Today, I’d like to talk about the Templars.
And no, I’m not going to talk about your strange uncle who wears the eye-in-the-pyramid Illuminati ring and performs strange ceremonies on Tuesday nights. And no, I’m not talking about these guys on the left. I’m talking about the original Templar knights. You know, The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon (who were obviously better at fighting than coming up with names).
The Templars started out as a Christian security force in the Holy Lands. Think of the Blackwater private security firm that provided protection (and, at times, chaos) in the Middle East recently, but add religious zeal, ZZ Top beards, and a blessing from the Pope, and you’re on the right track.
The Order of the Templar Knights started in France, around the time of the First Crusade. A man named Hugh de Payns, who some say was from France (and some say was from Italy), and a French knight named Godfrey de Buillon, started the order to protect pilgrims journeying to and from the Holy Lands during the First Crusade. And it wasn’t long before their soldiers became the special-ops forces of the Crusdades.
But I digress. Let’s get back to Hugh de Payns and Godfrey de Bouillon (who is now better known for his savory soup-flavoring cubes). (Okay, I made up the bouillon cubes thing). Hugh got permission from King Baldwin of Jerusalem to start a new order of monks. But these monks would be really cool ones, who could carry crusader swords and kick ass, Kill-Bill style. Baldwin, who was surrounded by hundreds of thousands of grumbling Muslims, thought it was a splendid idea and even gave the order a headquarters at the Temple Mount. Yes, I see the wheels spinning. King Solomon’s Temple Mount. Hugh de Payns sat on the Temple Mount with his closest friends and, after a few days, came down with the name of the order: The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon. Yeah, the coolness factor just dropped a bit. But it would rise again! Stick with me.
Hugh decided that the Templar Order would protect Christians wherever they needed protecting, and kick enemy ass in the Holy Lands. Whoever those enemies were (and believe me, telling friend from foe out there became a bit of a thing . . .) Even the Pope got on board. Pope Honorius II approved of the order, and suddenly, the Templars were legit.
Except for one teensy, weensy detail.
Monks don’t kill. It’s kind of their thing, you now?
So what, right? I mean, desperate times and such, no?
Lots and lots of people were all sorts of upset by the new order of killer monks. So Bernard of Clairvaux (St. Bernard, of shaggy dog fame) was called in to help. Bernard was a really respected figure in the church, and, better than that, the man could *write.* He was a Middle-Ages spin master. So good, in fact, that they called him the “honey-mouthed doctor.” Although that may have just been his mistress. (I’m joking, he really was called that). And he was so respected, that he was also sometimes called The Second Pope – which is confusing because there actually were two popes not long after. But I digress again.
Anyway, Bernard rolled up his sleeves, cracked his knuckles, and wrote an essay on why it was okay for these new monks to go around dismembering people, in spite of that pesky “Thou Shalt Not Kill” thing. He called the new monks Knights of Christ, and gives a heart-thumping accounting of why they are better than typical knights or typical monks. Here’s a highlight:
When someone strongly resists a foe in the flesh, relying solely on the strength of the flesh, I would hardly remark it, since this is common enough. And when war is waged by spiritual strength against vices or demons, this, too, is nothing remarkable, praiseworthy as it is, for the world is full of monks. He [the Templar] is truly a fearless knight and secure on every side, for his soul is protected by the armor of faith just as his body is protected by armor of steel. He is thus doubly armed and need fear neither demons nor men.
The man had skills.
No one could argue with the Honey-Mouthed Doctor (or the Second Pope, really), so the Templars were given the blessing to exist, and to make their enemies not exist. And, for a time, nothing could stop them. They fought in the Holy Lands, armed with beautiful Templar swords and heavy chain armor, and pretty much anywhere in the world where Christians were threatened. Bernard had done such a good job making them look like heroes that everyone wanted to either become a Templar or donate to them. And the Pope helped by proclaiming that Templars were not subject to any laws but his own. Within a few years, the Templars were the richest monk order in the world. And that’s saying something, because monk orders were usually filthy rich (never mind that vow of poverty thing).
The Templars had so much money that they had to invent modern banking. Someone could deposit money in a Templar bank in Paris and receive a chip confirming their deposit. That person could then show the chip to a Templar bank worker in Rome and withdraw the money there. It was pretty revolutionary at the time.
But banking wasn’t what the Templars were known for. They were known for being elite fighters, and fight they did. In 1177, five hundred mounted knights Templar led a few thousand infantry against an enemy army of 30,000 at the Battle of Montgisard. The Muslim army was led by the brilliant military leader, Saladin (insert your own joke about Thousand Island dressing or dieting), but not even he could defeat the heavily armored and rigorously trained Templar knights.
The Templars gained hundreds of victories, throughout the world, even helping to capture Jerusalem itself. But, in time, most of their gains were slowly wiped away. Saladin’s forces gathered around Jerusalem and shouted, “Lettuce in!” (my apologies). And, after a long struggle, they recaptured Jerusalem.
The Holy Lands were lost but the Templars continued their meteoric financial rise in Europe. And, sadly, it was their wealth and power that ultimately did them in. Jealousy led to rumors of strange induction ceremonies for the Templars. Rumors of devil worship and secret conspiracies involving Solomon’s Temple. King Philip IV of France, who had borrowed vast sums of money from the Templars for his war against England, seized upon these rumors. He convinced one of the two Popes (two real popes, not talking about St. Bernard again), that the rumors were true, and, on a cold day in October 1307– a Friday the 13th — soldiers across Europe arrested any Templars they could find. Many of the knights were locked in dungeons, tortured, forced to confess to the horrible rumors (under duress), made to listen to Justin Bieber music for 12 hours, and then mercifully burned at the stake.
That’s right—the fall of the Templar Knights started with Saladin, and ended with stake.