Templars
The Knights Templars of the Temple of Solomon were a
military order founded by Hugues de Payns of Burgundy and
Godeffroi de St. Omer for the purpose of protecting pilgrims
journeying to the Holy Land. They were soon joined by other
knights; a religious chivalry speedily gathered around this nucleus.
Baldwin I, king of Jerusalem, gave them as headquarters
a portion of his palace, contiguous to a mosque that tradition
asserted was part of the Temple of Solomon, and from this
building they took their name.
One of the purposes of the society was to convert and render
useful knights of evil living. So many of these entered the order
as to bring it under the suspicion of the church, but there is
every reason to believe that its founders were instigated by
pious motives. The fact that they lived in a condition near poverty,
notwithstanding the numerous rich gifts that were showered
upon them, is the best evidence of their motivations.
They had properly constituted officials, a grand master,
knights, chaplains, sergeants, craftsmen, sensechals, marshals,
and commanders. The order had its own clergy, who like other
clergy in orders were exempt from the jurisdiction of diocesan
rule, and its chapters were held as a rule in secret. The dress
of the brotherhood was a white cloak with a red cross for unmarried
knights, and a black or brown cloak with a red cross
for the others. The discipline was very strict and the food and
clothing rough and not abundant.
By the middle of the twelfth century, the new order had firm
footing in nearly all the Latin kingdoms of Christendom. Its
power grew, and its organization became widespread. It
formed a nucleus of the Christian effort against the paganism
of the east. Its history may be said to be that of the Crusades.
Moreover it became a great trading corporation, the greatest
commercial agency between the east and west, and as such
amassed immense wealth.
On the fall of the Latin kingdom in Palestine, the Templars
were forced to withdraw from that country. Although they continued
to harass the Saracen power, they made little headway
against it, and in reality appeared to have undertaken commercial
pursuits in preference to those of a more warlike character.
The Attack Upon the Templars
When the Temple was at the high point of its power, its success
aroused the envy and avarice of Philip IV of France
(1285–1314), who commenced a series of attacks upon it. Pope
Clement V, who was devoted to Philip’s interests, denounced
the order for heresy and immorality and gave Philip his
chance.
For several generations before this time, rumors had been
circulating concerning the secret rites of the Templars, which
were assisted by the very strict privacy of their meetings. They
were usually held at daybreak with closely-guarded doors. It
was alleged that the most horrible blasphemies and indecencies
took place at these meetings, that the cross was trampled underfoot
and spat upon, that an idol named Baphomet
(Baphemetios, baptism of wisdom) was adored, or even that the
devil in the shape of a black cat appeared. Other tales told of
the roasting of children, and the smearing of the idol with their
burning fat. And even wilder rumors spread through the uneducated
populous.
A certain Esquian de Horian pretended to betray the ‘‘secret’’
of the Templars to Philip, and they were denounced to
the Inquisition. Jacques de Molay, the grand master, who had
been called from Cyprus to France, was arrested with 140 of his
brethren in Paris and thrown into prison. A universal arrest of
the Templars throughout France followed. The wretched
knights were tortured en masse, as was usually the case, and confessed
to the most grotesque crimes. The most damning confession
of all was that of the grand master himself, who said that
he had been guilty of denying Christ and spitting upon the
cross, but repudiated all charges of immorality in indignant
terms.
The process dragged on slowly for more than three years,
in consequence of the jealousies that arose among those interested
in its prosecution. The pope wished to bring it entirely
under the jurisdiction of the church, and to have it decided at
Rome. The king, on the other hand, mistrusting the pope, resolved
on the destruction of the order so that none but himself
should reap advantage from it. He decided it should be judged
at Paris under his own personal influence.
The prosecution was directed by his ministers, Nogaret and
Enguerrand de Marigny. The Templars asserted their innocence
and demanded a fair trial, but they found few advocates
who would undertake their defense. They were subjected to
hardships and tortures, which forced many of them into confessions
dictated to them by their persecutors.
During this interval, the pope’s orders were carried into
other countries, authorizing the arrest of the Templars and the
seizure of their goods. Everywhere the same charges were
brought against them. The same means of imprisonment and
torture were used to procure their condemnation, although
they were not subjected to the same severity as in France.
The Destruction of the Order in France
At length, in the spring of 1316, the grand process was
opened in Paris. An immense number of Templars, brought
from all parts of the kingdom, underwent a public examination.
A long act of accusation was read they denied Christ (and
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sometimes they denied expressly all the saints) declaring that
he was not God truly but a false prophet and that they had no
hope of salvation through him; they always, at their initiation
into the order, spat upon the cross, and trod it under foot (they
did this especially on Good Friday); they worshiped a certain
cat, which sometimes appeared to them in their congregation;
they did not believe in any of the sacraments of the church; they
took secret oaths which they were bound not to reveal; the
brother who officiated at the reception of a new brother kissed
the naked body of the latter, often in a very unbecoming manner;
each different province of the order had its idol, which was
a head, having sometimes three faces, and at others only one,
or sometimes a human skull; they worshiped these idols in their
chapters and congregations, believing that they had great
power; they girt themselves with cords, with which these idols
had been superstitiously touched; those who betrayed the secrets
of their order, or were disobedient, were thrown into prison
and often put to death; they held their chapters secretly and
by night, and placed a watch to prevent them from any danger
of interruption or discovery; and they believed the grand master
alone had the power of absolving them from their sins.
The publication of these charges, and the agitation that had
been deliberately fomented, created such horror throughout
France that the Templars who died during the process were
treated as condemned heretics. Burial in consecrated ground
was refused to their remains.
A great number of knights agreed to the general points of
the formula of initiation. It seems possible that they denied
Christ and spat and trod upon the cross. The alleged words of
the denial were ‘‘Je reney Deu’’ or ‘‘Je reney Jhesu,’’ repeated
thrice. Most of those who confessed having gone through this
ceremony declared that they did it with repugnance and spat
beside the cross, not on it. The reception took place in a secret
room with closed doors; the candidate was compelled to take
off part or (in rare instances) all of his garments, and then he
was kissed on various parts of the body.
One of the knights examined, Guischard de Marzici, said he
remembered the reception of Hugh de Marhaud, of the diocese
of Lyons. He saw him being taken into a small room, which
was closed up so that no one could see or hear what took place
within. After some time, he was let out; he was very pale and
looked as though he were troubled and amazed. In conjunction
with these strange ceremonies, however, there were others that
showed a reverence for the Christian church and its ordinances,
a profound faith in Christ, and the consciousness that
the partaker of them was entering into a holy vow.
The historian Jules Michelet (1798–1874), who carefully investigated
the materials relating to the trial of the Templars,
suggested an ingenious explanation for these anomalies. He
imagined that the form of reception was borrowed from the figurative
mysteries and rites of the early church. The candidate
for admission into the order, according to this notion, was first
presented as a sinner and renegade; in the example of St.
Peter, he denied Christ. This denial was a sort of pantomime,
in which the novice expressed his reprobate state by spitting on
the cross. The candidate was then stripped of his profane clothing,
received through the kiss of the order into a higher state
of faith, and re-dressed with the garb of its holiness. Forms like
these would be easily misunderstood in the Middle Ages and
their original meaning soon forgotten.
Another charge in the accusation of the Templars seems to
have been proved by the depositions of witnesses, namely the
idol or head which they were said to have worshiped; the real
character or meaning of which it was difficult to explain. Many
Templars confessed to having seen this idol, but as they described
it differently, it must be supposed that it was not in all
cases represented under the same form. Some said it was a
frightful head, with long beard and sparkling eyes; others said
it was a man’s skull; some described it as having three faces;
some said it was of wood, and others of metal; one witness described
it as a painting (tabula picta) representing the image of
a man (imago hominis), and said that when it was shown to him,
he was ordered to ‘‘adore Christ his creator.’’
According to some it was a gilt figure, either of wood or
metal, while others described it as painted black and white. According
to another deposition, the idol had four feet. The one
belonging to the order at Paris was said to be a silver head with
two faces and a beard. The novices of the order were told to regard
this idol as their savior. Deodatus Jaffet, a knight from the
south of France, deposed that the person who performed the
ceremonies of reception showed him a head or idol. It appeared
to have three faces. The person from the ceremonies
said, ‘‘You must adore this as your savior, and the savior of the
order of the Temple,’’ and then Jaffet was made to worship the
idol, saying, ‘‘Blessed be he who shall save my soul.’’ Cettus Ragonis,
a knight received at Rome in a chamber of the palace of
the Lateran, gave a somewhat similar account.
Many other witnesses spoke of having seen these heads,
which, however, were perhaps not shown to everybody. The
greatest number of those who spoke on this subject said they
had heard others speak of the head, but that they had never
seen it themselves. Many of them declared their disbelief in its
existence. A friar minor deposed in England that an English
Templar had assured him the order had four principal idols
one at London in the sacristy of the Temple, another at Bristelham,
a third at Brueria (Bruern in Lincolnshire), and a fourth
beyond the Humber.
Baron von Hammer-Purgstall indicated that Gnosticism was
the secret doctrine of the Temple. His important essay Mysterium
Baphometis Revelatum (The Mystery of Baphomet Revealed)
was published in vol. 6 of Fundgraben des Orients (Vienna, 1811).
The suggestion of Baphomet being related to the rituals of
Ophite and Gnostic heresies has some plausibility.
The confessions with regard to the mysterious cat were
much rarer and more vague. Some Italian knights confessed
that they had been present at a secret meeting of 12 knights
held at Brindisi. There a grey cat suddenly appeared among
them and they worshiped it. At Nismes, some Templars declared
they had been present at a chapter at Montpellier at
which the demon appeared to them in the form of a cat and
promised them worldly prosperity. They added that they saw
devils in the shape of women. An English knight, who was examined
at London, deposed that in England they did not adore
the cat or the idol to his knowledge, but he had heard it positively
stated that they worshiped the cat and the idol in parts
beyond the sea. English witnesses deposed to other acts of
‘‘idolatry.’’
Such accounts suggest the witchcraft accounts of the appearance
of the devil at what were basically pagan rituals. Agnes
Lovecote stated she had heard that at a chapter held in Dineslee
(Dynnesley, in Hertfordshire), the devil appeared to the
Templars in a monstrous form. It had precious stones for eyes,
which shone so bright that they illuminated the whole chapter;
the brethren, in succession, kissed him on the posteriors and
marked there the form of the cross. She was told that one
young man, who refused to go through this ceremony, was
thrown into a well, and a great stone was cast upon him.
Another witness, Robert de Folde, said he had heard that 20
years ago, in the same place, the devil came to the chapter once
a year. He flew away with one of the knights, whom he took as
a sort of tribute. Two others stated that certain Templars confessed
to them that at a grand annual assembly in the county
of York, the Templars worshiped a calf. All this is mere hearsay,
but it shows the popular opinion of the conduct of the order.
A Templar examined in Paris, named Jacques de Treces,
said he had been informed that at secret chapters held at midnight,
a head appeared to the assembled brethren, and ‘‘had
a private demon, by whose council he was wise and rich.’’
The wretched aim of King Philippe was successful. He seized
the whole treasure of the temple in France and became rich.
Those who ventured to speak in defense of the order were
browbeaten and received little attention. Torture was emTemplars
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ployed to force confessions. Fifty-four Templars who refused to
confess were carried to the windmill of St. Antoine, in the suburbs
of Paris, and there burned. Many others, among whom
was the grand master himself, were subsequently brought to the
stake. After having lasted two or three years, the process ended
in the condemnation and suppression of the order; its estates
were given in some countries to the knights of St. John.
It was in France that the persecution was most cruel. In England,
the order was suppressed, but no executions took place.
Even in Italy, the severity of the judges was not everywhere the
same. In Lombardy and Tuscany the Templars were condemned,
while they were acquitted at Ravenna and Bologna.
They were also pronounced innocent in Castile; in Arragon
they were reduced by force only because they had attempted to
resist by force of arms. In Spain and Portugal they only gave up
their own order to be admitted into others. The pope was offended
at the leniency shown towards Templars in England,
Spain, and Germany. The Order of the Temple was finally dissolved
and abolished, and its memory branded with disgrace.
Some of the knights were said to have remained together
and formed secret societies. The result, however, was much the
same everywhere. Convicted of heresy, sorcery, and many
other abominations, many of the wretched Templars were punished
with death by fire, imprisonment, and their goods reverted
to the various crowned heads of Europe. Nearly all of these
nobles followed the greedy example of Philip of France.
Jacques de Molay, the grand master, was brought out onto
a scaffold erected in front of Notre Dame in Paris and asked to
repeat his confession and receive a sentence of perpetual imprisonment.
He flared into sudden anger and recanted all he
had said, protesting his innocence; he was sentenced to burn.
De Molay summoned the pope and the king with his dying
breath; he waited to meet them before the bar of Heaven. Both
of these dignitaries shortly afterwards died and it remained in
the public mind that the outcome of the grand master’s summons
seemed to have proved his innocence.
There is every reason to believe there was some foundation
for the charges of heresy made against the Templars. Their intimate
connection with the East and the long establishment of
the order had in all probability rendered their Christianity not
quite so pure as that of Western Europe. Numerous treatises
have been written for the purpose of proving or disproving the
Temple heresy, to show that it followed the doctrines and rites
of the Gnostic Ophites of Islam, that ‘‘Baphomet’’ was merely
a corruption of ‘‘Mahomet,’’ and it has been collated with various
other eastern systems.
Hans Prutz furthered the view of the rejection of Christianity
in his book Geheimlehre und Geheimstatutendes TempelherrenOrdens
(1879) in favor of a religion based on Gnostic dualism,
and at once raised up a host of critics.
But many defenders of the order followed, and it was proved
in numerous instances that the confessions wrung from the
Templars were the result of extreme torture. In a number of
cases they were acquitted in Castile, Aragon, Portugal, and in
many German and Italian centers. It has also been shown that
the answers of a number of the knights under torture were
practically dictated to them. In England, out of 80 Templars
examined, only four confessed to the charge of heresy, and of
these, two were apostates.
The Templars were also the victims of their own arrogance
and commercial success, which excited the avarice their enemies
and the superstitious ignorance and hatred of their contemporaries.
There has been a steady stream of writings on the
Templars, especially in the last two centuries. Contemporary
writers on the order have agreed that charges of witchcraft and
homosexuality directed against the order were basically lies
spread to hide Philip’s motives.
Modern Templarism
It has been asserted that on the death of Jacques de Molay,
a conspiracy was formed by the surviving Templars. The conspiracy
had for its ends the destruction of papacy and the various
kingdoms of Europe. This tradition was supposedly handed
on through generations of initiates through such societies
as the Illuminati and the Freemasons, who in the end brought
about the French Revolution and the downfall of the French
throne.
After the French Revolution, people claimed the Templar
tradition and founded several neo-Templar organizations that
spread through the French-speaking world. In 1805 a Frenchman,
Bernard-Raymond Fabré-Palpret, founded a reconstituted
Templar order with himself as the head. He also created a
gnostic church to compete with Roman Catholicism and consecrated
Ferdinand-Francois Chatel as the first bishop. After the
death of Fabré-Palpret in 1838, the order split. It developed
even more factions in every generation. At present more than
30 operate in France, Switzerland, Belgium, and Quebec. One
of these neo-Templar groups, the Solar Temple, became the
subject of interest when nearly 50 of its members were murdered
in Switzerland in 1994. Apparently they were killed by
their leaders, who then killed themselves.
A second neo-Templar tradition began in Germany in the
1890s with the founding of the OTO, the Ordo Templi Orientis
(or Order of the Eastern Temple), which spread from Germany
to German-speaking Switzerland and through Aleister
Crowley to Great Britain and the United States.
Sources
Campbell, G. The Knights Templars, Their Rise and Fall. London
Duckworth; New York McBride, 1937.
Charpentier, John. L’Ordre des Templiers. Paris La Colombe,
1945.
Lea, Henry Charles. A History of the Inquisition of the Middle
Ages. 3 vols. London Sampson, Low; New York Harper &
Bros., 1888. Reprint, New York Citadel, 1954.
Lees, B. A. Records of the Templars in England in the Twelfth
Century The Inquest of 1185 with Illustrative Charters and Documents.
Vol. 9 of British Academy Records of the Social and Economic
History of England and Wales. Oxford Oxford University Press,
1935.
Legman, G. The Guilt of the Templars. New York Basic Books,
1966.
Martin, Edward J. The Trail of the Templars. London Allen
& Unwin, 1928.
Michelet, Jules. Le Procès des Templiers. 2 vols. N.p., 1841–51.
Parker, Thomas W. The Knights Templars in England. Tucson
University of Arizona Press, 1963.