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The official name of the Knights Templars (Templiers) was the "Order of the Poor Knights of Christ", formed in Jerusalem in 1118 to protect the pilgrims visiting Palestine at the end of the First Crusade of 1096. The full, original name was "The Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple which is in Jerusalem", making it understandable why a short title became popular.
Creation of the Templars
The order of the Knights Templars was created a few years after the Knights Hospitalers, in roughly the same place and for similar reasons. The Templars rose to higher glory and power, ended in a more spectacular fashion, and their remains were passed on to the Hospitalers.
The Templars were called the Knights of the Red Cross, with their symbol of a red cross on a white field. In 1128, when the Order was confirmed by Pope Honorius II, the Knights received the white vestment as a symbol of the purity of their life. In 1146 Pope Eugenius added "the red cross with two bars", so the many illustrations we see of the double-barred cross are no doubt appropriate.
Although similar to the goals of the Hospitalers, French knights Godfrey de Saint Omer and Huguens des Payens (Hugh) created the Knights Templars specifically as a military order, with no pretensions of charity or aid to the sick.
When the papal sanction for the order was given, at the Council of Troyes in 1128, Spartan rules were established similar to those of the Cistercian Monks.
The hierarchy of the order was the grand master, knights, chaplains and sergeants. Only the knights wore the white cloaks with the red cross.
Knights Templars Warriors
The Templars gained a reputation as great warriors in battles defending the Holy Land. But Jerusalem fell to the Muslims in 1187, and the Templars retreated, first to Antioch, then to Acre (the port city of Akko). The Knights Templars were based in Acre for a century: in 1291, Acre fell to the Muslims, with Grand Master William de Beaujue dying in the battle. The surviving Templars were the last to leave, departing to Caesarea, and then to Cyprus.
In Cyprus, the Templars were based at Limmasol, but their headquarters were established in the Temple Monastery in Paris.
Knights Templars as Bankers
Members joining the Knights Templars took oaths of poverty, and donated all their cash, valuables and property to the Order. Between these extensive "gifts", treasures from battles, and the the massive grants from the Pope, the Templars ammased a true fortune.
The Templars quite naturally developed an extensive banking system as a result of transporting money and treasures between Palestine and Europe, and from lending money to Spanish pilgrims travelling to the Holy Land.
The Templars' Downfall
The enormous wealth and power of the Knights Templars aroused both greed and envy. With their huge reserves of cash and their banking system, France's King Philip the Fair had gone to the Templars for loans to finance his wars. Beyond has read different accounts, some where the Templars refused Philip IV's request for money, and some where the King wanted to avoid repaying the loans he already had from them.
The First Friday the 13th
On Friday the 13th in the year 1307, the month of October [thanks, Jonathan Curtis], all of the Templars in France were rounded up and emprisoned - "Friday the 13th" has been an unlucky day since that event.
Alleged Crimes and Real Punishments
The Templars were charged with Satanism and many other "unnatural" acts and practices. Many of the charges may have been complete fabrications, but some could have been distortions of secret rites of the Templars. There were torture-encouraged confessions in the style of the Spanish Inquisition, and many were found guilty for refusing to "confess".
Many of the Templars in France were terminally punished, á la Joan of Arc, including the Grand Master, Jacques de Molay [graphic, left], who was burnt at the stake in 1314, near Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral.
Disbanding the Order
At the beginning of the purge, Philip the Fair began coercing the Popes to excommunicate the Templars. He attempted to have Pope Boniface VIII kidnaped. The king was excommunicated, but Boniface died as a result of the kidnapping attempt.
Pope Benedict XI lifted the excommunication of King Philip, but it was his successor, Pope Clement V, who finally went along with the King and, in 1312, had the Templars dsibanded worldwide. It was Pope Clement V who established the Popes in Avignon.
The now-ownerless wealth and property of the Templars was officially assigned to the Knights Hospitalers. But, in France, King Philip had confiscated all of the Templars possessions at the beginning, in 1307, and didn't pass on much of it to the Hospitalers. In England, King Edward II seized the Templars lands and possessions, including the Temple in London, and didn't pass on anything to the Hospitalers.
Beyond the End
Following the declared end of the Templars in 1312, the Order continued in secret, with Jean-Marc Larmenius the first Grand Master of the now-secret organization, and the Order continued with an uninterrupted line of Grand Masters. In 1705, a convention of Templars at Versailles elected Philip, Duke of Orleans, as Grand Master. This Philip (le Régent) became Regent of France in 1715. With a combined Regent and Grand Master, the Order of the Temple was renewed and legitimized as a Secular Military Order of Chivalry.
Following the death of le Régent in December, 1723, Grand Masters continued, through the three Princes of Bourbon (until 1776), the Duke de Cosse Brissac (until his execution during the French Revolution in 1782), and Radix de Chevillon.
In the early 19th century, the Order expanded, with over 20 Convents in France and Priories set up across Europe.
Legacy and Remnants
The Templars brought back craft and custom from the East and left a legacy of frotresses and shrines. Their ardchitecture is well noted for its skilled stonework, and thier masonry expertise later helped Europeans build the great castles and churches of the Middle Ages.
Here are some of the places in Provence and France where the Knights Templars were established:
- the Counts of Provence gave Biot to the Templars in 1209.
- Templars ruled here, before passing it to the Hospitalers.
- the Templars cleared the land here for farming.
- the Templars' castle dominates the town.
- Co-ruled by the Templars until the 11th century.
- the Templars Commanderie du Riou built here in 1156.
- a Templars chateau just south of the village.
- the Templars first Commanderie here.
- once a Templars establishment in this tiny village.
- Legends of a Templars treasure hidden in the castle.
- Templars rule.
- a Templars Commanderie here, between Maurepas and Trapes [map]
In the Alpes-Maritimes, the Templars were installed in the old Roman emplacements, including Vence, Broc, Gattières, La Gaude, Tourettes-sur-Loup and Saint-Laurent-de-Var [map, northwest of Nice].
The Vence location was Templars Commanderie at Saint-Martin-de-Vence, just north of the town. (Today the site is a classy hotel-restaurant). The Commandeur of Saint-Martin-de-Vence was arrested at 5 on Friday 13 October 1307 by the vigan of Saint Paul. There's a legend that Saint-Martin-de-Vence contains a lost treasure of the Templars, and the German chancellor Adenauer was a frequent visitor searching for the treasure.
Saint-Martin-de-Vence controlled the route north of Vence, and was itself protected by the camp at the top of the Baou des Blancs, the tall cliff overlooking the town. The Baou des Blancs was an oval wall at the top of the cliff, re-occupied by the "Pénitents Blancs" (hence the name of the baou) and then fortified by the Templars.
The La Gaude site was the old Castro de Gauda, also called "Puget Treize Dames", and more recently the great Templar Chateau de La Gaude. La Gaude, between Saint Jeannet and Gattières, was at a strategic location overlooking the Var and controlling an important route to the sea. At the fall of the Templars, it became the property of the Villeneuves.
The writing here is by Beyond, but the historical information has been obtained from a variety of sources, including printed encyclopedic dictionaries, brochures and documents from various Offices de Tourisme, and some websites, including:
- www.rotten.com/library/conspiracy/knights-templar - in irreverent account, well written.