Master of the Knights Templar
BY Lorne Pierce
Past Assistant Grand Chaplain A.F.& A.M. Ontario
The origin of knighthood is lost
in the dim past. In early England a knight seems to have been a youth
who attended a member of the court; it was a position of honour and of service
and might lead in time to Royal recognition and rank. In Germany the
early knight may have been regarded much in the same way, a disciple. In both
countries the knights were obviously ambitious and high-spirited youths as one
might expect. It was in France, however, that the idea of chivalry
arose, and this conception quickly spread throughout Europe. Some
knights had made themselves useful to Earls or Bishops, that is the principal
landlords and magnates and military chiefs of the realm, and might be classed
as superior civil servants in times of peace, becoming leaders of the armies,
both secular and religious, in times of war. There were, of course, many
foot-loose knights wandering about Europe in quest of adventure, but on the
whole a knight was a responsible link in the Feudal chain reaching from the
king to the peasant. In time the ideal of chivalry came to prevail, and the
high honour accompanying it seems to have derived from prehistoric Teutonic
custom. The candidate had to submit to a rigorous investigation of his
character and qualifications. Then the community turned out to welcome
him with fitting ceremony and investiture with sword and shield, with belt and
sword, or with gilt spurs and collar, usually by the knight's father or some
exalted personage. In time t hose who had fought against the Saracens became
preeminent, and were accorded rank and dignity independent of birth or wealth.
The Knights Templar, or Poor
Fellow Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon, was one of the three
out-standing military orders of the Middle Ages in Christendom. The
brotherhood was founded, about 1118, by Hugues de Payns, a nobleman residing
near Troyes, in Burgundy, and Godefroy de St. Omer (or Aldemar), a
Norman knight. Their original purpose was to protect pilgrims to sacred
places, more especially those who sought the Holy Sepulcher. At first there
were eight or nine Knights Templar. They bound themselves to each other
as a brotherhood in arms, and took upon themselves vows of chastity, obedience
and poverty according to the rule of St. Benedict. It is also recorded
that they pledged themselves to fight against ignorance, tyranny and the
enemies of the Holy Sepulcher, and "to fight with a pure mind for the
supreme and true King." Baldwin I, King of Jerusalem, assigned them
accommodation in his palace, which stood on the site of the Temple of Solomon.
In this way their name, Templars, was derived. At first the knights wore
no uniform or regalia, nothing in fact save the cast-off garments that were
given to them in charity. It was the poverty, sincerity and zeal of the
order in its first years that endowed it with importance. They sought
out the poor and the outcast, the excommunicated as well as the unwanted, and
shepherded them within their fold.
Hugues de Payns, accompanied by
several of his knights, returned home in 1127 for the purpose of securing
adequate ecclesiastical sanction for some of the special privileges which the
order had usurped. Among the very special privileges was immunity from
excommunication, which threatened a good deal of trouble. Bernard of
Clairvaux, the greatest abbot of his day, received Hugues de Payns, and not
only praised the Knights Templar, but went much further. The future St.
Bernard did not attend the Council of Troyes in 1128, at which the Rule of the
Temple was drawn up, but he seems to have inspired it - the constitution,
ritual, discipline and very core of the order. Finally there got abroad
the idea, that in the rule of the order there existed a "secret
rule," and a legend speedily grew up around this "lost word."
In time this was the undoing of the order. The whole Rule of the Temple
was probably never written out, its more essential parts being conveyed by
word of mouth, by symbol and sign, and protected by proper safeguards.
The point of importance was, that the order now had ample acknowledgement and
authority, and from this moment onward power and treasure flowed into its
hands in an unending and broadening stream.
The Templars and the Crusades
are forever associated in history and legend. The Templars, in an
astonishingly short time, spread over Christendom. They had thousands of
the fattest manors in the Christian world. They became the bankers of the age,
the money exchange between Europe and the East, the trust company of the time.
They provided loans to princes, dowries for queens, ransoms for great
warriors, safety deposit vaults for the treasure of emperors and popes.
Their chapters were the schools of diplomacy of the time, training grounds for
prospective rulers, colleges in commerce and finance, sanctuaries for all who
needed protection, high or low. It was inevitable that they should
attract to themselves the envy of the less fortunate orders and guilds.
In time, in fact before the death of St. Bernard, in 1153, they had not only
received the tribute of kings and cardinals in the form of lands and treasure,
but they freed themselves from the necessity of paying tax, tithe or tribute
to any power, prince or pope, which privilege they claimed as defender of the
Church. This was enough to bring upon themselves the inevitable
reckoning for overreaching ambition, but they went further, very much further.
They not only claimed exemption from excommunication, but claimed exemption
from all papal decrees except those specially aimed at them by name, and they
owed allegiance to no power or authority on earth except their own head, the
Bishop of Rome. They had become a separate social, economic, political
and religious order, cutting across and transcending kingdoms, principalities
and archdioceses, with only the Vice-gerent of God superior to their Grand
Master. The enormous powers of the Knights Templar were bound to be
challenged by the popes as well as kings who demanded loyalty within their
realms. The order found itself in increasingly compromising situations,
the victim of treachery on the part of kings and princes of the Church, or the
instigator of trickery and subterfuge on its own part to preserve its powers.
The King of France, Philip the Fair, set out to unite the Hospitallers and the
Templars into one grand order, The Knights of Jerusalem, the Grand Master of
which was always to be a prince of the royal house of France. The Grand
Master of the Knights Templar invariably was Master of the Templars at
Jerusalem, and in Cyprus after the loss of the Holy Land to the Turks.
He came in time to live in a sumptuous manner, befitting his great wealth and
vast powers. In th e field, during the campaigns, he occupied a great
tent, round, with the black and white pennant flying above its high peak,
bearing the red cross of the Templars. Regional Grand Commanders were
accorded similar honours and no one took precedence over them except the Grand
Master, when he was present.
We know little concerning the
initiation ceremonies of the Knights Templar. Probably there was some
cleansing ritual, robing in white, the all-night vigil and Holy Communion,
gilt spurs, sword or other gift of honour, and finally the oath and accolade.
Certainly the order was a Christian institution. Their war-cry Beauseant!
- also inscribed on their banners and pennants, pledged loyalty to their
friends and promised terror to their foes. Likewise both a prayer and a
pledge were the well-known words:
Domine, non nobis, sed nomini tuo da gloriam.
(Not unto us, O
Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy Name be the glory.)
Jacques de Molay was the
twenty-second and last Grand Master of the Knights Templar. He was born
about 1240 at Besancon, in the Duchy of Burgundy, and was of noble but poor
family. He was admitted to the order of knighthood, in 1265, at Beaune
and proceeded shortly to the Holy Land, under the Grand Master William de
Beaujeu, to fight for the Holy Sepulcher. Jacques de Molay remained in
the Holy Land for many years, for he was still with the order in Jerusalem
when, about 1295, he was elected Grand Master upon the death of Grand Master
Gaudinius - Theobald de Gaudilai. After the loss of Palestine by the
Templars, de Molay took his few remaining knights to the Island of Cyprus.
In 1305 he was summoned to a conference with the Pope, Clement V, who stated
that he wished to consider measures for effecting a union between the rival
Templars and Hospitallers. A long and bitter feud had existed between
the two great orders. However, both had agreed not to accept disciplined
members who might desire to transfer their allegiance from one order to the
other. Also, in battle, it was permitted members who became hopelessly
separated from the main body of one order to rally under the cross of the
rival order if near.
Jacques de Molay, accompanied by
sixty knights, made a royal progress westward. He called upon the Pope
who consulted him regarding a further Crusade, and de Molay requested an
investigation into charges that were already being openly made against the
order. Finally he arrived in Paris with kingly pomp. Philip the Fair,
King of France, suddenly arrested every Knight Templar in France, October 13,
1307, de Molay and his sixty friends among them. They were brought
before the University of Paris and the charges read to them. De Molay
spent five and a half years in prison. Of those arrested, one hundred
and twenty-three knights of the order "confessed under the torture of the
Inquisition." Some confessed that at the initiation ceremonies they had
spat upon the Crucifix. When the Grand Master's turn came he likewise
confessed, apparently to bogus charges prepared beforehand by the Inquisition,
fearing torture, but he denied the charges of gross practices indignantly, and
demanded audience with the Pope. The Pope himself believed the Templers
were guilty, at least on some of the counts, but he resented the intrusion of
Philip in what he regarded as his own special precinct, in spite of the fact
that he largely owed his papal tiara to Philip.
Many retracted their confessions
regarding their indignity to the Crucifix, only to be burned at the stake.
Many who returned to their homes throughout Christendom, recanted, but the
Inquisition followed them and they burned. Despotism, naked and cruel,
without scruple or any capacity for shame, had broken loose upon the world. It
was a new and bloody technique that proved vastly effective in the hands of
tyrants - both secular and religious. Civilization
was to hear a good deal about this arbitrary rule, this summary and vindictive
totalitarianism, without conscience, hungry for power, wholly wicked,
completely mad. In 1311, Clement and Philip became reconciled, which prepared
the way for the final act in the tragedy. The next year, at Vienna, the
Pope condemned the order in a sermon while Philip sat at his right hand.
Later the inevitable occurred; the Knights Templar were broken up. Much
of their treasure was given to the Knights of St. John, but Philip the Fair
and Clement V reserved land and treasure, castles and Abbeys for themselves
and their friends.
No full hearing seems to have
been given to all the charges, or any comprehensive judgment handed down on
the order as a whole. However, in 1314, Jacques de Molay, whose fear had made
him a pathetic figure, and whose craven "confessions" contrary to
the oath of his order had sent hundreds to their death, again confessed, again
recanted his confession, again confessed, each time shrinking miserably in
stature both as a man and Grand Master and having humiliation and utter
disgrace heaped upon him for his pa ins. Finally, after the long
imprisonment and tragedy and sorrow of it all, he was led out upon the
scaffold in front of Notre Dame in Paris, in company with his friend Gaufrid
de Charney, Preceptor of Normandy. The papal legates were in attendance
and a vast multitude of people filled the square. He was to confess by
arrangement and hear the legates sentence him to life imprisonment. Jacques de
Molay finally atoned. Instead of confessing he proclaimed the innocence
of the order. King Philip the Fair did not hesitate or consult with the
Pope's legates; he had de Molay burned forthwith, "between the
Augustinians and the royal garden." Guido Delphini was burned with them,
and also the young son of the dauphin of Auvergne. With his dying breath
Jacques de Molay shouted to the multitude that King and Pope would soon meet
him before the judgment seat of God. The common people gathered up his
ashes, and before many days it was as de Molay had foretold, Both Clement V
and Philip the Fair were dead.
The immortal Dante maintained
the innocence of the Knights as did many another famous contemporary.
Today it is generally admitted that the Inquisition went to the poor knights
in prison, told them that their officers had confessed to spitting upon the
Crucifix, and then wrung from them "confessions" by the most brutal
of all institutions. The confessions are all discounted. The
evidence against them was from their rivals, the Dominicans and Franciscans
and others, all worthless.
The Order had long held the Turk
in check, and kept alive the dream of a united Christendom. It had given
to the world the idea of the chivalrous man as a religious man, the servant of
his state not ashamed to own his God. It had paved the way for the large
part laymen were to play in the religious life of the nations. It was
the school of diplomacy and commerce, of international finance and opinion.
Those who destroyed the order opened the way for Turkish conquests in the
West. They also made known the horrors of despotism, of trial by pogrom
and purge, which kindled again in the wicked days of St. Bartholomew's and in
the mad days of the French Revolution - the cult of cruelty, that ran its
course even in the New World with witch hunts and burnings, and that is not
yet dead. It has been said that the thirteenth of October, 1307, was a day of
humiliation for the whole race. If the world remembers, and recovers its sense
of shame, its capacity for indignation, it may not have been in vain.
The Middle Ages were past, and
deep rivers of Christian blood had flowed for two hundred and fifty years,
before the Turk was expelled from the Spanish peninsula. Under Don John
of Austria the Mediterranean states, organized into a league, sent an armada
of two hundred ships against the Turkish fleet that had sailed westward from
Cyprus and Crete. Christian met Saracen off Lepanto, October 7, 1571,
broke the naval power of the Turks forever and set
barricades to their western expansion to this day. Thus was October 13,
1307, at last avenged. Nearly every European state and noble family was
represented. There was also present a humble Spaniard who had his arm
shattered but who lived to write a book, with his one good hand, the novel Don
Quixote, that laughed the last dregs of a corrupt and bogus chivalry out of
Europe. He died in 1616, the year our Shakespeare died, and an era
ended. The era of the common man followed; a new day had dawned.
Below are some shots of the
Jacques Demolay commemorative plaque. It is at the
western tip of the Il de la Cite, which is an island in the middle of the
Seine where Nortre Dame is located. The plaque is on the side of a bridge
called Pont de Neuf - oldest bridge in Paris dating to early 1600s.
a splendid little park here (pictured above), but in 1314 it would have been
the middle of
the river. It is believed that the pyre was set up in the middle of the river
was burned at the stake.
It roughly translates to:
On this location
Last Grand Master
of the Order of the Temple
was burned in the summer on March 18, 1314