Small rural commanderies: the heart of the Templar organisation

Templar commanderies, or preceptories, formed an interlocking network, despite significant regional differences. They housed brethren that belonged to three categories of members of the Order: knights, clerics, and sergeants, living together in the everyday life of the commandery. How was the commandery organized?

Usually the brethren in the commanderies did not constitute a community in the full sense of the term. The existence of a cloister, known for the Temple in Paris, was exceptional and dormitories and refectories remained fairly rare.

Locally, the threshold of four brothers was not always reached, and even when it was, the commandery’s familia and dependents outnumbered those who had taken vows in the Order. In Normandy, the six establishments whose members are precisely known at the time of the trial had an average of three brothers, such as in Baugy, where some twenty-seven people lived with the brothers.

Sparsely populated, especially in comparison with priories and abbeys, commanderies nevertheless played a crucial role in the Temple. It was within their framework that the brothers carried out their religious duties as prescribed by the rule. Commanderies also functioned as recruitment centers, provided hospitality, and, in certain cases, medical care, which also served to promote the Order. Finally, through a group of very diverse economic activities, they collected funds, which enabled the Order to fulfill its military mission in the East.

For the most part, they were rural establishments with an agricultural vocation. Often built on high ground that may have had an actual strategic interest, commanderies were enclosed by walls that were high enough to withstand attacks by brigands, although they were not, properly speaking, fortified. The buildings were distributed around one rectangular courtyard, sometimes two or exceptionally three. Wedded to the slope of the terrain, the residential buildings, the chapel, and the commander’s residence and stables were built at the highest elevation, while below the common buildings were grouped together, sometimes with a dovecote and a pond. The domain of the commandery would stretch out over several hundred hectares from the center of this nucleus of buildings. The Templars tried to unite their lands into a coherent whole, often through exchanges or purchases, and did not hesitate to invest hefty sums to do so.

Until the turning point of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, they would sometimes, as in Normandy and Picardy, develop the trades that earned the most money, becoming specialists of wine at Douzens and at Clisson, around Nantes, or of sheep at Payens and at Larzac, and always doing so within the context of a seignorial system. For unlike monks, from their very beginnings the brothers were to be present in the world. Despite the uncertain nature inherent in donations, commanderies in rural areas were established near busy roads, waterways or major crossings, revealing therefore the central importance of having easy access to trade routes.

The commandery was thus truly at the heart of the Temple’s organization as well as established in and strongly connected to the world of those days.

Text adapted from Philippe Joserand (2015) The Templars in France: Between History, Heritage, and Memory; in: COSTA, Ricardo da, SALVADOR GONZÁLEZ, José María (coords.). Mirabilia 21 (2015/2), Medieval and early modern Iberian Peninsula Cultural History (XIII-XVII centuries), Jun-Dez 2015/ISSN 1676-5818. Illustration: Avalleur Commandery, source

Support TemplarsNow™ by becoming a Patrontipping us or buying one of our Reliable Books

No comments: