The Council of Vienne: royal blackmail for Templar condamnation

"The Council of Vienne (1311-12), the fifteenth Ecumenical Council, is a good example of the Church wrestling with the problem of secular interference and political pressure. King Philip IV of France was in urgent need of cash to continue his war with England and so in 1307 accused the Knights Templar of heresy. Powerplay at work.

The "Association Historique du Temple de Paris"

40 Rue des Blancs Manteaux
75004 Paris
Tél . +33 1 30 70 00 52

In Paris, France an association exists called L'Association Historique du Temple de Paris. This is an independent association under French law that does not receive any subsidies. The objective of the association is:

  • to establish in a general way the historical and heritage of the Temple district in Paris District (3rd Arrondissement) through the history of the Temple and of the life of the Knights Templar
  • Combining efforts to disseminate publications by supporting writers in a joint action towards booksellers, local groups and the general public
  • Organizing events such as exhibitions, lectures, tours, interventions in educational institutions, entertainment etc
  • Establishing a strategy on communication, information and promotion,in partnership with local communities.
  • Contributing to the cultural,historical and tourist development of the area of the Temple.
The work of the Association is undertaken in a totally selfless spirit and for the cultural enrichment of all.

The website of the Association, which appears a bit outdated and undermanaged at the moment (May 2021), holds interesting information on events of all sorts, results of research undertaken at the Temple district as well as research carried out in the subterranean caves below the old town. The most important remains of Paris are to be found below ground, in the cellars of the houses that add up to many thousands. The research project is carried out by Danny Sandron, Director of the Centre André Chastel, in partnership with the Paris Department of History of Architecture and Archaeology, The Heritage Service and Inventory of the Regional Council of Ile de France and the Center of Parisian topography. 

Both illustrations source 

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The first Order of Jerusalem: the Hospitaller Order of St John

Around 1050 the Amalfi merchant family De Pantaleon opened a hospital under the protection of St. John the Baptist in Jerusalem, close to the Holy Sepulchre. That is almost half a century before the first Crusade. An even earlier origin has been proposed. After the conquest of Jerusalem in 1099, this hospital developed further and the organisation was ultimately recognized as an independent Order by the Pope. 

Beauchassin Templar House, Allier, France

The Allier Department does not house very many present day Templar sites, as can be seen on this map.  However, one of the best preserved Templar houses, as yet usually overlooked, stands near the village of Saint Hilaire. TemplarsNow visited this Templar House, which is a private agricultural property and not to be visited, in the Summer of 2012 and was allowed to take some photograhs.

aerial view of the Temple House at Beauchassin, Allier France. source
view from the northwest (photo TemplarsNow 2012)
driveway seen from the west (photo TemplarsNow 2012)

The "Maison du Temple" of Beauchassin is located at the village of Saint-Hilaire, Département Allier, Arrondissement: Moulins, Canton: Bourbon-l'Archambault, municipality of Saint-Hilaire. Beauchassin is located close to and to the east of the "bourgh" of Saint Hilaire.

The name of the Templar settlement changed as follows: Bois-Chassain, Bost-Chassin or Bourg-Chassain and today Beauchassin. The site still shows traces of the Knights Templar, for instance in the stone tablet in the wall of the House (aerial photo above nr 1).
This tablet earlier was described to show a cross pattée, a type of cross which has arms narrow at the centre, and broader at the perimeter. This cross appears very early in medieval art, and became one of the characteristic signs of the Knights Templar. It is known, however, that  in their early days Knights Templar wore a simple cross, as did all early crusaders. The present day cross at Beauchassin is not clearly a cross pattée as can be seen on the recent photographs below.

cross pattée (?) above the main door of the house in the
southeast facade of the House  (photos TemplarsNow 2012)
cross pattée (?) in detail
Apart from the house the Templar possession included a chapel, agricultural buildings, fields, pastures and forests. The chapel was dedicated to Saint Blaise and Saint John. The chapel measured 15 x 6,5 meters. It was not vaulted as indicated in the drawing below.

Some traces of the chapel still exist in the form of an ornamented doorway, shown on the pictures below. This doorway, set in the northwest facade of the building indicated nr 2 on the aerial photo above, nowadays leads into a agricultural building with a tin roof.

decorated doorway in northwest facade former chapel
detail doorway (both pictures TemplarsNow 2012)
Probably southeast facade view of chapel with doorway
similar to the one shown above but in the opposite wall.
The House can be seen to the left, with the door over
which is the croix pattée also shown above. To the  right
detail drawing of probably same doorway. Dates unknown.
According to the present occupant some years ago a fire destroyed much of the building that once was the Chapel. This building was rebuilt in a simple way with only agricultural use foreseen.

So there is not very much left of the former Templar origin of the site, although this origin is still documented by some striking details. Probably the Knights Hospitaller did take this house when the Temple Order was abolished in the early 14th century. However, only about 1 km to the westnorthwest, on the nearby D1 road, another (former) Hospitaller House is located, now aptly called La Croix Rouge (The Red Cross).

The color photographs were made and copy-righted by TemplarsNow. They may be re-used for non-commercial purposes, but only with full reference to this site and TemplarsNow. The above text is mainly a French-English translation by TemplarsNow of the text in The drawings are from, which mentions as source thereof the municipal archives of Saint-Hilaire. 

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The Temple Order's original aims

In this book The New Knighthood: A History of the Order of the Temple Malcolm Barber explores the original aim of the Knights Templar.

"Chronicler William Archbishop of Tyre (died c. 1186) says: 'Under the year 1118, certain noble men of knightly order, devoted to God, pious and God-fearing’, the two most important of whom were Hugh of Payns (in Champagne, France) and Godfrey of Saint-Omer (in Picardy, France), took vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience at the hands of Warmund of Picquigny, Patriarch of Jerusalem. They promised to devote themselves to God’s service in the manner of regular canons. In return the King gave them a base in his palace, to the south side of the Temple of the Lord, which was the name given by the Franks to the Dome of the Rock.

 At this time the king was resident in the al-Aqsa mosque at the southern end of the Haram al-Sharif or Temple platform in Jerusalem, for the crusaders believed this to be the site of Solomon’s Temple and therefore an appropriate dwetling for the king. In addition the canons of the Temple of the Lord gave them a square near the al-Aqsa mosque where they could follow the monastic offices. A number of benefices were granted to them by the king and his nobles and the patriarch and other prelates, the income from which was intended to feed and clothe them.

The distinctive feature of this fraternity, however, was the duty ‘enjoined on them by the lord patriarch and the other bishops for the remission of their sins’, which was that ‘they should maintain, as far as they could, the roads and highways against the ambushes of thieves and attackers, especially in regard to the safety of pilgrims’.

Old town Jerusalem, with Temple mount
at the right bottom corner  source,
including explanation of lettre codes
It seems that at first the knights intended simply to adopt a penitential way of life as a kind of lay confraternity, and that later a more active role was suggested to them. Chronicler Michael the Syrian, the Jacobite Patriarch of Antioch (died 1199) says that it was the king, a man acutely aware of the deficiencies of the military establishment, who persuaded Hugh of Payns and thirty companions ‘to serve in the knighthood, with those attached to him, rather than becoming a monk, in order to work to save his only soul, and to guard these places against robbers’.

While it seems certain that the Templars influenced the Hospitallers to take on a military role during the 1130s, it is equally likely that initially the Hospital, which Order was established prior to the Templars, provided Hugh of Payns and Godfrey of Saint-Omer with an effective example of what could be done to help pilgrims.

Certainly the creation of a permanent guard for pilgrim travellers must have seemed to both king and patriarch an ideal complement to the activities of the Hospitallers, who provided shelter and medical care for pilgrims and had been formed as an annex to the monastery of Santa Maria Latinain about 1080. After the Frankish conquest in 1099 they quickly gained royal favour, grants of property and, in 1113, papal recognition."

Source The New Knighthood: A History of the Order of the Temple Malcolm Barber

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The Templar Order's birthdate pin-pointed on January, 1120

In his book The New Knighthood: A History of the Order of the Temple Malcolm Barber (1995) provides a detailed and by now classical reconstruction of the birth of the Templar Order. 

The conclusions reached by Barber still stand, although an earlier date for the start of less formal activities by so-called proto-Templars has been presented recently (2019). This blog freely quotes some key passages from Barber, occasionally adding some details from other sources like Wikipedia.