THE MOST WELL KNOWN OF ALL RELIGIOUS ORDERS
A mythical institution. A humble purpose. An abominable ending. All there is to know about the Order of Solomon’s Temple – that mysterious military order that remains the subject of much discussion in our days – can be found in the more than three hundred pages of this book produced by The History Channel.
Today, the Knights Templar captivate the imagination of younger audiences as well as more mature ones. All the wealth and power the Templars accumulated in nearly two centuries, together with the Order’s sudden extinction and rumors of occultist connections, earned them a semi-legendary reputation that remains quite alive in present times. But the truth about the Order of Solomon’s Temple as it was during the Middle Ages was very different from all the conspiracy theories surrounding it since the last two hundred years.
It all began from a necessity. The First Crusade had resulted in the wresting of Jerusalem from the Muslim powers as well as in the creation of Christian states by the crusaders, but the roads to the Holy Land continued plagued by bandits and raiders that endangered the lives of thousands of pilgrims. In 1120, a group of knights led by Hugues de Payns decided to see to this necessity in a very atypical way. After some time communing with the monks of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, the knights took up religious vows of obedience, chastity and poverty in 1120, at the same time dedicating themselves wholeheartedly to the pilgrims’ protection. Unbeknownst to them, the “Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ,” as they called themselves then, had founded the first and most famous military order in History.
After having granted the approval and monastic rule from Bernard de Clairvaux, the Templars proved themselves as paragons not only to monks, but especially to knights. Bearing a sacred mission and unfaltering rigor, the Order soon grew to be the elite of Outremer’s crusaders. Hundreds of knights would leave all their possessions behind to join the Knights Templar and become worthy of great honor and eternal salvation.
Through the pope’s assistance as well as numerous donations from all over Christendom, the Templars grew beyond the Holy Land. They played a vital role in the Reconquista, as such enterprise could not have been successful without the Order’s intervention. According to historian Adriano Vasco Rodrigues, “we would not have Portugal’s independence, or the Portuguese territorial extension, were it not for the Templars’ aid. Portugal would not be Portugal if it was not for them.” (free translation)
In almost two hundred years, the Templars stood for what everyone recognized at that time as true soldiers of Christ: men who naturally and without qualms committed themselves to a war as physical as it was spiritual. The white mantle, the red cross, and many other idiosyncrasies made the Templar a stirring icon that mixed heroic virtues with religious cause and fervor. Such zeal for the protection of holy places by the Order was essential in maintaining Christian factions in the Middle East, which nevertheless didn’t last long due to the unceasing efforts of Muslim states and to the sprawling schisms within the Christian nobility.
The fall of crusade territories in Outremer and the negligence from many members of Templar Houses far from war dictated the beginning of the Order’s unexpected end. Despite its fame as defenders of the weak and downtrodden in dangerous, distant lands, the Templars quickly became the target of the greed and envy of the most powerful men of that time – men who made use of all their skill and influence to put a brutal, definite end to the Order. Jacques de Molay, the last Templar Grandmaster, was burned at the stake in 1314, after so many other of his knights had suffered the same fate. Although the Order of Solomon’s Temple had been disgraced, its memory was kept alive through wise monarchs who refused to punish the Templars or who, as was the case of King Denis of Portugal, restored the Order under a different name.
All this and much more can be found in this comprehensive work featuring international historians and specialists such as Helen Nicholson and Alain Demurger. This book is fundamental to a better understanding of one of Medieval Era’s most powerful institutions and the way it impacted the Christendom of its time.