Birth of the Knights Templars'
According to the most widely accepted account, the organisation
of military monks known as the Knights Templars began with a group of just nine knights,
who in 1118 - in the wake of the First Crusade, which reopened the Holy Land to Europeans - took a vow to
protect pilgrims visiting the sacred Christian sites. The original nine were all from France, and were led by
Hugues de Payens, the Order's first Grand Master.
The King of Jerusalem (a title established by the victorious Crusaders) gave Hugues and his companions quarters
in his palace, part of the al-Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount. This
was (probably incorrectly) believed to have been built on the site of the fabled Temple of Solomon. It was
from this place that the Order took its name - the Order of the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and the Temple
of Solomon (Ordo Pauperum Commilitonum Christi Templique Salominici); Templars for short.
Very little has come down to us about the Knights Templar's founder, apart from his origins in the village of
Payens in Champagne, and that he was a vassal of the Count of Champagne. Hugues was in his late 40s when he founded
the Order and had probably travelled to the Holy Land with the Crusader armies.
The names of seven of Hugues's companions have been preserved,
although almost nothing is known about most of them:
Godfrey de St Omer
André de Montbard
Geoffrey Bisot (or Bisol)
Archimbaud de St Armand
Rossol (or Roland)
The Early Years
Very little is known about the activities or organisation of the original
group for most of their first decade in the Holy Land. There are a few records of grants of money and property
to the fledgling Order by predominantly French nobles, but nothing is recorded about their deeds. Hugues and
his companions seem to have been an ad hoc group, largely working on their own initiative, but with the
sanction and support of the King and Patriarch of Jerusalem. Until 1128 they did not have any distinctive
'uniform', but wore the same military accoutrements as secular knights.
For about nine years the Order remained small - in fact, just Hugues and his original brother knights, together
with a few new recruits. In 1126, André de Montbard and Gondamar returned to Europe to solicit the aid of the
formidable Bernard of Clairvaux in gaining papal recognition of the Order, an idea that seems to have originated
with Baldwin II, King of Jerusalem. Bernard - who was later declared a saint - was the head of the Cistercian Order
of monks, and was also André de Montbard's nephew.
Two years later Hugues de Payens himself travelled to
Europe to promote the Order, soliciting donations and gifts of land and seeking new recruits. He established
the first Knights Templars commandery outside the Holy Land, at Balantrodoch (now the village of Temple) in
Lothian to the south of Edinburgh, and the first in England, at Holborn in London.
The New Knighthood
Under the patronage of Bernard of Clairvaux, one of the most
energetic, forceful and capable men of his time, the group began its expansion from the nucleus of nine
fighting men into the largest and most powerful institution in medieval Europe - after the Church.
Bernard organised the Council of Troyes, which met in January 1128 (1129 by today's calendar), at which the
Knights Templar were given their own Rule and a petition was made to the Pope for his formal recognition of the
Order and endorsement of its aims, which was soon forthcoming. From that point, their rise to power and
influence was irresistible.
Cambridge University historian Evelyn Lord, in her recent The Knights Templar in Britain (2002), says that the
Council of Troyes turned the Knights Templar from a small group of knights to 'an international organisation
crossing national frontiers'.
The Council redefined the purpose of the Order, extending it beyond the original function of protectors of
pilgrims. The Knights Templars were now to be Christendom's army, fighting in defence of the Christian faith - and
the Church's interests - wherever necessary.
The idea of an order of knighthood that was officially recognised by the Pope was in part inspired by the
foundation of the Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem some years before. The Knights Hospitaller, as they
were known, were created to shelter and give medical help to pilgrims in the Holy Land, and were recognised by the
Pope in 1113. Later, following the Knights Templars' lead, the Hospitallers - who survive today as the Knights of
Malta - also took on a military function, although this always remained secondary to their main role.
The Council of Troyes also established the 'Rule' of the Templars - the regulations and conditions that governed
the Order as a whole and the day-to-day life of the individual knights. Such Rules were the basis of the monastic
orders, and that of the Knights Templars was, for obvious reasons, closely modelled on the Cistercians' (which in
turn was based on the Rule laid down by St Benedict in the 6th century). The Templar Rule (which was added to over
the period of the Order's ascendancy) included certain modifications to take account of the military lifestyle of
the Order - for example, allowing for a knight not to attend holy offices during military campaigns.
The Knights Templars were, quite literally, warrior monks - men who had taken holy orders and monastic vows but
who were also trained in the arts of war. When not fighting, a Templar lived a life similar to that of any other
monk. When he joined the Order he took vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. He spent the day in attending holy
offices, praying and fasting.
The Rule established the Knights Templars' uniform - a white mantle and cloak (derived from the white habits of
the Cistercians). Later the distinctive red cross (the croix pattée) was added to the mantle. The Rule also
described their battle flag, the Beauseant, a simple and stark banner, the top half black and the bottom half
white. The meaning or symbolism of the Beauseant was not explained in the Rule, and is still a matter of debate
Licensed to kill
In 1135 Bernard of Clairvaux wrote a short treatise,The Book of the
Knights of the Temple: In Praise of the New Knighthood (Liber ad milites Templi: De laude novae militae),
outlining the virtues of the Order.
Historian Edward Burman, in his 1994 study of the trial of the Knights Templars. Supremely Abominable Crimes,
sums up Bernard's argument this way:
The first problem for Abbot Bernard was to resolve the moral discrepancy between the monastic ideal and the
practical requirement for the 'knights of Christ' to kill Muslims in battle. This he does by first asserting that the knight who fights in the name of Christ need
have no fear at all: neither of losing his life, nor of committing sin in taking the life of an adversary. The
next step is to argue that this is more than a merely negative virtue. The killing of infidels actually merits
reward and represents a way of attaining Christ, since the soldier of Christ 'is the instrument of God for the
punishment of evildoers and for the defence of the just'. From this position it is a simple step to the most
notorious assertion of the book: 'In fact, when he kills evildoers it is not homicide, but malicide and he is
to be considered as Christ's legal executioner'. Here, surely, is the most
magnificent historical version of a licence to kill!
The Knights Templars were the ultimate development of the crusading ideal. When Pope Urban II called for a 'holy
war' to reclaim Jerusalem and the Holy Land from the Saracens, he made fighting for the defence of the Christian
faith and Christendom a sacred duty, for which the knight who took part would win remission of sins. The Knights
Templars elevated this to the point where they did nothing but fight for Christianity.
Evelyn Lord comments:
The idea of a military order of monks was a totally new concept that went against the precepts of monastic
life that forbade the spilling of blood. The foundation of the Templars created a body of men who saw
fighting the infidel as an act of devotion. Whilst the monk spent his life in the monastery in perpetual prayer and
praise to God, the monkish knight spent his day fighting for the glory of God. The Knights Templar were permanently
at war, and war became a version of prayer for them.
In 1139 Pope Innocent II - who owed his election to
Bernard's support and endorsement - wrote to Robert de Craon (Hugues de Payens's successor as Templar Grand
Master following Hugues's death three years before) that 'your Order and venerable institution is famous
throughout the whole world'.
In an unprecedented move, Innocent's Bull Omne datum optimum (Every Best Gift) placed the Knights Templars under
the sole authority of the Pope himself. The
implications of this cannot be overestimated. The Church was the great authority throughout Europe, with a
hierarchy of bishops and archbishops. The Bull placed the Knights Templars outside that system: the individual
members of the Order were answerable only to their Grand Master, and the Grand Master answerable only to the
The privilege was confirmed and increased by Innocent II's successor, Eugenius III - which is not surprising, as
he had been a monk at Clairvaux and was a devoted disciple of Bernard's. During Innocent's and Eugenius's time on
the papal throne, Bernard of Clairvaux can truly be said to have been the power behind it.
Within weeks of his election in 1145, Eugenius issued the Bull Militia Dei (Knights of God), which extended the rights of the Knights Templars and their
freedom from normal ecclesiastical authority. By its very nature, the Order was already outside the other
major system of authority of medieval Europe, that of local nobility who were pledged to the King. (It was
also Eugenius who granted the Knights Templars the right to wear the red cross on their white mantles.)
In practical terms, Eugenius's edict gave the Knights Templars the authority to undertake such things as
building a church without the permission of the local bishop, and to bury their dead in their own cemeteries. It
also freed them from paying tithes and taxes to the Church. The Knights Templars had their own priests, and were
totally free from Church authority - they could not, for example, be excommunicated by a bishop.
As the Templar presence in Europe increased, it became the source of much resentment among the local
ecclesiastical authorities, as bishops saw large parts of their diocese removed from their control.
The freedom from secular and religious authority gave the Knights Templars enormous power in Europe and the Holy
Land. And it gave the Templar Grand Master a great deal of personal power over the members of his Order - as well
as creating a potential danger, whether real or imagined, within Christendom.
As Edward Burman writes:
From a logical point of view, it left the way open for the Templars to commit any form of heretical act
within the ample cloak of the Order, and then be absolved by their own Master. This in turn meant that the
purity of the entire Order was dependent on the probity of the Grand Master: a leader of heretical inclination
would have had the power to absolve his followers and thus to nurture deviant ideas within the Order.
Want to Know
Buy The Knights Templar eBook by Temple of Mysteries through
Copyright © 2010-2011 www.TempleofMysteries.com and the legend of the Knights