The Order of the Knights Templar was founded in 1118 by a French knight named Hugues de Payens. They were a military order of the medieval era whose primary mission was to protect European travelers visiting the Holy Land. For centuries, the collective imagination of the world has been captured by stories about the Templars, and they continue to be the subject of books, movies, television shows, and even video games. Below are 43 crusading facts about the heroic order.
1. Guardians of the Grail
Somewhere in the early 13th century, a German knight and poet named Wolfram von Eschenbach wrote an epic poem called Parzival, which connects the Arthurian knight with the Templars. In the poem, Parzival sets off on a quest to find the Holy Grail which he locates in a castle guarded by the Templars. Whether or not the source von Eschenbach claimed for his poem ever existed is anybody’s guess, but since then, the two stories have become irrevocably entwined.
2. What’s in a Name?
The true name of the Templars was Knights of Christ in the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. The name was taken from the stables granted to them by the King of Jerusalem, which were believed to have been the temple of King Solomon. The name was eventually shortened to the Knights Templar, which is definitely a lot more memorable and much easier to say.
3. Getting on Board
When the Templars were founded, some religious leaders weren’t immediately on board, but that changed in 1129 when the French Abbot Bernard of Clairvaux lent his support to the fledgling organization. He wrote a book supporting the Knights called In Praise of the New Knighthood which gave them a serious boost in popularity.
4. Favorite Sons
At the Council of Troyes in 1129, Clairvaux persuaded a group of leading churchmen to officially endorse the Templars on behalf of the church. As soon as they got that, they became favorites of Christian Europe who donated money, land, and even their knighted sons who were eager to help the cause.
5. Circle of Nine
The original members of the Knights Templar were a group of knights recruited by Hugh de Payens and Sir Godfrey de St. Adhemar who didn’t have two pennies to rub together between them. The men then took a vow of poverty, chastity, and obedience in front of the Patriarch of Jerusalem, which probably wasn’t that much of a sacrifice considering they were starting out with nothing.
6. We’ll Write You a Check
Of course, paper checks weren’t invented yet in the days of the Templars, but they did basically invent banking. Traveling through Jerusalem and the surrounding area with your money and valuables wasn’t the safest thing to do, so the Templars came up with a system where Pilgrims and merchants and anyone else who was moving through the area could leave their stuff with the Templars who would give them a credit note.
All they had to do was show the note at any Templar office in the Holy Land, and they’d be given back the value of the items in gold, precious metal or stones.
7. The Assassins Guild
In the uber-popular video game series Assassin’s Creed, the modern-day Templars have evolved into a super corporation, which they use to try and create a perfect world by destroying all free will. Their sworn enemies are the Assassin Order, who fight for humanity and believe that man should always be allowed to choose.
According to historical records, there really was an Assassins guild in Masyaf, which was the location of the headquarters of the Ismaili da’i Rashid ad-Din Sinan, the leader of the Nizari sect of Muslims. The sect is often connected to Shia Islam, and they were a highly skilled unit of fighters who became known as the Hashashin or Assassins—the origin of the word assassinate.
8. Tell-Tale Tunic
The uniform of the Knights Templar was a white cloak adorned with a red cross, and they were only allowed to take it off when they were sleeping. They weren’t allowed to talk or eat without wearing the cloak, and when they rode into battle, they would put the cloak on over their chainmail, and dress the horses in protective white cloths decorated with the red cross. At least you could always pick them out in a crowd!
9. As Much as Needed
The original Templars may have been dirt poor, but the beauty of the poverty vow was that future members had to donate all of their worldly goods to the order, and not all of them were poor. The Templars were founded with the idea that the members would only have exactly what they needed, but as for the order itself, they got to do whatever they liked with the donated goods, and the organization grew incredibly powerful and wealthy.
10. Pope Maker
Bernard of Clairvaux had tremendous influence, not only in the Cistercian Order of which he was a member, but in the Roman Catholic church as well. He played a key role in the appointment of Pope Innocent II in 1130, convincing other influential people to support him over the objection of certain agencies. Getting this appointment through made Clairvaux the most powerful man in Christendom, wielding more influence than even the Pope.
11. Welcome to the Fold
In addition to getting the Templars formal approval from the church, Clairvaux also got them formal acceptance from another important and powerful figure—the Pope himself. In 1139 Pope Innocent II issued a papal bull which exempted them from paying taxes or tithes, allowed them to keep whatever booty they collected from Muslim conquests, and placed them above all law answering only to the Pope. Talk about a cushy deal!
12. Spanish Fiesta
Each May 2 in Caravaca de la Cruz, Spain, a small group of specially selected men participate in Los Caballos del Vino, or the Running of the Wine Horses. The tradition dates back to the 13th century and the days of the Knights Templar when they supposedly had to take refuge in the castle because they were surrounded by Muslims.
When the water became contaminated, they were forced to leave the castle to look for supplies. They struck out on finding fresh water, but instead, they found wine, which they loaded onto horses and raced back to the castle. When they arrived, that’s when a miracle happened. The wine was blessed in front of the Cross of Caravaca, and everyone who got sick from the bad water got better.
Then somebody got the idea to mix the wine with the water, and lo and behold, the water was suddenly safe to drink! Nobody knows for sure if the story is true, but it’s a great excuse for a party!
13. The Big Kahuna
The highest position you could achieve in the Templars was the Grand Master who, as his name suggests, was in charge of the entire kit and caboodle. Being Grand Master for life wasn’t a requirement of the job but was definitely an option that some chose to exercise. Of course, since many of the Grand Masters led their knights in battle, “for life” was sometimes pretty short.
On the plus side, if you were next in line for the top job, you might not have had to wait very long because your predecessor probably died or resigned.
14. Templar Knights
In the Templar hierarchy, there were three main ranks. There were the noble knights, the non-noble sergeants, and the chaplains. To become a noble knight, you already had to be from a noble family and have a father and grandfather who were knights. The knights were the face of the order, and they were the ones who got to wear the snazzy white tunics into battle. Knights were also required to keep their hair short, but were forbidden from shaving their beards, possibly adhering to the Muslim belief that facial hair was a sign of masculinity.
15. Two Men, One Horse
How poor were the original Templars? They supposedly had so little that they had to wear cast-off clothing donated to the order by devout Christians and had to share horses because there weren’t enough to go around. Their emblem, two knights on a single horse is a symbol of their poverty.
16. Some Girls Allowed
If a woman wanted to join the Templars they absolutely were allowed, but they couldn’t become knights. Most of the women who joined were nuns who assisted the priests with prayers, counseled the returning soldiers, and acted as nurses. If a woman felt like making a personal donation of funds, they could also become associate members of the order without having to take the oaths.
17. Testing Their Mettle
When Seljuk leader Zengi captured the County of Edessa in 1144, Pope Eugenius called for a new Crusade, giving the Templars a long-awaited chance to prove themselves in battle and be taken seriously as a military force. The Second Crusade was an overall disaster suffering from a lack of coordination and planning, but the one bright spot were the Templars.
They saved King Louis VII from a Turkish attack in the gorges of Pisidia, leading Louis to hand over his entire army to Everard des Barres, the future third Grand Master of the Order. Barres proved to be a much better military commander than King Louis was, and thanks to his strict leadership, the French army suffered minimal losses.
18. Can You Spare a Dime?
In the spring of 1148, Louis VII and his army turned up in Antioch completely broke. Louis promptly sent the Templars a request to borrow 2,000 German marks (which would have been a lot of money back then), which des Barres immediately collected. This was the first of many financial acts for the Templars who lent money to many future Kings and lords.
19. Not Their Biggest Fans
A few months after the success in Pisidia, the leaders of the Crusade decided to attack the Syrian city of Damascus. There were several reasons that the Crusade failed, but the Germans blamed the Templars. One German chronicler claimed that the Templars had accepted a bribe from the Muslims to secretly help the surrounded forces. Overall, the Templars never really won over the Germans who founded their own order Deutsche Ritter Orden (Teutonic Order) in 1192 for a similar purpose.
20. Proving Their Worth
Not everybody who wanted to join the Templars was accepted. First applicants had to prove to the Templar high command through their conduct. If they were deemed worthy, they’d be invited to join and would undergo a mysterious initiation ceremony. Nobody really knows exactly what the initiation ceremony for the Templars entailed, which made it all that much easier for rumors to spread about their behavior.
21. Holiest Relic
Of the numerous religious relics that were uncovered during the Crusades, none were more holy than the True Cross. The cross, which was supposedly discovered by Empress Helena in 329, was believed to be the one that Jesus was crucified on. After being captured by the Persians and recaptured by the Romans, the cross was allegedly hidden by the Christians in 1009 and remained that way until the first crusade.
22. Great Islamic Leader
In 1175, Saladin, a Muslim military leader became the sultan of Egypt and Syria, forming the Ayyubid dynasty. His personal mission was to destroy the crusaders and regain Muslim control in the Middle East. In 1187 at the Battle of Hattin, he made a good start towards achieving this goal. After defeating the Christian forces, he personally supervised the beheading of 200 or so Templar and Hospitaller captives, and recaptured Jerusalem, along with the True Cross.
23. Without a Trace
Once Saladin had the True Cross, various Christian rulers, including the famous Richard the Lionheart, unsuccessfully attempted to get it back. In 1219, the new Sultan, Saladin’s nephew Al-Kamil faced an immediate threat from within his own family and, as a result, tried to make peace with the Crusaders, which they mostly refused.
One of his tactics was to offer to return the True Cross to the Templars in exchange for withdrawing from Damietta (a city in Egypt), but it turned out he didn’t have it to return. Since then, nobody seems to know where the cross actually is, though it was reportedly last seen in Damascus.
24. Worshiping the Satanic Goat
Thanks in part to King Philip IV of France, one of the more widespread myths about the Knights of Templar is their alleged worship of a terrifying heathen idol called Baphomet. The name was interpreted to be a version of Muhammad (the Islamic prophet), which meant that the Templars were Muslims.
In the 19th century, the occultist Eliphas Levi illustrated Baphomet as a figure with wings, the head of a goat, and an inscribed pentagram. Although this image didn’t appear until 500 years after the dissolution of the Templars, the name did appear in the Templar trials, expanding the belief that they were worshiping false idols or the devil.
25. No Surrender!
Courage and the Templars went hand-in-hand, and they swore an oath to never surrender and never leave the battlefield as long as their flag was flying. The battle wasn’t over for a Templar until either all of the enemy were dead, or they were, giving them an inflated reputation of invincibility and skill in combat. In reality, they were neither invincible or undefeatable, but people thought they were which was equally as important.
26. Beyond Reproach
Bernard of Clairvaux definitely put the “praise” in his book In Praise of the New Knighthood. He called them disciplined, humble, and sober. He said they were never disrespectful, idle, or spoke thoughtlessly. They hated gambling and gaming of any kind, hunting, mimes, jugglers, storytellers, and dirty songs. Their sole devotions were to religion and the order, making them the picture of virtue and incredibly boring.
27. The Forbidden Game
Thanks to Bernard of Clairvaux, who designed the rules of conduct for the Templars, the Templars were forbidden from playing chess. It’s possible he disliked it because was an eastern game played by Persian kings, or because it was viewed as a somewhat addictive game and a form of gambling, but it’s more likely that Clairvaux banned it because he was a stick-in-the-mud and didn’t like anything that distracted them from studying scripture and worshiping God.
28. Rules to Live By
Forming an order didn’t really mean anything if they didn’t have a formal code of conduct. To that end, de Payns and Clairvaux came up with “The Rule of the Templars” which detailed exactly how the Templars were supposed to live their lives, right down to how they dressed, ate, slept, and socialized. The first draft, written in 1129, consisted of 68 rules designed to maintain strict discipline within the order.
29. Big No-Nos
Some of the more bizarre sounding rules included not being allowed to wear pointy or lace-up shoes (both were considered to be Pagan), no showing affection to any woman, even if she’s your relative (too dangerous), no bathing, taking medicine, or riding a horse without permission, and no chatting with your fellow brothers at bedtime, or speaking at all really except for in prayer or an emergency.
30. Do the Crime, Do the Time
Following the Templar Rule was an absolute must, and any member who violated a rule had to face the consequences. If the rule broken was just a minor one, the so-called sinner might have to eat their meals on the floor without a napkin, using their shirts for a plate. Bigger infractions were subject to corporal punishment, losing their knight’s robes, or worst of all, banishment from the order.
31. One Hand Helping the Other
At the end of the 11th century, the Holy Land (which encompasses Israel, Palestinian Territories, western Jordan, parts of southern Lebanon and of southwestern Syria) was under Muslim rule. The Seljuk Turks were in control of Jerusalem and had barred Christians from making a pilgrimage there. At the same time, the Turks were threatening to invade Byzantium and seize its capital Constantinople (now part of Istanbul, but then part of the Byzantine Empire).
The Byzantine emperor asked Pope Urban II for help. Seeing this as an opportunity to strengthen his power, he agreed, and on November 25, 1095, he made one of the most significant speeches of the Middle Ages.
32. Battle Cry
Pope Urban II made his famous speech at the Council of Claremont in France, in front of several hundred clerics and noblemen, calling all Christians to battle and to take back the Holy City from the Muslims. His words spread like wildfire, and the clerics banded together to get support for the quest throughout the continent.
The untrained peasants suffered numerous defeats, but in 1099 they were able to defeat the Muslim forces. This was the first of a series of religious wars fought over the next two hundred years called the Crusades, and the primary reason for the founding of the Knights Templar.
33. Protecting the Pilgrims
It was 1199 and Jerusalem was once again under Christian control. Groups of Christian pilgrims started flocking back to the Holy City. This turned out not to be such a great idea, because in order to reach Jerusalem, they had to travel through Muslim-controlled territories, and as a result, they were getting robbed and killed.
Obviously, telling them not to visit the birthplace of their religion wasn’t going to sit well, so the alternative was to get them some protection along the way. Along comes the French knight Hughes de Payens with this great idea for forming a religious order of protection for these vulnerable travelers, and the Knights Templar are born.
34. A Powerful Enemy
For roughly two centuries, the Templars had been riding high. Everybody wanted to join them or support them, and they had grown extremely powerful. Unfortunately, with that power came a new enemy positively hellbent on destroying them. King Philip IV of France owed the Templars a lot of money, which he was not happy about.
He also needed more money, which they wouldn’t give him. He’d already expelled the Jews and Lombard bankers to avoid paying them back and to take their money, and now he wanted to get rid of the Templars as well, which he could totally do as long as he could find a solid reason.
It turned out the perfect solution for getting rid of the Templars was to simply accuse them of crimes that were so awful they would be indisputable, and they’d be totally sunk. Philip’s charges against the order which included denying Christ, engaging in homosexuality, worshiping idols, all of which were pretty heinous crimes in the Middle Ages.
36. Unlucky Day
Beginning in the early 20th century, Friday the 13th has been seen as an unlucky day, but Friday, October 13, 1307, turned out to be a particularly unlucky day for the Templars. One month prior, King Philip IV of France had sent out an official sealed order to his bailiffs, demanding the arrest of all the Templars in France on Friday the 13th.
For good measure, he also included a personal letter, waxing poetic words about how heartbroken he was to have to make these accusations, but duty forced him to take these drastic actions. Over the next several weeks, 625+ templars were rounded up, including the Grand Master Jacques de Molay.
37. Medieval Inquisition
Thanks to Monty Python, the Spanish Inquisition is engrained in pop culture, but what many people don’t know is that the Medieval Inquisition as it was originally known, was founded in Europe by the Catholic church to persecute non-Catholic religions in Europe. They were responsible for the arrest and torture of 15,000 members of the Templar Order in France.
38. False Confessions
The torture that the Templars had to endure was incredibly brutal and almost unimaginable. One method used by the Inquisition went by the name of strappado, which involved tying their hands behind their backs and suspending them in the air by a rope tied around their wrists, usually resulting in dislocated shoulders or worse.
Many were also stretched on the rack, had their feet dipped in oil and burnt over a fire, and various other methods all designed to make them crack, which they did. Within weeks, hundreds of the Templars had confessed to just about any charge they were accused of. Wouldn’t you?
39. Heads of the Templars
In the French Pyrenees Mountains in a village called Gavarnie is the Gavarnie church. The church is supposedly home to twelve Templar skulls belonging to the men who had been living at the castle when the order for their arrest/execution went out. According to legend, each year the ghost of Grand Master de Molay goes into the church and asks if anyone will fight for the temple.
One at a time, the skulls respond “None; the temple is destroyed.” No one knows for sure who the men were or what really happened, but it’s a popular tourist spot for hikers and skiers, so you can go check it out yourself!
40. A Matter of Survival
Philip IV knew that in order to get the Church to agree to his plans to torture the Templars, he’d have to get Pope Clement on his side. For his part, Clement really didn’t want to risk crossing the Templars, but he also knew what Philip did to Popes who didn’t agree with him. He may not have liked it, but he wasn’t prepared to risk his own neck for them, so he issued a papal bull ordering the other kings of Western Europe to arrest the Templars living on their land.
In 1312 he officially dissolved the order, but he never could quite bring himself to outright say they were guilty.
41. Change of Heart
After languishing in prison for the next seven years after his confession, Grand Master de Molay suddenly decided to take it all back and claimed to have falsely confessed in order to save his life. He was interrogated a second time, this time claiming that the charges were fake. This, of course, didn’t make a bit of difference in the end. The canons already labeled him a “relapsed heretic” and sentenced him to burn at the stake with no hearing or official judgment required.
42. Famous Last Words
In the kind of dramatic moment that movie producers love, as the flames rose up around de Molay, he laid a curse on Philip IV and Pope Clement. He called to Christ to prove the Templars’ innocence, and to let God judge those who had falsely persecuted them. Either coincidentally or because the curse was real, Pope Clement died 33 days after de Molay’s curse, and seven months later, Philip fell mysteriously ill and died. All of Philip’s descendants became known as the Accursed kings, ensuring that the myth of the curse would live on.
700 years after the Templars were officially disbanded, the Vatican officially proclaimed the order not guilty thanks to the discovery of the Chinon Chart. The document had been buried somewhere in Vatican archives for centuries until it was rediscovered in 2001 by Professor Barbara Frale, a medievalist at the Vatican’s Secret Archives.
The Chinon Chart is an official record of the papal trial that reveals two important facts: The pope found that Jacques de Molay had been tortured into confession, and that he disbanded the order to keep Philip IV happy.