This is the full version of the edited story that originally appeared in the Ottawa Citizen here.
Amidst the trees and hidden from view are the stone ruins of a medieval style church overlooking a picturesque river that’s not in the European countryside, but within the the City Of Ottawa.
The ruins are part of a unique plot of land called “Horaceville” located twenty minutes north of Ottawa, a place one man built for a family he raised there. The buildings that still remain in both ruin and restorative state reveal an interesting past connected with an order of Knights from a time of the Crusades.
Hamnett Kirkes Pinhey arrived in Canada from England in 1820 to create a community according to his beliefs and wishes for an aristocratic village that was unattainable for him back in England. As the King’s messenger during the Napoleonic Wars, Pinhey was granted land in Upper Canada that he would use to build his personal empire. Traveling by boat up the Ottawa River, Pinhey picked a hillside location with a sheltered bay about twenty kilometres north of what was then Bytown to create his Utopian vision.
Arriving at the site, Pinhey and his companion erected a small log cabin to live in until his possessions and family joined him a year later in 1821. After establishing his business and family on the site, Pinhey built a village that included a stately stone manor, mills, barns, and eventually a church. He would call the place “Horaceville”, after his eldest son Horace Pinhey. Establishing himself as a man of prominence, he entered politics as a member of the Canadian Legislature. Pinhey died in 1857 but left behind an interesting legacy and a strange connection to a medieval Order of knights known as the Knights Hospitaller.
This Order still exists today as the Knights of Saint John. You may recognize the name and their symbol, the Maltese Cross, as St. John Ambulance, which follows the structure of the original Order of Knights Hospitaller and is divided internationally into Priories, which reflects the history of the original Order. The Knights Hospitallers and The Knights Templars trained and fought together protecting and caring for pilgrims to the Holy Land during the Crusades. Originally the Order was only of a “hospital” nature but soon provided pilgrims with an armed escort, which grew into a imposing force with both Hospitallers and Templars becoming the most formidable military orders in the Holy Land. After the disestablishment of both the Templars & Hospitallers it wasn’t until 1831 when a British order of these knights was founded again. They became known as the “Most Venerable Order of St John of Jerusalem” in Great Britain and the Commonwealth countries.
In what is supposedly Pinhey’s original cabin there are some decaying logs and a stone fireplace with unusual symbols carved into the stonework. Two equilateral triangular symbols with intersecting lines are marked within the fireplace, perhaps modern “mason marks” from a recent restoration, yet they prompted me to take a closer look at what I felt was an unusual aesthetic to the property.
Pinhey’s main house is an asymmetric design of oddly placed windows and louvered fake doors, which could likely be attributed to it being built in multiple stages as his wealth slowly transferred from England to his estate in Canada. However, an aerial view of the main house reveals the house has a very symmetrical T-shape. Whether by
coincidence or by Georgian architecture standards, this t-shaped footprint of the house fits perfectly within an equilateral triangle, the same triangle that is carved into the original cabin fireplace. The house shape is also of such proportions that once placed inside an equilateral triangle, dissecting the lines within it reveals other shapes that coincide with recognizable shapes from Freemasonry. The symbols of The Cross of the Grand Priory, The Order of the Holy Royal Arch, and even more relevant, the Maltese Cross of the Knights Hospitaller are all visible when superimposed on the house’s shape.
On the second floor of the estate, there is a room that is known as the Sanctum Sanctorum, which is Latin for “Holy of Holies”. The Holy of Holies is the most sacred site in Judaism being the inner sanctuary within the Temple in Jerusalem when Solomon’s Temple was still standing. The Holy of Holies was located in the westernmost end of the Temple building, being a perfect cube: 20 cubits by 20 cubits by 20 cubits. The inside was in total darkness and contained the Ark of the Covenant, gilded inside and out, in which was placed the Tablets of the Covenant. It is also where the Knights Templar made their headquarters in a wing of the royal palace on the Temple Mount in the captured Al-Aqsa Mosque, The Temple Mount had a mystique because it was above what was believed to be the ruins of the Temple of Solomon, giving them their name of “Templar” knights. Pinhey’s “Holy Of Holies” has not been measured, but it would be interesting to see if he made it in the same dimensions. This could also be Pinhey’s sense of humour showing through, as it was reported he had his own washroom within the house for privacy!
Looking deeper into the history of the buildings and that of Hamnett Pinhey, it was discovered Pinhey constructed his own building of worship on the property against the wishes of the local parish who wanted a church built further inland. Pinhey used his own money to build a church of his own design, constructing it in a style unlike any other church of the area. This church now lies in ruins, hidden from view on private property and part of the Anglican Parish Of March.
Built by Pinhey in 1827, the stone church displays a unique style of architecture that resembles that of a medieval English church. Pinhey designed it himself based on sketches from his notebook. Symmetrically constructed with unique “ogee” arch windows and doors and a prominent square tower with pyramid roof, similar to the Knights Hospitaller churches and their motifs. A tomb of a medieval era Knight Hospitaller in England has the exact same ogee arch incorporated into the box tomb.
Similar design elements in both medieval Hospitaller churches and Pinhey’s church include the pyramid roofed square tower and these middle eastern “ogee” arches. These special and complex arches used by the Hospitallers reflect a Middle Eastern influence from the times they occupied the Holy Land. Perhaps it is pure coincidence but it seems odd that Pinhey would decide to utilize the complex and thus expensive ogee stone arch forms in a church being built out of his own pocket.
Upon his death in 1857, Pinhey was buried in a “box tomb” on the west end of the church. The church fell into ruins sometime at the turn of the 20th century after it was abandoned in the late 1800s. It remains the oldest standing church within the City of Ottawa and is now a part of the Anglican Parish of March which maintains this unique hidden site.(NOTE: The church is on private property and I had permission to study it in detail. DO NOT TRESPASS) It has recently been given Heritage Designation as outlined by the Ontario Heritage Act but is not part of the City Of Ottawa’s Pinhey’s Point Historic Site and remains inaccessible to the general public. There is no official mention of Pinhey’s connection to this ancient order of Knights although clues abound throughout the property.
All these clues seemingly lead to a definite conclusion that Pinhey was, or was trying to be part of an ancient Order of Knights, but this could be all just coincidence. Not one to rely on coincidences, I dug deeper to in my research which revealed a book from 1857 at the New York Public Library entitled “Synoptical Sketch Of the Illustrious & Sovereign Order Of Knights Hospitallers of St. John Of Jerusalem and the Venerable Langue Of England” which comprehensively lists all members of the Order of Knights from its inception in 1099 to 1857.
Within its pages, on page 75, listed is the following:
“The Honourable Hamnett Pinhey, of Horaceville, Canada, Member of the Canadian Legislature, and one of the Governors Of Christ’s Hospital, London. El. K.J.J.”
Hamnett Pinhey’s complete involvement with the Knights Hospitaller may never be known, but I believe the mystery behind his odd symbology in the Utopian village he built is connected with the order of Knights Hospitaller. His secrets rest with him under the ruins of his medieval church. What is certain is that the legacy of this order lives on today as St. John Ambulance, caring for those in need as they did almost a thousand years ago.
Andrew King, August 2016