24. Draughts and symbolism
Left the pattern of medieval line draughts, right of morris.
In medieval Europe line draughts and morris had the same name, derived from the Latin word marrus = stone, gaming piece. One name for two different board games, very remarkable: the communication goes more smoothly if each game has its own name. Still more remarkable is that both board games had a symbolic function. Or perhaps this is wrong and have I to say: both gaming boards had a function outside the game. More precisely: inscriptions of both boards in churches point to a symbolic or a religious denotation.
It was Govert Westerveld (left below) who referred to the symbolic sense of the line draught board, in two useful publications (2013 and 2015). With the help of the Italian woman Marisa Uberti (right below), who makes inquiries into morris and who to a considerable extent contributed to Westerveld’s anthology. See her web site www.centro-studi-triplice-cinta.com.
Occasionally, churchgoers cut the draughts pattern out of pure boredom. The Danish investigator Peter Michaelsen mentioned the Church of the Holy Catharine in Ribe, a city in his native country, where he found the pattern in the arms of a wooden choir stall. Westerveld mentions a carved draught board in a bank round the Capitular Hall of the Cathedral in Lincoln (England). These, however, are exceptions; inscriptions of vertical inscriptions don’t leave doubt about a symbolic denotation.
“The inscriptions were made by members of the order of the Knight Templars”, claims Westerveld. Given their very brief sojourn of this order in Europe, I wonder whether this is right. To illuminate my objection, I consider the order of the knights of St. John (or knights Hospitaller) and the order of the Templars against the background of the Crusades.
Since the Islam, founded by the prophet Mohammed in 622 AD, recruited a lot of followers and took more and more land (in the East as far as the present Afghanistan, in the West Spain and Portugal) Christianity and Islam were opposed to each other. Particularly the loss of Palestine with its capital Jerusalem hurt the Christians. We see the political consequences in our days.
Christian Europe spoke with one voice: Palestine should be liberated. It led to the crusades; the first one started in 1096, the last one was in 1270 ‒ I leave aside that other interests played a part, for instance the power struggle between clerical (the Pope) and secular authorities (the kings).
Before 1096, Christians palmers travelled to the Holy Land. Because of the hardships of the journey, many a man landed up in the hospital that has been set up in Jerusalem in 1023 by Christian merchants, with John the Baptist as its saint. In 1113, Godfrey of Bouillon proclaimed the male nurses to an order of knights. The fresh knights took other tasks on too, for example the protection of the palmers travelling through Palestine.
The fight in Palestine between Muslims and Christians ended in a defeat of the Christians: in 1291, Muslims conquered the last town that was in Christian hands: Akko (north of Haifa). Members of the knighthood flied to Cyprus, afterwards to the Greek Rhódos.
The members did not pass away due to poverty. On the contrary, they had many possessions all over Europe. And in 1314 they received possessions of the Templars, an order which was even a lot richer.
Through this necessary roundabout I can enter into the Templars.
The knight’s order of the Templars has been founded in Jerusalem in 1119 to protect Christian palmers in Palestine. They had their head-quarters in the ancient temple square, hence their name. Like the knights of St. John, they fled to Cyprus after the fall of Akko in 1291. They had many important possessions all over Europe, and this gave them a powerful position. The Pope and several European sovereigns struck a bargain. In a juridical show the Templars were accused of immoral behavior and on heresy. Heresy, in medieval Christian Europe a graver accusation did not exist. In 1312, the Pope abolished the order. On orders from the French king ‒the clerical/secular tandem operated outstandingly‒ the most prominent Templars were burnt alive.
Templars in Rome (Vatican), photo Sandro Giachetti
Their possessions fell to the European kings. For a part to the knights of St. John, lest everybody could get convinced of the noble character of the power over them.
This tale about the crusades is needed to make clear why inscriptions of the lined draughts board can hardly be made by Templars.
So, no Templars. Given the great spread of the lined draught board we should in my opinion not think of the work of an order or sect but of a general Christian symbol. I don’t know the sense, and there is no literature about this phenomenon. What can be the symbolic value?
A possibility is to join in with the literature about the symbolic sense of the morris board. The standard work in this field was written by the German Friedrich Berger, who in 2003 published on his own “The Merels Board as a Symbol”. It regards a thorough study where he gathered an imposing amount of literature on this subject. More about it in chapter 25.