The Knights Templar were formed following the First Crusade, and although they disbanded in the 1300s, they are still the focus of myth and legend. But how much do you know about the history of the mysterious Knights Templar?
After the success of the First Crusade where Jerusalem was reclaimed from the Muslims, several groups of pilgrims from various places in Western Europe started to journey to the Holy Land. It was not an easy journey as many people were killed while crossing the Muslim-controlled territory. Sometime in the year 1118, Hugues de Payens, a knight from France, together with his eight relatives and friends, founded a military order, which they called the Poor Knights of the Temple of King Solomon, which was later renamed the Knights Templar. They were supported by the king of Jerusalem, Baldwin II and Temple Mount became their headquarters. They vowed to protect the Christians visiting the Holy Land.
Religious leaders initially criticized them. However, by 1129 they were given the formal endorsement by the Catholic Church, with the support of the very prominent abbot at that time, Bernard of Clairvaux. Although the Templars took vows of poverty, their order was allowed to accrue land and wealth and they received not only lavish donations from many regions of Europe but also found new recruits. The knights likewise adopted a more spartan code of conduct and started wearing what would become their signature garment: white habits decorated with a red cross on the chest.
Branches of the Knights Templar
Within a short time, the Templars had expanded to several thousand members, and established new chapters across Western Europe. They became known as fierce warriors for the major battles they fought during the Crusades. They were not allowed to retreat unless they were seriously outnumbered and their religious fervour gave them strength. With donations continuing to pour in, they set up a banking system so that religious pilgrims could deposit assets while still in their home country, and withdraw funds when they reached Jerusalem. The Templars gained huge financial wealth from large donations and several business ventures. During the height of their power, they owned several fleet of ships, were the primary lenders to the nobles and monarchs of Europe and even owned the island of Cyprus.
Decline of the Knights Templar
The Muslim soldiers regained Jerusalem in the latter part of the 12th century and changed the course of the Crusaders’ history. The Muslims were able to force the Knights Templar to relocate a number of times, and with the Europeans’ dwindling support for the military campaigns in Jerusalem, the popularity of the Templars began to wane as well. They also started to have skirmishes with other Christian military orders, and participated in battles that were unsuccessful. Around 1303, they no longer had a foothold in the Muslim world, and their base of operation was moved to Paris. They faced another adversary in Philip IV, the king of France, who wanted to bring them down. It could be because the Templars refused to grant him additional loans on top of his other loans or it could be because the Templars were interested in forming their own state somewhere in the southeastern part of France.
The last grand master of the Knights Templar was Jacques de Molay. He was arrested together with several other Knights on October 13, 1307. They were charged with numerous offences, such as financial corruption, fraud, homosexuality, spitting on the cross, devil worship and heresy. They were tortured brutally and under duress, many of the Templars, including de Molay, confessed. Many of the Templars were burned at the stake in Paris because they recanted the confessions they made earlier when they were tried. De Molay was also burned at the stake in 1314. The pope at that time was Clement V. He previously raised concern about the secret initiation rites conducted by the Knights Templar and actually ordered an inquiry of his own. In 1312 King Philip convinced the Pope to dissolve the Knights Templar.
The Knights Templar: Do they still exist today?
The Knights Templar were thought to have been disbanded some 700 years ago. However, there are those who believe that the order still exists and has just gone underground. In the 18th century, the Freemasons and some other organizations resurrected some of the traditions and symbols of the medieval knights. In recent years, stories surfaced, many of which found their way into books and films. Some say that the Knights Templar, while headquartered at Temple Mount, dug up the Holy Grail. Another story said that they have kept a secret that could destroy the Catholic Church.