Our friend Darryl is a history buff and always has a brilliant piece of history to impart. He was telling us last night about the knightsTemplar and he very kindly put it in an email to me to share with you all.
For long stretches of the camino, but particularly around Leon and the area around it, we pass through areas rich in history of the knights Templar. Although this order of knights only existed for less than 200 years, they still capture the imagination today, and feature in books like the da Vinci code and The Last Templar, and movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark.
The fascination with the Templars is partly because of their deeds, partly because of the wealth and power they accumulated, and partly because of the shocking circumstances under which the Order was abolished.
The Templars originally came into being as a group of knights protecting pilgrims heading to Jerusalem after that city was recaptured by the First Crusade. In gratitude, the Jerusalem authorities gave them property on the site where had once stood Solomons Temple in biblical times. (This is where the word “Templar” comes from.) A Templar Knight was a combination of a monk and mounted warrior. They led the Christian forces into battle in the subsequent crusades, and elsewhere in Europe against islam. The Templars fought the Moors in Spain, and at one point reclaimed Leon, for which they were granted lands in that area as we now see. As in the holy lands, they took on the role of protecting Camino pilgrims as well. Lots of aristocrats either joined the order or enrolled their sons, and many gave gifts of property or cash. This is how the Templars wealth arose, plus the fact that they developed an early system of banking, allowing pilgrims to deposit valuables with them, and be given credit along their pilgrimage.
So wealthy did the organisation become that many thought there had to be other explanations. Many thought, and still think today, that on the site of Solomons Temple they must have found treasures like the Ark of the Covenant and the Holy Grail. There are hundreds of books and articles arguing that their descendants are still keeping these items secret today.
The wealth of the Templars brought their downfall. In 1307, the king of France, Phillip IV, made allegations of heresy, obscene rituals, devil worship, etc, against the Knights Templar and had hundreds of them arrested and executed. Phillip IV had borrowed extensively from the Templars and had no way of repaying the debts, and after the allegations and arrests he leaned on the Pope to disband the organisation, freeing him from having to repay the debts. (The Templars had been recognised by the church, and were not subject to laws or taxes, so only the Pope could disband them.) This took until 1312, as the Pope was not in any position to stand up to the king, but he at least for show went through a number of investigations, notwithstanding that Phillip continued to execute as many Templars as he could find, and confiscate their properties.
For many years, the last head of the Templars, Jacques De Moley, was kept in prison in Paris, and tortured. He would not “confess” to the allegations, and in March 1314 he was burned at the stake. The fascinating part is that as he was about to be burned, and with hundreds of witnesses, De Molay declared that he would shortly be judged before God along with the King and the Pope, and he cursed that they would both die before the year was out. He also said that Phillip’s line would shortly end. All of this seemed unlikely, as the pope, the King and his sons were all young enough and in good health. But sure enough, the pope died of dysentery within a month, Phillip died in a hunting accident a few months later, and each of the kings sons died shortly afterwards with no children to carry on the line.
On the southern end of the Ile de la Cite in Paris (the island Notre Dame is on) there is a memorial on the spot where Jacques de Molay was burnt at the stake.