By Katherine Kurtz
Warner Aspect Copyright © 1998 Katherine Kurtz
All right reserved. ISBN: 0-446-61317-7
Nine centuries ago, in the aftermath of the First Crusade (1095-9), a French knight called Hugues de Payens and eight of his countrymen journeyed to Jerusalem to form a community of warrior-monks who came to be known as the Order of Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon, or, later, the Order of the Temple of Jerusalem: the Knights Templar. Making monastic vows of obedience, chastity, and poverty to the Patriarch I of Jerusalem, and granted leave by the newly crowned King Baldwin II of Jerusalem to establish their headquarters near the site of King Solomon's Temple, they were charged with the duty to "maintain, as far as they could, the roads and highways against the ambushes of thieves and attackers, especially in regard to the safety of pilgrims."
From this apparently humble beginning, the Order of the Temple grew to be the single most powerful military presence in the Holy Land-an incomparable fighting machine whose warriors neither asked nor gave quarter, whose rule did not allow them to be ransomed if captured or to retreat from battle unless the numbers of the enemy were at least three, times greater than their own-and-even then, if ordered by their commander to stand and die, they must do so. Bearded and white-clad, bearing the red cross of martyrdom upon shoulder and breast, and fighting under the distinctive black and white battle standard, Beauceant, their very presence on the field was, enough to inspire dread among their adversaries. Their motto proclaimed their devotion to their holy cause: Non nobis, Domine, non nobis sed nomini tuo da gloriam-"Not to us, Lord, not to us but to Thy Name give the glory."
Their zeal and single-minded focus on recovering Christianity's sacred places in the Holy Land inspired generous donations of lands and revenues by wealthy patrons eager to support their work and gain favor in the life to come. To manage the assets thus generated, and to facilitate transport of men and materiel for the military operation in the East, they developed a wide range of skills in what, today, we would call "diversified financial services": providing safe deposit facilities, transporting specie and credit for same, acting as agents for collection, administering trust, arranging finance, holding mortgages, managing properties. The Order flourished for nearly two hundred years, answerable only to the pope, accruing a legacy of legend to augment their worldly success. Such success was bound to generate resentment and envy.
Their world came crashing to a halt on October 13, 1307-a day so infamous that, to this day, Friday the thirteenth conjures a frisson of superstitious dread in the minds of many. In a well-orchestrated operation nearly a year in the planning, officers of King Philip IV of France acted on sealed orders opened simultaneously at dawn and swooped in to arrest every Templar knight, sergeant, and chaplain they could find. By the end of the day, several thousand men lay in chains, on charges that included heresy, blasphemy, various obscenities, and homosexual practices. (For a more detailed account of the charges and subsequent trials, see Tales of the Knights Templar, 1995.)
No shred of evidence was ever produced to prove any of the accusations, though torture and the threat of torture at the hands of the Holy Office of the Inquisition did elicit "confessions", from some of the men. Scores died under torture, a few took their own lives to escape further torture, and more than a hundred knights later recanted their confessions and paid the ultimate price-for relapsed heretics were condemned to bum at the stake. In May of 13 10, just outside Paris, fifty-four Templars perished in one day, protesting their innocence to the last; in total, at least one hundred twenty were burned. The last Templars to suffer this fate-and the most famous-were Jacques de Molay, the last Grand Master, and his Preceptor for Normandy, Geoffroi de Churney. The curse pronounced by de Molay would claim the lives of both king and pope within the year.
But in 1118, a glorious future still lay ahead of the fledgling Order-and perhaps a hidden agenda. Though given the charge to protect the pilgrim routes, the founding nine seem to have exerted little military presence during their first decade in Jerusalem. Indeed, these proto-Templars rarely ventured forth from their base camp amid the foundations of King Solomon's Temple (whence they took their Templar name), clothing themselves in cast-off garments, subsisting on the charity of their patrons, keeping to themselves-and engaged in extensive excavations beneath the Temple Mount that have all the earmarks of a highly focused archaeological dig. Nor do they seem to have added to their numbers during this time.
Yet, by the time of the Council of Troyes in 1128-9, the Order burst into prominence with sudden wealth, papal patronage such that they answered only to the pontiff, a rule given them by the future St. Bernard of Clairvaux, and an influx of new recruit whose numbers rapidly multiplied by scores, then hundreds and even thousands. Speculation in recent years suggests that, since they conducted little or no military activity during those first ten years (and, in fact, seemed largely occupied with their excavations beneath the Temple foundations), perhaps their initial purpose in the Holy Land was not the protection of the pilgrim routes at all, but to search for some treasure buried there-and that they found it.
Certain it is that the Order grew rapidly in size, wealth, and influence, and their prowess in battle wind the forces of Islam soon assumed the weight of legend. At the same time, they were building one of the finest fleets in the known world and breaking new ground in the field of financial services-and perhaps already well involved, at least at some level, in secret operations of a more mystical nature.
Excerpted from On Crusade by Katherine Kurtz Copyright © 1998 by Katherine Kurtz. Excerpted by permission.
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