Knights Templar

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Seal of the Knights Templar, thirteenth century. Courtesy Fortean Picture Library.

Knights Templar

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

In the early twelfth century, Hughes de Payens and Geoffrey de Saint-Aldemar, together with nine other nobles of French birth, obtained from Guarimond, patriarch, and from Baldwin II, king of Jerusalem, permission to form an order that would act together with the already established Hospitallers to protect pilgrims, fight infidels, and defend Solomon's Temple. Baldwin granted them a dwelling within the Temple walls, and from this they earned the name of Templars, or Knights of the Temple. Their charity and devotion gained the sympathy of many kings, rulers, and the Eastern Christians, who gave them frequent and considerable donations.

The order was composed of milites, or knights commanders; serving brothers called armigeri, or "men bearing arms"; and clientes, whose duty it was to attend to domestic matters. They swore to live in absolute chastity, poverty, and obedience.

They were forbidden to kiss even their mothers and exhorted to totally avoid female company. They all made public confession of extreme poverty, were forbidden to use valuable articles of furniture or gold or silver utensils, or to wear velvet trappings in the field, helmets with armorial bearings, silken sashes, or other superfluous articles of clothing. At the Council of Troyes in 1128, Hugues de Payens presented letters that the brotherhood had received from the pope and the patriarch of Jerusalem. The council granted them confirmation of their order, and a special code was drawn up for them. They wore a white robe symbolizing purity, to which Pope Eugenius III added a red cross to remind them of the Christian religion. They were to accept every combat, even though they might be outnumbered, and were to ask no quarter and give no ransom.

After being established for fifty years, the Order of the Temple held its first general chapter, at which three hundred knights were present. They elected Gérard de Rederfort as Grand Master and, in so doing, freed themselves from the jurisdiction of the patriarch of Jerusalem. Every knight swore allegiance to the Grand Master, making him supreme ruler.

With numerous donations and legacies, the Knights Templar's resources quickly increased. In 1135 the king of Navarre bequeathed his estates to the order. By that time they possessed seventeen strongholds in the kingdom of Valencia alone. The Templars rapidly became enormously wealthy. In London, England, most of their treasures were deposited. King Philip Augustus, on the eve of his departure to the Holy Land, entrusted them with the care of all his jewels.

On the field of battle, the Knights Templar won enormous fame for their bravery and honor. They were exempted from taxes and secular laws and answered only to the pope. But in the last years of the thirteenth century, the Crusades came to an inglorious end and the Templars left the Holy Land. There was talk of a fifth Crusade but it never came about, so the Christians contented themselves with hunting down the heretics in their midst. The Templars moved their headquarters to Cyprus. There they began a long rivalry with the Hospitallers, eventually leading the pope to intercede and ask that the two grand masters re-establish peace and goodwill. By this time the Templars were very conscious of their wealth and power, and rumors spread of perverted practices.

In 1273 Pope Gregory X had considered merging the order with that of the Hospitallers. Some years later, Philippe le Bel, King of France, received accusations against the Templars and consulted Pope Clement V. Clement thought the charges made against the Templars were improbable, but Philippe decided to investigate for himself. On October 13, 1307, he arrested all the Templars in his jurisdiction, including the Grand Master, Jacques de Molai. One hundred and forty knights were examined in Paris, and all but three admitted that the order had a secret initiation involving spitting of trampling on the cross. Homosexual rites were also said to be practiced along with worship of a figure named Baphomet. This was described either as having three heads or as being a human skull. There was talk of the Knights Templar worshiping the Devil and of boiling up babies to get their fat, which they then used to anoint the skull of Baphomet. They were also said to worship the Devil in the form of a black cat and to kiss it beneath its tail. Many of the accusations paralleled those made against witches during the witchcraft persecutions.

All of the testimony was obtained under extreme torture. Pope Clement V protested Philippe's actions and claimed that the king had no authority either over the knights or over their possessions. When Philippe ignored this criticism, the pope examined seventy-two Templars himself. Their confessions agreed with those obtained by Philippe.

Inquiries were started in England, Germany, Spain, and Italy. Although the many answers to questions asked under torture did not fully agree, the confessions to homosexuality, perversion, and impiety were numerous. In Paris, at the back of the abbey of St. Antoine, fifty-nine Templars were burned at the stake, followed by nine more at Senlis.

At the council of Vienne, on March 22, 1312, Clement absolved rather than condemned the order, but he placed all their property at the disposal of the Church. Most of the Templars' possessions in France were given over to the Hospitallers. Philippe refused to give up what he had claimed, and he enjoyed the money as long as he lived. Similarly, Edward II of England enjoyed the confiscated wealth.

Many surviving knights of the Templar Order were able to enroll in other orders, such as the Order of St. John. Pope Clement reserved judgment on the Grand Master, Jacques de Molai, and three other commanders. When the four repeated their avowals of guilt before a special commission, they were placed on a scaffold in front of Notre Dame Cathedral, on March 18, 1314, and publicly condemned to life in prison. On the scaffold, Jacques de Molai and the others suddenly recanted their confessions and protested their innocence. This surprised the cardinals, who gave the knights over to the care of the provost of Paris. When Philippe heard what had happened, he had the four men subjected to terrible tortures, but de Molai and one other refused to admit to being guilty. Philippe then took the two out and burned them alive.

Rosemary Guiley suggests that there may have been a basis of fact for some of the charges against the Knights Templar. She feels that, with their exposure to many rites and beliefs in the Holy Land during the course of the Crusades, they may have absorbed aspects of Gnosticism and ritual homosexuality. But, as she says, the full truth may never be known.

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An engraving depicting Pope Honorius II giving his approval to the establishment of the Knights Templar in 1128 C.E.

Knights Templar

The mission of two knights so poor that they shared a horse grew into a secret society whose wealth and power rivaled that of the greatest kings of Europe. Tradition says that their majesty and might were wrought from their possession of the Holy Grail.

The fundamental principle of knighthood was the union of monasticism and chivalry. Before the orders of chivalry, a man could choose to devote himself to religion and become a monk, or he could elect to become a warrior and devote himself to defending God and his lord. The founding of the orders of knighthood permitted the vow of religion and the vow of war to be united in a single effort to free the Holy Land from the Muslims.

The oldest of the religio-chivalric orders is the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem, also known as the Knights Hospitallers and subsequently as the Knights of Malta and the Knights of Rhodes, founded in 1048, prior to the launching of the First Crusade in 1096. The second of the great orders of knighthood was founded in 1117 or 1118 by two French knights, Hugues de Payens and Geoffrey of Saint-Omer, who had observed the hardships endured by Christian pilgrims en route to Jerusalem and decided to serve as guides and protectors for the defenseless travelers.

When they first began their mission of benevolence, Hugues and Geoffrey had only one horse between them. In spite of their lack of horseflesh, the two warrior-guides soon gained a reputation for their service to helpless wayfarers, and they were joined by seven other knights who admired their principles. Known as the “Poor Soldiers of the Holy City,” the nine men bound themselves by the traditional vows of obedience, chastity, and poverty, then added oaths to defend the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem and to protect those pilgrims who journeyed there.

Baldwin I, king of Jerusalem, granted the humble knights quarters on the site of Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem, and it was because of this location that they became known as the Knights of the Temple of Solomon and later as the Knights Templar or the Knights of the Red Cross. According to tradition, it was also amidst the ruins of Solomon’s Temple that the knights uncovered the holy relics that would transform their order of poverty and humility into one of the wealthiest and most powerful organizations in Europe. It is said that the Templars unearthed the Holy Grail of the Last Supper along with ancient documents proving that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were husband and wife. An even more esoteric tradition states that the Templars excavated an underground chamber of the temple that contained the head of Jesus. According to legend, because of the virtue and bravery of the Templars in defending Christian pilgrims, the head spoke and prophesied to them.

At the Council of Troyes in 1127, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153) drew up a code for the Templars and designed an appropriate uniform for the order, consisting of a white tunic and mantle with a red cross on the left breast. Pope Honorius II (d. 1130) gave his seal to the following rules of conduct and discipline for the order in 1128: All knights in the order were required to recite vocal prayers at certain hours; to abstain from meat four days in the week; to cease hunting and hawking; to defend with their lives the mysteries of the Christian faith; to observe the seven sacraments of the church, the fourteen articles of faith, and the creeds of the apostles and Athanasius; to uphold the doctrines of the two Testaments, including the interpretations of the church fathers, the unity of God and the trinity of his persons, and the virginity of Mary both before and after the birth of Jesus; to go beyond the seas when called to do so in defense of the cause; to retreat not from the foe unless outnumbered three to one.

In addition to the strict rules of conduct and discipline, humility was one of the first principles of membership in the Knights Templar. The helmet of the Templar must bear no crest, his beard should never be cut, his personal behavior should be that of a servant of others, and his tunic should be girt with a linen cord as a symbol that he was bound in service.

There were four classes of members in the Templars—knights, squires, servitors, and priests—each with their individual duties. The presiding officer of the order was called the grand master, and he was assisted by a lieutenant, a steward, a marshal, and a treasurer. The states of Christendom were divided into provinces, and over each was set a grand master. The grand master of Jerusalem was considered the head of the entire brotherhood, which grew in numbers, influence, and wealth to become one of the most powerful organizations in the medieval world. Counts, dukes, princes, and even kings sought to wear the red cross and white mantle of the Templar, an honor recognized throughout Europe.

In 1139 Pope Innocent II (d. 1143) granted the Templars an unprecedented mark of papal approval: the churches of the Templars were exempt from interdicts; their properties and revenues were free from taxation to either crown or Holy Mother Church. The Templars now had the prestige of being triumphant Crusaders. They had the blessing of the pope. They had the gratitude of those whom they had protected on their pilgrimages. They had vast estates with mansions that could not be invaded by any civil officer. The Knights of the Temple became a sovereign body, pledging allegiance to no secular ruler. In spiritual matters, the pope was still recognized as supreme, but in all other matters, the grand master of Jerusalem was as independent and as wealthy as the greatest king in Europe.

There were three divisions of the Templars in the East—Jerusalem, Antioch, and Tripoli. In Europe, there were sixteen provinces—France, Auvergne, Normandy, Aquitaine, Poitou, Provence, England, Germany, Upper and Lower Italy, Apulia, Sicily, Portugal, Castile, León, and Aragon. A majority of the Templars were French, and it was estimated by the middle of the thirteenth century that as many as nine thousand manors were held by the Templars in France.

The chief seat of the Templars remained in Jerusalem from the origins of the Order in 1118 to 1187, when it was moved to Antioch after the Templars and the Hospitallers were almost annihilated in the disastrous battle of Tiberias, where the Saracen army under the generalship of Saladin (1137–1193), the sultan of Egypt and Syria, thoroughly defeated the Christians and reclaimed Jerusalem for Islam. Two hundred thirty captive knights were beheaded when they refused the Muslims’ offer to convert to the religion of the Prophet.

When the Muslims captured Acre in 1291 and overthrew the Christian kingdom, the Templar knights fought bravely until almost every man was killed. The survivors retreated to Cyprus, which the order had purchased in 1191 from Richard the Lionheart (1157–1199) for 35,000 marks.

Although defeated by the soldiers of the prophet Muhammad and driven out of the Holy Land, the Knights Templar retained their many estates and their enormous wealth in Europe. However, especially in France, the lords, dukes, and princes not only were envious of the order’s burgeoning treasury, but they fumed over the Templars’ exemption from the burdens of taxation imposed by church and state on others. Rumors began to spread that the order had acquired heretical practices during their time in the East.

In 1306 King Philip IV (1268–1314) of France sought protection for himself and the royal treasury in the Templars’ massive fortress in Paris. Unruly mobs were shouting for his death, and he feared that disloyal nobles would loot the nation’s wealth. While Philip was under the Templars’ protection, he managed to gain knowledge of the incredible wealth that the order had accumulated. When he realized that this was only a portion of their immeasurable riches and that the Templars had forts and estates throughout France, each containing its own deposit of treasure, he was awed.

When Philip once again sat more securely on his throne, he began to consider the Templars as rivals for his kingdom. They had more money and power than he, and they owed their allegiance only to the pope. Philip met with Pope Clement V (1264–1314) to seek his counsel on how the order might be exterminated. Although the Templars had enjoyed the blessing of the papacy for decades, the pope admitted that he had been made uneasy by accusations that they had sought to protect their own interests by securing a separate treaty with the Muslims when the Christian kingdom in the East was falling. Clement, however, was reluctant to make any kind of move against the knights.

Philip finally found a chink in the Templars’ armor in the person of the mysterious Esquire de Floyran, who claimed to have been a member. Floyran said that the order had degenerated into a monstrous blood cult. Principal among the demons they worshipped was Baphomet, the three-headed god of a heretical Muslim sect. Floyran swore that he had seen initiates in the order spitting upon crucifixes, participating in vile rites, even sacrificing babies to demons. There is no conclusive evidence to prove whether de Floyran was a member of the Knights Templar or an imposter on Philip’s own payroll, but armed with de Floyran’s sensational accounts, the backing of the highest church officials in France, and the endorsement of William of Paris, the Grand Inquisitor, Philip demanded that the pope conduct an investigation into such charges against the Knights Templar. Under pressure, Clement gave his approval for a judicial inquiry, and the knights were charged with heresy and immorality.

On the night of October 13, 1307, all of the Templars’ castles in France were surrounded by large bodies of men led by priests and nobles. When the unsuspecting knights were ordered to open their gates in the name of the king, they immediately complied. Taken completely by surprise, about nine hundred knights were arrested and all their property and holdings in France seized. When word of the arrests spread, other nobles and priests quickly followed suit and imprisoned the Templars wherever they might be found.

The Templars were accused of infidelity, atheism, heresy, invoking Satan, worshipping demons, desecration of holy objects, unclean-liness, and even of being Muslims. The prosecution was often forced to resort to torturing the prisoners to obtain confessions. In Paris, the grand master of the Templars, Jacques de Molay (1244–1314), pleaded the innocence of the order against all such charges. In spite of his personal friendship with de Molay, who was the godfather of his younger son, Philip ordered the grand master and the 140 knights imprisoned with him to be starved, tortured, and kept in filthy dungeons.

The pope hesitated to give his sanction to the extermination of the knights. Philip, however, was determined to see the Templars destroyed and their wealth distributed to the state. For two weeks, the knights imprisoned in Paris suffered the rack, the thumbscrew, the pincers, the branding iron, and fire. Thirty-six died under torture without speaking. The rest confessed to every charge the Inquisition had leveled against them.

A grand council was called in Paris on May 10, 1310, to review the confessions. But Philip’s victory was sullied when fifty-four of the knights recanted their confessions and appealed to government and church officials that they had been tortured. They swore that they had remained true to their vows and that they had never practiced any kind of witchcraft or Satanism. Philip silenced their pleas three days later when he ordered all fifty-four burned at the stake in a field behind the alley of Saint Antoine.

In 1312 the pope convened the Council of Venice, during which it was decided that the order should be abolished and its property confiscated. In spite of Pope Clement’s reserving final judgment concerning the guilt of the Templars, and despite 573 witnesses for their defense, the knights were tortured en masse, then burned at the stake. The landed possessions of the order were transferred to the Hospitallers, and their wealth was distributed to the sovereigns of various states. Everywhere in Christian Europe, except in Portugal, where the Templars assumed the name of the Knights of Christ, the order was suppressed.

In 1314, as he was being burned to death on a scaffold erected for the occasion in front of Notre Dame, Jacques de Molay recanted the confession that he gave under torture and proclaimed his innocence to Pope Clement V and King Philip—and he invited them to meet him at heaven’s gate. When both dignitaries died soon after de Molay’s execution, it seemed to the public at large that the grand master and the Knights Templar had been innocent of the charges of heresy.

In Scotland, the charges against the order were regarded as unproven, and Templars who managed to escape torture and death found safe haven there. Robert the Bruce, Scotland’s king, had himself been excommunicated, and he welcomed the Templars’ swords alongside those of his men at the battle of Bannockburn on June 24, 1314. Henceforth, Bruce protected the order, and the legendary holy relics of the Templars found their way to Scotland. In 1445 Earl William Sinclair began construction of Rosslyn Chapel, wherein, according to tradition, the sacred objects remain hidden to this day.

Because of the worldwide interest in the Templars and Rosslyn Chapel sparked by Dan Brown’s bestseller The Da Vinci Code, people are visiting the chapel outside Edinburgh in great numbers. On May 7, 2005, a man claiming to be a descendant of Hugues de Payens, the cofounder of the Knights Templar, asked that electronic equipment be used for an examination of the chapel to find out if the alleged holy relics are really there. The man, an American academician named David Conley, told Liam Rudden of the Edinburgh Evening News that he believes the Templars were entrusted with the Holy Grail, the Ark of the Covenant, and a number of ancient scrolls, and that the sacred objects are hidden in an underground tunnel system beneath the chapel, which he said mirrors the design of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem.

On October 25, 2007, the Vatican Secret Archive published Processus contra Templarios, which cleared the Knights Templar of the charge of heresy. The book was based on a scrap of parchment discovered in 2001 by Professor Barbara Frale. Amazingly, the 700-year-old document proved to be a record of the trial of the Templars by Pope Clement V and ends with a papal absolution from all heresies leveled at the warrior monks. The document, known as the Chinon parchment, had been placed in the wrong archive in the seventeenth century.

The Knights Templar were subjected to torture and burning at the stake because their accusers sought to expose their initiation ceremony as blasphemous. After listening to the Templar’s explanation, Pope Clement agreed that their entrance ritual was not truly an insult to Christ and the Church. However, in order to keep peace with King Phillip, who had ordered the Knights arrested and subjected to the Inquisition, and to avoid a schism in the Church, he dissolved the Order.

Professor Frale stated that this document proved that the Templars were not heretics: “For 700 years we have believed that the Templars died as cursed men, and this absolves them.”

Knights Templar

society formed to guard pilgrims to Jerusalem. [Medieval Hist.: Brewer Dictionary, 1066]
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