The Templars' religious presence in Medieval Europe

Still very little is known about the military orders’ religious functions in the dioceses in medieval Europe in which they held ecclesiastical possessions. What were relevant aspects of Templar religious involvement in medieval society in general and the reactions of senior clergymen to the Templars’ religious engagement on the parish level in particular? How did the Templars expand their network of parish churches and engage with the lay public? 

"The military orders were the most radical expression of a spiritual development in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries that favored action over contemplation. Public engagement, for example, through charitable work, could form part of these activities, although for the Templars it never became an end in itself. The rule of the Order of the Temple clearly favored an introspective spiritual development through outward action guided by right intentions. This means that although they engaged in the world, the Templars’ motivation for doing so was ultimately self-centered and in line with Cistercian ideas of inward spiritual edification. Consequently, the Templars were strongly discouraged from celebrating the offices in the company of laymen. And parishioners who entered churches under Templar patronage would therefore seldom have encountered professed Templar brothers practicing their devotion. (...)

This, however, is not to say that laymen and laywomen were not aware that the Templars had a religious presence, and were religiously active, in their parishes. Like other religious communities, the Templars marked their ecclesiastical possessions and decorated their devotional spaces with their insignia, usually the Templar cross. The Templars’ activities brought them into frequent contact with laypeople and ecclesiastics alike, who visited their churches, associated with them temporarily, helped them through the liturgical routine of the year, or sought spiritual assistance and advocacy. (...) In spite of the fundamental skepticism regarding the spiritual worth of Templar activities, however, the religiosity of the Temple itself was never questioned. Popes, bishops, and prelates entrusted the Order with spiritual responsibilities and religious duties and interfered if they thought the Templars were overstepping or abusing their privileges. But they never argued that the Order was fundamentally unfit to perform them. (...)

At the local level, the Order seems to have been quite keen to expand its religious presence and engage with laymen. The inventory lists of Templar houses and the accounts of lawsuits and complaints issued by other religious suggest that religious activity was taken seriously in the Temple and that considerable energy was spent on the creation of devotional spaces that Templars as well as laymen could use. Recent research into the liturgical inventories of Templar chapels and churches has shown that a number of these spaces (especially in Spain) allowed for carrying out a variety of liturgical tasks in an environment and visual context that was often laden with color and symbolic meaning. (An example is the church of Montsaunès, which is famous for its intriguing and colourful frescoes, TN). What the present study has shown is that the churches and chapels secured the Order a place on the religious map of medieval Europe and that in France, England, and the Iberian Peninsula at least, the Templars pursued the opportunities offered by these places to engage with the wider public and create parishioners quite aggressively, to such an extent that they have been described as “agents of civic religion.” "

This blog quotes part of the conclusions of the paper Aspects and problems of the Templars' religious presence in Medieval Europe from the twelfth to the early fourteenth century by Jochen Schenk (2016), published on line by Cambridge University Press. Fair Use intended. Illustration shows Montsaunès, Saint-Christophe-des-templiers church, north facade, splayed capitals (Kristobalite, 2013, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0), source. 

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