Sunday, July 31, 2011

Another History of the Knights Templar, Part 2

History tells us some ragtag Scandinavian tribe came out of nowhere in the 10th Century and within a few decades conquered northern France, England, Sicily and Syria. Quite a feat. What history doesn't usually tell us is that four most powerful secret societies in the world would emerge from these Norman kingdoms. France produced the Knights Templar (originally composed largely of Normans), England produced the Freemasons, Sicily produced the Mafia and Syria produced the Assassins.

Quite a coincidence, don't you think?
The Templar's luck in the Holy Land was short lived. In 1187, they would pay the price for an ill-advised alliance with the deeply unpopular King Guy of Jersualem. On the orders of Guy, the Templar army set off on July 3, 1187 for so-called Horns of Hattin, near the Sea of Galilee. They were to once again meet the army of Saladin, which now included 12,000 knights. A thousand Templars accompanied by 20,000 infantrymen would be set against this fearsome Muslim army.

Another of the great military orders, the Knights Hospitaller, chose to sit this battle out, out of disgust with King Guy. For this occasion, The Templars carried with them their holiest of relics, known as ‘the True Cross’. Legend had it that this was an actual piece of the cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified. It seemed to charm the Templars in all their previous battles. and they had no reason to believe their good fortune would run out that day.

But run out it did, along with their water. For the Templars found themselves at Hattin without anything to drink since the Saracens has dammed off the only available stream. To add insult to injury, the Muslims set the surrounding dry grass lands ablaze. By the morning of July 4th, the Templars were half mad from heat and dehydration and found themselves surrounded by the Saracen army.

Outnumbered 10 to 1, the Templars valiantly fought, but fell to the superior numbers. They were cut down like stalks of wheat. Only a small cohort remained, and these were guarding the tent of King Guy. Guy clutched on to the True Cross, alas to no avail. He and his bodyguard were taken prisoner ad brought to Saladin's camp. The captured Templars were beheaded and the foot soldiers sold into slavery.

King Guy was imprisoned but later released. But his ill-advised and poorly planned campaign against the Saracens robbed the Templars of their aura of invincibility forever. Jerusalem soon fell and the Templars and all of the other crusaders returned to Europe, broken and humbled. Several more crusades followed and several more battles, but with the rise of the powerful Mamluks in Egypt the crusader dream would be crushed and the Templars- who ended up on the losing end of so many battles- lost their original reason to exist.

The Templars continued to be wealthy and powerful. But their reputation was tarnished by the fall of the Holy Land, and they came to be seen as another bunch of rich and arrogant noblemen. Where they were once warrior monks, now they were banker monks, who controlled the most powerful central bank in all of Christendom. And it was this fact that led to their fall.


A Capetian prince named Phillip Le Bel ascended to the throne of France in 1285. Phillip was a tall and good looking man, who had great plans for France. He would succeed where Charlemagne had failed and create an unified Christian empire with France at its head.

To do so, Philip needed money. Lots of money. He went about raising it by rounding up the nation's Jews and seizing their assets. He then taxed the French churches. When the Church protested, he installed a French archbishop named Betrand De Goth and named him Clement V. He then had the papal seat moved to Avignon in order to consolidate his power. Philip was no genius though, and his foreign campaigns went badly and put a strain on the French treasury.

Philip then looked around for the next source of plunder. He fixed his eyes on the banks of the Knights Templar. Legend has it that he first became aware of the Templar's vast wealth when he sought refuge in a Templar vault after being chased by angry mob who were angered by his devaluation of the French currency. At first, Philip attempted to join the order.

Rebuffed in this, he then set his puppet pope Clement to work on an Inquisition against the Templars. This would give him the excuse needed to close down the order and siphon off their wealth into his faltering war machine. Charges were drawn up including heresy, blasphemy, sodomy, and usury. It was known that the Templars held their rituals in secret and at night. It was claimed that there they worshipped the severed head of a man which they called Baphomet, trampled upon the cross, denied the divinity of Jesus Christ and practiced weird homosexual rites.

On October 13th, 1307, a papal bull was sent out to arrest all the Knights Templar in Europe. Many knights were tortured and forced to sign confessions. Many chose to die rather than defame the order. Some confessed and then recanted. But the arrest order was ignored in many lands, particularly the British Isles. In some countries the Templars were allowed to change their names and/or the names of the Order. Some simply were allowed to leave the Order and join other orders like the Hospitalers or the Teutonic Knights.

It is widely believed that the last Templar grand master, Jacques De Molay, anticipated Philip's betrayal and ordered the bulk of the Templar's treasure shipped out to Scotland, where the Scottish king Robert the Bruce had offered the Templars sanctuary. Robert had already been excommunicated by the church, so he had little to fear from Clement's condemnation.

It has long been speculated on that Clement went along with this inquisition reluctantly, and that he had written a letter of absolution on behalf of Jacques De Molay in 1308. This did DeMolay little good. He and his henchman Geoffroy de Charnay both recanted their confessions while on trial in 1314, and were sentenced to be burned at the stake. On March 18, 1314, they were put to death. DeMolay’s last words were a curse on the life of both King Philip and Pope Clement.

The next month lightning struck the church where Clement lay sleeping and completely consumed the building and the body of Clement. He would not be remembered well by history. In fact, Dante assigned Clement to the Eight Circle of Hell in his Divine Comedy. Philip would fare little better. He would pass into his own hellish circle on November 29th of the same year. The Capetian dynasty soon earned the name ‘the Cursed Kings’ and his line collapsed in 1328.

Almost immediately after DeMolay's execution a rich and varied mythology grew up around the Templars. They were soon seen as ‘the Murdered Magicians' whose wealth and supernatural powers were beyond all imagining. Speculations aroused by the spurious charges filed against them by the Inquisition granted the Templars a mystique that focused on their forbidden rites and practices.

Baphomet came to be seen as everything from the head of the Islamic prophet Mohammed, to the head of a goat, to the head of a two-faced man, to the head of John the Baptist himself. One recent theory has it that Baphomet is a conjunction of the great words baph and metis, meaning ‘baptism’ and ‘wisdom’ respectively. It was later said that rather than being mere military escorts, the Templars were actually charged to excavate Jerusalem in search of the Holy Grail or the Ark of the Covenant. It was said that the Templars housed the Ark in their church in Ethiopia.

Some said the Templars rode in at the very last moment to save the army of Robert the Bruce from defeat at the hands of the English at Bannockburn. It was said that they brought the Holy Grail to Scotland and built Rosslyn Chapel to house it.

It's been said that the Templars discovered the true origins of Christianity when they encountered Gnostics and other heretical groups in Jersualem and Egypt. It was said that the Templars learned the Dark Arts from the Assassins and the devil-worshipping Yazidis.Some even say they reemerged in the guise of a secret society in the 17th Century that would have a powerful impact on the world in the coming years. Some have even said that this secret society eventually would shake the very foundations of the city-state that housed the Templars' former enemies.