The whole story of the Templars is shrouded in mystery. Various theories and myths still lie within their history, including a deathly curse and the quest for a legendary treasure that was lost right after their fall in the early 14th century. But to understand how this religious order had gained such power during the Middle-Ages, it is worth investigating why it was created in the first place.
The Knights Templar’s origins lie within the First Crusade, a military expedition ordered by the Pope in the late 11th century to capture the holy city of Jerusalem, which was achieved in 1099. However, following that success, numerous Christian pilgrims who came to Palestine were attacked, and thus needed special protection: hence, in 1128, the Pope Honorius II made the Templars’ Order official. The Knights Templar soon grew in size, recruiting hundreds of new members to make up their own army; as Bernard de Clairvaux, who helped founding the order, wrote in 1135:
A Templar Knight is truly a fearless knight, and secure on every side, for his soul is protected by the armor of faith, just as his body is protected by the armor of steel. He is thus doubly armed, and need fear neither demons nor men.
But the Templars did not only know how to handle the sword. During the next two centuries, the religious order received donations from Christians, privileges from the Pope, as well as various riches amassed during their campaigns, including lands that they owned from Western Europe to Palestine. However, that fortune would help bringing about their fall. The King Philip IV of France coveted it while his own kingdom was going bankrupt. It only took two more steps to bring the Templars’ end forward: some serious accusations and a new Pope to arbitrate in favor of the French King.
When Clement V was elected Pope in 1305, Philip knew the tide was turning. The Saracens had recovered their possessions in the Middle-East, forcing the Knights Templar to come back to their headquarters in Paris, at ‘the Temple Tower’ (la Tour du Temple). On September 14th 1307, King Philip ordered all the Knights Templar to be arrested and thrown into jail. Several days later, most of them had been captured, including their Grand Master Jacques de Molay; it was piece of cake to prove their guilt, as torture remained a powerful way of admitting somebody else’s invented crimes back then.
Jacques de Molay was sentenced to death in 1314, along Geoffroy de Charnay, to be burnt at the stake in the central island of Paris over the Seine River. However, while the orange flames danced around the Grand Master of the Order, he is said to have thundered: “Pope Clement, iniquitous judge and cruel persecutor, I summon you to appear before God’s tribunal in forty days! And you too, King Philip! May you be cursed until the thirteenth generation! ”
One month later, the Pope died of a terrible disease and all his belongings were stolen by his servants. At the end of the year, the ‘Iron King’ Philip IV underwent the same fate: one version states that he was out hunting in a forest when a deer carrying a burning cross between his antlers charged at him. Anyway, the 46-year-old king suffered a stroke and passed away a few hours later, without any visible ache.
According to historical accounts, the curse of Jacques de Molay went on, and several of his heirs have undergone a tragic end, culminating in Louis XIV being executed at the height of the French Revolution. And it deserves to be pointed out that pretty gruesome deaths occured along the reign of the ‘Cursed Kings’ that would have made Game of Thrones look like a fairytale – one bumped his head on a door lintel, one starved to death for he believed he would be poisoned, another received a spear in the eye during a friendly jousting tournament… However, at the time, politics was mostly about eliminating one’s relatives to take the lead, and medical remedies included eating emeralds – what the Pope Clement V had done just before his death by the way – and blood-letting…
So the era was probably cursed too!
Concerning the treasure that the Templars’ Order was said to have hidden in the Tour du Temple, in Paris: nothing was ever found by the King’s investigators.
The creativity of time has joined that legend with various others: freemasons may have taken over the Templars’ fortune; it might have been hidden and protected since then by knights on the run; and amongst the riches one may find the Holy Grail or the Ark of the Covenant…
The mystery lives on.
Any treasure hunters around here?
- Daniel Brun, Récits et légendes des lieux mystérieux (2012), éd. SDP Le Livre Club
- Gérard de Sède, Les Templiers sont parmi nous (1962), éd. J’ai Lu