The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon, also known as the Order of Solomon's Temple, the Knights Templar, or simply the Templars, was a Catholic military order, one of the most wealthy and popular of the Western Christian military orders. The Knights Templar were the elite fighting force of their day, highly trained, well-equipped and highly motivated.
The Seal of the Knights Templar, with their famous image of two knights on a single horse, a symbol of their early poverty. Sigillum Militum Xpisti is Greek and Latin for: "The Seal of the Soldiers of Christ".
The Knights Templar was a large organization of devout Christians during the medieval era who carried out an important mission: to protect European travelers visiting sites in the Holy Land while also carrying out military operations. A wealthy, powerful and mysterious order that has fascinated historians and the public for centuries, tales of the Knights Templar, their financial acumen, their military prowess and their work on behalf of Christianity during the Crusades still circulate throughout modern culture.
Following the First Crusade in 1099, Christian pilgrimage to Jerusalem and its holy sites was highly popular. However, the route to the Holy Land was unsafe and traitorous. Pilgrims were often brutalized and slaughtered by bandits. An immediate change in policy had to be taken. That’s when the Knights Templar came into the picture.
Around 1118, a French knight named Hugues de Payens created a military order along with eight relatives and acquaintances, calling it the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon—later known simply as the Knights Templar.
With the support of Baldwin II, the ruler of Jerusalem, they set up headquarters on that city’s sacred Temple Mount, the source of their now-iconic name, and pledged to protect Christian visitors to Jerusalem.
The Temple Mount is considered the place where The Temple of Solomon once stood and therefore the crusaders decided to call themselves by the name ”Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon. Even their emblem, two knights that ride the same horse, reflect their notion of poverty.
Temple Mount in Jerusaalem
Bernard of Clairvaux
Initially, the Knights Templar faced criticism from some religious leaders. But in 1129, the group received the formal endorsement of the Catholic Church and support from Bernard of Clairvaux, a prominent French abbot. Bernard authored “In Praise of the New Knighthood,” a text that supported the Knights Templar and bolstered their growth.
In 1139, Pope Innocent II issued a Papal Bull that allowed the Knights Templar special rights. Among them, the Templars were exempt from paying taxes, permitted to build their own oratories and were held to no one’s authority except the Pope’s.
The Knights Templar set up a prosperous network of banks and gained enormous financial influence. Their banking system allowed religious pilgrims to deposit assets in their home countries and withdraw funds in the Holy Land.
Their independence allowed the Templars to create an effective fighting force, a naval fleet, and a defensive system of fortresses in Palestine/Syria. Within the Iberian Peninsula, Templars supported the Reconquista, led by the Spanish and Portuguese kings. At the height of their power in the 13th century, the Order had around 7,000 members, including knights, sergeants-at-arms, non-military-sergeants, brothers, and priests. Their network consisted of some 870 castles, preceptories and convents spread throughout most of Christian Europe, Palestine and Syria. They inspired both the Hospitallers and the Teutonic Knights to adopt military roles. The Templars served as a model for new military orders established by the rulers within the Iberian Peninsula, such as Calatrava in Castile and Santiago in Leon.
In 1095 when Pope Urban II issued the call for the First Crusade, the Western Christian World saw this as a defensive action. Since the early 8th century, Europe had been under ceaseless attacks from Islamic forces beginning with the Iberian Peninsula. Not only was most of Christian Spain conquered, but Islamic armies penetrated into the heart of France, only to be halted by Charles Martel in 732.
Templars granted the privilege of wearing the Red Cross or Cross Patteé on their mantles
In 1146, Pope Eugenius III granted the Templars the privilege of wearing the Red Cross or Cross Patteé on their mantles as a symbol of their willingness to shed their blood. Noted for their bravery, determination and discipline, much of the burden for the defense of the Crusader States fell upon them. Described as “lions in battle,” thousands of Templars gave their lives as they won everlasting glory in such battles as Cresson, Hattin, La Forbie and Mansurah. Despite their efforts, Jerusalem was lost to Saladin in 1187. The Templars established themselves at Acre, following the limited success of the Third Crusade. After the loss of Acre in 1291, the Templars, evacuating their last castles in Palestine/Syria, retreated to the island of Cyprus.
King Philippe IV of France
Jacques de Molay
Ultimately the fate of the Templars would be decided within France. Philip IV, King of France, made the move to challenge the continued existence of the Templars. Taking advantage of rumors of Templar corruption (no doubt exaggerated) and of a weak and compliant Pope, in 1307, Philip IV ordered the arrest of all Templars in France, including the Master of the Temple, Jacques de Molay. Pope Clement V ordered an investigation into the charges leveled against the Templars. Under immense political pressure, the Pope ordered the arrest of all Templars within Christian Europe and the seizure of their property. Philip IV essentially ordered the Pope to arrest the remaining Templar members and disband the organization. Pope Clement did attempt to hold proper trials, but Philip used the previously forced confessions to have many Templars burned at the stake before they could mount any proper defense.
Jacques de Molay, the last Grand Master of the Templar, was said to make a curse before burned at the stake, warning the Pope that, within a year, he and Philip IV would be obligated to answer for their crimes in God’s presence. And indeed Philip and Clement IV did die within a year of Molay’s execution he last Grand Master of the Templar, was said to make a curse before burned at the stake.
Jacques de Molay (c. 1244 – 1314). This the 23rd Grand Master of the Knights Templar, is being led to his death. He was burned at the stake for heresy.
In September 2001, a document known as the Chinon Parchment dated 17–20 August 1308 was discovered in the Vatican Secret Archives by Barbara Frale, apparently after having been filed in the wrong place in 1628. It is a record of the trial of the Templars and shows that Clement absolved the Templars of all heresies in 1308 before formally disbanding the order in 1312, as did another Chinon Parchment dated 20 August 1308 addressed to Philip IV of France, also mentioning that all Templars that had confessed to heresy were "restored to the Sacraments and to the unity of the Church". This other Chinon Parchment has been well known to historians, having been published by Étienne Baluze in 1693 and by Pierre Dupuy in 1751.
The current position of the Roman Catholic Church is that the medieval persecution of the Knights Templar was unjust, that nothing was inherently wrong with the order or its rule, and that Pope Clement was pressed into his actions by the magnitude of the public scandal and by the dominating influence of King Philip IV, who was Clement's relative.