Knights Templar (Order of the Monk Warriors)

Templar Knights
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Knights Templar charging with full speed

Many of the past phenomena are surrounded by mystery, but none of them excites such amount of imagination as Knights Templar. The Templar name itself still inspires imagination, as some of the most interesting legends of Christendom are associated with Templars. From their gathering and modest beginnings in the Middle East, to their tragic end and the dissolution of the order in Paris.

In just two hundred years of existence (1118 -1312), they strongly marked the image of the world. And then, on a Friday 13th, a political spree simply erased them from the face of the earth. The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, or simpler Knights Templar, even today are the subject of numerous legends.

Who and what were the Templars then?

A special order of Catholic military monks whose fundamental task was to defend the Christian faith.

At the end of the eleventh century Europe was not at all a pleasant place to live. In addition to the difficulties that are usually attributed to the "dark" Middle Ages, the danger of Islamic "infidels" overtook Europe, who, not only conquered the Holy Land (and even the great parts of the Iberian peninsula or Sicily), but also destroyed the Church of Christ's Grave in Jerusalem. It was enough to initiate the First Crusade War on the Pope’s call, which resulted in the liberation of the Holy City and the establishment of the four countries in the restless area formerly known as overseas "Outremer", and today mostly the Middle East.

After 1099, during the First Crusade War (1095-1099), when Jerusalem, was conquered, there was a need for the protection of Christian Pilgrims who came to visit the Holy Land. In order to protect the pilgrims on their often distressing path to the Holy Land, and to provide them with a shelter according to the Christian customs, as well as medical help if necessary, the nine knights participating in the first Crusade invasion established a religious and knight military order for the first time in history. It had to unite the warlike ideals of noble knighthood and the ascetic spirituality of the religious monks.

In 1118 a company of knights who gathered around Hugo de Payen and Geoffroy de Saint - Omer was founded to suit this aim. They were soon joined by knights from the Champagne region: Godfrey Bisoi, Godfrey Royal, Pagano de Mont Didier, Arcibald de St. Amand, Andre de Montbard, later Fulco d'Angers and around 1120 by Hugo, Count of Champagne.

The order's name was the Poor Knights of Christ, to be later changed and supplemented into the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon or the Latin Pauperes commilitones Christi templique Salomonica. The Order was renowned under other names such as; The Order of the Temple of Solomon, Knights Templar, or just - Templars.

Knighted monks committed themselves to dedicating their lives to defending paths to Jerusalem. They had to help pilgrims, protecting them, taking care of them, or healing them if necessary. They swore before the Jerusalem Patriarch, and this oath, obliged them to poverty, chastity and obedience, but also to military protection of roads and paths in the Holy Land.

For its headquarters the Templars chose the palace, which was supposedly built on the ruins of Solomon's temple, after which they were later named the temple order. Namely, King Baldwin II handed over to the poor knights a wing of his palace (today's mosque of Al-Aqsa), built, according to oral tradition, on the site of the legendary, repeatedly destroyed and renewed temple of King Solomon of Judaea, by which the order, then Poor Christ's Chivalry, received its full name Templars after the word "temple" (lat. Templum).

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Solomon's temple is shown on the official seals of the Templar Order, but the most interesting seal is certainly the one that shows two knights riding together on one horse, which was not just an ideal of fraternity, but also the idea of proclaimed poverty, which does not allow the knight to possess his own horse. According to some theories, the seal also symbolized duality ie. the symbol of the ambivalence between military and spiritual obligations. Some historians, however, considered that the seal presented a new way of fighting on horseback (in pairs), which the Templars accepted and learned from the enemy.

Knights Templar were committed to obedience, poverty and chastity, as well as the fight against Muslim soldiers, and other attackers who prevented pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem. In 1127 they got the basic code of order. The Templar Order was then officially confirmed, while the character of the order was of a religious-military nature. Hugo de Payens received the title of Grand Master. His followers should have thus established themselves as a spiritual knighthood in which the strict discipline of monastic life was connected with almost fanatical warrior engagement, or, as it was then called, "militia Christi '.

A preacher from Clairvaux participated In the writing of strict religious rules (at first 72, but their number rose by 1260 to 686). The Templar Order was untouchable both for the secular rulers and governments. It was almost the state in the state, especially after 1139 when Pope Inocent II put it under the direct papal ingerence by the papal bull "Omne datum optimum".

This bull received from the Pope gave them privileges that enabled the later ascendancy of the Templar Order, referring to the exemption of the bishop's authority, the right to their own priests independent of local ecclesiastical dignitaries, and the exemption from the payment of church tithing. Templars still had to lead a poor, decent and obedient life. Their appearance included shaving their heads; clothing and war equipment were determined, which would soon become a recognizable sign of their order. Templar goals soon proclaimed the ideals of the entire Christian world.

Otherwise, the statutes provided for a strictly defined administrative hierarchy, according to which the members of the order were divided into knights, priests and common brethren, who could have been under arms or dealt with other occupations important for the order functioning. Military behaviour was also subject to strict regulations: the captured Templars could not pray for mercy, nor would they be able to recover. Their job was to fight till the last drop of blood. Withdrawal was considered as a violation of the rules, as long as the opponent would not be more than three times stronger than them.

A chronicler named Guillelmus Tyrensis wrote that the first armed action of Templar Knights in Palestine took place in 1138, after the city of Tecou was conquered by the Muslims. The Knights Templar had previously demonstrated their military abilities in fighting the Moors in Spain and Portugal. As a reward for military engagement, the Templars, by the agreement of 1143, received Monzon, Mongay, Barbara, Belchite and Remolins Castles, tithes of the state tax and fifth of the Muslim territories in whose future conquest they had to participate.

In 1136 Hugo de Payens died, and, he was succeeded by the Burgundian nobleman Robert de Craon in the position of the Grand Master. Since Zengi, the emperor of Aleppo and Mosul at that time, occupied lots of Christian places in the Holy Land, and that on Christmas 1144, the city of Edessa fell, St. Bernard decided to invite Christians to the Second Crusade (1145-1149). The crusaders were led by King Louis VII and the Roman-German emperor Konrad III. The war ended in 1149 with the defeat of the Christian army at Damascus. Although the Templars stood out in the battles, but unfortunately their contribution had no impact on the outcome of the war.

Over time, the order greatly strengthened and gained huge lands throughout Europe, of which about 9,000 bigger and about 3,000 smaller estates. It did not take long that the fame of the pious Templars spread throughout Europe, where their reputation was growing steadily. With its rise the number of Templars grew, both in Europe and in the Holy Land (up to the abolition of the order the total number, according to some estimates, rose to more than 30,000), and many of their devoted secular and church notables donated money, estates, castles and churches. Hugo de Payens left all his possessions to the Templar Order, too. His example was followed by many wealthy members and worshippers of the Order.

By the end of the 12th century, and especially in the 13th century, the situation was less and less favourable to the Templars and their order, both in the Holy Land and in the political world of Europe. On one hand, the Christian kingdoms overseas were weakened by the constant struggles for power and dominance, and with ever stronger conquest of consolidated Muslims, on the other hand, the growing number of countries in Europe strengthened the position of the earthly rulers over the Church's authority. Also, after Christian knights had suffered heavy defeat at in Hattina, Egyptian Sultan Saladin took over Jerusalem, and the centre of the Jerusalem kingdom became Acre (Accra).

After the conquest of Acre in 1291 the last Christian stronghold in the Holy Land fell so that the Templars, who desperately defended the city until the last moment, withdrew to Cyprus. But with the permanent loss of the Holy Land, the Templars in fact lost the original purpose of their existence, which in Europe led to louder doubts about their attachment to Christian ideals.

The prescribed hierarchy of the Templars

The knightly order of the Templar was governed by a strictly prescribed internal hierarchy, reflected in both prescribed clothing and warlike equipment, which each Templar received by entering the order. The templar uniform was a kind of uniform predecessor, it made it easier for the Templars to recognize one another in the battlefield and stay together. Distinguishing friends from enemies in the battle of battle was, in fact, a huge problem in the Middle Ages. Also, the templar equipment should not be decorated or expensive: if the Templars were donated any weapons adorned with jewels, they would grub or scratch them to lose value.

The Templars used only three colours on their uniforms. The black colour was the colour of the friary, the white colour was the colour of spiritual purity and the red colour represented the colour of Christ's blood. The surcoat (the cape of the Templar) was white in colour and there was a visible red cross on it. War equipment consisted of a naval spear, sword, shield, mace - the Turkish flail, dagger and two smaller knives. They also wore the cape named capa, which protected them from overheating the wired shirt. Lower ranked knights also had a crossbow.

Each member had to undergo a severe initiation test, which had a military initiation purpose to determine if a young nobleman who wanted to become a knight could fight in the first queues against the Muslim enemies. Between a test of endurance and a kind of courage test, the novice for the test had to be ready to show Christ's denial as well as spitting on the cross because of the situation that could happen if he was caught.

The war equipment was only seemingly equal, because the nobles often used various additional weapons, for example, the nobility wore a large two-handed sword that was used in the fight with two hands. Nevertheless, this weapon was less frequently used. They mostly used a single-handed sword instead. Sometimes they also used the axe, and they learned from the enemy how to handle the mace and applied it skillfully in combat. Sometimes two weapons were used at the same time, like for example; a sword and a dagger, a sword and a mace or a spear and a mace. Although they always had two smaller daggers with themselves, these were exceptionally rarely used in combat. Only the lower ranked templars in hierarchy who were the non-noble, wore and used crossbows.

Knights Templar had to quickly adapt to different ways of fight regarding circumstances, which at that time were not yet common in Europe. For example, they took over the cavalry attack by having two knights sitting on the same horse, the front rider being able to rule the horse more easily, while the other one who was sitting behind had free hands to help attack or defend himself if necessary.

From the very arrival in the Holy Land, the Knights Templar very quickly learnt to use a mace (Turkish flail). So this very effective weapon, completely taken over from the Muslims, was skillfully used in combat. Unlike the previous combat axe, the mace was used with one hand, making it much more convenient for the fight. The mace , which most often had six sharper blades or spikes (or a heavy ball connected to the chain), easily broke the shields or the armour of Muslim soldiers. Such weapons, in combat, could be both skillfully used by horsemen and infantry.

Knights Templar were also connected with the alleged "treasures" they buried according to various legends. Some historians have said that according to the legends, in the ruins of the Temple of Solomon on Temple Hill, Templars found the so-called " The Dead Sea Scrolls, or the Qumran Scriptures (where they met some secret knowledge and spiritual mysteries of the old), which was later related to their accusations of heresy. Apparently, this knowledge helped them to strengthen their political and financial power. In connection with the Templars, there was also the Ark of the Covenant that was allegedly sought after having found the evidence that it was in Ethiopia. Among other things, according to the Bible, it contained the plates of law that God gave to Moses.

Knights Templar Clothes

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According to a legend, the Templars were allegedly in touch with the Holy Grail, ie the chalice from which Christ drank during the last supper. In the literature of the Middle Ages this was first mentioned and elaborated by the French writer Chretien de Troyes in his verse "Perceval" (between 1179 and 1191), and a little later by German Wolfram von Eschenbach in his "Parzival" (between 1200 and 1210. ). While the Grail was for the first a golden bowl decorated with precious stones, for the latter it was a stone pot. Although the previous examples are only a part of various legends it is now known for certain that the Templars were in possession of the Turin canvas, as well as some other church relics.

One of the reasons why the poor knights enriched so quickly were their enviable financial skills. Although each member remained poor because the rules required the abandonment of any personal property, the order was very well off. The Templars at that time, like today's real bankers, developed a sophisticated book-keeping system, which is why, over time, they were entrusted with managing the entire state treasury, for example French or English ones. Some kings funded their warpaths with Templar loans and covered the deficiencies in the court treasury, getting into debt more and more.

The French King Philip IV got indebted fighting against England and Flanders so he wanted to take over the wealth of the French Templars. He did not mind at all the papal authority, so with the help of Pope Clement V, who was in Avignon (a temporary Pontifical residence during Avignon Papacy), he tried to abolish the Templar Order. Thus Templars became the case for the Inquisition, and the Parisian great inquisitor Guillaume Imbert accepted the king's game. According to their interpretations, the Templars had a strange insinuation rite in which they had to kiss the other's butt, spit on the cross, and worshipped the demonic idol Baphomet.

Thus, on October 13, 1307, the King, with the help of his ministers, began the final clash by sending thousands of soldiers to Templar houses in the morning. Almost without resistance, he arrested by 546 knight monks, including the great De Molaya (since then the date has been linked with Friday the13th superstition). The Paris Process lasted for months until March 22, 1312, when Pope Clement V at the Vienna Council, disbanded the Templar Order with his personal authority. Most of the Templar assets was handed over to the Order of St John ( Knights Hospitaller).

Under the King's pressure the Pope abolished the Templar Order. Hoping that the Pope would show understanding and help, The Grand Master Jacques de Molay repeatedly withdrew and changed his testimony, until March 18, 1314, when he was, along with Normandy master, Geoffroy de Charnaye, burned at the stake on the Parisian Jewish island in the middle of the Siena River.

In 2001, a document from 1308 was discovered in the Secret Vatican Archives with Pope Clement V admitting the innocence of the Templars and absolving them from sins (the so-called the Chinon Parchment).

Today, there are more than 1,700 different groups and organizations called the Knights Templar, the largest and most famous being the international organization of OSMTH (Ordo Supremus Militaris Templi Hierosolymitani).

David “Sensei“ Stainko – Prof. of kinesiology Master 8th Dan - mixed martial scientist

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