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The Knights Templar
Tim Wallace-Murphy
The warrior monks, who became the most powerful and controversial organisation in medieval
Europe, were known by a variety of names, the Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon, la
Milice du Christ or, more commonly, the Knights Templar. Contemporary accounts of the founding
of the order are non-existent; our sole source is Guillaume de Tyre whose account, written some
seventy years after the event, is often regarded as biased, incomplete and inaccurate.
According to him the order was founded by Hugh de Payen, a vassal of the Count of Champagne,
acting in collaboration with André de Montbard, the uncle of Bernard of Clairvaux. In 1118 these two
Knights and seven companions presented themselves to King Baudoin II of Jerusalem and announced
that it was their intention to found an order of warrior monks so that ‘as far as their strength
permitted, they should keep the roads and highways safe, with a special regard for the protection of
pilgrims.’ They took vows of poverty and chastity and swore to hold all their property in common.
They were quartered in the stables of what was believed to be the Temple of Solomon. The Patriarch
of Jerusalem, another close relative of Bernard of Clairvaux, granted the new order the right to wear
the double barred Cross of Lorraine as their insignia.
The original nine Knights are listed as:
Hugh de Payen, a vassal of Hugh de Champagne, who was related to the St. Clairs of Roslin,
André de Montbard, the uncle of Bernard of Clairvaux and another vassal of Hugh de
Geoffroi de St. Omer, a son of Hugh de St. Omer,
Payen de Montdidier, a relafive of the ruling family of Flanders,
Achambaud de St-Arnand, another relative of the ruling house of Flanders,
Geoffroi Bisol,
Gondemar and Rosal were Cistercians who transferred to the new order. Many would see this transfer
simply as one that took place between the monastic and the military arm of the same order, for the
Cistercians and the Knights Templar were so closely linked by ties of blood, patronage and shared
objectives that many scholars believe that they were two arms of the same body. The exact role of
Hugh de Champagne in this affair is confusing in the extreme; however he was most certainly a prime
mover behind the scenes even if he is not numbered among the original nine founding knights. Indeed
all those involved in both founding and promoting the order were linked by a complex web of close
family or feudal relationships.
The stated objective of protecting the pilgrim routes would not have borne close examination during
the first ten or twelve years of the order's existence. It would have been a physical impossibility for
nine middle-aged Knights to protect the dangerous route from Jaffa to Jerusalem from all the bandits
and marauding infidels who infested the area. Their actions demonstrate an even more incredible
scenario; for far from patrolling the dangerous roads of the Holy Land protecting pilgrims, they spent
nine years excavating and mining a series of tunnels under their quarters on the Temple Mount. These
tunnels were re-excavated in 1867, by Lieutenant Warren of the Royal Engineers. The access tunnel
descends vertically downwards for eighty feet through solid rock before radiating in a series of minor
tunnels horizontally under the site of the ancient temple itself. Lieutenant Warren found a spur,
remnants of a lance, a small Templar cross and the major part of a Templar sword in the tunnels. Two
questions arise from this; What were they seeking and how did they know precisely where to dig?
Legend recounts that the Ark of the Covenant had been secreted deep beneath the Temple in
Jerusalem many centuries before the birth of Christ, to protect it from an invading army. A longstanding tradition claims that Hugh de Payen had been chosen to locate the Ark and bring it back to
Europe, where it was hidden for a considerable time deep beneath the crypt of Chartres Cathedral.
The same legends also claim that the Templars found many other sacred artefacts and a considerable
quantity of documentation made up of scriptural scrolls, treatises on sacred geometry, art and science the hidden wisdom of the ancient initiates of the Judaic / Egyptian tradition. One modern discovery
supports the idea that the Templars knew where to look and precisely what they were seeking. The
Copper Scroll, one of the Dead Sea Scrolls discovered at Quanram, lists the sites used to hide the
various items both sacred and profane described as the treasure of the Temple of Jerusalem. Many of
these sites have been re-excavated since the discovery of the Copper Scroll, and several of them have
disclosed not Temple treasure but evidence of Templar excavation made in the twelfth century
At about the time the excavations were nearing completion; Count Fulk of Anjou sped to Jerusalem
where he took the oath of allegiance to the new order. He immediately granted it an annuity of thirty
Angevin livres before returning to Anjou. When one considers that the vast majority of Knights
joining the order stayed within its ranks for their lifetime, this action by Fulk is a trifle strange. His
apparent freedom of manoeuvre can be explained by the fact that he was not only the Count of Anjou
and a Templar, but was also married to the sister of the King of Jerusalem who died childless, and that
Fulk then inherited the throne in his turn.
When the main excavations were completed in December of 1127, Hugh de Payen and several
Knights returned to France. Accompanied by André de Montbard, he travelled to Provence and then
to Northern France where they met the King of England. Having obtained safe-conduct from him,
they traversed the channel, and went north across the border to Scotland where the two Knights stayed
at Roslin with Hugh's relatives, the St. Clairs. King David of Scotland gave the Templars a grant of
land at Ballantrodoch, now called Temple after the order. This grant of land at Ballantrodoch was
followed by many similar gifts from other pious members of the aristocracy. Membership grew with
incredible speed and the order soon included representatives from all the leading families in Western
Bernard of Clairvaux persuaded the Pope that the new military order should be given papal backing
and a formal position within the Church. Thus, thanks to the action of their Cistercian patron, the
Templars gained official recognition and were granted their rule in 1128 at the Council of Troyes.
The order gained an exceptional degree of legal autonomy, which placed its activities completely
beyond the reach of bishops, kings or emperors, making it responsible through its Grand Master to the
Pope alone. Before his election, the Pope had been a Cistercian and a close friend of St. Bernard.
From the time of their foundation until the fall of Acre, the Templars exerted influence and power in
the Holy Land. Yet guarding the pilgrim routes, transporting men, materials and pilgrims from ports
in Europe played only a small part in their activities. They built castles in important defensive
positions and became the most significant military force within the Kingdom of Jerusalem. They
acquired a well-earned reputation for bravery in battle and never willingly surrendered to the enemy.
Their extensive and costly military activities in Outremer, as Palestine became known, were sustained
by the profits from their estates and activities in Western Europe.
They were great builders, erecting castles, fortified farms, barns, outbuildings, mills, chapels and
churches as well as dormitory blocks, stables and workshops. Some Templar castles, particularly in
southern Europe and the Holy Land, were built on defensive sites which posed incredible difficulties
of construction. They were particularly renowned for building castles with water gates on coasts and
rivers. The classic round Templar church, founded on octagonal geometry and supposedly based on
the design of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, became such a distinctive feature of
Templar construction that it became almost diagnostic of their activity or involvement. This type of
building formed only a small part of their church construction programme, albeit of very special and
cabalistic significance. The vast majority of Templar churches, especially those in the southern
regions of Europe, are small, undecorated, rectangular structures often with apsidal ends.
According to the ecclesiastical historian Fred Gettings, the Templars were openly involved in the
financing and construction of the Gothic cathedrals. This sudden flowering of the Gothic style of
architecture only arose after the Knights returned from their excavations in Jerusalem and cannot be
explained as an evolutionary development from the Romanesque style that preceded it. While many of
the great cathedrals were heavily influenced by Templar thinking, geometry and design, one above all
others is a hymn to their direct involvement, the Cathedral of Chartres. Constructed with almost
unbelievable speed, Chartres Cathedral is portrayed by the Church as the product of co-operative
effort by the townspeople, financed by the pilgrim trade. It is highly doubtful if the proceeds of the
pilgrimage to Chartres over the period of its construction would have paid for the creation and
installation of the stained-glass windows, much less for the construction and decoration of the entire
building. The only source of finance in Europe at that time which could have produced the resources
necessary was the Order of the Knights Templar.
It was not only the Templars who attained immense wealth, property, power and prestige after their
return from Jerusalem. Under the guiding hand of Bernard of Clairvaux the Cistercians expanded at a
similar rate. Within his lifetime they established over 300 abbeys throughout Europe, a truly
outstanding era of growth that was never even approached, much less exceeded, by any other monastic
order. The Cistercians became known as the ‘apostles of the frontier’ due to their habit of siting their
establishments in marginal lands in the mountains and barren reaches of Christian Europe. The
Templars on the other hand, owned properties in cities, at centres of pilgrimage and seaports as well as
in the countryside, strategically situated near major trade and pilgrimage routes. In England and
Wales they had over 5000 properties and over 600 more in Scotland. They owned land in Ireland, the
Low Countries, Denmark, Poland and the German states; they even had estates in Hungary guarding
the overland routes to the Holy Land. Spain, long a centre of devout pilgrimage to the shrine of St.
James of Compostela, was liberally adorned with Templar strongholds and the order played its part in
defending Christian Spain against Moorish incursions. There were many Templar establishments in
Italy, which was one of the major embarkation points on the sea routes to the kingdom of Jerusalem.
However the most important power base for the Knights Templar in Europe was the present country of
France, in the region known as the Occitan, the areas now known as Provence and the LanguedocRoussillon. Throughout these southern regions Templar holdings were plentiful, with over thirty per
cent of the total estates they owned in Europe situated in the Languedoc-Roussillon alone.
Their commercial interests were impressive and varied. Their activities included the operation of
farms, vineyards, stone quarries and mines. In order to sustain their two-fold interest in protecting
pilgrims on the one hand and maintaining communications with their operative bases in the Holy Land
on the other, the Templars operated a well-organised fleet. It included a number of highly
manoeuvrable war galleys fitted with rams and, for the purpose of carrying pilgrims, troops, horses
and commercial cargoes, a large number of merchant ships plying the Mediterranean between bases in
Italy, France, Spain and the Holy Land. Their main seat of naval power was the Island of Majorca,
while their principal port on the Atlantic coast was the highly fortified harbour of La Rochelle. Within
fifty years of their foundation, they had become a commercial force equal in power to many states.
Within a hundred years they had developed into the medieval precursors of multi-national
conglomerates with interests in every form of commercial activity of that time and were far richer than
any kingdom in Europe.
The Templars developed sophisticated and coded means of communication which transcended the
linguistic barriers which otherwise would have fragmented and diffused the commercial impact of
their activities. Among the principal items they traded were those which we would describe as
‘technology and ideas’, for the Templar communication network was the principal route by which
knowledge of astronomy, mathematics, herbal medicine and healing skills made their way from the
Holy Land to Europe. Among the technological advances brought back by the warrior Knights were
mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, the telescope and a financial instrument, which they acquired from the
Sufis of Islam, known as ‘the note of hand’.
Their declared objective of protecting the pilgrimage routes was not restricted to travel to the Holy
Land; they policed all the other pilgrim routes as well. A complex series of communication networks
linked every part of Europe to the major international sites of pilgrimage in Jerusalem, Rome and,
most important of all in the twelfth to fourteenth centuries, St. James of Compostela in Spain. These
routes alone linked all the major population centres in Europe. In addition to these were all the
national sites of pilgrimage, such as Canterbury in England, Chartres, Mont-St.-Michel, Rocamadour
and the many other sites of veneration of the Black Madonna in France. With Templar protection,
travel by pilgrim or trader alike along the major routes of Europe was now possible in comparative
safety and freedom from extortion or assault. One other innovation made by the Templars further
enhanced the safety of trade and travel. This was the creation of an efficient and sophisticated
banking system.
Using their own commercial insights as well as techniques which they adopted from their Muslim
opponents in the east, they developed the concept of financial transfer by ‘note of hand’ into
something like its modern equivalent, developed the banker's cheque and the precursor of the credit
card. Templar banking practise was not restricted to the pilgrimage trade; they also arranged safe
transfer of funds for international and local trade, the Church and the State. In the medieval era it was
forbidden for Christians to charge interest on loans and therefore money lending had been traditionally
restricted to the Jews. The Knights Templar found a way around this restriction, which allowed them
to lend considerable sums of money at interest without being subjected to the charge of usury,
charging ‘rent’ rather than interest for their services rendered. Templar wealth was such that their
financial services were not only sought by the merchants and landowners of feudal Europe, but by the
princes of the Church and State. The Knights lent to bishops, as well as to princes, kings and
emperors. Within the twin embrace of financial security and safe travel, European commercial life
was transformed. Safe and effective trade over longer distances led to the accumulation of capital and
the emergence of a newly prosperous merchant class, the urban bourgeoisie. The newfound wealth of
the city merchants changed the balance of economic power away from the feudal lords to the
merchants in the growing towns and cities. With the peace and tranquillity of the countryside now
ensured by the activities of the Knights Templar the barons began to lose the raison d'être on which
their power was based. The various activities of the Templars are like a huge mosaic of individual
pieces, which together form a picture, which in turn accurately predicted the future. The order was not
merely the medieval precursor of the modem multinational conglomerate but was in many respects an
early embryonic form of the European Union. However, success, wealth and power stimulated
jealousy and resentment, especially from those who were heavily in debt to the order.
Philip le Bel, the King of France, was one monarch among many who was heavily in their debt. He
also had a further cause for resentment, for when as a young man, his application to join their ranks
had been refused. Philip knew that there had been contact between the Templars and Islam and links
had also been proved between the Knights and the Cathars. Certain Knights who had been expelled
from the order were bribed or blackmailed into making accusations of heresy against their former
brothers. The ideal mechanism for this type of political prosecution had already been perfected, for the
Inquisition had honed its evil arts of torture, secret trial and condemnation during its sixty-year
novitiate in the campaign against the Cathars.
On Friday the thirteenth of October 1307, Jaques de Molay, Grand Master of the Templars, and sixty
of his senior Knights were arrested in Paris: simultaneously, many thousands of other Templars were
arrested throughout the realm of France. A few escaped and once the word got out the remainder
simply fled; an episode commemorated by the saying Friday the thirteenth, unlucky for some.
The Templar high command was tortured for several years. The financially astute monarch had the
gall to charge the order for their upkeep during the entire period of their imprisonment. The final
barbaric act of this dreadful charade took place on the Ile des Javieaux, on the 14th March 1314. The
elderly Grand Master, Jaques de Molay, and the Preceptor of Normandy, Geoffroi de Chamey, were
publicly burnt on a slow fire. Before his death de Molay prophesied the imminent demise of the King
and the Pope. Both died within the year. When the King's agents visited the Templar treasury
immediately after the first arrests, their great treasure, the very cause and objective of this brutal
enterprise, had vanished without trace, as had almost the entire Templar fleet. The King had been
foiled. French masonic ritual indicates that Scotland was designated as the place of refuge or safe
keeping for the Templar treasures.
Reactions to the suppression of the Templars varied from country to country. German Knights of the
order either joined the Hospitallers or the Teutonic Knights. In Portugal the Templars were not
suppressed at all, they simply changed their name to the Knights of Christ and carried on under royal
patronage. The Archbishop of Compostela made a vain plea for clemency for the brave Knights by
writing to the Pope begging that they be spared as they were needed for the Reconquista, the fight
against the Moors to recapture Spain for the Catholic monarchy. This pressing need for military skills,
discipline and dedication to the Christian re-conquest of Spain was fulfilled in a simple way. ExTemplars were encouraged to join similar military orders, which differed only in that they owed their
allegiance to the Spanish crown rather than the Pope. One order, that of St. James of the Sword or the
Knights of Santiago, was actually affiliated to the Knights Hospitaller in order to ensure its survival.
They too became immensely powerful and controlled more than 200 Commandaries throughout Spain
by the end of the fifteenth century. Thus Templar influence continued in mainland Europe. In France
and England some Templars joined the Knights Hospitallers, but most simply seemed to vanish.
Or did they?
Extract from The Ashlar magazine dated September 2003.