Templars, also called Knights Templar, members of the Poor Knights of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon, consisted of a religious military order of knighthood established at the time of the Crusades that became a model and inspiration for other military orders.
Originally founded to protect Christian pilgrims travelling to the Holy Land, the order assumed greater military duties during the 12th century.
By the mid-12th century the constitution of the order and its basic structure were established. It was headed by a grand master, who was elected for life and served in Jerusalem. Templar territories were divided into provinces, which were governed by provincial commanders, and each individual house, called a preceptory, was headed by a preceptor. General chapter meetings of all members of the order were held to address important matters affecting the Templars and to elect a new master when necessary. Similar meetings were held at the provincial level and on a weekly basis in each house.
The Templars were originally divided into two classes: knights and sergeants. The knight-brothers came from the military aristocracy and were trained in the arts of war. They assumed elite leadership positions in the order and served at royal and papal courts. Only the knights wore the Templars’ distinctive regalia, a white surcoat marked with a red cross. The sergeants, or serving-brothers, who were usually from lower social classes, made up the majority of members. They dressed in black habits and served as both warriors and servants. The Templars eventually added a third class, the chaplains, who were responsible for holding religious services, administering the sacraments, and addressing the spiritual needs of the other members.
The rule of the order was modeled after the Benedictine Rule, especially as understood and implemented by the Cistercians. The Knights Templar swore an oath of poverty, chastity, and obedience and renounced the world, just as the Cistercians and other monks did.
Like the monks, the Templars heard the divine office during each of the canonical hours of the day and were expected to honour the fasts and vigils of the monastic calendar. They were frequently found in prayer and expressed particular veneration to the Virgin Mary. They were not allowed to gamble, swear, or become drunk and were required to live in community, sleeping in a common dormitory and eating meals together.
They were not, however, strictly cloistered, as were the monks, nor were they expected to perform devotional reading (most Templars were uneducated and unable to read Latin). The knights’ primary duty was to fight. The Templars gradually expanded their duties from protecting pilgrims to mounting a broader defense of the Crusader states in the Holy Land. They built castles, garrisoned important towns, and participated in battles, fielding significant contingents against Muslim armies until the fall of Acre, the last remaining Crusader stronghold in the Holy Land, in 1291. Their great effectiveness was attested by the sultan Saladin following the devastating defeat of Crusader forces at the Battle of Ḥaṭṭīn; he bought the Templars who were taken prisoner and later had each of them executed.
On October 13, 1307, Philip IV ordered the arrest of every Templar in France and sequestered all the Templars’ property in the country.
Due to strong pressure from King Philip, Pope Clement V eventually ordered the suppression of the order on March 22, 1312, and the Templars’ property throughout Europe was transferred to the Hospitallers or confiscated by secular rulers. Knights who confessed and were reconciled to the church were sent into retirement in the order’s former houses or in monasteries, but those who failed to confess or who relapsed were put on trial, and executed.
“Contemplative Templar” by Marc Dalmulder is licensed under CC BY 2.0