Seal of the Knights. The two riders have been interpreted as a sign of poverty, the duality of monk/soldier or hidden homosexuality.
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.
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, London. See also Raphael's painting The Marriage of the Virgin on show in the Brera Gallery, Milan.
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.
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 Lands. Their success attracted the jealousy and greed 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 Templar's holdings were extensive both in Europe and the Middle East, including, for a time, the entire island of Cyprus.
Besides Palestine, the order also fought in the Spanish 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.
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. A modern historical 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, 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 ordered so by Pope Clement V. In particular, Robert the Bruce, King of the Scots, had already been excommunicated for other reasons and was not, therefore disposed to pay any attention 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" and is believed to have contributed to the first naval discoveries of the Portuguese.
However, the accusation of religious heresy was not, by the standards of the time, entirely without merit. Under torture, some Templars "admitted" to homosexual acts and the worship of a "bearded head" ("Baphomet"). Their leaders later denied the admission and for that were executed. Some authors discount this as a common accusation (as it was in the Inquisition), and therefore a typical forced admission.
Conspiracy theories related to the suppression of the Knights Templar often go far beyond the simple and obvious motive of simply seizing property, which was and remains an extremely common motivation for all forms of religious persecution. Some Freemasons believe they were descended from Templars who fled to Scotland and that the group really did have heretical beliefs. Ironically, 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 tricked into suppressing them.
Lately, fringe researchers and aficionados of esotericism have claimed that the order stored secret knowledge, linking them to the Freemasons, the Rosicrucians, pre-Columbian voyages to America, the Priory of Zion, the Cathars, the Gnostics, the Essenes, and ultimately lost teachings or relics of Jesus including the Holy Grail. See Order of the Solar Temple for an example of a Neo-Templar group.
There is also a Masonic organization of Knights Templar which in America and other countries is part of the York Rite. In most jurisdictions it is open only to those who profess a belief in the Christian religion. It is unknown whether or not it has historical connections with the original Knights Templar.
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2 Grand Masters from 1118 to 1314
3 Places associated with the Knights Templar
4 See also
5 External Links
Grand Masters from 1118 to 1314
Places associated with the Knights Templar