Knights Templar, PHA
After the First Crusade captured Jerusalem in 1099, many Christian pilgrims traveled to visit what they referred to as the Holy Places. However, though the city of Jerusalem was under relatively secure control, the rest of the Outremer was not. Bandits abounded, and pilgrims were routinely slaughtered, sometimes by the hundreds, as they attempted to make the journey from the coastline at Jaffa into the Holy Land
The first headquarters of the Knights Templar, Al Aqsa Mosque, on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. The Crusaders called it the Temple of Solomon, as it was built on top of the ruins of the original Temple, and it was from this location that the Knights took their name of Templar. After the First Crusade captured Jerusalem in 1099, many Christian pilgrims traveled to visit what they referred to as the Holy Places. However, though the city of Jerusalem was under relatively secure control, the rest of the Outremer was not. Bandits abounded, and pilgrims were routinely slaughtered, sometimes by the hundreds, as they attempted to make the journey from the coastline at Jaffa into the Holy Land. Around 1119, two veterans of the First Crusade, the French knight Hugues de Payens and his relative Godfrey de Saint-Omer, proposed the creation of a monastic order for the protection of these pilgrims. King Baldwin II of Jerusalem agreed to their request, and gave them space for a headquarters 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. The Crusaders therefore referred to the Al Aqsa Mosque as Solomon’s Temple, and it was from this location that the Order took the name of Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon, or “Templar” knights. The Order, with about nine knights, had few financial resources and relied on donations to survive. Their emblem was of two knights riding on a single horse, emphasizing the Order’s poverty. The Templars’ impoverished status did not last long. They had a powerful advocate in Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, a leading Church figure and a nephew of one of the founding knights. He spoke and wrote persuasively on their behalf, and in 1129 at the Council of Troyes, the Order was officially endorsed by the Church. With this formal blessing, the Templars became a favored charity throughout Christendom, receiving money, land, businesses, and noble-born sons from families who were eager to help with the fight in the Holy Land. Another major benefit came in 1139, when Pope Innocent II’s papal bull Omne Datum Optimum exempted the Order from obedience to local laws. This ruling meant that the Templars could pass freely through all borders, were not required to pay any taxes, and were exempt from all authority except that of the Pope. “[A Templar Knight] is truly a fearless knight, and secure on every side, for his soul is protected by the armor of faith, just as his body is protected by the armor of steel. He is thus doubly-armed, and need fear neither demons nor men.” Bernard de Clairvaux, c. 1135, De Laude Novae Militae—In Praise of the New Knighthood With its clear mission and ample resources, the Order grew rapidly. Templars were often the advance force in key battles of the Crusades, as the heavily armored knights on their warhorses would set out to charge at the enemy, in an attempt to break opposition lines. One of their most famous victories was in 1177 during the Battle of Montgisard, where some 500 Templar knights helped to defeat Saladin’s army of more than 26,000 soldiers.
Although the primary mission of the Order was military, relatively few members were combatants. The others acted in support positions to assist the knights and to manage the financial infrastructure. The Templar Order, though its members were sworn to individual poverty, was given control of wealth beyond direct donations. A nobleman who was interested in participating in the Crusades might place all his assets under Templar management while he was away. Accumulating wealth in this manner throughout Christendom and the Outremer, the Order in 1150 began generating letters of credit for pilgrims journeying to the Holy Land: pilgrims deposited their valuables with a local Templar preceptory before embarking, received a document indicating the value of their deposit, then used that document upon arrival in the Holy Land to retrieve their funds. This innovative arrangement was an early form of banking, and may have been the first formal system to support the use of cheques; it improved the safety of pilgrims by making them less attractive targets for thieves, and also contributed to the Templar coffers. Based on this mix of donations and business dealing, the Templars established financial networks across the whole of Christendom. They acquired large tracts of land, both in Europe and the Middle East; they bought and managed farms and vineyards; they built churches and castles; they were involved in manufacturing, import and export; they had their own fleet of ships; and at one point they even owned the entire island of Cyprus. The Order of the Knights Templar arguably qualifies as the world’s first multinational corporation.
1187’s Battle of the Horns of Hattin, the turning point in the Crusades
In the mid-1100s, the tide began to turn in the Crusades. The Muslim world had become more united under effective leaders such as Saladin, and dissension arose among Christian factions in and concerning the Holy Land. The Knights Templar were occasionally at odds with the two other Christian military orders, the Knights Hospitaller and the Teutonic Knights, and decades of internecine feuds weakened Christian positions, politically and militarily. After the Templars were involved in several unsuccessful campaigns, including the pivotal Battle of the Horns of Hattin, Jerusalem was captured by Saladin’s forces in 1187. The Crusaders retook the city in 1229, without Templar aid, but held it only briefly. In 1244, the Khwarezmi Turks recaptured Jerusalem, and the city did not return to Western control until 1917 when the British captured it from the Ottoman Turks.
The Templars were forced to relocate their headquarters to other cities in the north, such as the seaport of Acre, which they held for the next century. But they lost that, too, in 1291, followed by their last mainland strongholds, Tortosa (in what is now Syria), and Atlit. Their headquarters then moved to Limassol on the island of Cyprus, and they also attempted to maintain a garrison on tiny Arwad Island, just off the coast from Tortosa. In 1300, there was some attempt to engage in coordinated military efforts with the Mongols via a new invasion force at Arwad. In 1302 or 1303, however, the Templars lost the island to the Egyptian Mamluks in the Siege of Arwad. With the island gone, the Crusaders lost their last foothold in the Holy Land.
With the Order’s military mission now less important, support for the organization began to dwindle. The situation was complex though, as over the two hundred years of their existence, the Templars had become a part of daily life throughout Christendom. The organization’s Templar Houses, hundreds of which were dotted throughout Europe and the Near East, gave them a widespread presence at the local level. The Templars still managed many businesses, and many Europeans had daily contact with the Templar network, such as by working at a Templar farm or vineyard, or using the Order as a bank in which to store personal valuables. The Order was still not subject to local government, making it everywhere a “state within a state”—its standing army, though it no longer had a well-defined mission, could pass freely through all borders. This situation heightened tensions with some European nobility, especially as the Templars were indicating an interest in founding their own monastic state, just as the Teutonic Knights had done in Prussia, and the Knights Hospitaller were doing with Rhodes.
Arrests and dissolution
In 1305, the new Pope Clement V, based in France, sent letters to both the Templar Grand Master Jacques de Molay and the Hospitaller Grand Master Fulk de Villaret to discuss the possibility of merging the two Orders. Neither was amenable to the idea but Pope Clement persisted, and in 1306 he invited both Grand Masters to France to discuss the matter. De Molay arrived first in early 1307, but de Villaret was delayed for several months. While waiting, De Molay and Clement discussed charges that had been made two years prior by an ousted Templar. It was generally agreed that the charges were false, but Clement sent King Philip IV of France a written request for assistance in the investigation. King Philip was already deeply in debt to the Templars from his war with the English and decided to seize upon the rumors for his own purposes. He began pressuring the Church to take action against the Order, as a way of freeing himself from his debts.
On Friday, October 13, 1307 (a date sometimes incorrectly linked with the origin of the Friday the 13th superstition) Philip ordered de Molay and scores of other French Templars to be simultaneously arrested. The Templars were charged with numerous heresies and tortured to extract false confessions of blasphemy, which, though obtained under duress, caused a scandal in Paris. After more bullying from Philip, Pope Clement then issued the papal bull Pastoralis Praeeminentiae on November 22, 1307, which instructed all Christian monarchs in Europe to arrest all Templars and seize their assets.
Pope Clement called for papal hearings to determine the Templars’ guilt or innocence, and once freed of the Inquisitors’ torture, many Templars recanted their confessions. Some had sufficient legal experience to defend themselves in the trials, but in 1310 Philip blocked this attempt, using the previously forced confessions to have dozens of Templars burned at the stake in Paris.
With Philip threatening military action unless the Pope complied with his wishes, Pope Clement finally agreed to disband the Order, citing the public scandal that had been generated by the confessions. At the Council of Vienne in 1312, he issued a series of papal bulls, including Vox in excelso, which officially dissolved the Order, and Ad providam, which turned over most Templar assets to the Hospitallers.
As for the leaders of the Order, the elderly Grand Master Jacques de Molay, who had confessed under torture, retracted his statement. His associate Geoffrey de Charney, Preceptor of Normandy, followed de Molay’s example, and insisted on his innocence. Both men were declared guilty of being relapsed heretics, and they were sentenced to burn alive at the stake in Paris on March 18, 1314. De Molay reportedly remained defiant to the end, asking to be tied in such a way that he could face the Notre Dame Cathedral, and hold his hands together in prayer. According to legend, he called out from the flames that both Pope Clement and King Philip would soon meet him before God. Pope Clement died only a month later, and King Philip died in a hunting accident before the end of the year.
With the last of the Order’s leaders gone, the remaining Templars around Europe were either arrested and tried under the Papal investigation (with virtually none convicted), absorbed into other military orders such as the Knights Hospitaller, or pensioned and allowed to live out their days peacefully. Some may have fled to other territories outside Papal control, such as excommunicated Scotland or to Switzerland. Templar organizations in Portugal simply changed their name, from Knights Templar to Knights of Christ.
In 2001, a document known as the “Chinon Parchment” was found in the Vatican Secret Archives, apparently after having been filed in the wrong place in 1628. It is a record of the trial of the Templars, and shows that Clement absolved the Templars of all heresies in 1308, before formally disbanding the Order in 1312.
It is currently the Roman Catholic Church’s position that the medieval persecution of the Knights Templar was unjust; that there was nothing inherently wrong with the Order or its Rule; and that Pope Clement was pressured into his actions by the magnitude of the public scandal, and the dominating influence of King Philip IV.
The Templars were organized as a monastic order, similar to Bernard’s Cistercian Order, which was considered the first effective international organization in Europe. The organizational structure had a strong chain of authority. Each country with a major Templar presence (France, England, Aragon, Portugal, Poitou, Apulia, Jerusalem, Tripoli, Antioch, Anjou, and Hungary) had a Master of the Order for the Templars in that region. All of them were subject to the Grand Master (always a French knight), appointed for life, who oversaw both the Order’s military efforts in the East and their financial holdings in the West. No precise numbers exist, but it is estimated that at the Order’s peak there were between 15,000 and 20,000 Templars, of whom about a tenth were actual knights.
It was Bernard de Clairvaux and founder Hugues de Payens who devised the specific code of behavior for the Templar Order, known to modern historians as the Latin Rule. Its 72 clauses defined the ideal behavior for the Knights, such as the types of garments they were to wear and how many horses they could have. Knights were to take their meals in silence, eat meat no more than three times per week, and were not to have physical contact of any kind with women, even members of their own family. A Master of the Order was assigned “4 horses, and one chaplain-brother and one clerk with three horses, and one sergeant brother with two horses, and one gentleman valet to carry his shield and lance, with one horse.” As the Order grew, more guidelines were added, and the original list of 72 clauses expanded to several hundred in its final form.
There was a threefold division of the ranks of the Templars: the aristocratic knights, the lower-born sergeants, and the clergy. Knights were required to be of knightly descent, and to wear white mantles. They were equipped as heavy cavalry, with three or four horses, and one or two squires. Squires were generally not members of the Order, but were instead outsiders who were hired for a set period of time. Beneath the knights in the Order and drawn from lower social strata were the sergeants. They were either equipped as light cavalry with a single horse, or served in other ways such as administering the property of the Order or performing menial tasks and trades. Chaplains, constituting a third Templar class, were ordained priests who saw to the Templars’ spiritual needs.
The knights wore a white surcoat with a red cross, and a white mantle; the sergeants wore a black tunic with a red cross on front and back, and a black or brown mantle. The white mantle was assigned to the Templars at the Council of Troyes in 1129, and the cross was most probably added to their robes at the launch of the Second Crusade in 1147, when Pope Eugenius III, King Louis VII of France, and many other notables attended a meeting of the French Templars at their headquarters near Paris. According to their Rule, the knights were to wear the white mantle at all times, even being forbidden to eat or drink unless they were wearing it.
Initiation, known as Reception (receptio) into the Order, was a profound commitment and involved a solemn ceremony. Outsiders were discouraged from attending the ceremony, which aroused the suspicions of medieval inquisitors during the later trials.
New members had to willingly sign over all of their wealth and goods to the Order and take vows of poverty, chastity, piety, and obedience. Most brothers joined for life, although some were allowed to join for a set period. Sometimes a married man was allowed to join if he had his wife’s permission, but he was not allowed to wear the white mantle.
The red cross that the Templars wore on their robes was a symbol of martyrdom, and to die in combat was considered a great honor that assured a place in heaven. There was a cardinal rule that the warriors of the Order should never surrender unless the Templar flag had fallen, and even then they were first to try to regroup with another of the Christian orders, such as that of the Hospitallers. Only after all flags had fallen were they allowed to leave the battlefield. This uncompromising principle, along with their reputation for courage, excellent training, and heavy armament, made the Templars one of the most feared combat forces in medieval times.
Legends and relics
Many of the Templar legends are connected with the Order’s early occupation of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, and speculation about what relics the Templars may have found there, such as the Holy Grail or the Ark of the Covenant. That the Templars were in possession of some relics is certain. Many churches still display relics such as the bones of a saint, a scrap of cloth once worn by a holy man, or the skull of a martyr: the Templars did the same. They were documented as having a piece of the True Cross, which the Bishop of Acre carried into battle at the disastrous Horns of Hattin. When the battle was lost, Saladin captured the relic, which was then ransomed back to the Crusaders when the Muslims surrendered the city of Acre in 1191. The Templars were known to possess the head of Saint Euphemia of Chalcedon. The subject of relics also came up during the Inquisition of the Templars, as several trial documents refer to the worship of an idol of some type, referred to in some cases as a cat, a bearded head, or in some cases as Baphomet. This accusation of idol worship levied against the Templars has also led to the modern belief by some that the Templars practiced witchcraft. However, modern scholars generally explain the name Baphomet from the trial documents as simply a French misspelling of the name Mahomet (Muhammad).
There was particular interest during the Crusader era in the Holy Grail myth, which was quickly associated with the Templars, even in the 12th century. The first Grail romance, the fantasy story Le Conte du Graal, was written in 1180 by Chrétien de Troyes, who came from the same area where the Council of Troyes had officially sanctioned the Templars’ Order. In Arthurian legend, the hero of the Grail quest, Sir Galahad (a 13th-century literary invention of monks from St. Bernard’s Cistercian Order), was depicted bearing a shield with the cross of Saint George, similar to the Templars’ insignia. In a chivalric epic of the period, Parzival, Wolfram von Eschenbach refers to Templars guarding the Grail Kingdom. A legend developed that, since the Templars had their headquarters at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, they must have excavated in search of relics, found the Grail, and then proceeded to keep it in secret and guard it with their lives. However, in the extensive documents of the Templar inquisition there was never a single mention of anything like a Grail relic, let alone its possession by the Templars. In reality, most scholars agree that the story of the Grail was just that, a fiction that began circulating in medieval times.
One legendary artifact that does have some connection with the Templars is the Shroud of Turin. In 1357, the shroud was first publicly displayed by the family of the grandson of Geoffrey de Charney, the Templar who had been burned at the stake with Jacques de Molay in 1314. The artifact’s origins are still a matter of controversy, but in 1988, a carbon dating analysis concluded that the shroud was made between 1260 and 1390, a span that includes the last half-century of the Templars.