Nowadays, an excursion to the Holy Land might come in a nice little package from your travel agent, complete with the option of first-class airfare. But in the 9th century, taking a pilgrimage to the sacred city of Jerusalem was much messier and more dangerous for the Christians who traveled there. The crusades began after Jerusalem was overtaken by the Turks in 1065 – thousands of Christians were massacred, and those remaining were so mistreated that Europeans began to rally behind the idea of a crusade to take control of the Holy Land.
After the crusaders’ success in 1099, the Knights Templar formed, starting with a group of 9 knights/monks who determined to keep the highways clear of danger and protect the pilgrims on their way. Their name came from the fact that their first base was thought to be atop the site of King Solomon’s great temple; hence, they named themselves “The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon.” But life is short, and that’s a more than a mouthful, so they were nicknamed the “Knights Templar.”
When a man joined the order, as part of his vow of poverty, he relinquished all he owned to the Knights and lived off charity from noble families eager to support the fight for the Holy Land. Once the Pope granted them extravagant tax-exemption privileges, their wealth skyrocketed, as did their social status. Soon, Kings and nobles were actually competing in who could present the Templars with the most gifts and benefits. The King of Navarre and Aragon even bequeathed his kingdoms to the order!
Their wealth enabled the Templars to engage in banking activities, such as money lending and profiting off the interest, a practice certainly not approved of by the Catholic Church *tsk, tsk.* Their downfall began when King Philip IV of France needed financial help for his wars, and the Templars refused him the money. Philip had the Grand Master of the Templars and 60 of his senior knights arrested in Paris on Friday, October 13th, 1307. This event is the reason Friday the 13th is considered unlucky; that is, until machete-wielding maniacs began invading our summer camps, of course.
The imprisoned Knights were tortured until they admitted to heresy and immoral practices. Following this, the Pope issued an order that the Knights Templar be disbanded. However, even today, the rumor mill claims that the Templars exist in secret and guard the Holy Grail. If you ever locate them, please ask their opinions on Monty Python and whether it accurately represents their trials in finding said Grail.
The Knights Templar were identifiable by their white mantles embellished with a red cross. To capture this compelling era in history, take a dive into our diverse Middle Ages wardrobe, armor, and weaponry: www.armorvenue.com