A history of the Knights Templar

2008-12-24 00:00

A RELIGIOUS order of fighting knights, the Knights Templar — or the Poor Fellow Soldiers of Christ as they originally called themselves —was formed in Jerusalem on Christmas Day 1199 at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on the spot which marks the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Tasked with making the Holy Land safer for Christian pilgrims, they rapidly transformed themselves into a formidable fighting force accountable directly to the Pope.Long before the concept of branding had entered our lexicon their distinctive white tunics with a red cross emblazoned on them had made them instantly recognisable. Not only were they the world’s first uniformed standing army, they also pioneered an extensive financial network that stretched from London and Paris to the Euphrates and the Nile.

Opinions about them have long varied. They have been both romanticised and demonised, cast in the roles of heroes and villains. Even before the order was ruthlessly put down in 1307 on the instructions of a cash-strapped King Philip IV of France, eager to get his hands on their wealth, the stories surrounding them had begun to take on a life of their own and over the centuries they have been transmuted into figures of shimmering fantasy.

Not surprisingly, the many gaps and seeming contradictions in our knowledge of their formation and history and the mysteries left unanswered by the disappearance of their archives have proved a boon for conspiracy theorists, myth-makers and those who favour an “alternative” version of history (of which Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code is the most obvious recent example).

In The Templars: History and Myth author Michael Haag attempts to reconstruct the historical reality behind the many myths and controversies, in the process debunking some of the more outrageous fictions that have grown up around them. Written in a breezy, accessible style this is also the first history of the Templars published since the Vatican released the Chinon Parchment in 2007 which records Pope’s Clement V’s verdict that the Templars were not guilty of heresy — the charge King Philip IV had used to justify his suppression of the order.

Anthony Stidolph

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