The Knights Templar was a large organization of devout Christians during the medieval era who carried out an important mission: to protect European travelers visiting sites in the Holy Land while also carrying out military operations. A wealthy, powerful and mysterious order that has fascinated historians and the public for centuries, tales of the Knights Templar, their financial acumen, their military prowess and their work on behalf of Christianity during the Crusades still circulate throughout modern culture.
Who Were the Knights Templar?
After Christian armies in 1099 captured Jerusalem from Muslim control during the Crusades, groups of pilgrims from across Western Europe started visiting the Holy Land. Many of them, however, were robbed and killed as they crossed through Muslim-controlled territories during their journey.
Around 1118, a French knight named Hugues de Payens created a military order along with eight relatives and acquaintances, calling it the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon – later known simply as the Knights Templar.
With the support of Baldwin II, the ruler of Jerusalem, they set up headquarters on that city’s sacred Temple Mount – from which they took their name – and pledged to protect Christian visitors to Jerusalem.
The Pope’s Endorsement
Initially, the Knights Templar faced criticism from some religious leaders. But in 1129, the group received the formal endorsement of the Catholic Church and support from Bernard of Clairvaux, a prominent French abbot.
Bernard authored In Praise of the New Knighthood, a text that supported the Knights Templar and bolstered their growth.
In 1139, Pope Innocent II issued a Papal Bull that allowed the Knights Templar special rights. Among them, the Templars were exempt from paying taxes, permitted to build their own oratories, and held to no one’s authority, except the Pope’s.
The Knights Templars at Work
The Knights Templar set up a prosperous network of banks and gained enormous financial influence. Their banking system allowed religious pilgrims to deposit assets in their home countries and withdraw funds in the Holy Land.
The order became known for its austere code of conduct and signature style of dress, which featured a white habit emblazoned with a simple red cross.
Members swore an oath of poverty, chastity and obedience. They weren’t allowed to drink, gamble or swear. Prayer was essential to their daily life, and the Templars expressed particular adoration for the Virgin Mary.
As the Knights Templar grew in size and status, it established new chapters throughout Western Europe.
At the height of their influence, the Templars boasted a sizable fleet of ships, owned the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, and served as a primary bank and lending institution to European monarchs and nobles.