Knights Templar and the First Crusade

The history of the Order of the Knights Templar and the First Crusade as a trans-national military-religious order spans two centuries of the High Middle Ages, from the Order’s founding in the early 12th century to its suppression early in the 14th century.

Northeast exposure of Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount, in the Old City of Jerusalem. Considered to be the third holiest site in Islam after Mecca and Medina.(wikipedia)

The Knights Templar trace their origin back to shortly after the First Crusade. Around 1119, a French nobleman from the Champagne region, Hugues de Payens, collected eight of his knighted relatives including Godfrey de Saint-Omer, and began the Order, their stated mission to protect pilgrims on their journey to visit the Holy Places. They approached King Baldwin II of Jerusalem, who allowed them to set up headquarters on the Temple Mount. The Dome of the Rock, at the centre of the Mount, was understood to occupy the site of the Jewish Temple. Known to Christians throughout the Muslim occupation of Jerusalem as the Holy of Holies, the Dome of the Rock became a Christian church, the Templum Domini, the Temple of the Lord. But the Templars were lodged in the Aqsa Mosque, which was assumed to stand on the site of Solomon’s Temple. Because the Aqsa mosque was known as the Templum Solomonis, it was not long before the knights had encompassed the association in their name. They became known as the Pauperes commilitones Christi Templique Solomonici – the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon, which was eventually shortened to “Knights Templar”.

The original order consisted of Hugues de Payens and eight knights, two of whom were brothers and all of whom were his relatives by either blood or marriage: Godfrey de Saint-Omer, Payne de Monteverdi, Archambaud de St. Agnan, Andre de Montbard, Geoffrey Bison, and two men recorded only by the names of Rossal and Gondamer. The ninth knight remains unknown, although some have speculated that it was Count Hugh of Champagne himself — despite the Count returning to France in 1116 and documentary evidence showing that he joined the Knights on his third visit to the Holy Land in 1125.

Little was heard of the Order for their first nine years. But in 1129, after they were officially sanctioned by the church at the Council of Troyes, they became well known in Europe. Their fundraising campaigns asked for donations of money, land, or noble-born sons to join the Order, with the implication that donations would help both to defend Jerusalem, and to ensure the charitable giver of a place in Heaven. The Order’s efforts were helped substantially by the patronage of Bernard of Clairvaux, the leading churchman of the time, and a nephew of one of the original nine knights. The Order at its outset had been subject to strong criticism, especially of the concept that religious men could also carry swords. In response to these critics, the influential Bernard of Clairvaux wrote a multi-page treatise entitled De Laude Novae Militae (“In Praise of the New Knighthood”), in which he championed their mission and defended the idea of a military religious order by appealing to the long-held Christian theory of just war, which legitimized “taking up the sword” to defend the innocent and the Church from violent attack. In doing so, Bernard legitimized the Templars, who became the first “warrior monks” of the Western world.

[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.
Shortly after its foundation in Jerusalem and due to possible previous links of the founding knights with the crusader Count Henry of Burgundy and with the House of Burgundy, and perhaps because of the family ties that Henry and his son Afonso had with Bernard of Clairvaux, the Knights Templar were already in the western edge of Europe, in the County of Portugal, at least from May of 1122. The Templars settled there first, where the Order received donations and bought lands during the successive years of 1122, 1123, 1125, and 1126 (donated by D. Theresa), and 1127–28.[2] Another possible reason for such exceptional early donations before the Council of Troyes, may be the alleged links of one or two founding knights of the Temple in Jerusalem, among the founding French knights of Champagne, Languedoc or other regions, Burgundy and possibly Flanders, with the County of Portugal – being of Portuguese origin, or Franco-Portuguese or Burgundian-Portuguese origin; claims sustained by chroniclers of the Templar Order in Portugal, written in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, supposedly basing themselves on original medieval source material of the Order of Christ.

Saint Bernard de Clairvaux, the Order’s patron (wikipwdia)

Donations to the Order were considerable. The King of Aragon, in the Iberian Peninsula, left large tracts of land to the Order upon his death in the 1130s. New members to the Order were also required to swear religious vows of obedience, chastity, poverty and piety, and hand over all of their goods to the monastic brotherhood. This could include land, horses and any other items of material wealth, including labor from serfs, and interest in any businesses.

In 1139, even more power was conferred upon the Order by Pope Innocent II, who issued the papal bull, Omne Datum Optimum. It stated that the Knights Templar could pass freely through any border, owed no taxes, and were subject to no one’s authority except that of the Pope. It was a remarkable confirmation of the Templars and their mission, which may have been brought about by the Order’s patron, Bernard of Clairvaux, who had helped Pope Innocent in his own rise.

The Order grew rapidly throughout Western Europe, with chapters appearing in France, England, and Scotland, and then spreading to Spain and Portugal.

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