So many books, articles and academic treatises have been written about the Order of Poor Knights of the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem – usually shortened to the Knights Templar – that it is difficult to separate fact from fiction, or fantasy.
Founded in CE 1118 by a French nobleman to protect the pilgrim routes from southern Europe to the Holy Land or Palestine, it was originally a company of only nine knights. It increased in size in the next ten years until it had 15,000 warrior monks and 40,000 lay members and was the richest religious community in Christendom. Its eventual downfall and destruction was just as dramatic as the chaste Christian knights were accused of practising ‘unnatural sin’, blasphemy, heresy, and devil worship.
The sudden rise of the Templars, their considerable wealth obtained by loading their empty ships with spices, silk and other luxury goods on the journey back to Europe, and their special status within the Roman Catholic Church, brought criticism and created powerful enemies.
Even the Vatican became critical of the Order, and in 1207 Pope Innocent III denounced the knights for their excesses and for “employing doctrines worthy of demons.” A year later he issued a papal bull because the knights had refused to accept his authority and replaced it with that of their own Grand Master. In 1238 Pope Gregory IX even accused the Templars of practising heresy but no charges were brought against them.
The term “pride of a Templar” became commonplace as a description for any arrogant person. In battle, despite their religious beliefs or perhaps because of them, the Templars were renowned for their courage and ruthlessness. When sacking cities and towns in Palestine the knights showed no mercy, killing men, women and children indiscriminately so that the streets literally ran with the blood of the massacred. This was despite the fact that the Order was rumoured to have made secret alliances and deals with the Saracens. It is possible these were of the same nature as the financial deals allegedly made between some NATO troops and Taliban forces in the modern Afghan war.
In France the Templars owned large tracts of land and many properties including whole villages that they ruled as feudal landlords. The Order owed no allegiance to the French crown and paid no taxes to the states on their income as merchants and farmers. Eventually this brought them into open conflict with the French king Philip IV, also known as Phillipe Le Bel or the Fair. When he came to the throne he found the kingdom he had inherited was bankrupt. Vast sums of money had been spent in funding the crusades to the Holy Land and in real terms the Templars were wealthier than the king. At first Philip turned on the Jews as a source of income, and then he began to consider the Templars and plotted how he could discredit them and seize their assets.
To move against the Order Philip first needed to get rid of the incumbent pontiff, his arch-enemy Pope Boniface VIII. The king publicly accused him of atheism, blasphemy and immorality and in 1305 managed to get him replaced by his own puppet pope, Clement V, who ruled the Church from Avignon in France instead of Rome.
Rumours about strange activities within the Order of the Temple and their heretical beliefs had been circulating for some years. It was said they had an inner circle who worshipped a golden calf, a human head or skull, or a cat or goat-headed idol with obscene rites. Their monastic rule of chastity was apparently a sham as the knights practised the ‘unnatural vice’ of homosexuality as part of their secret rituals of initiation into the Order.
When three knights were expelled from the Order for grave misconduct and offered to inform on their former comrades, King Philip saw his chance to act. He tricked the Grand Master of the Templars, Jacques de Molay, into leaving his headquarters in Cyprus and travel to Paris on the pretence that the king wanted to discuss launching a new crusade. De Molay duly arrived at the French court bearing 150,000 gold florins and ten horse-loads of silver ingots as a gift to the king. While De Molay and his personal bodyguard were staying at the Templar commanderie in Paris, King Philip closed his trap on the Order.
On 13 October 1307 the king ordered dawn raids on the Paris headquarters and De Molay and sixty of his knights were arrested. Orders had also been issued to provincial governors all over France and simultaneously all the Templar religious houses were raided, their members arrested and, most importantly for the king’s cunning plan, their physical assets were seized by the crown.
A month later Pope Clement V meekly issued a papal bull addressed to the monarchs of Europe informing them the Templar Order had been declared heretical and they should arrest all its members in their lands. Some obeyed the papal decree but in some countries the Templars were virtually unharmed and its members were assimilated into other chivalric orders.
In total eighty-eight charges were brought against the Templars in France with the support of the pope, who in fact got involved in the legal proceedings against them. Two early charges, of consorting with women and being inclined to Islam, were dropped. However, the other charges remained, and these were that the knights had denied Christ as the saviour and redeemer of humanity, spat and trampled on the cross at their initiations into the Order, adored an unspecified idol, perverted (desecrated) the sacrament, practised ritual murder, wore a cord “of heretical significance,” performed “ritual kisses” during naked initiation ceremonies, and were traitors to the other Christian forces in the Middle East.
Knights who had been inducted into the inner circle of the Order confessed that the Templar priests had forced them to deny and renounce Christ. They were told he was a false prophet and made to spit three times on a crucifix and trample it underfoot. Some candidates were reluctant or too scared to carry out this blasphemous act and were forced to do it at sword point. Others who still refused were punished by being flogged daily and put on a ration of bread and water until they agreed.
New Evidence about the TemplarConfessions
In 2003 the historical researcher Dr. Barbara Frale was allowed access to documents previously held in the ‘secret archive’ of the Vatican library relating to the trial of the French Templars at Chinon in 1310. Known as the Chinon Parchment, this document describes the confessions of the leading Templars in France including the Order’s French Grand Master. The confessions were freely given without torture and the trial took place with Pope Clement present. Evidence was provided of the initiation rite into the Order involving spitting on the cross. However, in their defence, the knights said that this act was merely carried out as an ordeal to test the candidate’s mettle. It was to see how they would cope if captured by the Saracens and forced to renounce their faith.
One of the charges made against the Templars was that at their initiation they had to strip naked. The priest who was presiding over the ceremony then kissed the candidate on the mouth, the naval (solar plexus), the ‘base of the spine’ and on their penis. This evidence was regarded by the Inquisitors as proof the knights had broken their sworn vow of chastity and indulged in the sin of homosexuality. In fact this practice may be linked with the accusation the Templars were traitors who made pacts with their Saracen enemies. In 1166 twelve Templar knights were hanged in Jerusalem for betraying a Christian fortress in Jordan to the army of the emir of Damascus.
It was claimed the Templars had made a secret pact with the infamous Order of Assassins and also had connections with the heretical Islamic sect of Sufis. It is possible that through these contacts the Templars had been exposed to certain mystical or occult practices of the Saracen mystery schools. In these the master breathes on certain parts of the initiate’s body to stimulate the psychic centres or chakras. This practice could be easily misinterpreted as kissing.
As we have seen, the Templars were accused of worshipping a non-Christian god represented as an idol or image. This took variously the form of a human head or skull, sometimes with two or three faces, a large black cat or a goat, and even a cockerel-headed man, that has been identified by some writers with the Gnostic deity Abraxas. In fact, a figure of this description has been found on Templar seals. Descriptions of the head described it as having ‘old skin’ as if it had been embalmed or mummified and eyes that ‘flashed like lightning’. Others said it was a skull made of silver or black metal. One Templar from the Parisian commanderie said the head had a long beard and the knights knelt before it and kissed it calling it their saviour. One Irish knight said the skull had spoke and it was claimed that such oracular sacred heads were common among the Syrians.
Some have suggested the image worshipped by the Templars was the Shroud of Turin. Dr. Barbara Frale claims to have found the confession of a French Templar called Arnaut Sabbalier in the Vatican’s secret archives. In it he said he was shown “a linen cloth on which was impressed the image of a man.” He was told to kiss the feet of this image three times in veneration. Dr. Frale said the Shroud, which is supposed to be a medieval forgery, went ‘missing’ between the fall of Constantinople (modern Istanbul) in 1204 and the early fourteenth century. During this period Dr. Frale claims it was in the guardianship of the Order of the Temple.
When the idol was in the form of an image of a black cat or cat-headed god, it was associated with fertility and was supposed to bring good harvests to the farms owned by the Order. In England a Templar called Stephen of Stapelbrugge was interrogated in June 1311 and asked if he knew anything about the adoration of a cat. He replied that such an idol was not known in England but he had heard of its adoration by the Order “in overseas parts.” Some writers suggest this feline deity may have represented the ancient Egyptian cat and lion-headed goddesses Bast and Sekhmet.
One image found in a French commanderie depicted a demonic figure with a feline face, beard, female breasts, bat wings, cloven feet and horns. The 19th century French occultist Eliphas Levi (Alphonse Louis Constant) identified this figure as ‘Baphomet’. His famous illustration of it shows a hermaphrodite figure with a goat’s head, a human torso with female breasts, and goat’s legs with hoofed feet. On its forehead is a pentagram, the five-pointed Morning Star of Lucifer the Lightbearer, and between its horns blazes a candle representing the Gnostic light of spiritual illumination. Levi described Baphomet as a pantheistic image of the Absolute. Other occultists identify him with Azazel, the biblical scapegoat and leader of the Watchers or fallen angels who taught civilisation and the magical arts to early humans.
Although the persecution of the Templars was concentrated in France, the papal bull issued by Clement V to the royal heads of Europe spread it all over the Continent. The pope sent a separate letter to King Edward II of England instructing him to arrest all Templars in the country. At first the king refused to obey, even telling the pope the English Templars were innocent and remained faithful to the Roman Catholic Church. However, politics intervened, as not only was King Edward betrothed to the daughter of the French king, but he also needed the support of the pope in his struggle to keep the throne of Scotland threatened by Robert the Bruce. Reluctantly Edward issued orders to all the sheriffs in England to detain the Templars in their areas. But he commanded they should not be held in “harsh conditions” or subjected to torture.
Many English Templars had already gone underground and the sheriff of York was rebuked by the king for allowing Templar knights to “wander throughout the land” disguised in secular clothes. Because Edward had forbidden the knights to be tortured, very little evidence was gathered against them. In one case the only evidence of wrongdoing was the testimony of a young boy who said a common saying among his contemporaries was “Beware the kiss of a Templar.” Where evidence was found the knights concerned were sent to monasteries as penance and the Order’s estates and properties were seized by the crown or handed over to rival military-religious organisations such as the Knights of St John. In 1292 it was said there were still over fifty estates in England in Templar hands.
How the Templars Became Linked with Freemasonry
In Scotland the situation was more complicated due to the ongoing struggle for the throne. King Edward had to keep the pope’s approval and he did that by accusing the Templars of heresy. The first trial of the Scottish knights began in October 1309 at the royal palace of Holyrood House, but only two defendants were brought before the court and both of them were Englishmen. Masonic sources claim that when the Order was suppressed in France the Templar commander of Auvegne fled by ship with eight knights and landed at Mull in Scotland. There they allegedly joined up with other Templars who had escaped from England and the Order survived. An alternative version says the Order survived under the auspices of the Knights of St John or Hospitallers and became associated with the operative lodges or guilds of stonemasons that eventually became Freemasonry.
In the fifteenth century King James II of Scotland is supposed to have appointed Sir William St Clair of Sinclair as the “patron and protector of Scottish masons” and decreed it would be a hereditary title. Sir William is famous as the architect and builder of Rosslyn Chapel, whose unique medieval stonework has carvings of images drawn from biblical, pagan, Masonic and Gnostic sources. Rosslyn also has connections with the Scottish Templars and is said that, like King Solomon when he built his temple in Jerusalem, Sir William hired “artificers from foreign kingdoms.” In fact, the ground plan of the chapel is said to be based on that temple.
In a lecture called ‘The Origins of Freemasonry’ given in the Albert Halls in Stirling, Scotland, in 2001, the Masonic historian Dr. Robert Lomax claimed that the layout of Rosslyn Chapel was an exact replica of the third temple in Jerusalem built by King Herod and destroyed by the Romans in the first century CE. He also claimed a carving in the lower frame of the window in the south-west of the Scottish chapel depicts the first degree initiation of Entered Apprentice in Freemasonry. In the image a man is shown kneeling between pillars, the twin pillars at the entrance to Solomon’s temple and also seen in Masonic lodges. He is depicted as blindfolded with a halter or noose around his neck. The end of the rope is held by a second man who appears to be wearing the tunic of the Knights Templar with its distinctive equal-armed cross. The candidate is holding a book – the Bible? – which has an identical cross on its cover.
Dr. Lomas pointed out in his talk that the only other figure depicted in the carvings at Rosslyn with a noose around its neck is an image of Shemyaza, one of the alternative names for the leader of the Watchers or fallen angels mentioned in the Bible and the apocryphal Book of Enoch. He went on to claim from Masonic insider knowledge that William St Clair built the chapel at Rosslyn to house or conceal certain artefacts excavated by the Templars from beneath the ruins of the temple at Jerusalem. Other writers have speculated that the chapel is the repository for the Holy Grail or even the head of St John the Baptist.
It is known that when the king of Jerusalem granted land to the nine founding fathers of the Templars, they spent several years excavating under the ruins of Solomon’s temple. The tunnels they dug were re-excavated in the nineteenth century by Lt. Charles Warren of the Royal Engineers. Warren was a prominent 33 degree British Freemason who was later knighted and became the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. In that role he was responsible for the investigation, or possible cover-up, of the infamous Jack the Ripper murders in East London, which some writers claim had a Masonic connection.
Considerable speculation has surrounded the mysterious excavations made by the medieval knights under the temple. It has been claimed they unearthed an ancient buried treasure, such as gold and silver ceremonial vessels used in the original temple, and that was the source of that immense wealth. More fantastically it has been suggested they may have found the Holy Grail, the Ark of the Covenant or the Pillars of Tubal Cain, on which were carved all the knowledge preserved from pre-antediluvian times.
HRH Prince Michael of Albany, the present claimant to the Stuart throne, believes the Templars unearthed several manuscripts saved from the fire that destroyed the Great Library of Alexandria. These allegedly contained lost knowledge on the esoteric nature of music, geometry and metallurgy. Gaeton Delaforge, a member of one of several modern occult groups who use the Templar name, has claimed the knights found relics and documents relating to the spiritual traditions of ancient Egypt and Israel.
As is well known, Solomon’s temple is extremely significant in the mythology and symbology of Freemasonry and this links it with the Templars. The Masonic initiation is based on the ritualistic murder of Hiram Abiff, the architect and master builder of Solomon’s temple, by three fellow stonemasons using the tools of the trade. Solomon himself is depicted in rabbinical legend as a sorcerer and magician who summoned and employed elemental spirits to help build the temple. His marriages to several foreign princesses is also denounced in the Old Testament where it is said he “sacrificed and burnt incense in high places” (I Kings 3:3). In fact, these ‘high places’ were the hills outside the city crowned with sacred groves dedicated to the worship of the Canaanite goddess Ashtaroth, the ‘Queen of Heaven’ and her consort Baal with offerings of spiced cakes, honey and libations of wine.
It was not until the eighteenth century that the Order of the Temple, allegedly driven underground four hundred years previously, began to emerge again under the guise of Freemasonry. In 1736 one of the most famous figures in contemporary Masonry, the Chevalier Andrew Ramsey, a Scottish supporter of the Jacobite cause and a tutor to the sons of the exiled Stuart dynasty in France, said that Freemasonry was the heir to the Templar tradition. Although Chevalier Ramsey hinted at the connection between the medieval knights and Masons, it was Baron Karl Gottlieb von Hund, who established a Templar degree within Freemasonry with the creation of the Strict Observance Rite.
Von Hund had been initiated into a Masonic lodge in Paris led by Lord Kilmarnock, the Grand Master of Scottish Freemasonry, which claimed to have inherited a Templar tradition. Von Hund said he was initiated by a mysterious masked figure known as the ‘Knight of the Red Feather’, who he later identified as Prince Charles Edward Stuart, popularly known to his Jacobite followers as Bonnie Prince Charlie. Whoever this person, he allegedly gave Von Hund permission to start a Masonic lodge in Germany working the higher degrees of Templarism.
Baron von Hund had a rival in this neo-Templar revival in Germany called Johann Augustus Starck. He claimed to have been inducted into a Masonic-Templar lodge in St Petersburg in imperial Russia. He had also made independent connections with a surviving Templar tradition in southern France connected with the medieval Cathar heresy. Starck believed the original Templars had learnt occult lore from contacts in Persia, Syria and Egypt and a secret society they had encountered while fighting in the crusades.
In 1807 a Portuguese member of the former knights of the Society of Jesus Christ, a name allegedly adopted by the Templars in Portugal and Italy when the Order was outlawed, travelled to Paris. There he is supposed to have founded a new Masonic lodge combining Freemasonry with Templarism. A rival Masonic-Templar lodge already existed in the city claiming descent from a knight who was anointed by Jacques de Molay as the new Grand Master of the Order before he was burnt at the stake by the Inquisition. It allegedly owns a charter of foundation that is dated 13 February 1324.
It is difficult to establish or definitively prove any historical connection between the Knights Templar and Freemasonry. However, some Masonic historians have drawn comparisons between the three knights who betrayed the Order to King Philip of France and the three murderers of Hiram Abiff in the Masonic myth. References are also made to the assassination of a prominent Templar commander, Charles de Monte Carmel. He was murdered shortly before the suppression of the Templars and his killers concealed his body by burying it under a thorn tree, where it was found by his fellow knights.
Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, The Temple and the Lodge, Jonathan Cape, 1989
A. Bothwell-Gosse, The Knights Templars, The Co-Mason n.d.
Simon Brightman, In Search of the Knights Templar: A Guide to Sites in Britain, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2006
Michael Haag, The Templars: History & Myth, Profile Books, 2008
Alexander Horne, King Solomon’s Temple in the Masonic Tradition, The Aquarian Press, 1972
Alain Demurger, The Last Templar, Profile Books 2009
Helen. J. Nicholson, The Knights Templar on Trial: The Trial of the Templars in the British Isles 1308-1311, The History Press, 2009.
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