The Knights Templar
The Templar Knights or 'Poor Knights of Christ' were a monastic order of knights founded in 1112 A.D. to protect the pilgrims
along the path from Europe to the Holy Lands (Jerusalem). They took a vow of poverty which was rare for knights, and had to
supply themselves with a horse, armor and weapons.
The Templars were organized as a monastic order, following a rule created for them by Bernard of Clairvaux, the founder
of the Cistercian Order. The Templars were well connected and quickly became prime movers in the international politics of
the Crusades period. In time, they were endowed with several extraordinary Papal bulls that permitted them, among other things,
to levy taxes and accept tithing in the areas under their direct control, facilitating their quick rise to institutional power.
At any time, each knight had some ten people in support positions. Some brothers were devoted solely to banking, as the
Order was often trusted with precious goods by participants in the Crusades. But the majority of the Knights Templar were
dedicated to warfare. It was primarily a military order directly responsible only to the Pope. Some consider the Knights Templar
to be the forerunner of the modern professional army and elite special forces units. The Templars used their wealth to construct
numerous fortifications throughout the Holy Land and were probably the best trained and disciplined fighting units of their
Seal of the Knights Templar
Their seal became two knights on one horse to show how poor they were. There were also other various interpretations
of the seal. They became very powerful and influencial in European political circles since Pope Innocent II exempted the Templars
from all authority except the Pope.
The Templars got into banking almost by accident. Because they regularly transmitted money and supplies from
Europe to Palestine, they gradually developed an efficient banking system unlike any the world had seen before. Their military
might and financial acumen caused them to become both feared and trusted. Because of their unselfish defense of the Holy Lands
and their monastic vows, they amassed great wealth through gifts from their grateful benefactors. They soon had an army and
a fleet as well as surplus money. Since the Knights had taken a vow of poverty they re-invested the money and lent.
When members joined the order, they often donated large amounts of cash or property to the order since all
had to take oaths of poverty. Combined with massive grants from the Pope, their financial power was assured from the beginning.
Since the Templars kept cash in all their chapter houses and temples, it was natural that in 1135 the Order
started lending money to Spanish pilgrims who wanted to travel to the Holy Land.
The Knights' involvement in banking grew over time into a new basis for money, as Templars became increasingly
involved in banking activities.
One indication of their powerful political connections is that the Templars' involvement in usury did not
lead to more controversy within the Order and the church at large.
The charge was typically sidestepped, by a stipulation that the Templars retained the rights to the production
of mortgaged property.
The Templars' political connections and awareness of the essentially urban and commercial nature of the Outremer
communities naturally led the Order to a position of significant power, both in Europe and the Holy Land.
Their success attracted the concern of many other orders and eventually that of the nobility and monarchs
of Europe as well, who were at this time seeking to monopolize control of money and banking after a long chaotic period in
which civil society, especially the Church and its lay orders, had dominated financial activities. The Templars' holdings
were extensive both in Europe and the Middle East, including for a time the entire island of Cyprus.
Their Humble Beginnings
Immediately after the deliverance of Jerusalem, the Crusaders, considering their vow fulfilled, returned in
a body to their homes. The defense of this precarious conquest, surrounded as it was by Mohammedan neighbours, remained.
In 1118, during the reign of Baldwin II, Hugues de Payens, a knight of Champagne, and eight companions bound
themselves by a perpetual vow, taken in the presence of the Patriarch of Jerusalem, to defend the Christian kingdom. Baldwin
accepted their services and assigned them a portion of his palace, adjoining the temple of the city; hence the title "pauvres
chevaliers du temple" (Poor Knights of the Temple).
Poor indeed they were, being reduced to living on alms, and, so long as they were only nine, they were hardly
prepared to render important services, unless it were as escorts to the pilgrims on their way from Jerusalem to the banks
of the Jordan, then frequented as a place of devotion.
The Templars had as yet neither distinctive habit nor rule. Hugues dePayens journeyed to the West to seek
the approbation of the Church and to obtain recruits. At the Council of Troyes (1128), at which he assisted and at which St.
Bernard was the leading spirit, the Knights Templars adopted the Rule of St. Benedict, as recently reformed by the Cistercians.
They accepted not only the three perpetual vows, besides the crusader's vow, but also the austere rules concerning the chapel,
the refectory, and the dormitory.
They also adopted the white habit of the Cistercians, adding to it a red cross. Notwithstanding the austerity
of the monastic rule, recruits flocked to the new order, which thenceforth comprised four ranks of brethren:
- the knights, equipped as heavy cavalry
- the sergeants, equipped as light cavalry and drawn from a lower social class than the knights
- farmers, who administered the property of the Order
- the chaplains, who were ordained priests and saw to the spiritual needs of the Order.
Their Marvelous Growth
The order owed its rapid growth in popularity to the fact that it combined the two great passions of the Middle
Ages, religious fervour and martial prowess. Even before the Templars had proved their worth, the ecclesiastical and lay authorities
heaped on them favours of every kind, spiritual and temporal. The popes took them under their immediate protection, exempting
them from all other jurisdiction, episcopal or secular. Their property was assimilated to the church estates and exempted
from all taxation, even from the ecclesiastical tithes, while their churches and cemeteries could not be placed under interdict.
This soon brought about conflict with the clergy of the Holy Land, inasmuch as the increase of the landed
property of the order led, owing to its exemption from tithes, to the diminution of the revenue of the churches, and the interdicts,
at that time used and abused by the episcopate, became to a certain extent inoperative wherever the order had churches and
chapels in which Divine worship was regularly held. As early as 1156 the clergy of the Holy Land tried to restrain the exorbitant
privileges of the military orders, but in Rome every objection was set aside, the result being a growing antipathy on the
part of the secular clergy against these orders. The temporal benefits which the order received from all the sovereigns of
Europe were no less important.
The Templars had commanderies in every state. In France they formed no less than eleven bailiwicks, subdivided
into more than forty-two commanderies; in Palestine it was for the most part with sword in hand that the Templars extended
their possessions at the expense of the Mohammedans. Their castles are still famous owing to the remarkable ruins which remain:
Safed, built in 1140; Karak of the desert (1143); and, most importantly of all, Castle Pilgrim, built in 1217 to command a
strategic defile on the sea-coast.
In these castles, which were both monasteries and cavalry- barracks, the life of the Templars was full of
contrasts. A contemporary describes the Templars as "in turn lions of war and lambs at the hearth; rough knights on the battlefield,
pious monks in the chapel; formidable to the enemies of Christ, gentleness itself towards His friends." (Jacques de Vitry).
Having renounced all the pleasures of life, they faced death with a proud indifference; they were the first to attack, the
last to retreat, always docile to the voice of their leader, the discipline of the monk being added to the discipline of the
soldier. As an army they were never very numerous.
A contemporary tells us that there were 400 knights in Jerusalem at the zenith of their prosperity; he does
not give the number of sergeants, who were more numerous. But it was a picked body of men who, by their noble example, inspirited
the remainder of the Christian forces. They were thus the terror of the Mohammedans. Were they defeated, it was upon them
that the victor vented his fury, the more so as they were forbidden to offer a ransom. When taken prisoners, they scornfully
refused the freedom offered them on condition of apostasy. At the siege of Safed (1264), at which ninety Templars met death,
eighty others were taken prisoners, and, refusing to Deny Christ, died martyrs to the Faith. This fidelity cost them dear.
It has been computed that in less than twocenturies almost 20,000 Templars, knights and serjeants, perished in war.
These frequent hecatombs rendered it difficult for the order to increase in numbers and also brought about
a decadence of the true crusading spirit. As the order was compelled to make immediate use of the recruits, the article of
the original rule in Latin which required a probationary period fell into desuetude. Even excommunicated men, who, as was
the case with many crusaders, wished to expiate their sins, were admitted.
All that was required of a new member was a blind obedience, as imperative in the soldier as in the monk.
He had to declare himself forever "serf et esclave de la maison" (French text of the rule). To prove his sincerity, he was
subjected to a secret test concerning the nature of which nothing has ever been discovered, although it gave rise to the most
extraordinary accusations. The great wealth of the order may also have contributed to a certain laxity in morals, but the
most serious charge against it was its insupportable pride and love of power.
At the apogee of its prosperity, it was said to possess 9000 estates. With its accumulated revenues it had
amassed great wealth, which was deposited in its temples at Paris and London. Numerous princes and private individuals had
banked there their personal property, because of the uprightness and solid credit of such bankers. In Paris the royal treasure
was kept in the Temple. Quite independent, except from the distant authority of the pope, and possessing power equal to that
of the leading temporal sovereigns, the order soon assumed the right to direct the weak and irresolute government of the Kingdom
of Jerusalem, a feudal kingdom transmissible through women and exposed to all the disadvantages of minorities, regencies,
and domestic discord.
However, the Templars were soon opposed by the Order of Hospitallers, which had in its turn become military,
and was at first the imitator and later the rival of the Templars. This ill-timed interference of the orders in the government
of Jerusalem only multiplied the intestine dessentions, and this at a time when the formidable power of Saladin threatened
the very existence of the Latin Kingdom. While the Templars sacrificed themselves with their customary bravery in this final
struggle, they were, nevertheless, partly responsible for the downfall of Jerusalem.
To put an end to this baneful rivalry between the military orders, there was a very simple remedy at hand,
namely their amalgamation. This was officially proposed by St. Louis at the Council of Lyons (1274). It was proposed anew
in 1293 by Pope Nicholas IV, who called a general consultation on this point of the Christian states.
This idea is canvassed by all the publicists of that time, who demand either a fusion of the existing orders
or the creation of a third order to supplant them. Neven in fact had the question of the crusaders been more eagerly taken
up than after their failure. As the grandson of St. Louis, Philip the Fair could not remain indifferent to these proposals
for a crusade. As the most powerful prince of his time, the direction of the movement belonged to him. To assume this direction,
all he demanded was the necesary supplies of men and especially of money. Such is the genesis of his campaign for the suppression
of the Templars.
It has been attributed wholly to his well-known cupidity. Even on this supposition he needed a pretext, for
he could not, without sacrilege, lay hands on possessions that formed part of the ecclesiastical domain. To justify such a
course the sanction of the Church was necessary, and this the king could obtain only by maintaining the sacred purpose for
which the possessions were destined.
Admitting that he was sufficiently powerful to encroach upon the property of the Templars in France, he still
needed the concurrence of the Church to secure control of their possessions in the other countries of Christendom. Such was
the purpose of the wily negotiations of this self-willed and cunning sovereign, and of his still more treacherous counsellors,
with Clement V, a French pope of weak character and easily deceived. The rumour that there had been a prearrangement between
the king and the pope has been finally disposed of. A doubtful revelation, which allowed Philip to make the prosecution of
the Templars as heretics a question of orthodoxy, afforded him the opportunity which he desired to invoke the action of the
Their Tragic End
Two Templars burned at the stake, from a French 15th century manuscript
The fall of the Templars may have started over the matter of a loan. Philip IV, King of France needed cash
for his wars and asked the Templars for money, who refused. The King tried to get the Pope to excommunicate the Templars for
this but Pope Boniface VIII refused. Philip sent his right-hand man, Guillaume de Nogaret, to "persuade" the Pope, who later
died from the wounds inflicted by de Nogaret. The next Pope, Benedict XI, lifted the excommunication of Philip IV but refused
to absolve de Nogaret. (Rumor has it that the Pope died of poison soon after.) The next Pope, Clement V, agreed to Philip
IV's demands about the Templars, lifted the excommunications, and later moved the papacy to Avignon.
On October 13 (the unlucky Friday the 13th), 1307, what may have been all the Knights Templar in France were
simultaneously arrested by agents of Philip the Fair, to later be tortured into admitting heresy in the Order. The dominant
view is that Philip, who seized the treasury and broke up the monastic banking system, was jealous of the Templars' wealth
and power, and sought to control it for himself.
These events, and the Templars' original banking of assets for suddenly mobile depositors, were two of many
shifts towards a system of military fiat to back European money, removing this power from Church orders. Seeing the fate of
the Templars, the Hospitallers of St John of Jerusalem and of Rhodes and of Malta were also convinced to give up banking at
this time. Much of the Templar property outside of France was transferred by the Pope to the Knights Hospitaller, and many
surviving Templars were also accepted into the Hospitallers.
Many kings and nobles supported the Knights at that time, and only dissolved the order in their fiefs when
so commanded by Pope Clement V. Robert the Bruce, the King of Scots, had already been excommunicated for other reasons, and
was therefore not disposed to pay heed to Papal commands. In Portugal the order's name was changed to the Order of Christ,
and was believed to have contributed to the first naval discoveries of the Portuguese. Prince Henry the Navigator led the
Portuguese order for 20 years until the time of his death. In Spain, where the king of Aragon was also against giving the
heritage of the Templars to Hospitallers (as commanded by Clement V), the Order of Montesa took Templar assets.
In the trial of the Templars two phases must be distinguished - the royal commission and the papal commission.
Philip the Fair made a preliminary inquiry, and, on the strength of so-called revelations of a few unworthy and degraded members,
secret orders were sent throughout France to arrest all the Templars on the same day (13 October, 1307), and to submit them
to a most rigorous examination. The king did this, it was made to appear, at the request of the ecclesiastical inquisitors,
but in reality without their co-operation. In this inquiry torture, the use of which was authorized by the cruel procedure
of the age in the case of crimes committed without witnesses,was pitilessly employed. Owing to the lack of evidence, the accused
could be convicted only through their own confession and, to extort this confession, the use of torture was considered necessary
There was one feature in the organization of the order which gave rise to suspicion, namely the secrecy with
which the rites of initiation were conducted. The secrecy is explained by the fact that the receptions always took place in
a chapter, and the chapters, owing to the delicate and grave questions discussed, were, and necessarily had to be, held in
secret. An indiscretion in the matter of secrecy entailed exclusion from the order. The secrecy of these initiations, however,
had two grave disadvantages. As these receptions could take place wherever there was a commandery, they were carried on without
publicity and were free from all surveillance or control from the higher authorities, the tests being entrusted to the discretion
of subalterns who were often rough and uncultivated. Under such conditions, it is not to be wondered at that abuses crept
One need only recall what took place almost daily at the time in the brotherhoods of artisans, the initiation
of a new member being too often made the occasion for a parody more or less sacrilegious of baptism or of the Mass. The second
disadvantage of this secrecy was, that it gave an opportunity to the enemies of the Templars, and they were numerous, to infer
from this mystery every conceivable malicious supposition and base on it the monstrous imputations. The Templars were accused
of spitting upon the Cross, of denying Christ, of permitting sodomy, of worshipping an idol, all in the most impenetrable
secrecy. Such were the Middle Ages, when prejudice was so vehement that, to destroy an adversary, men did not recoil from
inventing the most criminal charges.
It will suffice to recall the similar, but even more ridiculous than ignominious accusations brought against
Pope Boniface VIII by the same Philip the Fair. Most of the accused declared themselves guilty of these secret crimes after
being subjected to such ferocious torture that many of them succumbed. Some made similar confessions without the use of torture,
it is true, but through fear of it; the threat had been sufficient. Such was the case with the grand master himself, Jacques
de Molay, who acknowledged later that he had lied to save his life. Carried on without the authorization of the pope, who
had the military orders under his immediate jurisdiction, this investigation was radically corrupt both as to its intent and
as to its procedure.
Not only did Clement V enter an energetic protest, but he annulled the entire trial and suspended the powers
of the bishops and their inquisitors. However, the offense had been admitted and remained the irrevocable basis of the entire
subsequent proceedings. Philip the Fair took advantage of the discovery to have bestowed upon himself by the University of
Paris the title of Champion and Defender of the Faith, and also to stir up public opinion at the States General of Tours against
the heinous crimes of the Templars.
Moreover, he succeeded in having the confessions of the accused confirmed in presence of the pope by seventy-two
Templars, who had been specially chosen and coached beforehand. In view of this investigation at Poitiers (June, 1308), the
pope, until thensceptical, at last became concerned and opened a new commission, the procedure of which he himself directed.
He reserved the cause of the order to the papal commission, leaving individuals to be tried by the diocesan commissions to
whom herestored their powers.
The second phase of the process was the papal inquiry, which was not restricted to France, but extended to
all the Christian countries Europe, and even to the Orient. In most of the other countries -- Portugal, Spain, Germany, Cyprus
-- the Templars were found innocent; in Italy, except for a few districts, the decision was the same. But in France the episcopal
inquisitions, resuming their activities, took the facts as established at the trial, and confined themselves to reconciling
the repentant guilty members, imposing various canonical penances extending even to perpetual imprisonment. Only those who
persisted in heresy were to be turned over to the secular arm, but, by a rigid interpretation of this provision, those who
had withdrawn their former confessions were considered relapsed heretics; thus fifty-four Templars who had recanted after
having confessed were condemned as relapsed and publicly burned on 12 May, 1310.
Subsequently all the other Templars, who had been examined at the trial, with very few exceptions declared
themselves guilty. At the same time the papal commission, appointed to examine the cause of the order, had entered upon its
duties and gathered together the documents which were to be submitted to the pope, and to the general council called to decide
as to the final fate of the order. The culpability of single persons, which was looked upon as established, did not involve
the guilt of the order. Although the defense of the order was poorly conducted, it could not be proved that the order as a
body professed any heretical doctrine, or that a secret rule, distinct from the official rule, was practised.
Consequently, at the General Council of Vienne in Dauphiné on 16 October, 1311, the majority were favourable
to the maintenance of the order. The pope, irresolute and harrassed, finally adopted a middle course: he decreed the dissolution,
not the condemnation of the order, and not by penal sentence, but by an Apostolic Decree (Bull of 22 March, 1312). The order
having been suppressed, the pope himself was to decide as to the fate of its members and the disposal of its possessions.
As to the property, it was turned over to the rival Order of Hospitallers to be applied to its original use, namely the defence
of the Holy Places. In Portugal, however, and in Aragon the possessions were vested in two new orders, the Order of Christ
in Portugal and the Order of Montesa in Aragon.
As to the members, the Templars recognized guiltless were allowed either to join another military order or
to return to the secular state. In the latter case, a pension for life, charged to the possessions of the order, was granted
them. On the other hand, the Templars who had pleaded guilty before their bishops were to be treated "according to the rigours
of justice, tempered by a generous mercy".
The pope reserved to his own jugment the cause of the grand master and his three first dignitaries. They had
confessed their guilt; it remained to reconcile them with the Church, after they had testified to their repentance with the
customary solemnity. To give this solemnity more publicity, a platform was erected in front of the Notre-Dame for the reading
of the sentence.
But at the supreme moment the grand master recovered his courage and proclaimed the innocence of the Templars
and the falsityof his own alleged confessions. To atone for this deplorable moment of weakness, he declared himself ready
to sacrifice his life. He knew the fate that awaited him.
Immediately after this unexpected coup-de-theatre he was arrested as a relapsed heretic with another dignitary
who chose to share his fate, and by order of Philip they were burned at the stake before the gates of the palace. This brave
death deeply impressed the people, and, as it happened that the pope and the king died shortly afterwards, the legend spread
that the grand master in the midst of the flames had summoned them both to appear in the course of the year before the tribunal
Such was the tragic end of the Templars. If we consider that the Order of Hospitallers finally inherited,
although not without difficulties, the property of the Templars and received many of its members, we may say that the result
of the trial was practically equivalent to the long-proposed amalgamation of the two rival orders. For the Knights (first
of Rhodes, afterwards of Malta) took up and carried on elsewhere the work of the Knights of the Temple.
This formidable trial, the greatest ever brought to light whether we consider the large number of accused,
the difficulty of discovering the truth from a mass of suspicious and contradictory evidence, or the many jurisdictions in
activity simultaneously in all parts of Christendom from Great Britain to Cyprus, is not yet ended. It is still passionately
discussed by historians who have divided into two camps, for and against the order.
To mention only the principal ones, the following find the order guilty:
Dupuy (1654), Hammer (1820), Wilcke (1826), Michelet (1841), Loiseleur (1872), Prutz (1888), and Rastoul (1905);
the following find it innocent: Father Lejeune (1789), Raynouard (1813), (1846), Ladvocat (1880), Schottmuller (1887), Gmelin
(1893), Lea (1888), Fincke (1908). Without taking any side in this discussion, which is not yet exhausted, we may observe
that the latest documents brought to light, particularly those which Fincke has recently extracted from the archives of the
Kingdom of Aragon, tell more and more strongly in favour of the order.
In June of 1311, the English Inquisition came across some very interesting information from a Templar by the
name of Stephen de Strapelbrugge, who admitted that he was told in his initiation that Jesus was a man and not a god. Another
Templar by the name of John de Stoke stated that Jacques de Molay had instructed that he should know that Jesus was but a
man, and that he should believe in 'the great omnipotent God, who was the architect of heaven and Earth, and not the crucifixion'.
These are the articles on which inquiry should be made against the Order of the Knighthood of the Temple.
Firstly that, although they declared that the Order had been solemnly established and approved by the Apostolic
See, nevertheless in the reception of the brothers of the said Order, and at some time after, there were preserved and performed
by the brothers those things which follow:
Namely that each in his reception, or at some time after, or as soon as a fit occasion could be found for
the reception, denied Christ, sometimes Christ crucified, sometimes Jesus, and sometimes God, and sometimes the Holy Virgin,
and sometimes all the saints of God, led and advised by those who received him. -
Item, that they told those whom they received that he was a false prophet.
Item, that he had not suffered nor was he crucified for the redemption of the human race, but on account of
Item, that neither the receptors nor those being received had a hope of achieving salvation through Jesus,
and they said this, or the equivalent or similar, to those whom they received.
Item, that they made those whom they received spit on a cross, or on a representation or sculpture of the
cross and an image of Christ, although sometimes those who were being received spat next [to it]. Item, that they sometimes
ordered that this cross be trampled underfoot.
Item, that brothers who had been received sometimes trampled on the cross.
Item, that sometimes they urinated and trampled, and caused others to urinate, on this cross, and several
times they did this on Good Friday.
Item, that some of them, on that same day or another of Holy Week, were accustomed to assemble for the aforesaid
trampling and urination.
Of 138 Templars questioned in Paris during October and November, 105 admitted that they had denied Christ
during their secret reception into the order, 123 that they had spat at, on, or near some form of the crucifix, 103 that they
had indecently kissed, usually on the base of the spine or the navel, and 102 implied that homosexuality among the brothers
was encouraged (although only 3 admitted directly engaging in homosexual relations).
This immediate and virtually unanimous confession of guilt on the part of the Templars, including the Grand
Master, Jacques de Molay, and the Visitor, Hughes de Pairaud, cast a pall over the order from which it never recovered. Although
the confessions were extracted by torture and later denied before papal inquisitors, the Templars had sentenced themselves
out of their own mouths.
Continued - Jacques de Molay - Rennes le Chateau - More