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© Copyright 1999, All Rights Reserved.
Non nobis, Domine, non nobis, sed nomini tuo da gloriam
Not mine, Lord, not mine, but yours is the glory.
March 18, 1314, Isle du Palais, Paris, France. Stripped of their robes of office, the two men were chained to stakes, the executioners surrounding them with carefully selected cured wood and charcoal, so that the fire would be slow-burning and hot, and the relapsed heretics would be roasted slowly and agonizingly. The next day, fueled by rumors of the dying monk's final challenge, that the king and the pope who had so betrayed him meet him within the year before the Throne of God, the people of Paris braved the waters of the Seine to retrieve holy relics, cinders from the excommunicated soldiers, Jacques de Molay, last Grand Master of the Pauperes Commilitones Christi Templique Salomonis, the Poor Fellow Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon, the Knights Templar, and Geoffrey de Charnay, Preceptor of Normandy.
Founded in 1118 by Hugues de Payen and eight fellow knights, four of whom are known to be related in some way to de Payen, the Order was entrusted by King Baldwin II of Jerusalem with the protection of pilgrims in the Holy Land. The king went so far as to grant the force accommodation in the cellars of his palace, which had historically housed the stables of King Solomon.
According to Guillame de Tyre, a near-contemporary historian, for nine years little was done, no recruitment, no acceptance of new members, nothing to garner notice. There are no known records of what the nine men spent nine years doing. Legend tells us they excavated the cellars of the Temple of Jerusalem, thought to have been untouched since the Jews fled and were massacred centuries earlier. If so, they kept secret from the world what, if anything, they found.
The Temple did, however, attract the notice and support of Hugues' cousin, Bernard de Clairvaux, a young abbot of the Cistercian order who was one of the most influential churchmen in Europe. The sitting pope, Honorius II, was his friend and former pupil. In 1129, Honorius convened the Council of Troyes and, at the urging of Baldwin II of Jerusalem and Bernard of Clairvaux, granted the Templars papal sanction and established the Latin Rule of the Temple. Predictably enough, said Rule was Cistercian in order and flavor.
The knights swore themselves to poverty, chastity and obedience. Each knight could have only the possessions granted him by the Order: three horses, clothing, a white robe, chain mail, a helmet, equipment for his horses, weapons including a sword, shield, lance, knife, battle-ax and mace, and some personal gear, including bedding and eating utensils. By medieval standards, not a very poor sort of poverty, but necessary equipment for waging war.
In exchange for taking the yoke of service, the nobleman was all but guaranteed a berth in Heaven at the end of his earthly days. With the first millennium since Christ's birth only recently ended, and widespread belief that the end of the world would come when all people became willing (or unwilling) followers of His Church, and with the city of His birth now returned to Christian hands, this was a good deal for the gentry of Europe. It was sweetened even more under Innocent II in 1139, when the new pope placed the Order under direct papal jurisdiction, answerable only to the Throne of Saint Peter, not to secular or ecclesiastical rulers. Responding to obvious papal approval and the exhortations of Bernard of Clairvaux in support of The New Knighthood, landed nobility in Europe bought their way into Heaven with grants of estates and buildings, together with the dependent populations thereon, to the Temple, a trend which would continue throughout most of the Order's almost two hundred year history, eventually making it the richest military organization in the known world, and sowing the seeds of its downfall.
The Templars established the first banking system as we know it, a method of moving money from Europe to the Holy Land to support the Crusaders, but without risking real property on the bandit-ridden journey. A nobleman could deposit cash or goods in a Templar preceptory in Europe and be given a letter of exchequer for the amount to be redeemed in Jerusalem or at any Templar post along the way. The Order also made loans to those wishing to join a Crusade but a bit strapped for cash.
Obviously, an elaborate records system was needed for this, and large amounts of collateral to back the enterprises. Records and treasures which disappeared from history in October 1307.
The KTs were much more than financiers, however. They were a fighting force to be reckoned with in the sun-drenched deserts of the Holy Land. Each swore, on his inception into the order, unconditional obedience to superior officers, not to retreat in battle unless outnumbered at least three to one, to neither ask nor grant any quarter in battle, and to stand and die if so ordered. Additionally, they knew they would not be ransomed if captured, even if it meant life in prison or death. Such fierce fighters were they that they gained the respect of the Muslims they fought, enabling them to act as well as emissaries and ambassadors, brokering treaties and ransom agreements for other captured nobles.
This all ended in the summer of 1187, at the Horns of Hattin. Poor military strategy lead to the overwhelming defeat of the Christian forces, and the ultimate loss of Jerusalem, home of the Dome of the Rock, from which Mohammed ascended to Allah, a city equally holy and worth death defending for Muslim and Christian alike. The fortunes of the Temple declined from there. Crusade after crusade failed to regain the Holy Land, and the Templar line retreated from the Arab lands as their power, military and political, decayed.
The end came at dawn on Friday, October 13, 1307. Officers of King Philip IV of France, Philip the Beautiful, a monarch deeply in debt to the Order of the Temple and bankrupted by military campaigns of his own, carried out mass arrests throughout France. By the time the sun set that fateful day, thousands of soldier-monks were in chains, charged with capital crimes which were never proven, and the once-mighty Order was broken. Trials continued for seven years, the Knights of God tortured to extract confessions, and burned as relapsed heretics if they recanted these confessions later.
But not all the Templars were captured. Germany refused to cooperate with Philip's suppression. Scotland was, at the time, under papal interdict and no arrests were made there, even though Philip's pet pope had also turned against the Order for which he, as the Bishop of God on Earth, was responsible. And the Templar fleet had set sail, in its entirety, from the port of La Rochelle into the mists of history. It has never been heard from since.
What happened to the massive record system necessary for the international banking structure, and the hard property the system required? Where did the ships go? There are no records, only myths. It is tradition that Templars fought with Robert the Bruce in Scotland, but were they all men stationed there in 1307? It is a matter of record that many of the knights joined the Order of Saint John, as was permitted by the courts of Philip le Bel. In Spain and Portugal, the Temple became the Order of Montesa and the Knights of Christ, respectively. Germany absorbed them into the Teutonic Knights.
Other traditions have it that they morphed seamlessly into the Free and Ancient Scottish Rite of Freemasonry. Aleister Crowley and numerous other founding fathers of modern magickal thought laid claim to Templar knowledge and secrets. It is also rumored that they became the Priory of Zion, dedicated to the preservation of the bloodline of Christ in the family of the Merovingian dynasty of European monarchy.
Like the mystery of the missing fleet, the fates of the Templars not executed or absorbed into known orders are something we may never know. The flames of March 18, 1314, took the answers with them when they took the life of Jacques de Molay.
© Copyright 1999, 2013 Fran Carey, All Rights Reserved.