Pasteur Institute in Paris.

5) TUBERCULOSIS (Consumption) 1927 – the Bacille Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine (live-attenuated Mycobacterium bovis) became the most widely administered of all vaccines in the WHO’s arsenal. Tested in cattle, it was first given to a French newborn in Paris, whose mother had Tuberculosis.

6) YELLOW FEVER 1935 – Epidemics spread by mosquitos attacked the men building the Panama Canal in 1912. A live vaccine was developed by Max Theiler who famously used chicken eggs for culturing the vaccine on a large scale.  It was used widely on troops in World War II in the Pacific theater against Japan.

7) INFUENZA 1942 – The first flu vaccine was introduced to the Armed Forces first during World War II, also produced in chicken eggs. The vaccine was licensed for public use in 1945 and, following the war, was used on civilians.  Today’s annual flu vaccines offer immunization against multiple flu strains at once.

Penicillin 1943 – not a vaccine, but just as important for diseases caused by bacterial infections. This medical miracle was first discovered by Alexander Fleming in 1928, then mass produced for the war. It played a vital role in treating the infected wounds of soldiers during World War II.

8) DPT 1948 – The first ever combination child vaccine was licensed for Diphtheria, Pertussis and Tetanus in a single shot to the buttocks. It was revolutionary and praised by pediatricians and parents. No more coaxing frightened young children into 3 needle injections.  Booster shots are typically given 10 years later.

9) POLIO 1955 – People sent dimes to the White House to help find a vaccine for the dreaded Infantile Paralysis, famously attacking President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The inactivated polio vaccine was licensed in 1955 and its inventor, American Dr. Jonas Salk, became an overnight hero. In 1961, an oral polio vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin, grown in monkey kidney cells and licensed for use in the US.

10) MMR 1971 – The second famous combination childhood vaccine was for Measles, Mumps, and Rubella.  The first live measles vaccine was licensed in 1963.  A live Mumps vaccine was developed in 1967 by Maurice Hilleman, isolating the virus from his daughter Jeryl, who was recovering from mumps. A Rubella (German Measles) vaccine was licensed in 1969, grown in dog, duck or rabbit kidney cultures.

By the 1980s, 7 vaccines were available for children: Because 6 were combined into two shots (DTP and MMR), and one, the oral polio vaccine, was given by mouth, kids received only five shots from their pediatricians, (including boosters) by the time they were 2, and never more than one shot per visit.

Since then, more modern vaccines have been developed in recent times for other diseases:

  • Hepatitis B, 1981 – First a blood plasma-based vaccine, and later in 1986, the first ever recombinant vaccine, produced in yeast cells. Hep B has been virtually eliminated in children under 18 in the US.
  • HIB (Haemophilus influenzae type b) pneumonia, 1985 – The bacterial polysaccharide vaccine is routinely recommended for children at age 2.  More effective vaccines were developed in the 1990s
  • Varicella (Chickenpox), 1996 – made from live attenuated virus.  A vaccine for its infamous cousin Shingles was licensed for adults in 2006.  Varicella was added to the childhood MMR Vaccine in 2005.
  • Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), genital warts & cervical cancer – 2006 in girls and 2009 in boys .  Perhaps you’ve seen the commercials on television, or heard of the controversy regarding STDs.

So, are we giving our children too many shots with too many vaccines?  Are they SAFE (from serious side effects), both immediately and in the long run?  Are they EFFECTIVE (do they confer lasting immunity) immediately and in the long run?  Do parents have a Right to refuse inoculating their children for whatever reasons?  Do governments have a right to Mandate vaccinations in the interest of public safety?

All Excellent Questions.  History, and the overwhelming evidence generated since, has shown us that the above vaccines are both safe and effective.  Our great-grandparent received the smallpox vaccine, our grandparents the tuberculosis vaccine, and our parents the polio vaccine.  We have all likely received DPT and MMR as kids, as well as annual flu shots as adults, often free from our employers.  And we’re all still here

So when the COVID-19 vaccines are available to you, let history be your judge when deciding: Do I or don’t I?

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How did Roman Christianity go from Executions to Adoption?

 

For first 300 years following the death of Jesus, Christianity grew, but Christians suffered under the Roman Empire.  How did it then grow to become a dominant, global religion?  What was the miraculous turning point?  The Ancient Romans worshipped a collection of gods, most borrowed from the Ancient Greeks.  Rome was full of pagan temples where the favor of the gods was sought through various rituals and festivals.

As Rome grew throughout the Mediterranean, it encountered new religions – tolerating a few, and persecuting most.  Jews were victimized after the Roman conquest of Judea.  Christianity was therefore born in the Roman Empire after Jesus of Nazareth was crucified in Jerusalem.  His disciples then spread his new religion into the towns and villages of the Roman Empire.

At first, Romans ignored these ‘Christians’ as there were not that many. Over the next two hundred years though, Christianity grew and spread across the Mediterranean. When barbarians began to attack the empire, many Romans blamed the Christians, saying they angered the gods by not worshiping them.

Roman emperors became increasingly intolerant of Christianity. 

They saw the new religion as a threat to the empire and took steps to stop its spread. Christians refused to serve in the Roman Army and worship the emperor as a god. So Christians were arrested, beaten, and killed. Those willing to die rather than give up their beliefs became martyrs. Despite these persecutions, Christianity continued to grow.

The first empire-wide persecution was by the infamous Emperor Nero. Nero was already unpopular by the time of the Great Fire of Rome in 64 AD.  He supposedly had the fire started to make room for a new palace, then fiddled while Rome burned.  Rumors spread that the Emperor was behind the fire, so Nero blamed the Christians!  He had them arrested, tortured and executed.  The terrible image comes to mind of Christians being fed to the lions in Rome’s Colosseum.  Nero also had the Apostle Peter executed in Rome, crucifying him upside down on a cross.

Over the next 200 years, subsequent emperors attempted, yet failed, to destroy the growing Christian religion.  So when and how did the winds change in favor of Christianity?

It began with the arrival of the Constantinian Dynasty. In 306 AD, Constantine I rose to Emperor in the West upon the death of his father Constantius. At this time, the Roman Empire was split into Western and Eastern halves with ‘co-emperors.’  Constantine and his brother-in-law, Maxentius were bitter rivals for control and war eventually broke out. Before the two met in a fateful battle in 312 AD, Constantine is said to have had a vision of Christ in a dream the night before.

According to the priest Eusebius, Jesus appeared to the emperor with a flaming cross in the sky. 

He instructed Constantine to place a heavenly sign on his army’s battle standards.  A vertical spear with a crossbar to form the shape of the cross, along with the chi-rho labaran, an early symbol of Christ’s name, the letter rho intersecting by chi at the center. Included on the banner were the words: In hoc signo vinces [in this sign thou shalt conquer].  The next day, he had his soldiers paint a cross on all their shields.  Armed with these holy symbols, Constantine crushed Maxentius in the Battle of Milvian Bridge in northern Rome, securing his place as sole western Emperor.  Maxentius drowned in the Tiber River.

After his army won, Constantine believed that the Christian God had helped him!  Though previously a worshipper of Sol Invictus, the Sun God, he now zealously supported Christianity. He declared that his victory was owed to the Christian God and changed imperial policy to advance its cause.

He gave money and land to the Christians and founded new churches. He wrote to Christian bishops telling them that he owed his success to their faith.  Constantine eventually converted to the faith, becoming Christian himself. He was baptized just before his death, as was the custom of the early Christians.  To be ‘cleansed’ of sins just prior to death, rather than at birth.

At a meeting of bishops in Milan in 313 AD, Constantine issued the EDICT OF MILAN which granted legal status for Christianity and tolerance to all religions. This allowed Romans of all faiths religious freedom. Christians were now allowed to take part in Roman civic life.  The Catholic Popes, exiled by prior Emperors, were allowed back in Rome.

The Emperor of the East, Licinius, maintained support for traditional pagan customs, upholding the backing of his non-Christian majority. By 324 AD, this conflict and rivalry came to a head with another war.  Constantine defeated the Emperor Licinius in at the Battle of Chrysopolis (in modern Istanbul).  Licinius was captured and Constantine had him hanged.

With Constantine’s victory, he became the sole Roman Emperor and advanced Christianity further.

He let Christians serve in the military and work in the government. Money was granted from the Imperial treasury for construction. New churches were built around the empire, including a new Basilica in Rome, carefully built on Vatican hill, where the Apostle Peter had been martyred by Nero.

When the Eastern Roman capital moved to Byzantium, Constantine built the first Christian churches there. The Hagia Eirene and Hagia Sophia, were built on the sites of former pagan temples. Greek Byzantium was renamed Constantinople.   His mother, Helena, embarked on a pilgrimage to Palestine. There she helped establish the Church of the Nativity at Bethlehem and Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. For this and other deeds she was later canonized a Saint.

In 325 AD, Constantine called the COUNCIL OF NICAEA, a gathering of 300 Christian bishops from across the empire.  They met (in present day Turkey) to determine the formal—or orthodox—beliefs of Christianity. The result was the so called Nicene Creed, which laid out the agreed upon beliefs of Christianity. The Council of Nicaea discussed the state of the Christian church and developed important doctrines to counter ‘heretical‘ ideas.

After Constantine’s death in 337 AD, his heirs mostly continued the advance of Christianity. During their reigns, many anti-Pagan laws were put into place, dealing with dissent often in a brutal Roman fashion.  While Christianity grew naturally in popularity, it was also forcibly expanded upon the empire’s population across the Mediterranean.

ln 380 AD, Emperor Theodosius I made Christianity the official state religion of the Roman Empire

An ardent Christian, he recognizing the amazing growth and power of the still young faith. Theodosius’ EDICT OF THESSALONICA was the final word on any controversies in the early church. For example, it set in stone the orthodoxy of the Holy Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Those ‘madmen’ of the old pagan religions who didn’t accept this were suppressed and of course, persecuted.  Most other Christian sects were deemed heretical, lost their legal status, or were outlawed and had their properties confiscated.

So there you have it.  By the beginning of the 5th century, after just 400 years, Christianity grew from a fledgling, persecuted religion into a power on near equal terms with the Roman Emperors, all due to the legacies of Jesus of Nazareth and Constantine the Great.  The Roman Empire would soon decline, but the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches (which separated in 1054) would only rise from there.  Christianity would slowly come to dominate the entire western world, spreading across kingdoms in Europe and Russia, and into the American and African colonies of the Spanish, French and British. Today it surpasses Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism.

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The Last Days of the Knights Templar

For almost 200 years, the famous Knights Templar had considerable power, wealth, and influence across Europe and the Mediterranean.  But it all came to an abrupt and bloody end in 1314. The Knights were originally founded as a Christian monastic-military order, devoted to protecting pilgrims traveling to and from the Holy Land following the First Crusade. If a “monastic-military” order sounds a bit odd, you’re right.  Thanks to huge donations from Kings and Cardinals across Europe, the Knights Templar became one of the richest and most powerful orders in the Middle Ages.  By start of the 1300’s, the Templars had established a system of churches, castles, and even banks throughout western Europe. It was an unusual mix – their Christian work, military skills, and financial know-how.  And it was all that wealth and power that ultimately lead to their quick and deadly downfall.

During the First Crusade, Christian armies from western Europe captured Jerusalem from Muslim control in 1099.  Groups of Christian pilgrims from across Europe then started visiting Palestine. Many however, were robbed and killed as they journeyed across through dangerous Muslim-controlled territories.

Around 1118, a French knight named Hugues de Payens saw their plight and created a military order along with eight other knights, calling it The Order of the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon. That was quite a mouthful, so they became known over time simply as the Knights of the Temple.

With the support of King Baldwin II of Jerusalem, they set up headquarters in the palace on the sacred Temple Mount, and pledged to protect Christian visitors to the Holy Land.  Like monks, they took a vows of poverty, chastity and prayer; and were forbidden from drinking, gambling or swearing. As knights, they readily killed to defend Christian pilgrims. The order wore white surcoats with a large red cross, signifying their willingness to die as martyrs.

In 1129, the Order received formal endorsement from the Catholic Church in Rome, which helped bolster their reputation and membership. In 1139, Pope Innocent II issued a Papal Bull allowing the Knights Templar special rights, including exemption from taxes and placing them under the Pope’s sole authority.  Though sworn to poverty, suddenly the Knights received vast amounts of gold, land, and even the sons of nobility.

They served bravely in the Second and Third Crusades, gaining a reputation as fierce, fearless warriors who never retreated.  

As the Knights Templar grew, they established new chapters throughout western Europe and the Mediterranean. They even set up a network of banks allowing religious pilgrims and noblemen to deposit assets in their home kingdoms, and withdraw funds in Palestine. The Templars would go on to own a sizable fleet of sailing ships and even the Mediterranean island of Cyprus!

In the late 12th century, during the Second Crusade, Muslim armies under Sultan Saladin retook Jerusalem following the infamous Battle of Hattin.  This forced the Knights Templar to retreat to the Mediterranean coast.  European support of the Crusades began to erode over the decades that followed. Many of the nobility and religious leaders became jealous and critical of the Templars’ huge wealth and influence. The Knights were accountable only to the Pope himself, which meant unlimited power and freedom. But as it turned out, this influence could not save them from the power of one ruthless King.

By 1303, the Knights Templar lost Cyprus to the Egyptians, and their foothold in the Muslim world.  They established a base of operations back in Paris, where they unfortunately fell under French King Philip IV.  Philip despised the Templars as they had denied the debt-ridden monarch numerous loans.  King Philip, the ‘Plague of France,’ had led his kingdom into bankruptcy with endless wars. Heavily in debt, he took any source of money that presented itself.

First, he turned to the Catholic Church, having two Popes assassinated, before making sure Pope Clement V was next. This gave him enough influence and power to have the papacy moved from Rome to Avignon in France. His next target was the Jews. He had all arrested on a single day, confiscated all their money and property, and banished them from the kingdom.  But this was nothing compared to what he had in store for the Templars.

He invited the current Templar Grandmaster, Jasques de Molay, to his sister-in-law’s funeral to make sure that he was in close proximity.  As with any medieval Order, the Knights Templar had secret ceremonies surrounding their religious activities, which served the devious King well. Philip sent secret documents by couriers throughout the courts of France. The papers included lurid lies about the Templars including whispers of black magic and scandalous homosexual rituals.

In the early morning of Friday, October 13, 1307, he ordered scores of French Templars arrested, including the order’s Grandmaster.

On what grounds? Heresy.  The arrest warrants contained the words: “God is not pleased. We have enemies of the faith in our kingdom.” In the weeks that followed, more than 600 Templars were arrested. He had them all imprisoned. The Knights were kept in isolation and fed meager rations of bread and water.  Most were of the Knights were brutally tortured until they confessed to the King’s long list of false charges, which included heresy, homosexuality, sodomy, financial corruption, fraud, worshipping Baphomet, spitting on the crucifix, and denying Christ.

Common torture practices of medieval inquisitors included the strappado, the infamous rack, or having their feet dipped in boiling oil. Given those ruthless conditions, it’s not surprising that within weeks, hundreds of Templars confessed to blasphemy and worse, including Jacques de Molay.

Pope Clement V was horrified. The Templars were still extremely popular with the people. King Philip made sure the allegations against them were so horrific, including graphic details of their supposed heresy, that it would be impossible for the Church to look the other way. The Knight’s coerced “confessions” forced the Pope’s hands. Clement issued a papal bull ordering the other Christian kings to arrest their Templars as well. Their lands and money were confiscated and officially dispersed to other religious orders and royal coffers.

The pitiful Templars lingered in their dungeon cells for two more years before King Philip declared 54 of them guilty and burned them at the stake in 1310.

Under pressure from the King, Pope Clement V reluctantly dissolved the Knights Templar in 1312. The group’s property and monetary assets were given to a rival order, the Knights Hospitallers, as well as King Philip of France and King Edward of England.

Pope Clement interviewed de Molay himself.  The Grandmaster denied his confessions under torture and begged the Pope to save the remaining Knights.  Clement had him acquitted.  But he wasn’t released, as King Philip still wanted him to reveal the entire treasure of the Templars.  Given his refusal to do so, and his previous confessions, the King sentenced him to death as a heretic. Jacques de Molay and several other remaining Templars, were slowly burned at the stake in front of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, in the spring of 1314.  Legend has it his last words were a curse: “God knows who is wrong and has sinned. Calamity will occur to those who have condemned us.”  Interestingly, Pope Clement died of cancer a month later, and King Philip died of a stroke during a hunting trip that same year.

The Catholic Church has since acknowledged that the persecution of the Knights Templar was unjustified. The church claims that Pope Clement was pressured by various jealous and greedy Kings and Cardinals to destroy the order and confiscate their wealth.  While most agree the Knights Templar fully collapsed over 700 years ago, some groups, like the Freemasons, adopted several of the knights’ symbols and rituals as their own.  And of course, there are a few who believe the Order secretly went underground and remains active behind the scenes to this day. Regardless, the lingering aura of the Friday the 13th cannot be denied.

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