The Knights Templar
Excerpt From Essay “Secret Societies” by Paul Witcover
One of the oldest and most influential of Western Secret Societies was the medieval military/religious order, The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon, known by their familiar name as the Knights Templar. Founded around 1119 by two veterans of the First Crusade in newly conquered Jerusalem, the order was situated on the Temple Mount, believed to be the ruins of the Biblical Temple of Solomon.
Beginning with only nine members, within fifty years the Knights Templar had become a wealthy charitable order as well as a potent and feared fighting force, with thousands of members and property spread across Europe and the Middle East. But when the military successes of the early Crusades began to ebb, the fortunes of the Knights Templar ebbed too. Forced out of the Holy Land by the Islamic reconquest, the Knights returned to Europe, where their wealth and privileges increasingly brought them into conflict with the nobility, church, and other representatives of the established feudal order.
In 1307, King Philip IV of France, “Philip the Fair,” arrested the leaders of the Knights Templar on trumped-up charges of heresy, and in 1312, after a protracted political struggle, Pope Clement V officially disbanded the Order. In 1314, the last Grandmaster of the Knights Templar, Jacques de Molay, was burned at the stake in Paris.
Although Katherine Neville herself does not treat of the Knights Templar in her own writings, the Templar trials and their sudden disappearance from the public scene, nearly 600 years ago, has spawned, over the years, a veritable cottage industry of fiction and non-fiction alike, making them (with apologies to Gilbert & Sullivan) “The very model of a modern Secret Society.” Myths and legends about the Templars persisted down the years and centuries. Many people believed, for example, that the Knights Templar had discovered artifacts such as the Holy Grail in Jerusalem and had kept them in their possession, and that although the Order had been officially disbanded, it still existed in some form, underground, and possessed more power than ever.
This speculation has recently been whipped to an even further frenzy by the recent release, from the Vatican Archive, of the trial documents, which indicate not only that Jacques de Molay and the Knights were innocent, but that Church and State had colluded in a cover-up. These findings–long suspected by Templar scholars and enthusiasts–have now unleashed a veritable storm of publications revisiting the politics of the day, which is unlikely to quell popular interest.
Later organizations like the Freemasons adopted structural elements from the Knights Templar and sought to present themselves as the heirs of its traditions, as well as of an esoteric knowledge stretching back to the time of Christ and even earlier, to ancient Egypt at the time of the Pyramid Builders.
Katherine’s “Knights Templar” reading list
(Note: The demise of the Cathars is linked to the destruction of the Knights Templar, therefore a Cathar reading list will be added to this list at a later date.)
–The Knights Templar Stephen Howarth
–The Rule of the Templars J.M. Upton-Ward
–Sacred Sites of the Knights Templars John K Young
–The Knights of the Order Ernle Bradford
–The Knights Templar and Their Myth Peter Partner
–The History of the Knights Templar Charles G. Addison
–Addison’s Knights Templars Robert McCoy
(These prior two cover the myth of the Knights in England and Scotland, the Holy Grail and Spear of Longinus)
–The Knight in History Francis Gies
–The Trial of the Templars Malcolm Barber
–The Templar Treasure at Gisors Jean Markale
–Guia de la Espana Templaria Juan G. Atienza (A pocket travel guide to Templar sites in Spain, with maps and pictures)
–The Knights Templar in the New World William F. Mann (Story of Sir Henry Sinclair and the Grail in Acadia)
–The Templars Barbara Frale (A PhD from University of Venice, Frale is an expert on the Crusades and a staff historian at the Vatican Secret Archive. She discovered the Chinon Parchment absolving the Templars. The forward to her book is by Umberto Eco.)
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