The Order was founded in about 1118 to protect the pilgrim routes and Christian communities in the Holy Land. This was known as Outremer the kingdom “beyond the sea”. Under their first Grand Master, Hugues de Payens, the Order’s members were originally known as the Poor Knights of Christ and took monastic vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Recognising their valuable role as champions and defenders of Christendom, King Baldwin II of Jerusalem granted them for their headquarters, the buildings which were then known as the Temple of Solomon, on Temple Mount in the heart of Jerusalem – and as an obvious result they soon became known as the Order of the Temple of Jerusalem. These Templars were men of war and of prayer “Warrior Monks” and such was their fame that Abbot Bernard of Clairvaux, founder of the Cistercian Order and one of the foremost Christian scholars of his age, wrote a book in support of the Templars, entitled “In Praise of the New Knighthood”. Bernard also gave the Templars their new Rule under which they were to lead their lives and advance the Christian cause. Each Templar was to be loyal to the Order and the courage, discipline and military achievements of these warrior monks, each wearing a distinctive white mantle with a red cross, earned them the respect and admiration of all Christendom. By the middle of the twelfth century the Order had become a major force both in the Holy Land and Europe, and was answerable only to the Pope.
For two hundred years this religious-military Order fought for Christianity wherever it was threatened establishing fortress strongholds and winning many battles. Invariably the Templars were in the vanguard of the Crusader armies, and the Order’s supporters and admirers, included none other than King Richard I of England, “the Lionheart”. But whilst they were formidable warriors, the Templars were as much respected for their zeal and dedication to God as for their bravery or military prowess. By the fourteenth century whilst members of the Order still lived modestly, according to the strict Rule given to them by St Bernard of Clairvaux the Order itself had become immensely powerful and rich. Its influence extended not merely to religious or military affairs but to finance and commerce too. It was the Order’s wealth and power that attracted the envy of others, and in 1307 the French king, Philip the Fair, had all the Templars in France rounded up, accused of heresy and imprisoned. Philip had taken several large loans from the Order in Paris but was broke and unable to repay them. He persecuted the Jews, confiscated all their wealth and property, and then set his eyes on the alleged Templar treasure, reputed to be in their treasury in central Paris. However, word had been leaked of his plan to arrest all Templars at dawn on Friday 13 October 1307 (hence, the ‘unlucky’ “Friday the Thirteenth”), and most of the Templars had already left the city, sailing with the Templar fleet that was anchored at La Rochelle and when the treasury was broken into it was found to be empty apart from a few pieces of furniture. The treasure, if it ever existed, vanished and has never been seen again.Many were tortured to force them to make false confessions. These arrests were made in the early hours of the morning on Friday 13th October hence, the 'unlucky' “Friday the Thirteenth”. The confessions of heresy, though obtained through torture, led the Pope, Clement V, under further pressure from King Philip, to disband the Order in 1312.
© The Grand Priory in England of the Knights Templar, 2023
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