THE KNIGHTS TEMPLAR: FACT & FANTASY
Bro. Alan H. Hooker
Although The Ritual of the Religious, Military and Masonic Order of the Temple advises us that we are not lineal descendants of the medieval order of chivalry whose name we bear, I have taken as the subject of my paper the establishment, rise, fall and dissolution of that order—the 'Fact' of the title. The latter part of the paper considers the possible meaning of the crimes of which the Templars were accused, and briefly discusses the survival of the Order and its connection with present-day Freemasonry—the 'Fantasy'.
The Chivalric Order of the Poor Knights of the Temple of Solomon (Knights Templar) was founded by Hugh de Payens in 1118, a year commemorated on the certificate issued to masonic knights which expresses the date Anno Domini and Anno Ordinis. Amid much bloodshed, the city of Jerusalem had been recaptured in 1099 from the Moslems who had held it since 638, and the Kingdom of Jerusalem had been established under a French King—Baldwin I. The holiest places in Christendom were again available as places of pilgrimage for Christians from Europe and Asia Minor.
Although the city was held by the Christians, prospective pilgrims were subject to many dangers and difficulties in making the journey to and through the Holy Land. Hugh de Payens, a somewhat eccentric though well-connected knight, was Lord of the Castle of Martigny in Burgundy, a cousin of the Counts of Champagne and possibly a relative of St. Bernard of Clairvaux. He had come to the Holy Land in 1115 and by 1118, when Baldwin I died, had made himself the protector of pilgrims on the road from Jaffa to Jerusalem. He persuaded seven other knights from Northern France to join him and all took a solemn oath before the Patriarch to protect pilgrims and to observe poverty, chastity and obedience. Already this unofficial band were on the way to becoming a religious order—firstly monks and secondly soldiers. The knights presented a very unprepossessing appearance, being dressed in old clothes and, as depicted on the Seal of the Order, riding two to a horse. They impressed King Baldwin who gave over to them the El-Aqsa mosque as their headquarters. They built additional wings, and the Muslim place of worship, itself occupying the southern part of the site of Solomon's Temple, temporarily became a Christian church.
In 1126 Baldwin II lost many men in the bloody battle of Tel Shaqab and the time seemed ripe for the mounting of a new crusade. In the following year—1127—Hugh de Payens went in person to St. Bernard of Clairvaux to ask for such a crusade. He returned to the Holy Land with a Rule for his Order. Before the formulation and adoption of the Rule, and despite their vows, the knights did not look on themselves as a religious order, and Hugh de Payens's title—Magister Militum Templi (Master of the Knights of the Temple) recalled that of the Commander in Chief of the later Roman Empire. St. Bernard took an immediate liking to Hugh and the Templars, and saw a means of channelling the surplus energy of the feudal nobility. He promised Hugh he would 'compile a Rule and find recruits who can fight the battles of the Lord and indeed be Soldiers of Christ'.
At the Council of Troyes, the Rule, possibly compiled by St. Bernard himself though this is disputed by modern authorities—was debated and endorsed. The Templars became 'Military Cistercians' and, in common with that Order, the Brother Knights wore the white hooded habit and, by the same token, the lesser brethren wore brown. The knight had to crop his hair and grow a beard. He was forbidden to kiss, even his mother or sister. Silence was a rule that was enforced even to the extent of using signs in the refectory. The simplicity of the Cistercian altar furnishings was paralleled by the plainest weapons and saddlery. The knights slept in dormitories and attendance at Matins was strictly enforced. The form of service used was not the full Roman office, but the 'Little Office', consisting of psalms and prayers which could be easily memorized by men unable to read. Religious services alternated with military exercises. The two main meals, eaten in silence, were accompanied by readings from a French translation of the Bible—particular attention being directed to the Books of Joshua and the Maccabees. Wine was served with every meal and meat was eaten three times a week. Hawking and hunting were forbidden. The Master was an abbot. For the first time in history, soldiers would live as monks. St. Bernard had defined a new vocation and set out its ideals in a pamphlet In Praise of the New Knighthood. With such high ideals and such support the Templars became heroes almost overnight, and both cash and recruits flooded in.
Hugh de Payens returned to Palestine in 1130 and commenced the establishment of a series of Preceptories or Commanderies. The first were set up in the front line territories of Jerusalem and Antioch, then in Castile-Leon, Aragon and Portugal, still later in France, Britain, Sicily and Germany. Each Preceptory was ruled by a Master, owing allegiance to the Grand Master in Jerusalem. Outside the Holy Land the Preceptories were used to administer estates, to recruit and train knights and as homes for the elderly brethren. How different in a comparatively short space of time was the Order from the ragged companions of Hugh de Payens.
By the middle of the thirteenth century the hierarchy was as follows:
- Grand Master
- Seneschal—Grand Master's deputy
- Marshal—supreme military official
- Commander of the Land and Realm of Jerusalem—Treasurer
- Commander of the City of Jerusalem—Hospitaller
- Draper, or Keeper of the Wardrobe—Quartermaster General
The Grand Master was chosen by an elaborate combination of voting and drawing lots, in a manner similar to the election of the Doge of Venice, in order to ensure impartiality. The Order had great ecclesiastical privileges, being responsible directly to the Pope, and the brethren, as clerics, could only be tried in ecclesiastical courts—a point to remember when the fall of the Order is recounted.
A knight saw himself as a solemnly professed member of a religious order. Fighting men joined not merely to fight but for prayer, and for making holy the only work they knew. In St. Bernard's words, 'killing for Christ is malecide not homicide; the extermination of injustice rather than the unjust—to kill a pagan is to win glory for it gives glory to Christ. Death in battle means consecration as a martyr'—20,000 knights in two hundred years of war became such martyrs. By the Rule the knights vowed to practise not only poverty and chastity but—probably hardest of all—obedience. When captured they were not permitted to seek ransom. The ultimate penalty was expulsion from the order, which would be inflicted for desertion to the Saracens, heresy, murdering a fellow Christian, or loss of the black and silver gonfalon—'Beauseant'.
In view of the accusations made against the order and the confessions obtained, it is difficult to state with any certainty the details of proceedings or of the ceremony of admission to the Order. The following may, however, represent an approximation:
At Meetings each knight on entering had to make the sign, ' In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost', and had to remove his chapeau de bonet and coiffe. The Master then called the brethren to order and directed them to pray, whereupon each brother repeated the Paternoster. All were then seated and precautions were taken that no person who was not a brother Templar was able to overhear what was passing.
The Master addressed the brethren in the Name of God, admonishing then praying, and commanding them to improve. If any brother felt that he had committed wrong, he could make his confession to the Master and was ordered to retire beyond earshot. The Master repeated the confession to the brethren who thereupon passed judgment upon the wrongdoer. The erring brother was recalled, the judgment communicated to him and a suitable penance allotted.
Following the confessions, admonitions and penances, the Master would say: 'Beaux Seigneurs Freres, you know that every time we leave the Chapter, we ought to ask Our Lord for peace'. He would then lead the prayers, praying especially for peace, the Church and the Holy Kingdom of Jerusalem, his house and all religious houses, the benefactors of the House, living and dead, and for all those who had departed this world. The Chaplain would lead the brethren in confession and grant absolution that being a power given him by the Pope. There was almost certainly a practice for the Master—whether a priest or not—to forgive the brethren their sins, and this was one of the charges levelled against the order. Incidentally, it was the only ground on which the order in England was abolished.
Thus, the normal business of the Chapter was to receive confessions. Exceptionally it would conduct a ceremony of admission which was likely to have been as follows:
There was no period of probation and a candidate would be admitted either as a serving brother, a knight or a priest of the Order. On the appointed day the candidate, accompanied by his parents, relatives and friends, would present himself to the Chapter. This must have been at some outer room, since, as we have seen, the proceedings were conducted in secret.
The Chapter would be informed of the presence of the candidate and the brethren asked by the Master to declare if anything was known against him. If nothing was said, the candidate was parted from his relatives and friends and placed in a room near the Chapter. It was this practice of secrecy that later led to suspicion as to what actually went on. Admissions to other orders were held in public
Two brothers, corresponding to the Deacons, went to the candidate and enquired of him what he wanted. When they reported back to the Master, he instructed them to point out the hardships to be expected from membership of the order. Having done this, the 'Deacons' asked the candidate if he still wished to persevere in his desire to enter the order. His answer proving affirmative they would then introduce him to the Chapter. He took an oath of poverty, chastity and obedience; he received the mantle and was kissed on the mouth by the Preceptor. It was at this point that the prosecutors of the order alleged that the candidate was told to deny God, spit on the Cross and commit an obscene act. (Considering that details of these matters were extracted under torture, and that all the confessions are in identical words, they become rather suspect. )
A very full account of the reception given by Fra. Geraldus de Causse makes no mention of these dubious matters.
Once established and organized the order grew in stature and wealth. The Knights earned great fame for themselves by their bravery—and at the same time incurred the jealousy of the other orders, in particular the Knights Hospitaller of St. John. Despite their valour the Kingdom of Jerusalem tottered and finally came to an end with the loss of Acre in 1291. The age of the Crusades and of Chivalry was at an end. Jerusalem would remain in Muslim hands for over six hundred years—until 1917. During the period from their foundation to the fall of Acre, the Templars had developed skills other than fighting. They had an unparalleled spy system and, possessing the necessary vaults as well as integrity and organization, became professional financiers, foreshadowing the great Italian banking houses of the later Middle Ages. All monies for the Holy Land required for the building of fortresses, hiring mercenaries and buying off enemies, were conveyed by them to Jerusalem. Even Muslim merchants deposited their cash with the local Templars. The knights ran their own fleet in which they conveyed pilgrims; unlike others, they could be trusted not to sell their passengers into slavery. Any space on the ships was used for merchandise and they established a thriving export business, taking advantage of their exemption from the Customs dues. The term 'poor knights' was now scarcely appropriate. Although individually the brothers owned nothing, as an order they seemed set to possess everything.
After the fall of Jerusalem, the Templars moved to Cyprus. In 1295 Jacques de Molay was elected Master. He inherited an order around which strange rumours were circulating, due partly to the mania they had developed for secrecy.
History tells us that Philip le Bel, King of France, determined to destroy the Templars. Various reasons are given for this, from his desire to lay hands on their vast wealth to his fear of a coup d'etat. The decision to bring about the destruction was most likely made by the Chancellor—Nogaret. The Pope and the Papal Court were in exile in Avignon and Clement V—a former archbishop of Bordeaux—had attained the Chair of St. Peter largely through the efforts of his former sovereign, in return (it was rumoured) for certain favours that would in due course be demanded from him. Evidence for a prosecution was obtained from Esquia de Florian of Beziers, a former Prior of Montfaucon, who had been expelled from the Order for irregularities.
For a price he accused the brethren of blasphemy and unnatural vice. Spies were infiltrated into the order and by 1307 Nogaret had sufficient material on which to proceed. Clement, who was weak and credulous, wrote to de Molay and the Master of the Hospitallers proposing a new Crusade. Jacques de Molay, hoping to secure leadership of such a project, replied that he would visit the Pope to discuss the matter in detail. With great ostentation he landed at Marseilles with sixty knights and rode to Paris where he was warmly greeted by King Philip. He visited the Pope at Poitiers and asked for the setting up of a Papal Commission to investigate the alleged irregularities with which the order was charged. Philip now made a move. On the night of 12113 October 1307, de Molay and his knights were arrested by the King's troops. By morning some fifteen thousand arrests had been made—less than two hundred of whom were full brethren. Since the Order was a religious one, answerable to the Pope, such arrests by the civil authority were of course illegal.
The charges made fell into five categories:
- Blasphemy—Denying Christ and defiling the Cross
- Adoration of an idol
- Perversion of the Mass
- Heresy—Wearing a cord of heretical significance
- Unorthodox absolution
- Immorality—The obscene kiss
- Unnatural vice (sodomy)
- Crime—Ritual murder
- Treachery—to other sections of the Christian Army
The knights were kept in prison for some time and then, under torture, confessed to some or all the charges. Here were men who would fight without fear against the Muslims, but broke down when tortured by their fellow-Christians. During the examinations thirty-six brethren died. Of 138 examined, 123 admitted to the least of the charges—spitting on the Cross.
The significance of the confessions must be considered in the context of the mores of medieval man. It was an accepted practice to swear to anything under duress, and then to obtain absolution when safe from further bodily harm. It should also be borne in mind that confession to heresy or other ecclesiastical crime could be absolved and a suitable penance imposed. If the 'heretic' later withdrew this confession—made under oath—he would be handed over to the civil authority to be burned as a relapsed heretic. Even the Grand Master himself confessed, and this, when the news reached the brethren, demoralized them.
The Pope, despite his weakness of character, protested and suspended the Inquisition in France. In view of the sensational matters which had come to light he was, however, persuaded to issue a Bull ordering the arrest of all the Templars. Courts of Enquiry were set up throughout
Europe. In England 135 Templars were arrested in January 1308 and held for eighteen months before being brought to trial. All but two of the Scottish Templars escaped to join Robert the Bruce's guerrilla forces.
To return to the Grand Master, in June 1308 Philip met with the Pope and agreed to surrender the Templars to a Papal Commission. This Commission assembled in August 1309. On 26 November the Master came before the Commission, a broken old man in rags. He drew himself erect and vehemently retracted his confession. He declared that no other order had such rich churches, celebrated the Mass with more dignity or had fought more determinedly and more bravely, or had more generously given its blood in Palestine for the Christian faith. Nogaret interrupted to the effect that the order's corruption was notorious. However, the Commission was impressed and asked de Molay if he would undertake the defence of the order. The Grand Master now made two fatal mistakes: (l) He demanded to see the Pope. (2) He declined to take on the defence of the Order. At this, the Chairman adjourned the Commission until February 1310, realizing that by that date the knights would have heard of their Master's refusal to conduct their defence and become even more demoralized. Philip probably thought the matter was now at an end but, in April 1310, brother after brother retracted his confession. Five hundred offered to undertake the defence of the order. Of these, four were selected, amongst them a Fra. Pierre de Boulogne. He prepared a statement for the Pope affirming the innocence of the Order, and demanding:
(a) the release of the brethren from the secular authority
(b) that laymen—that is, Philip's agents—be excluded from the Court
(c) that the accused be supplied with funds to conduct their defence
Pierre argued fluently and logically. How could the Templars deny Christ when so many had died in his name in Palestine? The Commission was shaken.
At this juncture the controller of the ecclesiastical machinery in Paris—the Archbishop of Sens (a creature of the King), handed over fifty-four of the Templars to be burnt by the secular arm as relapsed heretics. All met their fate with determination, shrieking from the flames that they were guiltless. This panicked the Commission, who adjourned on 30 May. The remaining brethren withdrew both their retractions and their offers to defend the order.
In February 1312 the French Estates General demanded the condemnation of the order, and in response Clement formally pronounced the Poor Knights of the Temple of Solomon guilty of all the charges brought against them. The Papal Bull Vox in Excelso dissolved the order, explaining that although the charges could not be proved he, the Pope, was convinced of their guilt. A further Bull on 2 May gave the lands of the Templars to the Knights Hospitaller of St. John of Jerusalem. There is considerable doubt as to whether this latter order actually received much as Philip first deducted the very considerable costs of the long drawn-out proceedings.
The final act of the drama now opened. On 14 March, 1314, the four Great Officers were paraded outside Notre Dame to hear their sentence—life imprisonment. The Master now spoke.
I think it only right that at so solemn a moment, when my life has so little time to run [he was nearly seventy] I should reveal the deception which has been practised and speak up for the truth. Before heaven and earth and with all of you here as my witnesses, I admit that I am guilty of the grossest iniquity. But the iniquity is that I have lied in admitting to the disgusting charges laid against the order. I declare, and I must declare, that the order is innocent. Its purity and saintliness are beyond question. I have indeed confessed that the order is guilty, but I have done so only to save myself from terrible tortures by saying what my enemies wished me to say. Other knights who have retracted their confessions have been led to the stake; yet the thought of dying is not so awful that I shall confess to foul crimes which have never been committed. Life is offered to me but at the price of infamy. At such a price, life is not worth having. I do not grieve that I must die if life can be bought only by piling one lie upon another.
The Preceptor of Normandy—Fra. Geoffrey de Charnay—spoke with equal defiance.
On the next morning these two brethren were roasted alive on an island in the middle of the Seine, shouting their defiance. A legend arose that as they died they summoned Philip and Clement before God. The Pope was dead within a month, the King by the autumn. Thus ended the Religious and Military Order of the Poor Knights of the Temple of Solomon.
Before leaving the historical section of this paper, some possible explanation of the meaning of the crimes of the Templars must be considered.
- Trampling on the Cross. If such a practice had been observed by the agents who had been infiltrated into the order, there is a possible explanation that this was a misunderstanding of a series of ritual steps similar to those in the third of the Craft degrees.
- Spitting on the Cross. This may be explained as an expression of detestation of the instrument which brought about the death of Our Lord. Another explanation is that, having taken an oath of obedience, the new knight was put to a severe trial by being ordered to do something contrary to his basic Christian beliefs.
- Worship of an Idol. The idol, or anything resembling it, has never been discovered. It was described as a wooden image with a long beard and no body. Commentators have assumed a three-dimensional bust. The name of the idol, Baphomet, has been explained as a corruption of Mahomet and it has therefore been assumed that the Templars had become tainted by Islam. Such a contention can be demolished as Islam forbids images in human or animal representation or statues of any kind.
A novel explanation has recently been offered in a book dealing with the Shroud of Christ. The Shroud appeared in Europe and has an unbroken documented existence only since the fourteenth century. The first recorded owner is one Geoffrey de Charny a namesake of Jacques de Molay's companion at the stake. The idol it is suggested, was the shroud so folded and mounted in a frame that only the bearded face was visible. In support of this theory is a panel discovered in 1951 at the former Preceptory in Templecombe which is a copy of such a picture—an unhaloed head with grizzly beard.
- Unnatural Vice. Charges of this kind, such as that of sodomy, were the stock- in-trade of medieval heresy trials, notably the persecutions of the Albigensians, a gnostic sect believing in an evil material world created by an evil god. It is a favourite charge levelled against any all-male society.
- Unauthorized absolution. As stated earlier the practice of the Master, whether a priest or not, granting absolution had grown up, probably from the fact that by their Rule the Master fulfilled the role of abbot.
- Treachery and cowardice. Looking at the long record of the Templars in battle, such charges were obviously 'trumped-up'.
Finally some theories have been advanced as to the continuation of the Order beyond the death of the Grand Master and of its possible connection with Freemasonry. In 1804 the French Order of the Temple listed among its treasures a Charter of Transmission. This Charter purported to prove that Jacques de Molay, foreseeing the troubles to which the order would be subjected, selected as his successor one Jean Marc Larmenius. Larmenius in his old age, by the Charter appointed Franciscus Thomas Theobaldus of Alexandria as his successor. The document lists an unbroken line of twenty-two Grand Masters down to 1804.
Gould in his History of Freemasonry declares the document to be spurious largely on the grounds that the Latin of the transcript does not conform to fourteenth- century practice and that no original of the document has ever been seen. This latter criticism was remedied in 1911 when Bro. Fred Crowe, a member of Quatuor Coronati Lodge, published a paper claiming to have found the original. This was in the form of a parchment written in cipher based on dissections of the Templar Cross. On translating the document it was found to be in accord with the transcripts previously published but, more importantly, it contained certain abbreviated forms of words as were in use in the fourteenth century and the absence of which would have cast severe doubts upon its authenticity.
The parchment was presented to Great Priory and can be seen in Mark Masons' Hall. There would not seem to be any further references which either prove or disprove its genuineness. A further criticism of the Charter is that by their Statutes the knights elected the Grand Master by an elaborate system of lot and ballot, whereas in this document each Master appoints his own successor. However, this change in procedure is recorded in the document itself which reads:
Therefore with the help of God and with the sole consent of the supreme Assembly of the Knights, I have conferred…
The question remains, 'Why did both the Charter and the order remain in hiding for nearly five hundred years?' A possible answer to this question may lie in the speech known as Ramsay's Oration.
As we are all well aware, accepted or speculative Freemasonry was revived in England in 1717. In 1723 the first Book of Constitutions was produced by Dr. James Anderson. In addition to the Antient Charges and Laws and Ordinances, this book contained a fabulous history tracing the origins of the Craft back to Adam, who after the Fall clad himself in an apron!
In 1737 Chevalier Ramsay, a Stuart supporter living in France, delivered an address which was published in the Almanach de Cocus. By this he declared that, although every age had its secret societies, it was only from the Crusaders of the eleventh century and not the Architects of Como or the Stonemasons, that Freemasonry had come down to us.
At the time of the Crusades in Palestine many princes, lords and citizens associated themselves, and vowed to restore the Temple of the Christians in the Holy Land, to employ themselves in bringing back their architecture to its first institution. They agreed upon several ancient signs and symbolic words drawn from the well of religion in order to recognize themselves amongst the heathen and Saracens. These signs and words were only communicated to those who promised solemnly, even sometimes at the foot of the altar, never to reveal them. This sacred promise was therefore not an execrable oath, as it has been called, but a respectable bond to unite Christians of all nationalities in one confraternity. Sometime afterwards our Order formed an intimate union with the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem. From that time our lodges took the name of Lodges of St. John. The union was made after the example set by the Israelites when they erected the second Temple, who whilst they handled the trowel and mortar with one hand, in the other held the sword and buckler ... After the deplorable mishaps in the Crusades, the perishing of the Christian armies, and the triumph of Bendocdar, Sultan of Egypt, during the eighth and last Crusade, that great Prince Edward, son of Henry III, King of England, seeing there was no longer any safety for his brethren in the Holy Land, whence the Christian troops were retiring, brought them all back, and this colony of Brothers was established in England. As this prince was endowed with all the high and noble qualities which constitute heroes, he loved the fine arts . . . declared himself Grand Master of the Order, gave it various privileges, and…the members of our fraternity took the name of Freemasons after the example set by their ancestors.
A possible—though disputed—effect of this speech was the foundation of the masonic orders of chivalry. The French Order of the Temple, seeing these orders springing up, now—conveniently—produced documents and relics proving that they and they alone were the true heirs of Jacques de Molay. Having now been linked with Freemasonry, the masonic knights and others set out to prove that the Knights of the Temple had survived as the freemasons, but this is truly in the realms of fantasy. It will be recalled that in 1307 some fifteen thousand arrests had been made, but only a few hundred knights had been questioned and executed. What happened to the rest? They were released and fled to be given sanctuary by the groups of masons who were then building the Gothic cathedrals. In return for protection, they passed on to the masons their secret doctrines !
Evidence for this Templar descent of Freemasonry may be quoted in the following examples:
- The initials of the last Grand Master—Jacobus Burgundus de Molay—were preserved as the initials of the words of the three Craft degrees, always bearing in mind that the words of the first and second degrees were transposed in the eighteenth century following a disclosure.
- The Craft and Royal Arch legends dealt with the Temple at Jerusalem.
- The Hiramic myth was a re-enactment of the death of Jacques de Molay, the three villains being Philip le Bel, Clement and Chancellor Nogaret.
- The main stronghold of the Hospitallers was the castle of Gibelin.
—and so on, and so on, and so on.
It is certainly interesting that an order which lasted barely two hundred years should have given rise to so much speculation for the past six hundred years, especially considering that many similar orders have disappeared into obscurity. Some occultists have seen the Templars as guardians of a secret doctrine, which can be traced back to the beginning of time. Nesta Webster, whose book, Secret Societies and Subversive Movements, sets out to prove that the Templars, freemasons, Illuminati, bolsheviks, et alii are all part of a plot by international Jewry to overthrow governments and take over the world. This book, originally published in the 1920s, is still being reprinted. One proof of this contention is the French Revolution, where the Jacobin Party—obviously named for Jacques de Molay—finally revenged his death by executing Louis XVI.
In 1917 there appeared a manifesto published in Switzerland by Theodor Reuss which began:
Let it be known that there exists, unknown to the great crowd, a very ancient order of sages, whose object is the amelioration and spiritual evolution of mankind . . .
This Order has existed already in the most remote times and it has manifested its activity secretly and openly in the world under different names and in various forms . . .
The organization is known at the present times [sic] as the Ancient Order of Oriental Templars—Ordo Templi Orientis—otherwise the Hermetic Brotherhood of Light.
The Order had for its Chief in England Aleister Crowley, a noted occultist who died in 1948, and undoubtedly it still exists in this country though not openly. The rituals, which have been disclosed, are perverted forms of masonic ritual, and are based on the assumption that the Templars were guilty of the sexual crimes attributed to them.
In the context of our order, these details, though of possible interest, are irrelevant. They can be considered in passing but membership of this modern Templar Order should be treated for what it is—a brotherhood of like-minded men, united in a belief in a Holy and undivided Trinity, whose objects are Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth.