Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Ultimate Betrayal: Friday the 13th & the Templar Knights

Friday the 13th is often considered a bad day. Why do people fear a Friday on the 13th day?

It began with the Order of the Poor Knights of the Temple of Solomon. The military group was also called the Temple of Solomon, the Knights of Christ (La Milice du Christ), or just Templar Knights. The Templars were founded between 1114 & 1118 after the First Crusade by Hugues de Payens, a French nobleman. There were nine founding members: Hugues de Payen, Geoffrey de St. Omer, Payen de Montdidier, Archambaud de St. Agnan, Andre de Montbaud, Geoffrey Bisol, Rossal, Gondamer, and possibly Hugues the Count of Champagne. They were pledged to the Church, not any individual king. Unlike other religious orders such as the Benedictines or Cistercians, the Templars were both monks and warriors. The stated purpose was to protect Christian pilgrims in the Holy Land.  Templar Knights were famous for both the discipline and courage. A commonly accepted symbol was of two knights riding the same horse to signify the Order’s vow of poverty.

That was debatable.

The group established their home in Jerusalem, on the site of the ancient Temple of Solomon.  In a shirt time, their reputation was so respected King Baldwin II set aside rooms in his palace for the men. Eventually the Templars held lands in almost every country. They established the first banking system. New initiates were taken from the nobility although the standards did lessen – allowing non-nobility to enlist. Templars had farms, wineries, and horse-breeding studs in Outremer (the name for the Christian-held territories in the Holy Lands).

It was said that the Templars gathered and held a treasure consisting of sacred objects, gold, and priceless relics from ancient civilizations. After the Grand Master Hugues de Payens died, Robert de Craon (also known as Robert the Burgundian) became the leader. He decided to get an endorsement from the Church. It took a few years but on 29th of March, 1139, Pope Innocent II granted a bull (a special charter) formally acknowledging the group. Not only did this legitimize the Templars, it allowed them to receive donations.

The Order fought Saladin at the Battle at the Horns of the Hattin in 1187. A majority of the Christian army was either killed or enslaved but the Templars as a group survived. Templar knights joined with Richard the Lion-Hearted in his attempt to re-take Jerusalem. Richard conquered Cyprus and ended up selling the island to the Templars (headed by Grand Master Robert de Sable). Around 1291, the Templars lost any remaining lands in the Middle East even though they continued on the mission to protect travelers.

The Templars might have been a religious order but the talk was that they had secret ceremonies and practiced strange rituals. Many people borrowed money from the Templars, including royalty. King Philip IV of France was one of those men. Philip has attempted to join the Order as a young man but had been rejected. Kings have long memories and Philip probably wanted some revenge for the humiliation and his desire for ever-increasing wealth turned the King’s eye towards the Templar treasure. By this time, the Order was considered one of the richest groups in France (and the world).
About the same time, Pope Clement V was a friend of King Philip. It was Philip that helped Clement get elected Pope. They had a great working relationship.

Philip heard about some expelled Templars who made some serious allegations against the order. Most likely, the charges were false. After all, men kicked out of the Order had two choices: join the Cistercians to save their soul or be dammed. Jealousy is often the root of evil. Bernard Peler (the Prior of Mas d’Agenais), Esquin of Floyan (Prior of Monfaucon), and Gerard of Byzol (a knight) accused the Templars of crimes to King James II of Aragon. James wasn’t fooled by the men and sent them packing. The trio then went to France and spewed their treachery to King Philip.

Philip was overjoyed. He contacted Pope Clement with the information and the two plotted the downfall of the Templars. The Grand Master, Jacques de Molay couldn’t believe his ears. He pleaded with the Pope to investigation the false claims. Despite Molay’s plea of innocence, King Philip took matters in to his own hands. On Friday, 13th of October, 1307, the French authorities went to serve arrest warrants at the Templar compound. 5000 men were taken in to custody. Philip had ordered his men to seize any Templar assets. To Philip’s dismay, no treasure was found. It was rumored that Molay had received word of the pending search and had the relics & wealth taken away. Ships were known to have sailed from France but no one could verify if this happened or where the treasure went. Thousands of Brothers did escape – some going to England while others went to Scotland. Rosslyn Chapel (in Roslin, Scotland) is the possible hiding place of Templar relics, possibly including the Holy Grail.

During the investigation, the jailed Templars were subjected to torture via the Inquisitors. Many confessed to acts of blasphemy, defiling the cross during ceremonies, veneration of false idols, not believing in the Mass, not donating goods to the Church, killing babies, sodomy, and worshipping the Devil. Of course, the charges were false and only given during the torture sessions. Most recanted their testimonies.

It didn’t save the accused.

The trials held in December were a sham. Molay and his administrative publically retracted the confessions of ill-doing. Pope Clement intervened in February of 1308 and halted the trials. It took Clement until June before he journeyed to France to see what the story was. It was decided the Pope would review the individuals while the King would investigate the Order as a whole. It wasn’t until November of 1309 that the actual Papal hearing started. As much as Jacques defended his Templars, it was a loosing battle. Molay had no real legal council.  Clement suspended the hearing until 1310. The accused were then presented with a list of 127 charges. Over 600 brother Templars steppe up in defense of their brethren but they had prior charges as well. It didn’t help and on 12th of May, 1310 the mass executions began with 54 Templars burned at the stake. It took four more years to get through the trials.

On the 18th day of March, 1314, Jacques de Molay and three companions were brought outside and tied to stakes in front of Notre Dame. As the fires grew higher, Molay yelled out his innocence. He also invited Clement and Philip to join him within a year to stand before God. Clement died a month later and Philip lost his life in the fall.

Even today, Templar sites can be visited. Templar symbols on churches appear throughout England, Scotland, and Wales. Stones with Templar symbols have been found in North America, further fueling the belief that the Templars brought their treasure across the ocean for safekeeping. History tells us the four knights were murdered Thomas Beckett were ordered to do penance by donating land & serving with the Templars. The London Temple supposedly had the sword that killed Becket among its possessions on display. So revered were the Templars, Sir William Marshall became one in his later years.

Now you know why Friday the 13th is considered bad luck.

For more reading, check out:

The Knight
By Alan Baker
2003 John Wiley & Sons
ISBN# 0-471-25135-6

Knights Templar: Discovering the Myth and reality of a Legendary Brotherhood
By Susie Hodge
2013 Lorenz Books
ISBN# 0-7548-2855-7

In Search of the Knights Templar: A Guide to the Sites of Britain
By Simon Brighton
2008 Metro Books
ISBN# 978-1-4351-2094-5

Stay safe out there!


  1. I've always considered Friday 13th lucky since that is the day my son was born.
    Great post Diana!

  2. Beautifully phrased and artfully characterised. I felt I too was there at the fateful trials recoiling in horror as the lies were told.

    Gareth Wax