Friday, August 9, 2019

Knights of Acre

The Knights' Hall in the Hospitallers' headquarters.
Have you ever watched the History Channel's drama Knightfall (now also on Netflix)? The series opener is inspired by the failure of the European Christians to defend against the Mamluks during the Siege of Acre in 1291. The story itself is quite soapy (thanks to courtly love, palace intrigue, and a corrupt pope) as the show describes the romanticized lives of the Knights Templar in 14th-century France.

The last episode of season 2 aired just before I left for my summer in Israel, and the well-advertised highlight of the season was Mark Hamill's role as an elder Templar knight. He is the knights' iron-wielding "Yoda" in this largely fictitious Crusader story.

As I watched the season finale, I had no idea that I'd soon be standing on the shores of Acre, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. One Saturday, all of Shimron's volunteers and staff members were invited on a "field trip" to that Mediterranean city. We hopped off the bus at the Old City's gates, and each went his or her own way. I paired off with one of my square-mates, Avie, and we toured the Crusader City together for a couple of hours.

Much of what we toured has been underground since the 18th century when an Ottoman citadel was built over it. It is strange to walk along streets once busy with commerce but now completely encased in the stone foundations of the citadel. Most places only have artificial light, and ancient graffiti remains on buildings now filled only with curious tourists.

Walls of Acre's Old City on the golden sands of the Mediterranean Sea.
Before our trip, I was familiar with the Knights Templar and their simultaneously historic and fantastic quest for the Holy Grail. The "cup of Christ," from which Jesus drank at the Last Supper and/or into which His blood flowed at the Cross, was thought to have magical healing powers and could propel armies of God to certain victory. (And, thanks to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, we know it was wooden, not gold!)

But I learned that the Templars weren't the only knights at Acre, and any healing in the city was done by their brothers and rivals, the Hospitallers. During the Crusades, both the Templars and Hospitallers were warriors, but their spiritual fathers and daily activities put them in fierce opposition with each other. The Templars were Benedictine knights who were sworn to protect pilgrims (and accumulated great wealth); the Hospitallers were Augustinians who cared for the sick and wounded. The Templars were disbanded and executed by 1312; the Hospitallers remain active healers today.

After a few hours underground, Avie and I decided to walk along the coast (she had never seen the Mediterranean, and I was happy to take her first pictures!) and eat some lunch. We found a wonderful seafood restaurant called Mina and ordered fresh fish, mussels, and assorted salads to eat on a deck built into the sea. It was lovely--until the sunshade collapsed on our table just as we were trying to leave.

Rarely, it seems, am I capable of enjoying an uneventful outing. Fellow travelers beware!

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