The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of
Solomon (Latin: Pauperes commilitones Christi Templique Solomonici), commonly
known as the Knights Templar or the Order of the Temple (French: Ordre du Temple
or Templiers), were among the most famous of the Western Christian military
orders. The organization existed for approximately two centuries in the Middle
Officially endorsed by the Roman Catholic Church around 1129, the Order became a
favored charity throughout Christendom, and grew rapidly in membership and
power. Templar knights, in their distinctive white mantles with a red cross,
were among the most skilled fighting units of the Crusades. Non-combatant
members of the Order managed a large economic infrastructure throughout
Christendom, innovating financial techniques that were an early form of banking,
and building many fortifications across Europe and the Holy Land.
The Templars' existence was tied closely to the Crusades; when the Holy Land was
lost, support for the Order faded. Rumors about the Templars' secret initiation
ceremony created mistrust, and King Philip IV of France, deeply in debt to the
Order, took advantage of the situation. In 1307, many of the Order's members in
France were arrested, tortured into giving false confessions, and then burned at
the stake. Under pressure from King Philip, Pope Clement V disbanded the Order
in 1312. The abrupt disappearance of a major part of the European infrastructure
gave rise to speculation and legends, which have kept the "Templar" name alive
into the modern day.
After the First Crusade captured Jerusalem in 1099, many
Christian pilgrims traveled to visit what they referred to as the Holy Places.
However, though the city of Jerusalem was under relatively secure control, the
rest of the Outremer was not. Bandits abounded, and pilgrims were routinely
slaughtered, sometimes by the hundreds, as they attempted to make the journey
from the coastline at Jaffa into the Holy Land.
Around 1119, two veterans of the First Crusade, the French knight Hugues de
Payens and his relative Godfrey de Saint-Omer, proposed the creation of a
monastic order for the protection of these pilgrims. King Baldwin II of
Jerusalem agreed to their request, and gave them space for a headquarters on the
Temple Mount, in the captured Al Aqsa Mosque. The Temple Mount had a mystique,
because it was above what was believed to be the ruins of the Temple of Solomon.
The Crusaders therefore referred to the Al Aqsa Mosque as Solomon's Temple, and
it was from this location that the Order took the name of Poor Knights of Christ
and the Temple of Solomon, or "Templar" knights. The Order, with about nine
knights, had few financial resources and relied on donations to survive. Their
emblem was of two knights riding on a single horse, emphasizing the Order's
The Templars' impoverished status did not last long. They had a powerful
advocate in Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, a leading Church figure and a nephew of
one of the founding knights. He spoke and wrote persuasively on their behalf,
and in 1129 at the Council of Troyes, the Order was officially endorsed by the
Church. With this formal blessing, the Templars became a favored charity
throughout Christendom, receiving money, land, businesses, and noble-born sons
from families who were eager to help with the fight in the Holy Land. Another
major benefit came in 1139, when Pope Innocent II's papal bull Omne Datum
Optimum exempted the Order from obedience to local laws. This ruling meant that
the Templars could pass freely through all borders, were not required to pay any
taxes, and were exempt from all authority except that of the Pope.
With its clear mission and ample resources, the Order grew rapidly. Templars
were often the advance force in key battles of the Crusades, as the heavily
armoured knights on their warhorses would set out to charge at the enemy, in an
attempt to break opposition lines. One of their most famous victories was in
1177 during the Battle of Montgisard, where some 500 Templar knights helped to
defeat Saladin's army of more than 26,000 soldiers.
Although the primary mission of the Order was military, relatively few members
were combatants. The others acted in support positions to assist the knights and
to manage the financial infrastructure. The Templar Order, though its members
were sworn to individual poverty, was given control of wealth beyond direct
donations. A nobleman who was interested in participating in the Crusades might
place all his assets under Templar management while he was away. Accumulating
wealth in this manner throughout Christendom and the Outremer, the Order in 1150
began generating letters of credit for pilgrims journeying to the Holy Land:
pilgrims deposited their valuables with a local Templar preceptory before
embarking, received a document indicating the value of their deposit, then used
that document upon arrival in the Holy Land to retrieve their funds. This
innovative arrangement was an early form of banking, and may have been the first
formal system to support the use of cheques; it improved the safety of pilgrims
by making them less attractive targets for thieves, and also contributed to the
Based on this mix of donations and business dealing, the Templars established
financial networks across the whole of Christendom. They acquired large tracts
of land, both in Europe and the Middle East; they bought and managed farms and
vineyards; they built churches and castles; they were involved in manufacturing,
import and export; they had their own fleet of ships; and at one point they even
owned the entire island of Cyprus. The Order of the Knights Templar arguably
qualifies as the world's first multinational corporation.
In the mid-1100s, the tide began to turn in the Crusades. The Muslim world
had become more united under effective leaders such as Saladin, and dissension
arose among Christian factions in and concerning the Holy Land. The Knights
Templar were occasionally at odds with the two other Christian military orders,
the Knights Hospitaller and the Teutonic Knights, and decades of internecine
feuds weakened Christian positions, politically and militarily. After the
Templars were involved in several unsuccessful campaigns, including the pivotal
Battle of the Horns of Hattin, Jerusalem was captured by Saladin's forces in
1187. The Crusaders retook the city in 1229, without Templar aid, but held it
only briefly. In 1244, the Khwarezmi Turks recaptured Jerusalem, and the city
did not return to Western control until 1917 when the British captured it from
the Ottoman Turks.
The Templars were forced to relocate their headquarters to other cities in the
north, such as the seaport of Acre, which they held for the next century. But
they lost that, too, in 1291, followed by their last mainland strongholds,
Tortosa (in what is now Syria), and Atlit. Their headquarters then moved to
Limassol on the island of Cyprus, and they also attempted to maintain a
garrison on tiny Arwad Island, just off the coast from Tortosa. In 1300, there
was some attempt to engage in coordinated military efforts with the Mongols
via a new invasion force at Arwad. In 1302 or 1303, however, the Templars lost
the island to the Egyptian Mamluks in the Siege of Arwad. With the island gone,
the Crusaders lost their last foothold in the Holy Land.
With the Order's military mission now less important, support for the
organization began to dwindle. The situation was complex though, as over the two
hundred years of their existence, the Templars had become a part of daily life
throughout Christendom. The organization's Templar Houses, hundreds of which
were dotted throughout Europe and the Near East, gave them a widespread presence
at the local level. The Templars still managed many businesses, and many
Europeans had daily contact with the Templar network, such as by working at a
Templar farm or vineyard, or using the Order as a bank in which to store
personal valuables. The Order was still not subject to local government, making
it everywhere a "state within a state"—its standing army, though it no longer
had a well-defined mission, could pass freely through all borders. This
situation heightened tensions with some European nobility, especially as the
Templars were indicating an interest in founding their own monastic state, just
as the Teutonic Knights had done in Prussia and the Knights Hospitaller were
doing with Rhodes.
Arrests and dissolution
In 1305, the new Pope Clement V, based in France, sent
letters to both the Templar Grand Master Jacques de Molay and the Hospitaller
Grand Master Fulk de Villaret to discuss the possibility of merging the two
Orders. Neither was amenable to the idea, but Pope Clement persisted, and in
1306 he invited both Grand Masters to France to discuss the matter. De Molay
arrived first in early 1307, but de Villaret was delayed for several months.
While waiting, De Molay and Clement discussed charges that had been made two
years prior by an ousted Templar. It was generally agreed that the charges were
false, but Clement sent King Philip IV of France a written request for
assistance in the investigation. King Philip was already deeply in debt to the
Templars from his war with the English and decided to seize upon the rumors for
his own purposes. He began pressuring the Church to take action against the
Order, as a way of freeing himself from his debts.
On Friday, October 13, 1307 Philip ordered de Molay and scores of other French
Templars to be simultaneously arrested. The Templars were charged with numerous
offenses (including apostasy, idolatry, heresy, "obscene rituals" and
homosexuality, corruption and fraud, and secrecy). Many of the accused confessed
to these charges under torture, and these confessions, even though obtained
under duress, caused a scandal in Paris. After more bullying from Philip, Pope
Clement then issued the papal bull Pastoralis Praeeminentiae on November 22,
1307, which instructed all Christian monarchs in Europe to arrest all Templars
and seize their assets.
Templars being burned at the stakePope Clement called for papal hearings to
determine the Templars' guilt or innocence, and once freed of the Inquisitors'
torture, many Templars recanted their confessions. Some had sufficient legal
experience to defend themselves in the trials, but in 1310 Philip blocked this
attempt, using the previously forced confessions to have dozens of Templars
burned at the stake in Paris.
As for the leaders of the Order, the elderly Grand Master Jacques de Molay, who
had confessed under torture, retracted his statement. His associate Geoffrey de
Charney, Preceptor of Normandy, followed de Molay's example and insisted on his
innocence. Both men were declared guilty of being relapsed heretics, and they
were sentenced to burn alive at the stake in Paris on March 18, 1314. De Molay
reportedly remained defiant to the end, asking to be tied in such a way that he
could face the Notre Dame Cathedral and hold his hands together in prayer.
According to legend, he called out from the flames that both Pope Clement and
King Philip would soon meet him before God. Pope Clement died only a month
later, and King Philip died in a hunting accident before the end of the year.
With the last of the Order's leaders gone, the remaining Templars around Europe
were either arrested and tried under the Papal investigation (with virtually
none convicted), absorbed into other military orders such as the Knights
Hospitaller, or pensioned and allowed to live out their days peacefully. Some
may have fled to other territories outside Papal control, such as excommunicated
Scotland or to Switzerland. Templar organizations in Portugal simply changed
their name, from Knights Templar to Knights of Christ.
In 2001, a document known as the "Chinon Parchment" was found
in the Vatican Secret Archives, apparently after having been filed in the wrong
place in 1628. It is a record of the trial of the Templars and shows that
Clement absolved the Templars of all heresies in 1308 before formally disbanding
the Order in 1312.
It is currently the Roman Catholic Church's position that the medieval
persecution of the Knights Templar was unjust; that there was nothing inherently
wrong with the Order or its Rule; and that Pope Clement was pressured into his
actions by the magnitude of the public scandal and the dominating influence of
King Philip IV.
The Templars were organized as a monastic order similar to
Bernard's Cistercian Order, which was considered the first effective
international organization in Europe. The organizational structure had a strong
chain of authority. Each country with a major Templar presence (France, England,
Aragon, Portugal, Poitou, Apulia, Jerusalem, Tripoli, Antioch, Anjou, and
Hungary had a Master of the Order for the Templars in that region. All of them
were subject to the Grand Master, appointed for life, who oversaw both the
Order's military efforts in the East and their financial holdings in the West.
No precise numbers exist, but it is estimated that at the Order's peak there
were between 15,000 and 20,000 Templars, of whom about a tenth were actual
It was Bernard de Clairvaux and founder Hugues de Payens who devised the
specific code of behavior for the Templar Order, known to modern historians as
the Latin Rule. Its 72 clauses defined the ideal behavior for the Knights, such
as the types of garments they were to wear and how many horses they could have.
Knights were to take their meals in silence, eat meat no more than three times
per week, and not have physical contact of any kind with women, even members of
their own family. A Master of the Order was assigned "4 horses, and one
chaplain-brother and one clerk with three horses, and one sergeant brother with
two horses, and one gentleman valet to carry his shield and lance, with one
horse." As the Order grew, more guidelines were added, and the original list of
72 clauses was expanded to several hundred in its final form.
There was a threefold division of the ranks of the Templars: the aristocratic
knights, the lower-born sergeants, and the clergy. Knights were required to be
of knightly descent and to wear white mantles. They were equipped as heavy
cavalry, with three or four horses and one or two squires. Squires were
generally not members of the Order but were instead outsiders who were hired for
a set period of time. Beneath the knights in the Order and drawn from lower
social strata were the sergeants. They were either equipped as light cavalry
with a single horse or served in other ways such as administering the
property of the Order or performing menial tasks and trades. Chaplains,
constituting a third Templar class, were ordained priests who saw to the
Templars' spiritual needs.
The knights wore a white surcoat with a red cross and a white mantle; the
sergeants wore a black tunic with a red cross on front and back and a black or
brown mantle. The white mantle was assigned to the Templars at the Council of
Troyes in 1129, and the cross was most probably added to their robes at the
launch of the Second Crusade in 1147, when Pope Eugenius III, King Louis VII of
France, and many other notables attended a meeting of the French Templars at
their headquarters near Paris. According to their Rule, the knights were to wear
the white mantle at all times, even being forbidden to eat or drink unless they
were wearing it.
Initiation, known as Reception (receptio) into the Order, was a profound
commitment and involved a solemn ceremony. Outsiders were discouraged from
attending the ceremony, which aroused the suspicions of medieval inquisitors
during the later trials.
New members had to willingly sign over all of their wealth and goods to the
Order and take vows of poverty, chastity, piety, and obedience. Most brothers
joined for life, although some were allowed to join for a set period. Sometimes
a married man was allowed to join if he had his wife's permission, but he
was not allowed to wear the white mantle.
The red cross that the Templars wore on their robes was a symbol of martyrdom,
and to die in combat was considered a great honor that assured a place in
heaven. There was a cardinal rule that the warriors of the Order should never
surrender unless the Templar flag had fallen, and even then they were first to
try to regroup with another of the Christian orders, such as that of the
Hospitallers. Only after all flags had fallen were they allowed to leave the
battlefield. This uncompromising principle, along with their reputation for
courage, excellent training, and heavy armament, made the Templars one of the
most feared combat forces in medieval times.
Starting with founder Hugues de Payens in 1118–1119, the
Order's highest office was that of Grand Master, a position which was held for
life, though considering the martial nature of the Order, this could mean a very
short tenure. All but two of the Grand Masters died in office, and several died
during military campaigns. For example, during the Siege of Ascalon in 1153,
Grand Master Bernard de Tremelay led a group of 40 Templars through a breach in
the city walls. When the rest of the Crusader army did not follow, the Templars,
including their Grand Master, were surrounded and beheaded Grand Master Gérard
de Ridefort was beheaded by Saladin in 1189 at the Siege of Acre.
The Grand Master oversaw all of the operations of the Order, including both the
military operations in the Holy Land and Eastern Europe and the Templars'
financial and business dealings in Western Europe. Some Grand Masters also
served as battlefield commanders, though this was not always wise: several
blunders in de Ridefort's combat leadership contributed to the devastating
defeat at the Battle of Hattin. The last Grand Master was Jacques de Molay,
burned at the stake in Paris in 1314 by order of King Philip IV.
With their military mission and extensive financial
resources, the Knights Templar funded a large number of building projects around
Europe and the Holy Land. Many of these structures are still standing. Many
sites also maintain the name "Temple" because of centuries-old association with
the Templars.For example, some of the Templars' lands in London were later
rented to lawyers, which led to the names of the Temple Bar gateway and the
Temple tube station. Two of the four Inns of Court which may call members to act
as barristers are the Inner Temple and Middle Temple.
Distinctive architectural elements of Templar buildings include the use of the
image of "two knights on a single horse", representing the Knights' poverty, and
round buildings designed to resemble the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in
Modern Templar organizations
By papal decree, the property of the Templars was transferred
to the Order of Hospitallers, which also absorbed many of the Templars' members.
In effect, the dissolution of the Templars could be seen as the merger of the
two rival orders.
The story of the secretive yet powerful medieval Templars, especially their
persecution and sudden dissolution, has been a tempting source for many other
groups which have used alleged connections with the Templars as a way of
enhancing their own image and mystery. Since at least the 1700s the Freemasons
have incorporated some Templar symbols and rituals, most of which being found
within a Masonic body referred to as the United Religious, Military and Masonic
Orders of the Temple and of St John of Jerusalem, Palestine, Rhodes and Malta,
or simply the Knights Templar. This organization exists either independently or
as a part of the York Rite throughout much of the world. The Sovereign Military
Order of the Temple of Jerusalem, founded in 1804, has achieved United Nations
NGO status as a charitable organization.
There is no clear historical link between the Knights Templar, which were
dismantled in the 14th century, and any of these other organizations, of which
the earliest emerged publicly in the 18th century. However, there is often
public confusion and many overlook the 400-year gap.
Legends and relics
The Knights Templar have become associated with legends
concerning secrets and mysteries handed down to the select from ancient times.
Rumors circulated even during the time of the Templars themselves. Freemasonic
writers added their own speculations in the 19th century, and further fictional
embellishments have been added in popular novels such as Ivanhoe, Foucault's
Pendulum, and The Da Vinci Code, modern movies such as National Treasure and
video games such as "Assassin's Creed".
The Dome of the Rock, one of the structures at the Temple MountMany of the
Templar legends are connected with the Order's early occupation of the Temple
Mount in Jerusalem and speculation about what relics the Templars may have found
there, such as the Holy Grail or the Ark of the Covenant. That the Templars were
in possession of some relics is certain. Many churches still display relics such
as the bones of a saint, a scrap of cloth once worn by a holy man, or the skull
of a martyr; the Templars did the same. They were documented as having a piece
of the True Cross, which the Bishop of Acre carried into battle at the
disastrous Horns of Hattin. When the battle was lost, Saladin captured the
relic, which was then ransomed back to the Crusaders when the Muslims
surrendered the city of Acre in 1191. The Templars were known to possess the
head of Saint Euphemia of Chalcedon. The subject of relics also came up during
the Inquisition of the Templars, as several trial documents refer to the worship
of an idol of some type, referred to in some cases as a cat, a bearded head, or
in some cases as Baphomet. This accusation of idol worship levied against the
Templars has also led to the modern belief by some that the Templars practiced
witchcraft. However, modern scholars generally explain the name Baphomet from
the trial documents as simply a French misspelling of the name Mahomet
There was particular interest during the Crusader era in the Holy Grail myth,
which was quickly associated with the Templars, even in the 12th century. The
first Grail romance, the fantasy story Le Conte du Graal, was written in 1180 by
Chrétien de Troyes, who came from the same area where the Council of Troyes had
officially sanctioned the Templars' Order. In Arthurian legend, the hero of the
Grail quest, Sir Galahad (a 13th-century literary invention of monks from St.
Bernard's Cistercian Order), was depicted bearing a shield with the cross of
Saint George, similar to the Templars' insignia. In a chivalric epic of the
period, Parzival, Wolfram von Eschenbach refers to Templars guarding the Grail
Kingdom.A legend developed that, since the Templars had their headquarters at
the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, they must have excavated in search of relics,
found the Grail, and then proceeded to keep it in secret and guard it with their
lives. However, in the extensive documents of the Templar inquisition there was
never a single mention of anything like a Grail relic, let alone its possession
by the Templars. In reality, most scholars agree that the story of the Grail was
just that, a fiction that began circulating in medieval times.
One legendary object that does have some connection with the Templars is the
Shroud of Turin. In 1357, the shroud was first publicly displayed by the family
of the grandson of Geoffrey de Charney, the Templar who had been burned at the
stake with Jacques de Molay in 1314. The shroud's origins are still a matter of
controversy, but in 1988, a carbon dating analysis concluded that the shroud was
made between 1260 and 1390, a span that includes the last half-century of the
Templars' existence. The validity of the dating methodology has subsequently
been called into question, and the age of the shroud is still subject of much
Kinghts Templar Badge