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Sunday, July 24, 2011

History of the Knights Templar

Saint Bernard de Clairvaux, the Order's patron
The history of the Knights Templar incorporates about two centuries during the Middle Ages, from the Order's founding in the early 12th century, to when it was disbanded in the early 14th century.


The Knights Templar trace their origin back to shortly after the First Crusade. Around 1119, a French nobleman from the Champagne region, Hugues de Payens, collected eight of his knight relatives including Godfrey de Saint-Omer, and began the Order, their stated mission to protect pilgrims on their journey to visit The Holy Places. They approached King Baldwin II of Jerusalem, who allowed them to set up headquarters on the southeastern side of the Temple Mount, inside the Al Aqsa Mosque. Since the Temple Mount was the site of biblical King Solomon's Temple the Order took the name "The Poor Knights of the Temple of King Solomon", which later became abbreviated to "Knights Templar".

Little was heard of the Order for their first nine years. But in 1129, after they were officially sanctioned by the church at the Council of Troyes, they became very well-known in Europe. Their fundraising campaigns asked for donations of money, land, or noble-born sons to join the Order, with the implication that donations would help both to defend Jerusalem, and to ensure the charitable giver of a place in Heaven. The Order's efforts were helped substantially by the patronage of Bernard of Clairvaux, the leading churchman of the time, and a nephew of one of the original nine knights. The Order at its outset had been subject to strong criticism, especially of the concept that religious men could also carry swords. In response to these critics, the influential Bernard of Clairvaux wrote a multi-page treatise entitled De Laude Novae Militae ("In Praise of the New Knighthood"), in which he championed their mission and defended the idea of a military religious order by appealing to the long-held Christian theory of just war, which legitimated “taking up the sword” to defend the innocent and the Church from violent attack. By so doing, Bernard legitimised the Templars, who became the first "warrior monks" of the Western world. Bernard wrote:

[A Templar Knight] is truly a fearless knight, and secure on every side, for his soul is protected by the armor of faith, just as his body is protected by the armor of steel. He is thus doubly-armed, and need fear neither demons nor men.

Donations to the Order were considerable. The King of Aragon, in the Iberian Peninsula, left large tracts of land to the order upon his death in the 1130s. New members to the Order were also required to swear vows of poverty, and hand over all of their goods to the monastic brotherhood. This could include land, horses and any other items of material wealth, including labor from serfs, and any interest in any businesses.

Map of Jerusalem, showing the location of the Templar headquarters
In 1139, even more power was conferred upon the Order by Pope Innocent II, who issued the papal bull, Omne Datum Optimum. It stated that the Knights Templar could pass freely through any border, owed no taxes, and were subject to no one's authority except that of the Pope. It was a remarkable confirmation of the Templars and their mission, which may have been brought about by the Order's patron, Bernard of Clairvaux, who had helped Pope Innocent in his own rise.

The Order grew rapidly throughout Western Europe, with chapters appearing in France, England, and Scotland, and then spreading to Spain and Portugal.

The Crusades and the Knights Templar

The Knights Templar were the elite fighting force of their day, highly trained, well-equipped and highly motivated; one of the tenets of their religious order was that they were forbidden from retreating in battle, unless outnumbered three to one. Not all Knights Templar were warriors. The mission of most of the members was one of support – to acquire resources which could be used to fund and equip the small percentage of members who were fighting on the front lines. Because of this infrastructure, the warriors were well-trained and very well-armed. Even their horses were trained to fight in combat, kicking or biting the enemies. The combination of soldier and monk was also a powerful one, as to the Templar knights, martyrdom in battle was one of the most glorious ways to die. Their code required them to stay on in battle almost to the point of recklessness, and they were forbidden to retreat unless outnumbered by 3-to-1, and even then only by order of their commander, or if the Templar flag went down.

The Templars were also shrewd tacticians, following the dream of Saint Bernard who had declared that a small force, under the right conditions, could defeat a much larger enemy. One of the key battles in which this was demonstrated was in 1177, at the Battle of Montgisard. The famous Muslim military leader Saladin was attempting to push toward Jerusalem from the south, with a force of 26,000 soldiers. He had pinned the forces of Jerusalem's King Baldwin IV, about 500 knights and their supporters, near the coast, at Ascalon. Eighty Templar knights and their own entourage attempted to reinforce. They met Saladin's troops at Gaza, but were considered too small a force to be worth fighting, so Saladin turned his back on them and headed with his army towards Jerusalem.

Once Saladin and his army had moved on, the Templars were able to join King Baldwin's forces, and together they proceeded north along the coast. Saladin had made a key mistake at that point – instead of keeping his forces together, he permitted his army to temporarily spread out and pillage various villages on their way to Jerusalem. The Templars took advantage of this low state of readiness to launch a surprise ambush directly against Saladin and his bodyguard, at Montgisard near Ramla. Saladin's army was spread too thin to adequately defend themselves, and he and his forces were forced to fight a losing battle as they retreated back to the south, ending up with only a tenth of their original number. The battle was not the final one with Saladin, but it bought a year of peace for the Kingdom of Jerusalem, and the victory became a heroic legend.

Another key tactic of the Templars was that of the "squadron charge". A small group of knights and their heavily-armed warhorses would gather into a tight unit which would gallop full speed at the enemy lines, with a determination and force of will that made it clear that they would rather commit suicide than fall back. This terrifying onslaught would frequently have the desired result of breaking a hole in the enemy lines, thereby giving the other Crusader forces an advantage.

The Templars, though relatively small in number, routinely joined other armies in key battles. They would be the force that would ram through the enemy's front lines at the beginning of a battle, or the fighters that would protect the army from the rear. They fought alongside King Louis VII of France, and King Richard I of England. In addition to battles in Palestine, members of the Order also fought in the Spanish and Portuguese Reconquista.


Though initially an Order of poor monks, the official papal sanction made the Knights Templar a charity across Europe. Further resources came in when members joined the Order, as they had to take oaths of poverty, and therefore often donated large amounts of their original cash or property to the Order. Additional revenue came from business dealings. Since the monks themselves were sworn to poverty, but had the strength of a large and trusted international infrastructure behind them, nobles would occasionally use them as a kind of bank or power of attorney. If a noble wished to join the Crusades, this might entail an absence of years from their home. So some nobles would place all of their wealth and businesses under the control of Templars, to safeguard it for them until their return. The Order's financial power became substantial, and the majority of the Order's infrastructure was devoted not to combat, but to economic pursuits.

Knights Templar playing chess, 1283.
By 1150, the Order's original mission of guarding pilgrims had changed into a mission of guarding their valuables through an innovative way of issuing letters of credit, an early precursor of modern banking. Pilgrims would visit a Templar house in their home country, depositing their deeds and valuables. The Templars would then give them a letter which would describe their holdings. Modern scholars have stated that the letters were encrypted with a cipher alphabet based on a Maltese Cross; however there is some disagreement on this, and it is possible that the code system was introduced later, and not something used by the medieval Templars themselves. While traveling, the pilgrims could present the letter to other Templars along the way, to "withdraw" funds from their account. This kept the pilgrims safe since they were not carrying valuables, and further increased the power of the Templars.

The Knights' involvement in banking grew over time into a new basis for money, as Templars became increasingly involved in banking activities. One indication of their powerful political connections is that the Templars' involvement in usury did not lead to more controversy within the Order and the church at large. Officially the idea of lending money in return for interest was forbidden by the church, but the Order sidestepped this with clever loopholes, such as a stipulation that the Templars retained the rights to the production of mortgaged property. Or as one Templar researcher put it, "Since they weren't allowed to charge interest, they charged rent instead."

Their holdings were necessary to support their campaigns; in 1180, a Burgundian noble required 3 square kilometres of estate to support himself as a knight, and by 1260 this had risen to 15.6 km². The Order potentially supported up to 4,000 horses and pack animals at any given time, if provisions of the rule were followed; these horses had extremely high maintenance costs due to the heat in Outremer, and had high mortality rates due to both disease and the Turkish bowmen strategy of aiming at a knight's horse rather than the knight himself. In addition, the high mortality rates of the knights in the East (regularly ninety percent in battle, not including wounded) resulted in extremely high campaign costs due to the need to recruit and train more knights. In 1244, at the battle of La Forbie, where only thirty-three of 300 knights survived, it is estimated the financial loss was equivalent to one-ninth of the entire Capetian yearly revenue.

The Templars' political connections and awareness of the essentially urban and commercial nature of the Outremer communities naturally led the Order to a position of significant power, both in Europe and the Holy Land. They owned large tracts of land both in Europe and the Middle East, built churches and castles, bought farms and vineyards, were involved in manufacturing and import/export, had their own fleet of ships, and for a time even owned the entire island of Cyprus. The Knights Templar were truly part of the fabric of everyday society in Europe for nearly 200 years.


Their success attracted the concern of many other orders, with the two most powerful rivals being the Knights Hospitaller and the Teutonic Knights. Various nobles also had concerns about the Templars as well, both for financial reasons, and nervousness about an independent army that was able to move freely through all borders.

The Battle of Hattin
The long-famed military acumen of the Templars began to stumble in the 1180s. On July 4, 1187 came the disastrous Battle of the Horns of Hattin, a turning point in the Crusades. It again involved Saladin, who had been beaten back by the Templars in 1177 in the legendary Battle of Montgisard near Tiberias, but this time Saladin was better prepared. Further, the Grand Master of the Templars was involved in this battle, Gerard de Ridefort, who had just achieved that lifetime position a few years earlier. He was not known as a good military strategist, and made some deadly errors, such as venturing out with his force of 80 knights without adequate supplies or water, under the devastating desert sun. The Templars were overcome by the desert heat within a day, and then surrounded and massacred by Saladin's army. Ridefort then made a further error which was destined to demoralize the entire Templar Order: rather than fighting to the death as was the Templar mandate, he was captured, and allowed himself to be ransomed by surrendering Gaza to Saladin. Ridefort tried to attack Saladin's forces again a few months later at the Siege of Acre, but this too ended in failure and capture, only this time he was beheaded.

The battle marked a turning point in the Crusades, and within the year the Muslims had re-taken Jerusalem. This shook the foundation of the Templars, whose entire reason for being had been to support the efforts in the Holy Land. They attempted to drum up more support among European nobility to return to battle, but after the fallibility shown by Grand Master Gerard de Ridefort, the French withdrew their own support of the war. Without the support of other countries, even the remarkable leadership of King Richard the Lion-Hearted could not prevail. The Templars suffered loss after loss, such as 1191's Battle of Jaffa. In one disastrous battle in 1244, 348 Templars were wounded, and 312 killed. Additional crusades led by Louis IX of France and Edward I of England were unsuccessful. With each new loss, such as 1250's Battle of al-Mansurah or the 1266 Siege of Safad, Europe had less interest in pursuing the losing battles of the Crusades. The Templars continued to lose more and more land, and after the Siege of Acre in 1291, they were forced to relocate their headquarters to the island of Cyprus.

Jacques de Molay, who was to be the last of the Order's Grand Masters, took office around 1292. One of his first tasks was to tour across Europe, to raise support for the Order and try to organise another Crusade. He met the newly-invested Pope Boniface VIII, who agreed to grant the Templars the same privileges at Cyprus as they had held in the Holy Land. Charles II of Naples and Edward I also pledged varying types of support, either continuing to exempt the Templars from taxes, or pledging future support towards building a new army.

Final attempts to regain the Holy Land (1298–1300)

In 1298 or 1299, the military orders (the Knights Templar and Knights Hospitaller) and their leaders, including Jacques de Molay, Otton de Grandson and the Great Master of the Hospitallers, briefly campaigned in Armenia, in order to fight off an invasion by the Mamluks. They were not successful and soon the fortress of Roche-Guillaume in the Belen pass, the last Templar stronghold in Antioch, was lost to the Muslims.

In 1300, the Templars, along with the Knights Hospitaller and forces from Cyprus attempted to retake the coastal city of Tortosa. They were able to take the Island of Arwad, near Tottosa, but lost it soon after. With the loss of Arwad, the Crusaders had lost their last foothold in the Holy Land.

Though they still had a base of operations in Cyprus, and controlled considerable financial resources, the Order of the Templars became an Order without a clear purpose or support, but which still had enormous financial power. This unstable situation contributed to their downfall.


At the time of their arrest, the Order of the Temple, Knights Templars had amassed great wealth, though not as much as the Hospitallers. When they were in the Holy Land and upon their return, they were exempt from all taxes and had many privileges. They loaned enormous amounts of money to the Kings of both England and France as well as many great nobles. For the explanation of Philip IV of France's persecution of the Templars we need hardly look further than to financial considerations. "The wealth of the Order was more than sufficient to excite the lust of royal freebooters, and its power and privileges quite enough to arouse distrust in the mind of a less suspicious despot than Philip le Bel. He was already deeply in debt to them."

One example of many is that in 1299, the Order loaned to Philip the enormous sum of five hundred thousand livres for the dowry of his sister. He was also in desperate straits for money to meet the endless drain of the Flemish War. He had imposed taxes until some of his subjects were in revolt, and others were on the verge of it. When in extreme financial straits he debased the coinage until a popular insurrection was excited in Paris. During the insurrection it was in the Temple that he took refuge, and it was the Templars that defended him against the assaults of the mob. All these obligations were too great to be incurred by a monarch who was striving to render himself absolute. His resources were exhausted and his scruples were few. If it be asked why he attacked the Templars rather than the Hospitallers, the answer is probably to be found in the fact that the Temple was the weaker of the two, while the secrecy shrouding its ritual rendered it an object of popular suspicion.

The plan was laid. Philip's ministers and agents—Guillaume de Nogaret, Guillaume de Plaisian, Eenaiid de Roye, and Enguerrand de Marigny were quite able to appreciate such an opportunity to replenish the royal exchequer; in addition they were at no loss to find testimony upon which to frame a formidable list of charges on the Templars, for history had already shown how readily evidence was procured from apparently respectable witnesses convicting Boniface VIII of crimes equally atrocious. Expelled Templar members were also in plenty who had been ejected for their misdeeds, and who could lose nothing by gratifying their resentments. Apostates also were there who had fled from the Order and were liable to imprisonment if caught, besides the crowd of worthless liars whom the royal agents could always secure when evidence was needed for any purpose wanted. These were quietly collected by Guillaume de Nogaret, and kept in the greatest secrecy at Corbeil under charge of the Dominican, Humbert. Heresy was, of course, the most available charge to bring.

The Inquisition was there as an unfailing instrument to secure conviction. Popular rumour, no matter by whom affirmed, was sufficient to require arrest and trial, and when once on trial there were few indeed from whom the inquisitorial process could not wring conviction. When once the attempt was determined upon the result was inevitable.

The final fall of the Templars may have started over the matter of another loan. The young Philip IV, King of France (also known as "Philip the Fair") had needed cash for his war with the English and asked the Templars for more money. They refused. The King assigned himself the right to tax the French clergy, and he tried to get the Pope to excommunicate the Templars, but Pope Boniface VIII refused, instead issuing a Papal Bull in 1302 to reinforce that the Pope had absolute supremacy over earthly power, even above a king, and excommunicated King Philip instead. The king responded by sending his councillor, Guillaume de Nogaret, in a plot to kidnap the Pope from his castle in Anagni in September 1303, charging him with dozens of trumped-up charges such as sodomy and heresy. This outrageous incident inspired Dante Alighieri in his Divine Comedy: the new Pilate has imprisoned the Vicar of Christ. The people of Anagni rose up and rescued the aged Boniface VIII, but he died only a month later from shock due to the ill treatment.

Pope Boniface's successor, Benedict XI, lifted the excommunication of Philip IV but refused to absolve de Nogaret, excommunicating him and all the other Italian kidnap co-conspirators on June 7, 1304. Benedict died just eight months later in Perugia, perhaps from poisoning by an agent of Nogaret. There followed a year of dispute among the French and Italian cardinals as to the next Pope, before deciding on the non-Italian Bertrand de Goth (Clement V), a childhood friend of Philip, in June 1305. Clement withdrew the Papal Bulls of Boniface VIII which had conflicted with Philip IV's plans, created nine more French cardinals, and, after a failed attempt to unite the Templars and the Hospitallers, agreed to Philip IV's demands for an investigation of the Templars. Pope Clement also moved the papacy from the Italian Anagni to the more palatable (and controllable) French Avignon, initiating the period called the Avignon Papacy.

King Philip had other reasons to mistrust the Templars, as the organization had declared its desire to form its own state, similar to how the Teutonic Knights had founded Prussia. The Templars' preferred location for this was in the Languedoc of southeastern France, but they had also made a plan for the island of Cyprus. In 1306, the Templars had supported a coup on that island, which had forced King Henry II of Cyprus to abdicate his throne in favor of his brother, Amalric of Tyre. This probably made Philip particularly uneasy, since just a few years earlier he had inherited land in the region of Champagne, France, which was the Templars' headquarters. The Templars were already a "state within a state", were institutionally wealthy, paid no taxes, and had a large standing army which by papal decree could move freely through all European borders, but had no presence in the Holy Land, which left the army with no battlefield. These factors, plus the fact that Philip had inherited an impoverished kingdom from his father, and was already deeply in debt to the Templars, were probably what led to his actions.

At dawn on Friday, October 13, 1307, scores of French Templars were simultaneously arrested by agents of King Philip, later to be tortured in locations such as the tower at Chinon, into admitting heresy in the Order. Over 100 charges were issued against them, the majority of them identical charges to what had been earlier issued against the inconvenient Pope Boniface VIII: accusations of denying Christ, spitting and urinating on the cross, and devil worship. The main interrogation of the Templars was under the control of the Inquisitors, a group of experienced interrogators and clergy who circulated around Europe at the beck and call of any European noble. The rules of interrogation said that no blood could be drawn, but this did nothing to stop the torture. One account told of a Templar who had fire applied to the soles of his feet, such that the bones fell out of the skin. Other Templars were suspended upside-down or placed in thumbscrews. Of the 138 Templars (many of them old men) questioned in Paris over the next few years, 105 of them "confessed" to denying Christ during the secret Templar initiations. 103 confessed to an "obscene kiss" being part of the ceremonies, and 123 said they spat on the cross. Throughout the trial there was never any physical evidence of wrongdoing, and no independent witnesses; the only "proof" was obtained through confessions induced by torture. The Templars reached out to the Pope for assistance, and Pope Clement did write letters to King Philip questioning the arrests, but took no further action.

Despite the fact that the confessions had been produced under duress, they caused a scandal in Paris, with mobs calling for action against the blaspheming Order. In response to this public pressure, along with more bullying from King Philip, Pope Clement issued the bull Pastoralis Praeeminentiae, which instructed all Christian monarchs in Europe to arrest all Templars and seize their assets. Most monarchs simply didn't believe the charges, though proceedings were started in England, Iberia, Germany, Italy, and Cyprus, with the likelihood of a confession being dependent on whether or not torture was used to extract it.

The dominant view is that Philip, who seized the treasury and broke up the monastic banking system, was jealous of the Templars' wealth and power, and frustrated by his enormous debt to them, sought to seize their financial resources for himself by bringing blatantly false charges against them at the Tours assembly in 1308. It is almost impossible to believe, that, under the influence of his carefully chosen advisors, the same that has persecuted Boniface, he actually believed the charges to be true. It is widely accepted that Philip had clearly made up the accusations, some nearly identical to those made against Boniface, and did not believe any of the Templars to have been party to such activities. It is a fact that he had invited Jacques de Molay to be a pall-bearer at the funeral of the King's sister on the very day before the arrests.

The arrests caused some shifts in the European economy, from a system of military fiat back to European money, removing this power from Church orders. Seeing the fate of the Templars, the Hospitallers of St John of Jerusalem and of Rhodes were also convinced to give up banking at this time.


Pope Clement V
In 1312, after the Council of Vienne, and under extreme pressure from King Philip IV, Pope Clement V issued an edict officially dissolving the Order. Many kings and nobles who had been supporting the Knights up until that time, finally acquiesced and dissolved the orders in their fiefs in accordance with the Papal command. Most were not so brutal as the French. In England, many Knights were arrested and tried, but not found guilty.

Much of the Templar property outside of France was transferred by the Pope to the Knights Hospitaller, and many surviving Templars were also accepted into the Hospitallers. In the Iberian Peninsula, where the king of Aragon was against giving the heritage of the Templars to Hospitallers (as commanded by Clement V), the Order of Montesa took Templar assets.

The order continued to exist in Portugal, simply changing its name to the Order of Christ. This group was believed to have contributed to the first naval discoveries of the Portuguese. Prince Henry the Navigator led the Portuguese order for 20 years until the time of his death.

Even with the absorption of Templars into other Orders, there are still questions as to what became of all of the tens of thousands of Templars across Europe. There had been 15,000 "Templar Houses", and an entire fleet of ships. Even in France where hundreds of Templars had been rounded up and arrested, this was only a small percentage of the estimated 3,000 Templars in the entire country. Also, the extensive archive of the Templars, with detailed records of all of their business holdings and financial transactions, was never found. By papal bull it was to have been transferred to the Hospitallers, whose library was destroyed in the 16th century by Turkish invaders. Some scholars believe that some of the Templars fled into the Swiss Alps, as there are records of Swiss villagers around that time suddenly becoming very skilled military tacticians. An attack was led by Leopold I of Austria, who was attempting to take control of the St. Gotthard Pass with a force of 5,000 knights. His force was ambushed and destroyed by a group of about 1,500 Swiss peasants. Up until that point, the Swiss really had no military experience, but after that battle, the Swiss became renowned as seasoned fighters. Some folk tales from the period describe how there were "armed white knights" who came to help them in their battles.

Little is known about what became of the Templar's fleet of ships. There is record of 18 Templar ships being in port at La Rochelle, France on October 12, 1307 (the day before Friday the 13th). But the next day, the fleet had vanished.

Heresy, Blasphemy, and other charges

The incontrovertibility of the evidence that the Templar priests did not mutilate the words of consecration in the mass is furnished in the Cypriote proceedings by ecclesiastics who had long dwelt with them in the East.

Debate continues as to whether the accusation of religious heresy had merit by the standards of the time. Under torture, some Templars admitted to homosexual acts, and to the worship of heads and an idol known as Baphomet. Their leaders later denied these admissions, and for that were executed. Some scholars, such as Malcolm Barber, Helen Nicholson and Peter Partner, discount these as forced admissions, typical during the Medieval Inquisition.

The majority of the charges were identical to other people being tortured by the Inquisitors, with one exception: head worship. The Templars were specifically charged with worshipping some type of severed head; a charge which was made only against Templars. The descriptions of the head allegedly venerated by the Templars were varied and contradictory in nature. Quoting Norman Cohn:

The manuscript illustration (c. 1350) alludes to the accusation of "obscene kisses" at the base of the spine
Some describe it as having three faces, others as having four feet, others as being simply a face with no feet. For some it was a human skull, embalmed and encrusted with jewels; for others it was carved out of wood. Some maintained that it came from the remains of a former grand master of the order, while others were equally convinced that it was Baphomet – which in turn was interpreted as 'Mohammed'. Some saw it as having horns.

Barber has linked this charge to medieval folklore about magical heads, and the popular medieval belief that the Muslims worshipped idols. Some argue it referred to rituals involving the alleged relics of John the Baptist, Euphemia, one of Ursula's eleven maidens, and/or Hugues de Payens rather than pagan idols.

The charges of heresy included spitting, trampling, or urinating on the cross; while naked, being kissed obscenely by the receptor on the lips, navel, and base of the spine; heresy and worship of idols; institutionalized homosexuality; and also accusations of contempt of the Holy Mass and denial of the sacraments. Barbara Frale has suggested that these acts were intended to simulate the kind of humiliation and torture that a Crusader might be subjected to if captured by the Saracens. According to this line of reasoning, they were taught how to commit apostasy with the mind only and not with the heart.

The accusation of venerating Baphomet is more problematic. Karen Ralls has noted, "There is no mention of Baphomet either in the Templar Rule or in other medieval period Templar documents". The late scholar Hugh J. Schonfield speculated that the chaplains of the Knights Templar created the term Baphomet through the Atbash cipher to encrypt the Gnostic term Sophia (Greek for "wisdom") due to the influence of hypothetical Qumran Essene scrolls, which they may have found during archaeological digs in the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

Roman Catholic Church's position

Jacques de Molay, nineteenth-century color lithograph by Chevauchet
The papal process started by Pope Clement V, to investigate both the Order as a whole and its members individually found virtually no knights guilty of heresy outside of France. Fifty-four knights were executed in France by French authorities as relapsed heretics after denying their original testimonies before the papal commission; these executions were motivated by Philip's desire to prevent Templars from mounting an effective defence of the Order. It failed miserably, as many members testified against the charges of heresy in the ensuing papal investigation.

Despite the poor defense of the Order, when the papal commission ended its proceedings on June 5, 1311, it found no evidence that the Order itself held heretical doctrines, or used a "secret rule" apart from the Latin and French rules. On October 16, 1311, at the General Council of Vienne held in Dauphiné, the council voted for the maintenance of the Order.

But on March 22, 1312, Clement V promulgated the bull Vox in excelsis in which he stated that although there was not sufficient reason to condemn the Order, for the common good, the hatred of the Order by Philip IV, the scandal brought about by their trial, and the likely dilapidation of the Order that would result from the trial, the Order was to be suppressed by the pope’s authority over it. But the order explicitly stated that dissolution was enacted, "with a sad heart, not by definitive sentence, but by apostolic provision."

This was followed by the papal bull Ad Providum on May 2, 1312, which granted all of the Order's lands and wealth to the Hospitallers so that its original purpose could be met, despite Philip's wishes that the lands in France pass to him. Philip held onto some lands until 1318, and in England the crown and nobility held a great deal until 1338; in many areas of Europe the land was never given over to the Hospitaller Order, instead taken over by nobility and monarchs in an attempt to lessen the influence of the Church and its Orders. Of the knights who had not admitted to the charges, against those whom nothing had been found, or those who had admitted but been reconciled to the Church, some joined the Hospitallers (even staying in the same Templar houses); others joined Augustinian or Cistercian houses; and still others returned to secular life with pension. In Portugal and Aragon, the Holy See granted the properties to two new Orders, the Order of Christ and the Order of Montesa respectively, made up largely of Templars in those kingdoms. In the same bull, he urged those who had pleaded guilty be treated “according to the rigours of justice.“

In the end, the only three accused of heresy directly by the papal commission were Jacques de Molay, Grand Master of the Knights Templar, and his two immediate subordinates; they were to renounce their heresy publicly, when de Molay regained his courage and proclaimed the order's and his innocence along with Geoffrey de Charney. The two were arrested by French authorities as relapsed heretics and burned at the stake in 1314. Their ashes were then ground up and dumped into the Seine, so as to leave no relics behind.

Two Templars burned at the stake, from a French 15th century manuscript
In England the Crown was also deeply in debt to the Templars, and probably on that basis, the Templars were also persecuted in England, their lands forfeited and taken by others, (the last private owner being the favorite of Edward II, Hugh le Despenser). Many of Templars in England were killed; some fled to Scotland and other places. In France, Philip IV, who was also coincidentally in terrible financial debt to the Templars was perhaps the more aggressive persecutor. So widely was the injustice of Philip's rage against the Templars perceived that the "Curse of the Templars" became legend: Reputedly uttered by the Grand Master Jacques de Molay upon the stake whence he burned, he adjured: "Within one year, God will summon both Clement and Philip to His Judgment for these actions." The fact that both rulers died within a year, as predicted, only heightened the scandal surrounding the suppression of the Order. The source of this legend does not date from the time of the execution of Jacques de Molay.

Chinon and Absolution

In 2002, Barbara Frale found a copy of the Chinon Parchment in the Vatican Secret Archives, a document which indicated that Pope Clement V absolved the leaders of the Order in 1308. She published her findings in the Journal of Medieval History in 2004 and the document was published under the Vatican imprimatur in the Autumn of 2007.

Knights Templar Seal

The Master of the Knights Templar's great seal was double-sided and showed the picture of The Dome of the Rock (some opinions are that the picture represents a circular dome of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre) on one side and the Order's symbol of two knights on one horse on the other side. There was also a smaller, single-sided seal, which showed the Dome of the Rock (or the circular dome of the Holy Sepulchre). Every Grand Master seal shares distinctive characteristics. In order to avoid misuse, special measures were taken regarding the seals. They were kept in a locked compartment which required three keys to open. The Grand Master himself kept one of these keys, and two of his high officials held the others. The forgery of the seals was a very difficult process because each seal was unique and hand made.


The officials of religious orders had their own seals to validate documents approved by the order. The seal was the equivalent of a modern day signature. Furthermore, in a time when the majority of people were illiterate, the seal was an acknowledgment of a document's authenticity. A seal was a declaration that the person or group whose seal was affixed validated the content of the document, even if they couldn't sign their names. The Templars, like any other individual or group, would have needed a seal whose imagery expressed something positive and fundamental about their organization.

Zonal Distribution of seals of the Knights Templar

According to a papal bull issued by Innocent IV in 1251, it was customary for successive provincial masters to use the same seal. When the province of Provence and certain parts of Spain were divided into two some changes were made. The master of Provence continued to use an Agnus Dei seal, but the seal of the Aragonese master William of Cardona, although round (29 mm. in diameter) and of black or dark-green wax, depicted a knight on horseback, carrying a lance and shield, on which was a cross bearing the legend: S. MINISTRI TEMPLI 1 ARAGON 7 CATALON ("Seal of the minister of the Temple in Aragon and Catalonia") . This form of seal was also used by later Aragonese provincial masters. Sigilum Xpisti ("Seal of Christ")

Templars Seal Themes

Dome of the Rock and Al Aksa

MILITIE TEMPLI SALMO Artistic representation
The reverse of Bertrand de Blancafort's seal, Master of the Temple 1168 in Staatsarchiv Amberg

The reverse of Grand Master William de Chartres seal from 1214 also depicts the Dome of the Rock.

Agnus Dei

Seal of Robert of Sandford,the Master of the Temple in 1241 in the British Library
In heraldry, a Lamb of God (or paschal lamb, or agnus Dei) is a lamb passant proper, with a halo or charged with a cross gules, and the dexter forelimb reflexed over a cross staff from which a pennon of St. George (Argent a cross gules) is flotant. The seals of the Masters of the Temple in England: of Aimery de St Maur, 1200, Robert of Sandford, 1241, Richard of Hastings, 1160–85, and William de la More, 1304, showed the agnus Dei.

SIGILLVM TEMPLI The obverse of a seal used by William de la More, master, 1304, resembles the above text . The reverse, a small oval counter-seal, with beaded borders, shows on the right a couped bust of a bearded man wearing a cap. and have the legend:— TESTIS SVM AGNI ("I am a witness to the Lamb") William de la More, styled frater Willelmus de la More miliciae. The seal is called commune sigillum capituli. The seal symbolic of their vow of poverty, showing two knights riding on one horse appears only to have been used by the order in France; there is no example of its use in England.

Some of the seals of the English Templars were a semi-typical Pascal lamb bearing sometimes, not the flag of St George (or the cross), but the Beauseant, the battle banner of the order. The motto accompanying the seal reads TESTIS SUM AGNI, (not Agnus as is correct), being the lamb of God. The translation of the Latin word AGNI raises several areas of contention, however a similar word AGNITIO translates to "of the nature of the mind or wisdom".

A Knights Templar seal
The Two Riders

The symbol

The Templar Seal showing two knights (perhaps Hugues de Payens and Godfrey de Saint-Omer) on one horse. There are many interpretations of the symbolism of this seal.

Contemporary legend held that the symbol represented the initial poverty of the order; that they could afford only a single horse for every two men. Still, the Rule of the Order from the outset permitted three horses and no more for each knight, as well as no Templars sharing the same horse.
Several masters adopted this seal from the beginning of the order until at least 1298. It is known to have been in use since 1167. The Rule forbids two riders on the same beast.
The image of two knights on the horse was widely used:

  • Matthew Paris in Chronica Majora ca 1250
  • An English monk and chronicler from St. Albans in Historia Anglorum
  • At least as early as 1158 as the seal of the Grand Master of the Temple, Bertrand de Blanchefort. This is the earliest known seal for the Grand Master of the Temple forty years after the Order was formed.
  • Use of this symbol continued under subsequent Grand Masters for as long as the Order survived, however the seal went through more than one incarnation. The Reynaut de Vichiers, who was Master of the Temple from 1255-1259 depict same images, but it is obviously not the same seal.

The Legend

Regarding the text of the seal differences can be clearly seen between the seals of the Grand Masters:

Blanchefort's seal: SIGILLUM MILITUM obverse; CHRISTI DE TEMPLO reverse
Vichiers' seal: SIGILLUM MILITUM XPISTI. Although the phrase is written using the Latin alphabet, the first two letters of Christ's name are the Greek XP (Chi Rho) rather than the Latin CHR. The XP symbol's origin lies in the early roots of Christianity, but came into popular use after the Emperor Constantine had a vision of it and, according to legend, converted to Christianity in the early 4th century. From the time of Constantine, it became one of the most significant symbols of Christianity, surpassed only by the cross itself. Its early associations with the military make it the more apt of the two symbols for the Templars. In fact the Chi Rho can also be seen on the shields of the knights on de Vichiers' seal.

The Eagle

Bertram von Esbeck, Master of the Temple in Germany, 1296 depicts an eagle with two six-pointed stars.

Double Headed Eagle
The eagle is an heraldic bird of the first order symbolising courage, determination, soaring toward great heights, power, grandeur. It is one of the most common charges on medieval heraldic shields, often denoting imperial sovereignty. The eagle is generally borne displayed; that is, upright, breast to the front, and legs, tail and wings expanded (commonly called a "spread eagle"). It signifies one eager or hot in the pursuit of an object much desired.

A Double Eagle and Eagle signifies a man of action, ever more occupied in high and weighty affairs, and one of lofty spirit, ingenious, speedy in apprehension and judicious in matters of ambiguity.

Emblematical of fortitude and magnanimity of mind. The Romans used the figure of an eagle for their ensign, and their example has been often followed. It is the Device of the Russian Empire, the Austrian Empire, the German Reichs, the United States of America and the Emperors of the French. In Blazon, when the talons, or claws and beak, are of a different tincture to the other part, it is said to be armed of such a colour. When the claws or talons are borne in arms, they should be turned towards the dexter side of the escutcheon, unless expressed to the contrary. An eagle displayed with two heads is commonly called a Spread Eagle, symbolical of the Eastern and Western Roman Empire. An eagle's leg erased at the thigh is termed á la quise.

Paris Temple


Aragon;Tortosa; Late 13th century. Depicting a cross. Legend: SIGILLUM MILICIE TEMPLI IN DERTOSA Aragon; Alfambra; 1248. Brown wax, round, 30 mm. in diameter, depicting a cross. Legend:......LUM CASTRI....

Cross pattée

A cross having arms narrow at the inner center, and very broad at the other end.

The Masters of Poitou used this seal. It has been used from the middle of the 12th century to the end of the Order.


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