The first of the military orders,
the Knights Templar
or Poor Knights of Christ
in 1118 in the aftermath of the First Crusade to help the new Kingdom of
Jerusalem maintain itself against its defeated Muslim neighbors, and to
ensure the safety of the large numbers of European pilgrims that flowed
towards Jerusalem after its conquest.
Their name alluded to their headquarters near the Temple of Solomon
in Jerusalem. Another variation of its seal depicts the mosque of Al-Aqsa,
then thought to be a remnant of the temple. Templar churches in Europe
often are octagonal like the mosque.
The Templars were organized as a monastic order, following a rule created
for them by Bernard of Clairvaux, the founder of the Cistercian Order.
The Templars were well-connected and quickly became prime movers in the
international politics of the Crusades period. In time, they were endowed
with several extraordinary Papal Bulls (see Omne Datum Optimum) that permitted
them, among other things, to levy taxes and accept tithing in the areas
under their direct control, facilitating their quick rise to institutional
There were four divisions of brothers in the Templars:
the knights, equipped as heavy cavalry
the sergeants, equipped as light cavalry and drawn from a lower social
class than the knights
farmers, who administered the property of the Order
the chaplains, who were ordained priests and saw to the spiritual needs
of the Order.
At any time, there were approximately 10 people in support positions for
each Knight. In addition, there were brothers devoted only to banking,
as this extraordinary Order was often trusted with precious goods by participants
in the Crusade—over time this grew into a new basis of money
as Templars became increasingly involved in banking activities. It is some
indication of their powerful political connections that the Templars' involvement
in usury did not lead to more controversy within the Order and the church
The Templars political connections and awareness of the essentially
urban and commercial nature of the Outremer communities naturally
led the Order to a position of significant power both in Europe and the
Holy Lands. Their success attracted the jealousy and greed of many other
Orders and eventually that of the nobility and monarchs of Europe as well,
who were at this time seeking to monopolize control of money and banking
after a long chaotic period in which civil society, especially the Church
and its lay Orders, had dominated financial activities. The Templar's holdings
were extensive both in Europe and the Middle East, including, for a time,
the entire island of Cyprus.
Besides Palestine, the order also fought in Spanish Reconquista.
They were given extensive possessions and castles in frontier land. At
one point, they were to inherit the kingdom of Aragon, jointly with other
On October 13, 1307, what may have been all the Knights Templar in France
were simultaneously arrested by agents of Philip the Fair (Philippe
le Bel), to be later tortured into admitting heresy in the Order. A
modern historical view is that Philip, who seized the treasury and broke
up the monastic banking system, simply sought to control it for himself.
This, and the Templars' original banking of assets for suddenly-mobile
depositors, were two of many shifts towards a system of military fiat to
back European money, removing this power from Church Orders. The Hospitallers
of St John of Jerusalem, seeing the fate of the Templars, were also convinced
to give up banking at this time.
Many kings and nobles supported the Knights at that time, and only dissolved
the order in their fiefs when ordered so by Pope Clement V. In particular,
Robert the Bruce, King of the Scots, had already been excommunicated for
other reasons and was not, therefore disposed to pay any attention to Papal
commands. As a result many of the order fled to Scotland.
However, the accusation of religious heresy was not, by the standards
of the time, entirely without merit. Under torture, some Templars "admitted"
to homosexual acts and the worship of a "bearded head" or cat idol ("Baphomet").
Their leaders later denied the admission and for that were executed. Some
authors discount this as a common accusation (as it was in the Inquisition),
and therefore a typical forced admission. Conspiracy theories related to
the suppression of the Knights Templar often go far beyond the simple and
obvious motive of simply seizing property, which was and remains an extremely
common motivation for all forms of religious persecution. The main reason
for that is because the Freemasons believe they were descendant from this
order, and that they really did have heretical beliefs. The Freemasons
have said this so much, that most people take it for granted. Ironically
it is the Catholic church's position that the persecution was unjust, and
that the Pope at the time was tricked into supressing them.
Lately, friends of the Occult have claimed that the order stored secret
knowledge, linking them to the Freemasons, the Sufis or a discovery of
America before Christopher Columbus. See: Order of the Solar Temple.