The secret object of the crusades
In the year 1099, Godefroid de Bouillon headed his army of crusaders as they encircled the town of Jerusalem and freed the tomb of Christ from the Muslims who were, at that time, occupying holy places.
The night after the winning battle, a magnificent dinner party was held in the main fortress of the city, in honour of the victors and the new king of Jerusalem. Among the numerous crusaders, at the right hand side of Godefroid de Bouillon, was a knight named Joachim Martounet de la Vielle. He sang, he drank, and he ate like the others. Everyone was celebrating their well deserved victory. Suddenly, in the middle of the festivities, a servant approached Sir Joachim and whispered in his ear.
"Sir Joachim, a man who says he knows you is waiting for you in the arms room."
"Thank you," replied Joachim.
He arose and descended the vast staircase to the arms room. He stroked his sword, which was strapped firmly to his belt. His visitor was waiting in a dark corner of the arms room. He wore a long cloak, his face hidden under the hood.
"I am Sir Joachim Martounet de la Vielle," declared our knight. "I'm listening."
The man slowly turned his head towards the light, showing his ravaged face. Joachim saw that one ear was missing as well as a large piece of his right cheek, where part of the jaw bone was visible. Disgusted, Joachim took a step back.
"I have found the object you are looking for, Sir Joachim. I will take you to the merchant if you come to Jerusalem's South Gate on the night of the new moon in a few days time. Come by horse and bring enough supplies for two days and two nights. Bring ten diamonds—the smallest of which must have a diameter at least the size of your little finger. That is the price of the object."
The hooded man descended the stairs and disappeared into the night.
Sir Joachim made his way back slowly towards the guest salon.
He sat and thought for a while, then went over to Godefroid de Bouillon.
"Godefroid my dear friend," he said.
"Joachim! I am delighted with our victory. You're enjoying yourself I hope?"
"Yes, thank you," mumbled Joachim. "Godefroid, I need ten diamonds. And the diameter of each must be no smaller than my little finger. Do you think that my chateau in the Ardennes—with its forests, grounds and farms—would be worth that price?"
Godefroid de Bouillon thought for a moment.
"Certainly... certainly!" he confirmed.
"Would you agree to provide me with the ten diamonds in exchange for my chateau and its grounds, forests and farms?"
"But what is going on, Joachim? Are you sick or in difficulty?"
"No, dear Godefroid. I have discovered an object which I find fascinating. I desire to possess it."
By the light of the new moon a few days later, Joachim Martounet de la Vielle rode up Jerusalem's South Gate, clad in armour with his sword sheathed at his side. There he met the hooded man, also on his horse.
They left the town and journeyed through the night and the next day, stopping from time to time to rest and allow their horses to drink, before continuing on. They did not speak.
As the second day dawned, the hooded man and Sir Joachim rode up a narrow pass, a kind of narrow canyon, the high walls touching the sky 50 feet above, tapered as they advanced.
All of a sudden, the pass came to an end and they arrived into a valley lit by the rising sun. Sir Joachim looked with amazement onto a majestic temple preceded by magnificent pillars.
Sir Joachim Martounet de la Vielle did not know that he would be going to the infamous valley of a thousand tombs: the Petra Valley of Jordan.
They entered the largest of the sanctuaries, lit by flamed torches attached to the dark walls.
A man, even more haggard than the guide, sat at the far end of a huge room the size of a gymnasium. He was weak and diminished. He had no legs. His right hand was severed, revealing the bones of the forearm. It was his ravaged face which was most shocking—it was both terrifying and fascinating: part of the jaw was missing and there was only one eye, the ocular cavity of the other orbit was hollow.
"Do you have the ten diamonds?" he asked by way of introduction.
"Yes. And you?" replied the knight. "Do you have the object I seek?"
The guide, who had led Sir Joachim, retrieved a blue clay pot from the shadows. He removed the lid.
Joachim looked into the open jar and saw the object he had been searching for.
Inside the pot was a liquid that looked exactly like liquid gold. But gold is a solid metal at ambient temperature, whereas here, a liquid moved and rippled like water. The withered man spoke quietly:
"As well as the liquid you desire within this blue pot, here are a gold chain and a gold box. You will find all the information you require in the lid of the box."
The man held out the case with his remaining left hand.
"Now give me the ten diamonds."
Sir Martounet de la Vielle removed the bag containing the precious stones from his helmet. He opened it, letting the gems fall to the floor.
Only the little finger and thumb remained on his left hand, but the withered man used them dexterously, and quickly counted the diamonds.
Sir Martounet de la Vielle did not return to Jerusalem, but rather to the Belgian Ardennes. The trip took him an entire year and when he returned, he did not need a chateau, forest, grounds or farms. Instead, he entered our Abbey.
As usual when the Bois-le-Dieu Abbey guide had finished his narration, he enjoyed the effect of the ensuing silence among the visitors.
"Sir Joachim Martounet de la Vielle was received into our Abbey like a hero. He had liberated the tomb of Christ. Pilgrims could once again return to the sacred ground in security."
The visitors listened in silence.
"Strangely," continued the guide, "twelve days later, the very same crusader was banished from the Abbey. He was accused of being the devil's henchman. For two days and two nights the knight could be heard screaming and shouting in the surrounding woods. No one came to his aid. He was found dead a few days later in the neighbouring forest. He was buried at the foot of a cross made of stone. You can still find the cross today ten Philippe from here, on the other side of the abbey forest at the edge of a small road that leaves the village, crosses the forest and then follows the river."
"Follow me please, ladies and gentlemen. We will now enter the main nave of our church. I would like to show you a particularly strange and interesting stained-glass window. It is called the Barthélemy's window."
Jean-Claude and his sister Christine were on holiday with their grandmother at her house in the country.
They had invited their best friends Philippe and Veronique for a few days.
That morning, they were visiting Bois-le-Dieu Abbey. They had listened in fascinated silence to the exciting explanations of the guide. The little group of visitors stopped before Barthélemy's window.
The guide continued his narration.
"Notice the different sections of this stained-glass window. They tell the life of our crusader, Sir Joachim, who stayed within the walls of this abbey for only 15 days. At the top of the window, you can see the crusader going to war. Just underneath, the capture of Jerusalem. Below, you will notice a kind of temple at the corner of which is a blue pot. This proves that Father Barthélemy had discovered the pot and had been in possession of the secret object of the crusade himself. Father Barthélemy lived here in the 1650's."
The visitors drank in the guide's explanations.
"Finally, at the bottom of the stained-glass window, you can see a series of strange letters separated by full stops. No one has yet deciphered the significance of these letters.
"Father Barthélemy," continued the guide, "came to a tragic end. Soon after he had finished monastic study, but no doubt after he had discovered the secret object of the crusades, he could be heard at night roaming the corridors of the abbey, screaming and shouting. He begged that he be taken to the abbey treasure, but the Abbott refused. Farther Barthélemy seemed to be possessed by the devil and was taken to the infirmary. He suffered terribly for two days and died in a delirium of cries on the dawn of the third day."
The guide paused in silence and then continued:
"In accordance with his wishes, he was buried at the foot of the cross on the other side of the Abbey forest. The same cross where the knight of Martounet de la Vielle had been buried five hundred years earlier.
"If you would follow me, now we will visit the Abbey Choir."
Jean-Claude, Philippe, Christine and Veronique exchanged glances. They continued the visit of the abbey but each of them was wondering about the strange mystery of the secret object of the crusades.
Veronique copied down the letters from Barthélemy's window in the little notebook she always carried with her.
That afternoon, the four friends put on their swimsuits under an old pair of shorts and climbed on their bikes to go for a swim in the river, 15 miles from their grandmother's house. It was a beautiful, warm day.
As they crossed the local forest, they stopped a minute in front of the stone cross where the two bodies, Sir Martounet de la Vielle and Father Barthélemy, had been buried. Engraved on the cross, they noticed a series of letters, but these letters were not the same as those on the abbey window. They wrote down the letters in Veronique's notebook.
That evening, the four friends examined the two strange messages they had copied down. They could not decipher their meaning. Also, the letters in the stained-glass window were underlined with a dashed line and they wondered whether this had any particular significance.
The next day the rain came, as is often the case in the Ardennes the day after a scorching hot summer’s day. They busied themselves with their books and their thoughts.
Veronique tapped away on the grandmother's computer. Jean-Claude scribbled on paper after paper, trying to find an explanation to the mysterious letters. Christine looked through piles of books in her grandmother's library. Philippe was sleeping in the barn, his eyes closed and a flower between his teeth.
Late morning, Jean-Claude went over to his friend.
"Aren't you interested in trying to find out what the message means?" he asked.
"Yes, it's fascinating," confirmed Philippe.
"But then why aren't you looking for answers with us?"
"I don't need to," replied Philippe. "I figured it out."
"You figured it out and you left us to stew?"
"No. I just left you with a bit of mystery and excitement. It's worth it," added Philippe, smiling.
"How did you figure it out?"
"I looked and I thought."
"You are fantastic!" declared the girls. "Do tell us!"
So Philippe told his friends how he managed to decipher the strange messages engraved on the stained-glass window and the stone cross along the road. The two texts needed to be combined, by placing one over the other, using the broken line as a guide from top to bottom and from bottom to top. That gave the answer:
"Fascinating!" declared Veronique.
"How about a kiss?" smiled Philippe.
Veronique pouted. Philippe is in love with her, but the feeling is not mutual. For Veronique, Philippe is just a good friend.
So, according to the message our friends had just deciphered, they should go the abbey cemetery on the night of the new moon in July. There, the big cross would cast a shadow that would point to a flagstone, under which the secret object, brought back from Jordan by Sir Joachim Martounet de la Vielle, would be buried.
That evening, the moon was full. When Jean-Claude and Christine's grandmother went to sleep, the four friends quietly climbed down the stairs. They had prepared a crowbar to help them prise up the flagstone in the cemetery. They climbed onto their bikes and rode towards the abbey.
They left their bicycles in a ditch along the cemetery wall. Although the wall was very high, they had no trouble climbing over it. First, because it was very old and some of the stones had fallen out, leaving foot holds to help them. Second, Jean-Claude and Christine were part of the rock-climbing club so they were well trained and could help Veronique and Philippe up.
The four children sat astride the cemetery wall and looked into the cemetery. Not a living soul could be seen so they jumped into the necropolis. It was five minutes to midnight.
The big cross did indeed cast a shadow that clearly pointed to a flagstone of the main alley. The four friends kneeled down around it and grated away the stones and weeds that had sprung up in the gaps between the flagstones. With the help of the crowbar and a lot of effort, they managed to prise it up and slide it to the side.
The four children looked down in amazement into the hole under the flagstone: it was about a foot and a half wide and two feet deep. At the bottom was the blue clay pot.
They carefully lifted the blue pot out of the hole. Its lid was screwed tightly shut and it was very difficult to unscrew, but they managed. By the light of the moon, and with the help of the torches they had brought with them, they looked into the pot and saw the gold coloured liquid quivering inside.
"Is that it?" said Christine, disappointed. "Ten huge diamonds for that?"
"Well, it's not bad!" countered Jean-Claude. "Gold is a solid. It's never liquid at room temperature. And who knows, maybe there's something else... Wait."
Jean-Claude held out his hand and dipped his index finger into the liquid gold. It was only an inch deep. By bending his finger, he managed to completely cover it with the strange liquid. He took out his finger, it felt completely normal. His finger was now gold-coloured.
"Strange..." said Jean-Claude. "Nothing's happening."
"Perhaps it has lost its power over the centuries?" suggested Philippe.
"Its power to do what?" asked Veronique.
"Wait," said Christine. "Perhaps there's something hidden underneath the liquid..."
She plunged both her hands into the blue pot and moved them about in such a way that the liquid gold covered both hands up to her wrists. It dried incredibly quickly because curiously, it evaporated like ether.
The four friends, a little disappointed, got ready to put everything back in its place, when suddenly JeanClaude cried out:
"Look! Look at my hand! My finger has disappeared! I can feel it, but it's become invisible!"
A few seconds later, right before their eyes, it was both Christine's hands which disappeared all the way past the wrists. Her arms seemed to end at the tips of her forearms, as if her writs had been chopped off with an axe.
"Fascinating," declared Philippe. "This gold liquid is the most incredible thing I've ever seen. Wait..."
He thrust his hands into the blue pot, scooped up some of the gold liquid and splashed it onto his neck. A few moments later, Philippe's head seemed to be floating above his body and both his hands had disappeared.
Veronique was scared and did not want to touch the liquid gold.
"Do you realise what this means?" said Philippe. "If someone could make this liquid and dive into it, they would become completely invisible. Oh, I tell you! I would give 10 diamonds for that—if I had them!"
Soon after that, Jean-Claude said he needed to go back to his grandmother's house. His invisible finger was hurting. It felt like it was burning, on fire. It was getting more and more painful. Then Christine started shaking with pain as her invisible hands started to sting and burn. Soon after, Philippe complained his neck and his hands were burning with pain.
Jean-Claude, Philippe and Christine quickly left the cemetery and climbed onto their bikes. Veronique followed soon afterwards, after having first returned the blue pot to its hiding place, covering the hole with the flagstone.
It was a very strange sight indeed: Philippe and Christine pedalling their bikes with their forearms ending two inches above the handle bars, which were held with invisible hands. Philippe, with his head bobbing up and down five inches above his shoulders would have surprised anyone passing by. But no one saw them, and they arrived back at Jean-Claude and Christine's grandmother's house at one o'clock in the morning.
The three children who had touched the gold liquid were in more and more pain and thought of Father Barthélemy, who must have also suffered terribly after discovering and using the secret object of the crusades.
Thank goodness, it was no longer the 1650's. A doctor was called who gave the children pain killers, but they didn't have any effect.
By dawn, Jean-Claude, Philippe and Christine were taken to hospital. They were put on a drip infused with pain killers and powerful relaxants but nothing worked. The pain got worse and became intolerable.
Only Veronique had escaped the terrible torture because she had refused to touch the liquid. The night our friends discovered the secret object of the crusades, she had simply replaced the lid of the blue pot, put it carefully back into its hole, and returned the flagstone to its original position before riding back alone to the grandmother's house.
The next day was horrible for the three children. They writhed in their hospital beds, despite the medicines they were given. The presence of their parents, called in emergency to be with them, was no help in relieving their pain.
Finally, in the middle of the day, between cries and tears, Philippe called over Veronique and his parents.
"Go to the Abbey's treasure and bring the gold necklace. Father Barthélemy had begged to be brought to the Abbey's treasure room but they refused him. He must have wanted the gold necklace that the withered man had given to Sir Joachim at Petra. Perhaps it has an antidote. Quickly go and find it."
The Archbishop of the Abbey opened the treasure room under the insistence of Philippe's parents and Veronique. They found the gold pendant without any trouble amongst the gold shrines, chalices decorated with precious stones and the gold box. But when they opened it, it was empty.
Luckily however, all the explanations to make the calming balm were written inside the lid of the gold box. Unfortunately, though, they were written in Arabic. Not modern day Arabic, but Arabic of the year 1100—very different to the language spoken today.
The parents managed to contact a university professor, specialised in ancient oriental languages. He was able, after much difficulty, to translate the text which told of medicinal plants little known of today.
The botanical division at the University of Riyad in Saudi Arabia was contacted. They managed to collect together the medicinal plants indicated in the text. They were flown from Saudi Arabia to Belgium by plane and finally, the plants were mixed and smashed together according to the instructions and the precious antidote was made.
The cream was applied to Jean-Claude's index finger, Christine's hands and Philippe's hands and neck.
Instantly the pain stopped.
The parts of their body that had touched the gold liquid remained invisible for a few more days and it was necessary to re-apply the special balm several times as the pain recurred. This must have been what the man who had sold the special object for 10 diamonds, the guide, and Sir Joachim himself had done before he was expelled from the Abbey and left to die in agony in the forest as a Satan worshiper, with no access to the antidote—just like Father Barthélemy.
Luckily for our friends, they escaped that terrible curse.
While the three friends were in hospital, Veronique helped the authorities unearth the secret object, hidden in the Abbey cemetery. But two days had already passed since their midnight escapade. In her haste to join her friends, Veronique had not screwed the lid back properly, but simply placed it on top of the pot. The rest of the gold liquid had evaporated. Not a drop was left.
The inside of the gold trinket box indicated how to make the antidote but not how to make the gold liquid. That formula was never found.
Jean-Claude, Christine, Philippe and Veronique went back to their homes, pain-free, a few days later and spent the rest of their holidays having fun.