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.
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.
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.