A Brief History of the Knights Templar
Baldwin II of Jerusalem took favor on that mission and
granted them part of his palace for their headquarters
in what had been a stable area of the Temple Mount,
called "Solomon's Temple". It was not actually the
Temple of Solomon, which was built c: 950 BC and
destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 when the Hebrews
were taken off in to captivity in what is now Iraq. A
rebuilt Temple was begun in 520 B.C. and greatly
improved 500 years later by Herod the Great of New
Testament infamy. This is the temple that would have
been known to Jesus. That Temple and the city were
destroyed by the Romans in AD 70 as they crushed a
revolt by the Jews. Roman Emperor Hadrian
re-founded the city in AD 135. It was captured by the
Muslims in 638 where they built one of their holiest
sites, the Al Aqsa Mosque on the old foundation known as
the Temple Mount.
warriors of the First Crusade captured the city in 1099
and kept it until 1187. It was in this period that the
Knights Templar would have made their first humble abode
in the ruins of a stable. The site is sacred to
Christians, Jews, and Muslims. It is believed by many to
be the site of Mount Moriah where Abraham, father of the
Jews and the Arabs, came to sacrifice his son as he was
tested by God. Many believe that the original Temple of
Solomon was the storage place of the Ark of the Covenant
and other Biblical treasures. It was in the
rebuilt Temple that Jesus threw out the money changers
from his Father’s House. It was here in the 7th Century
that the conquering Muslims erected the Dome of the Rock
around the large rock from which they believe the
prophet Muhammad ascended into heaven and returned with
the inspiration to write the Koran. The Crusaders
built a church on the site called the Templum Domini,
from which many believe the Knights Templars derived
twenty years after the Crusaders’ conquest of Jerusalem,
the noble French knight, Hughes de Payens, collected
eight knights, several of them relatives, and began the
Order. Their stated mission was to protect the pilgrims
to the Holy Land as they went thither and thence.
They gained the favor of King Baldwin II and there
they stayed, just the nine of them, for 10 years.
The poor Templars relied on alms to survive and their
emblem displayed two knights riding on a single horse as
a sign of their poverty.
were generally seen as complementary to the Knights
Hospitallers who cared for sick and weary pilgrims in
their convent in Jerusalem while the Templars guarded
those pilgrims approaching and leaving the city.
Most of the original nine traveled back to France
in 1128 and met with Hugh de Payens’ cousin, the
renowned Bernard of Clairvaux, the dominant churchman of
the era. In a famous letter titled, “In Praise of
the New Knighthood,” Bernard elevated the Templar Order
above all others of the day, establishing the image of
the Templars as a fierce spiritual militia for Christ.
He regarded them as a "new species of knighthood,
previously unknown in the secular world..." It was
shortly after St. Bernard’s blessing that the Templars
became the rock stars of the 1130s.
the official blessing of the church at the Council of
Troyes the status of the Templars grew dramatically and
the order was showered with donations. They received
money, land and hundreds of noble-born sons from
families across Europe eager to help fight in the Holy
Land. The Order grew exponentially and became immensely
powerful. From 1139 through 1145 a series of three Papal
bulls greatly enhanced their power, making them:
Immune from taxation, allowed them to keep any spoils of
war and declared that the Templars would not be subject
to local laws, allowing them to pass freely through all
borders, and were exempt from all authority except that
of the pope. No kings or princes, dukes of bishops
could command them, nor exact taxes from them.
the 1170s, scholars estimate there were about 300
knights based in the Kingdom of Jerusalem, more in other
areas of the East and many more in support roles
throughout Europe. By the 1180s, there were at least 600
knights in Jerusalem, Tripoli and Antioch, and perhaps
three times that number of sergeants. The
Templars began to accumulate substantial landholding in
France, England and throughout Iberia, and other in
Italy, Germany, Dalmatia, Southern Greece and Cyprus. By
the late 13th century they may have had as many as 870
castles, and houses spread across Latin Christendom.
During the 12th and 13th centuries these properties were
meshed into an efficient network of support providing
men, horses, money and supplies for the Templars in the
Knights Templar became the permanent defenders of
Christian settlements of the East, increasingly
entrusted with key castles and fiefs. No major battle
took place without their participation and the order was
the only institution capable of building great castles
in the East. The development of a role as
bankers arose out of these circumstances. With this huge
support system of castles, houses and intermediaries,
they were well placed to offer credit and redeem coins
of other realms. They soon expanded their services into
more general finance, unconnected with crusading. The
Templars protection of pilgrims grew to the inventions
travelers’ checks and lines of credit. It was now
possible to deposit an amount of money in a Templar
house anywhere from London to Jerusalem and receive a
note written to the Templars at your destination. Upon
arrival the second house would present you with your
cash – minus a small fee I’m sure.
the 1290s their house in Paris offered a deposit bank
with a cash desk open on a daily basis and specialist
accountancy services for individuals, groups and even
governments. The Templars became the bankers to nobles,
trading firms, kings, and Popes. This wealth and
power was cemented by effective communications,
including the Order’s own fleet of ships. They took part
in naval warfare and in 1301 commission their own
Admiral. But things began going sour in the Middle
East. Jerusalem was lost to Saladin’s armies in
1187 and the critical city of Acre fell in 1291.
Followed by the Mamluk conquest of Palestine and
Syria the losses in the Holy Land were a turning-point
in Templar history, leaving the Order without its
primary role in society to protect the pilgrims.
With the Holy Land lost and the failure of the military
orders to prevent the advance of Islam attracted
criticism, and without their mission their power began
to slip in Europe. Many called for a reassessment of
their activities, but there were no suggestions that the
order be abolished. In fact, the Templars kept on
crusading from their base in Cyprus.
were still subject to no local government and paid no
taxes, which grated on many of the royals who had taken
loans from the Templars and now were deeply in their
debt. At this same time, perhaps out of jealousy and
indebtedness, wild rumors swirled about their secret
rituals. And it’s easy to imagine that a huge standing,
professional army that was extremely rich and had
virtually no authority over them, might have become a
One of those royals in debt to the Templars was King Philippe IV of France. Since the winners write the history books – just ask any Confederate – the king is known today as Philippe the Fair. Already deep in debt and mired in papal politics, Philip asked the Templars for more money to continue his wars with England, and was refused. In collusion with his boyhood friend Pope Clement V, whom he had helped put on the Holy See, the King plotted against the Templars, preparing charges of heresy, blasphemy and other capital crimes.
the break of day on Friday the 13th of October 1307, the
King’s soldiers attacked Templar houses across France,
capturing many leading Templars, including almost all of
the senior officers in Paris. What treasure
was found was seized. In many areas outside of France
some princes took over the properties and in others the
Templars simply changed the name of their Order.
Although the Order itself was suppressed, many of the
knights fled and went underground, or joined other
Orders. A few weeks after the surprise attack the
Pope ordered every knight of the realm to take Templars
into custody. Eventually several hundred knights
were rounded up in France. Under torture, many of them
confessed to blasphemy and dozens were burned at the
stake. Philip pressured other monarchs to arrest their
Templars, but few did and almost none of them were
convicted in other countries.
1312, with Philip’s army encircling the city, Pope
Clement V officially disbanded the Order at the Council
of Vienne, although his decree specifically stated that
neither the individuals nor the order had been found
guilty of the charges.
1314 the elderly Grand Master Jacques de Molay and his
top deputy Geoffrey de Charney recounted their previous
confessions and were burned at the stake in front of the
cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. Their ashes were then
ground up and dumped into the Seine, so as to leave no
relics behind that could inspire devotion and
rebellion. Some Templars fled to territories
outside Papal control, such as Scotland where the
already-excommunicated Robert the Bruce was happy to
have them join his cause for independence from England.
But that doesn’t account for many of them. By most
estimates Philip rounded up only about 300 knights in
France, about ten percent of the estimated total in
France alone. A much smaller percentage was arrested
around the rest of Europe. What became of most of
them has become one of the great mysteries of history.
day before Phillip struck, on Thursday the 12th of
October, a Templar fleet of 18 ships was reported at
harbor in La Rochelle, France. By morning the fleet was
gone, never to be reliably reported again. An extensive
archive of Templar histories and records of their
business holdings and financial transactions – and most
of the money – were never found.
recent book, The Warriors and the Bankers: A History of
the Knights Templar from 1307 to the Present by Alan
Butler and Stephen Dafoe, makes the case that many of
the French knights fled to what is now Switzerland,
helping its rural farmers throw off their powerful
Austrian overlords and form an independent country.
Today, the national flag of Switzerland and several of
its cantons bear Templar crosses. Those who pursue
this theory say the Templar treasure is not lost at
all. They point to the great wealth and secrecy of
the Swiss banks as the likely repository – not buried in
the ground somewhere, but having been the working
capital of Europe for the past 700 years.
Portugal and Spain the rulers merely changed the name of
the order and the organization remained in place. As for
the fleet, it is known that the famed Prince Henry the
Navigator of Portugal was the grand prior of the Order
of Christ, the new name for the Portuguese Templars. It
is widely thought that the Templars were instrumental in
the great voyages of discovery commissioned by Henry.
Other Templar captains are hypothesized to
have sailed to North America.
after all these centuries, good news was found just six
years ago. In 2002, Dr. Barbara Frale, a
researcher working in the Secret Archives of the Vatican
– yes there is such a place named the Secret Archives of
the Vatican - found a copy of a long lost document now
called the Chinon Parchment. The document recorded
a trial ordered by Clement V of the six leading French
Templars, including de Molay and de Charney, and carried
out by three leading cardinals of the day, in 1308, six
years before their execution. The parchment shows
that the cardinals, after taking four days of testimony
in front of many witnesses and recorded by four scribes,
found the Templars to be innocent of the charges against
them. Based upon their findings, the Chinon Parchment
declares that Clement V absolved the leaders of the
order. But sadly, the parchment was never published.
Having grown up as an altar boy in Catholic school, I was at first a little reticent about joining an organization that had suffered excommunication by the pope. But, in case anybody else here was so concerned, the Chinon Parchment declares that the Templars were not removed from grace. Based partly on the parchment, the position of the Catholic Church today is that the persecution of the Templars was unjust and that they were not guilty of the charges brought against them. - Compiled by Steve Hale
The Bible teaches us in Acts 2:17 that “Your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.” The Priory of St. Vincent is a dream and a vision come true and its history is full of more of the same.
Several members of the Priory of St. Andrew first dreamed of a South Carolina priory in 1993, largely because they wanted an alternative to the twice-a-year 300- to 500-mile drive to Nashville. They shared their dream in January, 1994 with Grand Prior VIII, Chev. Donald Robert Weber, GCTJ, GMTJ (1991-1993) and Grand Prior IX, COL Chev Donald Roderick Perkins, GCTJ, GMTJ (1994-1996), both of whom heartily supported the dream of a South Carolina priory.
Chev. Gene Boyer Fee, Sr., GOTJ of the Priory of St. Andrew wrote letters about establishing an organization in the Carolinas to about twenty knights and dames, asking for their responses and comments. Members of the Priory of St. Andrew discussed the idea at their next two convents and agreed to support a Carolina commandery. “Approximately twenty knights were invited to attend a meeting at the Fort Jackson Officer's Club [in Columbia, South Carolina],” Fee says. “The first meeting on l8 December 1994 was inconclusive. They liked the name St. Columba, but balked at only being a Commandery.” Fee remembers:
“The second meeting on January 11, l996 was more successful. Chev. Chester Fairbanks Cotter, GCTJ, GMTJ, of New York and Beaufort, South Carolina stepped up to the plate and assumed the leadership as commander. The Grand Prior made an exception for Chev. Cotter to start the Commandery of St. Vincent (the patron saint of wine makers and viticulturists) with only six officers. Cotter and his wife, Pat (also a member), hosted the first officers meeting and convent in Beaufort on February 23, l996. St. Vincent became a priory at its Vernal Convent on April 19, 1997 at St. Helena’s Episcopal Church in Beaufort.”
became the first Prior. St. Vincent grew slowly at
first, but the deep commitment to service of its members
and its strong leaders made up for quantity. The ensuing
years saw growth in membership and program. Prior II,
LTC Chev. C. Lockhart McLendon, GCTJ helped the priory
increase its membership. Prior IV, Chev. George Louis
Custodi, GOTJ, opened the officer meetings to all
members, emphasized the spiritual side of being a knight
or dame and encouraged the refashioning of the
postulants vigil and surrounding activities to foster
more spirituality. Prior V, Dr. Chev. Robert Earl
Alexander, GOTJ continued his predecessor’s work with
diplomacy and grace. Prior VI, Chev. Joseph Albert
Sadowski, Sr., GOTJ focused on retaining members by
involving as many knights and dames as he could. Prior
VII, Chev. Duncan Cairnes Ely, GOTJ, moved St. Vincent’s
flag from the priory’s birthplace in Beaufort to
the geographical center at Columbia. “One of my goals is
to encourage members to gather locally in preceptories
for hands-on service, for mutual support and good
times,” Ely says. “Making our small part of the world a
better place is what we are all about and preceptories
are one way we can do that.” The Grand Priory has
recognized two preceptories within the past year.
The vision of a reconceived postulants vigil and surrounding events, reflecting a deeper commitment and spirituality by postulants and members alike, is part of every convent and investiture weekend. The dream of sponsoring a Holy Land Christian student, Michael Lorenzo of Ramleh at $1,300 a year, is now part of the priory’s budget. The dream of initiating a priory medal and a creating the priory coat of arms came true.
Four priory members have had visions of making a difference on a national level. Chevaliers Alexander (Acting Grand Aumonier), Custodi (Assistant Deputy Grand Prior for Region III), Fee (Grand Photographeur) and Ely (Chaplain Domicilary to the late Grand Chaplain) are serving or have served the Grand Priory in various capacities.
lives are a part of history,” Fee says. “We each have a
personal story and a life full of events. We can explore
our own individual lives for the traces of God’s
presence and action.” Members of the priory are
exploring and dreaming and visioning, and the next fifty
years will bear witness to those new and exciting
Priors of the Priory of St.
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