The Creation and Demise of the Knights Templar

In 2009 Carson Taylor Wheet prepared a Bachelor’s Thesis for the University of Arizona, USA. Her thesis investigates the Order of the Knights Templar by examining the varied phenomena that led to the formation of the Order in the early twelfth century and its dissolution nearly two hundred years later.

Since the demise of the Order has recently received a great deal of attention in both historical scholarship and popular culture, the author analyzes and critiques numerous theories concerning the trial of the Templars. She contextualizes it by revealing the causes for the Order’s creation. An array of primary and secondary sources was used to explain why each event occurred despite being unpopular with a significant portion of Christian officials. 

The author ultimately contends that most of the aforementioned theories are insufficient to explain the rise and fall of the Order because they fail to grasp the complexity of each event. The Templars’ creation resulted from a lengthy theological justification for a unique form of Christian holy war, papal ambitions, and a palpable ethos of fear and violence within Christendom that was redirected against an external enemy. Their demise stemmed from secular ambitions, relative papal weakness, and a unique blend of social fears, legal standards, and organizational rules that proved extremely deleterious in their trial.


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Godfrey de Saint-Omer - co-founder of the Knights Templar

Godfrey of Saint-Omer (also known as Gaufred, Godefroi, or Godfrey de St Omer, Saint Omer) was a French knight, one of the founding members of the Knights Templar. He is said to have come from the family of the Lords of Saint-Omer, France, possibly the son of William I, Lord of Saint Omer and Melisende de Piquigny. William and Melisende were known to have at least one son, Hugh.

Both William and Hugh participated in the First Crusade as vassals of Robert II of Flanders. Hugh of Saint-Omer was also mentioned as one of the best knights in the Kingdom of Jerusalem which was established after the conquest op Jerusalem in 1099.

There are conflicting reports as to Godfrey's relationship to William and Hugh. Chronologically Godfrey may have been Hugh's brother but it is also said that he was Hugo's son. On the list of crusaders, a Gauthier de Saint-Omer is listed, which could be a mistake for Gaufred (Gauthier de Saint-Omer was not yet born). Therefore Godfrey probably came to Jerusalem with William I and Hugh around 1099, so during the First Crusade.

The lineage of the Saint Omer family is described in detail here.

Text dapted from wikipedia; Illustration Saint Bertin church and marble statue of abbot Suger. Saint-Omer, Pas-de-Calais (France)- source Wikipedia

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There is no contemporary biography in existence and no later writers cite one that is still extant. Information is therefore extremely scanty and any embellishments often rely on people writing decades or even centuries after De Payens' death. What is the general story?

Praise of the new Knights Templar (1128)

In 1128 Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, Andre de Montbard's uncle and abbott of the Cistercian monastery of Clairvaux, published on request of Hughes de Payen a pro-Templar tract entitled
In Praise of the New Knighthood.

In this tract Saint Bernard explains the objective of the new Order of the Knights of the Temple and sets it as an example for "normal knighthood". Some quotes:

On the practice of normal knighthood:
What else is the cause of wars and the root of disputes among you, except unreasonable flashes of anger, the thirst for empty glory, or the hankering after some earthly possessions? It certainly is not safe to kill or to be killed for such causes as these.
On the right of Knights Templar to kill pagans:
If he kills an evildoer, he is not a mankiller, but, if I may so put it, a killer of evil. He is evidently the avenger of Christ towards evildoers and he is rightly considered a defender of Christians.
I do not mean to say that the pagans are to be slaughtered when there is any other way to prevent them from harassing and persecuting the faithful, but only that it now seems better to destroy them than that the rod of sinners be lifted over the lot of the just, and the righteous perhaps put forth their hands unto iniquity.
On their behavior in battle:
Thus in a wonderous and unique manner they appear gentler than lambs, yet fiercer than lions. I do not know if it would be more appropriate to refer to them as monks or as soldiers, unless perhaps it would be better to recognize them as being both. Indeed they lack neither monastic meekness nor military might. What can we say of this, except that this has been done by the Lord, and it is marvelous in our eyes. These are the picked troops of God, whom he has recruited from the ends of the earth; the valiant men of Israel chosen to guard well and faithfully that tomb which is the bed of the true Solomon, each man sword in hand, and superbly trained to war.
On their settlement at Temple Mount:
Moved therefore by their King's example (Jesus expelling by whip merchants from the temple, as is described in the Gospel; TN), his devoted soldiers consider that it is even more shameful and infinitely more intolerable for a holy place to be polluted by pagans than to be crowded with merchants. Once they have installed themselves in this holy house with their horses and their weapons, cleansed it and the other holy places of every un-Christian stain, and cast out the tyrannical horde, they occupy themselves day and night in both pious exercises and practical work. They are especially careful to honor the temple of God with zealous and sincere reverence, offering by their devout service, not the flesh of animals according to the ancient rites, but true peace offerings of brotherly love, devoted obedience and voluntary poverty. 

source: Copyright (C) 1996, Bernard of Clairvaux, In Praise of the New Knighthood, prologue-chapter five, translated by Conrad Greenia ocso, from Bernard of Clairvaux: Treatises Three, Cistercian Fathers Series, Number Nineteen, © Cistercian Publications, 1977, pages 127-145 (without notes). All rights reserved.

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Knights Templar - the first decade

According to chroniclers of their early years, the Knights Templar were founded in 1118 by Hughes de Payen, a vassal of the Count of Champagne. In 1118 Baldwin I was King of Jerusalem. The older brother of the King, Godfroi de Bouillon, had been one of the leaders of the first Crusade (1096–1099) that had lead to the conquest of Jerusalem from the Muslims in 1099.

The group around Hugo de Payen, all related to each other by either blood or marriage, proposed themselves to King Baldwin I as an order of fighting monks, who would protect the roadways for pious pilgrims journeying to Jerusalem. They were given an entire wing of the royal palace as their headquarters, a wing that had been built upon the foundations of the Temple of Solomon. Thus they received their name: "the Knights of the Temple." The Templars made use of the numerous tunnels known to exist beneath Solomon's Stables on the Temple Mount. This use stands at the origin of many myths on treasure being searched for and found by the Templars at the temple site.

During the first nine years of their existence the Order admitted no new members. Furthermore, there is no evidence from contemporary chroniclers indicating that they engaged in the activities for which they were founded: the protection of pilgrims journeying to Jerusalem. Nevertheless they became famous throughout Europe as the selfless "Militia of Christ."

By 1127, most of the original Knights had returned to Europe. In 1128 Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, Andre de Montbard's uncle and abbott of the Cistercian monastery of Clairvaux, published on request of Hughes de Payen a pro-Templar tract entitled In Praise of the New Knighthood. In this tract Saint Bernard stresses the in those days new combination of monkhood and knighthood when he writes: "But when the one sees a man powerfully girding himself with both swords and nobly marking his belt, who would not consider it worthy of all wonder, the more so since it has been hitherto unknown? He is truly a fearless knight and secure on every side, for his soul is protected by the armor of faith just as his body is protected by armor of steel."

At the Saint Bernard-inspired Council of Troyes the same year, the Church officially recognized the Templars as a religious and military order dedicated to the defense of Christendom.

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Birth of the Knights Templar

In order to understand better the position of Knights Templar at the beginning of the second millennium as well as their (potential) meaning today, it is important to have a clear picture of their origin and original intent. What is known?

Religion and extremism

"Like other religions, Islam has its extremist elements. It also has an illustrious history, which includes numerous contributions to the civilization we enjoy today. The terrorist attacks of 9-11 are no more representative of Islam than are those of the Ku Klux Klan of Christianity (the onerous deeds of the so-called Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda also come to mind). And just as Osama bin Laden rallied his followers by quoting religious scripture out of context (e.g. “slay the infidels wherever you find them”), so did the Dutch Reformed Church do precisely the same in justifying the practice of apartheid in South Africa. Religion is a double-edged sword that can either cause conflict or abate it. To focus on the former, while ignoring the latter is to deprive one’s self of a critically important asset in countering religious violence. To my way of thinking, the best way to deal with Islam is to make a concerted effort to understand it, first of all, by getting to know a Muslim."

source of the previous quote: ICRD Update September 2011

Historical Knights Templar - multicultural by character

The recent events in Norway are extremely disturbing in their own right. But it should not go unnoticed that the historic order of the Knights Templar has been once again grossly misunderstood and misrepresented. The issue is very complex, of course, and the history of the Crusades will forever remain a subject of debates. It is very important to remember, however, that if someone were to pick a symbol of anti-multiculturalism, choosing the Knights Templar is simply ridiculous. In fact, you'd be better off blaming these knights for being the original multiculturalists! Here is one excellent tidbit of history to illustrate this point.

Usama ibn Munqidh, Amir of Shaizar (1095–1188) included an interesting story in his autobiographical "Book of Instruction with illustrations" which can be found in Francesco Gabrieli's "Arab Historians of the Crusades", p.48 of the English translation published by Routledge in 2010. Usama relates how, while being in Jerusalem, he used to go to the al-Aqsa mosque, which was controlled by the Templars who were his "friends." They would always provide a small room for Usama's prayers. One day, as he began to pray, a Frank grabbed him and turned him to face east, adding "That is the way to pray!" (Muslims, of course, turn in the direction of the Kaaba). Several Templars immediately interfered and Usama was able to proceed with his prayers. As soon as they stopped monitoring the Frankish intruder, he once again forcefully turned the Muslim around. At this time, the Templars took the Frank away and apologized to Usama, explaining that the man had just arrived today and was unfamiliar with the customs of Islam.

I would like to point out that Usama is telling this story in order to illustrate "Frankish barbarism," so from a historian's point of view this account gains credibility when it comes to assessing the degree of tolerance displayed by the Templars.


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Many sites on Templars in France (Templiers en France) can be found on the internet, especially ones that mix scrupulously truth and myth, sence and nonsense, fact and fabrication. Such sites will not be mentioned on this blog.
At the same time I have realized that, although France does not really belong to the area covered by this site, the influence of French Templars did -and still does-  expand north of the actual French territory.
So I have come to realize that certain French sites deserve and even need to be presented here. Simply because, to my humble opinion, they have special importance for getting to know better the true history of Knights Templar in north-western Europe, as well as understand better the continuing precense of their footprint today and its meaning for modern man.

Therefore, after ample consideration, I have added a special page on France.
May it grow and be relevant to all seeking the truth about the meaning of the Knights Templar.

October 13 - Templar Anniversary

 "This date in Templar history - the 13th of October is the day, in the year 1307, that the arrests of this great Order began. The arrest and the subsequent trials, based on false charges as was recently admitted by the Vatican, lead to the deaths of many noble Knights Templar. Amongst them the last Grand Master, Jacques de Molay.

Dr Karen Ralls, medieval historian and curator consultant (Oxford, England), and Trustee, Templar Heritage Trust UK offers a short historical 'statement' about Grand Master de Molay. "

read further on; illustration source (FairUse intended)

Après l'exposition "Champagne !", place aux "Templiers"

Avec 23 360 visiteurs, l'exposition « Champagne ! Trois siècles d'histoire », a rempli sa mission. Place, l'an prochain, à une exposition sur les Templiers

L'exposition estivale sur le champagne a non seulement célébré le centenaire de la révolte des vignerons mais elle a également imposé l'Hôtel-Dieu et les expositions du conseil général de l'Aube comme un rendez-vous culturel incontournable de l'été aubois. Après Archives et vitrail, en 2009 (17 000 visiteurs), Topinambours et rutabagas (2010, 12 000 visiteurs), Champagne ! marque une étape décisive.