The Knights Templar

Introduction

Knights TemplarMystery surrounds virtually every aspect of the Knights Templar story, from their origins in the aftermath of the First Crusade, through their rise to supreme wealth and power - dominating medieval Europe for nearly two centuries - to their abrupt and dramatic suppression. Ferociously punished for alleged heresy and depravity at the beginning of the 14th century, their story is believed to have ended there, merely an interesting historical footnote. But did they, as many now believe, survive in secret? Does the original Order of the Knights Templar actually exist today?

A Knight of the First CrusadeFollowing their dramatic demise, and particularly over the course of the last three centuries, the Knights Templar have been placed at the heart of Western esoteric and arcane tradition. They are believed to have been the conduits through which great occult secrets of the past were transmitted to future generations of secret societies and adepts, or through which deeply esoteric and heretical doctrines were channelled into Europe from the Middle East or even further afield. They are said to have been the guardians of secrets that threatened to undermine the foundations of the Christian Church, and have been linked with such potent objects as the Holy Grail, the Ark of the Covenant and the Turin Shroud.

Historians generally dismiss such claims as fantasy and mythmaking, complaining that whenever a gap in the historical record needs to be bridged the Knights Templar are invoked. The complaint is, to an extent, justified; many of the modern claims concerning the 'secrets' of the Knights Templar are patent nonsense, and many other theories, while plausible, rest solely on speculation.

However, the Knights Templar fit into this role so neatly because there are unanswered questions and real mysteries about them. The Order had an obsession with secrecy that makes it difficult for historians to answer some of the most basic questions about them and to piece together a complete account of their history and activities, and which fuels speculation that the Knights Templar had a hidden agenda.

Temple of Mysteries' Knights Templar Files are part of a major investigation into one of the most important mysteries of European history. In conjunction with these files, Temple of Mysteries led a scientific and archaeological project at the site of the Order's former headquarters in Scotland, the former site of the preceptory of Balantrodoch, today the tranquil village of Temple near Edinburgh. This is the first of a planned series of other Knights Templar - or suspected Knights Templar - sites in Europe and even as far afield as North America.

Temple of Mysteries' Knights Templar Files concentrate on the enigma of the medieval Order, and examine the mysteries surrounding the following aspects of their spectacular rise and fall.

Origins

According to the official history, in or around 1118 (even the exact year is not certain) in the aftermath of the First Crusade that captured Jerusalem from the Moslems, nine French knights travelled to the Holy Land and took a vow to keep the pilgrimage routes safe for Christians. They were led by Hugues de Payens, a knight from Champagne who was to become the Order of the Temple's first Grand Master.

After about nine years, Hugues de Payens and his companions returned to Europe and set about building up what was to become the mightiest military Order of the Middle Ages, and the most powerful and influential institution after the Church itself. Through the influence of the legendary St Bernard of Clairvaux, head of the Cistercian monastic order, the 'new knighthood' received the blessing and endorsement of the Pope, and began to be feted by the Kings and nobles of Europe. With vast grants of land, property and money, the Knights Templar soon flourished.

The 'official' story of the Knights Templar's formation and rise is fascinating enough. However, there are many unanswered questions, evasions and unexplained gaps in the records that suggest that even this is not the complete story, and that something about the Order's origins and purpose has been covered up…

There is evidence that their avowed purpose was simply a cover story, and that the Hugues and his companions went to Jerusalem on a secret mission, searching for something - a sacred object, perhaps, or lost knowledge.

Implicated in the plan were two extremely highly influential figures - the Count of Champagne and the legendary St Bernard of Clairvaux, head of the Cistercian monastic order. What the founding Knights Templar's real objective might have been - and whether they succeeded - has been the subject of enduring speculation and many theories.

The Height of Power

Acknowledging only the Pope as his superior, the Templar Grand Master was the equal of Kings, and the Order reigned supreme for nearly two centuries, during which its fortunes and history were closely entwined with those of the Crusades.

The Order shaped itself into the most feared and efficient fighting force of its day. They were literally warrior monks, who gave themselves body and soul to the Order and took the standard monastic vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and who fought in defence of the Christian faith.

Secret Seal of the TemplarsBut the Knights Templar were not just soldiers. The scope of their activities - military, economic and diplomatic - are staggering. There was hardly a sphere of medieval life in which their presence was not felt.

Soon the Templars had property throughout the length and breadth of Europe. Such was the Order's wealth - and the calls upon it to protect that of others - that it developed much of what became the modern international banking system. It is impossible to overestimate the importance of the Knights Templars in the 12th and 13th centuries: there was no part of Europe or the Holy Land that did not feel their presence. It was the only force feared by the Assassins (who were in many ways their counterpart in the Moslem world).

Yet even during the period of their pre-eminence there are mysteries. The Knights Templar engaged in activities that were quite outside their remit as protectors of Christendom, in particular seeking knowledge wherever they could, even from their avowed enemies, the Moslems (who were then far more advanced in learning that the Europeans).

Western Templar MysteryAt a time when science and magic were inseparable, the Templars adopted the practice of sacred geometry - learned from the Arabs - for the construction of their castles, churches and chapels. There is increasing evidence that they actually protected heretics who were being persecuted by the Church. And the immensely popular, yet strangely heretical, romances of the Holy Grail are inextricably linked with the story of the Knights Templar.

Rumours grew - encouraged by their mania for secrecy and the increasing arrogance of their leaders - that the Order of the Temple hid some dark secret at its heart, and that it served some purpose other than its official role as the guardian of Christendom.

The Suppression

Of all the mysteries and controversies surrounding the Knights Templar, those concerning their sudden and dramatic fall from grace have been the focus of the most debate.

The Execution of Jacques de MolayOn Friday, 13 October 1307, on the orders of the King of France, Philip the Fair, all the Templars in France were rounded up and imprisoned on charges of heresy and blasphemy. Literally overnight, apart from a handful that escaped the net, every Knight Templar in France was taken like a common criminal and cast into the King's dungeons, charged with heresy and vile rites, and those in other countries found themselves under a dark cloud of suspicion that was never to be lifted.

Under torture by the Inquisition, the knights confessed to heinous acts of blasphemy: denying Jesus as Christ, trampling and spitting upon the cross, and worshipping a demonic idol in the shape of a disembodied head.

The trial of the Templars - of the individual members throughout Europe and, more importantly, of the Order as a whole - lasted for five years. Eventually, in 1312 Pope Clement V pronounced that the Order of the Temple was to be abolished. The Knights Templar had been cast out by the faith it had been formed to protect and defend.

Pope Clement VAs a climax to the terror, in 1314 the last Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, was slowly roasted to death in Paris. It was a tragic and ignominious end for such a proud and powerful Order.

Outside France, however, the Templars were treated much more leniently - most members of the Order were either acquitted or given light sentences, and many were never even arrested.

The brutal suppression of this immensely powerful institution raises many questions that have never been resolved. Did Philip the Fair act simply out of greed for the Templars' wealth, or because he feared their power? Or was there some truth in the charges of blasphemy and heresy that were levelled against them?

Demonstrating that the debate over the demise of the Knights Templar still has a long way to run, as recently as March 2002 documents were discovered in the Vatican archive that appear to show that Jacques de Molay and other Knight Templar leaders were, in fact, pardoned by Pope Clement.

Other mysteries surround the end of the Knights Templar. There is evidence that some of its members were tipped off about the arrests in France, and escaped with treasure and perhaps something even more precious - some artefact or secret knowledge. It has even been suggested that the Grand Master and other leaders sacrificed themselves to protect the Order's secrets. And who were the nine knights who confronted the Pope himself during the council held to decide the Knights Templar's fate, declaring themselves ready to defend the Order?

Certainly, much of the Knights Templar's fabulous wealth - especially that held in the Paris Temple - remains unaccounted for. And what happened to the Knight Templar fleet, one of the largest of the time, which simply disappears from history?

Survival?

But the end of the medieval Order of the Temple is not the final mystery. For centuries it has been claimed that the Knight Templar survived in secret, perhaps plotting to wreak revenge on those who had destroyed it - the French monarchy and the Catholic Church.

Is there any substance to the tradition that the underground Knight Templar were behind the origins of Freemasonry? And what of the claims of the many groups and societies that today claim to be the legitimate descendants of the Knights Templar. 

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Rosslyn Chapel and The Secret of the Templars

Birth of the Knights Templars' Legend

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