Founded in 1119, the Knights Templar were a Catholic military order that was stationed on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and eventually became protected by the Vatican. Starting off as a group of poor, pious knights, over time, they grew in membership and strength to eventually become as powerful as the papacy. The Knights Templar are closely tied to the Crusades, and when the Holy Land was lost, their support from Christendom began to fade. See what this religious order of both soldiers and non-combatants was really about, what they managed to accomplish, and what led to their downfall.
They Never Surrendered
At their height, the Templar Knights were some of the most feared and respected warriors. Many of the soldiers in the Crusades had minimal training and weren’t true soldiers. The Templar Knights were the advance force in a number of battles such as the Battle of Montgisard, in which the outnumbered Christian forces defeated the massive army under the leadership of Saladin.
Part of the Templars’ ferocity came from their religious devotion and their belief that breaking their vows was worse than death. The Rule of the Knights Templar calls for them to never retreat or surrender, which they never did.
They Had A Strict Code
The Knights Templar followed a strict code known as “The Rule of the Templars,” which instructed the knights on how to live their lives on a daily basis. For example, they were only allowed to eat meat three times a week, because eating flesh was thought to corrupt the body.
Furthermore, furs and fancy clothes were forbidden, as well as shoelaces. Moreover, chastity was a must, and it was forbidden to kiss any females, including their own kin. Breaking the rules also resulted in punishment depending on the severity.
They Essentially Started Banks
Before the Templars, the concept of paper checks hadn’t been invented yet. During the Crusades, while traveling through Jerusalem, they figured that it wasn’t the safest place for them to travel with their money and other valuables.
So, they devised a system where pilgrims and other merchants and soldiers traveling through the area could leave their goods with the Templars in exchange for a credit note. By showing their note at any Templar office in the Holy Land, they would be given back whatever valuables they had left with the Templars. This was essentially the beginning of modern banking.
They Had A Standard Uniform
The uniform of the Knights Templar was strictly a white cloak that was adorned with a red cross, something that can commonly be seen in Hollywood films. Their uniform was sacred to them, and something they were only allowed to take off when they were sleeping.
While not wearing their cloak, they weren’t allowed to eat or sleep, but when they went into battle, they wore their cloak over their chainmail and dressed their horses in protective white cloths that also sported the red cross. There was no mistaking who was a Templar knight.
Behind The Name
In 1120, King Baldwin II of Jerusalem granted the Templars a headquarters in a wing of the royal palace on the Temple Mount in the captured Al-Aqsa Mosque. The Temple Mount was believed by many to be the ruins of the Temple of Solomon, leading the Templars to refer to the Al-Aqsa Mosque as Solomon’s Temple.
From there, the Templars began calling themselves Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon, or “Templar” Knights. Their original emblem was of two knights riding on a single horse to exemplify the order’s poverty.
Punishments For Breaking The Code
Although the Templar knights were extremely serious about their cause and devoted their lives to following their code, that didn’t mean the rules were never broken. When they were broken, however, there were consequences.
If a member broke a minor rule, it’s likely their punishment would have been to eat their meals on their floor without a napkin or use their shirts for plates. However, more serious infractions may have resulted in corporal punishment, the knights losing their robes, or even banishment from the order.
From Having Nothing To Everything
The original Knights Templar may have started out poor, with the intention of all future members living in the same circumstances and donating all of their worldly belongings to the order, but that wasn’t necessarily the case.
As the order grew, they became incredibly powerful and began to attain an increasing amount of wealth from donated goods. Before long, they became one of the most powerful organizations in England, which eventually resulted in other powerful individuals becoming increasingly threatened.
They Were Above The Law
After the Templars received formal approval from the church, Templar Bernard of Clairvaux also got them formal acceptance from another powerful figure, the Pope himself.
In 1139, Pope Innocent II issued a papal bull (public decree) which exempted the Templars from taxes or tithes, and allowed them to keep whatever wealth they acquired from their Muslim conquests. On top of that, it made them above the law, so they could basically do whatever they wanted without fear of punishment.
King Philip IV Brought An End To The Order
Historians have surmised that King Philip IV destroyed the Knights Templar because he didn’t want to pay back the money that he owed the order. So, he had all of its members arrested, tortured, and eventually executed after convincing Pope Clement to disband the order.
However, the problem was that he didn’t have a legitimate excuse to do this, so he began spreading rumors that these pious warriors were committing sins such as spitting on the cross and stating that God isn’t real. Some Templars admitted to these acts under torture, which gave Philip the ammunition he needed to eliminate the already weakened organization.
Women Were Allowed
Although it may be surprising today, there were no rules that stated that women were not allowed to join the Templars. Although they couldn’t become knights, most of the women who joined were nuns that assisted the priests with their responsibilities, counseled returning soldiers, and acted as nurses.
Women’s donations were also welcome, which would allow them to become associate members of the order without having to take any of the strict oaths that the men do.
The Grand Master
The highest rank in the order of the Knights Templar was referred to as the Grand Master, who was essentially the leader of everyone else. Although being Grand Master for life wasn’t a requirement to hold the position, some of the knights intended to.
However, considering that they were knights and constantly in battle, it was rare that “for life” really meant very long at all. This usually meant that the next in line to be Grand Master never had to wait very long.
A Mysterious Initiation
Not just anybody could join the Knights Templar. There was a process that potential members had to go through, and not everyone was accepted. First, the applicants had to prove themselves to the Templar high command through their conduct and piousness.
If accepted, they would be invited to join and participate in a mysterious initiation ceremony. Nobody really knows what the ceremony was, which resulted in some strange rumors circulating about the process.
Worshipping False Idols
Thanks to the rumors spread by King Philip IV of France, it was believed that the Knights Templar allegedly worshiped the false idol known as Baphomet. The name was assumed to be a version of Muhammad, the Islamic prophet, meaning that the Templars were Muslim.
Then, in the 19th century, occultist Eliphas Levi illustrated Baphomet as a figure with wings, the head of a goat, and an inscribed pentagram. Although this illustration came out 500 years later, the name Baphomet did appear in the Templar trials.
They Didn’t Have Much Personality
In his book, In Praise of the New Knighthood, Bernard of Clairvaux described the Knights Templar as disciplined, humble, and sober, noting that they were never disrespectful, lazy, or spoke without thinking.
Furthermore, they hated just about anything fun, including gambling, games, storytellers, hunting, or any other type of entertainment. Their only concerns were their faith and devotion to the order, which may have made them incredibly effective and virtuous, but also relatively boring individuals, which they earned a reputation for.
Why The Order Was Created
In 1199, Jerusalem was once again under Christian control, and Christian pilgrims began making their way back to the city. This was no easy feat, as many of the pilgrims had to travel through Muslim-controlled territory, which resulted in countless raids and deaths.
The French knight Hugues de Payens came up with the idea of forming a religious order to protect the pilgrims. This was the beginning of the Knights Templar, who served as guards for the pilgrims as they made their way back to Jerusalem.
Friday The 13th
Although Friday the 13th has only been seen as an unlucky day since the early 20th century, Friday, October 13, 1307, proved to be quite unlucky for the Templars. One month earlier, King Philip IV had sent out an order, demanding the arrest of all the Templars on Friday the 13th.
Over the next several weeks, more than 600 Templars were arrested, including Grand Master Jacques de Molay, who was tortured into making false confessions. When Molay later retracted his confession, Philip ordered him to be burned at the stake in front of Notre-Dame de Paris in March of 1314.
Cursing The Pope And King
As the pyre that Jacques de Molay was tied to was lit, the Templar placed a curse on King Philip IV and Pope Clement. He called upon Jesus Christ to prove the Templars’ innocence and to let God judge those who had falsely accused the Templars.
Incredibly, just 33 days after Molay shouted his curse, Pope Clement died. Then seven months after that, Philip IV mysteriously fell ill and died as well. From then on, all of Philip’s descendants became known as the Accursed Kings.
The Templars Were Eventually Exonerated
Seven hundred years after the Templars had disbanded and were virtually wiped out, the Vatican officially proclaimed that the order was not guilty of the offenses that they had been accused of. This is thanks to the Chinon Chart, a document that had been buried in the Vatican archives until Professor Barbara Frale rediscovered it in 2001.
The Chinon Chart is an official record of the papal trial that reveals that the pope had found that Jacques de Molay was tortured into confession and that the pope disbanded the order to keep Philip IV happy.
They Had No Set Method Of Training
There’s no doubt that the Knights Templar were extremely well-armed and very capable in battle, renowned for their skills in combat. However, a set standard for training for the order is yet to be discovered.
This is most likely because the knights had already trained on their own, and would have already been superior warriors even to be considered for the order. While they may not have trained together, all of the knights would have been skilled at horseback riding, swords, and polearms, and have a mind for military strategy.
All About The Beards
Although it wasn’t necessarily part of the Templars’ code, the monastic lifestyle of the order’s members usually resulted in the majority of them growing large beards. It wasn’t long until their beards became a defining characteristic of the Templars’ appearance. They even earned the nickname of “The Order of Bearded Brethren.”
Towards the end of the order’s existence, when they were being hunted down, many cut their beards to avoid detection and persecution.