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The Order of the Temple - Yesterday and Today


In the modern world of today, there exists an anomaly of the ancient historic past: Chivalric Orders, better known as Orders of Knighthood. Although not prevalent in the explorer's “New World” of North and South America, they do exist there, as well as remaining to thrive in today's Europe, somewhat as a “throwback” from the Medieval period.

There are two basic types of Chivalric Orders: Ecclesiastical, extending initially in origin from the early, ancient Christian Church of Rome (today’s Roman Catholic Church) during the Crusades period, and Secular, the format of which grew out of the Ecclesiastical, but which are generally extended by monarchies and royalty.

Some present-day “Orders” are not true Chivalric Orders at all but are strictly fraternal organizations formed by design along the same lines. Examples of these are the Masonic Orders (the Masonic Lodge and its appendant Orders, called “Rites” [Scottish and York]), and the Roman Catholic Church's Knights of Columbus. Even further “spinoff” organizations have come from these; some examples are the Odd Fellows Lodge, the Elks Lodge, the Moose Lodge, and the Knights of Pythias all evolved from or came into being

from the Masonic Orders.

In Europe, Secular Chivalric Orders are maintained predominantly as recognition awards for either outstanding military or civilian service to a Crown’s government, generally extended by the ruling monarch of that country. The United Kingdom is a classic example of this, with its Orders of the Garter, the Bath, the Thistle, and others.

Democratic, non-monarchial governments extend similar awards for both military and civilian services that emulate Knighthoods. Perhaps the best-known example of these is the United States' Congressional Medal of Honor for military valor in wartime action.

The more-readily recognized Ecclesiastical Chivalric Orders today are still predominantly those of the Roman Catholic Church. The two most prominent examples are the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, and the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre. A multitude of other legitimate Orders are extended by the remaining “Sacramental” Churches that split away from the Church of Rome in the post-Crusade period: the Anglican Communion (Church of England) and the various Eastern Orthodox Christian Churches.

Obviously, some of these Chivalric Orders are centuries old; some date from much more recent times. A few of these remaining were once Ecclesiastical but have since been “released” by the Churches and have been maintained as Secular Orders. In the United States and in some European countries, these Orders are generally not just recognition awards. Although Chivalric, they function as “Fraternal” organizations, and generally have charitable and / or philanthropic aims as part or most of their function and reason for existence.

One item worthy of note: It is believed in many historic circles, and with a great deal of “proof,” that the Masonic Orders evolved in Scotland and England out of a combination of circumstances: the Roman Church's historic suppression and persecution of the ancient Order of Knights Templar, and it's intertwining growth with the Lodges and Guilds of traveling stonemasons credited with the building of Europe=s Ancient cathedrals and churches. These related (Masonic and other) matters shall be addressed at further points herein.


The origin of the religious and military Order of Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon (often referred to as “The Order of the Temple,” Knights Templar,” or simply “the Temple”) goes back to the year 1118 A.D. Some historians quote it's beginning as 1119 A.D.; others extend this even further back to 1114 A.D. Regardless, probably this makes the Temple the oldest Chivalric Order in the world formed initially strictly for military purposes. We say “probably,” for there is a controversy about the prior antiquity of the Order of the Temple versus the Knights Hospitaller of St. John of Jerusalem, also later (and today) known as the (Roman Catholic Church’s) Sovereign Military Order of Malta (also called the Knights of Malta), or various other Ecclesiastical and Secular branches of the originally-titled Order of St. John of Jerusalem. These are two of the three largest Orders of Chivalry that were formed to fight in the Crusades of the Middle East and are often referred to simply as “The Temple” and “The Hospital.” (The third largest was the Order of Teutonic Knights of St. Mary the Blessed Virgin, referred to most often as “the Teutonic Knights.” We shall not deal with them in this treatise.)

It seems probable that the Hospital antedates the Temple by a few years, insofar as the Hospitallers were organized in the year 1112 A.D. However, the Hospitallers at first were an Order of hospitalling charity, and only later did they develop into a military (fighting) Order during the time of their second Grand Master, Raymond Du Puy (1120-1160). The Templars were organized from the outset as a military Order. For this reason, the Temple is generally said to be the prototype of all Orders of Knighthood.

In 1118 A.D., nine French knights, concerned for the welfare of pilgrims to the Holy Land, bound themselves together in the creation of a knightly Order, calling themselves in the French, “Pauperes commilitones Christi templique Salomonis,” or the Poor Fellow-Soldiers (or “Knights”) of Christ of the Temple of Solomon. The original objective of the Order was to combine the two functions of monk and knight, protecting Christian pilgrims in the Holy Land from robbers and brigands on the roadways and thoroughfares while on pilgrimage. In contrast to the ordinary religious houses, this community had an individual character, for the knights not only took the usual vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, but added a fourth vow of a decidedly military nature. They were known as “Milites Christi,” or Soldiers of Christ, and took the Blessed Virgin Mary as their patroness. The names of these nine knights are generally given by historians as: Hughes de Payens, Godefroi de St. Aldemar, Godefroi Rossal, Gundemar, Godefroi Bisol, Payen de Montdidier, Archibald de St. Aman, Andrew de Montbard, and the Count of Provence.


The Christian Cross in some varied design forms, used as the insignia of the Order, is certainly well known. Pope Honorius II chose for the Templars a white mantle to be worn over their white surcoat; a white skullcap was also added. Pope Eugenius III added the red Latin Cross (first design) to the mantle in 1146.

The armorial insignia of the Order was a shield argent (white, or sometimes silver), upon which was placed a Cross Pateé gules (red), the blades somewhat reduced in width and the extremities reaching to the edge of the shield. The Cross was drawn by dividing an octagon by four diagonal lines.

Several differently-designed Crosses were worn, both on the mantle and surcoat, and fashioned from different metals and worn around the neck. The knights appear to have worn, at a later historical point, what we would now term a Maltese Cross gules (red) about the neck; this is the shape of the Templar insignia worn by King Richard I of England, known as Richard Coeur de Lyon, or “Richard the Lion-Hearted.” Pope Eugenius III gave the Templars exclusive right to wear the blazon of this eight-pointed cross in red, being stated as the “cross of martyrdom.”

The Order generally used three different flags at various times in their history. The best-known of these was called The Beauseant (Beaucean, Beaucennus), a banner of nine alternating vertical black and white stripes (five white, four black), supposedly designed after their original piebald horse. Another version often seen is horizontal black and white, half-and-half, sometimes shown black on top, sometimes the reverse. The Latin

“Ta Beaucennus! Ta Beaucennus!” became their war cry, from which the Beauseant’s name is derived. The motto of the Order is “Non Nobis, Domine, Non Nobis, Sed Nomini Tuo Da Gloriam”; “Not unto us, O Lord, Not unto us, but unto Thy Name be the Glory; (some translations state at the end “be given Glory.”) This motto sometimes appeared on the Beauseant itself, sometimes in black lettering on the white top, with white lettering on the black bottom, splitting the motto; sometime in all red letters across the banner.

In 1148, the red cross banner was first unfurled in battle, it is believed, at Damascus. It was a full white standard having a blood-red cross in the center. There exist some variations of this: all are a solid white background, some with a Latin Cross in red in the center of the white field, some with the cross having equidistant arms which extended to the edges of the white field, essentially quartering the flag; later a modified Cross of Lorraine (France) where the white background had a single red vertical upright in the middle of the flag, crossed by two equidistant vertical red bars, with all red extensions extending to the edges of the flag. The white flag with red cross is often referred to in some Templar quarters as “The Grand Standard,” and sometimes as “The Beauseant.”

About twenty different versions of the Templar Seal have come down to us. Many of these were regional in nature; some from certain Priories, Commanderies and Preceptories. The best-known seal, which passed into most widespread use, depicts two knights mounted on a single horse, depicting the nature of the Order being poverty, humility and brotherly love.

The history of The Order of the Temple is the concurrent history of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, and the Crusades themselves; the two are inseparable. We list at the end of this treatise a varied bibliography of Crusade / Templar historical works, all well worth reading. What concerns us most herein is the later suppression of the Order by the Church they protected, and the Order's history after suppression.


At the end of the Crusades, the troubles between King Philip IV of France and the Templars began when the Order sided with Pope Boniface VIII, for the King had issued new coin below the proper standard, which caused a revolt, and lowered the revenues of the Temple as well.

Philip was also deep in debt to the Temple by borrowing from them to support his wars. With the civil unrest caused by the monetary devaluation and other factors, Philip ended up taking refuge in the Paris Temple itself in 1306 to escape the civil commotion. It is believed that this stay gave him the first insight into the real wealth of the Temple. The fabulous treasure which his hosts showed him gave the always-bankrupt monarch the idea to plunder the knights on the pretext they were dominated by heresies.

Philip decided to destroy the military power of the Church which impeded his attempts to unify his kingdom. In his struggle with the Temple, he was aided by the suspicion the Church leaders had for Templars because of their independence and wealth, and the absolute secrecy which surrounded all their activities.

There is evidence that, at one stage of his career, Philip conceived of himself in the role of a universal monarch along Caesaro-Papal lines: a priest-king; a royal pontiff in dual control over Christendom.

When, as a step in this direction, Philip contemplated acting as Rex Bellator in the next Crusade, he calmly proclaimed that: 1) The kings of France should be the hereditary Grand Masters of the combined Military Orders; 2) The incomes of all prelates, including archbishops, should be limited to a fixed minimum, the surplus going to the Rex Bellator for the conquest of the Holy Land. 3) Propertied monks should be sent out into the world only for preaching and hearing confessions while mendicant friars were to live immured, and their revenues beyond the same fixed annual rent likewise accrete to Rex Bellator.

4) The hereditary royal Grand Master should command four cardinal votes at Papal elections.

All these formed only a small part of Philip’s demands. It is known that he made a genuine effort toward winning the Grand Mastership of the Temple.

His two great enemies, Popes Boniface VIII and Benedict XI having died (under believed-mysterious circumstances) Philip moved to control the Papacy and use it to destroy the Temple. He decided to have a Frenchman placed in the Papacy and to have him reside in France. Bertrand de Got, Archbishop of Bordeaux, was his winning candidate.

A story that has made the rounds was that Philip offered de Got the Papal tiara on six conditions, and the intolerably tempted archbishop swore on the Sacrament to comply. He was told five of the conditions, but the sixth was not to be revealed until after his coronation. The sixth condition was the abolition of the Temple.

All the world knows by now, a competent observer wrote, that the Pope is naught, and the King of France can accomplish anything he wishes by getting the Holy See to do it for him. If it is true that de Got bought the tiara, he paid for it exorbitantly. Clement V (de Got’s Papal name) remained right where the French king wanted him: in France. He created ten new Cardinals, nine of them Frenchmen, with the tenth English. The Italians were outnumbered. Bull followed bull, conferring benefits on the French king. In future, Clement not infrequently would submit the first draft of a bull for Philip's approval and dutifully adopt his suggestions.

Philip had made his bid for direct control of the Temple and had failed. He had done no less than seek admission to the Order with a view to becoming its Grand Master in due time. He had more than toyed with the idea of abdicating in favor of his eldest son. Admittedly this was soon after the death of his queen. He was not pleased at having been headed off with polite excuses and decided to try other means.

Though by all accounts the faculty of humor was not highly developed in Philip, he must have seen the sardonic joke of going straight to the top, and, to denude the Pope of military power, getting at the military Orders through their spiritual lord. He decided to destroy the Temple, but he needed immediate funds as well as a chance to test his new scheme. Thus, Philip decided to kill two birds with one stone.

On July 22, 1306, all Jews were imprisoned, and their property taken into custody. A few days later these people were exiled. Philip commanded immediate repayment of all debts owing to Jews to be made to the Crown. Now he had the money he needed, and his method of secret seizure had worked without a hitch.

During the night of October 12, 1307, the King's Seneschals rode out with orders to arrest every Templar in France. Obviously, many were arrested, but many escaped as well. Two former Templars who had been ousted from the Order, Squin de Florian and Noffo Deghi, were persuaded to confess all the King wished them to say about corruption and heresy within the Order. After protracted trials, the Order was suppressed by the King's puppet Pope... but the Order was never formally disbanded! Jacques de Molay, then Grand Master of the Order and residing in the Paris Preceptory, along with Geoffrey de Charnay, Preceptor of Normandy, were tricked into a meeting within the King's domain and ended up imprisoned. After several years of torment, they were finally dragged from prison and taken to a small island in the middle of the Seine River (now called City Island) in front of Notre Dame Cathedral. There they were martyred on March 11, 1314, suffering the terrible death of burning at the stake.

With his dying breath, it is fabled that the Grand Master summoned the puppet Pope Clement V and King Philip to meet him before the Judgement Seat of God within a year. Clement V died on April 20, 1314, and King Philip died on November 29, 1314. Three grown sons survived the King, but by 1328 the house of Philip le Bel was extinct.

Pope Clement’s act led to what is historically referred to as the Babylonian Captivity at Avignon. This materially helped to estrange the German states of the Empire and the Island of Britain, so that the Protestant Reformation might be said to have been a portion of the Templar’s curse. The Templars were victims of a monstrous injustice, glorified lynch law and judicial murder.


It is currently believed in many historic circles, that the Masonic Orders evolved in Scotland and England out of a combination of circumstances: the Roman Church’s historic suppression and persecution of the Knights Templar, and its escapees intertwining growth with the Lodges of traveling stonemasons credited with the building of Europe’s ancient cathedrals and churches.

According to most main-line historians, the Order of Knights Templar as a formal institution ceased to exist with the death by burning at the stake of its' last "historical" Grand Master, Jacques DeMolay, in Paris in 1314. It's recorded history from its' founding in 1118 (or according to some, 1114), as such, is well-documented. What is in dispute is what happened to the Order after 1314.

It is held by both folklore and some historians that of the estimated 6,000+ Templars.

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