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Knights Templar

November 8, 2009 - CelticRadio.net - “Take the sign of the cross. At once you will have indulgence for all the sins which you confess with a contrite heart. It does not cost you much to buy, and if you wear it with humility, you will find that it is the Kingdom of Heaven.”

In this inspiring sermon Saint Bernard exhorted young men to join the Knights Templar, a monastic military order formed at the end of the First Crusade to protect Christian pilgrims on route to the Holy Land. These knights have recently been in the news because of the popular book, The De Vinci Code, a mystery involving the bloodline of Jesus, the Knights, and the Holy Grail.

For an idealistic younger son unable to claim an inheritance because of the rule of primogeniture this was a prestigious and altruistic way of life. (This rule required that the family’s land would be left to the eldest son.) Chastity seemed a small price to pay to join this Order, founded in 1118 by Hugh de Payens and eight companions from Champagne and Provence.

Poor Beginnings
The first Crusade began when Alexius Comnenus, Emperor of Byzantium, wrote to Pope Urban III requesting help to repel the Turks from the Eastern part of his Empire. The Pope seized this opportunity to save the Holy Land from the Moslems and men flocked to fight for Jerusalem. After three difficult years the Crusaders gained control of Jerusalem.
Pilgrims could at last travel to the land where their Savior was born, but both the land routes and the sea ways were very dangerous. The route through Constantinople, Nicea and Antioch was beset by bands of highway robbers and the sea routes were roamed by pirates eager to take possession of ships and capture slaves.
Originally called The Poor Knights of Christ, the Templars at first escorted pilgrims from Jerusalem to the banks of the Jordan, living on the alms they received. Later they protected the route from the Mediterranean Coast to Jerusalem, providing safe escorts for Christian pilgrims. They had no habit or rule.

Ascent to Power
In 1128 the luck of the 'Warrior Monks" as they were nicknamed changed. St. Bernard of Clairvaux, called the Second Pope, and the chief spokesman of Christendom at that time, gained the Pope's backing for these knights with whom he was greatly impressed. "First of all, there is discipline and unqualified obedience...they live in a community, soberly and in joy, without wife and children...Never overdressed, they bathe rarely, and are dirty and hirsute, tanned by the coat of mail and the sun." he said. (They don't sound too attractive - not my idea of 'knights in shining amour'!) The Rule of Saint Benedict was approved and they now had a habit - a white mantle emblazoned with a red cross.

The Knights were now immune from all authority except the Pope's and exempt from taxes and even tithes. They also gained great wealth from the possessions of new recruits who had to sign their worldly goods to the Order, donations flooding in, and the ownership of land which included much of London and grand temples in Paris and Jerusalem. There are still remarkable ruins of castles built by the Knights in the Holy Land. In 1307 they even bought Yorkshire for the very cheap price of 1300 pounds and for a time they owned Cyprus. The Knights virtually invented banking, getting around the rule against usury, and lending money to monarchs and merchants. The clergy of the Holy Land disliked the Knight's privileges and power because the revenue of their churches had been diminished, as the Knight's revenues grew.

The Knights were considered brave soldiers, the scourge of the Moslems, and fought alongside King Richard the First and other famous monarchs. Their courage in dying for their religion unfortunately led to a large decimation of their numbers. If they were taken prisoner they refused to deny Christ, and many died martyrs. Almost 20,000 may have died in the wars.

In 1314 Philip the Fair (perhaps that should be unfair?) annoyed by the Knight's influence and power, and needing money for his war against England, decided to destroy the Knights. The secret initiation ceremonies and meetings of the Templars gave him the means to do this. Gaining the Pope's support, he charged them with heresy, accusing them of blasphemy and homosexuality among other things, so that he could seize their money and assets. Many confessed under dreadful tortures and most were burnt at the stake.

The last Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, was burned at the stake, before the gates of the palace. According to legend de Molay cursed King Philip and Pope Clement as he burned saying that both men would join him within a year. Clement died one month later and Philip IV seven months after Clement.

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