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‘Templars’ shows order didn’t need treasure

March 9, 2018 GMT

Those of you familiar with Dan Jones’ earlier works covering the Plantagenet Dynasty in England will, undoubtedly, be delighted with his new offering, “The Templars: The Rise and Spectacular Fall of God’s Holy Warriors.”

“The Templars” provides a chronological narrative of the history of the Knights Templar. In doing so he not only places the medieval order in its historical context, but also dispels some of the more romantic notions of Templar activity.

Originally founded to protect pilgrims making the journey from Western Christendom to “Outremer,” or the Holy Land, the Knights Templar quickly came to embody the seeming contradiction of the warrior monk. By granting the Templars the right to wage war against apostates the papacy, very quickly, tied itself to the Templars. In fact they became the only governmental agency which exercised any legal control over the organization. This would, eventually, be part of their downfall as it created tensions between states, particularly France, where feuding kings and popes were par for the course. Any ammunition to offset the power of one at the expense of the other was greatly seized.

From the original role of providing security for weary pilgrims, the Templars morphed into a very different type of organization. So powerful was the lure of “taking the cross” that many Western Europeans, especially those of some authority and standing, were more than prepared to donate financial resources to the secret group. As a result, the sheer volume of financial resources which were available to the Templars meant it was not long before they also incorporated banking into their list of services. Notes of credit could be turned in at a number of locations, where, for a fee, they would store your treasures until such time as you needed them.

A militarized holy order with extensive banking ties quickly became the target of suspicious rumors. This was not helped by the Templars’ secrecy about a great deal of their activities. It was the French king Philip IV who was especially anxious to eliminate the Order from his lands. With one eye on their alleged wealth and another on the political intrigue between French king and pope, Philip promoted the idea that the Templars’ initiation rites involved just about every crime a 14th-century European might be shocked by, including, but not limited to sodomy, desecrating the Cross and uttering decidedly un-Christian oaths. On Friday, March 13, 1307, the order was given to arrest Templar Knights throughout France. Slowly, there began a years-long series of arrests, tortures, confessions and show trials.

In charting the history of this secretive collection of warrior monks, Jones helps dispel the notion of the Templar “treasure,” whether that be great wealth or some of the artifacts of the early days of Christianity. Recent works of fiction, masquerading as being “historically” researched, have not helped our understanding of the Knights Templar, who are interesting enough, Jones and this reader contend, without having to involve the early mythos of Christianity.

David Owens is a reference and extension librarian at the Cabell County Public Library.