The Tiny Church at the Heart of the Knights Templar

The Tiny Church at the Heart of the Knights Templar

Hidden within the charming town of Tomar, Portugal, lies a hidden gem of historical significance - the tiny church of Santa Maria do Olival.

Dating back to the 12th century, this church holds a deep connection to the enigmatic Knights Templar. Symbolism adorns its sacred walls, and it stands as the most important site for the Templars in Portugal. In this intriguing place, masters of the order found inspiration, conducting rituals that transcended the earthly realm.

The church's intricate design, featuring a distinct five-pointed symbol, hints at a profound spiritual journey for the knights during their initiation. Beyond the church, a mysterious tunnel, rumored to have connected it to the Tomar Castle, adds to the air of secrecy.

The church was built in the second half of the 12th century by the provincial master of the Order of the Knights Templar in Portugal, Gualdim Pais. It was used as a burial place for the Knights Templar of Tomar and, later, by the Knights of the Order of Christ, which succeeded the Templars in the 14th century.

Gualdim Pais is buried in the church, and his original tomb slab, dated from 1195 and bearing a gothic inscription, is still preserved inside. 

Knights of the Order would come here to seek inspiration from the masters of the past.

The great importance of the church in medieval times is confirmed by a papal bull, which placed the church under the direct dependence of the Pope and the Holy See, outside the control of any diocese.

The exterior of the church has a magnificent rose window and the pentagram symbol of the Templars, often seen in their churches in Portugal. It is said to represent the five wounds of Christ.

However, the symbol was used as evidence of heresy during the torture and trial of Grand Master Jacques de Molay during the reign of King Philip IV in France.

The church's interior has three naves topped by a wooden roof and a chancel. There are also five side chapels added in the 16th century and decorated with tilework and one with gilt woodcarving.

Separate from the church is a bell tower constructed during the time of King Manuel I, when the church was much restored and the chapels created.

Thanks to the influence of the Order of Christ, Santa Maria do Olival became the mother church for all parishes in the Portuguese overseas territories. Classified as a national monument in 1910, the church is one of the emblematic Gothic buildings in Portugal.