To truly cover the legend of Knight Templar origin we need to go back nearly 3000 years. King David was the second King of Israel, He was a warrior king who had united the two kingdoms of Judah and Israel and defeated the Philistines. King David had assembled the materials needed for the construction of an amazing temple, but as a punishment from God, due to the blood he had spilled he was forbidden to build it himself. The temple was to be built on Mount Moriah, the sacred ground where God had commanded Abraham to kill his son Issac, before relenting at the last moment.
King David was succeeded by his son Solomon who completed his father’s plan and over the course of nearly 8 years from 964 to 956bce he oversaw the construction of the temple.
Upon its completion the temple sat unused for 13 years while the rest of the citadel and royal palace were completed but in 934bce, the Ark of the Covenant was placed inside and a great celebration called the Feast of the Tabernacles was held.
In 597bce Nebuchadnezzar II, King of Babylon, conquered Israel. After ten years of dealing with rebellion from the conquered people he decided to destroy Jerusalem and the temple of King Solomon, he stole all the artefacts (except the Ark of the Covenant, which to date has never been found) and took them to Babylon, along with a large number of captives.
Around 50 Years later Cyrus the Persian vanquished Nebuchadnezzar and eventually freed the Israelites and allowed them to return to Jerusalem where in 516bce Zerubbabel constructed a second temple on the site of King Solomon’s temple. This second temple stood until 20bce when Herod the Great dismantled the second temple and constructed a magnificient temple in an attempt to glorify Jurasalem and his name, this temple was destroyed by the Roman Emperor Tital in 70ce.
The site of the temple later became the third holiest place in the Islamic faith, when the Prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven by climbing a ladder of light rising from a sacred stone that has once been part of King Solomon’s temple.
In 691ce, Calif Abdul Malik started to built the Mosque of Sakhra (Dome of the Rock) next to the Site of the Temple which was completed by his son, it was destroyed and rebuilt a number of times until the final Al Aqsa Mosque was completed in 1099ce.
The Order of the Temple was founded in 1118ce at Jerusalem which had been liberated from the Saracens during the First Crusade in 1099ce. The successes of the Crusaders had brought Pilgrims to the Holy Land from all over Christendom, but the difficulties these Pilgrims faced were numerous:-
- There was a lack of roads and means of transport
- The routes were menaced by raiders and bandits
- There was a major risk of being cheated by the innkeepers and merchants they encountered
It was to afford some protection to these otherwise unguarded Pilgrims that Hugues de Payens and seven other Knights founded the Order. The King of Jerusalem, Baldwin II granted them quarters near the royal palace at the captured Al Aqsa Mosque (on the site traditionally believed to be that of Solomon’s Temple also called Temple Mount), the Knights came to be known as “Knights of the Temple” for the next ten years in additional to their regular duties they excavated the ruins of Solomon’s Temple under their quarters.
In 1867ce, a team from the Royal Engineers, led by Lieutenant Charles Warren and financed by the Palestine Exploration Fund, discovered a series of tunnels beneath Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, some of which were directly underneath the headquarters of the Knights Templar. Various small artifacts were found which indicated that Templars had used some of the tunnels, though it is unclear who exactly first dug them. Some of the ruins which Warren discovered came from centuries earlier.
Hugues de Payens engaged on a tour of several European countries between 1124-1128ce, he received official endorsements from the Catholic Church at the Council of Troyes in France in 1124ce and he visited his comrade Henri St Clair, First Earl of Roslin at the St Clair home in Roslin, Scotland around 1126-28ce, during this visit he was given land by King David I of Scotland to build the first Templar Preceptory outside the Holy Land, at Balantrodoch near Edinburgh now called Temple, Midlothian. Around this time Hugues de Payens also established a Preceptory in London, England. Hugues de Payens visit to Scotland establishes the first connection of Rosslyn to the Knights Templar.
As for the excavation under Temple Mount, no evidence is recorded but it would appear that the Templars found something, in 1139ce (just 21 years after the orders founding) Pope Innocent II issued a papal bull which exempted the Order from obedience to local laws. This ruling meant that the Templars could pass freely through all borders, were not required to pay any taxes, and were exempt from all authority except that the Pope himself.
With its clear mission and ample resources, the Order grew rapidly. Templars were often the advance force in key battles of the Crusades, as the heavily armoured knights on their warhorses would set out to charge at the enemy, in an attempt to break opposition lines.
Although its members were sworn to individual poverty, the Order was given control of wealth beyond direct donations. A nobleman away to the Crusades might place all his assets under the Orders management while he was away. Accumulating wealth in this manner throughout Christendom, in 1150ce the Order began generating letters of credit for pilgrims journeying to the Holy Land: pilgrims deposited their valuables with a local preceptory before leaving, received a document indicating the value of their deposit, then used that document upon arrival in the Holy Land to retrieve their funds. This innovative arrangement was an early form of banking, and may have been the first formal system to support the use of cheques; it improved the safety of pilgrims by making them less attractive targets for thieves, and also contributed to the Orders coffers.
Based on this mix of donations and business dealing, the Order established financial networks across the whole of Christendom.
- They acquired large tracts of land, both in Europe and the Middle East
- They bought and managed farms and vineyards
- They built churches and castles
- They were involved in manufacturing, import and export
- They had their own fleet of ships
- They owned the entire island of Cyprus for a year in 1191ce
The story of the kingdom of Jerusalem is a sorry tale of discord, and the glorious cause which brought the Crusaders to the East was often forgotten in dynastic struggles and political intrigues. Under these circumstances it is remarkable that the eventual Saracen success was delayed so long, yet it was not until 1291ce that the last stronghold of the Order, the city of Acre, fell. The remnants of the Order retired to Cyprus, and the purpose for which the Order had been formed had now vanished.
A few years later The King of France, Philip IV, was in dire need of money, having taken too many war loans. King Philip was known as Philip the Fair, but he was anything but, in 1305ce who orchestrated the installation of his own handpicked man as the newly elected Pope Clement V. Now Philip the Fair need money and he approached the Order but was refused next he tried to get the Order to accept him as Grand Master on the pretext that he would then lead a new Crusade to the Holy Land, but the Knights did not choose to give up their freedom. King Philip then, with the reluctant but essential connivance of Pope Clement V, determined to gain the wealth of the Order for his own use.
In 1307ce he suddenly arrested all the Templars in France, and he persuaded every country but Scotland and Portugal to follow suit. The wealth, independence, pride and secrecy of the Order proved to deprive them of all influential friends, and the French king was able to secure their conviction for heretical practices. However Phillip never managed to gain the wealth of the Order as someone has tipped the knights of and the day of the mass arrests the templar fleet set sail from La Rochelle in France their destination a mystery – although many believed at the time that they had set sail to Scotland.
In France many Knights of the Order were tortured to gain confessions, and a great deal of scandalous legend was added to the story of the Order by this means. Many resisted the power of the rack and were burned at the stake as heretics. The Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, was the last to be put to death in Paris in 1314ce. These are his moving words from the scaffold:
“It is only right that at so solemn a moment and when my life has so little time to run, I should reveal the deception which has been practised, and speak up for the truth. Hear me! Before heaven and earth and all of you for my witnesses, I confess. I confess that I am indeed guilty of the greatest infamy, but the infamy is that I have lied. I have lied in admitting the disgusting charges laid against my Order. I declare, and I must declare, that the Order is innocent. Its purity and saintliness have never been defiled. In truth, I had testified otherwise, but I did so from fear of terrible tortures. Other Knights who retracted their confessions have been led to the stake, I know. Yet the thought of dying is not so awful that I would now uphold my confession to foul crimes which were never committed. Life is offered me, but at the price of perfidy. At such a price, life is not worth having. If life is to be bought only by piling lie upon lie, I do not grieve that I must lose it.”
Modern historians reject the trial of the Knight Templars as thoroughly unjust, and acquit the Order of the charges brought against it. The Catholic church have long held that the Order was innocent of any wrongdoing and a recently recovered document ‘The Chinon Parchment’ reveals that Pope Clement V had pardoned Jacques De Molay in 1314, just before his death.
The surviving members of the Order merged into other orders or went into hiding :-
In Portugal King Denis refused the Pope’s Command and instead renamed the order ‘The Order of Christ’. This order was to continue in history into the 20th Century and directly influenced European exploration and expansion for over 400 years)
Legends arose that some Knights fled to Scotland, where an excommunicated King Robert the Bruce was engaged in a battle against the English and it seems logical and likely that the Bruce would have welcome the Knights (powerful, trained warriors that they were), these knights fought for the Scots at Bannockburn in 1314 and in return were granted sanctuary, land and titles by a grateful King.
There is also a theory that the Sailors of the Order managed to use their skills to navigate across the Atlantic where they found America.
In 1312ce The Order of Knight Templar was dissolved by the Council of Vienne and their remaining property was transferred to the Knights of St John (Hospitallers).
In the 1440’s (130 years after the dissolution of the Knights Templar) Sir William St Clair, Jarl of Orkney was the most powerful man in Scotland, he was a direct descendant of William de St Clair the last Temple Grand Master of Scotland, who had died taking the heart of Robert de Bruce (as part of James Douglas, Lord of Douglas expedition) on a last crusade to Jerusalem.
Sir William wanted to build a temple on his land at Rosslyn, near Edinburgh. He sought and received a founding charter from the Church in Rome to build a collegiate chapel in 1446ce. His most likely reasons for wanting this temple would be to establish a seat of spiritual authority to rival King James II and to house artefacts brought by the Knights Templar to Scotland in 1126ce (and perhaps after the order’s dissolution) and inherited by the St Clair family. Rosslyn Chapel links the Jewish Temple through the Knights Templar to Freemasonry. It has now been shown by historians and researchers that theRosslyn Chapel is constructed in the same style as the Herodian Architecture of Jerusalem and it is an exact replica of the ground plan of the Kings Herod’s Temple. The layout of Herod’s Temple was unknown to Archeologists until the mid nineteenth century, nearly four hundred years after the construction of the chapel.
Sir William St Clair brought in Masons (at this time the word mason meant builder and included stone,wood and metal masons) from across Scotland to his Chapel. To house them he built the town of Roslin near his Castle and the site of the Chapel, then on 20th September 1456ce construction started on the chapel.Rosslyn Chapel contains the oldest document showing a modern First Degree Ceremony being conducted by a Knight Templar. On the lower frame of the window in the South West corner of the Chapel there is a carving (carved between 1440ce and 1450ce) of the First Degree. There are many Templar symbols and images of Templars carved throughout the Chapel.
When King James II died in 1460ce his son, James III, came to the throne and he thought Sir William was posing to great a threat to the Crown of Scotland so he stripped Sir William of Orkney (in 1470ce). Sir William resigned as Earl of Caithness in favour of his son in 1476ce and he died in 1484ce.
The St Clair family was also heavily involved in the creation of Freemasonry at Killwinning on the other side of Scotland, I hope to cover that part of Freemason history in a later blog, but I mention it now to indicate how heavily involved the St Clair family is and has been in the survival of the Knights Templar legacy into the 21st Century.
In 1483ce (27 years after construction on Rosslyn Chapel started) the first Freemason documents are found which state the burgh of Aberdeen is recorded as being involved in settlement of a dispute between six ‘masownys of the lurge’. Masonry is starting to spread out as lodges initiate Candidates and give them the ‘Mason Word’.
It would appear that the Mason’s who constructed Rosslyn Chapel found something of great value in the ceremonies and teachings they learnt at Rosslyn and when they returned home they took this ritual and sense of brotherhood with them and over the next 100 years the Masonic Lodge took hold in Scotland.