The Templars - Foundation and fall of the Order of the Temple

The Templars - Foundation and fall of the Order of the Temple

In the Middle Ages, templars were members of a religious and military order responsible for protecting pilgrims in the Holy Land. The origin ofOrder of the Temple is relatively uncertain. He could have come from the Order of Canons of the Holy Sepulcher, which some knights left around 1119-1120. A knight of Champagne, Hugues de Payens, takes their head and gives them the name of "poor knights of Christ"; they are then supported by Baldwin II, the king of Jerusalem. The beginnings of Templars are difficult, and it was not until the Council of Troyes on January 13, 1129 that they were officially recognized as an Order. The destruction of the Order of the Temple by decision of King Philippe le Bel and the “disappearance” of its treasure will contribute to the construction of its legend.

Birth of the Order of the Temple

The First Crusade allowed the capture of Jerusalem by the Crusaders in 1099. But the warlike pilgrimage completed, many combatants returned home. However, it was necessary to watch over the newly created Latin States, and above all over the Holy Places recovered to relaunch the pilgrimage to the Holy City in complete safety. Manyorders are created after theCrusade, first by the initiative of the Advocate of the Holy Sepulcher Godefroy de Bouillon, who established the Order of Canons of the Holy Sepulcher. Then it was the turn of the Hospitallers in 1113 (even if its true origins date back to before the Crusade). None, however, is yet openly a military religious order.

The Templars, or Knights of the Temple, or Poor Knights of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon were members of a military religious order founded in 1118 in Jerusalem by eight Frankish knights grouped around the Champenois Hugues de Payns. The king of Jerusalem, Baudoin II gave them a house on the site of the temple of Solomon (hence their name), but it was Saint Bernard who imposed them definitively in the Church by having their foundation approved by the Council of Troyes. (1128) and by constituting himself the propagandist of the new order in his treatise By laude Novae Militiae. The Templars indeed represented a seductive attempt to bring together the two noblest forms of life known to medieval Christendom, chivalrous life and monastic life.

Organization and rule of the Templars

When Hugues de Payen died in 1136, Robert de Craon took the lead and laid the foundations for the organization of the Templars. It emphasizes donations. It is addressed to Pope Innocent II who grants them privileges with the bull Omne datum optimum in 1139. The Templars are exempt from the tithe. They have their own priests. These depend on the master of the order and not on the local bishop. The generosity of the great, nobles and ecclesiastics, allowed a rapid development of the order which had many knights and established Templar commanderies all over Europe. There are three categories of Templar monks on the basis of their function: combatants, chaplains and brothers who take care of material tasks. They are subject to a strict hierarchy. The master of the order ensures that the rule is applied. He cannot take any important decision without the approval of the General Chapter composed of high dignitaries. This assembly also has the power to appoint the provincial commanders who in turn appoint the house commanders.

Organized according to Cistercian rule, the Templars included knights and chaplains, also nobles, but also sergeants and domesticates; supreme authority rested with a great master, elected by the Knights of the Temple of Jerusalem, who for the most important acts had to consult the chapter and was bound by the majority vote. The Templars wore a large white cloak (borrowed from Cîteaux) marked with a large red cross. Their operation, decided following the Council of Troyes, is inspired by the rule of Saint-Benoît and their very hierarchical organization, dominated by a Master elected by thirteen dignitaries.

The monks give up their will and owe obedience to military discipline to their community. They remain reclusive there and cannot leave without authorization. They devote a lot of time to prayer and are ready to die at any time in defense of Christendom. They refuse all pleasure and do not see any woman, even among the sisters. Even when they reach the highest rungs of the hierarchy, they have no personal wealth. Their meals are frugal and their clothes reflect their function. Only the knights don the white habit. The other monks cover themselves with black or brown coats. In case of violation of the rule, penalties are provided.

Defense of the Holy Land

With the Hospitallers of St. John, the Templars formed the standing army of the Eastern Latin States. They built fortresses of which there are still imposing ruins: Safed, Tortose, Toran, the krak des Chevaliers, the castle of the Pilgrims. The history of the Templars is written over great victories such as Montgisard (1177) or Arsouf (1191). Animated at the origin of an indisputable heroism and a spirit of sacrifice (they showed it again at the siege of Damietta, 1218), the Templars however lacked by too much flexibility, and their taste for provocation attracted on several occasions. misfortunes on the Crusaders, notably the disaster of the Battle of Hattin (1187), which was followed by the loss of Jerusalem.

However, the order retained its prestige in the 13th century and continued to prosper thanks to the privileges conferred on it by the popes. The Temple constituted a true sovereign state and soon became a considerable financial power. Thanks to its commanderies which lined the road to the Holy Land, thanks also to its scrupulous accounting, the order had become the first international bank of all time and practically monopolized financial operations relating to trade with the East. He often used his wealth for the best causes (for example in the redemption of captive Christians after the fall of Jerusalem), but he also attracted growing hatred, especially when the final loss of Palestine after the fall of Saint John d 'Acre (1291) made it lose its original raison d'être. From then on, the Templars were hardly more than bankers.

Mainly military at the dawn of order, the activities of the Templars diversified. They use their donations to create farms in Europe and thus provide for their needs. Thanks to this enrichment and their warlike power, they became real bankers, guarded wealth, transported pilgrims from Europe to the Holy Land and lent sometimes large sums to kings and lords. They are entrusted with the custody of the royal treasures, and the Pope himself charges them with channeling the funds collected in Christian Europe to Italy.

The fall and the trial of the Templars

At the beginning of the 14th century, they numbered around 15,000 Templars, including 2,000 in France, when the French King Philippe le Bel decided to attack the Order to seize its treasures. The king and his lawyers were certain to find a complicity in public opinion, irritated by the wealth and order of the Temple, but also by the mystery of its ceremonies, which gave the order the appearance of a secret society and made plausible all slander. On October 13, 1307, the grand master, Jacques de Molay, and sixty Templars were arrested on charges of heresy and monstrous crimes (profanation, idolatry, sodomy). Subjected to torture, the accused confessed what they wanted, and Pope Clement V, shaken by these confessions, ordered the other Christian princes to arrest the Templars of their States (January / May 1308).

Then the Pope changed his mind, entrusted ecclesiastical commissions with the care of a counter-investigation, during which the Templars retracted. But weak Clement V was no match for long against the king who had put him on the Holy See. Also the lawyers of Philippe le Bel were working to create a climate of terror: in May 1310, Enguerrand de Marigny obtained from his brother, archbishop of Sens, the condemnation as relapsing of fifty-four Templars who had retracted their confessions. , and which were burned alive. However, the Council of Vienna (October 1311) refused to recognize the guilt of the Templars. But Philip the Fair put pressure on Clement V, who, through the bubble Vox in Excelsis (April 3, 1312), pronounced the dissolution of the order, the property of which was transferred to the Hospitallers. Philippe le Bel finally only received from this case an indemnity of 200,000 Tournament pounds for the clearance of the treasury accounts and 60,000 pounds for the costs of the trial).

The Templars persisting in their confession regained their freedom. But on March 19, 1314, the grand master, Jacques de Molay, and the head of the province of Normandy, Geoffroi de Chamay, brought on a large scaffold erected in front of Notre-Dame de Paris, were ordered to repeat the story of their crimes in front of the assembled crowd. They courageously protested, denouncing the absurdity of the accusations against them and proclaiming the purity and sanctity of their order. Philippe le Bel, furious, sent them that very evening to the stake as relapsing. The innocence of the Templars, proclaimed by Dante in his Purgatory, is now almost unanimously recognized.

The legend of the Templar curse and treasure

The brutal fall of the Templars will be at the origin of two tenacious legends. First of all that of the famous "curse" pronounced by Jacques de Molay against Philippe IV le Bel and Clement V. If the great master speaks at the stake, he only refutes the crimes that are imputed to him and has never expressly cited the king and the pope. The legend of the curse did not take shape until the 16th century, made credible a posteriori by the disappearance the same year of Clément V (who had long suffered from a serious illness) and of Philippe le Bel (death of an accident cerebrovascular).

As for the famous Templar treasure, it consists for the most part ... of archives and relics, like other religious orders. While it is true that the Temple receives numerous bequests and donations and has a vast real estate heritage (managed by the commanderies), the Order's resources are mainly devoted to the colossal expenses incurred for the defense of the Holy Land : training and equipment of men, construction of fortresses, works ... If the Templars were good managers and acted as providers of funds, it is unlikely that they had time to accumulate a cash fortune that would be hidden somewhere, sheltered we do not know where ...

For further

- A. DEMURGER, The Templars, a Christian knighthood in the Middle Ages, Points Seuil Histoire, 2005.

- A. DEMURGER, Les Templiers, editions JP Gisserot, 2007.

- M. BALARD, Les Latins en Orient, PUF, 2006.

- J. FLORI, Knights and chivalry in the Middle Ages, Hachette, 2004.

- G. TATE, L’Orient des Croisades, Gallimard, 2008.


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