For the next nine years they admitted no new members to their order - strange since the nine founding members hardly seem like they would have provided an adequate number of staff to protect all of the roads to the Holy Land. Furthermore, there is no evidence from contemporary chroniclers indicating that they even engaged in such activities.
During their first nine years they became famous throughout Europe as the selfless "Militia of Christ."
As their fame grew, so did their ranks, and thus, their property holdings. The sons of European nobility swelled their membership, and the vast amounts of money and property donated by the new recruits swelled their territory and their coffers, for new recruits, as per their vow of poverty, were required to relinquish all property upon admittance to the order.
Their political influence spread in direct proportion to their huge banking operation. In fact, the modern institution of banking, in which money can be deposited in one location and withdrawn in another, is a Templar invention, along with the "cheque", likely named after the "chequerboard" pattern that was one of the Templars' most well-recognized motifs.
"The Templars thus became the primary money changers of the age, and the Paris preceptory became the center of European finance."
They were equally influential in bringing new religious and philosophical ideas into vogue throughout Europe, including blends of Islamic, Judaic, and, for lack of a better term, "Gnostic" threads of thought, setting the stage for Europe's cultural Renaissance, which followed the medieval era and incorporated these same themes.
But when their relationship with the Muslims began to deteriorate, the Templars' foothold in Jerusalem began to slip. King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem died in 1185. In the battle over the succession that resulted, the current Grand Master of the Knights Templar, Gerard de Ridefort, was said to have betrayed some oath made to the deceased king, initiating a near-civil war amongst the Europeans living in the Holy Land.
The Templars set up new headquarters in Cyprus, but without the Holy Land to protect, or new territory to capture on behalf of Christendom, they lacked any clear-cut goals. The authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail suggest that at this point, the Knights Templar turned their attention towards a new ambition: creating their own independent European state.
It has been written that one of the Templars' founders was a Cathar, and that their fourth Grand Master, Bertrand de Blanchefort, was from a "Cathar family." So too were many of the order's dignitaries.
"In the Languedoc, Temple officials were more frequently Cathar than Catholic", and, "The Grand Master at the time... declared there was in fact only one true crusade - the crusade against the Saracens."
The drama which unfolded thereafter gave rise to numerous legends, including the superstition surrounding "Friday the 13th."
Despite the trouble the king went through to keep the plan secret, the Templars still seemed to have received some sort of warning, for the vast majority of their wealth, along with whatever holy relics they presumably possessed, had already been spirited away into trusted hands far from the king's reach. (Most of this could be achieved through their highly sophisticated network of banks.)
However, not all Templars were arrested. It is known that a group of them, all closely associated with the treasurer, escaped, taking with them, presumably, all the wealth and treasure they could carry. According to the legends, the Templars loaded the loot onto wagons, which they then transported to the coast, where eighteen ships awaited them at the Templar naval base at La Rochelle.
The fate of the arrested knights varied. All were interrogated, and many were tortured into confessing. The confessions, as well as the accusations, all revolved around similar themes.
- Item, that in each province they had idols, namely heads.
- Item, that they adored these idols.
- Item, that they said that the head could save them.
- Item, that it could make riches.
- Item, that it could make the trees flower.
- Item, that it made the land germinate.
- Item, that they surrounded or touched each head of the aforesaid idol with small cords, which they wore around themselves next to the shirt or the flesh.
"Set not much faith in this, for it is far too young."
The most widespread and consistent aspect of the confessions, however, involved the worship of a head, specifically an idol named "Baphomet." Some said it was a man's head, some a woman's head, some said that it was bearded, some that it was made of glass or crystal, and some said that it had two faces. A popular tale held that it was the head of the Templar's first Grand Master, Hughes de Payens, or that of John the Baptist.
Yet there was another idolatrous head found during the raid on the Templar's Paris preceptory which presents an intriguing possibility about Baphomet. According to the written account, it was, "a great head of gilded silver, most beautiful, and consisting of the image of a woman. Inside were two head-bones wrapped in a cloth of white linen, with another red cloth around it. A label was attached, on which was written the legend 'Caput 58 M.'"
As it turns out, Isis figures in to a popular legend regarding the origin of Baphomet. According to the tale, a Templar called "the Lord of Sidon" was in love with a young woman named Yse (possibly derived from "Isis"), who died suddenly. On the night of her burial, he dug up her body and copulated with it. Nine months later a voice "from the Void" told him to go back to the grave, where he would find his son.
Despite the severity of the charges leveled against them by the Papacy, most Templars were able to confess and go on with their lives. A number of them escaped persecution altogether. In England, for instance, King Edward IV (Philippe's son-in-law) took a protective stance towards the Templars, only pursuing them under extreme duress from the Pope, and then after most of them had already escaped. Those that were arrested often received light sentences involving a few years of penance in a monastery - not unlike the life they were used to living anyway.
Where did the escaped English Templars go to?
In the province of Lorraine, which was then part of Germany (and now part of France), the region's duke exonerated all Templars of heresy, instructing them to array themselves in the clothes of common people and blend in with the populace. The Templars were openly defiant in both Germany and Spain, where they were proclaimed innocent by their judges, and went on to live normal lives in other orders, such as the Teutonic Order, or the Knights Hospitaller.
Revenge was something that was definitely on the minds of escaped Templars, especially in regards to what happened to their last known Grand Master, Jacques de Molay. Although he had confessed to the charges, he later repudiated them, claiming that the confession had been made during torture, and was therefore not valid. He was thus consigned, in March of 1314, to be slow-roasted upon an open fire in a public square.
The revenge did not end there.
In many other ways, too, the Templars lived on. As mentioned, their secrets and traditions were taken up by the Order of Freemasons, a secret society, derived partially from medieval stonemasons' guilds, which has included many of Europe's, England's and America's most influential political figures from the 17th to the 19th centuries. They have largely been given credit for both the French Revolution and the American Revolution, and are thought by many to constitute an international conspiracy that continues to this day.
Through the aforementioned stonemasons' guilds, which eventually evolved into Masonic lodges, the Templars communicated to the world the secrets they'd learned from their excavations of Solomon's Temple - secrets involving sacred geometry and architecture. This resulted in the stunning array of Gothic cathedrals that sprung up across Europe during the Middle Ages and immediately afterward. These cathedrals are like music expressed in architecture, based upon the principle of the Golden Mean, nature's most perfect mathematical proportion.
Because of their renowned esoteric wisdom, the legend of the Templars has been utilized by a number of other occult groups throughout the centuries. The Rosicrucian Order, an influential element of the Renaissance soon to be discussed, based its own mysteries upon theirs, as did the "Order of New Templars", a neo-pagan white supremacist organization that played a part in the rise of the Third Reich, before being obliterated by that Reich's ironic anti-occult efforts.
The Templar Conspiracy
For a number of reasons, several books, including Holy Blood, Holy Grail, have suggested that a conspiracy has contrived to distort the historical facts regarding the Knights Templar, and indeed, that the creation of the Templars themselves was the result of a conspiracy. One of the facts that seems to have been distorted is the date of the Templars' foundation: 1118.
This count of Champagne seems to have been at the center of the social circle that created the Templars. One-third of the nine knights who founded the Temple were vassals of the Count of Champagne, including Hughes de Payen, their first Grand Master. When the Count himself finally joined in 1124, he was therefore, in a reversal of traditional authority roles, pledging allegiance to one of his own vassals. There are other strange inter-connections as well.
The authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail indicate that this conspiracy centered around the treasure of Solomon's Temple - a treasure that probably included the so-called "Holy Grail", and that this conspiracy was primarily composed of descendants of the Grail family, the Merovingians - people who may have been in possession of hereditary secrets regarding the location of the treasure, which must have been the main purpose behind creating the Templars.
This third order, they surmised, seems to have been preoccupied with the Languedoc region of Southern France, where Rennes-le-Chateau is located - and around the Templar preceptory in nearby Bezu. Templar activities in this region came to a head at around 1153 with Bertrand de Blanchefort, whose ancestral home was located in that region. The authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail describe Blanchefort as "the most significant of all Templar Grand Masters", and as a protégé of Andre de Montbard.
"These workers were supposedly subjected to a rigid, virtually military discipline. They were forbidden to fraternize in any way with the local population, and were kept strictly segregated from the surrounding community."
Whatever it was for which they were digging, they continued to take great pains to preserve the secret for many decades. By the end of the next century, the Templars had been invited by the lord of Bezu and Rennes-le-Chateau to dispatch a special contingent of Templars from Rousillon to Bezu, where they built a lookout post at the top of the mountain.
It is curious to note, with this in mind, that for reasons unspecified, the Templars stationed at Bezu and Rennes-le-Chateau were the only ones in France who went completely unpersecuted during the raid of 1307. Obviously, these knights had something up their sleeves that rendered them untouchable - a secret of some sort.
(1) For a number of years, most of Portugal's early kings were Grand Masters of this order.