A Sacred Order: Secrets of the Knights Templar

A Sacred Order: Secrets of the Knights Templar

Stephanie Schoppert - April 23, 2017

The Knights Templar was a religious order created in 1119 and recognized by papal bull in 1139. The group was active until 1312. The Knights Templar were known by a few names including the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon. But despite their name, they were among the wealthiest and most powerful religious orders of the period. While not all members of the order were combatants, the fighting skill of the group was legendary. One Knight Templar was considered to be equal to 12 regular soldiers and therefore the 2,000 combatant Knights that were members of the order were a fearsome force.

A Sacred Order: Secrets of the Knights Templar
Seal of the Knights Templar. utahyorkrite.org

The Mystery Behind the Third Seal

The third seal of the Templars is one that has many historians and religious scholars in serious debate. The seal features an image whose purpose is not fully understood. The circular seal depicts two knights riding upon one horse. The most popular explanation for the image is to represent how the individual knights within the order were poor. Together the Knights were wealthy but individually they took on a vow of poverty.

Another explanation for the image is the idea of brotherhood that existed between the Templars. The idea that they would do anything for one another. So, the two men on one horse represents a Knight going back to save his brother who had been wounded or lost his own horse.

There is a story from the history of the Knights in which there was a circumstance where two men would be riding upon the same horse. On June 7, 1192, the Crusader army marched upon the Holy City. Richard’s spies had told him that there was a supply train coming from Egypt that would relieve Saladin’s army. So, a thousand horseman from the army set out and each one of them took a foot soldier on their horse.

The foot soldier rose on the horse in front of the horseman and in this way they were able to have the large army catch the caravan off guard. The Islamic forces suffered a grievous loss with the Crusader army taking three thousand camels, three thousand horses, five hundred prisoners and a stockpile of military supplies. Never had the Crusader army been more successful against Saladin.

A Sacred Order: Secrets of the Knights Templar
Templar Knights wearing the white mantle. ancient-origins.net

The Reason for the White Mantle

To this day, the white mantle and red cross is an internationally recognized symbol for the Knights Templar. Part of the reason why this mantle is so associated with the Knights is due to the importance the Knights themselves placed upon the mantle. It was so much a part of their life that they were not to eat or converse with their brothers if they did not have their white mantle upon them.

The white color of the mantle has been associated with chastity and some have claimed that even the married men that were allowed to join the order were banned from wearing the white mantle. It was true that Knights Templar were forbidden from having any physical contact with women including members of their own family. However, this rule was true for sergeants who wore a black or brown mantle instead of the white one.

All of the mantles were graced with a large red cross. The cross is believed to have been added to the mantle in 1147 after Pope Eugenius III, King Louis VII of France and other notable figures attended a Knights Templar meeting. The red cross was meant to be a symbol of the martyrdom of the Knights who all believed that to die in combat would be a great honor.

As time passed it would also become customary for men of the order to have long thick beards. It was not a matter of Templar Rule to have the beards but by 1240 they were described as the “order of bearded brethren.” When the Knights Templar came under attack and many of them were arrested and tortured, it was common for them to be singled out by their beards.

A Sacred Order: Secrets of the Knights Templar
Templar Knights. BBC.

They Started the Banking System

The Knights Templar were an order of individually poor Knights but they were a very wealthy organization. When the order first started, it was nothing more than a group of poor monks but with the official papal sanction came the ability to operate as a charity. This changed the way that the Knights functioned because they were able to take donations.

As their membership grew so did the wealth of the order. Members were required to take a vow of poverty and therefore donated large amounts of their money to the order. They would do the same with their property. More money would come in through their business dealings. Soon the Knights Templar was known for being a wealthy and trustworthy group of monks who had a vow of poverty.

Being a trustworthy group, nobles took to using Knights as Power of Attorney. While they were off on the Crusades they left their wealth and business interests in the hands of the Order and it would be safeguarded until their return. Despite the reputation of the Knights Templar the majority of the order was non-combatants which meant there were plenty of people to manage the business dealings of the nobles.

Since the original goal of the order was to protect pilgrims, they found way to do this by allowing pilgrims to travel without valuables. A pilgrim could visit a Templar house in their home country and deposit their valuables. They would then receive a paper that told of their holdings which they could bring to any Templar house in the world and make a withdrawal. This allowed the pilgrims to have a safe way to travel with their funds and not have to fear being robbed.

A Sacred Order: Secrets of the Knights Templar
Mounted Templar Knights in battle. realmofhistory.com

Never Give Up. Never Surrender

The Knights Templar had an unparalleled reputation on the battlefield. One reason for this was because they believed that dying in combat was a great honor. They believed that if a man died in combat he would be assured a place in heaven. Therefore, it became part of the code of the Knights Templar to never surrender on the battlefield.

It developed into one of the cardinal rules of the Knights Templar that a knight should never surrender unless the Templar flag had fallen. If the Templar flag had fallen it was the duty of a Knight to join up with any other Christian order. If the flags of all Christian orders had fallen only then were they allowed to leave the battlefield.

There was a similar view on prisoners who were captured by the enemy. If an enemy attempted to ransom a Knight Templar they would only get knives and belts. The knives and belts symbolized that the Knights were fighters and fighting was their only ransom. Any true Knight would rather die than have his ransom paid. By the late 13th century this policy changed somewhat and some high-ranking members of the order were successfully ransomed.

Because of the devotion of the Knights Templar to the battlefield and combat, they were unmatched in their skill. Even through there is very little in the rules of the Templars about military training or weapons, all of the Knights of the order were highly skilled. There was also some emphasis on non-traditional weapons like crossbows in order to get the upper hand.

A Sacred Order: Secrets of the Knights Templar
Interrogation of Grandmaster Jacques de Molay of the Knights Templar. WordPress

Templars Were Tortured Until They Admitted to Crazy Secret Rituals

One of the things associated with the Templars is the idea that they were a secret society with plenty of crazy rituals. The Templars were an order of rules and tradition but none of them went against their religious values. The Templars and especially the Knights followed a strict code that always had honoring their religion at the forefront.

By the 14th century the Templars were so wealthy and influential that they were even loaning money out to Kings. King Phillip IV of France was deeply in debt to the Templars and had no way to repay them. In 1307 Pope Clement V wrote to King Phillip IV to ask him for help regarding criminal charges made by an ousted Templar. Both Pope Clement V and the Templar leaders knew the charges to be false and wanted the help of the King to investigate and disprove the charges.

Instead of helping the investigation to prove the Templars innocent, King Phillip IV decided to use them to start an inquisition against the Templars. He realized that getting the Templars dissolved would be a way to clear to his debt. He started an investigation that supposedly proved the charges true and began pressuring the church to take action against the order. Hundreds of Templars were arrested and tortured until they were willing to admit to numerous offences. They claimed that during initiation ceremonies they were forced to spit on the cross, deny Christ, sodomize other men and worship idols.

None of the claims were made without torture and King Phillip IV did not stop there. He forced the Templars to admit to corruption, fraud and secrecy with their immense amount of wealth. The inquisition against the Templars worked and in November 1307, Pope Clement issued a papal bull to arrest all Templars and seize their assets. In 1310, Pope Clement called for papal hearings to prove the innocence of the Templars but King Phillip IV blocked the attempt. He then threatened the church with military action if the Templars were not disbanded and the Pope agreed. From then on, the bizarre confessions and rituals that the Templars confessed to were associated with the order.

A Sacred Order: Secrets of the Knights Templar
A Templar Knight. History.com

The Lifestyle Was Exceedingly Strict

The Templars had a lifestyle that was completely devoted to God and their religion. In addition to always having to wear their mantle in order to display their devotion to God and the order, they had a number of rules that they had to adhere to. There were 72 clauses that described the specific code of behavior for the Templar Order and these became known as the Latin Rule. As the order progressed there were more clauses added to the list and it would eventually include several hundred different rules regarding the behavior of men in the order.

Men were expected to be free of pride and arrogance. There would be no finery or fur added to any of the dress of the Knights and any man who requested a better habit than his brothers would be given the worst. Clothes and bed sheets were given to men only upon the discretion of the master. It was believed that only a mattress, a bolster and blanket was needed for the comfort of a man in the order and anything more was at the Master’s discretion.

Talking too much was believed to be a sin and therefore there were restrictions on speaking. There was no speaking when eating. There was also to be no speaking in the evening after the men had come out of compline. If there was a matter that needed to be addressed during meals or after compline a man was to speak softly, quietly and with submission. If an emergency arose that could not wait until morning or after meals it would be up to the discretion of the master the members of the order could speak.

The Knights were bound by strict obedience to their Master. Members were not to leave the Templar house and go into the town without the permission of the Master. There were also rules against lockable purses or bags. Letters from relatives or friends were also forbidden unless under the permission of the Master who would then read the letters to him.

A Sacred Order: Secrets of the Knights Templar
Depiction of Molay being burned at the stake. WordPress

The Knights Were Not Created to be a Secret Organization

The Knights Templar were originally a very open organization with nonmembers being allowed to enter the Templar homes and the Templars were known to do good in the towns and cities that they inhabited. The restrictions and the traditions of the order were widely known by those who were interested and prior to the 14th century there were few rumors about secret initiations or dealings of the Templars.

That changed once the Templars came under attack by King Phillip IV. The members of the Order suddenly had to find ways to hide who they were in order to avoid arrest and torture. Many of them shaved their trademark beards though it was not enough to evade detection. While having a beard was not part of the rules of the order the trademark mantle was.

Once Pope Clement V dissolved the order in 1312 there were many rumors that the Templars found a way to exist out of the public eye. The papal orders required that much of the Templar holdings be turned over to another Christian order, the Knights Hospitaller. However, some Templar organizations changed their name to the Order of Christ. Some credited the Knights Templar as being too powerful to be shut out even by the Pope and the King, which is why rumors persisted as to their existence underground.

The rumors were helped by what happened at the execution of Grand Master De Molay in March 1314. As he was being burned at the stake he maintained his innocence and devotion to God. He loudly proclaimed “God knows how is wrong and has sinned. Soon a calamity will occur to those who have condemned us to death.” Pope Clement V died a month later and King Phillip IV died in a hunting accident before the year was out.

A Sacred Order: Secrets of the Knights Templar
King Baldwin II giving the Temple of Solomon to Hugues de Payens and Gaudefroy de Saint Homer. Wikipedia

They Began With Just Nine Knights Trying to Protect Pilgrims

In 1119 Hugues de Payens was a French nobleman from Champagne. He realized that the pilgrims traveling to visit Holy Places faced dangers and had little means to protect themselves. In order to protect the pilgrims, he gathered 8 of his knighted relatives and began the Order.

The nine knights approached King Baldwin II of Jerusalem and informed the King of their quest. He allowed them to set up headquarters in the Temple Mount. The Templars were allowed to stay at Aqsa Mosque which was believed to stand where in the same place where Solomon’s Temple once existed. Due to the prestige of their location they incorporated it into the name of their order. They became the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of the Christ and of the Temple of Solomon. It would eventually be shortened to the Knights Templar.

The first Knights to join Hugues de Payens were Godfrey de Saint-Omer, Payne de Monteverdi, Archambaud de St. Agnan, Andre de Montbard, Geoffrey Bison and two men who were recorded only as Rossal and Gonadmer. There is much speculation about who could have been the ninth knight. Some suggest that it might have been Count Huge of Champagne but the records show that he returned to France in 1116 and did not join the Order until 1125.

For nine years, there was very little written or recorded about the Order. In 1129 they started to rise to prominence after they were officially sanctioned by the church at the Council of Troyes. With the sanction of the church they started to collection donations of money, land and noble-sons to join the order. With the promise a spot in Heaven in return for a donation, the Knights Templar quickly became wealthy and powerful throughout Europe.

A Sacred Order: Secrets of the Knights Templar
The Chinon Parchment. ancient-origins.net

The Chinon Parchment Absolved the Knights

When the Knights Templar came under accusations of heresy many of them were to be brought before Pope Clement V at his residence in Poitiers, France. Many of the highest-ranking Knights of the order were called, including Grandmaster Jacques de Molay. However, many of them were not well enough to travel and therefore envoys were sent to Chinon to speak with the Knights in order to obtain their testimony.

What occurred at the meeting between the Knights and the cardinals at Chinon was recorded on the Chinon Parchment. All of the confessions of the Knights was written on the parchment as well as the verdict put down by the Cardinals and the Pope. The meeting took place in 1308 but the Chinon Parchment was not uncovered in the Vatican archives until 2001. The discovery of the parchment led to a much greater understanding of the Knights Templar and the persecution they underwent in the 14th century.

The Chinon Parchment absolved the Knights Templar and found that their practices were not heretical. There was no instance of sodomy among the Knights. While there may have been kissing on the lips it was done as a sign of respect and only during initiation. Accusations of denouncing God or spitting on the cross were never confirmed and seemed as more of a training to be able to resist pressure from captors.

The parchment is said to be an attempt by Pope Clement V to save the Knights Templar from King Phillip IV but his attempt largely failed. It did absolve all Knights who had confessed to heresy and it restored to them the Sacraments and the unity of the Church. While the parchment did little to save the Knights Templar in France it did allow the Knights in order countries to escape with far less bloodshed. After the Knights Templar were dissolved, they were able to join other religious orders.