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Guest Post: The Missing Link by Miguel Bronchud

The Missing Link: Tracing Freemasonry's Roots in the Medieval Kingdom of Aragon

The genesis of chivalric freemasonry is a subject steeped in historical intrigue and scholarly debate. Often attributed to an oration delivered in December 1736 by Andrew Michael Ramsay, also known as 'Chevalier Ramsay', at Derwentwater’s lodge in Paris, this pivotal moment in the narrative of freemasonry has garnered significant attention from academics and historians alike. Ramsey inflated the Craft’s lineage, tracing it back to Abraham, the Jewish patriarchs, and ancient Egypt. He placed freemasonry within a medieval context, dating the origin of modern freemasonry to the Crusades when "many princes, lords and citizens associated themselves and vowed to restore the Temple of the Christians in the Holy Land, to employ themselves in bringing back their architecture to its first institution." As such, the knight crusaders had "agreed upon several ancient signs and symbolic words drawn from the well of religion in order to recognize themselves amongst the heathen and Saracens", and that "these signs and words were only communicated to those who promised solemnly, even sometimes at the foot of the altar, never to reveal them". 

Of all historical military religious orders, Ramsay explicitly links freemasonry to the Hospitallers or Knights of Saint John (of Jerusalem, Rhodes and Malta), rather than the Knights Templar. The lineal connection between the medieval Order of the Knights Templar and the Freemasons is a tenuous one at best despite many respectable members or fans of Freemasonry believing it. Sir Robert Moray (1608-1673), Chevalier Andrew Ramsay (c.1687-1743), and James Anderson (c.1678-1739) who referenced their medieval counterparts in his 1723 Constitutions for the “nascent” Grand Lodge of England, were instrumental in shaping Freemasonry's narrative. The exact and perhaps controversial role played by Rosslyn Chapel is also elegantly but critically analyzed by Bro. Robert L.D. Cooper (ex-Curator of the Grand Lodge of Scotland Library & Museum) "from a new perspective” in his excellent 2006-7 book “The Rosslyn Hoax?”. Yet, the factual accounts of individuals like Don Juan Fernandez de Heredia, a Grand Master of the Knights of Saint John, underscore the historical realities of these Orders. The existence of sites like the Knight Templars chapel near Teruel, with its centuries-old frescoes, adds tangible evidence to these historical connections, inviting further exploration and analysis. Thus in exploring the role of Don Juan Fernandez de Heredia, we may discover the link which potentially bridges the gap between these orders and Freemasonry.

Myth, Legend, and History  

That Don Juan Fernandez de Heredia was a Grand Master of the Knights of Saint John in the fourteenth century is not a myth nor a legend. He first appears in the historical accounts while a young monk at two former Knight Templar castles near Teruel (Villel and Alfambra) in the ancient kingdom of Aragon in 1328-38. As the Knights Templar were not found guilty at the Tarragona Cathedral Templar Trial in 1312 and were paid a pension until death, sources show how some remained alive in Aragon until the 1350s.

Yet, we may find interwoven connections between the ancient Order and Freemasons in the cathedral at Tarragona. To begin with, we may find the Renaissance-styled Sala Capitular dominated by a fifteenth-century large tapestry representing the Seven Arts & Sciences centred around a metaphorically wise monarch with a “barba bifurcata”- almost certainly an allegorical representation of Don Juan Fernandez de Heredia, Grand Master of the Knights of Saint John in the fourteenth century, as this tapestry was donated by his descendant Gonzalo Fernández de Heredia who was born in the same castle of Mora de Aragón (rebuilt by the GM) and who was also a diplomat of Ferdinand the Catholic in Rome before being buried as Archbishop of Tarragona (& President of the Generalitat de Catalunya) right at the entrance on the floor of the Tarragona cathedral. 

From the Romanesque Chapter House where the trial of the Knights Templar took place in 1312 to the Renaissance Chapter House with a large fifteenth-century tapestry with a metaphorical representation of Don Juan Fernandez de Heredia surrounded by the Seven Arts and Sciences (starting on his right by Geometry). Don Juan Fernandez de Heredia (born 1306 somewhere near Teruel and who died in Avignon in 1396) was a Grand Master of the Knights of Saint John in Rhodes, as well as one of the key advisors of several medieval European kings (starting in the ancient Crown of Aragon, now Spain) and Popes (both in Avignon and Rome), up to the end of the fourteenth century with both Popes and anti-Popes. He was also many other things, like admiral, soldier knight, diplomat, and builder (managing constructor of city walls in Avignon or Rhodes, and both castles and churches). But also (in pre-renaissance style) he was a keen bibliophile and translator of  Greek then forgotten classics like Plutarch (these more literary efforts are still being studied at universities like Madison, Medieval Studies in USA). 

One of his descendants, Gonzalo Fernandez de Heredia, was born in the castle of Mora de Aragon (now “de Rubielos”) where Don Juan rebuilt a once-Islamic castle (reconquered in 1171 on Saint Michael’s Day) and where we can still find the original Temple Crypt and winding staircase.

Also of interest is that to the right of the allegorical monarch in the tapestry, one can appreciate the G of Geometry and a Mason with his tools. On the main entrance door of the cathedral, we can find interesting bronze structures with three perpendicular TAUS and shields of 3 castles adorning it. The three castles were central to the early coat of arms of Don Juan Fernandez De Heredia (1306/1396) and probably represented his first three castles- Villel, Alfambra and Mora.  But these same castles (or very similar ones) appear after 1356 also in London at the first Guild of Masons of the City of London.

All of these 3 castles were along the twelfth and thirteenth-century frontier between Christian Teruel (reconquered in 1171 by King Alfonso II) and Valencia (reconquered in 1233-1238 by his grandson King Jaume I). 

On the main entrance door of the cathedral, we can find interesting bronze structures with three perpendicular TAUS (similarly shaped and arranged as in the modern Royal Arch English Masonic aprons); and shields of 3 castles adorning it . 

In the Royal Arch degree, Masons wear a distinctive apron with additional symbols, including the triple tau. The triple tau represents exaltation and completion, and it was “perhaps a surprising finding” to see it (in a slightly different orientation) also on the XVTH century front door of the cathedral of Tarragona. Locally and according to local Catholic orthodoxy it is thought that the first Tau represents the initial letter of Tarraco, the second Tau the initial of  Santa Tecla (according to legend a very early Christian woman and martyr in love with Saint  Paul when he supposedly visited Tarraco where he made public his “Letter to the  Tarraconenses” some two thousand years ago and before returning to Rome imprisoned. Nobody quite knows what the third Tau means though some think the Templars that were judged and not condemned in the cathedral of Tarragona (1312).

The Tetramorphus (Ezequiel, 1.1) in his extraordinary but highly complex vision of the Divine  Glory, is the first prophet to speak about the Eagle, Ox, Lion and Man. Centuries later they became symbols of the Four Evangelists, and in the early Middle Ages were quite popular in  the main apse of Romanesque churches, behind the Altar. Strangely enough, they appear  (without a clear role or full explanation ) in the modern Royal Arch of Jerusalem Masonic rituals. 

Here we see the top of Buonaiuti fourteenth-century fresco in Santa Maria Novella (Florence)  with a Jesus Christ holding in his left hand a maul. In most Lodges in Scotland, the Master and  Wardens use a Maul, rather than an English gavel. This was then the main working tool of a stonemason. We know that stonemasons simply took their working tools from the building site to the Lodge. In short, the working tools were used for practical as well as speculative purposes. We know this because Lodges have donated Mauls the Grand Lodge of Scotland Museum which was used by working stonemasons.

It is intriguing that the coat of arms of the United Grand Lodge of England and that of the  Metropolitan Grand Lodge of London, are used as symbols both the Three Castles and the  Tetramorphus. Other important modern Grand Lodges (like the GL of Scotland or the GLE of Spain) still use the Three Castles, whereas the Antients Grand Lodge of London (before their fusion with the  Moderns in 1813), and the GL of Ireland or the GL of New York still use in their Coat of Arms the Tetramorphus. It is not known what the Tetramorphus meant to Knight Templars before the burning of their Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, in 1314. 

Yet this shows there is clearly an exchange of cultural ideas between Don Juan Fernandez de Heredia and the retired Templars. As such, when Don Juan would go on to become a patron and proprietor of many buildings and construction projects (from city walls to churches or castles), he was instrumental in reigniting the literature, art, and symbolism of the past. 

Further evidence for the historical connection between the Templars and the Mora de Rubielos enclave can be found in the nearby Church of St Mary in this village on the way from Valencia to Teruel. The Church lies just across the road from the Castle building and the visitor can still find images of Mary Magdalene and dragons, just as the Knights Templar left them for us. The Inquisition either completely failed to see them, or was unable to remove them, which left them with the option of disguising them as much as possible. The Church, later known as the Colegiata de Santa Maria, was built, or rebuilt, in the early fourteenth century, and is full of the same stone marks which are found in abundance, in the Castle. 

Besides these stone marks, also visible in the Castle, are some new surprising ones. For example, an unusual but perfectly balanced fourteen-pointed star - with 13 rather than 14 arms but a hole in the Middle - and just below and to the right, a cross with five marked holes (one in the middle and one on each end), have been found at the very entrance to the Church on the left of the archivolts (at the Portal) representing the gateway between the Churches holy space and the external world. The latter mark may also be found in other places in the building - particularly around the unfinished cloister, now in ruins and awaiting restoration work. Why a fourteen-pointed star we do not know, but in Bethlehem, at the place where it commemorates the exact birthplace of Jesus (Yeshua) in the Church of the Nativity, a fourteen-pointed star is placed. It is called the Star of Bethlehem. 

Why does the cross at Mora have only 13 rather than 14 arms? The cross below with five marked holes (one in the middle and one on each end) is the characteristic mark of Reynald des Fonoll - the English Master stonemason who was brought by the King of Aragon, James II (Catalan: Jaume II) to bring flamigerous* English Gothic to the Iberian peninsula around 1325. These findings suggest Reynard des Fonoll was personally acquainted with Don Juan Fernàndez de Heredia even before the latter became Grand Master of the Knights of Saint John. 

On February 3, 1332, a contract was drawn up between the master builder Reinard Fonoll and the abbot of the monastery of Santes Creus (Tarragona) for the works on the cloister and the refectory. Reinard Fonoll’s contribution was between 1332 and 1341 in building a large part of the cloister with large windows and possibly skylights. Between 1351 and 1362 he worked in Santa Maria de Montblanc. Sources described that immediately after the Black Death had killed approximately one-third of people in Europe (including operative masons) the English mason des Fonoll was appointed magister operis of the church of Santa Maria de Montblanc. In 1362, he then became the architect of the Cathedral of Tarragona and, according to the sources, remained as such until 1373 and possibly beyond. His input was during the second Gothic reform of the cathedral. 

Meanwhile, Don Juan Fernàndez de Heredia had to wait until the death of Sancho de Aragón in 1346 to obtain the position of castellán de Amposta, near Tarragona. In the following year, the master of the Order of the Hospital named him his lieutenant in Spain. During his office as castellán de Amposta, the highest position of his Order in the kingdom of Aragon, Heredia manifested himself as a faithful supporter of King Pedro IV of  Aragón. It was also very much integrated into the political and cultural life of the time, especially in Barcelona and Tarragona. It is assumed that there (perhaps at the inauguration of some of the English masterworks) he met the English master architect and stonecutter Reynaldo des Fonoll who lived and had his Masonic school in Montblanc (Tarragona) and its environs. It is not clear if Don Juan spent a long time in the castle of Amposta because the latter became property of the Crown of Aragon instead of the San Juanistas (today only its ruins and walls remain on the banks of the Ebro river). The fact that we can find the characteristic des Fonoll personal mason’s mark (the Cruz Plomada or cross with five holes) at the entrance of the Colegiata de Santa Maria (and in the cloister) by the castle at Mora is interesting because it suggests Des Fonoll was there, presumably at the invitation of Don Juan Fernandez de Heredia, towards the end of his professional life. Whether this visit to Mora happened before or after 1356 - when Don Juan Fernandez de Heredia was in London (at the invitation of King Edward III), we do not know. It is not unreasonable to think that des Fonoll might have provided a network of knowledge and good Masonic contacts in England to Don Juan Fernandez de Heredia. These were no doubt useful to the future Grand Master of the  Knights of Saint John when, due to his diplomatic prestige and longstanding links with builders of castles, city walls, and churches, he putatively became involved in the negotiations over Masons Regulations at the Guild of Masons in the City of London. 


These historical facts and evidence do not detract from others personally believing that these hypothetical links between the medieval Templar knights or the knights of Saint John occurred in Scotland, England, or anywhere else. But they are reasonable proposals and ideas. This does not, in any way, diminish the obvious leadership and novelty of the modern 1717 foundations of the Grand Lodge of England (or later in Scotland). But they are legitimate ideas based on honest personal research over more than two decades and should serve as a stimulant for further research to curious upright masons and non-masons. 

After a very long life for his day and age, Don Juan died in Avignon at the age of around 86 years according to most historians. He was buried in a beautiful alabaster mausoleum in the church of Santa Maria in Caspe (Teruel), near the local convent of Saint John (now in ruins). Unfortunately, his grave (and part of the church) was deliberately destroyed by an anarchist battalion during the early months of the Spanish Civil War (1936-39). A modern statue of him (standing with a book in his hands and his characteristic “barba bifurcata”) was erected next to this church in Caspe.

It is important to add that the global strategy of an Order or Fraternity like the Temple (subordinate to the Pope before 1307), and a very different one (in modern times) is the positioning or influence of an institution such as a Grand Lodge of Freemasonry on political issues that in principle is incompatible with the statutes or “landmarks” of regular

Freemasonry - which prevents talking about politics or religion in lodges to avoid division between brothers.

In the labyrinth of historical inquiry, the quest to unearth the origins and connections of chivalric freemasonry leads scholars through a landscape rich with speculation, myth, and tangible evidence. The seminal oration by Andrew Michael Ramsay in 1736, tracing freemasonry's lineage to antiquity and the Crusades, ignited a discourse that continues to captivate masonic and non-masonic historians today. Ramsay's narrative, though contested, serves as a pivotal juncture in the evolution of Freemasonry's self-perception and historical narrative. As the tapestry of history unfolds, it becomes evident that the link between medieval military orders and freemasonry is not confined to romantic conjecture. The enigmatic figure of Don Juan Fernandez de Heredia emerges from the annals of history, bridging the gap between the Knights of Saint John and the intricate web of medieval craftsmanship and symbolism. Through his patronage and cultural exchange with retired Templars, Don Juan embodies the intersection of architectural innovation, cultural revival, and geopolitical strategy. The architectural remnants scattered across the landscape of Aragon offer tantalizing glimpses into this historical nexus. From the Knights Templar chapel adorned with ancient frescoes to the enigmatic stone marks adorning churches and castles, each artefact whispers of a bygone era of clandestine rituals and cross-cultural exchange.

The legacy of the Knights Templar, far from being relegated to the annals of history, reverberates through the corridors of power and commerce, shaping the geopolitical landscape of medieval Europe. Their influence on state-building, communications, and finance resonates with echoes of a time when the destinies of nations were intertwined with the ambitions of military and religious orders.

In the saga of Don Juan Fernandez de Heredia, we glimpse the intricate dance of power and diplomacy that defined the medieval era. His alliances with Templars and Sanjuanistas, and his diplomatic overtures to monarchs and masons alike, underscore the pivotal role of individuals in shaping the course of history.

As we contemplate these historical enigmas, we are reminded of the enduring allure of the past and the ever-shifting sands of historical interpretation. The quest for truth, though fraught with uncertainty, serves as a beacon guiding us through the labyrinth of time, where myth, legend, and history intertwine in a timeless tapestry of human endeavour.


For more information on this hidden history, you can find Miguel's book 'The Secret Castle: 3rd Edition' on Amazon at:

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