The Knighthood of the Temple of Solomon or Knights Templar were an elite religious and military order founded around 1119 AD by nine wealthy French knights at the end of the First Crusade (1096–1099).
French nobleman Hugues de Payens, from the Champagne region, and eight of his knighted relatives formed the order. They were entrusted with protecting Christian pilgrims en route to the Holy Land and became very powerful as a result. They set up headquarters in Jerusalem at the site of the Temple of Solomon, leading to their name as Templars.
Within two hundred years they became powerful enough to defy all but the Pope. In 1139, Pope Innocent II issued a papal bull that they could pass freely through any border, owed no taxes, and granted them total freedom from every authority but his own. They owned over nine thousand manors and castles across Europe, all tax-free.
In the Middle Ages, they established processes for the modern system of notary services, banking, loans, and mortgages that were widely used by the European monarchies. They became central as notaries for business transactions and official documents. These systems remain largely unchanged today.
Knights and Brothers
The highest class was the noble knight in a white robe. When sworn into the order, the initiation made the knight a monk. In 1147, Pope Eugenius III decreed that only the Knights Templar would wear a special red cross with blunt wedge-shaped arms called the Heraldic Cross pattée on the left breasts of their white robes. The red cross indicated their willingness to shed blood or die in battle and became their required dress. They fought bravely and were highly respected by Muslims.
The most common class, called brothers or sergeants, were non-noble mounted men-at-arms and held many positions including guard, steward, squire, blacksmith, builder or other support vocations. They wore black or brown robes, partially garbed in chain mail or plate mail, not as complete as the knights.
All three classes of Templars wore the order’s red cross.
Knights Templar Create International Banking System
The Templars were involved in banking, farming, livestock, manufacturing, import, and export.
They created the first European-wide system of international banking. Their convents, especially in London and Paris, became clearing-houses for the deposit, disbursement, and transfer of funds. The banking system’s reputation for reliability, efficiency, and honesty attracted church leaders, kings, nobles, and merchants, to entrust their funds and valuable property to the Templars. Nobles placed their wealth and businesses under the trust and control of the Templars, to manage and safeguard until they returned from the Crusades.
The Templars would issue a letter of credit, describing a depositor’s holdings. Along the journey, the depositor could withdraw funds at other Templar locations. It may have been the first formal system to support the use of checks.
The Templar priest class was similar to a military chaplain. They wore green robes, conducted religious services, led prayers, and were assigned record keeping and letter writing. The Clergy of the Order of the Knights Templar were highly educated and became important notaries for all Templar business, official documents, orders, and proclamations.
This is the earliest known seal for the Grand Master of the Temple. Used as early as 1158 as the seal of the Grand Master Bertrand de Blanchefort. The seal shows two knights in armor riding on one horse.
Blanchefort’s seal: SIGILLUM MILITUM (Latin, Seal of the Soldiers) obverse;
CHRISTI DE TEMPLO (Latin, Christ’s Temple) reverse.
The Dome of the Rock (or a circular dome of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre) the site where Jesus of Nazareth was crucified at a place known as “Calvary” or “Golgotha”, and Jesus’s empty tomb, where he is said to have been buried and resurrected.
End of the Knights Templar
In 1302, the sultan of Egypt defeated the Knights Templar in Palestine. With the loss, all serious hope of recovering and retaining the Holy City was gone. The services of the Templars were no longer required.
On the death of Pope Benedict XI in 1304, King Philip IV of France, Philip the Fair, son of St. Louis, succeeded in having the archbishop of Bourdeaux become the new Pope Clement V. The Pope moved the Holy See from Rome to France and was an obedient slave of the French King.
Jealous of the Templars’ wealth and power, and deeply in debt to the order, Philip influenced a papal inquisition of hearings, trials, and depositions of Templar leaders in several countries in Europe. They were falsely charged with the denial of Christ, spitting on the cross, obscene rituals, idolatry and other offenses.
At dawn on Friday, October 13th, 1307, orders were opened simultaneously by French Sheriffs and all the Templars in the French dominions were arrested. Friday the 13th remains a superstitious day of bad luck today.
The French Knights denied the charges and were tortured. Some died during torture. Some who “confessed” were released. On rolls of parchment, notaries recorded and attested the forced confessions received. They attached hand-drawn notarial seals or rubrics. Notaries of the inquisition swore in the presence of the bishop and the inquisitor to exercise the office of notary faithfully.
In 1312, Pope Clement V disbanded the order under pressure from King Philip.
In France, all who denied wrongdoing were burned at the stake. Knights Templar Grand Master Jacques de Molay (see image) retracted his forced confession and is reported to have issued a final curse before he was burned in Paris in 1314. He called his persecutors, Pope Clement and King Philip, to join him and account for themselves before the court of God within the year. Within a month Pope Clement was dead, by the end of the year Philip was also dead.
The Knights Templar Vanish
There were 20,000 members of the Templars across Europe and 15,000 Templar Houses. About 10 per cent of members were knights. Only a small number of members were executed. Some joined other orders. Others returned to secular life on pensions.
Many Templar structures are still standing. Their extensive archive of detailed records of their business holdings and financial transactions was never found.
Some historians and treasure hunters believe that some Knights Templar escaped the inquisition and sailed away with treasure in their fleet of ships. One legend is that they were guardians of the Holy Grail. Their naval force of 18 ships that had been anchored at the Templar Atlantic port of La Rochelle disappeared.
Some believe they inherited maps and other secrets of the Phoenicians and sailed to Portugal or Scotland. From Scotland, 300 colonists sailed in 12 ships in 1398 (before Columbus) with Prince Henry Sinclair, a Grand Master of the Knights Templar to Nova Scotia (New Scotland), Canada. A castle was built there and a great treasure is believed buried at Oak Island. Scottish Templar families included Sinclair or Saint Clair.
In Portugal, the Knights Templar were not persecuted. They were protected by King Dinis I and the Order of Christ was founded in 1319 in Castro Marim, later moved to Tomar, as the successor to the assets of the Knights Templar, largely for their aid in defeating the Moors during the Reconquista.
The mystery of the disappearance of the Knights Templar and their treasure is the subject of books, movies, and documentaries, including The Da Vinci Code and the 2004 movie National Treasure starring Nicolas Cage.
1. Heraldic Red Cross pattée, by Liberal Freemason. Converted and corrected by myself [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
2. Knights Templar seal, by Thomas Andrew Archer, Charles Lethbridge Kingsford [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
3. Jacques de Molay, nineteenth-century color lithograph by Chevauchet [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons