Knights Templar

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The original seal of the Knights Templar, illustrating their poverty through the two knights sharing one horse

The first of the military orders, the Knights Templar or Poor Knights of Christ were 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 that 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 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:

  1. the knights, equipped as heavy cavalry;
  2. the sergeants, equipped as light cavalry and drawn from a lower social class than the knights;
  3. farmers, who administered the property of the Order;
  4. the chaplains, who were ordained priests and saw to the spiritual needs of the Order.

At any time, there were approximately ten people in support positions for each knight. There were brothers devoted only 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. This 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, for example the Temple Church in London.

Besides Palestine, the order also 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 over time grew into a new basis of money as Templars became increasingly involved in banking activities. It is some indication of their powerful political connections 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.


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 be later 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. This, 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. The Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem and of Rhodes and of Malta, seeing the fate of the Templars, 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 commanded so 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 any heed to Papal commands. As a result many of the order fled to Scotland and also to Portugal, where the order name was changed to "Order of Christ" — believed to have contributed to the first naval discoveries of the Portuguese.

Heresy and pardon

However, there had been a debate about whether the accusation of religious heresy was not, by the standards of the time, entirely without merit. Under torture, some Templars "admitted" to homosexual acts, the worship of heads and/or a mystery known as Baphomet. Their leaders later denied the admission and for that were executed. Some scholars discount this as a typical forced admission during the Inquisition while 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 by the Saracens if captured. 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 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 11 maidens, Hughes de Payens and John the Baptist rather than pagan idols while the latter is ascribed 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 highly controversial interpretation, and is largely based on conjecture.

Conspiracy theories related to the suppression of the Knights Templar often go far beyond the suggested motive of simply 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.

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 when he developed the idea for a fraternity for boys. Thus, another modern Masonic organization related to the Templars was born in 1919 — the Order of DeMolay. While not directly descended from the Templars, Jacques de Molay, the last of the Grand Masters and for whom the order is named, 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 God and the Bible is a part of its ritual altar. However, there are DeMolays from a wide variety of monotheistic 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 a branch called The Commandery of Knights Templar. York Rite and Chivalric Masonry claim to be inspired by the Templars but not direct descendants 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 claimed by these organizations nor proven.

However, 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.

Lately, fringe researchers and aficionados of esotericism have claimed that the order stored secret knowledge, linking them to the Rosicrucians, the Hashshashin, the Priory of Sion, the Rex Deus, the Cathars, the Hermetics, the Gnostics, the Essenes, and ultimately lost teachings or relics of Jesus, Solomon and Moses. The Order of the Solar Temple is an example of a neo-Templar group that claimed to be a recipient of this esoterica.

However the order was always 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 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. These stories were first invented by 18th and 19th century romanticists and then by 20th century novelists.

Perhaps the most numerous legends are those concerning the Ark of the Covenant, the chest which contained various sacred objects of ancient Israel including Aaron's rod and, most notably, 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. Some allusion to this is made in engravings on the Cathedral at Chartres, often considered to be the first example of what came to known as the gothic style of 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 existence of the monolithic Church of St George in Lalibela in Ethiopia, which stands to this day and whose construction is attributed to the Knights Templar. There is also an underground church dated to the same period in Aubeterre in France.

Lastly, there is growing speculation surrounding the possibility that the Knights Templar may have undertaken pre-Colombian voyages to America.

Recent interest in Templar mythology has been sparked in large part to its prominent role in Dan Brown's novel and bestseller, The Da Vinci Code (2003).

Grand Masters from 1118 to 1314

  1. Huguens de Payns (1118-1136)
  2. Robert de Craon (1136-1146)
  3. Everard des Barres (1146-1149)
  4. Bernard de Tremelay (1149-1153)
  5. André de Montbard (1153-1156)
  6. Bertrand de Blanchefort (1156-1169)
  7. Philippe de Milly (1169-1171)
  8. Odo (Eudes) de St Amand (1171-1179)
  9. Arnaud de Toroge (1179-1184)
  10. Gérard de Ridefort (1185-1189)
  11. Robert de Sablé (1191-1193)
  12. Gilbert Horal (1193-1200)
  13. Phillipe de Plessis (1201-1208)
  14. Guillaume de Chartres (1209-1219)
  15. Pierre (Pedro) de Montaigu (1219-1230)
  16. Armand de Périgord (???-1244)
  17. Richard de Bures (1245-1247)
  18. Guillaume de Sonnac (1247-1250)
  19. Renaud de Vichiers (1250-1256)
  20. Thomas Bérard (1256-1273)
  21. Guillaume de Beaujeu (1273-1291)
  22. Thibaud Gaudin (1291-1293)
  23. Jacques de Molay (1293-1314)


External links

Document Source

  • This page was originally sourced from Thelemapedia. Retrieved May 2009.