Templars on trial

The Order of the Temple was a religious-military institution founded by a group of warriors in Jerusalem in the decades following the First Crusade of 1097-99. The group first received royal and church approval in 1120, and papal authorisation in January 1129. They protected Christian pilgrims on the roads to the pilgrimage sites around Jerusalem and also helped to defend the territories that the First Crusade had conquered. As members of a religious order, they made three vows: to obey they superior officer, to avoid sexual activity and to have no personal property. They were called ‘Templars’ after their headquarters in Jerusalem, the Aqsa mosque, which westerners believed was King Solomon’s temple.

Crusaders meet Muslims

Western European Christians gave the Templars gifts of land, money and tax concessions to help their work, and the brothers of the order also traded and acted as government officials for the rulers of western Christendom. They farmed wide estates in western Europe, lodged travellers in their houses and acted as bankers. But in the Middle East they  and their fellow military orders, such as the Hospitallers, faced increasingly well-organised assaults from ever more effective Islamic forces.

The Crusaders

The sultan of Egypt conquered Jerusalem in 1244, and in 1291, Acre, the final capital of crusaders’ kingdom, fell to the Muslim army following a bloody siege. The Templars and the Hospitallers who escaped massacre at the hands of the sultan’s forces moved their headquarters to Cyprus and set about trying to organise a new crusade.

Siege of Acre in 1291

The Templar grand master, Jacques de Molay, was in France planning such a crusade when he and all Templars in France were arrested. King Philip IV of France ordered the arrest of all the Templars in France on 13th October 1307, charged with denying Christ when they were received into the order, spitting on the cross and exchanging obscene kisses, comitting sodomy with each other, and worshipping an idol. He ordered torture be used to get confessions, as was usual in heresy trial.

King Philip IV of France

Pope Clement V initially protested, then ordered the arrest of all Templars in Christendom and their interrogation for heresy. But even though in August 1308 he reported that the leading Templars in France had confessed to “horrible things” and that he had absolved them – on condition that they perform penance – he tried to ensure that the Templars had a fair hearing. In fact the only Templars to confess to any of the charges were those under the jurisdiction of the king of France or of his relatives.

The death of Jacques de Molay

In the kingdom of Aragon, King James II ordered the Templars’ arrest but had to besiege them in their castles before he could enforce this. The Templars were interrogated but confessed nothing. In northern Italy the archbishop of Ravenna refused to allow torture to be used and no Templars confessed. In Cypruss, the Templars and non-Templars who gave evidence insisted that they were innocent. In Portugal King Dinis brought a legal case against the Templars to recover lands given to them by his predecessors, but there was no heresy trial. In all, the results of the trial outside France supported the Templars’ innocence.

Burning of Templars

In April 1312 Pope Clement announced that although the Templars were not proven guilty, the order’s good name had been so damaged that it could not continue. His dissolved the order and transferred most of its properties to the Hospitallers. The Templars were sent to live in other religious houses, and their order ceased to exist.