Like many other visitors to the Convento de Cristo at Tomar, I was curious about the use of the pentagram on gravestones which (I presume) belong to brothers of the Order of Christ or their predecessors, the Templars.
To a modern eye, the pentagram has pagan associations which appear strange in a Christian context, particularly as a symbol on a gravestone where a cross is more often found.
Pentagram on gravestones in the Claustro da Lavagem in the Convento at Tomar.
The pentagram is not only found on these gravestones. The facade of the nearby Church of Santa Maria do Olival (which houses the famous pantheon where 22 Master Templars were buried) is marked by a pentagram counterpoised on an enormous rosette. In a guide book, this sign is called the "Signum Salmonis, the true mark of the Knights Templars". The pentagram is also found on other buildings of a religious or semi-religious nature in Portugal.
The pentagram has also been used recently in the area, apparantly as a secular marking - perhaps a stone-mason's mark. A correspondent has sent me a couple of pictures of a pentagram used in this way in the 1960s. The mark appears on a house in a valley 4km from Tomar. The house is connected to the Convento de Cristo by the 17th Century aqueduct which runs 2m behind it, all the way to the Convento. The house is far from grand - a little subsistence farmer's house of indeterminate age. On one external wall a pentagram is inscribed, with the lettering '1965 aN'
This shows the position of the mark
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This shows the mark more clearly
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Some research on the significance of the pentagram throws some light onto this usage. A most useful starting point for this research is Pentagram History, which makes the following points of interest:
As an example of the Christian knightly symbolism of the pentagram, this site quotes from Gawain and the Green Knight, on the reason why Gawain's arms were a pentagram:
And I intend to tell you, though I tarry therefore,
Why the Pentangle is proper to this prince of knights.
It is a symbol which Solomon conceived once
To betoken holy truth, by its intrinsic right,
For it is a figure which has five points,
And each line overlaps and is locked with another;
And it is endless everywhere, and the English call it,
In all the land, I hear, the Endless Knot.
The pentagram was known to the ancient greeks as the pent-alpha, since it can been seen as being formed from five letter A's. The pentagram was also associated with the golden ratio (which it includes), and the dodecahedron, the fifth Platonic solid, which has twelve pentagonal faces and was considered by Plato to be a symbol of the heavens. Burkhart, in Lore and Science of Ancient Pythagoreanism, says that the pentagram had a secret significance and power to the pythagoreans, and was used as a password or symbol of recognition amonst themselves. There is a line in the old folk-song Green Grow the Rushes,O!: "Five is the symbol at your door." Perhaps the distant origin of this refers to the use of the pentagram hung above doors as a symbol of recognition and protection.
As noted above, the pentagram was used by the Hebrews, and was sometimes called the seal of Solomon. More specifically, the pentagram was used as the seal of the City of Jerusalem. The image opposite shows a fragment of a 4th Century BC jar handle with a seal impression of a pentagram with the hebrew letters YRSLM (Jerusalem).
It is interesting to speculate on whether the Templars, with their intimate connection with the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, adopted the pentagram as a core symbol of their order.
Through the rennaisance and enlightenment, the pentagram continued in use as a symbol in the emerging hermetic tradition. It was used for example as a symbol for man as the microcosm (five limbs and a head), and is associated with the (five petalled) rose of the Rosicrucian movement. The pentagram was also used in freemasonry.
Today the pentagram is associated strongly with the hermetic, pagan and wiccan movements, and also went through an unfortunate association with satanism in the 1960s.
Although, as we have seen, the pentagram is a universal symbol, with many meanings and associations, it is interesting to speculate on the connections of this symbol to the Templars, their predecessors and successors. Did the Templars use it purely as a Christian symbol, or was there a more specific connection to the order? Was the Pythagorean meaning of the figure important to them? Was the connection of the symbol with Jerusalem and Solomon significant? Did the hermetic movements of the rennaisance, the freemasons and rosicrucians inherit this symbol from the Templars? We'll probably never know, but it is interesting to speculate!
If you have any information to add, I'd be happy to hear from you.