Knights Templar: October 13
Over and over again along the camino de Santiago de Compostela I saw signs of the Knights Templar, usually their equal-armed red cross etched into a church wall. In Ponferrada I toured a Knights castle, feeling the presence of ghost-knights.
Here’s a Knights thumbnail: they were founded to provide protection for pilgrims to the Holy Land. “Templar” refers of course to Solomon’s Temple, their spiritual HQ. The Temple Mount was their actual HQ early on. They made a name for themselves also in the Crusades, which, along with their support of pilgrims, made them, for a time, a popular cause to give money to: though their individual lives were quite austere, the order became very wealthy. The Templar seal of two riders on one horse symbolized poverty and solidarity (and may have contributed to accusations of homosexuality in the ranks.) In fact, sharing horses was forbidden by their rule. Bernard of Clairvaux, nephew of one of the founding Kinghts, was an effective advocate in their formal recognition in 1129.
Despite their military charism, relatively few were actually combatants. One non-military way they protected pilgrims was this: people starting out on pilgrimage could present cash to a local Templar spot, and get a letter of credit that could be cashed at another Templar spot down the road. Pilgrims were safer not carrying cash, (in fact, before this they were routinely killed for money,) and the Templars became an international banking system. With cash on hand, the Templars also began loaning money, including an unfortunately large loan to King Phillip IV of France, which he was unable to repay.
Church and State colluded in trumped-up charges against the Knights. Pressured by Phillip, Pope Clement V agreed to accuse them of heresy and other enormities, and on Friday, October the 13th, 1307, Philip orchestrated the arrest of Templars all over France (who repays debts to heretics?) Arrests across Europe followed. Many were tortured into false confessions and burned at the stake. The last Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, was burned at the stake in Paris in 1314.
In 2001, a parchment was found in the Vatican Archives that revealed that the Pope had absolved the Knights of all charges of heresy–in 1308, 4 years before he disbanded them anyway. (And of course long before the burnings at the stake stopped.)
So on this October 13, perhaps pause for a moment to remember the Knights Templar, a religious order supressed with bloody enthusiasm on trumped-up charges. And be glad that we don’t burn people at the stake anymore.