The Knights Templar is believed to be a religious military order that carried out its activities for approximately two centuries during the Middle Ages. The order, which grew rapidly in membership and power, had numerous different names and its members had numerous other titles. This Western Christian military order began as a small gathering of monks. As the order increased its membership across the European countries, its members were required to live certain lifestyles as Templars.
The order was mainly active from 1119 to 1314 and it received a blessing from the Pope in around 1129. The members of the order wore white mantles with a red cross and they were mainly involved in combat during the crusades. Its influence was felt throughout Christendom and non-combatant members of the order invested heavily in other sectors of the economy. This highly secretive organization had a role to offer protection to the pilgrims who were going to the Holy Land.
The first crusade, which took place in 1099, made the city of Jerusalem to be detained. Thereafter, several religious pilgrimages were made to visit the Holy Places. As much as Jerusalem was safely guarded, the rest of the Outremer region was not since many pilgrims were robbed and murdered as they attempted to make their journey to the Holy Land. Following these threats, around 1119, the French knight Hugues de Payens and his next of kin Godfrey de Saint-Omer, decided to form a secret society to protect the pilgrims.
When the veterans of the first crusade presented this proposal to King Baldwin II of Jerusalem, he allowed them to create the monastic order. They then established their headquarters at Al Alqsa Mosque, on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, which was thought to be the ruins of the Temple of the Old Testament King Solomon. Because of this, the order was called the “Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon,” or “Templar” knights (Ralls, 147).
When the organization began, it had only nine members and they were highly dependant on donations for carrying out of their activities. The activities of the members were confined to the vows of poverty, chastity, and allegiance to the Grand Master or president, and besides their typical dressing style, they wore chainmail while in battle (Williams, 104). They fearlessly fought many battles, for example, against the Saracens, in defense of what they believed in. The poor status that the warrior monks were living in did not continue for a long time.
One of the relatives of the founding knights, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, managed to convince the Pope about its activities and the Church endorsed it in 1129. After this formal blessing, the Templars were now assured of the favor from the church. Therefore, it started to recruit more members and many people gave donations to assist the warrior monks in protecting the pilgrims.
Other kings also favored the Templars, for example, King Alfonso of Argon gave them thirty-three percent of his Spanish Empire before he died and in 1139, Pope Innocent II freed them from allegiance to the local rules. Since it had a clear objective and vast amount of resources, the influence of the Templars grew tremendously.
The Templars owned land in various places across Europe and some joined them with the intention of getting rich. However, some people criticized them. The critics felt that their merciless killing of many individuals was not in line with Christian morals. Most of their meetings were held in secret and no one knew what transpired during these meetings.
As the second crusade was about to take place, the Templars was the main army on the Christian side and they received support from all over Christendom.
They bravely battled against the Muslim group called the Assassins, who fought more mercilessly than they did. As the battle continued, Christians were being defeated and in 1187, at the battle of Hattin, Islamic troops organized under Saladin greatly defeated the outnumbered Christians. After this defeat, the Templars were compelled to relocate to other cities. Some went to Acre and some fled to Limassol.
They then decided to leave fighting and engage in other activities. They owned houses, carried out banking services to the travelers who feared being robbed, and escorted travelers using their fleets of ships. The order started to involve in politics where they served in various capacities in royal committees and councils.
The responsibility of the order was split: towards the east, they still protected the pilgrims, and towards the west, they took other jobs. Thus, the Knights Templars increased in wealth and power.
This is what is thought to have led to their dissolution. It is believed that the organization had great secrets, which could have greatly destabilized Christianity if they had been known. Others think that they possessed some great relic such as the crown of thorns, which Jesus wore on the cross, and the head of John the Baptist. It is unknown whether they truly possessed the artifacts.
Philip IV of France envied the wealth of the order and he designed ways of eliminating the Templars (Steiner and Jonas, 54). Since he did not want to pay for a loan he had taken from them, he falsely accused them of treason, obscene rituals, homosexuality, heresy, and other crimes (Dafoe, para.14).
When the charges were brought before Pope Clement V, because of Philip’s influence in the church, he allowed him to eliminate the members of the order. As the situation worsened, on Friday, October 13 1307 (a day presently considered unlucky) Philip ordered for the arrest and detention of the Templars.
Philip took control of most of their infrastructure. When the leader of the Templars, Jaques de Molay, was arrested and arraigned before a large multitude, he denounced all the confessions he had made earlier. On March 18, 1314, the last Grand Master was burnt alive and with his last words, he cursed the individuals who were responsible for his death. Within a year, both Philip IV and Pope Clement V. had passed on.
The pope ordered the relocation of the wealth of the Templars to one of their rival orders, the order of Hospitallers. As the order of the Templars was dissolved, many of its members were absorbed by the order of Hospitallers. Currently, it is thought that the Templars are existing under another name.
From the early eighteenth century, the Freemasons are believed to have incorporated a number of the Knights Templars symbols and ritual practices. Many of these are present within a Masonic body called by other different names. This group currently functions either autonomously or as a component of the York Rite in most parts of the world.
Dafoe, Stephen.”Who were the Knights Templar.” TemplarHistory.com. 31 March 2010. Web. 11 May 2010. http://blog.templarhistory.com/?p=152
Ralls, Karen. Knights Templar encyclopedia : the essential guide to the people, places, events, and symbols of the Order of the Temple. Franklin Lakes, NJ: New Page Books, 2007. Print.
Steiner, Rudolf, and Margaret Jonas. The Knights Templar : the mystery of the warrior monks. Forest Row: Rudolf Steiner Press, 2007. Print.
Williams, Paul L. The complete idiot’s guide to the crusades. Indianapolis, Ind.: Alpha, 2002. Print.