The Knights Templar
The history of medieval militant monks didn’t begin in Europe, but rather in Asia. That is to say, in the year 527, the Indian monk Bodhidharma arrived at the Shaolin Temple in the Henan Province and taught the Buddhists martial arts, thus giving rise to Kung Fu. Over time, some of those warrior monks made their way through the Moorish dominated regions of southwestern Europe. There the Shaolin monks came in contact with the Cathars, who picked up on their fighting style. Later, the Cathars passed on that knowledge to the Knights Templar, but not their Catholic counterparts. Meanwhile, right before the First Crusade, during a crisis of succession to the Islamic caliphate, Hassan-i Sabbah founded the Order of the Assassins.
The ensuing Holy War started in 1095 when Pope Urban II called for Christian soldiers to recapture the Holy Land during the council of Clermont. He called for a military expedition to aid the Byzantine Empire, which had recently lost most of Anatolia to the Seljuq Turks. This led to the First Crusade from 1096 to 1099. Ultimately, the purpose of the makeshift motley crew of misfit Catholic Crusaders was to block the Islamic incursion into Christiandom and to reclaim the Holy City of Jerusalem which had been controlled by Arabs and then the Turks since the 7th century.
In the wake of this, during the time of the Benedictine Reform, the Blessed Gerard founded a group of individuals associated with an Amalfitan hospital in the Muristan district of Jerusalem and dedicated to John the Baptist. Their job was, and still is, to provide care for the sick and poor. Therefore in order to protect pilgrims, they became the “Order of Knights of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem”, commonly known as the “Knights Hospitaller”, the “Knights of Malta”, or the “Order of Saint John”, which was a medieval and early modern Catholic military sect. So, they provided protection for pilgrims who were otherwise being slaughtered by the hundreds as they attempted to make the journey from the coastline at Jaffa through to the interior of Jerusalem.
Along with this, in 1119, a French knight and veteran of the First Crusade named Hugues de Payens approached King Baldwin II of Jerusalem and Warmund, Patriarch of Jerusalem, and proposed creating another monastic military order for the purpose of treasure hunting. Not surprisingly, King Baldwin and Patriarch Warmund agreed to the nobleman’s request, and the Nine Knights were granted a headquarters in a wing of the royal palace on the Temple Mount, above the ruins of the legendary Temple of Solomon. The men were all closely related by blood or marriage, so it all began as a family affair.
The Nine Knights diligently excavated the area until 1128, digging down 75 feet vertically and then fanning out horizontally under the Dome of the Rock. The men found a wealth of precious metals, invaluable scrolls, and ancient relics. The most significant of which was a number of documents that contradict the canonical Synoptic Gospels. Thus, the Nine Knights used that to blackmail the Church, which brought them instant wealth and fame, in the form of lots of hush money and tons of power. Still, the Church wanted to possess and suppress what the Nine Knights had, but they had no way of finding out where it was.
Since this was all done in secrecy, the Nine Knights were officially dubbed 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”. With that being said, unlike the Knights Hospitaller, the Knights Templar was destined to become a secret society, based on a rather novel mix of nepotism and communism. They had a powerful advocate in Saint Bernard of Clairvaux a nephew of Andre de Montbard, one of the Nine Knights. Saint Bernard wrote a letter on their behalf entitled “In Praise of the New Knighthood”.
Then, in 1129, at the Council of Troyes, Saint Bernard led a group of leading churchmen to officially approve and endorse the Templars on behalf of the Church. With this formal blessing, the Templars became a favored charity throughout medieval Christendom, receiving money, land, businesses, and noble-born sons from families who were eager to help with the fight in the Holy Land. Years later, in 1136, the new “King of Jerusalem”, Grand Master Hugh de Payens died. After that, his head was secretly removed, covered in gold and jewels, and consecrated as a heretical relic.
Three years later, Pope Innocent II exempted the Templars from obedience to local laws in a papal bull. This ruling meant that they could pass freely through all borders, were not required to pay any taxes, and were exempt from all authority except that of the Pope himself. This led to the meteoric rise of the Order of Solomon’s Temple throughout Europe. So, in a revolutionary attempt to save Christians from robbers and murderers outside of the Holy Land, the Templars developed the most complex banking system medieval Europe had ever seen.
As part of this, before any Christian would go on a pilgrimage or a crusade they would deposit their valuables at their local Templar commandery. A Templar would then give them a kind of traveler’s check written in cipher. The chit might include a person’s precious metals, land deeds, or family heirlooms. It was all guaranteed by the Knights who guarded it. Every time that money was spent, a Templar would recode the chit. Then, when they returned home, they were given what was owed to them, or they were issued a bill.
These were credit cards writ large in the midst of the Middle Ages. The Templars even handled pension plans and wills. It was the birth of modern economics, and to get around the prohibition on charging “interest”, the Templars charged people “rent”. With the heretical knowledge that the Knights Templar had, the Catholic Church was forced to look the other way on their strict laws against usury. As such, the Templars became the first incorporated power brokers in history. On top of that, the Templars issued high profile loans to monarchs, forming powerful alliances that still persist to this day.
At one point, the Syrian branch of the Order of Assassins paid 3,000 silver pieces to the Templars as a form of tribute. Of course, this was just one of many concessions that the Church made to the Temple. For instance, Templars wore cords under their garments because they were paying tribute to the Cathar Perfect, who were all part of a secret movement to get the holy bloodline of Jesus on the throne. As part of this, after the Order read the Gnostic Gospel of Mary, the Templars began to worship Jesus of Nazareth as God and Mary Magdalene as Goddess, which the Church would have deemed heretical.
Similarly, the things that were written in the Pistis Sophia became central to their rituals as well. The manuscript describes the myth of the fall and restoration of the figure known as Pistis Sophia, in particular giving detailed parallels between her prayers of repentance and particular Odes of Solomon. This veneration of “Sophia” is where the word “Baphomet” came from, by way of the Atbash cipher, shown below. So, wisdom written in Hebrew is שופיא and that becomes בפומת, which spells Baphomet. As part of this, the Templars also revered the head of Hugh de Payens, which they called “Baphomet” when speaking in their coded language.
As part of the secret traditions of their sect, during their occult initiation ceremony, new Templars had to swear a lifelong oath of loyalty, chastity, poverty, secrecy, and piety. In line with this, the Knights Templar became a formidable fighting force of fanatics, who often fought to the death rather than being captured and tortured. Much like the Vikings who believed that they would get to go to Valhalla with Odin if they died on the field of battle, the Templars believed that they would go to Heaven with Jehovah, attaining the highest honor in the afterlife. This made them as feared as the Scandinavian berserkers before them, if not more.
Even the types of weapons that the Templar’s used impacted how they trained and fought. All Templar’s used lance, sword, dagger, shield, and a full suit of chain mail, that had plates of steel attached to the chest, back, shoulders, and knees. The Templars didn’t use bows or crossbows, because they were deemed cowardly and were only used by the mercenaries they hired. Plus, new recruits were not allowed to use advanced weapons like the caltrop, a multi-pointed missile thrown at short range, the mace, battle-ax, broadsword, or flail.
In contrast to this, a Templar Knight would charge into battle surrounded on either side by his sergeant and squire, who in turn were flanked by two mercenary bowmen. The knight broke the enemy ranks with his charge, and his men protected his flanks. A typical formation consisted of thirty “lances” meaning, each individual knight and his team. This was a squadron. Two of which made up a battle group, that later became known as a battalion. They even had siege machines.
Just as one example of their effectiveness as shock troops. In 1177, King Baldwin IV, who was a teenage leper, led a Crusader army of 500 knights with supporting infantry into battle against Sultan Saladin, who had an army of 26,000 men with him. They were severely outnumbered and their fate seemed dire, but they continued to fight for their faith. Then, when reinforcement of just 80 Templars rode in, the course of the conflict changed in favor of the Christian soldiers. The Crusaders won the Battle of Montgisard, against all odds.
As part of their ferocity in the face of battle, the Templars were all supposed to be blindly obedient, for better or worse. At the top of the hierarchy, the Order had a supreme leader called the Temple Grand Master, who controlled everything the Templars did. Under him, each country had a Templar Master, who oversaw the Master of each commandery. In line with this, Gerard de Ridefort became the Temple Grand Master of the Knights Templar in the year 1184.
Then, in 1187, against the consensus of the council, Ridefort decided to go to the battle, rather than letting it come to him. He made them march in the heat of the day, across the desert to their deaths. On July 4th of 1187, 80 Templars and 20,000 Christian soldiers faced off with Saladin’s Muslim hoard, once more. There at the Battle of the Horns of Hattin, the Christians faced their worst defeat in the Holy Wars. This crushing defeat marked the beginning of the end of the Crusades.
In 1190, yet another rival of the Templars emerged. The Order of Brothers of the German House of Saint Mary in Jerusalem was approved by Pope Clement III the following year. On March 5th of 1198, it was converted into a religious order of knighthood and approved in 1199 by Pope Innocent III. The “Teutonic Knights” then became an internal affairs agency designed to investigate the Knights Templar. They were specifically tasked with the feudal investiture of the Grand Master. So, they received a recognizance fee at the accession of each new leader.
In 1244, Muslim armies retook Jerusalem and turned the tide of the Crusades, forcing the Knights Templar to retreat several times. The loss of the Holy Land was devastating to the West, and all the subsequent Crusades ended in failure. Finally, the Fall of Acre in 1291 marked the destruction of the last remaining Crusader refuge in the Holy Land. So, the standing army of Templars had to take on yet another new role throughout Christendom.
By 1303, the Knights Templar lost its foothold in the Muslim world and established a base of operations in Paris, France. There, King Philip IV resolved to bring down the Order, because the Templars had denied the indebted ruler additional loans. However, the vast Templar Empire contained tens of thousands of Knights by then, so they were more powerful than most kingdoms. They owned more than 900 manors and castles across Europe, and again they didn’t have to pay property tax. So, bringing down the Order wasn’t easy.
On Thursday the 12th of 1307, King Philip IV issued a blanket arrest warrant for every French Templar at dawn the following morning. However, word of this got out and the Order pulled off a clandestine operation to smuggle most of the members and their treasure out of the country. That night a fleet of 18 ships set sail from La Rochelle, while hundreds of Templars marched into the Alps. Tragically, the leaders refused to leave so they were arrested, on the spot. Nonetheless, at least one of the ships sailed to Scotland, seeking sanctuary at Rosslyn Castle.
Meanwhile, those who were arrested faced the Templars’ absolution in Poitiers, on July 2nd of 1308, when they forced out the “confessions”. In spite of their devastating losses, the Templars were officially active until 1312 when the Order of Solomon’s Temple was perpetually suppressed by Pope Clement V. This forced them into hiding, but they took their treasure with them when they left. After all, the “Poor Fellow-Soldiers” had amassed a vast fortune, and they owned a number of unique ancient Judeo-Christain relics and documents, none of which they were willing to let go of.
One faction of the Templars escaped on foot and settled in the Alps. So, in Switzerland, the nucleus of the Swiss Confederacy took the form of the first three allies, which were quickly taken over by the Templars. Thus, the Old Swiss Confederacy was an alliance among the valley communities to facilitate the management of common interests and ensure peace along trade routes through the mountains. This was the legacy of the Templars serving as a foundational element of Swiss society. They even went on to establish the secretive Swiss banking system.
Regardless, after being arrested, on Friday the 13th, which is where we get the superstition, the last Temple Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, and other high ranking members of the Order carved coded messages into the stone walls of their prison cell with their iron shackles. They damned themselves under the duress of torture by order of the Crown in France but they were absolved by the Church in Italy. The Pope knew that their forced confessions were false. Although there was one allegation, out of more than a hundred, that was never put forward by any Inquisitor before or after, except in this case.
Since the Templars had removed the head of the first Temple Grand Master as a relic, they were accused of worshipping an idol, even though when the Templars brought the head of John the Baptist from Constantinople to France the Catholics built a cathedral to house it. Nonetheless, after pleading that he was completely innocent and without the need of the Pope’s forgiveness, as a direct result of cardinal legates’ decisions and actions, Molay was slowly cooked alive dangling from a rope over a fire on March 11th of 1314. Before he died Molay even asked that his hands be kept free so that he could face Notre Dame Cathedral to pray.
Five years after that, in 1319, thousands of Knights Templar joined the newly established Order of Christ, which effectively reabsorbed the Order of Solomon’s Temple and its properties, especially in Portugal at a Templar castle in Tomar. Their navy then spearheaded Portugal’s great age of discovery. So, in the 1400s, the Order’s ships went out across the oceans and mapped much of the globe in the process. As part of this, the Portuguese Templars would go on to have an island fortress on Madagascar and a port fortress in Goa, India.
In 1450 the Scottish Templars built Rosslyn Chapel in defiance of the Catholic Church, placing a great deal of sacred geometry and a number of encoded messages directly into the architecture itself. Centuries later, those same secret societies inspired the founding of groups such as Freemasonry. That is to say, in 1599, the oldest Masonic lodge in the world first opened in Scotland, and some of the men in attendance at “The Ancient Lodge of Edinburgh Mary’s Chapel” were undoubtedly Templars.
This eventually gave rise to Freemasonry in England in 1717 and the Illuminati in Germany in 1776. As such, in honor of and as an homage to the Knights Templar, Master Masons incorporated the symbols and rituals of several medieval military orders into their lodges. This can be seen in the Red Cross of Constantine, which pays homage to the “Military Constantinian Order”. Similarly, the “Order of Malta” was inspired by the Knights Hospitaller, and the “Order of the Temple” was inspired by the Knights Templar.
To this very day, various members of the Orders are still active around the world, either publicly or privately. For instance, since 1999, Prince Oskar of Prussia has been serving as the Bailiwick of Brandenburg of the Chivalric Order of Saint John of the Hospital of Jerusalem. As such, he is the 37th Herrenmeister of the Knights Hospitaller, and someday there will be a 38th. Moreover, this group is the oldest charitable organization still in existence. The Knights Hospitaller even work with the United Nations peacekeeper troops, helping the sick and poor around the world.
Meanwhile, the Knights Templar have left behind a far greater legacy by weaving themselves into the very fabric of societies, both secret and open. At the same time, it should be understood that the modern-day revivals of the Knights Templar have no real connection to the actual Order. The true Grand Master of the Order of Christ is the current president of Portugal, the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, of the Templars. With that being said, as of the time of this writing in 2020, Grand Master, President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa is now working closely with Pope Francis in an effort to keep changing the course of civilization, just as the Templars always have and always will…