The team of Chris Hodapp, P.M. and Alice Von Kannon turn out his second and her first "For Dummies" book just in time to catch the coattails of -- or more accurately, to serve as a sort of "pre-viewing guide" to -- author Dan Brown's long-promised and long-anticipated Da Vinci Code sequel. And whether or not that sequel ever sees the light of day, this book will be a revelation for "Brownites", as it terms them, who may have been a bit too eager to accept Brown's self-serving rewrite of Templar and Masonic history.
The book's first five chapters are a straightforward historical account of how the Templars came to be, and what they were all about. From defining knighthood and monkhood, to the Templar Rule established by St. Bernard of Clairvaux for their government, to their mission of protecting pilgrims on their journey to the Holy Land and their creation of the first international banking system and letters of credit, through their last years of defeat, denunciation and final destruction, everything you would ever want to know about the Templars is laid out in the freewheeling but accessible "Dummies" style to which Hodapp and Von Kannon are becoming very well accustomed.
In a well-researched and sourced sixth chapter, Hodapp and Von Kannon examine in "Cold Case Files"-like detail the evidence used by French king Phillip IV ("The Fair") to force the downfall of the Templars, and they find much chaff and little if any meat in the wild accusations made by Phillip -- and they also report the surprising and only recently-made-public story of Pope Clement's secret absolution of the Templars following their arrests. Sadly, absolution was as far as the Pope, his power weakened by Phillip's domination and under what was essentially house arrest at Avignon, could go.
Chapters 7 through 11 detail the post-fall Templar myths, legends, and even a bit of fact, discussing among other things the legends of the Holy Grail and the alleged bloodline of Christ through his marriage to Mary Magadalene, who later is said to have settled in France and become one of the progenitors of the Merovingian royal family. Also discussed is the Priory of Sion hoax on which a lot of this recent mythology is based.
Then Hodapp and Von Kannon throw things into a different gear. Chapters 12-14 are not so much conceived as Templar history as they are a disputation of Dan Brown's fictional history, in which Brown plays fast and loose with the history of the Catholic Church, the Templars and Opus Dei, the fraudulent Priory of Sion, and the "suppression" of the "Feminine Divine" by the Church. It will perhaps be not surprising to Templar-savvy Freemasons that the Brownite version of history does not fare well in these chapters.
The last three chapters of the book are, of course, the Dummies-standard "parts of tens."
Overall the book is never boring, always an informative and interesting read. The authors have turned out yet another fine addition to any Masonic library.
(This review was written by me for publication in the October 2007 issue of the Indiana Freemason Magazine. Full disclosure: I have been a personal friend of both authors for 30 years, and Chris and I were raised in the same Masonic Lodge.)