Top 10 Interesting Facts About the Knights Templar

Known as the Knights Templar, the Order of Solomon's Temple or simply the Templars, were a military order of knights and devout Christians during the medieval era who wore distinctive white mantles with a red cross.

They famously participated in the Crusades during which they forged a reputation, becoming known as highly skilled warriors. Let's learn some history and look at some facts about the Knights Templar.
The Top Ten
1 The Order was formed to protect pilgrims

After the Franks captured Jerusalem from the Fatimid Caliphate in the First Crusade in 1099 A.D., many Christians made pilgrimages to various sacred sites in the Holy Land. Although the city of Jerusalem was relatively secure under Christian control, the rest of Outremer was not. Bandits preyed upon these pilgrims, who were robbed of their belongings and routinely slaughtered as they attempted to make the journey from the coastline at Jaffa through to the interior of the Holy Land.

In 1119, the French knight Hugues de Payens approached King Baldwin II of Jerusalem and Warmund, Patriarch of Jerusalem, and proposed creating a monastic order for the protection of these pilgrims. King Baldwin and Patriarch Warmund agreed to the request and granted the Templars a headquarters in a wing of the royal palace on the Temple Mount in the captured Al-Aqsa Mosque, a place on which it is believed the Temple of Solomon once stood. The order relied on donations to survive, and their emblem was of two knights riding on a single horse, emphasizing the order's poverty.

2 The Knights Templar take their name from the Temple of Solomon

The Knights Templar got their name from the Temple of Solomon. As previously mentioned, the noble knights' first base of operations was in Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is situated on the Temple Mount, where it is believed the Temple of Solomon mentioned in the Bible once stood. They took the name "The Poor Knights of the Temple of King Solomon," which later became abbreviated to "Knights Templar."

3 They lived by a strict code of conduct

Modeled after the Benedictine Rule, the Order's code of conduct was designed to keep the warrior-knights humble, chaste, and, most of all, obedient. The Knights Templar swore an oath of poverty, chastity, and obedience and renounced the world, just as the Cistercians and monks did. Knights not only vowed to protect the weak but also vowed to guard the honor of all fellow knights. They weren't allowed to drink, gamble, or swear. The knights could hold no property and receive no private letters. They also could not be married. Prayer was essential to their daily life, and the Templars expressed particular adoration for the Virgin Mary.

4 They were fierce warriors who refused to surrender

The Knights Templar were known as fierce warriors for two reasons. Firstly, they were well-trained in the arts of combat. Secondly, they had strict rules on the battlefield. To ensure their courage held even as others broke, they were banned from leaving the battlefield while their banner still flew. They never retreated, surrendered, or charged without being ordered to do so.

Although not many people would know those specific rules, I think this is probably the best-known thing about the Knights Templar and arguably Crusaders in general.

5 There were three main ranks within the order

The ranks within the order were very simple: noble knights, sergeants, and chaplains. The noble knights were the ones who wore the famous white mantles to symbolize their purity and chastity. Only those from noble families whose fathers and grandfathers were knights could become a noble knight unless they were already knighted. They were equipped as heavy cavalry with three or four horses and one or two squires.

The sergeants were drawn from non-noble families and wore black or brown. They brought vital skills and trades from blacksmiths and builders, including administration of many of the order's European properties. During the Crusades, they fought alongside the knights as light cavalry with a single horse. Chaplains, on the other hand, were ordained priests who cared for the Templars' spiritual needs.

6 10 years after their creation, they officially became an order of the Catholic Church

As you can probably guess, the Templars didn't become an official order of the Catholic Church overnight. It helped a lot that they had a powerful advocate in Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, a leading Church figure and the French abbot primarily responsible for the founding of the Cistercian Order of monks. Bernard put his weight behind them and wrote persuasively on their behalf in the letter "In Praise of the New Knighthood."

In 1129, at the Council of Troyes, he led a group of leading churchmen to officially approve and endorse the order on behalf of the Church. Thanks to this blessing, the Templars became a favored charity throughout Europe and the Middle East, receiving money, land, businesses, and noble-born sons from families who were eager to help with the fight in the Holy Land. In 1139, Pope Innocent II's papal bull (a public decree) titled "Omne Datum Optimum" exempted the order from obedience to local laws. This meant that the Knights Templar could pass freely through all borders, were exempt from paying taxes, and only answered to the Pope, officially making them part of the Church.

7 The Templar cross was designed by the Pope

Historians believe that the famous red cross the knights wore on their robes only became part of their outfit at the start of the Second Crusade in 1147. Pope Eugenius III, King Louis VII of France, and others attended a meeting of the French Templars at their headquarters near Paris. The red symbolized martyrdom, as dying in combat during a Holy War was considered a great honor.

8 They created a banking system

As the Order's influence grew all over Europe, they came to own many castles and outposts across the land. Originally, they stored the valuables of pilgrims, but the Templars eventually began offering loans. They also offered to store funds, valuables, and documents, some of which could be used as collateral against loans. This banking system was very profitable for the Templars and is a big reason why they became so rich. You could say they were a private bank, and a very safe one at that.

9 The Order became extremely wealthy

Being exempt from paying taxes by the Pope certainly helped the Templars accumulate wealth. However, one of the biggest reasons they became so wealthy is because noble knights who joined their ranks often donated their lands and money to the order upon joining. They did this because they swore poverty and couldn't own any wealth.

10 The Knights Templar were declared heretics and were condemned by Philip IV of France

After the Crusades and the end of the 13th century, the Templars slowly went into decline for many reasons, including that they were a military force that could cross any border. King Philip IV of France especially didn't like them because they had a temple in Paris and wanted to form their own state, similar to how the Teutonic Knights had founded Prussia. The Templars were eyeing a few locations in France, which didn't sit well with His Royal Highness, not to mention that they were exempt from paying taxes.

Philip IV also borrowed money from the Templars, which he used to pay for the debts he inherited from his father and to spend on frivolous things. He did not want to pay them back, however, and soon planned a coup against the Templars. At dawn on Friday, October 13, 1307, scores of French Templars were simultaneously arrested by agents of King Philip, later to be tortured into admitting heresy and other sacrilegious offenses in the Order. After that, they were executed.

Despite the fact that these confessions were false, they created scandals in France, and people soon demanded action. Using this public pressure and by bullying, Philip IV convinced Pope Clement to send an order to all Christian monarchs to arrest all Templars and confiscate their assets. In 1312, after the Council of Vienne, and under extreme pressure from King Philip IV, Pope Clement V issued an edict officially dissolving the Order. Many kings and nobles who had been supporting the Knights up until that time finally acquiesced and dissolved the orders in their fiefs in accordance with the Papal command.

The Contenders
11 The Order was founded by 9 knights
12 Knights Templar won heresy reprieve after 700 years

Seven hundred years after their unjust downfall, documents from the trials were released to the public. In September 2001, a document known as the Chinon Parchment dated August 17 - 20, 1308, was discovered in the Vatican Secret Archives by Barbara Frale, apparently after having been filed in the wrong place in 1628. It is a record of the trial of the Templars and shows that Clement absolved the Templars of all heresies in 1308 before formally disbanding the order in 1312.

That's comforting. At least they officially regained their good reputation. I think this document was misplaced intentionally.

13 Knights Templars inspired the Jedi in Star Wars

One of the many inspirations for the Jedi order in George Lucas's cult classic Star Wars was the Knights Templars. Others included the samurai's bushido and the Shaolin Monks.

14 Jacques DeMolay, Grand Master of the Knights Templar, cursed the king and pope as he burned at the stake

The last Grand Master of the Templar order was also the last victim of this unjust persecution. It is said that when he was being burned at the stake, de Molay cursed King Philip IV and his descendants for generations to come.

15 They fought during the Crusades

Templars were among the most skilled fighting units of the Crusades. They were often the advance shock troops in key battles, with the heavily armored knights on their warhorses charging at the enemy ahead of the main army bodies to break opposition lines.

16 They owned land across Europe

The noble knights who joined their ranks often donated their lands and money to the order upon joining, as they couldn't keep them due to their vows of poverty. The Templars often owned businesses on these lands as well as their banks, where they would store their donated money and handle loans.

17 They had a secret cipher
18 Legends say they guarded the Holy Grail and the Ark of the Covenant
19 They were active for nearly two centuries
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