Friday 13: Knights Templar

What does Friday the 13th have to do with Masonry? It’s a long twisted connection, and I’ll take a look at this today.

The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon (Latin: Pauperes commilitones Christi Templique Solomonici), better known as the Knights Templar, was one of the most famous of the Christian military orders. It existed for about two centuries in the Middle Ages, created in the aftermath of the First Crusade of 1096, to ensure the safety of the large numbers of European pilgrims who flowed toward Jerusalem after its conquest.
The Templars were an unusual order in that they were both monks and soldiers, making them, in effect, some of the earliest "warrior monks" in the Western world. Members of the Order played a key part in many battles of the Crusades, and the Order's infrastructure innovated many financial techniques that could be considered the foundation of modern banking. The Order grew in membership and power throughout Europe, King Philip IV of France (Philip the Fair) moved against the Templars in an effort to seize its wealth, causing members in France to be tortured into confessions and burned at the stake. Under influence from King Philip, Pope Clement V forcibly disbanded the order on Friday October 13, 1307. Many legends surround the Templars, who continue to feature in various theories especially linked with the claim that they protected members of a lineage known as the Sangreal (Royal Blood) that traces itself back to Jesus of Nazareth. Not least of all because of their own rule of secrecy, much "supposition under the guise of history" has been written about the Templars. Despite the difficulty of separating fact from fiction, aspects of their relations with their Islam neighbors suggests that the period of the Crusades was not only characterized by hatred and enmity. There is no "Islamic historiography of the Crusades" since even though they are currently perceived as having permanently damaged Christian-Muslim relations, at the time Muslims saw them as border skirmishes that only inflicted pinpricks on the fringe of the Muslim world, thus the Templars also dealt diplomatically with their opponents.

The Knights and Islam
Fighting the Muslims was central to the Order's existence, since its purpose was to protect the Christian kingdom of Jerusalem. However, the Order knew that this was impossible by military means alone without also engaging in diplomacy, since the crusader states were sandwiched between rival Muslim sultanates. On at least two occasions, they entered treaties with Muslims: In 1172, they entered an alliance with the Assassins; in 1239, they allied themselves with Damascus against Egypt.
The Templars enjoyed a "sustained and sympathetic contact with Islamic and Jewish culture." They may even have attempted to reconcile Jews, Christians, and Muslims, they argue, linking this with their theory "if Jesus were acknowledged as a mortal prophet, as a priest-king and legitimate ruler of the line of David, he might well become acceptable to both Jews and Muslims." They also enjoyed the friendship and respect of Prince Usama of Shaizar, who "liked and respected the Templars," admired Frankish justice, but found their medicine primitive. Usama, says Fletcher, was a frequent visitor to the royal court in Jerusalem.

Money and the Templars:
Though individual members took vows of poverty, and their personal possessions were limited to the essentials, the order itself received donations of money, land and other valuables from the pious and the grateful. The Templar organization grew very wealthy.
In addition, the military strength of the Templars made it possible to collect, store, and transport bullion to and from Europe and the Holy Land with a measure of safety. Kings, noblemen, and pilgrims used the organization as a kind of bank. The concepts of safe deposit and travelers' checks originated in these activities. 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.

The Downfall of the Templars:
In 1291, Acre, the last remaining Crusader stronghold in the Holy Land, fell to the Muslims, and the Templars no longer had a purpose there. Then, in 1304, rumors of irreligious practices and blasphemies committed during secret Templar initiation rites began to circulate. Very likely false, they nevertheless gave King Philip IV of France grounds to arrest every Templar in France on Oct. 13, 1307. He had many tortured to make them confess to charges of heresy and immorality. It is generally believed that Philip did this simply to take their vast wealth, though he may also have feared their growing power.
Philip had previously been instrumental in getting a Frenchman elected pope, but it still took some maneuvering to convince Clement V to order all Templars in all countries arrested. Eventually, in 1312, Clement suppressed the order; numerous Templars were executed or imprisoned, and the Templar property that wasn't confiscated was transferred to the Hospitallers. In 1314 Jacques de Molay, the last Grand Master of the Templar Knights, was burned at the stake.

The Legend continues
The Knights Templar have become surrounded by legends concerning secrets and mysteries handed down to the select from ancient times. Most of these legends are connected with the long occupation by the order 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. And still more stories were started by fictional embellishments upon the Templar history, such as a treasure long hidden by the Templars. This idea has been used in two recent Hollywood movies, The Da Vinci Code and National Treasure. The film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade depicted a rather more fantastic view of the history of the Templar. 
The dissolution of the Templar order is well documented, and some of its surviving members and properties after the destruction of the order in 1314, were absorbed into the Knights of the Hospital of Saint John, which continued as a minor military entity throughout the middle ages, and in 1318, the Military Order of Christ in Portugal as the heritage of the Knights Templar in Portugal, after their suppression of in 1312, under heavy influence from Philip IV of France, Pope Clement V, but King Dinis of Portugal re-instituted the Templars as the Order of Christ. However, the story of the Templars' persecution has proved a tempting source for many organizations to use to enhance their own dignity, history, and mystery.


  1. Very interesting. Thank you for sharing this. and the HOT Pitures.


  2. for a poignant and well documented investigation of the Templars read The Sign and the Seal.


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