The Knights Templar, fierce warriors of the Crusades and protectors of Christian pilgrims, hold a history and reputation filled with myths and unsolved mysteries.
A large organization of devout Christians formed an order, the Templar Order, during the medieval era. In the modern era, the organization is among the few secret societies yet to be fully uncovered.
Although they served as protectors and warriors, nothing prepared them for the rumors that led to their persecution.
The Crusades (1096 – 1291)
A series of religious battles took place between the western European Christians and Muslims to secure control of holy sites.
For example, the Holy Land of Jerusalem. Christians saw Jerusalem as the place where Jesus Christ died and was buried. Muslims see Jerusalem as the third most holy site where the Prophet Muhammed ascended to Heaven.
During the Crusades, the Christians’ objections shifted. They wanted to stop the expansion of Muslim states, reclaim the Holy Land in the Middle East for Christianity and recapture territories that were formerly Christian.
What Led to the Crusades?
Christian pilgrims were free to visit the church.
However, in 1077, the Muslim Seljuk Turks took control of the Holy Land. Various Muslim groups struggled for power, which made it harder for Christian pilgrims to visit. Rumors also spread of mistreatment towards local Christians and pilgrims.
The Byzantine Emperor Alexius feared the spread of Seljuk rule on his own lands and saw it as a threat to the Christian City of Constantinople. So, he appealed to the Pope for help.
In 1905, Pope Urban II promised the knights of western Europe forgiveness of their sins if they went on a crusade to win back Jerusalem for Christianity. Many responded by “taking the cross”.
The First Crusade (1096 – 1099)
Four western European countries formed four armies of Crusaders, led by Raymond of Saint-Filles, Godfrey of Bouillon, High of Vermandois, and Bohemond of Taranto.
They left for Byzantium in August 1096. However, there were others who sought to take the crusade into their own hands.
The People’s Crusade, led by Peter the Hermit, was a less organized group of knights and commoners. They set off before the Crusades, ignoring Alexius’s advice to wait for the armies, and arrived in Cibotus in early August.
The first major clash between the Crusaders and Muslims resulted in Turkish forces defeating the People’s Crusade.
Another group, led by Count Emicho, arrived in the Rhineland in 1096 and carried out the massacres of Jews in various towns, causing a crisis between Jewish and Christian relations.
The four armies arrived in Constantinople.
Upon their arrival, Alexius insisted the leaders swear their loyalty to him and recognize his authority over any land gained and conquered. Only Bohemond took the oath.
In May 1097, the Crusades and their Byzantine allies attached Nicaea (now Iznik, Turkey), the Seljuk capital in Anatolia.
The city surrendered in June 1097.
The combined forces of the Crusaders and Byzantines marched into Anatolia and captured the great Syrian city of Antioch in June 1908.
After Antioch, they marched towards Jerusalem, which the Egyptian Fatimids occupied.
The Crusaders camped outside of Jerusalem in 1099 and forced the city’s governor to surrender.
The Second Crusade (1147 – 1150)
Many Crusaders returned to their countries after the First Crusade.
Those who remained established four western settlements known as the “Crusader States”. These states that governed the conquered territory were in Jerusalem, Edessa (now Urfa, Turkey), Antioch, and Tripoli.
By 1144, Seljuk General Zangi captured Edessa, leading the Christian authorities to call for another Crusade.
The Second Crusade began in 1147 and was led by King Louis VII of France and King Conrad of Germany.
In October 1147, the Turks defeated Conrad’s forces at Dorylaeum.
King Louis and Conrad assembled their armies in Jerusalem and attacked the Syrian stronghold, Damascus, with an army of 50,000.
The Damascus ruler called on the new Seljuk ruler, Nur al-Din, for aid, but the Crusaders defeated the combined Muslim forces, thus ending the Second Crusade.
The Third Crusade (1189 – 1192)
Nur al-Din’s forces, led by General Shirkuh and Saladin, his nephew, seized Cairo and forced the Crusader army to evacuate.
After Shirkuh’s death, Saladin campaigned against the Crusaders in the Kingdom of Jerusalem. They destroyed the Crusader army in the Battle of Hattin and took back Jerusalem.
This battle motivated Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, King Philip II of France, and King Richard I, also known as Richard the Lionheart, to lead the Third Crusade.
In September 1191, King Richard’s forces defeated Saladin’s in the Battle of Arsuf, the only true battle of this crusade.
After they recaptured the city of Jaffa, King Richard established Christian control over some of the region and approached Jerusalem, but they didn’t lay siege to it.
In September 1192, Richard and Saladin signed a peace treaty. It re-established the Kingdom of Jerusalem under Christian control and ended the Third Crusade.
The Fourth Crusade (1202 – 1204)
Although there was a power struggle between Europe and Byzantium, Pope Innocent III called for a new crusade in 1198.
The Crusaders diverted their mission to topple the reigning Byzantine Emperor Alexius II in favor of his nephew, who, in 1203, became Alexius IV.
Alexius IV attempted to submit the Byzantine church to Rome but met with resistance. He was strangled after a palace coup in 1204.
The Crusaders responded by declaring war on Constantinople. The Fourth Crusade ended with the fall of the Christian city.
Between 1208 and 1271, several Crusades took place.
The Albigensian Crusade (1208 – 1229) destroyed the heretical Albigensian sect of Christianity in France.
The Baltic Crusade (1211 – 1225) subdued the pagans in Transylvania.
The Children’s Crusade in 1212 involved thousands of young children who vowed to march to Jerusalem. Many don’t regard this as an actual crusade and some question the involvement of children. The movement never reached the Holy Land.
The Fifth Crusade (1217–1221)
Pope Innocent III put in motion the Fifth Crusade before his death in 1216. The Crusaders attacked Egypt from the land and sea.
However, in 1221, Muslim defenders, led by Saladin’s nephew, Al-Malik al-Kamil, forced the Crusaders to surrender.
The Sixth Crusade (1227–1229)
In 1229, a peaceful negotiation between Emperor Frederick II and al-Kamil led to the transfer of Jerusalem to Crusader control.
The treaty was null and void ten years later and the Muslims easily regained control of Jerusalem.
The Seventh Crusade (1248–1254)
Louis IX of France organized the Seventh Crusade against Egypt, which was a failure for Louis.
The Eighth Crusade (1270)
The Mamluks, a new era of descendants from the Islamic Empire’s former slaves, took control of Egypt.
In Palestine, they stopped the Mongols advancing, who were a potential ally for the Christians in the region. In 1268, they destroyed Antioch under Sultan Baybar’s rule.
As a response, Louis IX organized the Eighth Crusade of 1270. The plan was to help the remaining Crusader states in Syria, but the mission was redirected to Tunis, where Louis IX died.
Edward I of England took another in 1271. The Ninth Crusade, often known as the continuation of the Eighth, accomplished little but was considered the last significant crusade to the Holy Land.
End of the Crusades
In 1291, Acre, one of the remaining Crusader states, fell to the Mamluks. Many believe this marked the end of the Crusader states, along with the Crusaders themselves.
The Knights Templar
After the First Crusade, where Christians captured Jerusalem, groups of pilgrims across Western Europe visited the Holy Land.
When they crossed Muslim-controlled territory, they were robbed and killed.
In 1118, the French knight Hugh de Payeus created a military order of eight male relatives and acquaintances. He called the order “The Poor Fellows – Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon”.
These men formed a brotherhood and lived together in a closed community with an established code of conduct.
In their monastic vows, they swore an oath of poverty, chastity, and obedience. They weren’t allowed to drink, gamble, or swear.
Prayer was essential in their daily life and they expressed adoration for the Virgin Mary.
The Temple of Solomon
In 1120, Balwin II, King of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, gave the knights his palace, the Temple of Solomon, on the Temple Mount of Jerusalem, to serve as their headquarters.
The knights quickly became known as “The Oder of the Knights of the Temple of Solomon” or “The Templars”.
The Templar Insignia
The Knights Templar faced criticism from religious leaders. In 1129, the order received a formal endorsement from the Catholic Church and gained support from Bernard of Clairvaux, a respected abbot.
The Templars were initially considered a branch of the Cistercians, a Catholic religious order of monks and nuns.
By 1145, the knights had permission to wear the white hooded mantel that Cistercian monks made their own. Soon after, they adopted their distinctive white cloak and used the insignia of the red cross on a white background.
Their first major battle was in 1147, during the Second Crusade.
Donations and Investment
The Knights Templar grew from supporters. No matter the class of supporters, they donated what they could to help.
The donations came in all forms. The most common were money, land, horses, military equipment, and food.
Although they swore an oath of poverty, the Templars accepted the donations and bought revenue-producing properties. They invested so that the order owned farms, vineyards, mills, churches, townships, and anything else that seemed like a good investment.
The Templars’ Banking System
As the order grew, the Templars set up a successful bank network.
Religious pilgrims could deposit their assets in their home countries and withdraw funds from the Holy Land.
They became so proficient and trusted as bankers that kings and nobles trusted them with their treasures.
Additionally, they lent money to rulers, which became an important element in the financial structure of late Medieval Europe.
Men who sought to be part of the order came from all over Western Europe, mainly France.
What motivated the new recruits was a sense of religious duty, especially towards the Holy Land and its sacred sites.
Among other motivations were penance for their committed sins and guaranteed entry into Heaven or other earthly reasons, such as a sense of adventure or regulated income and decent meals.
Recruits had to be freemen of legitimate birth. Married men joined if their spouses agreed.
Most recruits were in their mid-20s. Minors joined with their parent’s consent. This was primarily for the younger son to obtain military training since he wouldn’t inherit the family estate.
Ranks of the Knights Templar
The order was led by a Grand Master, who stood at the top of a pyramid of power.
Next came the noble knights, who wore the white tunic and cross. They fought in the crusades and protected the Christian pilgrims.
Only those who came from noble families and whose fathers and grandfathers were knights could be knights themselves.
Then, there were the sergeants, derived from the Old French word sergent, meaning “servant”. They were from non-noble families, wore black and brown tunics, and took up duties in non-military roles, such as cooks and luggage carriers.
Most recruits were sergeants.
There were also chaplains: ordained priests who tended to the Templar’s spiritual requirements.
The Templar convents were grouped into geographical regions called “priories”.
A preceptor or commander managed a convent. Each convent reported to the head of the priory where it was situated.
Letters, documents, and news reports were sent between convents with the seal of the order (two knights on a single horse), which united the distant branches.
The Grand Master resided in the Jerusalem Headquarters, Acre, in 1191, and then Cyrus after 1291.
Rules of the Knights Templar
Members of the order swore to keep the promises to their oath, some taking precedence over others.
- Obedience to the Grand Master is the most important promise made.
- Attendance at church services and celibacy were compulsory.
- Worldly pleasures weren’t permitted.
Punishments for not following the rules ranged from the withdrawal of privileges to flogging and even life imprisonment.
Symbols of the Knights of Templar
The order adopted many symbols that depict who they were and what they stood for. To this day, there’s still speculation about some of their meanings.
Knights Templar Seal
The Templar seal was two armed knights on one horse, frequently used by the Grand Master between 1167 and 1298.
There’s no definite meaning, only theories about what it signifies.
One states that it represents the system the knights followed in pairs.
Another suggests it symbolizes duality and balance and represents the knights’ dual functions as monks and warriors.
The notable cross worn on the white tunic of the knights represented the knights’ connection to the Church and their mission. It wasn’t ornamental until 1147 when Pope Eugenius approved of it.
The Lamb of God
Also known as Agnus Dei, it’s a lamb with a halo that holds a cross on a flag with its foreleg.
There are various meanings but the most common is that it symbolizes the martyred Christ.
From a Bible reference, after he baptized Jesus, John the Baptist said: “Behold the lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.”
The war flag of the Knights Templar, the Beauceant, showed a red cross with the top half in black and lower half in white. Its meaning is unclear.
A popular theory suggests that the black section depicts the sins of the world and the white symbolizes the purity that the Templar Order offered the knights.
It held a lot of power. If it flew in the air, the knights couldn’t retreat or stop fighting.
Also referred to as the Lion Judha, it’s the sigil of the Israelite tribe of Judah and Christ.
It represents courage, power, and justice, the valued traits of the Templars.
The Cavalry Cross
This was a Latin cross standing on the base of three steps.
Cavalry is Latin for the Aramaic word ‘Golgotha’, the hill where Christ was crucified.
Many believe the three steps symbolize that hill, along with faith, hope, and love.
The Templar and the Crusades
The Knights Templar were well-armored and skilled with a lance, sword, and crossbow. These were the best trained and equipped in a Crusader army.
Often, the leaders of the army placed the Templars to protect the flanks (sides of the army), the vanguard (the very front of the advancing army), and the rear.
Additionally, they defended important passes, such as one of Antioch.
They acquired land and castles and either rebuilt or destroyed entire castles to better defend the Christian East.
However, they never forgot their original position: protectors of pilgrims. They made small forts along pilgrim routes in the Levant or acted as bodyguards.
They were also part of successful Crusader missions, such as the siege of Acre (1189 – 1191), Damietta (1218 – 1219), and Constantinople (1204).
In the face of defeat, they expected their execution if ever captured. An example is the Battle of Mansourah in Egypt, in 1250, during the Seventh Crusade.
What stunned many is that the convents managed to replenish any losses in resources and manpower.
Templar Order Abolition
By the end of the 13th century, many considered military orders to be too independent. They tried to place them into one single order to be more accountable to the Church and their individual state rulers.
The Templar Order was accused of abusing their privileges and extorting their maximum profit from financial dealings.
They were also reprimanded for wanting to eliminate Muslims instead of converting them.
Historians believe that these criticisms were based on ignorance of the order’s affairs, an exaggeration of their actual wealth and of jealousy and suspicion.
In 1307, there were more serious accusations. Some said that the Templars denied Christ as God, the crucifixion and the cross. Rumors spread about them trampling, spitting and urinating on the crucifix.
The clergy, jealous of the order’s rights, joined to destroy the Templars.
On Friday, October 12, 1307, King Philip IV of France ordered the arrest of all Templars in France. His motivations were unclear.
Historians suggest that he viewed the Templars as a military threat and this was his opportunity to acquire their wealth and gain their political influence.
Further accusations came forward that the Templars promoted homosexual activities, indecent kissing, and the worship of idols.
Pope Clement V defended the Templars, they being one of his military orders. He also feared going against the extremely powerful Templars.
King Philip IV managed to extract “confessions” from the French Templars to provoke the Pope’s decision.
The Templar’s “Confessions”
Many of the arrested knights in France experienced brutal torture, while kept in isolation, and fed mere rations until they “confessed” to the false charges.
The strappado was a common torture technique, where the Templars’ hands were tied behind their backs and they were suspended in the air by a rope around their wrists, which dislocated their shoulders.
Some faced the infamous racks and their bodies stretched beyond their limits. Others had their feet dipped in oil and held over a fire.
Within weeks, hundreds confessed to the false charges, including Grand Master Jacque de Molay.
The “confessions” forced Pope Clement V’s hand in issuing a public decree that ordered Western kings to arrest the Templars living in their lands and seize their property.
Some Templars managed to hold out in their Aragorn castles in Spain until 1308.
Weeks after “confessing”, many Templars recanted, but Pope Clement V closed the inquisition in early 1308.
The End of the Templars
The Templars in France remained in the cells for two more years.
In 1310, King Philip ordered more than 50 Templars to be burned at the stake.
Two years later, Pope Clement V dissolved the Templar Order without saying they were guilty as charged. After discovering so, the remaining imprisoned Templars continued to confess their innocence while others died in captivity.
In 1314, Grand Master de Molay and other Templars were burned at the stake in Paris, which marked the true end of the Templar era.
The Catholic Church acknowledged the unjustified persecution of the Knights Templar and claimed that Pope Clement V was pressured to destroy the order.
Although disbanded, some believe the order went underground and remains in existence in some form to this day. This is one of the many mysteries and myths that surround the Knights Templar.
Templar Myths and Mysteries
The Templars are also known as a secret society. Their affairs were kept a secret, leaving unsolved mysteries and myths behind.
One myth states that the Knights Templar secretly guarded the Shroud of Turin, the linen cloth believed to have been placed on Jesus Christ’s body before his burial. They guarded it for years after the Crusades ended.
Another says they discovered and kept religious artifacts, such as the Holy Grail, the Ark of the Covenant, and parts of the cross from Christ’s crucifixion.
The Da Vinci Code, written by Dan Brown, mentions that the Templars played a part in a conspiracy to preserve the bloodline of Jesus Christ.
Survival of the Templars
Although persecuted throughout Western Europe, many Templars survived the trials and were acquitted in their respective countries, such as Portugal and Spain.
These countries used creative measures to protect the Templars, so the myth says. For example, in Portugal, the order renamed itself “The Order of Christ”, and in Spain, “The Order of Montesa”.
The mystery is whether these orders, that exist today, were once the Templar Order.
The Templars supposedly collected treasure that accumulated greatly over their active years.
One of the treasures was a statue of Baphomet, the idol that the Templars supposedly worshipped, that historians say King Philip IV wanted.
The statue functioned as a guardian that made lands fertile and found and guarded treasures.
The nature of this idol baffled people for years. For example, some say it’s connected to the Satanic deities and others say it’s the face of the Shroud of Turin.
Just like all Templar treasures, it remains a mystery as to where the statue is and if it exists.
The Church and the Templars
San Bartolomé Church, in north-central Spain, is a chapel that has drawn in spiritual seekers since the Bronze Age.
The Knights Templar carefully chose the church for its spiritual properties. The reason behind their choice remains a mystery.
It was built in the 12th century when the Templar Order owned most of the land throughout Aragorn.
According to historians, they believe the chapel’s interior columns hold a hint to the assumed location of the Ark of the Covenant in Ethiopia, a relic the Templars secretly guarded.
Significance in Cultural Anthropology
The Templars established their own order, a brotherhood, that led to their own culture that members swore to uphold.
From their creation to their persecution, their timeline shows how the eras drastically changed and the mysteries that may or may not re-write history.
In times of war, as in life, surround yourself with people of value, virtue and high morals, because it’s always better to lose, perish and vanish in glory than to live in shame.
– Robin Sacredfire, author.