Every once in a while, I like to dip my toes into some different interpretations of history, those that don't really fit with what conventional historians think. Inevitably the books are interesting but fail to convince me that their "new" version of history is the correct one. I recently was bitten by that bug again, so I picked up two books that sounded intriguing. One of them was The Templar Meridians: The Secret Mapping of the New World by William F. Mann. Evidently, I missed his first book, called The Knights Templar in the New World, and that's too bad, as this book builds on that one. In fact, I felt a bit lost at times because Mann referrs to it so often. He does try to explain the references, and I was generally able to figure out what he was talking about, but I do wish I had read the other book first. That's not the only problem with this book, however, and once again, I fail to be convinced by something that's "out there," so to speak. It's an interesting book, but not a convincing one for anybody who is not already leaning toward Mann's historical vision.
The idea behind The Templar Meridians is basically an expansion on the theory that the Knights Templar fled to the New World when the Church turned against them, bringing a treasure with them. This turns out to be the "Holy Grail," but Mann never really explains what this Grail might be. Perhaps that was in the first book, but the book does tend to be vague on this issue, sometimes calling it "the Grail" and sometimes wondering itself just what the treasure might be. Mann uses Holy Blood, Holy Grail, the book at the heart of controversy around The DaVinci Code, as a starting point, detailing the bloodline of Jesus and Mary Magdalene and speculating that the Merovingian heir came with the fleeing knights to hide among the natives in a colony established before the "discovery" of the New World by Columbus. Mann claims that the Templars had some secret knowledge of longitudinal and latitudinal lines, and of how important certain lines were because of their mystical energy. The book's narrative begins at Green Oaks, Nova Scotia, where Prince Henry Sinclair led the first Templar settlement in the New World in 1398, a full century before Columbus.
It is interesting to me how, when Mann deals with established historical fact (known European history, such as can be shown by letters and other concrete documents), he expresses everything with certainty. This happened, and then this. Most of the time, however, when he gets to the subject matter of the book (keeping in mind that this book is supposedly convincing us that what he says is true), the language shifts to phrases like "it is likely that" or "some say." As these suppositions are the basis of his theory, it is a good thing he doesn't present these ideas as established facts, but too often he builds on these "likely" facts to create other ideas that he appears more certain about. While what he's saying certainly could be true, the foundation of where he goes from there is hardly stable enough to support everything else as definitive. He does provide plenty of sources for this information, but many of them are suppositions themselves.
However, occasionally he lands a whopper with no source whatsoever, and I just had to stop reading for a moment and blink my eyes to make sure I read it properly. Most egregious is on page 172, where he baldly states that because Masons were on both sides of the American Revolution, British generals "secretly supported their fellow Freemasons by disengaging their troops during crucial conflicts…" While he does qualify this with "it seems," he offers us no source for why it would even seem to be true. These kinds of statements threw me out of the book and raised my skepticism even higher.
This is a shame, as I did find Mann's theories interesting reading. He ties a lot of geographical knowledge and theories into the secret history of the Templars and the Masons and also gives a vivid history of European exploration of the New World (both "established" fact and theoretical). I have to admit that some of the geography went over my head, as he applies geometry to the longitudinal lines (the meridians) to show how the locations of some settlements in the New World were chosen and why they are mystically important. But it was still intriguing to read about.
The other main problem with The Templar Meridians is that I had to take at face value that the document said what Mann claims it said because I couldn't read it myself. This happens more with the maps where some of the symbols on it are supposedly important to what Mann is saying. I'm sure they are on the document (I'm certainly not accusing him of making it up), but I wish I could have seen some of it myself. Perhaps that was just my copy, though.
While this book would probably be interesting to fans of The DaVinci Code who want to read something about the "real" Templars and the Holy Grail, I can't really say for sure how much it diverges from that book. They have the same starting point, with the Merovingian dynasty, but I think Mann takes it in a different direction. And, of course, he is not claiming that it is a novel, like Dan Brown does. This is documented history, or at least attempts to be. The Templar Meridians gives us some interesting theories, a perfect feast for those of you who want to dip your toes in "alternative" (my word, not Mann's) history. Who knows? Mann might even be right. I'm afraid that he doesn't quite convince this reader, though.