The Order of Knights Templar was a militant fraternity established according to religious rules in the 12th. century. Its founders were two pious men, a monk Hugues de Payns and a French knight Godeffori de Stomer. Members of the religious circle swore to guide the paths of pilgrims to the Holy lands while living lives of poverty, chastity, and obedience dedicated to Christ.
To help to get the Knights’ order firmly established Baldwin II, then contemporary king of Jerusalem, granted them a section of his palace on the site of Solomon’s Temple from which they adopted their name. What became the headquarters for the Templars grew into a large edifice and compound. Under the main building were stables for all of their horses, and it is alleged that later here great amounts of treasure was secretly stored.
In 1128 the Knights Templar obtained a papal sanction modelled upon the Cistercian Order. The Knights then had a grand master under whom was three ranks of knights, chaplains, and sergeants. The dress uniform of the fraternity was thus: the unmarried and dominant knights wore a white mantle with a large Latin red cross on the back while a black or brown mantle with a red cross was worn by others.
By the middle of the 12th. century the Order was firmly established in most of Latin kingdoms of Christendom. Besides escorting pilgrims to the Holy Lands the Knights were helping to crush out pagan beliefs. In this fight they became very involved in the Crusades. When engaging in these various activities the Knights formed a commercial and trading organization between east and west. From this business enterprise alone the Order accumulated enormous sums of wealth. During the Crusades much property was confiscated and a considerable proportion of it also enlarged the Order’s wealth.
The beginning of the Knights’ downfall began with the lost of the Latin kingdom in Palestine. Although the Order was forced from the country it continued its fight against the Saracen power but made little headway. From then on the Order appeared to be more of a commercial adventure than a militant one.
The acquisition of their enormous sum of wealth was at the heart of the Knights’ downfall. The wealth along with the Order’s success caused the envy and avarice of King Philip IV of France (1285-1314), who launched a series of attacks on it. These attacks were aided by the election of Pope Clement V, who sided with Philip’s interests, and denounced the Order for heresy and immorality.
Among the accusations of heresy and immorality were claims that the Knights engaged in devil worship and homosexuality. The Knights were said to have worshipped the idol Baphomet. While many Knights confessed to seeing and worshipping the idol, others confessed to worshipping a mysterious cat and calf. The latter type of confessions was said to indicate the Knights also practiced witchcraft. The authenticity of these vague confessions is very doubtful. Even the credibility of the knight themselves seems doubtful.
Many were tortured. Others were said to have been inducted as Knights after being excommunicated from the Church. Personal property had been taken from them. Some claimed as neophytes they were usually initiated in a secret place behind the altar, or in a sacristy. There they were shown a crucifix, and made to renounce Christ three times by spitting on the cross. The initiates were then stripped and kissed thrice on the body parts. They were then informed that the fraternity permitted and practiced an unnatural sexual act. Then a cord was tied around the initiates and the idol, thus linking them together. The Mass then said by the knightly, usually defrocked, priest was celebrated with an unconsecrated host.
Whether all, if any, of the charges against the Knights Templar were true or not is still questionable. One thing is certain, though, the aim of Philip IV’s was very successful. He seized the entire treasure of the French temple and became rich. The whole trial process took over three years. Many of the French knights including the Grand Master were burned at the stake.
In France the torture and punishment were more severe than elsewhere. In England the Order was suppressed, but no executions took placed. The severity of the judges varied in Italy. Other countries condemned and acquitted the Knights.
The Pope was offended by the leniency shown to the Order in England, Spain, and Germany. But, whatever the degree of punishment, the various rulers of Europe followed Philip’s avaricious example and confiscated the Order’s wealth. A.G.H.