By Sandra Birungi
The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon or commonly referred to as the Knight Templars were Christian warriors who came to the rescue of pilgrims who were being killed and slaughtered by bandits as they made their way to the Holy Places on Jerusalem.
A French knight, Hugues de Pavens approached King Baldwin II of Jerusalem with the proposal of creating a monastic order for the protection of the pilgrims. King Baldwin agreed to the request, and granted space for a headquarters in a wing of the royal palace on the Temple Mount, in the captured Al-Aqsa-Mosque. The Crusaders referred to the Al Aqsa Mosque as Solomon’s Temple, and it was from this location that the new Order took the name of Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon, or “Templar” knights.
The original order consisted of Hugues de Payens and eight knights, two of whom were brothers and all of whom were his relatives by either blood or marriage; Godfrey de Saint-Omer, Payen de Montdidier, Archambaud de St. Agnan, Andre de Montbard, Geoffrey Bison and two men recorded only by the names of Rossal and Gondamer. The ninth knight remains unknown, although some have speculated that it was Count Hugh of Champagne himself—despite the Count returning to France in 1116 and documentary evidence showing that he joined the Knights on his third visit to the Holy Land in 1125.
Little was heard of the Order for their first nine years. But in 1129, after they were officially sanctioned by the church at the Council of Troyes, they became very well known in Europe. They received donations of money, land, or noble-born sons to join the Order, with the implication that donations would help both to defend Jerusalem, and to ensure the charitable giver of a place in Heaven.
Bernard of Clairvaux the leading churchman of the time, and a nephew of one of the original nine knights legitimised the Templars who became the first “warrior monks” of the western world. He wrote a multi-page treatise entitled De Laude Novae Militae (“In Praise of the New Knighthood”), in which he championed their mission and defended the idea of a military religious order by appealing to the long-held Christian theory of just war.
“[A Templar Knight] is truly a fearless knight, and secure on every side, for his soul is protected by the armor of faith, just as his body is protected by the armor of steel. He is thus doubly-armed, and need fear neither demons nor men.”
In 1139, even more power was conferred upon the Order by Pope Innocent the second, who issued the papal bull, Omne Datum Optimum which stated that the Knights Templar could pass freely through any border, owed no taxes, and were subject to no one’s authority except that of the Pope. It was a remarkable confirmation of the Templars and their mission, which may have been brought about by the Order’s patron, Bernard of Clairvaux, who had helped Pope Innocent in his own rise.
One of the tenets of their religious order was that they were forbidden from retreating in battle, unless outnumbered three to one, and even then only by order of their commander, or if the Templar flag went down. Not all Knights Templar were warriors. The mission of most of the members was one of support – to acquire resources which could be used to fund and equip the small percentage of members who were fighting on the front lines.
One of their most celebrated victory was at the Battle of Montgisard when The famous Muslim military leader Saladin was attempting to push toward Jerusalem from the south, with a force of 26,000 soldiers. Saladin’s key mistake gave an opening to the Knight Templars who later defeated him and earned a year of peace in Jerusalem. Saladin permitted his army to temporarily spread out and pillage various villages on their way to Jerusalem. The Templars took advantage of this low state of readiness to launch a surprise ambush directly against Saladin and his bodyguard, at Montgisard near Ramla. Saladin’s army was spread too thin to adequately defend themselves, and he and his forces were forced to fight a losing battle as they retreated back to the south, ending up with only a tenth of their original number, the victory became a heroic legend.
However, everything comes to an end and the victory and glory of the Knight Templars soon came. It came when on July 4, 1187 came the disastrous Battle of the Horns of Hattin led once again by Muslim military leader, Saladin. The Templars were overcome by the desert heat within a day, and then surrounded and massacred by Saladin’s army. Ridefort then made a further error which was destined to demoralize the entire Templar Order: rather than fighting to the death as was the Templar mandate, he was captured, and allowed himself to be ransomed by surrendering Gaza to Saladin. Although Ridefort tried to attack Saladin’s forces again a few months later at the Siege of Acre, he was captured again and this time, beheaded.
The battle marked a turning point in the Crusades, and within the year the Muslims had re-taken Jerusalem. This shook the foundation of the Templars, whose entire reason for being had been to support the efforts in the Holy Land. At the time of their arrest, the Order of the Temple, Knights Templars had amassed great wealth. They loaned enormous amounts of money to the Kings of both England and France as well as many great nobles.
In 1312, after the Council of Vienne, and under extreme pressure from King Philip IV, Pope Clement V issued an edict officially dissolving the Order. This followed matters concerning another loan. The young Philip the fourth, King of France had needed cash for his war with the English and asked the Templars for more money. They refused. Philip had earlier borrowed money from the Templars; the enormous sum of five hundred thousand livres for the dowry of his sister. He was later ex communicated. The king responded by sending his councillor, Guillaume de Nogaret, in a plot to kidnap the Pope from his castle in Anagni in September 1303, charging him with dozens of trumped-up charges such as sodomy and heresy.
Pope Boniface’s successor, Benedict the ninth, lifted the excommunication of Philip IV but refused to absolve de Nogaret. At dawn on Friday, October 13, 1307, scores of French Templars were simultaneously arrested by agents of King Philip, later to be tortured in locations such as the tower at Chinon, into admitting heresy in the Order.
Despite the fact that the confessions had been produced under duress, they caused a scandal in Paris, with mobs calling for action against the blaspheming Order. In response to this public pressure, along with more bullying from King Philip, Pope Clement issued the bull Pastoralis Praeminetiae, which instructed all Christian monarchs in Europe to arrest all Templars and seize their assets.
There were five initial charges lodged against the Templars. The first was the renouncement and spitting on the cross during initiation into the Order. The second was the stripping of the man to be initiated and the thrice kissing of that man by the preceptor on the navel, posteriors and the mouth. The third was telling the neophyte (novice) that unnatural lust was lawful and indulged in commonly. The fourth was that the cord worn by the neophyte day and night was consecrated by wrapping it around an idol in the form of a human head with a great beard, and that this idol was adored in all chapters. The fifth was that the priests of the order did not consecrate the host in celebrating Mass
In 1312, after the Council of Vienne, and under extreme pressure from King Philip IV, Pope Clement V issued an edict officially dissolving the Order. Many kings and nobles who had been supporting the Knights up until that time, finally acquiesced and dissolved the orders in their fiefs in accordance with the Papal command. Even with the absorption of Templars into other Orders, there are still questions as to what became of all of the tens of thousands of Templars across Europe. There had been 15,000 “Templar Houses”, and an entire fleet of ships.
The organization existed for nearly two centuries during the Middle Ages. It became a favored charity throughout Christendom, and grew rapidly in membership and power.