As it's April, Easter eggs and spirituality are in the news nearly everywhere now, so naturally, tours, travel and pilgrimage often come to mind even more… as does planning for our future spring or summer holidays!
But you're not alone…doing a bit of "time travel" back to medieval times, the time of the High Middle Ages (12th-14th centuries)… the illustrious "white knights" of the Crusades - the Knights Templar- naturally feature strongly. These famed monastic warriors of the Crusades have long been shrouded in mystery; they were believed to conduct mystical rites, guard the Holy Grail, and perhaps possess the lost treasures of
So back then, Easter of 1119, some months before travelling, many travellers would have been anxiously awaiting a chance to go on pilgrimage to the sacred holy sites in
Yet one Easter stands out among all others as it 'made history', in a sense -- Easter Sunday of 1119, the early twelfth century. Following the earlier First Crusade, many more pilgrims started to flock to Jerusalem, desperate to have a chance - safely - to see the sacred shrines, especially the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, for ex. Judging from eyewitness accounts in the medieval documents from many sources from this period, any travel along certain pilgrimage routes was very hair-raising and dangerous, i.e., bandits lurked around every corner, and robberies and attacks were rife. One eyewitness traveller, on one of the major pilgrim's routes, reminiscient of a scene from a Stephen King horror novel, said he saw a number of previously robbed bodies, all now dead, lying by the side of the road, all of the partially-decomposed corpses gnawed by wild animals, i.e., so inevitably, in such a climate, many would not even bother to wait to bury the dead, as they simply kept on walking as fast as possible, in case they, too, attacked themselves.
So an already tense situation had by then become unbearable. On that particular Easter day itself, the Saracens killed 300 Christian pilgrims and took 60 others as prisoners, a very provocative incident. Obviously, the Church was very concerned about yet another violent incident and diplomatic nightmare, but as this was also Easter Sunday itself, they basically decided that, well, this incident was the 'last straw'. Something absolutely *had* to be done about this constant problem for their pilgrims - and soon. This particular incident was given as one of the key official reasons by the Pope and Church for solving this dogged problem of constant dire dangers to medieval pilgrims -- to start a military religious Order to help protect them, among other things. By a bit later that year, 1119, the Order of the Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon - better known today as the Knights Templar - then officially emerged into the public domain, a now- legendary military religious fighting force that lasted, incredibly, for well over two hundred years at its peak. Yet, of course, these first nine knights certainly could not have 'policed' all of the pilgrimage routes themselves, as they had nowhere near the numbers or time to do so - but among a number of other things that they were undoubtedly also up to at the time, not all of which are known for certain even today, this was not merely only a 'cover' story, as has sometimes been alleged, as it is known that they and other Christian orders at the time did indeed help pilgrims when they could.
But the Templars were certainly one of the best military Crusading orders of the entire Middle Ages - 'second to none' on the battlefield, as even acknowledged by their own enemies, the Saracens, as well as many of the other key Christian crusading orders that fought bravely alongside them, i.e., the Knights Hospitaller, for example. The Order of the
The Order lasted for nearly 200 years at its height, before its suppression by a joint effort of both the French king and Pope Clement V - who issued the papal bull Vox in excelso on
The Templars were then arrested, brutally tortured, charged with serious heresies, and brought to trial -- in fact, a series of arrests and 'trials' that lasted over a period of about seven years, in a number of different countries, as I outline in the Knights Templar Encyclopedia in great detail. It was a complex situation overall, and, contrary to popular belief, there was never only 'one' Templar trial. They were accused by the Inquisition of many things, for example, of trampling on the cross and worshipping a strange head named Baphomet - again, all of which I outline, in addition to what known relics the medieval Templars were known to have had. Many historians believe that most of the confessions of "heresy" against the knights are extremely questionable, since they were extracted by heinous torture; yet, this varied greatly, country by country, which isn't always understood today. The last, courageous remaining Templar officers finally came before the papal representatives in March 1314 and were sentenced to perpetual imprisonment - a nightmare situation. But, even so, Grand Master Jacques de Molay and Geoffroi de Charney, the Preceptor of Normandy, bravely continued to protest their innocence and, in revenge, that very evening in
Many theories - and myths - abound about whether, or how, the Templars might have survived, which I go through one by one. Even more tantalising for many today is the question of where the Templars hid their treasure, and whether it will ever be found, and, if so, if it should be revealed, and under what circumstances, and so on - and, perhaps as or more crucially, what the exact definition of 'treasure' truly is, or should be. Perhaps the 'real treasure(s)' of the Templars is timeless indeed. A number of medieval Templars did manage to escape or survive, in certain areas here and there, but were understandably quite traumatised and had to be extremely careful and go undercover in order to avoid further trouble or perscution, a situation yet to be fully unravelled, as we continue to translate and work on some of the remaining medieval documents and manuscript fragments today. I outline what is known, for sure, after the 1312 suppression, from historical documents in the Encyclopedia, country by country. Obviously, more will hopefully come to light, in due course….even soon.
In 1340, a German priest on pilgrimage to the
Today, their history as well as their powerful "mythos" lives on. Step through the portal of time, back to the Middle Ages, and read the Knights Templar Encyclopedia, if you would like to have a comprehensive view of the facts about this extraordinarily powerful Order - then and now - A to Z. From more than 16 years of meticulous scholarly research and gleaned from a variety of reliable sources, the Encyclopedia is a great way for anyone - no matter what their own particular views about the Templars are - to at least have the most important, key historical facts and information right at their own fingertips, at any time….to be 'well armed' on your own quest!
I've covered not only all of the key areas about the Templar order itself, but also, other key medieval topics also of great interest today too, and how they relate to the Templars -- subjects like Mary Magdalene, the Grail, the Black Madonnas, King Arthur, Templar sites, Rosslyn Chapel, key Templar symbolism, seals, and relics, Gothic cathedrals, the Jolly Roger flag, alchemy, Freemasonry, the Guilds, chivalry, stained glass, Bernard of Clairvaux, the origins of the Order, Templar archives, Assets, Treasuries, Loans, Maritime trade and ports, Farms, Feast days, to name but a few entries. In the back of the book, I've included four key Appendices: a Templar Chronology of Events; Grand Masters of the Knights Templar; key Templar Sites; and Illustrations. There is also a special 'Recommended Reading' section, under specific Templar-related subject headings, to also help you with your own research and/or just plain curiosity. So…'happy hunting!'
Because in the end, it is *your* Quest, too, that also matters the most. Although I have had extensive years of academic research and experience, and was even the deputy Curator of the Rosslyn Chapel art museum exhibition for six years - prior to the Da Vinci Code! - I've never felt that knowledge shouldn't be shared, so I've tried to reach out and offer this initial encyclopedia to you. I write my books for all of you, and hope that you, too, find the Templars - and the Middle Ages - as timeless and inspiring as I do - even today, in our early 21st century! Blessings on your path.
Karen Ralls, PhD, medieval historian and world religious scholar, obtained her doctorate from the University of Edinburgh, was Postdoctoral Lecturer and Fellow (Edinburgh) and also Deputy Curator of the Rosslyn Chapel museum exhibition (1995-2001) prior to continuing with her work in Oxford, England. Originally from the