The Templar knights were strange characters indeed: half monks, half soldiers, ascetics and bankers, individually poor yet extremely rich as an order, they originally set out to win back Jerusalem and the Holy Sepulchre for Christianity. Both admired as well as feared, the order was violently dissolved in the early 1300s by King Philip IV of France with accusations of heresy and sodomy. They were extremely powerful in Portugal in particular and contributed to the recapturing of the territory dominated by the Arabs. Their principal headquarters could be found in the city of Tomar, on the banks of the river Tago, inside a convent-castle which may well have provided Umberto Eco with inspiration for The Name of the Rose (indeed some scenes from the film were actually shot there).
After the capture of Jerusalem (A. D. 1099) by the Crusaders, "the zeal of pilgrimage blazed forth with increased fierceness." Persons of both sexes, the old and the young, hastened to pay their devotions at the Holy Shrine. The wealthy mortgaged or sold their possessions to lay the proceeds on the altar of some favorite saint, or to distribute them among the poor in Eastern lands, hoping thereby to obtain from heaven forgiveness for a mis-spent life. Many, however, even of the gentler sex, were, from their poverty, forced to perform the long journey from the West of Europe to the Holy Land on foot. These were supported, "on route," by the alms of the opulent through whose estates they passed.
The Knights Hugh de Payens, sometimes styled Hugo de Paganis and Geoffry of St. Aldemar or St. Omer, otherwise called Godfry Adeiman or Godefroi d'Adhemar, who had greatly distinguished themselves at the siege of Jerusalem, together with seven others, formed a brotherhood in arms, for the noble purpose of "clearing the highways of infidels and of robbers, and of protecting the pilgrims through the passes and defiles of the mountains to the Holy City." They called themselves the "Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Jesus Christ." In the Church of the Resurrection, between the hands of Garimont, Patriarch of Jerusalem, they embraced vows of perpetual chastity, obedience and poverty, after the manner of Monks. The kind of poverty adopted by these brethren, was that termed "media.'" It "forbade the possession of individual property, but sanctioned any amount of wealth when shared by a fraternity in common."'
In consequence of the services to the Christiana performed by the Poor fellow-Soldiers, Baldwin II, King of Jerusalem, gave them for a habitation, for hitherto they seem to have had no fixed place of abode, " the palace or royal house to the South of the Temple of the Lord, vulgarly called the Temple of Solomon.'" This palace or royal house was "within the sacred inclosure of the Temple on Mount Moriah." The large Court between the Temple of the Lord and the Temple of Solomon was also conceded to them. They were, henceforth, termed "The Knighthood of the Temple of Solomon;" and sometimes, as in the Rule of St. Bernard, "The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Jesus Christ and of the Temple of Solomon."
Baldwin, King of Jerusalem, exerted himself to extend the Order of Templars throughout Europe. St. Bernard was enlisted in their favor ; and he gave them (AD 1128) a code, or set of rules, for their government,'which was afterwards confirmed by a Papal bull." These rules probably fell into disuse at the period when the Order ceased to be a military institution. They are, however, curious, as tending to show the peculiar feelings of the age in which they were formed ; and are, therefore, well worthy of the perusal of the student. The Order soon increased in numbers and in reputation. In consequence of a visit to Normandy, England and Scotland, by Hugh de Payens, (AD 1128,) large grants of land, as well as of money, were made to the Templars.
The Templars and the Hospitallers were the guardians of the true cross -the former marched on the right, and the latter on the left of the sacred emblem. The punishment inflicted on a Templar for cowardice. was to be deprived of his white mantle and cross, to be cast out from among the brethren, and to be "compelled to eat on the ground, without a napkin or table cloth, for the space of one year; and, the dogs, who gather around him and torment him, he is not permitted to drive away." But, if truly penitent, he is at the expiration of the year, again restored to fellowship in the Order.
In 1172, the Templars conquered the Assassins, and forced their chief, - the "old man of the mountain," to purchase peace. In the battle near Ascalon, (Nov. 1, 1177,) in which the infidels were defeated, Odo, with cighty Knights, broke through the famous guard of Mamlooks, slew their commander, and forced Saladin to fly, almost naked, on a fleet dromedary. In the following year, at the battle of Jacob's Ford, where there was much hard fighting, the Master of the Hospital having fled, covered with wounds, and the Count of Tripoli also, the Templars "were all killed or taken prisoners, and the Master Odo de St. Amand fell alive into the hands of the enemy." Saladin burned down the fortress, and all the Templars taken in the place were sawn in two, except the most distinguished.
James de Molay, Preceptor of England, was chosen Grand Master, by a general Chapter of the Fraternity, in 1297." A French writer, an enemy of the Order, thus describes him: " Molay was the younger brother of one of the most distinguished houses of the ' Comte' of Burgundy. His elder brother possessed, in that country, a large property, and had a high position. From his youth, Molay had been a member of the Order; in it, he had acquired a great reputation ; he had passed through all the degrees, and had become a Grand Prior. He was a lord of true merit, brave, of high intellect, of a mild and amiable character ; his morals were pure, and his conduct without reproach. He had always appeared with distinction at the Court of France, and had been fortunate enough to merit the favour of the King, who, in 1297, had selected him to hold at the baptismal font M. Robert, his fourth son. He was still held in such high esteem, when all the lords of the Court, who were yet ignorant of the hatred of the King, and his fatal determination against the Order, concerning which he preserved the most profound secresy, aided in the election of Molay, even believing that they were affording a pleasure to that prince."
In 1302, the Grand Master endeavoured to recover Palestine, but "was defeated by the Sultan of Egypt, with the loss of one hundred and twenty of his brethren." The zeal for the crusades had cooled. Large possessions had, from time to time, during the holy wars, been granted in most of the European States to the Templars. The Order had grown rich and powerful. The nobles had become impoverished by the pioui liberality of their ancestors. The exchequers of the princes of Europe were nearly exhausted. Christendom had no longer any use for her valiant defenders. She became jealous of them. Disputes arose between the clergy and the Order; and the Pope was compelled, on several occasions, to interfere in behalf of the latter.
The Templars had gained the hatred of Phillip the Fair, a talented but needy and avaricious prince, whom Dante justly terms "the curse of France." During the difficulties between him and Boniface VIII, the Templars espoused the cause of the latter. Moreover, his Majesty, on a certain occasion, caused coin to be issued below the legitimate standard. A rebellion ensued, and the Templars, whose rents were immense, were supposed to be the principal instigators of the existing disaffection. In the early part of the fourteenth century, by the persecution of Philip the Fair of Prance, the Order was suppressed and their possessions confiscated throughout Europe - as also in England by Edward II at the instance of the Pope.
The Templars were condemned without a hearing. The Order, whose members for one hundred and seventy years had shed their blood and lavished their treasure in defence of the Cross, against the Crescent, was declared heretical. The knights, who had solemnly sworn never to fly in the presence of three enemies, if they be infidels, were denounced as heretics and apostates. They were accused of the blackest crimes - of crimes at the mere thought of which every upright man must shudder - of crimes subversive of religion, government and social organization - of crimes contrary to the physical and psycological laws whereby the Grand Architect governs the universe.
In one night (13 October 1307) all the Templars in the French dominions were simultaneously arrested0 and thrown into prison. The rack and the torture were unsparingly applied. Some confessed all the horrible crimes and absurdities imputed to them, in hopes of obtaining pardon. Most of these, on being restored to liberty, withdrew their confessions, and solemnly declared that the excessive torments to which they had been subjected alone induced them to make acknowledgments which they knew to be false. They were treated as relapsed heretics, and were cast into the flames. Those who persisted in denying the guilt of the Order were subjected to the torture. Neither age nor rank could save them. Many died under it. Some languished in loathsome dungeons for years, and perished from neglect, disease and starvation. Others, of more robust frames, were, in time, restored to liberty, to wander about the world, with mutilated limbs, to earn their bread as best they might.
The rest of Christendom were not tardy in following the pious example set by his Christian Majesty, Philip the Fair, and Clement V. But, the other sovereigns of Europe were rather more merciful. They were satisfied with attaining the rank of robbers," without aspiring to that of murderers also; for, be it said to their honor, if honor they deserve, that "in no place situate beyond the influence of the King-of France and his creature, the Pope, was a single Templar condemned to death."
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