The Seal of the Knights — the two riders have been interpreted as a sign of poverty or the duality of monk/soldier.
The first of the military orders, the Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon, widely known as the Knights Templar, was founded in 1118, in the aftermath of the First Crusade, to help the new Kingdom of Jerusalem maintain itself against its defeated Muslim neighbors, and to ensure the safety of the large numbers of European pilgrims who flowed towards Jerusalem after its conquest.
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 (see Omne Datum Optimum) 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.
There were four divisions of brothers in the Templars:
- 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.
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.
Their name alludes to their historical headquarters in the Mosque of Omar (a.k.a. "Dome of the Rock") on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, which they renamed Templum Domini. Represented on one of their seals, the structure was believed to be a remnant of the Temple of Jerusalem, and was the model for many Templar churches in Europe, such as the Temple Church in London.
In addition to Palestine, the order fought in the Spanish and Portuguese Reconquista. They were given extensive possessions and castles in frontier land. At one point, they were to inherit the kingdom of Aragon, jointly with other military orders.
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.
Two Templars burned at the stake, from a French 15th century manuscript
On October 13, 1307, what may have been all the Knights Templar in France were simultaneously arrested by agents of Philip the Fair (Philippe le Bel), to later be tortured into admitting heresy in the Order. (Some believe this act to be the origin of superstition regarding Friday the 13th.) One view is that Philip, who seized the treasury and broke up the monastic banking system, simply 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.
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, King of the Scots, had already been excommunicated for other reasons, and was therefore not disposed to pay heed to Papal commands. As a result many of the order fled to Scotland and to Portugal, where 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.
Heresy and pardon
The manuscript illustration (c. 1350) alludes to the accusation of sodomy against the templars.
Debate continues as to whether the accusation of religious heresy had merit by the standards of the time. Under torture, some Templars admitted to homosexual acts, and to the worship of heads and/or a mystery known as Baphomet. Their leaders later denied these admissions, and for that were executed. Some scholars discount these as forced admissions, typical during the Inquisition. Others argue that these accusations were in reality due to a misunderstanding of arcane rituals held behind closed doors which had their origins in the Crusaders' bitter struggle against the Saracens. These included denying Christ and spitting on the Cross three times, as well as kissing other men's behinds.
According to some scholars, and recently recovered Vatican documents, these acts were intended to simulate the kind of humiliation and torture that a Crusader might be subjected to if captured by the Saracens. According to this line of reasoning, they were taught how to commit apostasy with the mind only and not with the heart. As for the accusations of head-worship and Templars trying to syncretize Christianity with Mohammedanism, some scholars argue that the former referred to rituals involving the alleged relics of Saint Euphemia, one of Saint Ursula's eleven maidens, Hughes de Payens, and John the Baptist rather than pagan idols. The latter they ascribe to the chaplains creating the term Baphomet through the Atbash cipher to mystify the term Sophia (Greek for "wisdom"), which was equated to the concept of Logos (Greek for "Word"). This is a controversial interpretation, and is partly based on conjecture.
Conspiracy theories related to the suppression of the Knights Templar often go far beyond the suggested motive of seizing property and consolidating geopolitical power. It is the Catholic Church's position that the persecution was unjust, that there was nothing wrong with the Templars, and that the Pope at the time was manipulated into suppressing them. In 2001, Dr. Barbara Frale found the Chinon Parchment in the Secret Vatican Archives, a document that shows that Pope Clement V secretly pardoned the Knights Templar in 1314.
As he burned at the stake, Jacques de Molay, Grand Master of the Knights Templar, cursed King Philip and Pope Clement to meet eternal justice within the year. Pope Clement died only one month later and Philip IV seven months after that. Commentators were extremely pleased with such development and often featured this story in their chronicles.
Modern orders and claims of descent
The Templars play strongly in both the ritual and foundation of various branches of modern Freemasonry. The Scottish Rite, which was formed in France in the 18th Century, includes references to the Templars in many of its ritual degrees — primarily the section known as "Council of Kadosh" (degrees 19–30) and the final two degrees (31 and 32), known as the "Consistory".
Frank S. Land was serving in the DeMolay Council of Kadosh in post-World War I Kansas City, Missouri when he developed the idea for a fraternity for boys. Thus was born another modern Masonic organization related to the Templars in 1919 — the Order of DeMolay. While the organization was not directly descended from the Templars, its namesake Jacques de Molay, the last of the Grand Masters, is firmly entrenched in many of its rituals. While the only requirement to join Scottish Rite is to be a Mason in good standing, DeMolay does require its members to profess a belief in a 'Supreme Being' as a part of its ritual. There are DeMolays from a wide variety of both monotheistic and polytheistic faiths.
Another branch of Masonry however, York Rite, does require its members to be of Christian faith. Among the three branches of the York Rite is The Commandery of Knights Templar. York Rite and Chivalric Masonry claim to be inspired by the Templars, but are not direct descendents of them. Here also, the Templars are firmly enshrined in the orders and rituals.
While some historians and authors have tried to draw a link from Freemasonry and its many branches to the Templars, no such link has been either claimed by these organizations or proven. The Order of the Solar Temple was an example of a "neo-Templar" group, founded by Luc Jouret and Joseph Di Mambro in 1984, that fraudulently claims descent from the original Knights Templar.
An ecumenical Christian chivalric society named the Sovereign Military Order of the Temple of Jerusalem was founded in 1804, with the support of Napoleon, that is dedicated to charitable works and antiquarian research. This order operates on the basis of the traditions of the medieval Knights Templar. It is probably the modern organization that most effectively reclaims the spirit of, but does not assert any direct descent from, the ancient order. In 2001, the United Nations granted the Order of the Temple a special consultative status.
The rapid succession of the last direct Capetian kings of France between 1314 and 1328, the three sons of Philip IV the Fair, led many to believe that the dynasty had been cursed – thus the name of "cursed Kings" (rois maudits). It is said that Jacques de Molay, the last master of the order, cursed King Philip while lying on his execution pyre.
The Knights Templar later become surrounded by legends concerning secrets and mysteries handed down to the select from ancient times. Perhaps most well known are the those concerning the Holy Grail, the Ark of the Covenant, and secrets of building. Some sources say the Holy Grail, or Sangreal, was found by the order and taken to Scotland during the scourging of the order in 1307, and that it remains buried beneath Rosslyn Chapel. Some say that the order also found the Ark of the Covenant, the chest which contained sacred objects of ancient Israel, including Aaron's rod and the tablets of stone inscribed by Moses with the Ten Commandments.
These myths are connected with the long occupation by the order of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Some sources record that they discovered secrets of the master masons who had built the original and second temples secreted there, along with knowledge that the Ark had been moved to Ethiopia before the destruction of the first temple. Allusion to this is made in engravings on the Cathedral at Chartres (considered along with the Cathedrals at Amiens and Reims to be one of the best examples of gothic architecture), great influence over the building of which was had by St. Bernard of Clairvaux, who was also influential in the formation of the order. Further links to both the search by the order for the Ark and to its discovery of ancient secrets of building are suggested by the existence of the monolithic Church of St George in Lalibela in Ethiopia, which stands to this day and whose construction is incorrectly attributed to the Knights Templar. There is also an underground church dated to the same period in Aubeterre in France. There is growing speculation surrounding relics that would indicate the possibility that the Knights Templar may have undertaken pre-Columbian voyages to America.
Fringe researchers and aficionados of esotericism have claimed that the order stored secret knowledge, linking them to the Rosicrucians, the Priory of Sion, the Rex Deus, the Cathars, the Hermetics, the Gnostics, the Essenes, and, ultimately, lost relics or teachings of Jesus such as the Shroud of Turin or a "Judas Testament."
The mythos of the Knights Templar as keepers and defenders of the Holy Grail is a central plot point in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989). However, recent interest in Templar mythology has been sparked by its prominent role in Dan Brown's novel and bestseller, The Da Vinci Code (2003), and by its similar role in the 2004 movie, "National Treasure".
Grand Masters from 1118 to 1314
- Huguens de Payns (1118-1136)
- Robert de Craon (1136-1146)
- Everard des Barres (1146-1149)
- Bernard de Tremelay (1149-1153)
- André de Montbard (1153-1156)
- Bertrand de Blanchefort (1156-1169)
- Philippe de Milly (1169-1171)
- Odo (Eudes) de St Amand (1171-1179)
- Arnaud de Toroge (1179-1184)
- Gérard de Ridefort (1185-1189)
- Robert de Sablé (1191-1193)
- Gilbert Horal (1193-1200)
- Phillipe de Plessis (1201-1208)
- Guillaume de Chartres (1209-1219)
- Pierre (Pedro) de Montaigu (1219-1230)
- Armand de Périgord (???-1244)
- Richard de Bures (1245-1247)
- Guillaume de Sonnac (1247-1250)
- Renaud de Vichiers (1250-1256)
- Thomas Bérard (1256-1273)
- Guillaume de Beaujeu (1273-1291)
- Thibaud Gaudin (1291-1292)
- Jacques de Molay (1292-1314)
Places associated with the Knights Templar