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see Knights TemplarsKnights Templars
, in medieval history, members of the military and religious order of the Poor Knights of Christ, called the Knights of the Temple of Solomon from their house in Jerusalem.
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(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

The Templars, a medieval order of knights, emerged in the wake of the first crusade. During the last quarter of the eleventh century, pilgrimages to the Holy Land from Europe had been largely blocked by a change of hands in the Muslim leadership in Jerusalem. In response, a crusade to retake Jerusalem was initiated, and by the end of the century Jerusalem had been returned to Christian control. However, many hazards remained for pilgrims attempting to travel to the Holy Land. Thus, in 1118 a group of nine young men, including Hugh de Payens and André de Montbard, presented to the king of Jerusalem their plan to create an order of warrior monks. Their intention was to secure the lands gained from the crusade, so that pilgrims could be better protected. Several of the men were already Cistercian monks, and all took (or reaffirmed) the standard monastic vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

In Jerusalem, the order was given land that included the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The mosque had been misidentified as the former Temple of Solomon, resulting in the group becoming known as the Knights of the Temple. This led to their later nickname, the Knights Templar, or simply Templars.

Subsequently, Hugh de Payens journeyed to the West to obtain the Church’s blessing for the new order. At a council held at Troyes in 1128, there was an agreement to adopt the Rule of Saint Benedict, as revised by the Cistercians. The Templars also adopted the Cistercians’ white habit on which they placed a red cross. As the order developed, members assumed one of four primary duties—knight, sergeant, farmer, or chaplain.

With the Catholic Church’s blessing, and a growing reputation as ferocious warriors, the order soon found itself the recipient of numerous recruits, a great deal of financial support, and many gifts of land. The order grew large and wealthy. On their estates they erected fortified castles and laid out farms. They tended to select the most militarily strategic sites, even if these added significantly to the difficulty of constructing their fortified centers. They also developed a reputation for adding water gates to their castles along coasts or rivers. The Templars usually built distinctive round churches that utilized an octagonal pattern modeled on the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. This structure can be seen today in the Temple Church in London, formerly the Templars’ British headquarters.

The order prospered for almost two centuries, but their success came to a sudden halt in 1307. On October 13 of that year, representatives of King Philip IV of France (r. 1285–1314) moved against the order. Insofar as it was within their ability to reach, they arrested all members of the order and took possession of Templar properties. It appears that Philip was attempting to swell his budget, and other European powers, including the pope, allowed him to act. European rulers had come to fear the powerful organization that was showing signs of rivaling their governments in strength and political clout.

The suppression that culminated in the burning death of the order’s grand master, Jacques de Molay (c. 1243–1314), ended the order’s presence in Europe for all practical purposes. However, for many the death of the grand master merely completed the public phase of the order’s life while initiating what has since been a hidden operation of the order. This concealed existence has been credited with ending the temporal power of the papacy in the nineteenth century. At the time of de Molay’s death, the papacy controlled much of northern and central Italy. Groups such as the Bavarian Illuminati and the Freemasons have also been seen by some as revived versions of the Templars.

With the downfall of the monarchy in France at the time of the French Revolution, a new Templar movement came to the fore. In 1805, two French Freemasons, Philippe Ledru (1754–1832) and Bernard-Raymond Fabré-Palaprat (1775–1838) founded a new Order of the Temple, with the latter being named the new grand master. They were able to carry on a spectrum of public activities, including processions through the streets of Paris, since they were seen as similar to Freemasonry. In fact, Ledru and Fabré-Palaprat did understand their work to be within the larger Esoteric community, and they organized a Gnostic church to compete with Roman Catholicism. These two organizations became the source of a number of later Neo-Templar organizations and Esoteric churches. One of these Neo-Templar groups, popularly known as the Solar Temple, made headlines in 1994, when nearly 50 of its members, including almost all of its leadership, died in an act of mass murder/suicide.

The emergence of the Gnostic Neo-Templar groups implied an acceptance of a particular idea of the nature of the Templar’s life before 1307. For many years prior to King Philip’s moving against it, rumors had been circulated by its critics that the members held heretical ideas and practices that were also blasphemous and immoral. Fabré-Palaprat concluded that the secret of the order was its following of Gnostic beliefs and practices. Others have, especially in the last generation, reached very different ideas about the Templar’s inner life.

One new idea about the Templars was floated in the 1960s by Pierre Plantard (1920–2000), a minor figure in France’s Esoteric community who founded an Esoteric society called the Priory of Sion. He also identified the priory with the Abbey of Our Lady of Mount Zion that had been founded in 1099 in Jerusalem by Godefroy de Bouillon (1060–1100), who later became King of Jerusalem after the First Crusade. Plantard, and a number of writers who would pick up on his initial ideas, suggested that the Templars were not founded so much to protect pilgrims as to conduct excavations in Jerusalem in search of a set of documents that verify the place of the Merovingians as the rightful rulers of France. Later, people extrapolated Plantard’s ideas to suggest that the documents recorded a different history of Christianity’s early years. These documents suggested that Jesus had charged Mary Magdalene, his consort, with founding the Christian church, not Peter and the other Apostles. Upon finding these documents, they brought them to Europe and eventually secreted them in their center at a small French town, Rennes le Château. Until their destruction, the Templars thus operated under the Priory of Sion to protect the documents and keep the secret of Jesus’ bloodline.


Baigent, Michael, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln. Holy Blood/Holy Grail. London: Jonathan Cape, 1982.
Brown, Dan. The Da Vinci Code. New York: Doubleday & Company, 2003.
Gardner, Laurence. Bloodline of the Holy Grail. Gloucester, MA: Fair Winds Press, 2002.
Introvigne, Massimo. “Beyond The Da Vinci Code: History and Myth of the Priory of Sion.” Posted at http://www.cesnur.org/2005/pa_introvigne.htm. Accessed March 31, 2007.
The Encyclopedia of Religious Phenomena © 2008 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(Knights Templars), a medieval Catholic religious and military order founded in Jerusalem shortly after the First Crusade (c. 1118–19) by French knights to protect pilgrims and to strengthen and expand the Crusader states in Palestine and Syria. The Templars were so named because their original headquarters was near a church that, according to legend, was built on the site of the ancient Temple of Solomon.

A charter transforming the Order of the Templars into a strictly centralized organization was drawn up in 1128. In 1139, Pope Innocent II granted the Templars extensive privileges, such as independence from feudal lords and church authorities, exemption from church taxes, and accountability only to the Curia Romana. These privileges were expanded by later popes, who sought to use the order for their own political ends. The Templars fought in the Crusades of the 12th and 13th centuries and in time became the greatest political and military force in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. In 1187 they were defeated by Saladin at the battle of Hattin.

Many gifts and donations to the Order of the Templars made it a wealthy large feudal landowner in the Near East and Europe. It had provinces (local subdivisions) in almost all the states of Western and Central Europe. On their estates the Templars cruelly exploited the peasants, who often rebelled against them. The Templars grew rich through trade and particularly usury, and in the 13th century they were the main bankers in Western Europe; feudal lords, kings, and popes relied on their financial services.

In 1291 the Templars made Cyprus their base, but later they moved to Europe, mainly France. In the early 14th century they supported Pope Boniface VIII in a conflict with the French king Philip IV the Fair. During the Babylonian Captivity, Philip, fearing the increasing power of the Templars and wishing to seize their wealth, succeeded in having them accused of heresy. An inquisition was begun, and in the autumn of 1307 almost all the Templars in France were arrested. After brutal tortures, they were branded as heretics and in 1310 were burned at the stake; their property was seized by the royal treasury. The Templars were also persecuted in other countries of Western Europe. The order was abolished in 1312 by Pope Clement V.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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