Militant Monks


Militant Monks, The Knights Templar, a military order of
monks answerable only to the Pope himself, were founded in
1118. Their primary responsibility, at least initially, was
to provide protection to Christians making pilgrimages to
the Holy Land. They rose in power, both religious and
secular, to become one of the richest and most powerful
entities in Christendom. By the time of their disbandment
in 1307, this highly secretive organization controlled vast
wealth, a fleet of merchant ships, and castles and estates
spanning the entire Mediterranean area.
When the crusaders captured Jerusalem from the Muslims in
1099, the Church encouraged all faithful Christians to
visit that holy city in order to affirm their faith. The
area, however, was still subject to sporadic attacks from
various non-Christian factions. A small group of knights,
led by Hugh de Payens, vowed to protect the pilgrims. The
group was granted quasi-official status by King Baldwin II
of Jerusalem, who allowed them quarters in a wing of the
royal palace near the Temple of Solomon. It is from this
initial posting that the order derived its name. They took
the standard vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and
were bound to the rules of the Augustinian order.
[Upton-Ward 1]
The order languished in near-anonimity for several years,
despite generous contributions from various European
personages. In 1126, Count Hugh of Champagne, having
donated his estates to Bernard of Clairvaux for use in
building a monastery for the Cistercian order, arrived in
Jerusalem to join the Templars. This action indirectly
obligated Bernard to support the newly chosen advocacy of
his benefactor. He wrote to the count, "If, for God's work,
you have changed yourself from count to knight and from
rich to poor, I congratulate you." [Howarth 49]
In the year 1126, King Baldwin found two reasons for
wanting official recognition of the order. First, he had,
perhaps prematurely, bestowed upon Hugh de Payens the title
of Master of the Temple. Second, the king had the
opportunity to launch an attack on the city of Damascus,
but he needed more knights. Papal recognition would allow
open recruiting in Europe for the order. King Baldwin sent
a letter to Bernard of Clairvaux, the order's primary
patron, later known as Saint Bernard, asking him to
petition the Pope for official recognition of the order.
[Howarth 50-51]
The King's letter was hand-carried to Bernard by two loyal
and trusted knights, Andrew de Montbard, maternally related
to Bernard, and Gondemare. Upon their arrival at Clairvaux,
the two knights presented Bernard with Baldwin's letter,
which came right to the point. [Upton-Ward 3] "The brothers
Templar, whom God has raised up for the defense of our
province and to whom he has accorded special protection,
desire to receive apostolic approval and also their own
Rule of life ... Since we know well the weight of your
intercession with God and also with His Vicar and with the
other princes of Europe, we give into your care this
two-fold mission, whose success will be very welcome to us.
Let the constitution of the Templars be such as is suitable
for men who live in the clash and tumult of war, and yet of
a kind which will be acceptable to the Christian princes,
of whom they have been the valuable auxiliaries. So far as
in you lies and if God pleases, strive to bring this matter
to a speedy and successful issue." [qtd. in Howarth 50-51]
Bernard realized at once the genius of the proposal to
combine religious and military endeavors. Through such
organizations, the borders of Christendom could be extended
and fortified. He immediately granted his approval of the
plan and pledged his full support. He petitioned Pope
Honorius II for a special council to consider the matter,
and he notified Hugh of his actions. [Howarth 51]
The Council of Troyes convened on January 13, 1128, a
bitterly cold Saint Hilary's Day, for the primary purpose
of considering the request of the Knights Templar. Despite
the delays of written communications, Hugh de Payens,
accompanied by several brother knights, arrived from the
Holy Land in time to attend the meetings of the Council.
[Howarth 51]
William of Tyre wrote an account of the events: "Nine years
after the founding of this order, the knights were still in
secular garb. They wore such garments as the people, for
salvation of their souls, bestowed upon them. During this
ninth year, a council was held at Troyes in France. There
were present the archbishops of Rheims and Sens, with their
suffragans; the bishop of Albano, the Pope's legate; the
abbots of Citeaux, Clairvaux, Potigny; and many others. At
this council, by order of Pope Honorious and of Stephen,
patriarch of Jerusalem, a rule was drawn up for this order
and a habit of white assigned them." [qtd. in
Burman/Templars 27]
Although referred to in William's account by the generic
title Abbott of Clairvaux, Bernard, in actuality controlled
the proceedings of the council. There was little doubt
Bernard's request would be met with approval; he was well
known for his successes in reforming monastic life. He was
held in the utmost respect by religious and lay leaders
alike; in many circles he was referred to as the second
pope. In fact, many of the popes were supplied by the
mendicant orders. [Robinson 66-67]
At a time when monks were more highly regarded than
priests, and considered closer to God because of their
ascetic life-styles, Benard said, "The people cannot look
up to the priests, because the people are better than
priests." [Robinson 67]
Bernard's offer to personally assist in the formulation of
the Rules of the order was gratefully accepted by all.
Bernard based his Rule of the Templars on that of his own
Cistercian order, which was itself based on the older
Benedictine Rule. [Robinson 67]
The Rule of the Templars was a strict and complex system of
686 written laws, meant to cover every possible aspect of
daily life. As an example, Rule 25, On Bowls and Drinking
Vessels, states: Because of the shortage of bowls, the
brothers will eat in pairs, so that one may study the other
more closely, and so that neither austerity nor secret
abstinence is introduced into the communal meal. And it
seems just to us that each brother should have the same
ration of wine in his cup. [qtd. in Upton-Ward 26]
In 1139, Pope Innocent II issued a Bull, titled Omne Datum
Optimum, declaring that the Knights Templar were under the
direct and sole control of the Pope. This freed the Knights
to operate throughout Christendom and the Levant
unencumbered by local ecclesiastical and secular rulers.
This unprecedented autonomy was due, in no small part, to
the personal petitions of the new Grand Master, Robert the
Burgundian. While Hugh had been an excellent warrior,
Robert was an ideal administrator who understood politics.
[Howarth 80]
The Order was authorized to have chaplain brothers, who
were authorized to hear the confessions of their fellow
brothers, and thereby absolve them of their sins. There
were, however, five specific crimes for which granting of
absolution was reserved by the Pope. These were: "the
killing of a Christian man or woman,; violently attacking
another brother; attacking a member of another order or a
priest; renouncing holy orders in order to be received as a
brother; and entering the order by simony." [Upton-Ward 5]
It was also during the mastership of Robert that the Rules
were translated from Latin into French. Church documents
were normally in Latin only, but since most of the Knights
were soldiers rather than educated clerics, they were
unable to read Latin. In 1147, the Knights were authorized
to wear a red cross upon their white mantles, despite rule
18, which forbade any decorations on their clothing.
[Upton-Ward 12]
As the Knights Templar gained political and economic
strength, they found themselves involved in many aspects of
secular life. They established the first truly
international banking service; travelers not wanting to
travel with large sums could deposit their money at any
Temple and collect a like amount at their destination.
[Burman/Templars 85] The Templars were the primary bankers
for the Holy See. Since the order was a papal creation
which was administered directly by the Pope himself, their
significance as papal bankers is understandable. Less
obvious is the Templars' function as royal bankers for
several of Europe's royal houses. The two greatest Temples
outside the Levant were located in Paris and London. These
two Temples offered a full range of financial services to
the royal houses, including collecting taxes, controlling
debts and administering pension funds. [Burman/Templars
87-88] The treasury of the King of France was kept safely
within the vault of the Temple of Paris. [Sinclair 36]
The Templars owned a great fleet of merchant ships with
which to convey all manner of goods, e.g., pepper and
cotton, as well as pilgrims, between Europe and the Holy
Land. People wanting to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land,
but lacking the resources to do so, were allowed to assign
rights to their houses and property, upon their death, to
the Templars in exchange for passage on a Templar ship. To
avoid accusations of usury, this procedure was legitimized
by the papal bull Quantum Praedecessores, issued by Pope
Eugenius II in 1145. [Burman/Templars 75-78]
The Holy Land was divided into four Crusader States:
Jerusalem, Antioch, Tripoli and Edessa. Shifting alliances,
complicated by the plotting of independent Arab emirates,
posed a complicated and often confusing backdrop for the
Knights' military operations. Their first action was in the
northern sector of the Principality of Antioch. They
captured the March of Amanus, which formed a natural
barrier between the city of Amanus and Asia Minor.
[Burman/Templars 50]
The Knights Templar frequently fought side-by-side with
their counter- parts, the Knights Hospitaller, another
military order, founded to provide shelter to sick, wounded
or destitute pilgrims. Together, these two warrior orders
afforded the Holy Land a formidable fighting force.
Although some histories allude to a deep and bitter rivalry
between the two, it is more likely that they cooperated
well during the battles, keeping any such pettiness for the
monotonous weeks between actions. [Upton-Ward 6-7]
The first military action of the Templars was in the
northern sector of the Holy Land. In 1131, they captured
the March of Amanus in Antioch. It was a natural barrier
between the city and Asia Minor, which afforded control of
two roads into Antioch. The same year, King Fulk, Baldwin's
successor, traveled to the site and granted ownership to
the Templars. [Burman/Templars 52]
Control of the various areas of the Holy Land see-sawed
back and forth between the Crusaders and the Arabs, with
neither side enjoying a decisive victory. Then the balance
of power began to change with the rise of the great Arab
leader Salah-ad-Din Yusuf ibn-Aiyub, known to westerners as
Saladin. Descended from a long line of military heroes, he
was born in 1138 in Baalbek, Syria, where his father was
military governor. He began to develop his warrior skills
by accompanying his father and uncles on various campaigns.
[Burman/Templars 98]
Saladin's rise to power was rapid and successful. His
adherence to the orthodox Sunni faith caused him to
initiate dramatic changes in his Shi-ite army. Upon his
ultimate rise to the position of Sultan, he declared a
'jihad', or holy war, against the Crusaders. This intense
refocusing of the Moslem effort began a gradual shift in
power. Christian strongholds fell in increasing numbers,
creating a domino effect. By the middle of 1187, Saladin
had captured Acre, Nablus, Jaffa, Toron, Sidon, Beirut and
Ascalon. Jerusalem fell on 2 October, 1187.
[Burman/Templars 108]
The fall of Jerusalem was a disaster from which the
Crusades never recovered. Among Saladin's prisoners were
the King of Jerusalem and Raynald de Chatillon, commander
of the fortress at Moab. After entertaining the two in his
tent, Saladin had Raynald killed. The King saw his fellow
prisoner executed and thought he was surely next, but
Saladin had him brought back into his tent and told him,
"It is not the habit of kings to kill kings." Saladin's
victory was complete. [Payne 223-4]
In the disarray that followed, the orders began to
disperse. The Hospitallers removed their headquarters,
first to Rhodes and then to Malta; and, with the ultimate
fall of Acre in 1291, the Templars lost their base of
operations and relocated to Cyprus. In effect, the orders
had lost their original reason for existence. [Upton-Ward 9]
As the Knights had their political patrons, so had they
enemies. In 1305, Philip IV of France, known as Philip the
Fair, seized control of the Holy See and relocated the
papacy to Avignon. From there, he initiated a series of
papal decrees, ostensibly issues by Pope Clement V, a
puppet pope under his absolute control. Eyeing the vast
fortunes and resources of the Templars, he conceived a plot
of treachery against them. Since he also controlled the
Inquisition in France, he had no difficulty leveling a
whole laundry list of horrible, but absurd and largely
insupportable, crimes against the Knights.
[Burman/Inquisition 95]
The role of the Inquisition, under the auspices of Chief
Inquisitor Guillaume of Paris, was to obtain confessions
and conduct trials. On Friday the 13th of September, 1307,
the warrant was issued for the arrest of the Knights and
seizure of their property. Many of the Temples were 'tipped
off' by the local sheriffs about the impending sweep, but
Grand Master Jacques de Molay and his associates were
arrested in their bed clothes. The interrogations, aimed at
soliciting evidence of any wrongdoing with which to prove
the allegations against the order, dragged on for years.
Ultimately, the Grand Master, along with other high-ranking
Templars, were executed by burning in March, 1314, on an
island in the Seine. [Howarth 17]
The years between the arrest of Templars and the order's
final dissolution afforded plenty of time for knights on
the lam to become absorbed by the underground. Knights in
England were never pursued, due largely to a rift between
the King and the Church, and many were thought to have
participated in the war between Scotland and England, on
the side of Robert the Bruce. [Robinson 150-51]
The vast fleet of Templar merchant ships was never found.
There is no record of the 18 Templar ships which had been
based at La Rochelle on the French coast, nor any of the
various Templar ships normally anchored in the Thames or
other English seaports. There is some speculation that the
Barbary Pirates, who gained worldwide notoriety by
plundering European shipping well into the 19th century,
were founded by seagoing Templars with revenge on their
minds. Many of the order's ships were galleys, which were
particularly suited for piracy. [Robinson 165]
One of the more mysterious tenets of the Freemasons can be
found in the initiation of a Master Mason. The initiate is
told his degree "will make you a brother to pirates and
corsairs." [Robinson 165-66]
In 1813, a merchant ship, captained by a Freemason, was
captured and boarded by pirates. In desperation, the
captain rendered the Grand Hailing Sign of Distress of a
Master Mason. The pirate captain apparently recognized the
secret sign and allowed the merchant ship to proceed
unharmed. [Robinson 166]
The destruction of the Knights Templar by Philip the Fair
was due to what he saw as wealth, arrogance, greed and
secrecy on the part of the order. Even Philip's lawyer
admitted "perhaps not all of them had sinned." It took more
than suspicion of guilt to bring about the downfall of such
a powerful entity as the Knights Templar. The final blow,
however, was probably three-fold: a general unpopularity of
the order among the European aristocracy, due in part to
jealousy; a chronic shortage in the French treasury,
despite heavy taxation; and Master de Molay's refusal to
consider a merger of the Templars with the Hospitallers, as
suggested by the Pope. The fact remains, however, that no
evidence of heresy was ever found. [Burman/Templars 180]
An order founded by nine knights in Jerusalem came to amass
great wealth and power, which speaks well of their
integrity and discretion. They became the "shock troops" of
the Holy See. When they lost their original mission of
protecting pilgrims upon the fall of Jerusalem, their
downfall became inevitable. [Sinclair 37] 
Works Cited
Burman, Edward. The Inquisition. New York: Dorset, 1984.--.
The Templars. Rochester, VT: Destiny, 1986.
Howarth, Stephen. The Knights Templar. New York: Dorset,
Payne, Robert. The History of Islam. New York: Dorset, 1987.
Robinson, John J. Born in Blood. New York: Evans, 1989.
Sinclair, Andrew. The Sword and the Grail. New York: Crown,
Upton-Ward, J. M. The Rule of the Templars. Suffolk:
Boydell, 1992.

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