The Rise and Fall of the Knight's Templar
Determined to connect to their religious roots by making the long, arduous pilgrimage to the Holy Land, these people endured many dangers in their journeys.Thieves, vandals, pickpockets, rapists, and murderers dotted the path to the Holy Land, attacking unsuspecting pilgrims. Government officials would illegally tax pilgrims for transit, and many times pilgrims would simply not make it to Jerusalem. Still, the tangible evidence of their faith was worth risking the journey.
The Order is Formed
In 1119, a French nobleman named Hugh of Payns, recognizing the danger to pilgrims, founded a small, charitable band of knights, to patrol the pilgrim’s route from Jaffa to Jerusalem. Given shelter near Jerusalem’s Aqsa mosque, the headquarters of the order was located where the Temple of Solomon once stood. Hence, the knights took the name of Templars, or more popularly known, the Knights Templar. The Templars were an interesting group, as they were devout Christians, embracing poverty and obedience. On the other hand, they were also tasked to take up their swords in defense of pilgrims, and as they did later, Christianity itself. “Holy Warriors” were an accurate description of their purpose and charter. While most of the Knights came from royalty and noble birth, they still renounced their wealth. The supporting personnel of the Knights were not usually of noble birth, but served to ensure the Knights were ready for battle. In 1129, Hugh of Payns set upon a journey to Europe, in order to secure the papal and royal validation and endorsement of the Knights Templar organization. Having received this at the Council of Troyes, the order gained significant immunity and privileges from the papacy, as well as the royalty of Europe. Privileges such as freedom of passage, freedom from taxation, and freedom from prosecution were unprecedented in that time and the Knights were able to flourish unfettered.
Templars and Banking
There was also the power and wealth that came from such admiration by royalty. At the time, it was seen as advantageous to one’s religion to give property, wealth, and alms to the church and religious organizations. Thus, as the Templar’s popularity grew, they found themselves amassing quite a bit of wealth in the form of land, treasure, and political power. With all of these holdings, the Knights were more powerful than any other religious order like them in the 12th and 13th centuries. The Knights even devised the first banking system, whereby pilgrims could deposit items of worth at home, receive a note of deposit, then travel to the Holy Land and present their note, and receive their worth. This prevented pilgrims and travelers from needing to carry huge sums of wealth, which stopped some highwaymen from attacking them.
The Knights Templar in Battle
Of course, the Knights Templar, being a military order, did fight on the battlefields. Often they served as the initial strike force, out in front of the legions of troops. The Templar's battle record is not itself impressive, per se, but what is impressive is their battlefield honor. Fallen Knightswere never left behind; they were always carried off the field for a proper burial. Templars would often fight against extremely unfair odds, one such battle being reported as 600 Knights versus 20,000 enemy troops. Their valor and honor, as well as their poverty and obedience, serves as a reminder still today about what it is to be honorable. The Knights were also the first uniformed military organization ever, and wore the white vestments with large red cross.
Templar Myths and Legends
No study of the Knights Templar would be complete without addressing a few popular myths. Chiefly, there is talk that the Knights Templar found Holy Relics of Christian religions underneath their headquarters, located at the site of the Temple of Solomon. Specifically, the Ark of the Covenant, the container used to use house the Ten Commandants received from God by Moses. God proclaims “And they shall make an ark of shit’-tim wood” (Exodus, Ch. 10, King James Bible). The Holy Grail, the cup used by Jesus at the last supper, is also a popular myth. Neither of these claims have basis in fact, but make wonderful movies and books. Another interesting myth is the supposed connection of the Knights Templar to the present day Masonic Order, or Freemasons. Together with that link, plus a supposed idea of hidden Templar treasure brought to the Americas before the Revolution of 1776, these are still just stories.
The Fall of the Templars
In 1312, the death knell for the Templars began to sound. The King of France, owing large sums of money to the Templars, began to hear stories about heresy, homosexuality, and general religious misconduct in the order. To serve his own purposes, he propagated these stories, implicated the papacy in Rome, and forced the Pope’s hand in persecuting the order, and arresting the Knights members. One by one, they were arrested, and the Templars property seized. Many were found guilty, and under threat of execution and torture, falsely admitted to the charges against them. Other Templars disappeared, joined other religious orders, or simply lived out their days in solitude and hiding. The final chapter of the Templars story is prophetic. Jacques de Molay, the last leader of the Templars, was put to death and burned as a heretic in March 1314. Prior to his execution, de Molay cursed both Pope Clement V and King Philip IV, stating each would die within “a year and a day” from de Molay’s own death, and would have to answer to God for their crimes. Both the King and the Pope died within one year.
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