The Downfall of the Knights Templar

Templar knight in full armor holding his helmet under the arm with his sword visible in the belt

On October 13, 1307, a Friday, Philip the Fair ordered the arrest of hundreds of Knights Templar in France on charges of heresy.
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A Holy City Under Siege

The city of Jerusalem was conquered by Arab armies in 638 AD. At that time, a treaty was signed between the Rashidun caliph Umar ibn al-Khattab and the Christian Patriarch of Jerusalem, Sophronius, which assured the protection of Christian holy sites while under Muslim rule. For the next four hundred or so years, Jerusalem found itself in the center of tumultuous power struggles. Jerusalem was captured and then recaptured, falling into the hands one conquering army after the next.

In 1099, Christian armies finally captured Jerusalem from the Muslims, during a period now known as the First Crusade. Once Jerusalem was under Christian control, devout Christians were able to begin the long trip across Western Europe to make their pilgrimages to the Holy Land, just as Empress Helena had first done nearly 700 years earlier. It was an arduous and dangerous journey for the pilgrims as they crossed Muslim controlled areas. Robberies and murder were a constant threat.

In response to the danger, a French knight named Hugues de Payens initiated a group of Christian soldiers into a monastic order with the specific purpose of protecting the travelers. This order was called The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon, later known as the Knights Templar. The Knights Templar then received formal endorsement from the Catholic church in 1129, thanks to help from Bernard de Clairvaux, an influential French abbot.

During the early occupation of Jerusalem at the time of the First Crusade, the Knights Templar began to conduct a series of excavations beneath the Temple Mount. No one knows what, if anything, the Templars actually discovered buried in the soil deep under the former temple. As the legend goes, however, one day the Templars simply stopped digging, immediately left Jerusalem and set out for Rome. After the meeting between the Templars and the Pope, the knights were granted virtually limitless power.

What did They Find?

To this day, it is not known publicly what the Templars had found. Popular belief, as presented in modern movies, books and TV shows, suggest that the Templars had found priceless riches and treasure. The classic 1989 film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade changed an entire generation's conception of what the Holy Grail could be. That is, a poor carpenter would have used a humble chalice, not an ostentatious one made of gold. Books such as The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail and later, The DaVinci Code have suggested that the Holy Grail isn't golden (or humble) treasure at all, but instead refers a rather heretical idea of Jesus and his descendants' bloodline. It's certainly an intresting idea, but most historians and scholars believe that if the Templars did find anything of value at the site of Solomon's Temple, the discovery would most likely have been documents related to the true nature of primitive Christianity and other texts of religious matters.

Some believe that the Templars had actually found remnants of an Essene library that was housed inside of the Second Temple. Around the time of the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD, the Essenes were believed to have taken their most important scrolls from Jerusalem and then hid them in caves around the Dead Sea in order to protect them from imminent onslaught of invading armies. This material is now known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. However, as the theory goes, apparently the Essenes weren't able to save all of the texts from the temple library--some scrolls had to be left behind. Therefore, some believe the Templars actually found surviving texts of the Essene library that would have been part of the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran, but for whatever reason, these particular documents were never moved from the temple.

A templar knight ready for battle wearing a helmet

The Knights Templar and their quest for the Holy Grail is perhaps one of the most famous legends ever told.
(Image credit: Bigstock/ms10)

Following the brotherhood's' trip to Rome, the Knights Templar were issued special privileges and rights. They were accountable only to the Pope’s authority. They were exempt from taxes and were allowed to build their own oratories. They set up a banking system, allowing pilgrims to deposit money in their home country and withdrawal funds while in the Holy Land, giving the Knights Templar enormous financial influence and status. In fact, it could be argued that the Knights Templar was the first multinational corporation in human history, with a network of nearly 1,000 commanderies and fortifications across Europe and the Holy Land. They owned fleets of ships, the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, and expanded their duties, becoming fierce and skilled warriors while defending crusader states throughout the Middle East.

Cleansing of the 'Heretics'

In 1187, the Holy Land was taken back by the Muslims. As time went on and as more Christian lands were falling to invaders, the Templars began to lose influence, at least militarily. However, they still held considerable wealth and influence throughout Europe, which sparked disagreements between the Templar Knights and European nobility. Some believe that the Templars weren't just a threat to the European aristocracy and sovereign European states; some believe that the Templars may have actually had wealth and power that rivaled that of the Roman Catholic Church.

On Friday, October 13th, 1307, agents of King Philip IV, of France, were ordered to arrest all of the Knights Templar in France under the accusation of heresy, and they were charged under capital offenses. They were imprisoned and tortured until they confessed to their heresy. This was then followed by a Papal command from Pope Clement V, which disbanded the Knights Templar in 1312. Legend has it that surviving knights disappeared to various parts of the world, taking secrets and treasure with them. It’s been speculated that after going into hiding they shared their secrets with a chosen few, and changed their name. Further speculation is that they still exist to this day, hiding in plain sight, but under utmost secrecy.