Who were the Knights Templar? 8 Things You Probably Didn’t Know.

Nine-hundred years ago, a band of nine former Crusader knights banded together to form a Church order. We know them as the Knights Templar.

The history behind the Templars is a fascinating, if not storied tale. But who were they exactly, this band of monastic warriors who rose and fell in such a dramatic fashion over a storied three centuries? Perhaps Dan Jones frames the question best in his book The Templars:

It is sometimes hard to tell. Featured in numerous works of fiction, television shows and films, the Templars have been presented variously as heroes, martyrs, thugs, bullies, victims, criminals, perverts, heretics, depraved subversives, guardians of the Holy Grail, protectors of Christ’s secret bloodline and time-traveling agents of global conspiracy. Within the field of “popular” history, a cottage industry exists in exposing “the mysteries of the Templars”—suggesting their role in some timeless plot to conceal Christianity’s dirty secrets and hinting that the medieval order is still out there, manipulating the world from the shadows. Occasionally this is very entertaining. None of it has very much to do with the Templars themselves. (2-3)

He’s right, which is why I abandoned Hollywood-style Templar conspiracies for the remarkable historical truth behind the ancient religious order. I incorporated some of that history to weaving an adventurous, action-packed page-turner with a compelling, inspiring message for believers and non-believers alike about the nature of faith and ones unashamed commitment to it—even unto death.
Here are 8 things you probably didn’t know about the Knights Templars—I sure didn’t before I started researching for my novel!

 

1) The basics of the 900-year-old legend

 

Popularly, they were the Knights Templar, or simply the Templars, but their full designation is instructive: The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon. They were founded by nine knights on Christmas Eve 1119, and received their full monastic designation as an order of the Church by a papal bull in 1139. Pope Innocent II issued Omne Datum Optimum, which basically established the Templars as an independent and permanent order within the Catholic Church answerable to no one but the Pope and established them as defenders of the Church and sanctioned their attacks on the enemies of Christ.

Two veterans of the First Crusade, Hughes of Paynes and Godfrey of Saint-Omer, proposed creating a monastic order that would serve particular, narrow military purposes for the Church—primarily, protecting the hundreds and thousands of Christian pilgrims that traveled to the Holy Land each year.

2) The Templars formed as a defensive response to Muslim terrorizing persecution.

 

Nine hundred years ago, during Holy Week in 1119 on Holy Saturday, the miracle of Holy Fire at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher sent seven hundred pilgrims running for the mighty River Jordan in ecstasy, intending to worship the Lord where Christ had begun his ministry and bathe in its sacred waters. However, they never made it. These 700 Christian pilgrims were attacked by Muslims from two surrounding cities.

As the historian Albert of Aachen recounted, ‘there appeared Saracens from Tyre and Ascalon, armed and very fierce.’ These were men from the remaining Muslim strongholds in the region. And they came upon these unarmed civilian Christians who were, in the words of the historian: ‘weary after a journey of many days, weakened by fasting in Jesus’ name.’ The pilgrims had no chance: ‘The wicked butchers pursued them, putting three hundred to the sword and holding sixty captive.’

In many ways, this act of terrorizing persecution was the final straw that broke the camel’s back after decades of increasing persecution at the hands of Muslims who had ravaged once-Christian lands. So a group of nine French knights took vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience to ‘defend pilgrims against brigands and rapists.’ On Christmas Day, before the Patriarch in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, these nine men took their monastic pledges, calling themselves the Pauperes commilitones Christi—the Poor-Soldiers of Christ. They were solely dedicated to destroying evil and to ‘the defense of Jerusalem and the protection of pilgrims,’ in the words of their charter.

 

3) The Templars was primarily a monastic order.

 

The Knights Templar were an order of knightly monks who were blessed with the guiding, supporting hand of perhaps the most powerful man in all of Europe: Bernard of Clairvaux, head of the rapidly ascending Cistercian monastic order. As an early advocate of chivalry, there was perhaps no greater voice in support of the idea of a knightly monk than Bernard. So, he set about writing a Rule for the upstart monastic order, consisting of seventy-two articles that prescribed a schedule for prayers and worship, committed the members to chastity and modesty, outlined more pedantic matters such as menus and dress. Unlike existing forms of knighthood, these men did not organize to terrorize the weak and wage war for spoil of treasure. Their dress emphasized this mission, where their habits and robes of white symbolized their purity, a clearly Cistercian influence, and they abandoned the conventional marks of knighthood, the furs and precious metal ornamentation and such.

 

4) The Templar motto: Non nobis, Domine, non nobis, sed Nomini tuo da gloriam.

 

This Latin motto is translated: ‘Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy Name give glory.’ This rallying cry of the Templars was meant as an explicit rejection of the prevailing knightly attitudes of the time, where the soldiers of the state waged war to magnify their own names and those of their landed families. It reflected their Cistercian monastic influences of piety and self-sacrifice, as well as their patron saint’s humility and self-effacement, the Blessed Virgin Mary.

 

5) The Templars were the richest and most powerful of the Christian religious orders.

 

During the thirteenth century, the Order may have had as many as 7,000 knights and priests and servants, with other various members many times that figure. By the early fourteenth century, it had built a network of at least 870 castles, strongholds, and houses throughout Western Christendom. And after the order was disbanded, pensions were still being paid to former Templars in dioceses throughout France and England, the Holy Roman Empire and various Papal States. And although they began in poverty and generally eschewed riches, they had amassed enormous wealth in property and gold.

 

6) The Templars were swiftly destroyed by French King Philip IV early 14th century.

 

The venerable Knights Templar, had been suppressed in a campaign of fire and fury at the behest of King Philip IV. He ordered the suppression of the Templars in 1307 and eventually burned their leaders at the stake in 1314, including their Grand Master, Jaques de Molay, whome I reference in the prologue of Holy Shroud. Although he accused the order of grievous heresy and vile practices, in realty the king’s motivations were anything but political and financial, rather than theological and biblical as he purported. And through a series of raids on Templar compounds, the king and his allies disbanded the knightly monks and drove them into hiding.

However, all was not lost…

 

7) A Templar remnant seems to have survived.

 

The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon seemed live on through two former Templars who had been captured when the city of Acre fell to the Muslim hordes in May 1291. For nearly fifty years, the two men had been living in the mountains, cut off from all communication with Latin Christendom. Eventually, they settled down and had wives and children, probably even grandchildren. They had survived by working in the Sultan’s service and apparently eking out their lives as woodcutters. Ludolph of Sudheim, a German priest who had set off on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, discovered them living along the Dead Sea and repatriated them back to France.

 

8) The Templars continued on in several historical iterations

 

Some of the history of the Templars historical evolution is totally speculative and conspiratorial, like them morphing into the Freemasons, where a Scotsman by the name of Andrew Ramsay suggested the collapse of Crusaders states with the fall of Acre forced them to return to their homelands in Europe and establish Freemason lodges there. He even suggested that ‘every Mason is a Knights Templar.’ Then of course there’s been the whole Holy Grail business, first suggested by the romance writers of the thirteenth century and later revived by the likes of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code.


However, when Philip IV of France ordered the suppression of the Templars in 1307 and eventually burned their leaders at the stake in 1314, Edward II of England dismissed the charges of heresy as implausible, resisting the Inquisition and permitting each Templar to make a public statement that they were ‘gravely defamed’ by the accusations. Each of these English Templars was granted reconciliation with the Church and sent to live peaceably at a monastery.

The Templars in Scotland enjoyed a similar fate. Like those in England, they were unpunished but the Order was dissolved and their land was for the most part handed over to the Hospitallers religious order. The original ownership of the land has not been forgotten, however, for even today such properties are designated in transactions as ‘Templarland’.

A version also survived in Portugal, but under a new name. In 1319, King Diniz reconstituted them with Papal permission as the Ordem dos Cavaleiros de Nosso Senhor Jesus Cristo—the Order of Christ. The only difference between the original Knights Templar and the new Order of Christ seems to be explicit obedience to the king, in addition to their traditional vows of poverty and chastity. They were eventually awarded all of their property, and in 1357 the entire religious Order was transferred to the former Templars headquarters northeast of Lisbon.


Another iteration was in Spain. The Templars had always been enthusiastically welcomed in Spain because of their invaluable assistance in the struggle against the Arab-Muslim occupation of the Iberian Peninsula. King Jaime II of Aragon, a northern province, declared the innocence of those Templars who were put on trial, despite the verdict of heresy and guilt of other crimes in France. With the permission of the Papacy, he formed the new Order of Montesa with old Templar assets. For the next 175 years, the descendants of the Templars played a vital role in driving out the last Muslim invaders when Granada fell to them in 1492. However, the Order declined after that, and Philip II joined the office of Grand Master with that of the crown.

 

So here are 8 things you probably didn’t know about the Christian order of knightly monks. I tried to incorporate those historical insights into my own story, while offering an original spin by imagining them rising again to new life but with the same purpose: to protect the Church and defende Christians from terrorizing persecution.

Research is an important part of my process for creating compelling stories that entertain, inform, and inspire. Here are a few of the resources I used to research the history and legend behind the Knights Templar for my book Templars Rising:

 

  • Barber, Malcom. The New Knighthood: A History of the Order of the Temple. NY: Cambridge University Press. Prologue story. www.bouma.us/templars1.
  • Hagg, Michael. The Templars: The History and the Myth. New York: HarperCollins, 2009. www.bouma.us/templars2.
  • Jones, Dan. The Templars: The Rise and Spectacular Fall of God’s Holy Warriors. New York: Viking, 2017. www.bouma.us/templars3.
  • Stark, Rodney. God’s Battalions. New York: HarperOne, 2009. www.bouma.us/templars4.
  • –––––––– . The Triumph of Christianity. New York: HarperOne, 2011. www.bouma.us/templars5

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Templars Rising is a story of faith and persecution, vengeance and martyrdom that leverages the familiar conspiracy suspense of Dan Brown, the special-ops muscle of James Rollins’s Sigma Force novels, and the historical insight of Steve Berry’s Cotton Malone series—delivering an explosive religious thriller that abandons Hollywood-style Templar conspiracies for the remarkable historical truth behind the ancient religious order.

In a truly original story ripped from the unreported headlines chronicling the horrifying persecution of the worldwide Church, J. A. Bouma combines fact, faith, and fiction like few contemporary religious storytellers—weaving an adventurous, action-packed page-turner with a compelling, inspiring message for believers and non-believers alike about the nature of faith and ones unashamed commitment to it—even unto death.

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Templars Rising

Order of Thaddeus • Book 6

A legend 900 years in the making rises again to protect the Church

The day before Easter 1119, 700 unarmed Jerusalem Christian pilgrims were savagely attacked by Muslims from two nearby cities. Three hundred were slaughtered, sixty more were taken as slaves—and nine men rose to avenge their deaths and pledge their lives to “the defense of Jerusalem and the protection of pilgrims.”

The Knights Templar, robed in white with crimson crosses and armed to protect Christians from threatening persecution.

Nine hundred years later, a series of similar devastating, coordinated attacks leaves the Church reeling during Holy Week—and bewildered by the possibility that the legendary Knights of Christ have risen from the shadows of legend into the light of activation.

When the Order of Thaddeus, ancient defender of the Christian faith, is embroiled in the mayhem without any answers, SEPIO launches its most harrowing operation yet—to not only protect the Church and bring the perpetrators to justice, but to confront the mysterious men in white avenging Christian persecution once again.

Templars Rising is a story of faith and persecution, vengeance and martyrdom that leverages the familiar conspiracy suspense of Dan Brown, the special-ops muscle of James Rollins’s Sigma Force novels, and the historical insight of Steve Berry’s Cotton Malone series—delivering an explosive religious thriller that abandons Hollywood-style Templar conspiracies for the remarkable historical truth behind the ancient religious order.

In a truly original story ripped from the unreported headlines chronicling the horrifying persecution of the worldwide Church, J. A. Bouma combines fact, faith, and fiction like few contemporary religious storytellers—weaving an adventurous, action-packed page-turner with a compelling, inspiring message for believers and non-believers alike about the nature of faith and ones unashamed commitment to it—even unto death.

Grab the 6th book in the bestselling religious suspense series readers say offers a “highly entertaining” and “compelling read”!

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