Written by Colin Grant
The story of the Knights Templar's is complex, with fact and fiction wedded together to produce a confusing mix of history and modern urban myth.
We are primarily interested in the links between today’s Templar movement and contemporary Freemasonry.
The crusades were the brainchild of Pope Urban II who wanted to recapture the Holy Land from the Muslims who’d been in power there since the 7th century.
In July 1099 the crusader knights conquered Jerusalem, which led to the establishment of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.
When the fighting died down a small number of French knights decided to remain in Jerusalem.
The mission of these knights, who were devoted to God and to serving Christ, was to protect pilgrims who were now flocking to the area.
This, they believed, was a way of gaining salvation for their sins.
Getting to the Holy Land from Western Europe was fraught with danger and the knights were deployed to counteract Muslim and other bandits who preyed ruthlessly on the travelers.
There was no permanent accommodation available for them in the city, so King Baldwin II of Jerusalem provided his palace for them.
The palace was regarded by the local Christians as Solomon’s Temple and consequently the crusaders became recognised as the Knights of the Temple.
They were officially sanctioned by the Catholic Church in 1128 and gained recognition as a military and religious order from Pope Innocent II in 1139.
The Templars achieved widespread respect and admiration in Western Europe because they vowed to live a life of poverty, chastity, obedience and piety.
Their popularity attracted wealthy sponsors including several monarchs, and, as their influence spread throughout Europe and the East, great tracts of land and property were gifted to them.
Although they were not interested in acquiring wealth merely for the sake of it, preferring to invest most of their income in their military expeditions, the Order of the Temple became extremely affluent.
Its structure bore a striking similarity to that of Modern Freemasonry.
The order was ruled by a Master who took advice from older more experienced brethren.
Each territory under its control was called a Province and it was ruled by a Provincial Master.
By the end of the 13th century their public esteem was no longer universal.
The Order attracted criticism because it suffered a number of crushing military defeats.
Questions were also raised about the great riches it possessed.
The Templars profited from farming, milling, manufacturing and rental income from both property and land.
And as Europe’s economy grew and prospered, the Templars, like other religious orders, became trusted as bankers.
People from all walks of life deposited their cash with them, while the order provided loans to those needing assistance.
The Templars had also developed a method for securely transporting large sums of money and valuables, usually from Western Europe to the Eastern Mediterranean lands.
They were trusted by kings and merchants, who routinely made use of their skills.
These financial services were particularly lucrative. In addition, the Templars were granted rights to hold markets and fairs and to levy road tolls.
Overall, they conducted their financial affairs fairly and efficiently and did not attract a huge amount of criticism.
And by the turn of the 14th century they owned churches, castles, banks and other land and property across Europe.
Yet on Friday, October 13th, 1307 all that changed.
In a series of unannounced early-morning raids, King Phillip IV arrested hundreds of French Templars.
Their subsequent imprisonment, torture and executions brought their era to an ignominious end.
To be continued in part 2...