I bet many of us who studied history thought that either the Knights Templar was some myth or, if they did exist at some point in time, they were extinct – no longer around. If you believed either of these, you would be absolutely wrong. Let’s take a journey to shore up the last group of people before we put all this together in a neat nice bow.
This is what history tells us.
The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon (Latin: Pauperes commilitones Christi Templique Salomonici), also known as the Order of Solomon's Temple, the Knights Templar or simply the Templars, were a Catholic military order founded in 1119, headquartered on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem through 1128 when they went to meet with Pope Honorius II. They were recognized in 1139 by the papal bull Omne datum optimum. The order was active until 1312 when it was perpetually suppressed by Pope Clement V.
The Knights Templar was a large organization of devout Christians during the medieval era who carried out an important mission: to protect European travelers visiting sites in the Holy Land while also carrying out military operations. A wealthy, powerful and mysterious order that has fascinated historians and the public for centuries, tales of the Knights Templar, their financial acumen, their military prowess and their work on behalf of Christianity during the Crusades still circulate throughout modern culture.
Who Were the Knights Templar?
After Christian armies captured Jerusalem from Muslim control in 1099 during the Crusades, groups of pilgrims from across Western Europe started visiting the Holy Land. Many of them, however, were robbed and killed as they crossed through Muslim-controlled territories during their journey.
Around 1118, a French knight named Hugues de Payens created a military order along with eight relatives and acquaintances, calling it the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon—later known simply as the Knights Templar.
With the support of Baldwin II, the ruler of Jerusalem, they set up headquarters on that city’s sacred Temple Mount, the source of their now-iconic name, and pledged to protect Christian visitors to Jerusalem.
The Pope’s Endorsement
Initially, the Knights Templar faced criticism from some religious leaders. But in 1129, the group received the formal endorsement of the Catholic Church and support from Bernard of Clairvaux, a prominent French abbot.
Bernard authored “In Praise of the New Knighthood,” a text that supported the Knights Templar and bolstered their growth.
In 1139, Pope Innocent II issued a Papal Bull that allowed the Knights Templar special rights. Among them, the Templars were exempt from paying taxes, permitted to build their own oratories and were held to no one’s authority except the Pope’s.
The Knights Templars at Work
The Knights Templar set up a prosperous network of banks and gained enormous financial influence. Their banking system allowed religious pilgrims to deposit assets in their home countries and withdraw funds in the Holy Land.
The order became known for its austere code of conduct (which included no pointy shoes and no kissing their mothers, rules outlined in “The Rule of the Templars”) and signature style of dress, which featured a white habit emblazoned with a simple red cross.
Members swore an oath of poverty, chastity and obedience. They weren’t allowed to drink, gamble or swear. Prayer was essential to their daily life, and the Templars expressed particular adoration for the Virgin Mary.
As the Knights Templar grew in size and status, it established new chapters throughout Western Europe.
At the height of their influence, the Templars boasted a sizable fleet of ships, owned the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, and served as a primary bank and lending institution to European monarchs and nobles.
Expanded Duties of the Knights
Though its original purpose was to protect pilgrims from danger, the Knights Templar progressively expanded its duties. They became defenders of the Crusader states in the Holy Land and were known as brave, highly skilled warriors.
The group developed a reputation as fierce fighters during the Crusades, driven by religious fervor and forbidden from retreating unless significantly outnumbered.
The Templars built numerous castles and fought – and often won – battles against Islamic armies. Their fearless style of fighting became a model for other military orders.
The Fall of the Knights Templar
In the late 12th century, Muslim armies retook Jerusalem and turned the tide of the Crusades, forcing the Knights Templar to relocate several times. The Fall of Acre in 1291 marked the destruction of the last remaining Crusader refuge in the Holy Land.
European support of the military campaigns in the Holy Land began to erode over the decades that followed. Additionally, many secular and religious leaders became increasingly critical of the Templars’ wealth and power.
By 1303, the Knights Templar lost its foothold in the Muslim world and established a base of operations in Paris. There, King Philip IV of France resolved to bring down the order, perhaps because the Templars had denied the indebted ruler additional loans.
Arrests and Executions
On Friday, October 13, 1307, scores of French Templars were arrested, including the order’s grand master Jacques de Molay.
Many of the knights were brutally tortured until they confessed to false charges, which included heresy, homosexuality, financial corruption, devil-worshipping, fraud, spitting on the cross and more.
A few years later, dozens of Templars were burned at the stake in Paris for their confessions. De Molay was executed in 1314.
Under pressure from King Philip, Pope Clement V reluctantly dissolved the Knights Templar in 1312. The group’s property and monetary assets were given to a rival order, the Knights Hospitallers. However, it’s thought that King Philip and King Edward II of England seized most of the Knights Templar’s wealth.
The Knights Templar Today
The Catholic Church has acknowledged that the persecution of the Knights Templar was unjustified. The church claims that Pope Clement was pressured by secular rulers to destroy the order.
While most historians agree that the Knights Templar fully disbanded 700 years ago, there are some people who believe the order went underground and remains in existence in some form to this day.
In the 18th century, some groups, most notably the Freemasons, revived several of the medieval knights’ symbols, rituals and traditions.
Currently, there are several international organizations styled after the Knights Templar that the public can join. These groups have representatives around the world and aim to uphold the values and traditions of the original medieval order.
Throughout the years, various tales have surfaced about the knights’ mysterious work. More recently, stories about the legendary Templars have found their way into popular books and movies.
Some historians have claimed that the Knights Templar may have secretly guarded the Shroud of Turin (a linen cloth believed to be placed on Jesus Christ’s body before burial) for hundreds of years after the Crusades ended.
Another widespread belief is that the knights discovered and kept religious artifacts and relics, such as the Holy Grail, the Ark of the Covenant and parts of the cross from Christ’s crucifixion.
Various other ideas and myths exist about the Knights Templar’s secret operations. The popular novel and film The Da Vinci Code presents a theory that the Templars were involved in a conspiracy to preserve the bloodline of Jesus Christ.
Although much of these speculations are considered fictional, there’s no question that the Knights Templar have provoked intrigue and fascination and will likely continue to do so for years to come.
NOW LET’S LOOK AT HISTORY
The Knights Templar protected Christians who traveled over 5,000 miles. They did this with very few men. It has been said that they had less than 10 men who had this responsibility. Not sure how they were able to perform this task but they did.
One of their primary objectives was to rebuild Solomon’s Temple that was destroyed in 586 BC by King Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar is identified in the Bible as the king responsible for destroying Solomon's Temple and initiated the Babylonian captivity, and is a significant character in the Book of Daniel. He is also the King that required Daniel to read his dreams. This dream that Daniel interpreted prophesized all the changes up and until the over throw, but not the destruction, of the Roman Empire.
In 1129, the Knights Templar did receive the formal endorsement of the Catholic Church and support from Bernard of Clairvaux, a prominent French abbot. It was after this endorsement that the Order of Knights Templar grew exponentially and donations came rolling into the Order.
Because of the growth of the Order, the Order drew up a code of conduct which pledged allegiance to the Master. History shows that the Knights Templar acted swiftly against any foe with lethal precision as they were commanded by the Grand Master. It is estimated that, at the height of the Order, the Knights Templar was greater than 20,000 members. The makeup of its members had about 10% as armed knights with the remaining 90% taking care of the Knights’ infrastructure and logistics, which included banking. As part of the Catholic Church, the Knights took an oath of poverty but as an organization it was excessively wealthy. Not only did they have extreme amounts of gold and silver but they owned large amounts of lands, vineyards and other property. They even own the island of Cyprus with a large amount of ships sailing out of the Mediterranean Sea ports. So they were building an Order than was to become a force to be reckoned with.
All across Europe and from Europe to Jerusalem in every City they owned monasteries, castles, churches and educational centers (universities). They became so powerful that they did not have to obey the local laws. They passed freely over all boarders and freely roamed the lands without issue. They paid no taxes and had all authority to themselves except that which was directed by the Pope. This meant that if the church, the Pope, felt that the Order was ever to become a threat that the Pope had the authority to extinguish the Order. However, no one else had such authority.
Just the opposite of Robin Hood, everything the Order confiscated from their battles were kept by the Order and not shared even with the church. Their primary battles were against Islam and the Pope had given the Order a decree that these practices were given by the church. So let me state perfectly clear here. The church gave the Order a blank check to invade, kill, and confiscate all the wealth of the Islamic population and, in doing so, had a pass from any legal issues that may arise from the quest. In other words the Order was a death squad approved by the church.
In 1139, Pope Innocent II issued a Papal Bull that allowed the Knights Templar special rights. Among them, the Templars were exempt from paying taxes, permitted to build their own oratories and were held to no one’s authority except the Pope’s. To maintain this status all the Order had to do was swear allegiance to the Pope.
Given all the wealth of the Order the one area they had to excel, and they did, was banking. They built a network of banks in many countries that not only made it available to local citizenry to deposit their gold and silver with the local bank but when they traveled the bank provided them with the ability to pay for goods and services through any other bank in their network. Think about that a moment.
The Templar had become so successful in banking that many kings and nobleman used their banks for their own wealth so that at a later date could pay their armies and large purchases. The Templars provided loans to rulers. They became so successful that their wealth, power and corruption grew astronomically.
On Friday, October 13, 1307, scores of French Templars were arrested, including the order’s grand master Jacques de Molay. Many of the knights were brutally tortured until they confessed to false charges, which included heresy, homosexuality, financial corruption, devil-worshipping, fraud, spitting on the cross and more.
A few years later, dozens of Templars were burned at the stake in Paris for their confessions. De Molay was executed in 1314.
The King of France, King Phillip in the 14th century was heavy in debt to the Templars and when he requested more money they refused. King Phillip said it was time that the Order is abolished. Under pressure from King Philip, Pope Clement V reluctantly dissolved the Knights Templar in 1312. The group’s property and monetary assets were given to a rival order, the Knights Hospitallers. However, it’s thought that King Philip and King Edward II of England seized most of the Knights Templar’s wealth. However, Pope Clement V, while agreeing with the disbandment, did not condemn the Order which was standard in that time.
Ah but they are not stopped here. When the grand master Molay was being burned at the stake it was said he put a curse not only on the Pope but King Phillip. Ironically, eight months later Pope Clement died with his body being totally destroyed in a fire which was caused by a lightning strike on the steeple above where he was lying in state. Three months after, King Phillip died while hunting of a stroke.
Contrary to history, the Order of the Knights Templar did not end at that time. In fact, they live on today just as prosperous as they did then. The Templar created new organizations with new names but carried the same symbol of the cross.
After the Templar order's suppression by Pope Clement in 1312, King Denis set about creating a new order for the displaced knights in his realm. He instituted the "Christi Militia" under the patronage of Saint Benedict in 1317 (some sources say August 14, 1318), and Pope John XXII approved this order by a Papal bull on 14 March 1319, "AD EA EX QVIBVIS".
After four years of negotiations, Pope John XXII passed another bull, authorizing Denis to grant the Templar's property to the Order of the Christ in 1323. The knights of the order were committed to vows of poverty, chastity and obedience to the king. It is unclear how many Templars continued in the new order; some historians would claim the Order of Christ was essentially the Templars under a new name, while others see it as a mostly original formation. The first Grand Master, Dom Gil Martins, had been a knight of Saint Benedict in the Order of Aviz.
The Order of Christ was first seated at Castro Marim, in the Algarve (in the Diocese of Faro). In 1357, the order was moved to the town of Tomar, near Santarém, former seat of the Order of the Knights Templars in Portugal.
On March 19th of 1319, through Pope John XXII´s bull, the Ordo Militae Jesu Christi, or Military Order of Our Lord Jesus Christ, is instituted and with it King Dinis incorporates the Knights Templar, their assets and privileges from the now extinct Order of the Temple. Initially the new militia will have its base close to the river mouth of Guadiana, in Castro Marim. D. Gil Martins of the Avis Order will be its first Master.
Similarly to what had previously happened with Knights Templar, the Order of Christ follows the Cistercian rule and the Alcobaça abbot remains their spiritual judge and visitor. The knight´s habit is similar to the one worn by the original Knights Templar - white with a red cross, differing slightly in shape. Whereas Knights Templar had a curved line in the arm zone, the militia of Christ´s cross had a straight line with serifs at the ends and filled-in white at the centre.
The new Cavalry keeps its subordination to the king - all administrative, goods conveyance, change in costumes or destitution of commanders or friars had to be previously approved by the King.
The headquarters of the Order of Christ is set up in the former Knights Templar headquarters in 1357 - the Tomar Castle - where it will remain.
With the passing of Master D. Lopo Dias de Sousa in 1417, King John I receives the nomination by the Holy See for his son - Infante D. Henrique - to be governor and keeper of the Order of Christ.
The Capitulum gathered in Tomar in 1421 marks the beginning of the reforms that the Infante (Prince) will make in at the core of the militia. The Rule of the Calatrava Order was adopted resulting in the Order of Christ to be free of spiritual dependency and obedience to the Cistercian rule while at the same time the Knights kept the status of friars.
The Order will open itself to lay life and to civil society in general, with the discovery of new lands and seas - now, one of their missions too. Under the new governance by the Infante (Henry, the Navigator), many of the Order of Christ Knights became navigators and vice-versa. In order to achieve this, the prince attains from the Pope the institution of partial vote of poverty - allowing the Knight and his family, by inheritance, to benefit of a third of the goods acquired for the Order.
On the spiritual field, a branch of contemplative friars is introduced in the Order with the intent of praying for those overseas and train priests for evangelization and settlement of new territories. The Order is therefore definitively linked to the spiritual nature of the newly found territories.
The Infante consecrates the exercise of governing the Order to the royal family by appointing as his universal heir D. Duarte´ second son, his nephew D. Fernando and, thus, D. Manuel, nephew grandson of the Infante will, at the age of 14, receive the mastery of the Order of Christ. Upon the premature passing of the royal heir, D. Manuel is appointed by King John II as the successor to the throne. D. Manuel is King of Portugal, governor and keeper of the Order between 1495 and 1521.
It is with King Manuel that the Order will have its deepest involvement in the enterprise of the Discoveries - both on a spiritual level, by appointing to the Order the ecclesiastic of the parishes overseas, as well as on a temporal level by giving the Knights the possibility of exempting the chastity vows to those who wished to establish family overseas. Under King Manuel, the Order is given an immense power spread throughout the entire Portuguese empire.
King John III, with a completely different vision of State from his father´s will, perpetrates a dramatic and profound reform within the Order. With the Discoveries well under way, and influenced by the Counter-Reform spirit of the Church of Rome, King John III constricts the religious friars of the Order to observance of a life of enclosure.
Can you guess who the Knights Templar then became? Come on!
The new Order of the Knights Templar was created in 1534 and it was officially commissioned and sanctioned by Pope Paul III in 1540. It was called the Jesuit Order.