A Study of the Knights Templar: Through the Heart Of A Present Day Priestess

We were on the road to Le Puy-en-Velay in the Mas­sif Cen­tral of France, where the ancient vol­canic remains have left a val­ley with jagged rock out­crop­pings and giant basalt pil­lars, topped with ancient jew­els of his­to­ry. My part­ner and I had decid­ed to explore the his­tor­i­cal sites of the Knights Tem­plar in the beau­ti­ful Langue­doc and Rous­sil­lon regions. Here I hoped to see for myself and get a direct feel from some of the places that the Tem­plars had been to try and under­stand them bet­ter. Who were they, real­ly? What had dri­ven them to go to Jerusalem after the first cru­sade? What man­ner of man would take a vow of per­pet­u­al chasti­ty, obe­di­ence and pover­ty after the man­ner of monks? Then still kill in the name of their faith? What was the mea­sure of their pow­er? How was their vast Tem­plar trea­sure accu­mu­lat­ed? What hap­pened to it? How and why did they per­ish? What were their last­ing influences?

I am a mod­ern day priest­ess involved in the pur­suit of light, life, love and lib­er­ty and I have always found myself linked inex­plic­a­bly to many ancient reli­gious paths. The Ancient broth­er­hood of the Tem­plars had a past that intrigued me with a sense that they had some­thing to impart to me. My ancient his­tor­i­cal inter­ests had tak­en me to many places of Holy wor­ship around the world. They had begun in Ancient Egypt with its arid plateaus and riv­er val­leys of hid­den secrets. Then lat­er the Ancient Celtic, Roman and Greek worlds became my study. All have pro­vid­ed a rich­ness so vast in their mytholo­gies and Gods, that I have been occu­pied with their cul­tures and the­olo­gies for many years. In each of these places I vis­it­ed and with every book I had read on each sub­ject, I placed myself in-setu as a per­son of the times, soak­ing up the ether­ic ener­gies to get a sense or feel for how it must have been like to be alive in those times. I could pic­ture myself among the pil­lars at the Tem­ple of Diana, feel the mud below my feet along the Nile, be kneel­ing in prayer at a sacred well in Crete giv­ing thanks, or danc­ing in the wild woods of Sum­mer in the Bavar­i­an Alps, because I had been to all of these places and had received a sense of dis­cov­ery and understanding.

The clos­est thing I had ever had any­thing to do with the Cru­sades were the cos­tum­ing of the Renais­sance Fairs of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, and even that was off by sev­er­al hun­dred years. I had been to France twice before, but my inter­ests of those expe­ri­ences lay in the ear­ly pre­his­toric migra­tions or lat­er in the 15th through 18th Cen­turies with the roman­ti­cism of Shake­speare. I had read about the Cru­sades. I knew that they were a com­bi­na­tion of the Church want­i­ng to destroy those that had non-believ­ers and a State want­i­ng more prop­er­ty. It was already a mil­i­taris­tic soci­ety with a pen­chant for vengeance and greed. Then some­thing hit home. Was this fight still not going on? After all, there exists still today many coun­tries with peo­ple who are still fight­ing a “lib­er­a­tion theology.”

In order for me to become clear about what I was embark­ing upon, it was nec­es­sary for me to inves­ti­gate the his­to­ry of the Knights Tem­plar more deeply. To per­haps look at what prompt­ed the cre­ation of the Tem­plar broth­er­hood. What I dis­cov­ered was a series of events that polit­i­cal­ly and reli­gious­ly set the stage for the per­fect fer­vor that was to come.

There was a “mirac­u­lous” dis­cov­ery by Empress Hele­na, wife of Con­stan­tine, 298 years after the death of Christ, of the Holy sep­ul­cher. It was here that Solomon had erect­ed a house where the Lord had appeared unto David. Where it was thought the remains of the true cross lay. A church was imme­di­ate­ly erect­ed over this sacred mon­u­ment. When word got out, the pil­grims began to flood in. The Ara­bi­ans cap­tured the city in 637, and gave the Chris­tians pro­tec­tion and the right to their own wor­ship. In 1065 the Ara­bi­ans were defeat­ed by a North­ern sav­age tribe, the Tur­co­mans, who did not hon­or the Chris­t­ian beliefs. In fact, they ridiculed, oppressed, plun­dered, impris­oned, ran­somed and mas­sa­cred most of the Chris­t­ian cit­i­zens and pil­grims. In Addis­on’s book, The His­to­ry of the Knights Tem­plars, he says, “a nerve was touched of exquis­ite feel­ing, and the sen­sa­tion vibrat­ed to the heart of Europe.” The threat of hav­ing holy arti­cles at such a holy place put in jeop­ardy was a com­pelling rea­son for an army to be dis­patched; for at that time they believed that relics were imbued with super­nat­ur­al pow­er. Here then was the spark that stirred Pope Urban II to launch the First Cru­sade in Novem­ber of 1095.

With this in mind, I climbed the steep and ancient mount in Le Puy, site of the Chapelle Saint-Michel D’Aigu­il­he, where the first cru­saders came to pray before embark­ing on their long jour­ney to the Holy Land. It is a remark­able nat­ur­al lava cone of only 170 meters in cir­cum­fer­ence at the base, but it soars to 82 meters high. On top sits a chapel that was begun in the 10th Cen­tu­ry and com­plet­ed in the 12th Cen­tu­ry. In this small, dark­ened and irreg­u­lar­ly shaped build­ing, we sat in com­plete silence and awe. As our eyes adjust­ed to the light, we could make out the high altar, a sim­ple stone table with flow­ers at its base. To the side was a rod iron can­dle hold­er that held per­haps a dozen can­dles. No flash­es are per­mit­ted with­in, as the walls still hold their ancient vest­ments of design and col­or, albeit fad­ing through the cen­turies. Paint­ings of Saints in red and ocher, blue-greens and gold could bare­ly be made out in the shad­ows. Relics were in a small glass cab­i­net to the side.

I pic­tured many a knight com­ing here for bless­ing. When the sun broke through a small and deep-set win­dow above, it flood­ed the high altar and floor before it. In that sud­den burst of light, I felt an exquis­ite feel­ing of pure devo­tion­al love, a strength­ened will pow­ered by a strong deter­mi­na­tion, a courage that seemed to come from the very stur­di­ness of the rock below our knees, as those first cru­saders must have felt.

The first Cru­sade was suc­cess­ful, par­tial­ly. At least the Tur­co­mans were sent out of Jerusalem, but they took up strong­holds in the rest of Pales­tine. The pil­grims thought all was safe, but they were con­tin­u­al­ly sub­ject­ed to plun­der, rob­bery, hos­til­i­ty and death along the roads that lead to Jerusalem. Then I learned how the Tem­plars came to be, who were orig­i­nal­ly known as the Poor Fel­low-sol­diers of Jesus Christ.

The Knights Tem­plar had began with nine French knights in 1118, who had “peti­tioned the king of Jerusalem, King Bald­win II, to allow them to live in a wing of the palace next to the ancient Tem­ple of Solomon,” with­in the sacred enclo­sure of the Tem­ple on Mount Mori­ah. It was once thought that they did this in order to explore most close­ly the secrets and pos­si­ble trea­sures in the cav­erns below the Tem­ple. Most impor­tant­ly, they planned to pro­tect all pil­grims on their way to and from this Holy City. Two of its mem­bers were well known, Hugh de Payens and Geof­frey de St. Alde­mar; and it was Hugh de Payens, who was even­tu­al­ly cho­sen as the first Mas­ter of the Tem­ple. Ten years lat­er, after hav­ing kept their promise, they were grant­ed the Pope’s approval. Because they mil­i­tant­ly pro­tect­ed this tem­ple, they came next to be known as the “Knight­hood of the Tem­ple of Solomon.”

In 1128, St. Bernard asked for a con­vo­ca­tion of an eccle­si­as­ti­cal coun­cil at Troyes, where the Rule, or the reg­u­la­tion of the fra­ter­ni­ty was writ­ten. It was divid­ed into sev­en­ty-two chap­ters and was addressed, “to all who dis­dain to fol­low after their own wills, and desire with puri­ty of mind to fight for the most high and true king.” It was most thor­ough, being many pages long list­ing their prop­er con­duct. There were devo­tion­al exer­cis­es, self-mor­ti­fi­ca­tion, peri­od­ic fast­ing, prayer and con­stant church atten­dance. “That being refreshed and sat­is­fied with heav­en­ly food …of the divine mys­ter­ies …that none might be afraid of the fight, but be pre­pared for the crown.”

The ranks of the Order grew with each noble­man donat­ing por­tions of his prop­er­ties and rev­enues. King Steven of Eng­land con­tributed a prop­er­ty in Essex. In 1133, King Alfon­so of Aragon and Navarre, willed his entire king­dom to the Tem­plars. When the sanc­tion of the first priests that were allowed to spill blood was accept­ed, many joined the order. Like the feu­dal dis­tinc­tions that sep­a­rat­ed the peo­ple of Europe, the knights were a com­bi­na­tion of many class­es. There were edu­cat­ed men that con­trolled the bank­ing, but then there were many illit­er­ate and sim­ple men that filled the ranks. The Tem­plars grew, and so did their hold­ings. Thus the Tem­plars became the ser­vants and com­pan­ions of roy­al­ty. Princes, nobles, illus­tri­ous per­sons, sov­er­eigns and their sub­jects all gave hand­some amounts. All of which were to go to pro­tect­ing the Holy city of Jerusalem. The Count of Cham­pagne, the tenth mem­ber to join, and Abbot Bernard de Clair­vaux uti­lized some of the mon­ey and prop­er­ties col­lect­ed to have built the cathe­dral at Chartres.

There were oth­er Orders of Knights exist­ing at the same time: The Knights Hos­pi­tallers or the Knights of St. John and the Teu­ton­ic Knights of St. Mary. At one time and anoth­er, they all fought along side each oth­er in dif­fer­ent skir­mish­es dur­ing the many waves of the first cru­sade upon the Holy City.

Hugh de Payens, hav­ing firm­ly estab­lished hold­ings in France, Spain and Eng­land, returned to Jerusalem with new­ly elect­ed Tem­plars from prin­ci­pal­ly, France and Eng­land. This was done none too soon, for while away the Mus­sul­men and war­like Zinghis who felt them­selves to be the cho­sen cham­pi­ons to avenge their prophet com­pe­tent in their zeal, over-threw the Cru­saders. Cries for sup­port went to the Pope, and the sec­ond Cru­sade was begun. Pope Euge­nius then decreed that the Tem­plars would wear a red cross on a white tunic over their left breast so that on a bat­tle­field every Chris­t­ian would know them imme­di­ate­ly as an ally. They were then called the Red Fri­ars and the Red Cross Knights.

Broth­er Ever­ard des Bar­res became the new Mas­ter of the Tem­ple upon the death of Hugh de Payens, and with the stan­dard of Louis the French king, they went back to Pales­tine. Con­rad, emper­or of Ger­many was already there. Togeth­er they all fought in the city of Dam­as­cus against the forces of Nur-ad-Din, the sul­tan of Egypt. They fought a bit­ter bat­tle in Anti­och, where the Tur­co­mans and the armies of Nur-ad-din destroyed what was left and recap­tured Jerusalem. Instead of rous­ing more Tem­plars to their aid, Mas­ter Bar­res abdi­cat­ed his author­i­ty and entered a monastery in Clair­vaux unable to accept the blood upon his hands. The new Mas­ter would not give up, Bernard de Treme­lay. He mount­ed an attack on the prime city of Ascalon and through a breach in the walls made it into the cen­ter of the town, where severe­ly, every Tem­plar was slain. Treme­lay was suc­ceed­ed by Broth­er Bertrand de Blan­que­fort, and he too, after attempt­ing to march on the great city of Tiberias, was sur­round­ed and three hun­dred brethren were slain. Him­self and eighty-sev­en men were tak­en cap­tive. The sec­ond cru­sade had been a fail­ure. The stern fanati­cism and reli­gious zeal of the Nur-ad-Din armies, like the Tem­plars, were just stronger. In that, the Tem­plars and Mus­lims were remark­ably sim­i­lar. Both fought for their God with the belief that the oth­er was the infi­del and that the fight for their reli­gion was in obe­di­ence to their God.

With these thoughts of the sec­ond cru­sade and the down-heart­ed major­i­ty of Tem­plars return­ing to Europe with only a small foothold left in Gaza in Pales­tine, we entered the small church in La Cou­ver­toirade, the ancient for­ti­fied town that was once the prop­er­ty of the Knights Tem­plars and a last strong­hold. All of the Tem­plars were not knights; there were also priests and serv­ing brethren who returned desir­ing a more pro­tect­ed and monas­tic life. Many for­ti­fied towns such as La Courver­toirade were built and many com­man­daries such as at St. Eulalie de Cer­non and La Cav­al­rie were established.

We arrived ear­ly as the mist was just leav­ing the ground and the rough hewn stone walls that sur­round­ed this vil­lage turned a lighter gray, up from the dark green moss at the walls base. In sea­son this town boasts 148 cit­i­zens. In its height near­ly 800 lived in and around the town. Now, in off-sea­son there was no one about. We passed the arched gate entry and wound our way by the dirt paths up to the largest struc­ture still stand­ing, the Tem­plar Cas­tle. Built on a rock base, all that is left are the high Nor­man keep, with out­er faced, flat but­tress­es and a cur­tain wall. The insides are open, and rocky with grassy tufts.

Next to it is the church of Saint Christo­pher, built in the 13th Cen­tu­ry. It was built upon an old­er church, the Saint Chris­tol parish church of the 12th Cen­tu­ry. its base hav­ing been carved from a quad­ran­gle of hewn-out rock. Just inside its doors two small ste­les on the far wall gave evi­dence that this was once a Tem­plar place of prayer. Sparse­ly fur­nished, with­out even pews, a rough gray stone floor and walls with a leak­ing nave, all gave the ancient feel­ing that a returned pil­grim might walk in the door at any time. In the ceil­ing at the junc­tion of the small crenela­tions to the wall, were Tem­plar cross­es. Alone and caught in a dis­tant mem­o­ry, I leaned against one wall and closed my eyes. I felt an over­whelm­ing sense of hard­ship and dis­ap­point­ment. I pic­tured the sad faces of some returned pil­grims com­ing in through the light of the church door. Maybe they had gone all the way to the Holy land just to find that upon arrival, they had to turn right around, escap­ing with their life and had nev­er been able to pray at the holy mount. Per­haps they had lost too many broth­ers on the bat­tle­field. Per­haps they had returned home to find that all too much time had passed and their loved ones were gone.

Just out­side, there is a small ceme­tery with half a dozen Tem­plar tomb­stones. These are shaped from rock into a key­hole design. True to the Tem­plar sym­bol­ism, their tops were round and inside were the cross­es, or fleur-de-lis. No names, no dates, just cir­cles and cross­es. It was gray and light­ly sprin­kling, but it only added to the total ambiance of this amaz­ing­ly intact vil­lage. Sur­round­ing all are ram­parts with high walls and a para­pet, which can be walked upon half of the way around that gave vis­age to the bright green Larzac plain spread out below.

I remem­bered that at the end of the sec­ond cru­sade, even though the Tem­plar virtues were exult­ed and their priv­i­leges con­firmed, there arose alleged com­plaints of mon­e­tary and land abuse by some of the cler­gy. Many priest and Tem­plar sup­port­ers had stayed in France and Eng­land to enjoy these land hold­ings, con­sum­ing large pro­por­tions of those rev­enues, which ought to have been faith­ful­ly for­ward­ed to the Holy Land. There came about a col­li­sion with the jeal­ous eccle­si­as­tics. It was said that the Tem­plars took over church­es with­out con­sent, “that they admin­is­tered the sacra­ments to excom­mu­ni­cat­ed per­sons and buried them with all the usu­al cer­e­monies of the church.” They had also enjoyed immu­ni­ties and advan­tages with­out legit­i­mate right. They were not oblig­ed to pay tithes to the church, but they could receive them. No broth­er could be excom­mu­ni­cat­ed, and where ever they went they were to be received with rev­er­ence and cer­e­mo­ny. It was not to last.

The Pope, still con­cerned about the retrieval of their hold­ings in Jerusalem put out a call for more cru­sades in 1157, 1165, 1166, 1169, 1173, 1181 and 1184, but each time it fell on deaf ears. At this time a reli­gious sect hid­ing in Tripoli descend­ing from the Ismaelians of Per­sia, known as the Has­sissin or assas­sins, became known. The Count of Tripoli, a large mon­e­tary sup­port­er of the Tem­plars, was slain by these fanat­ics. The Tem­plars flew to arms, found the assas­sin strong­hold and demand­ed com­pen­sa­tion in the form of an annu­al trib­ute. The Has­sissin leader told the lead­ers in Jerusalem that if his peo­ple embraced Chris­tian­i­ty, could they be released from the pay­ment? It was agreed, but one Knight, Tem­plar Wal­ter du Mes­nil, killed the envoy, which caused the King of Jerusalem to become incensed and demand­ed that the guilty par­ty be turned over to him. Mas­ter of the Knights, St. Amand, respond­ed that they did not answer to any­one but the Pope. How­ev­er, lat­er, Mes­nil was deliv­ered in chains.

Also at this time, Nur-ad-Din, sul­tan of Dam­as­cus had died and what came to be known as the great Sal­adin, his nephew, raised him­self as sov­er­eign in Egypt and in Syr­ia. Sal­adin was well aware of what had been going on in Jerusalem. He had ear­li­er in his career actu­al­ly mount­ed an attack on the city, but had with­drawn his troops when he saw how fierce the Tem­plar Knights had act­ed. He was ready to recap­ture the coun­tries Holy city. Sal­adin attacked in 1177 with 92,000 men, but Mas­ter Odo de St. Amand with only eighty knights, broke through the Mam­look guards and Sal­adin, bare­ly escaped.

Dur­ing this time, the Tem­plar strong­holds in Eng­land had become more numer­ous and a New Tem­ple was erect­ed for the mil­i­tary monks, novices, Supe­ri­ors and for the now retir­ing elder Tem­plars that had actu­al­ly sur­vived the first cru­sades. This Tem­ple in Lon­don came to be known as the “store­house of trea­sure.” An inqui­si­tion and a recount­ing of the Tem­plar pos­ses­sions and hold­ings was demand­ed by King Hen­ry. There were hold­ings in Jerusalem, Tripoli, Sici­ly, Castille, Leon and Aragon. There were also numer­ous hold­ings in Ger­many, Hun­gary and Greece. France and Eng­land held the great­est rich­es and real estate. It was esti­mat­ed that in the ear­ly 1200’s that the annu­al income of the order was six mil­lion sterling!

I bore wit­ness to the wealth of the church­es that were built in France in sev­er­al places that I vis­it­ed. One was as I stood near the transept of the great cathe­dral of Notre-Dame in Paris. On the site of a Roman tem­ple the build­ing was com­mis­sioned in 1159 by the Bish­op de Sul­ly. The Kings gallery fea­tures 28 stone images of the kings of Judah. All though it is dif­fi­cult to know which is part of the orig­i­nal build­ing since dur­ing the Rev­o­lu­tion the build­ing was des­e­crat­ed, stand­ing between the West rose win­dow and the South rose win­dow, I sensed a great­ness that the church must have felt. The Holy Land was still secured. The bril­liance of the reds and blues showed unknow­ing­ly an alle­go­ry to the spir­i­tu­al pure­ness of the Holy endeav­or and the ruby red blood spilled in the name of glo­ry. The Tem­plar heroes of the time were ven­er­at­ed at each Mass. In the low hum of the tourists, I thought I heard the mur­mur­ing of tens of thou­sands pray­ing for their safety.

In Chartres Cathe­dral, on a pre­vi­ous trip, I remem­bered being in the Apsi­dal Chapel, stand­ing before the Veil of the Vir­gin rel­ic. The orig­i­nal Romanesque Cathe­dral was built in 1020. Lat­er the Cathe­dral was most­ly destroyed by fire in 1194, though the stat­ue of the Vir­gin has sur­vived. I saw this gold­en Vir­gin shrine haloed in bril­liant white lights. They sparkled like dia­monds around her, exult­ing her per­pet­u­a­tion. I remem­ber expe­ri­enc­ing a sense of awe wash over me. It had become more than a stat­ue, more than ado­ra­tion or a trib­ute; it rep­re­sent­ed the pro­lif­er­a­tion of a glo­ri­fied ide­al­ism for reli­gious perfection.

In Paris again, the ethe­re­al and mag­i­cal church of Sainte-Chapelle had giv­en much of the same feel­ing. It orig­i­nal­ly housed Christ’s Crown of Thorns and frag­ments of the true cross that had been pur­chased from the Emper­or of Con­stan­tino­ple. Built in 1248, Louis the IX had this mas­ter­piece cre­at­ed with 15 mag­nif­i­cent stained-glass win­dows depict­ing more than 1,000 bib­li­cal scenes from Gen­e­sis through to the Apoc­a­lypse. Here we sat first on one side look­ing up at the North win­dows and then on the oth­er side look­ing up at the South win­dows. I was tremen­dous­ly impressed by the ardor of the artists that had rig­or­ous­ly recre­at­ed the insub­stan­tial bib­li­cal sto­ries in such detail. The depic­tion’s though glo­ri­ous they were when the light poured through, were not what impressed me, but the degree of fer­vored belief that had cast its own strength.

Though the wealth and strength of the Tem­plars had grown, only two groups of knights were expe­dit­ed from Europe to Pales­tine to rein­force the hold­ing of the Holy Mount. In 1185 a con­fer­ence was held between the sov­er­eigns of France and Eng­land con­cern­ing the pro­posed suc­cor to the Holy Land. Word of their dis­en­chant­ment reached the Jerusalem Chris­tians. Oth­er prob­lems were brew­ing too. The Patri­arch Her­a­clius of the Tem­ple church quar­reled with the king of Eng­land. He was already sus­pect­ed of poi­son­ing the arch­bish­op of Tyre. But the coup de gras was soon to come. The Grand mas­ter Ger­ard de Rid­er­fort, had crowned the nephew of king Bald­win the IV, when he died. But Bald­win the V also died only sev­en months later.

The Grand Mas­ter then raised Sibyl­la, the moth­er of the deceased and her hus­band Guy of Lusig­nan to the throne. Guy de Lusig­nan was not favored by the court; not even by his own broth­er Geof­frey. A great dis­sen­sion arose. The Count of Tripoli with­drew in dis­gust, and “the state was torn by fac­tion at a time when all the ener­gies of the pop­u­la­tion were required to defend the coun­try from the Moslems.”

Sal­adin lay in wait­ing for the per­fect time. He’d assem­bled an army out­side of Dam­as­cus and although the Tem­plars with sup­port of the Hos­pi­tal­lars and the new count of Tripoli’s forces had great­ly strength­ened their fortress­es, most per­ished in those bloody bat­tles. Mas­ter Amand was tak­en pris­on­er and after a refusal for a trade release of Sal­ad­in’s nephew, he was thrown to prison and there died. Sal­ad­in’s sec­re­tary wrote, “I bear wit­ness that there is no God but that one great God who hath no part­ner, that Mohammed is his ser­vant and apos­tle, who hath opened unto us the gates of the right road to sal­va­tion.” How per­fect­ly the Islam­ic faith­ful were guid­ed by the exact same sense of dec­la­ra­tion as the Pope had enu­mer­at­ed to the Tem­plar Chris­tians to hold Jerusalem. The tip­ping of the karmic scale had begun to shift. On May 10, 1187 one of Sal­ad­in’s sons crossed the Jor­dan with 7,000 men for the first major assault. The Mas­ter of that cities tem­ple tried to ral­ly as many knights as fast as he could, but the inevitable slaugh­ter com­menced. The Mus­lim fight­ers sev­ered the heads of the Tem­plars and attached them to their lances, as they head­ed for the next bat­tle at Tiberias.

Lat­er in July, the Tem­plars lead an attack against Sal­ad­in’s 80,000 who were backed by the lake of Tiberias. The Tem­plars rushed “like lions upon the Moslem infi­dels.” Sal­adin set fire to the dry grass­es between them and the wind blew the smoke direct­ly into the faces of the on rush­ing knights. This bat­tle has been com­pared to the last judg­ment, by the dust, smoke and fire, din and blood. Sal­ad­in’s sec­re­tary con­clud­ed, “The aveng­ing sword of the true believ­ers was drawn forth against the infi­dels; the faith of the Uni­ty was opposed to the faith of the Trin­i­ty, and speedy ruin, des­o­la­tion, and destruc­tion, over­took the mis­er­able sons of bap­tism!” After the con­quest of almost forty cities, Sal­ad­in’s men rushed the holy city, Jerusalem; and on Octo­ber 2, took con­trol of the sacred city. Sal­adin had the Cru­sad­er army decap­i­tat­ed and washed the entire Tem­ple area down with rose water. The ancient Tem­ple was restored to its orig­i­nal con­di­tion with Mus­lim sanc­ti­ty. Most all Tem­plar hold­ings were rav­aged, burned or cap­tured except for Ascalan, Gaza, and Tyre. Two of those cities sur­ren­dered, but Tyre was left stand­ing. Sal­adins atten­tions were dis­tract­ed by the Tur­co­mans begin­ning an inva­sion into the north of Syr­ia. A truce was called for a peri­od of four years, in which time the Tem­plars des­per­ate­ly sought regroup­ing and sup­port from king Hen­ry the II of England.

Tem­plars from all sur­round­ing nations ral­lied and made many valid attempts to roust Sal­adin. In the mean time, the third cru­sade was being planned. Philip Augus­tus and Richard Coeur de Lion arrived in Acre on the shores of Pales­tine with roy­al fleets, ready to force their hand. They recap­tured many of the forts and cities and set­tled into Gaza before the final blow. Their strength in lay­ing siege was reward­ed and there­by was rat­i­fied “a treaty where­by the Chris­tians were to enjoy the priv­i­lege of vis­it­ing Jerusalem as pil­grims.” Tyre, Acre and Jaf­fa were yield­ed to the Chris­tians. The Tem­plars back in con­trol strength­ened their dominion.

It was not for long, how­ev­er, because the Carizmi­ans, a fierce tribe of Tar­tars from north Asia over­threw and slew near­ly 1,000 men. Sur­pris­ing­ly, since the Carizmi­ans were also the ene­mies of the Mus­lim sul­tan, they joined forces and rout­ed their now shared ene­my. This tem­po­rary alliance was not what Fred­er­ick the Sec­ond, want­ed. In fact he accused the Tem­plars of mak­ing war upon the sul­tan of Egypt in defi­ance of their present treaty. Fear­ing reprisal, anoth­er cru­sade was called. Despite this warn­ing, in 1249 the Tem­plars with the aid of French king, Louis IX went off to Egypt where they took the city of Dami­et­ta in retal­ience of their cap­tives that had been tak­en to Cairo in the ear­li­er war with Saladin.

Edward Prince of Wales, son of Hen­ry the Sec­ond, king of Eng­land, ral­lied to the aid of the last defend­ers in Jerusalem and came with a fleet to Acre. He defeat­ed the infi­dels and pushed them back to Egypt. On his jour­ney back, his father died in Eng­land and when he returned found him­self king. Now, King Hen­ry the III tried to ral­ly anoth­er cru­sade and sought to tax all eccle­si­as­ti­cal dig­ni­ties. The Pope was in sup­port, but died before the work of col­lect­ing com­menced. A “change came over the spir­it of the age; the fiery enthu­si­asm of the holy war had expend­ed itself.” Sad­ly, with­out the hope of sup­port, the Mas­ter of the Tem­ple, William de Beau­jeu returned to Acre to renew the peace treaty that was com­ing to clo­sure after ten years. Although the truce last­ed for some time, it even­tu­al­ly was bro­ken by both sides, until 1291 when the sul­tan of Egypt mount­ed a final attack against the last 12,000 men.

Women, chil­dren and the fee­ble were sent to Cyprus. They bat­tled for over a month and at the last 300 men, they asked for terms and were grant­ed depar­ture of the city, car­ry­ing what they could, unharmed. Upon see­ing some of the women that had stayed behind, and curi­ous as to what the Tem­plars were car­ry­ing away, the Mus­lim sol­diers charged and broke the terms of the sur­ren­der. Furi­ous, the Tem­plars slammed the gates shut and killed all Mus­lim sol­diers with­in. In the night, a cho­sen few of the order col­lect­ed the trea­sure of the order and left by a secret postern of the Tem­ple, found their way to the har­bor and escaped to Cyprus. The remain­ing few, held to a tow­er of the Tem­ple; but the next day after work­men had under­mined the tow­er and set fire to it, the remain­der of the knights were killed.

Short­ly there­after, Jacques de Molay, the Pre­cep­tor of Eng­land, was cho­sen as the Grand Mas­ter of the Tem­plars. After one more attempt at try­ing to gain back Pales­tine, the down­fall of their fra­ter­ni­ty was emi­nent. Now with the ser­vices of the Tem­plars no longer need­ed, the envi­ous began to regard the great wealth of the Tem­plars most close­ly. “The priv­i­leges con­ced­ed to the fra­ter­ni­ty by the Popes made the church their ene­my. Dis­putes arose between the fra­ter­ni­ty, the bish­ops and priests.” All rev­enues that had been com­ing in from the wealthy, began to cease. Edward the First seized and took back his mon­ey from the order to for­ward it to their brethren in Cyprus, for the bet­ter use of sup­port­ing the remain­ing fam­i­lies there. On the pre­text that he want­ed to see his mother’s jew­els in the cof­fers of the New Tem­ple in Eng­land, he broke into that trea­sury and car­ried off 10,000 pounds of it. His son act­ed sim­i­lar­ly. The Tem­plars too, began to inter­fere with the pol­i­tics of the time. When they began to fight among them­selves, par­tak­ing of the war­fare between Eng­land and Scot­land, their pop­u­lar­i­ty dimin­ished greatly.

At this time, Philip the Fair, son of St. Louis, was the king of France. When Pope Bene­dict XI died, Philip raised one of his groomed car­di­nals to the arch­bish­op of France. The new pope moved the papa­cy from Rome to Avi­gnon in France. In 1305, the new pope took the name of Clement V. He then received a let­ter from King Phillip to write to the mas­ter of the Tem­ple order­ing him to come imme­di­ate­ly to con­duct a new enter­prise for recov­ery of the Holy Land. The Grand Mas­ter oblig­ed and brought with him the trea­sure from Cyprus. While de Molay was in end­less meet­ings that went no- where for the recov­ery plan, secret agents of the French king cir­cu­lat­ed rumors about the Tem­plars. A par­doned pris­on­er was well reward­ed for an accu­sa­tion charg­ing the Tem­plars with heresy. King Philip, pre­pared with only these trumped up oaths, sent secret orders to all his provinces to have every Tem­plar arrest­ed on Octo­ber 13th. An inqui­si­tion would then pro­ceed, using tor­ture if nec­es­sary to extract the truth of their “abom­i­na­tions”. The King of Eng­land, Edward the II, also received a sim­i­lar let­ter out­lin­ing the same course of action. Edward refused to believe it. But it was begun.

While stand­ing at one end of the Pope’s Tow­er at the Palais du Papes in Avi­gnon, I mulled over the sequence of events that his­to­ri­ans tell us occurred. The Pope must have looked out over the whole of his new palace grounds and with mixed emo­tions con­tem­plat­ed his new posi­tion and res­i­den­cy. Only months before he had been one of many car­di­nals, but one of king Philips trust­ed. Had it been a grim trade the king had bar­gained with him? Only the Pope could read­i­ly sum­mon the Mas­ter of the Tem­ple to France and bring the Tem­plar trea­sure that had gone to Cyprus back to France and not to Rome as it might have gone. But King Philip was pow­er­ful and smart. Only the Pope could right­eous­ly direct the cor­rect tone of the alle­ga­tions that the king had pre­sent­ed him with. Before this, had he not sup­port­ed the cause and brav­ery of the Knights Tem­plar with all that they had done to secure the Holy Land? And now, the king had sent word to order their arrest with what he must have felt was very wrong. I pic­tured him, hold­ing the let­ter from the King. There he must have stood, feel­ing as a pup­pet, forced to pro­ceed with a deplorable plan. Many Tem­plars had received ear­ly warn­ing of the arrests that were soon to occur. Had there been a mes­sage sent secret­ly by mes­sen­ger send­ing word to the Brethren? In my heart, I hoped the Pope had. But noth­ing now would stop the king.

The Knights Tem­plar remained stead­fast in their denials of all charges. Thir­ty-six under extreme tor­tures per­ished. The whole of Europe was aston­ished at the pro­ceed­ings. King Edward of Eng­land wrote let­ters to the kings of Por­tu­gal, Castile, Aragon and Sici­ly, implor­ing them to “turn a deaf ear” to the alle­ga­tions against so revered a brethren as the Knights Tem­plar. He also wrote anoth­er let­ter to the Pope, implor­ing him to clear the Knights. The Pope replied that he had evi­dence that the brethren “had been secret­ly liv­ing in per­fid­i­ous apos­ta­sy, and in detestable hereti­cal deprav­i­ty.” The king of Eng­land along with Ire­land, Scot­land and West and North Wales were asked to seize all lands owned by the Tem­plars until the inquiries were com­plet­ed. The Pope sent anoth­er let­ter list­ing all the var­i­ous con­fes­sions extract­ed, though they had been done so under extreme duress. The Tem­plars were arrest­ed in 1308 in all parts of France and Eng­land. 229 Tem­plar Knights were held, though some man­aged to escape.

On Octo­ber 20th, 1309 with the Tem­plars now impris­oned for more than a year and eight months, a tri­bunal con­vened, head­ed by the Pope. The papal bull was read list­ing 87 arti­cles of atroc­i­ties that the Tem­plars had per­formed against Jesus Christ. Thir­ty-three knights were brought before the tri­bunal for exam­i­na­tion and all denied every charge against them. Exam­i­na­tion upon exam­i­na­tion con­tin­ued from Octo­ber through the fol­low­ing year. The tide was indeed turn­ing against them. The priests con­demned them, because they had always been against the church. The poor turned on them because the Tem­plars had closed their doors to them and had only enter­tained the rich. The com­mon mis­trust­ed them, as they knew the Tem­plars to have met secret­ly at night.

Some con­fessed near to their deaths, then when released revoked their con­fes­sions, where­by they were arrest­ed again and con­demned to the fire. Many fol­lowed; one hun­dred and thir­teen in total were burned at the stake. The remain­der, were held in soli­tary con­fine­ment for sev­er­al more years. In Lon­don, some promised to pub­licly repeat a form of con­fes­sion and then were solemn­ly absolved and rec­on­ciled to the church. “The coun­sels of Tar­rag­o­na and Aragon pro­nounced the order free from heresy. In Por­tu­gal and in Ger­many the Tem­plars were declared innocent.”

Jacques de Molay, the Grand mas­ter of the Tem­ple had been in prison now for over five years. He was forced to write a con­fes­sion, which after­ward he called a forgery. On March of 1314, he and the Pre­cep­tor of Nor­mandy, were brought for­ward with for­mal charges. When asked to con­fess his sins, de Molay replied, “I do con­fess my guilt, which con­sists in hav­ing, to my shame and dis­hon­our suf­fered myself, through the pain of tor­ture and the fear of death, to give utter­ance to false­hoods, imput­ing scan­dalous sins and iniq­ui­ties to an illus­tri­ous order, which hath nobly served the cause of Chris­tian­i­ty. I dis­dain to seek a wretched and dis­grace­ful exis­tence by ingraft­ing anoth­er lie upon the orig­i­nal false­hood.” At dawn the next morn­ing, they were burned at the stake on a lit­tle island in the Seine, between the king’s gar­den and the con­vent of St Augustine.

Descend­ing the Parisian stairs from the square du Vert Golant on the edge of where the king’s gar­den used to be, I saw before me the plaque that com­mem­o­rates the last of the Knights Tem­plar, Jacques de Molay. At the end of the isle de Cite now, is a peace­ful lit­tle point of soil and rock where gar­den grass and col­or­ful flow­ers bloom in plumed red and pink celosea. Here once was the swampy tulle area where Molay had been burned. When the sun came out we lounged on a park bench and med­i­tat­ed upon de Molay and his hon­or of dying by his truth. Falling from the trees were red-brown chest­nuts. Their shape look­ing rem­i­nis­cent of a human heart fall­en to the ground. I sighed and could only think of the injus­tice that had befall­en the once most beloved and devot­ed brethren in all of Europe. The song, Frere Jacques was going through my head and I won­dered how many knew that this song was de Molay’s dirge. “Broth­er Jacques, broth­er Jacques. Are you sleep­ing? Are you sleep­ing? Morn­ing bells are ring­ing, morn­ing bells are ring­ing, Ding, dong, ding. ”

Though some of the Tem­plars had escaped, and it is long rumored that they took a great deal of their trea­sure with them, they must have had a lone­ly and sad remain­ing exis­tence. Could the whole of the prob­lem been avert­ed if King Phillip had been admit­ted to the Tem­plar broth­er­hood? Could jeal­ousy of the cler­gy have been turned into full eccle­si­as­ti­cal sup­port if the Knights had sim­ply giv­en a por­tion of their wealth over in a tithe? Would they have been more beloved of the peo­ple if they had opened their hearts and pock­ets to the liv­ing who real­ly need­ed their sup­port and not to the mem­o­ry of the son of god that was long gone? Per­haps their zeal­ous­ness was an out­er exten­sion of a lie so great­ly cre­at­ed by the church, that when it reached such abom­inable bloody pro­por­tions the church had no choice oth­er than to end their pow­er? Per­haps their very rich­es were too tempt­ing for the state to leave untouched?

Inside the Eglise Ste-Eliz­a­beth locat­ed in the Quarti­er du Tem­ple, near the Plaza de Tem­pli­er, I sat in a back pew and lis­tened to a small group of devot­ed mem­bers sing a song of such beau­ty that tears came to my eyes. I knew noth­ing of what they sang, only that the voic­es seemed to con­vey both a great joy and a great sad­ness. It was my last day in France. Had I found what I had come search­ing for? I knew that what I had explored was only the begin­ning of the cru­sades, even though it had been the end of the Knights Tem­plar. The fight for reli­gious free­dom had con­tin­ued on with the monks of the Cathars. I thought back to that first expe­ri­ence in Le Puy where the first cru­sade had tak­en leave, to all the places I had vis­it­ed and received a com­pas­sion­ate, albeit intu­itive sense of know­ing. I had felt some of those glo­ries and pain. The com­plete truth, I knew, remained hid­den through the cen­turies in the unspo­ken words of the his­to­ri­ans. It had been a deep jour­ney. One I would nev­er for­get. Though I had nev­er lit a can­dle in my life at any Chris­t­ian church, I had done so in that dark lit­tle chapel in Le Puy. The prayer, I felt, was one that thou­sands must have sim­i­lar­ly given.

Dear God and all the forces of nature, I pray that all who have gone before and who con­tin­ue to go brave­ly onto the fol­low­ing of their true wills; and hav­ing filled their hearts with the joy of their expres­sions of truth, and their preser­va­tion of lib­er­ty, be brought safe­ly home. Unto their depart­ed spir­its I light this can­dle with love.”


Addi­son, Charles G.  The His­to­ry of the Knights Tem­plars, First pub­lished in Lon­don 1842. Reprint­ed by Adven­tures Unlim­it­ed Press Kemp­ton, Illi­nois , 1997

Billings, Mal­colm  The Cross & The Cres­cent. A His­to­ry of the Cru­sades, Ster­ling Pub­lish­ing Co., Inc. New York, 1990

Hal­lam, Eliz­a­beth-Edi­tor  Chron­i­cles of the Cru­sades, Wei­den­feld and Nicol­son, New York, 1989

New­by, P.H.  Sal­adin in His Time, Barnes & Noble Books, New York, 1983

Nicolle, David  Sal­adin and the Sara­cens, Reed Inter­na­tion­al Books, Ltd., Chica­go, 1986

Part­ner, Peter  The Knights Tem­plar and their Myth, Des­tiny Books, Rochester, Ver­mont, 1990

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