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Essay/Term paper: Militant monks

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Humanities

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The Knights Templar, a military order of monks answerable only to the Pope

himself, were founded in 1118. Their primary responsibility, at least

initially, was to provide protection to Christians making pilgrimages to the

Holy Land. They rose in power, both religious and secular, to become one of

the richest and most powerful entities in Christendom. By the time of their

disbandment in 1307, this highly secretive organization controlled vast

wealth, a fleet of merchant ships, and castles and estates spanning the

entire Mediterranean area.

When the crusaders captured Jerusalem from the Muslims in 1099, the Church

encouraged all faithful Christians to visit that holy city in order to

affirm their faith. The area, however, was still subject to sporadic attacks

from various non-Christian factions. A small group of knights, led by Hugh

de Payens, vowed to protect the pilgrims. The group was granted

quasi-official status by King Baldwin II of Jerusalem, who allowed them

quarters in a wing of the royal palace near the Temple of Solomon. It is

from this initial posting that the order derived its name. They took the

standard vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and were bound to the rules

of the Augustinian order. [Upton-Ward 1]

The order languished in near-anonimity for several years, despite generous

contributions from various European personages. In 1126, Count Hugh of

Champagne, having donated his estates to Bernard of Clairvaux for use in

building a monestary for the Cistercian order, arrived in Jerusalem to join

the Templars. This action indirectly obligated Bernard to support the newly

chosen advocacy of his benefactor. He wrote to the count, "If, for God's

work, you have changed yourself from count to knight and from rich to poor,

I congratulate you." [Howarth 49]

In the year 1126, King Baldwin found two reasons for wanting official

recognition of the order. First, he had, perhaps prematurely, bestowed upon

Hugh de Payens the title of Master of the Temple. Second, the king had the

opportunity to launch an attack on the city of Damascus, but he needed more

knights. Papal recognition would allow open recruiting in Europe for the

order. King Baldwin sent a letter to Bernard of Clairvaux, the order's

primary patron, later known as Saint Bernard, asking him to petition the

Pope for official recognition of the order. [Howarth 50-51] The King's

letter was hand-carried to Bernard by two loyal and trusted knights, Andrew

de Montbard, maternally related to Bernard, and Gondemare. Upon their

arrival at Clairvaux, the two knights presented Bernard with Baldwin's

letter, which came right to the point. [Upton-Ward 3] "The brothers Templar,

whom God has raised up for the defence of our province and to whom he has

accorded special protection, desire to receive apostolic approval and also

their own Rule of life ... Since we know well the weight of your

intercession with God and also with His Vicar and with the other princes of

Europe, we give into your care this two-fold mission, whose success will be

very welcome to us. Let the constitution of the Templars be such as is

suitable for men who live in the clash and tumult of war, and yet of a kind

which will be acceptable to the Christian princes, of whom they have been

the valuable auxiliaries. So far as in you lies and if God pleases, strive

to bring this matter to a speedy and successful issue." [qtd. in Howarth 50-51]

Bernard realized at once the genius of the proposal to combine religious

and military endeavors. Through such organizations, the borders of

Christendom could be extended and fortified. He immediately granted his

approval of the plan and pledged his full support. He petitioned Pope

Honorius II for a special council to consider the matter, and he notified

Hugh of his actions. [Howarth 51]

The Council of Troyes convened on January 13, 1128, a bitterly cold Saint

Hilary's Day, for the primary purpose of considering the request of the

Knights Templar. Despite the delays of written communications, Hugh de

Payens, accompanied by several brother knights, arrived from the Holy Land

in time to attend the meetings of the Council. [Howarth 51]

William of Tyre wrote an account of the events: "Nine years after the

founding of this order, the knights were still in secular garb. They wore

such garments as the people, for salvation of their souls, bestowed upon

them. During this ninth year, a council was held at Troyes in France. There

were present the archbishops of Rheims and Sens, with their suffragans; the

bishop of Albano, the Pope's legate; the abbotts of Citeaux, Clairvaux,

Potigny; and many others. At this council, by order of Pope Honorious and of

Stephen, patriarch of Jerusalem, a rule was drawn up for this order and a

habit of white assigned them." [qtd. in Burman/Templars 27]

Although referred to in William's account by the generic title Abbott of

Clairvaux, Bernard, in actuality controlled the proceedings of the council.

There was little doubt Bernard's request would be met with approval; he was

well known for his successes in reforming monastic life. He was held in the

utmost respect by religious and lay leaders alike; in many circles he was

referred to as the second pope. In fact, many of the popes were supplied by

the mendicant orders. [Robinson 66-67]

At a time when monks were more highly regarded than priests, and considered

closer to God because of their ascetic life-styles, Benard said, "The people

cannot look up to the priests, because the people are better than priests."

[Robinson 67]

Bernard's offer to personally assist in the formulation of the Rules of the

order was gratefully accepted by all. Bernard based his Rule of the Templars

on that of his own Cistercian order, which was itself based on the older

Benedictine Rule. [Robinson 67]

The Rule of the Templars was a strict and complex system of 686 written

laws, meant to cover every possible aspect of daily life. As an example,

Rule 25, On Bowls and Drinking Vessels, states: Because of the shortage of

bowls, the brothers will eat in pairs, so that one may study the other more

closely, and so that neither austerity nor secret abstinence is introduced

into the communal meal. And it seems just to us that each brother should

have the same ration of wine in his cup. [qtd. in Upton-Ward 26]

In 1139, Pope Innocent II issued a Bull, titled Omne Datum Optimum,

declaring that the Knights Templar were under the direct and sole control of

the Pope. This freed the Knights to operate throughout Christendom and the

Levant unencumbered by local ecclesiastical and secular rulers. This

unprecedented autonomy was due, in no small part, to the personal petitions

of the new Grand Master, Robert the Burgundian. While Hugh had been an

excellent warrior, Robert was an ideal administrator who understood

politics. [Howarth 80]

The Order was authorized to have chaplain brothers, who were authorized to

hear the confessions of their fellow brothers, and thereby absolve them of

their sins. There were, however, five specific crimes for which granting of

absolution was reserved by the Pope. These were: "the killing of a Christian

man or woman,; violently attacking another brother; attacking a member of

another order or a priest; renouncing holy orders in order to be received as

a brother; and entering the order by simony." [Upton-Ward 5]

It was also during the mastership of Robert that the Rules were translated

from Latin into French. Church documents were normally in Latin only, but

since most of the Knights were soldiers rather than educated clerics, they

were unable to read Latin. In 1147, the Knights were authorized to wear a

red cross upon their white mantles, despite rule 18, which forbade any

decorations on their clothing. [Upton-Ward 12]

As the Knights Templar gained political and economic strength, they found

themselves involved in many aspects of secular life. They established the

first truly international banking service; travelers not wanting to travel

with large sums could deposit their monies at any Temple and collect a like

amount at their destination. [Burman/Templars 85] The Templars were the

primary bankers for the Holy See. Since the order was a papal creation which

was administered directly by the Pope himself, their significance as papal

bankers is understandable. Less obvious is the Templars' function as royal

bankers for several of Europe's royal houses. The two greatest Temples

outside the Levant were located in Paris and London. These two Temples

offered a full range of financial services to the royal houses, including

collecting taxes, controlling debts and administering pension funds.

[Burman/Templars 87-88] The treasury of the King of France was kept safely

within the vault of the Temple of Paris. [Sinclair 36]

The Templars owned a great fleet of merchant ships with which to convey all

manner of goods, e.g., pepper and cotton, as well as pilgrims, between

Europe and the Holy Land. People wanting to make a pilgrimage to the Holy

Land, but lacking the resources to do so, were allowed to assign rights to

their houses and property, upon their death, to the Templars in exchange for

passage on a Templar ship. To avoid accusations of usury, this procedure was

legitimized by the papal bull Quantum Praedecessores, issued by Pope

Eugenius II in 1145. [Burman/Templars 75-78]

The Holy Land was divided into four Crusader States: Jerusalem, Antioch,

Tripoli and Edessa. Shifting alliances, complicated by the plotting of

independent Arab emirates, posed a complicated and often confusing backdrop

for the Knights' military operations. Their first action was in the northern

sector of the Principality of Antioch. They captured the March of Amanus,

which formed a natural barrier between the city of Amanus and Asia Minor.

[Burman/Templars 50]

The Knights Templar frequently fought side-by-side with their counter-

parts, the Knights Hospitaller, another military order, founded to provide

shelter to sick, wounded or destitute pilgrims. Together, these two warrior

orders afforded the Holy Land a formidable fighting force. Although some

histories allude to a deep and bitter rivalry between the two, it is more

likely that they cooperated well during the battles, keeping any such

pettiness for the monotonous weeks between actions. [Upton-Ward 6-7]

The first military action of the Templars was in the northern sector of the

Holy Land. In 1131, they captured the March of Amanus in Antioch. It was a

natural barrier between the city and Asia Minor, which afforded control of

two roads into Antioch. The same year, King Fulk, Baldwin"s successor,

travelled to the site and granted ownership to the Templars.

[Burman/Templars 52]

Control of the various areas of the Holy Land see-sawed back and forth

between the Crusaders and the Arabs, with neither side enjoying a decisive

victory. Then the balance of power began to change with the rise of the

great Arab leader Salah-ad-Din Yusuf ibn-Aiyub, known to westerners as

Saladin. Descended from a long line of military heroes, he was born in 1138

in Baalbek, Syria, where his father was military governor. He began to

develop his warrior skills by accompanying his father and uncles on various

campaigns. [Burman/Templars 98]

Saladin's rise to power was rapid and successful. His adherance to the

orthodox Sunni faith caused him to initiate dramatic changes in his Shi-ite

army. Upon his ultimate rise to the position of Sultan, he declared a

'jihad', or holy war, against the Crusaders. This intense re-focusing of the

Moslem effort began a gradual shift in power. Christian strongholds fell in

increasing numbers, creating a domino effect. By the middle of 1187, Saladin

had captured Acre, Nablus, Jaffa, Toron, Sidon, Beirut and Ascalon.

Jerusalem fell on 2 October, 1187. [Burman/Templars 108]

The fall of Jerusalem was a disaster from which the Crusades never

recovered. Among Saladin's prisoners were the King of Jerusalem and Raynald

de Chatillon, commander of the fortress at Moab. After entertaining the two

in his tent, Saladin had Raynald killed. The King saw his fellow prisoner

executed and thought he was surely next, but Saladin had him brought back i

nto his tent and told him, "It is not the habit of kings to kill kings."

Saladin's victory was complete. [Payne 223-4]

In the disarray that followed, the orders began to disperse. The

Hospitallers removed their headquarters, first to Rhodes and then to Malta;

and, with the ultimate fall of Acre in 1291, the Templars lost their base of

operations and relocated to Cyprus. In effect, the orders had lost their

original reason for existence. [Upton-Ward 9]

As the Knights had their policital patrons, so had their enemies. In 1305,

Philip IV of France, known as Philip the Fair, seized control of the Holy

See and relocated the papacy to Avignon. From there, he initiated a series

of papal decrees, ostensibly issues by Pope Clement V, a puppet pope under

his absolute control. Eyeing the vast fortunes and resources of the

Templars, he conceived a plot of treachery against them. Since he also

controlled the Inquisition in France, he had no difficulty leveling a whole

laundry list of horrible, but adsurd and largely unsupportable, crimes

against the Knights. [Burman/Inquisition 95]

The role of the Inquisition, under the auspices of Chief Inquisitor

Guillaume of Paris, was to obtain confessions and conduct trials. On Friday

the 13th of September, 1307, the warrant was issued for the arrest of the

Knights and seizure of their property. Many of the Temples were 'tipped off'

by the local sheriffs about the impending sweep, but Grand Master Jacques de

Molay and his associates were arrested in their bed clothes. The

interrogations, aimed at soliciting evidence of any wrongdoing with which to

prove the allegations against the order, dragged on for years. Ultimately,

the Grand Master, along with other high-ranking Templars, were executed by

burning in March, 1314, on an island in the Seine. [Howarth 17]

The years between the arrest of Templars and the order's final dissolution

afforded plenty of time for knights on the lam to become absorbed by the

underground. Knights in England were never pursued, due largely to a rift

between the King and the Church, and many were thought to have participated

in the war between Scotland and England, on the side of Robert the Bruce.

[Robinson 150-51]

The vast fleet of Templar merchant ships was never found. There is no

record of the 18 Templar ships which had been based at La Rochelle on the

French coast, nor any of the various Templar ships normally anchored in the

Thames or other English seaports. There is some speculation that the Barbary

Pirates, who gained worldwide noteriety by plundering European shipping well

into the 19th century, were founded by seagoing Templars with revenge on

their minds. Many of the order's ships were galleys, which were particularly

suited for piracy. [Robinson 165]

One of the more mysterious tenets of the Freemasons can be found in the

initiation of a Master Mason. The initiate is told his degree "will make you

a brother to pirates and corsairs." [Robinson 165-66]

In 1813, a merchant ship, captained by a Freemason, was captured and

boarded by pirates. In desperation, the captain rendered the Grand Hailing

Sign of Distress of a Master Mason. The pirate captain apparently recognized

the secret sign and allowed the merchant ship to proceed unharmed. [Robinson


The destruction of the Knights Templar by Philip the Fair was due to what

he saw as wealth, arrogance, greed and secrecy on the part of the order.

Even Philip's lawyer admitted "perhaps not all of them had sinned." It took

more than suspicion of guilt to bring about the downfall of such a powerful

entity as the Knights Templar. The final blow, however, was probably

three-fold: a general unpopularity of the order among the European

aristocracy, due in part to jealousy; a chronic shortage in the French

treasury, despite heavy taxation; and Master de Molay's refusal to consider

a merger of the Templars with the Hospitallers, as suggested by the Pope.

The fact remains, however, that no evidence of heresy was ever found.

[Burman/Templars 180]

An order founded by nine knights in Jerusalem came to amass great wealth

and power, which speaks well of their integrity and discretion. They became

the "shock troops" of the Holy See. When they lost their original mission of

protecting pilgrims upon the fall of Jerusalem, their downfall became

inevitable. [Sinclair 37]

Works Cited:

Burman, Edward. The Inquisition. New York: Dorset, 1984.

--. The Templars. Rochester, VT: Destiny, 1986.«

Howarth, Stephen. The Knights Templar. New York: Dorset, 1982.

Payne, Robert. The History of Islam. New York: Dorset, 1987.

Robinson, John J. Born in Blood. New York: Evans, 1989.

Sinclair, Andrew. The Sword and the Grail. New York: Crown, 1992.

Upton-Ward, J. M. The Rule of the Templars. Suffolk: Boydell, 1992.


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