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Templars in the Chartrain
Jean Le Mée (Copyright 2013)
So many stories and legends presented as historical truth(1) have been told, and still are told, about the Templars and Chartres that it is important to try to assess within our period of interest—the twelfth and thirteenth centuries broadly defined—who they truly were and what influence, if any, they may have had in the region and, in particular, on the design and building of the cathedral as is often stated.(2)
The spiritual force that gave rise to the Templars has to be sought in the great evangelical awakening of the 11th century, which lasted throughout the 12th century, and that we see at work in the creation of the eremitical movement. In the words of Chenu:(3)
Looking over the movement as a whole and despite crossbreeding in it, one can discern
two basic patterns of foundation on the level of action in the church. One was a special
adaptation of the Christianized feudal institutes of knighthood: the Knights Templar
and the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre served, both within Christendom and on its
frontiers, as a militia of Christ, with the approval and active support of St. Bernard.
The other was the fraternity, the penitential order, based on institutional poverty,
lacking a hierarchy of authority, owning no material possessions, disaffected from
the trappings of ecclesiastical life—even from the traditional liturgy—in brief, little
inclined to conform to any classical pattern. …It was the Book of the Apocalypse
which nourished hopes and odd desires, not all of them healthy. This it did not
so much by its prediction, which fostered temptation to millenarism as by the
promise of an eternal judgment upon the contingencies of time.
Working on behalf of popes and kings, the Templars became a vital and eventually—to their own prejudice—a fatal link between spiritual and temporal powers. Part of the Church, yet only under the direct authority of the pope, they were pretty much autonomous and free of local episcopal supervision. This doesn’t mean, however, that they did not receive from, nor give help to, the local bishops in the dioceses where their commanderies were established and numerous examples of such collaboration may be seen in the charters that have found their way to the historical record. In some cases, however, it created frictions and difficulties.
The Templars, i.e. the “Knights of Solomon’s Temple” or the “Poor Knights of Christ,” as they were commonly known at the beginning, formed a religious military order (“God’s militia,” in the words of Bernard of Clairvaux.), the first to be founded by the Catholic Church. They were organized in three hierarchical levels externally distinguished by their vestments: the knights clad in a white mantle marked by a red cross; the sergents, or servants, wearing black clothes and coat, and the chaplains, or priests, in clerical garb, both displaying, also, a red cross. The servants, or hommes de métier (craftsmen), were often local people who worked at jobs on the farms or in houses or businesses of the Order. Some might have been salaried.(4)
|Fig.3 Two Templars on one horse
Their presence throughout Europe required some sort of territorial structure. It was based on “provinces” similar to, but distinct from, those of the mendicant orders. These provinces, distinct also from the church dioceses, reflected the geopolitical realities of the time. The knights were divided by languages (tongue or pays) so there were knights of the tongue of France, Italy, Spain, England, Germany, etc. with each tongue divided into priories, each priory into commanderies and each commanderie into members. Members might be churches, chapels, houses, farms, industrial, artisanal or commercial enterprises. These members were staffed by knights, chaplains, sergents and associates or bourgeois who worked under the rule of the commander (preceptor) or his delegates. Associates or bourgeois were men and sometimes also women from the area who had vowed to follow the rule of the Order and worked in some capacity at specific members. They often had donated their estate to the Order and were then taken care of for life as monks would.
Through their military function and recruitment, the knights naturally belonged to the warrior class. They came for the most part from the lower nobility though some might not have been necessarily of knightly stock, simply people of means and property with possibly some soldierly training. Some, however, particularly among the leaders, were from powerful feudal families from northern France. The sergents or servants were former artisans, laborers, or farmers whose main function was not so much to fight as to contribute to the economic life of the order, although they might be pressed into battle as the need arose, particularly overseas. They then constituted a corps of foot soldiers and light cavalry fighting alongside the heavy armed cavalry of the knights or served in what would now be called a corps of engineers: constructing siege machinery, digging trenches and tunnels to weaken walls and defenses, building castles and fortifications or directing local laborers in their work.
Some of these sergents served as squires to the knights, helping with the care of horses,(5) armor, and weapons; others dealt with the logistics and quartermasters’ duties needed by an army in the field. Others, in the commanderies, worked in administrative positions or on the land, doing agricultural, construction, and maintenance work. The third category of members, or chaplains, were priests serving for life, ministering to the spiritual needs of the other members of the Order. The knights, who originally served at will, eventually could only leave to join a stricter order such as the Cistercians.
From lands and other gifts received either from their recruits or their families, or from pious souls wanting to contribute to the defense of the Holy Land and to their salvation, the Templars became rich land owners on a par with other feudal lords. Their agricultural and commercial activities, whose profit was consecrated for the most part to the crusading effort, were part of the productive and economic life of the community.(6)
The fact that they individually took vows of poverty meant that they could not own anything personally. The Order, however, could. Since it was not allowed, according to its rule, to divest itself of its wealth, it means that it grew rich very quickly,(7) with the result that it was in a position to lend money at very advantageous rates, well below usury. The Order soon became a de facto banker to those always thirsting for rather substantial sums of money, such as kings and secular lords as well as ecclesiastical princes—popes, cardinals, and bishops.(8)
Spiritually, they were fully devoted to Christ-the-King and to the Blessed Virgin Mother, patroness of the Order, just as secular knights owed allegiance to their feudal lords and to their ladies. Also, as in the case of the secular knights, the Order did not emphasize education. In fact it shunned it as unfit for warriors. This was, after all, a fighting order, not a contemplative one.(9) Except a few who chanced to have received some formal education prior to their joining, rare were those who could read Latin, the language of the educated class and clerics. Knights and squires generally spoke and read French—the language of the warrior class in the Middle Ages. For most, this was their native language but knights of other tongues also joined.
Fig.4 The Battle of Hattin
Templars were devout people of simple and solid faith uncomplicated by the subtle theological questions debated in the cathedral schools and the burgeoning universities of Paris, Oxford, or Bologna. Militarily, they constituted a well trained fighting force backed up by a strong logistical organization and well financed by their farming estates, their received donations, and their commercial and banking activities. Disciplined through a type of monastic rule, they took vows of poverty, abstinence of sexual contact with any person, and total obedience to their commander. Their loyalty, by modern standards, might be considered bordering on the fanatical side of zealotry. And indeed so were they perceived by the Moslems(10). As a consequence, rarely were they spared when taken prisoner.(11)
A number of Templars were permanently established (12) and consequently more or less on constant alert in their defense of the new Frankish colonies against Moslems,(13) but a sizeable contingent(14)was established in various countries of Western Europe. There, their function was basically one of fund raising for the needs of the crusading effort in the Orient.(15) Templars didn’t participate in the crusades against other Christians such as the one against the Albigensians. Their fund raising was done either through direct cash donations or through collecting various taxes, dues, or rents on properties (land, houses, watermills, wine presses, etc.) that had been deeded to them, or through the profit of farming of the properties they themselves exploited directly, working the land, raising cattle, sheep or horses and selling their harvest and animals or by having tenants do it on their behalf.
The Templars formed therefore an organism distinct yet apparently well integrated within the framework of Church and society. In the following we briefly examine the origin of the order in the early twelfth century at the dawn of the crusades, and look at its development until its suppression in the early fourteenth century. We then consider in more detail its presence in the region of Chartres during its existence and what influence this might have had relative to the cathedral.
We begin with the historical account as it has been pieced together by academic historians of the period. In this, we broadly follow Helen Nicholson’s popular account(16)
as well as accounts by Christopher Tyerman and The Chronicle of Fulcher of Chartres and Other Source Materials, edited by Edward Peters and the more recent publications of Barbara Frale and others already mentioned in the previous section.
The lack of emphasis on learning among Templars may partly account for the lack of historical activity usually found in the religious orders and, consequently, the lack of records regarding the founding and history of the Templars. Conspiration theorists may see in this a rather deliberate attempt to keep secrets, particularly when it is seen in relation to the destruction of part of their archives in a great fire at their former headquarters in Cyprus when the Ottoman Turks captured the island later in the sixteenth century (1571). These archives had passed into the care of the Order of the Hospitallers at the time of the suppression of the Templars by Pope Clement V in 1312. However, as Nicholson points out(17):
The loss of the Templars’ central archive means that we do not know exactly
what property and privileges the Templars had in the crusader states and in
Cyprus. However, anything that concerned both them and the hospital is
preserved in the hospital’s archives, while papal bulls for Templars are
preserved in the papal registers in the Vatican. For the Order’s European
possessions much remains in archives and museums across Europe…
In short, a good deal of material about the Templars survived. The Order is
far from being a mystery.
This being said, the historical origin of the Order remains rather unclear.(18) The written accounts of these beginnings are not concordant and appear to depend a great deal on both the time elapsed from the event to the time of writing and the position of the writer.
Simon, a monk of St. Bertin near St. Omer in northern France, writing within a generation of the beginnings of the Order, says that “On the advice of the princes of God’s army [some crusaders who had decided to stay in the Holy Land] vowed themselves to God’s temple under this rule: They would renounce the world, give up personal goods, free themselves to pursue chastity, and lead a common life wearing a poor habit, only using weapons to defend the land against the attacks of insurgent pagans when necessity demanded.”(19)
Orderic Vitalis, an Anglo-Norman monk writing in the 1120s or 1130s says Fulk V of Anjou(20) had joined the “Knights of the Temple” for awhile when on pilgrimage to Jerusalem before returning home. He doesn’t mention when or how the Order began.(21)
Other writers—Anselm of Havelburg, Otto of Freising, Richard of Poitou—voiced other speculations regarding dates and the original purpose of the Order. Nicholson concludes that
Contemporaries disagreed over how the Order of the Temple began. They agreed
that the Order was set up with the approval of the highest religious and secular authorities
in the kingdom of Jerusalem, and that the Order was given approval quickly  and
was probably founded in 1119. Contemporaries also disagreed over the Order’s original
purpose—defending pilgrims visiting Christian holy sites, or defending the territories of
the new crusader states against Muslim raids.
Fig. 5 Christ leading the hosts of heaven
Similarly there was disagreement as to how various elements, particularly in the Church, reacted to it. Such an armed militia within the Church seemed to many in direct contradiction with the Gospels.(22) To others such as the leaders of the Council of Troyes (1129) the Order was a welcome initiative. They saw it in fact as a way of getting a handle on the warrior class by setting up an example of what a Christian knight ought to be. Much of the chivalric culture of the thirteenth to the sixteenth centuries that inspired in literature the Roman of the Round Table, the story of the Grail, and the troubadour and trouvère songs of love and heroism can be traced, if not directly at least atmospherically, to the religio-military fraternities and orders that sprang from the same source—be it the Templars, the Hospitallers, the Teutonic Order of Knights, the English Order of St. Thomas of Acre, the Sword Brothers of Livonia, the Prussian Knights of Dobrin, or others.
“The Song of Roland, in which the hero is more complex than the personification of abstract qualities,” as Levine remarks, “ may be the most elaborate attempt to assert the validity of combining Christ and the military heroes. However, here, nothing of fundamental significance appears problematical as the rigid and narrow schematization negates, in fact, the very concept of reality.”
Obviously, there was much debate among theologians in particular regarding what Tyerman(23) refers to as “combining charity with violence, religious vocation with fighting,” i.e. the concepts of the just war and holy war which had been of concern to St. Augustine already much earlier in the fifth century. For St. Bernard(24)there was no doubt that the Templars were fighting the good fight and that war was wholly justified.
Much of the later view of the Order was influenced by a letter written before 1136 by Bernard to Hugh de Payens “Knight of Christ and Master of the Knighthood of Christ” in which he sets out the Order’s spiritual basis. At the Council of Troyes in 1129, attended by Bernard and Hugh de Payens, the rule of the Order of the Temple was established and the members of the Order were given a habit. “This suggests,” says Nicholson(25)“that Bernard played an important role in drawing up the Latin version of the Order’s rule.” This rule formed the basis of other military orders. It became a public document “far from secret.” At the council, the clerk, Jean Michel, recorded that Hugh de Payens made a presentation to the Council on how the Order began(26) and its way of life.
“The Order of the Poor Knights of Christ,”(27) as it was officially known up to then, added to its title “and of the Temple of Solomon” when it was then recognized by Pope Honorius II.
What seems to have taken place, as we previously mentioned, is that, following the first crusade, a few knights and soldiers remained in the Holy Land to defend the land and the holy places, prevent attacks against unarmed pilgrims as well as against Frankish settlements. Some among these knights banded together to form a confraternity to counteract the situation—policing the pilgrimage routes to Jerusalem and defending Christian churches, monasteries, and castles.(28) Such confraternities of warriors were common at the time. They began to appear in Europe in the eleventh century. During the first crusade similar groups formed for sharing resources and for providing mutual help along the way. Hugh of Payens and Godfrey of St. Omer apparently were at the origin of such a confraternity and sought the sponsorship of Baldwin II, King of Jerusalem (1118-30). The latter offered them residence at the Al-Aqsa mosque on the site of the ancient temple of Solomon, from which they evidently derived their title.
In reality, the facts are complex and, as noted, not well documented. The period is one of great instability: in the Church, popes and anti-popes were jousting for position and power under the manipulations of emperors, kings, and powerful Roman aristocratic families; in the political and economic domains, the needs and interests of Outremer and those of the West were often in conflict. In all this Bernard of Clairvaux played a dominant diplomatic role.
According to Frale, it is King Baldwin II who was the driving force in setting up the confraternity of Hugh of Payens as a powerful fighting force. She writes:(29)
The highly personal and modest nature of Hugh of Payens’s proposed rule for his
brotherhood was in sharp contrast to the needs of Baldwin II, who was faced with
a dwindling Christian population and a lack of a dependable military force capable
of defending it… The establishment of a true military order would mean not only
recruiting a significant number of soldiers but also finding the vast economic
resources necessary to maintain the army, ensure adequate provisions, and procure
all the requisite equipment.
Besides the fact that the Templars’ purpose seems to have overlapped, to a large extent, with that of the already existing Order of the Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem,(30) it is noteworthy to remark that the originators of the concept of this new order were closely related through family ties and geographical origin. They all belonged to the high nobility of northeastern France. From its very beginning the members of the Order were interacting at the highest levels of Church and State. It therefore appears the Order might have been created—or its creation used—to get, on the part of St. Bernard,(31) a better control over the goings-on in the Holy Land and in Christendom in general after the capture of Jerusalem by the crusaders.
Gordon Strachan,(32) suggests that, at the origin, the Templars may have had a short range mission Outremer. Given their background, number, and record, this mission might have been to connect with the living source of knowledge that sustained the apparently higher state of civilization that Islam was perceived to have attained.(33)
Strachan attributes much significance to the fact that not only were there just nine knights but that no more knights were added for another nine years.(34) He sees in this a clue to link them to the mystical tradition of Sufism(35) in Islam where nine plays an important role in some aspect of the doctrine.
3.1 Cultural Christian/Moslem Contacts
Typical Templars, of course, were no scholars; they were men of action; hence, perhaps an incentive, in this view, on the part of people like St. Bernard to send over some individuals who, though trained in the art of war, as all high-born were then, had nevertheless, together with a well-established network of high level international connections, a level of education and a discipline enabling them to learn quickly and effectively what could be gleaned from the more esoteric circles among the “Saracens.”(36) It should be noted that Peter the Venerable (1092/94 – 1156), the famous Abbot of Cluny, a contemporary and, in spite of their differences, friend of St. Bernard, took steps, while in Spain, where Cluny had many dependent monasteries, to investigate the nature of Islam and to hold debates with educated Moslems.(37) Later, in the second half of the twelfth century, somewhat less than one hundred years after the first crusade, a mood of tolerance had begun to pervade. It was thought that it was better to try to convert a Moslem than to kill him. Indeed no less a saint than Francis of Assisi went all the way to Syria to preach before Moslem leaders. The result was not, and has not been over the centuries, miraculous, but the growing contact at a more reasoned level, brought about, together with a new respect between people, some degree of affect on the contemporary theological thought. Also the fact that Christians could walk and breathe where Jesus had walked, breathed, and preached made him more human,(38) less of an apocalyptic judge, and more of a fellow human being, something that can indeed be sensed in the “beaudieu” sculptures on the portals of Chartres and Amiens, for example. Being the Divine Son, he also became a human brother.
This relatively more tolerant age and a certain balance of forces between crusaders and Moslems(39) must have therefore facilitated cultural exchanges between them as well as with the Jews of Spain and of Palestine. This is the period that saw the flowering of the translation schools of Toledo, where Moslem, Jewish, and Christian scholars worked side by side or even together on bringing out ancient Greek and Hebrew texts into Latin as well as recent Arabic manuscripts and translations.
Besides these “cultural exchanges,” political and diplomatic contacts Outremer between Templars and Moslems were frequent. As Frale remarks(40):
The Order formed cordial relationships with several Muslim emirs, based on common
economic or political interests; religious discussions were carefully avoided. This
friendly coexistence required the reciprocal respect of cultural differences. These
political relationships would later be used by the enemies of the Order to spread
rumors about the Templars’ possible secret conversion to Islam.
The Cistercians, the order of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, the spiritual guide of the Templars, had a splendid tradition of fine, stripped down buildings with high quality masonry—minimalist avant la lettre, even Puritan in this respect. They would find a kindred spirit in the tradition of purity and clarity of geometric design so evident in the Islamic arts of calligraphy, building decoration, and, indeed, architecture—or was it where they found their inspiration? As Christopher Brooke(41) points out, the Order “attracted a wide variety of men of initiative and
talent in its early days [and we] should find, specially among lay brothers, a certain number of skilled masons and of men of many crafts.” As the recruitment of Templars grew over the twelfth century, we should not be surprise to find among these crypto-Cistercians, sergents well trained in the building arts, indeed hommes de métier as they are termed in the charters. Such people would not be indifferent to some fine specimens of Islamic architecture. They also might be well disposed to bring their findings back to Europe, particularly to France, from which most of them originated.(42) That the Templars found wisdom among the Sufis or Solomon’s secrets under the Mount of the Dome, we will probably never know. Nevertheless they apparently left their mark at Chartres in the form of the cross(43) in the halo of the Christ of the Apocalypse on the Royal Portal.(44)Jean Villette(45) also relates that a Templar’s cross painted in ochre on the vault of the nave was visible over the entrance of the labyrinth(46)before the cross was painted over in the course of the renovation in the mid-twentieth century.
The Templars’ influence did not, of course, limit itself to architectural details. Forming a highly disciplined brotherhood in a society such as that of Outremer, where civil authority was weak and divided, they moved in to fill the vacuum, becoming virtually a state within a state.
An armed militia protecting pilgrims’ routes, they extended their duties to protecting lines of communication, the routes templières, building commanderies along the way, not only in the East but in Western Europe as well. These command posts, or fortified residences, offered lodging in their hopitots to pilgrims, travelers, and merchants. They served as warehouses for merchants’ goods. Basically enclosed farms, tended by tenants, the mesnie du temple, these commanderies, which numbered nearly a thousand, including those in Europe(47) by the time of the dissolution of the Order in 1312, served also as granaries or silos stocking grain that could be distributed in case of scarcity or famine. The skill of the Templars at organizing agricultural production was indeed one of the principal sources of the great wealth that they accumulated. Another was the development of a banking system. In so doing they protected commerce, encouraged artisanal production, created markets under their supervision, and thereby helped the circulation of money that primed the economic engine. All this, aided by more favorable climatic conditions that prevailed in the twelfth and the thirteenth centuries, contributed in large part, though indirectly, to the flowering of the cathedral building boom of the thirteenth century.(48) In the case of Chartres, no direct contribution can be traced to the Templars. The wealth of the chapter itself, and that of the bishop at the head of the largest diocese in France, added to the gifts brought by the afflux of pilgrims attracted by the renowned miracles of Our Lady, helps account for the fact that the building was essentially completed in less than twenty-six years.(49)
By the end of the thirteenth century the Templars had accumulated not only considerable wealth but also many enemies. And these enemies were not only the secular powers. Reporting only and directly to the pope,(50) the Templars were independent of the bishops and diocesan clergy in whole jurisdiction they were established. The secretiveness displayed by the Order and the fact that they had their own priests left them open, on the part of the secular clergy and the mendicant orders to rumors of private and peculiar rituals and to unflattering gossips. All this contributed to the sense that they were, through their wealth and military power, not only a state within a state, both Outremer and in Europe but also a church within the Church. This explains, for instance, the unfavorable light that William, the Archbishop of Tyre and an historian of the times, often throws on their activities. When both secular and religious powers find themselves united in a single individual, as in the case of the religiously overzealous French king,(51) fearful of their power and greedy for their wealth we reach a dangerous paroxysm. This was the time when, after the loss of the Latin kingdoms, for which many held them responsible, Templars retreated from Outremer. In spite of their losses on the battle fields, they still amounted to some thirty thousand knights, five thousand of them French, according to Mannier.(52) Many, however, had passed their primes which did not inspire the viability of the Order. After 1291 they, as well as the Hospitallers, became based in Cyprus. Here, they were in a position to plan their return for the reconquest of the Holy Land. In the meantime, without an immediate war to fight, the Order became, de facto, a “financial power house” as Frale(53)calls it. Over time, the result was a transformation of the Order. The development of new activities—custody and investment of funds to finance future crusades—mainly based in Europe required skills and abilities not easily found among knights but rather either among “hommes de métier,” i.e. sergents, former artisans, shop keepers, people engaged in commerce at any level or, at least, among people issued from this social milieu and acquainted with its practices. Though the administrative positions that issued from these developments some of the new administrators rose to positions of great power within the Order. The result, as Frale(54) puts it, is that:
In the final years of the thirteenth century, there were two poles of power within the
Temple: one in Cyprus composed primarily of soldiers still engaged in diplomatic
dialogue with Christian governments in the East to devise new plans for taking back
the Holy Land and one in the West, led by financier-sergents and knights with administrative
and diplomatic posts for whom maintaining good relations with the rulers of Europe was the
With the Grand Master, Guillaume de Beaujeu, fallen at the siege of Acre, Jacques de Molay, who had had a brilliant career, was eventually elected with the support of the military faction against Hugh de Perraud. Hugh had served for thirty years in the West, in diplomatic posts and as commander of important houses. To conciliate both parties, a deal was struck whereby Jacques de Molay became Grand Master of the Order based in the East, while Hugh de Perraud was appointed at the second most important post as Visitor General based in the West. Furthermore, Perraud received Molay’s proxy “granting the right to act as his plenipotentiary to assist the pope in case of need without having to wait for approval from Cyprus.”
This effectively gave the Order a two-headed structure, a temporary arrangement contingent upon the historical situation. This worked well until early in 1307 when the Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, had to return from the East, summoned by the pope, as we shall subsequently see. As required by the Order’s bylaws, he then checked the books and found that an enormous loan (300,000 gold florins) had been made to the French king by the treasurer, Jean de la Tour, with, presumably, the authorization of the Visitor General, Hugh de Perraud. Molay was not pleased. The pope, however, doubtless to smooth things over with the king, directed Molay to reinstate the treasurer that he had just fired and to maintain Perraud as Visitor General. Molay obeyed but was greatly offended.
At his return to the West in March 1307, the Grand Master of the Order, however, together with a considerable retinue, opted for reestablishing themselves in Paris at their Temple house, a de facto fortress in the heart of the Ile-de-la-Cité,(55)facing the Louvre, the king’s palace. As Mannier comments, “Having such hosts in his own neighborhood was not designed to make the king feel secure.” He knew their spirit of independence and
their great wealth; he was also aware of his enormous financial indebtedness to them. In fact, the temple in Paris was a kind of bank and finance ministry for the king.
For centuries, the end of the Order of the Temple has been even more obscure than its beginning. This has been fertile ground for speculations, some serious, but many more the brain concoctions of conspiration theorists of diverse talents and views. However, in the last decade, thanks to the fortuitous discoveries of documents in the secret archives of the Vatican, and to a renewed interest in the question by well-trained scholars, it is now possible to form a clearer view of the events that led to the extinction of the Order.
At the turn of the fourteenth century the French king, Philip IV, The Fair, was unhappy with the Templars. He wanted to mount a new crusade to retake the Holy Land and thought that both the Order of the Temple and that of the Hospitallers should be fused into a single entity in order to increase military coordination of the campaign. This proposal, however, was opposed by the Grand Masters of both orders, Jacques de Molay and Fulk de Villaret respectively. One of the goals of Philip, besides the reconquest of Jerusalem and the Holy Land, was to extend French influence over areas under Byzantine control, notably Armenia.(56)The opposition of the orders greatly frustrated his ambitions. This must be seen in the context of the conflict between king and papacy with the king vying for control of the French church with the support of a number of French bishops and cardinals. His goal was to make the French church independent of the church of Rome,(57) what Henry VIII would manage with the English church centuries later. If this could succeed, the king would also control the orders, at least the French part of them. This would therefore considerably enhance his military power.
Having control of the orders would also give him direct control of their wealth— a very powerful attraction for the king of a nearly bankrupt country.
Though the prestige of the Templars remained high, the secret aspect of their organization led readily then, as it would now, to speculations and rumors. Such rumors had been put into circulation by some defecting members but also by the king’s agents(58)who had infiltrated the Order. These rumors related in particular to the initiation ceremonies where hazings of a gross and obscene nature were allegedly taking place. Worse even, and more damning, were the suspicions of heresy such as idol worship and secret conversion to Islam, or the Cathar faith.
While his lawyers were secretly preparing their indictments “the king was defaming the Order’s most eminent members in the various courts of Europe.”(59) Under pressure from the king, the pope, Clement V, had to act. He summoned the Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, from Cyprus for an explanation and asked for a copy of the rule of the Order. This rule had been drawn under the guidance of Bernard of Clairvaux nearly three-quarters of a century before. It contained the complete text of the initiation ceremony.(60) “Both the leader who officiated at the ritual and the postulants followed a precise script.” The recruit was examined three times, shown the rule and had to swear complete obedience to the commands of his superiors. He then received his mantle and was officially a member of the Order in all respects. This ended the scripted part of the initiation. However, as Frale has been able to show through her careful analysis of many trial testimonies, another part of the ceremony, following a purely oral tradition, took place immediately after. The new recruit was taken to a secluded place where the initiator said: “All the words you have made to us are empty words. Now you will have to prove yourself with deeds.”(61) It is here that the recruit was asked to deny Christ, spit on the cross, and kiss the initiator on the mouth, the belly, and buttocks, and sometimes even the penis. When the recruit refused he might have been subjected to beating, threatened with a sword on his throat, with prison and even death. Though the rule forbade sexual contact with any other person, the recruit was told in some places that if he could not be chaste, to unite with his brothers and not to refuse them if solicited. “In practice, all the candidate has to do,” says Frale, “was to submit to those words in silence with no signs of rebellion as proof of his obedience.”
At the end of this hazing, the new Templar was taken to the chaplain where he confessed his new sins and asked for forgiveness. Upon sincere repentance, he was absolved. The trouble was when some new Templar also confessed to priests outside the temple, notably Dominicans or Franciscans, “ignorant of the real function of the secret ceremony. They increased the fears and the disquiet of the recruits rather than comfort them and no doubt fed the rumor mill. The reasons for this kind of hazing were never mentioned to the recruits except that it was a test of their obedience. But from the trial records initiators themselves didn’t seem to be very clear about it either. One of the problems that came to light in the papal inquiry was the secrecy of the actual rule. Though the recruit was “shown” the rule—he didn’t read it— only the part of it that applied to his specific duty was disclosed to him orally. Only the grand Master and his close circle of advisers (his “companions”) had the complete text and presumably knew it.
“The best informed opinion within the Order about the function of this strange [initiation] practice identified it as a test of courage and martial disposition,” concludes Frale.(62) Though this kind of “scurrilous barrack antics” may be construed as a form of humiliation that often takes place in secret or exclusive organizations, the fact remains that, on the face of it, it constituted “acts of repudiation of the faith, typical of heretics” as Frale notes.(63) To understand this strange ritual more fully, a wider context is required. A clue to this larger view may be given by another event that is also sometimes reported within this “hazing” and that is the worship of a “head,” sometimes referred to by the made-up name of “Baphomet.”(64) This “head,” as convincingly shown by Frale, would be
nothing but what is now known as the “Shroud of Turin”(65) that would have come into Templars’ hands sometime after the sack of Constantinople in 1204. If the top echelon of the Templars, Grand Master and companions, truly believed the Shroud to be an authentic image of Christ, a true icon and true relic(66) that had direct contact with the body of Christ, a mere representation of a cross in comparison was nothing sacred in itself. Therefore spitting on it and denying it amounted to no more than spitting on the ground or in the air.(67)The fact that only the Grand Master and his inner circle knew this, though recruits and even initiators were kept ignorant of it did not lessen in any way the virtue of the relic and its effect on the participants, nor make them guilty of heresy in the eyes of those who knew. As good soldiers, recruits and initiators were following orders and strictly adhering to the rule enjoining them to obey orders of their superiors. Furthermore, by confessing sincerely afterwards they received absolution. The slate was wiped clean.
At the conclusion of the inquest, the pope understood that the strange custom perpetuated
by the Order as a compulsory test required new Templars to deny Christ and spit on the
cross. Although it was an unworthy tradition that the Templars had further embellished
with other vulgar and violent practices, under no circumstances could it be confused with
heresy, an offense that implied a strict and long-term adherence to subversive doctrines.
The Templars’ crime, therefore, was tolerating the development of this shameful ritual
and failing to eradicate it or denounce it to the higher authority of the pope.
That is a far cry from heresy.(68)
The Templars being under the direct authority of the pope were therefore subject to canon, (i.e. Church) law, not royal authority. Canon law traditionally was such that, in cases of heresy, the Church made the arrests, then proceeded with the trials and, in case of a culpability verdict, released the convict to the secular authority for execution of the sentence. However, in the early part of the thirteenth century, at the height of the frenetic campaign against Catharism in the south of France and northern Italy, the Inquisitor for France was given extraordinary powers by Pope Honorius III. This amounted to giving him proxy for papal power to investigate, arrest, and try on suspicion of heresy members of certain religious orders(69) normally exempt from such procedures. This proxy was left dormant and forgotten in the course of some eighty years following the crisis and Philip IV’s lawyers, headed by Guillaume de Nogaret,(70) were to take full advantage of it to achieve their ends.
Based on a selection of the information gathered by the royal spies relating particularly to the initiation ceremonies and slanting its presentation for their purpose, these lawyers built a case of heresy and crime against religion which they presented to the French Inquisitor, the Franciscan Guillaume de Paris. The Franciscans, not always following the example of universal brotherhood of their founder, had no great love for the Templars and Guillaume, shocked by the specific revelations, was in agreement with the king to act immediately without delaying the procedure as authorized by the proxy thereby bypassing the pope.
The royal propaganda machine under the direction of Guillaume de Nogaret then went in high gear, spreading rumors of heresy, sodomy, blasphemy, idol worship against the Order. Nogaret himself and French cardinals of the royal party made public announcements to stunned crowds. Franciscans under the instruction of Guillaume de Paris denounced the Templars in their sermons. On September 14, 1307, a top secret royal edict was sent to all police authorities in France to arrest all Templars(71) on Friday, October 13, 1307 and have them immediately interrogated.
Interrogation under “ecclesiastical procedure” meant being subject to a type of physical torture where no limb was broken or blood drawn(72) as might be the case in secular procedures. On October 13, as ordered, bewildered Templars were arrested throughout France. As Templars were arrested, Clement V, himself a fine canon lawyer, realized but too late that he had overlooked the proxy.
Confessions were soon obtained, since, indeed, the accusations, slanted as they had been by the royal lawyers, rested on some factual evidence gathered at the initiation ceremonies. In less than two weeks enough confessions had been recorded, including that of Jacques de Molay, the Grand Master, to be sent to the pope as proof of heresy. The pope and his curia were gathered at Poitiers and thus vulnerable to the king who had already attempted, through the agency of Nogaret, to kidnap Boniface VIII,(73) one of Clement V’s predecessors. To regain control, the pope issued a bull(74) requesting “Kings and princes of Christendom to arrest Templars in their lands and hold their property in safe keeping for the Church.”(75) Applying to Christendom as a whole, it necessarily applied to France.
Fig. 7 Burning of the Temple in Paris
The implication was that the case against the Order was put under the authority of the papacy and removed from the king’s. Then the pope sent two cardinals to Paris with power to excommunicate the king and place the whole country under interdict. The pope suspended the French Inquisition. Philip IV consented to release to the pope seventy-two Templars, including the Grand Master, Jacques de Molay and four other high officers.(76) However, before they reached Poitiers the Grand Master and his officers were diverted to Chinon, a fortress on the Loire River, where they were imprisoned by the king. The pope interviewed those who reached Poitiers and determined that these were not heretics though they were not innocent either. Even if their apparent apostasy was for pretend only as they denied Christ, spat on the cross, and exchanged kisses with the initiator, they could be forgiven but had to repent and submit to punishment. The king, however, refused to release the officers held at Chinon. In the summer of 1308, the pope then sent secretly three of his most trusted cardinals to Chinon as a special apostolic commission with full papal authority. They manage to see these officers and question them. The record of this interview has only recently been unearthed(77) and throws a whole different light on the end of the Knights Templar.
As Michael Haag(78) writes:
The document reveals that the pope found no heresy among the Templars and granted
absolution to its leaders. .. Fatally, however, the pope delayed making his absolution
public owing to the extreme passions of the time.
Worried that the Templars would fight back, Philip IV used one of his nominees, the Archbishop of Sens to reopen his Episcopal inquiry against individual Templars in his diocese. The archbishop dutifully found fifty-four Templars to be relapsed heretics and handed them over to civil authority. On May 12, 1310 they were burned at the stake. This burning had a chilling effect on the rest of the Templars.
On March 22, 1312 by the bull Vox in Excelso the pope declared that the Order was being suppressed because of being too defamed to keep operating effectively. Templars though, themselves, were not condemned. On May 2 the new bull, Ad Providam, deeded all Templars’ properties to the Order of the Hospitallers. Thus the Templars were, in fact, absolved of heresy and Philip IV deprived of the object of his greed, namely the wealth of the Templars.
The Chinon papal judgment having remained secret, the case of the leaders of the Order who had remained in royal custody were brought before a small commission of French cardinals and churchmen devoted to the king’s cause. On the basis of their earlier confession and in the absence of the knowledge of the pope’s bull, they were condemned to prison for life. Both the Grand Master and the Master of Normandy then claimed their innocence and denied everything they had confessed under duress. The king immediately had them condemned as relapsed heretics and on the same evening their bodies were but a puff of smoke and a handful of ashes.
That both the pope Clement V died barely a month later on April 20 of a long illness and the king, Philip IV, on November 29th of the same year, from a fall from his horse startled by a wild boar has been seen by many as an effect of immanent justice.
Mannier concludes that “the true cause that brought such a tragic dénouement has to be found less in the crimes imputed to the Templars than in the fear and cupidity of Philip IV who wanted to be free from an Order that overshadowed him and of which he mainly coveted the wealth.
The recent work of Barbara Frale(80)on a little known record of interrogation of the Templars by the Inquisition has brought considerable new light on the trials and particularly on the Templars themselves, their practices, and their dismal end. As we previously saw, one of these practices had reference to “the worship of an ‘idol’ in the form of a ‘head’ called “Baphomet” according to the charges against them.” Frale, as well as numerous other scholars, now think that they can identify that head with the face shown on the Shroud of Turin. The origin of this line of inquiry apparently started with the suggestion by the Oxford scholar Ian Wilson(81) in 1978 that the Shroud might have been in the possession of the Templars.
Based on this suggestion, Frale, who was then a graduate student in history at the University Ca’Foscari of Venice working on a thesis relating to the Templars, picked up the thread in 1998. Her later association with the Vatican secret archives facilitated and expanded her research. What follow is, in large part, based on her work.
Though the authenticity of the Shroud may be in doubt, its ancient existence is not. A letter dated 1205(82)from a Byzantine aristocrat to Pope Innocent III complained of the fact that the Franks who sacked Byzantium in 1204 during the fourth crusade had taken as booty the relics of saints and, with them, “the linen in which our Lord Jesus Christ was wrapped after his death and before his resurrection.” This shroud would have then been in the possession of the emperor of Constantinople at the time.
In April 2009, in a document containing the record of the interrogation of some Knights Templar from a commanderie located in Roussillon,(83) Frale found the testimony of a young French man, Arnaut Sabbatier, who entered the Order in 1287.(84) According to the record he indicated that during his initiation, he was taken to a ‘secret place to which only the brothers of the temple had access’ where he was shown ‘a long linen cloth on which was imprinted the figure of a man’s body and he was told to venerate the image by kissing its feet three times.’
His description is quite compatible with that of the Shroud of Turin as it appears to us. Another Templar, Guillaume Bos, who was received in the commanderie of Pérouse, near Narbonne, in 1297 was also shown a similar image of a cloth.(85)
To Frale this is a strong suggestion that what is known today as the Shroud of Turin was in the possession of the Templars probably since 1204 and that it served in initiation ceremonies for a century afterwards in some of the commanderies.(86)
Another Templar, Jean Taylafer, interrogated in the diocese of Langres,(87) speaks of “a kind of drawing with an ill-defined shape, and he could only distinguish the image of a human face.” Ask about its color, he answered that “it seemed reddish to him.”
Furthermore, a discovery made during World War II at the former commanderie of Templecombe(88) in England of a thirteenth century wood panel bearing the representation of a “Christic” face similar to that of the Shroud would suggest, according to Simonetta Cerrini,(89)another Italian historian of the Templars, that “the use of the same iconographic traditions for producing this face is proof that whoever painted this portrait at the time was inspired by a model to which they had had access somewhere.”
This may explain in part the nature and origin of the mysterious “head of Baphomet” allegedly worshipped by the Templars(90) according to the Inquisition’s indictment. However, some researchers look also for clues in other directions to try to understand what these heads were about. Cerrini adds “[It is also known that] Templars had in their possession “cephalothèques”—reliquaries containing craniums and they may have held the bust of their founder, Hugh of Payens.”
It would therefore appear that if the actual shroud was shown to some new recruits, others were only shown a partial copy of it,(91) simply the head, or even perhaps just a reliquary that may have contained it. It is obvious that the relic of the Shroud would have been kept in a very secure place and not allowed to travel very frequently whenever an initiation occurred somewhere. That its likely presence should be mentioned in Rousillon and near Narbonne, i.e. the region around Carcassonne where the Cathar heresy was rife and where the Inquisition held court, is of course of great interest. One of the Cathar beliefs was that Jesus didn’t have a true human body but only the appearance of a man and neither died on the cross nor was resurrected. The Shroud therefore would be a physical evidence to counter that belief. Consequently it might be a useful relic to present to recruits who might have had contacts with the heresy. However, from the documents— answers by Templars to questions from the inquisitors—it doesn’t appear that recruits were told at initiation, or even after, the nature of what they were shown.(92)
Nothing seems to be known of the whereabouts of the Shroud after the dissolution of the Order in 1312.(93) It makes its public appearance in either 1353 or 1357 in the village of Lirey,(94) where it was displayed in the parochial church by the widow of Geoffrey of Charney, nephew of his namesake, the Master of the Order in Normandy, who was burned at the stake, together with Jacques de Molay, the Grand Master.
In 1390, the local bishop, Pierre D’Arcy, in a letter to the antipope Clement VII declared it a forgery and said that the artist had confessed. In 1453 Margaret of Charny deeded the Shroud to the House of Savoy, who kept it until 1983 when, in turn, the latter deeded it to the Vatican.
What are the implications of all this diversion regarding the Templars and the Shroud as far as we are concerned in this study? First, the new information that has recently emerged continues to demythologize the Templars and to exonerate them from the charge of heresy on which they were brought to trial. Second, it confirms their belief in the power of relics,(95) one of their reputations being their expertise in identifying relics. By not disclosing to their recruits the nature of the Shroud they appeared to be confident that its power would naturally, or supernaturally, flow from the relic to the recruit without his knowing intellectually what he was contemplating and venerating. In a sense it was another test of their obedience, their beliefs and attachment to traditional orthodoxy. Finally, apart from their possible contribution to the Western Portals of Chartres previously mentioned, it makes their direct involvement with the design and construction of the Cathedral an unlikely event.
Whether the Templars at Chartres saw this relic known as the Shroud of Turin or a replica that might have been in contact with it is not known and, in itself, does not seem to matter in relation to the cathedral design and construction. However, it leads us to consider its connection to the Grail with which Templars have also and often been involved.
There is an abundant, imaginative, late literature linking the Templars to the Grail but less than scant evidence that any such connection ever existed. The mysterious Grail is a mythical object that springs from ancient Celtic legends. These legends form the raw material at the basis of the medieval romances known as Matière de Bretagne, which include the Arthurian cycle. Here they were given a Christian theme. Chrétien de Troyes appears to have been one of the first writers to work with this material in his Perceval or Le Conte du Graal, beginning around 1181. Chrétien died in 1190 before completing his poem and this unhappy circumstance gave rise to a happy literary proliferation throughout the ages and on to our own— numerous stories invented by imaginative writers competing to complete Chrétien’s work. Among them, and probably the first, one must count Robert de Boron, who composed a verse romance, Joseph d’Arimathie, around the turn of the thirteenth century. Here the Grail is identified with the chalice Christ used at the Last Supper. This chalice, it is said, came into the hands of Joseph of Arimathea, who used it to collect blood from the wounds of Christ.
Whereas in Chrétien’s story, the Grail is but a grail (un graal), i.e. in Old French a serving dish which, in the story, carries a single communion wafer, in other accounts the Grail turns out to be all sorts of other things. Thus it may be a silver platter, a bleeding white lance, a sword, a secret book, manna from heaven, a blinding light, a severed head, a table, a luminous, pure stone, the goal of a spiritual search, on and on, yet always and ultimately a mystery.(96)
As the Grail is different things in different circumstances and to different people, and as the stories are most diverse, one cannot speak of a legend of the Grail. There are many.
The first writer to associate the Grail with the Templars is Wolfram von Eschenbach in Parzifal about 1220. Yet he does it indirectly rather than directly, since the knights guarding the Grail are not called Knights Templar (Tempelherren in German) but the evocative Templeisen (i.e. something like Templists).(97) For him, the castle where the Grail is kept is Jerusalem. As Nicholson points out:(98)
There has been some speculation that the Templars were involved in the development of
the Legend of the Holy Grail, but careful reading [of the so-called ‘Templar of Tyre’s’[Itinerarium Peregrinorum] reveals that this couldn’t have been the case. The concept of
knighthood in the Grail legends is different from the Templar ideal: the Grail knight acts alone, not as part of a community.
She concludes,(99) and this shall also be our conclusion, that:
there is no direct connection between the Grail legends and the Templars…The Grail stories set out the way in which knights can reach God, by themselves, with little help
from the institutionalized church… through their own personal quest and by acting as knights should…The Order of the Temple offered knights a completely different way
of finding God. However, though Templars and Grail may have no connection(100) there may be a relation between the Cathedral and the Grail as the geometry of the Cathedral seems to reveal to us.(101) In the elite of a society saturated with chivalric literature as the thirteenth century was, where the deeds of the knights and search for the Grail are followed as movie characters in Star Trek today, or the adventures of Harry Potter for a younger generation, one cannot discount its influence on the fancy of clerics and architects and its concomitant effect on architectural design.
That a whole tissue of legends has been weaved involving the Templars has already been mentioned. Its beginning may perhaps be found in the Parzival of Wolfram von Eschenbach, who was probably the first to associate the Templars with the Grail. Other medieval legends of the Grail, though they may involve knights, do not mention the Templars.(102) It is essentially since the Reformation and particularly from the seventeenth century even to our own days that Templars, Grail, conspiracies and other fantastic tales have come together into an imaginary universe of their own devoid of contact with reality. These tales appear to have coincided with the rise of secret or semi-secret societies such as the Freemasons in search of authentic roots. This development occurred apparently first in Scotland and England and spread to France and Germany in the wake of the Romantic Movement. It eventually came to the United States, where it continues, as in Europe, to feed popular imagination and conspiration theorists, entertainers and cranks.
The Templars were a fighting Order, not particularly known for their architectural or artistic skills.(103) They were fighting men Outremer but at home they rather fulfilled the functions of administrators, fund raisers, financiers, bankers, and logisticians. In spite of many accusations they appear to have been generally well disciplined, faithful Catholics devoted to Christ, the Virgin, the Church and the papacy. As a chivalric order, they joined military discipline to monastic rule. This double obedience had made them, in the mind of many, likely to have had some sort of initiatory or esoteric knowledge—monks are taught to pray within the particular tradition of their order and knights are ceremoniously dubbed, again following the tradition of their chivalric order. These initiations, followed by subsequent teaching and training, may be considered as esoteric, since they are destined only to them and not to be dispensed to the multitudes but it certainly does not vouch for the excess of legend.
Historians, who see no indication of any written document or any other form of record on this score, are dismissive of the idea. However, as has often been said, “Absence of record is no record of absence” and the discoveries of the last decade or so have confirmed to a degree the existence of such practices.
This being said, the analogies previously mentioned between the al Aqsa porch and the Royal Portal at Chartres and their conformity with Islamic canon of architecture would be an element showing a probable filiation between esoteric Islamic and Christian architectural practice(104) Furthermore, the recognized preeminence of the “[School] of Chartres in the diffusion of Arabic science in the West until well into the twelfth century—and not diffusion only but for the most successful absorption of this science into the body of Christian learning which was achieved at any time before the thirteenth century” according to Southern,(105) would make plausible the hypothesized argument of Strachan previously mentioned, namely that “the first Templars had found the source of much of the learning which had long been taught in cathedral schools.” Again, the knowledge of the origin of that knowledge itself could easily remain secret, since it involved a circle of “educated and aristocratic few” and though it may not be considered “esoteric or occult” in the strict sense, it certainly may appear so “to the uneducated and ignorant.” Such a knowledge might have been passed on at the time to only a small band of scholars such as those of the School of Chartres, probably, then, the best qualified to receive it. That nothing of that surfaces at the trial nearly two centuries later is therefore understandable, particularly even the additional qualification that it didn’t impinge on heresy, a chief point of indictment.
That the rule of the Order was “a public document, far from secret” as Nicholson states(106) does not mean that some practices in the Order could not be strictly reserved for its full members and not unveiled to outsiders at all, i.e. reserved for the professed knights as opposed to the homines templi (Les hommes de métier) serving in the commanderies or the congregations of the Templar churches attended by the locals. Indeed, we saw that, if the recruits were “shown” the rule, they did not read it; that they were orally taught only the portion that applied to their duties and that, besides the “official rule,” there existed a secret tradition of hazing whose practices were not recorded except in the memory of the participants and presumably their confessors.
The Christian presence was well established and diverse in the Holy Land in the early centuries of the present era. Christianity, contrary to what is generally and commonly thought, did not start with a single Church that then spread itself out into a multiplicity. On the contrary, right from the start, various churches developed in different locations, each with its own tradition, liturgy, rite, and often its own language and its own gospel. Thus one finds before the fourth century vibrant communities of Armenian, Maronite, Coptic, Syriac, and Ethiopian Christians. These churches, however, were not isolated, entirely cut off from each other in spite of the geographical distance. As early on the travels of St. Paul testify they maintained communication and contact and were conscious of being part of the one Church of Christ.
The implication is that this Christian diversity added to the need for contact with the local Moslem leaders lived for decades and up to two centuries by Outremer Templars would have rubbed on them and made them, to a degree, familiar with other doctrines that might have been considered “heretical” to Roman canon lawyers. Heer(107) writes:
The Templars were famed and respected for their amicable relations with their Islamic
compeers. Personal contacts between Frankish knights and Turco-Arab emirs could lead
to genuine friendships, as for example, between Fulk of Anjou, King of Jerusalem and
the Regent of Damascus, and between Richard Coeur de Lion and the brother of
Saladin, which imprinted themselves deeply on the memory of the West; their
resplendent image has been immortalized in courtly epic poetry.
Furthermore, a powerful organization such as a military order with vast financial operations and, of necessity, participating in local politics involving other religious orders, secular authorities both civil and religious surrounded in the hostile environment of an occupied land cannot but lead to tricky alliances in an ever-moving politico-religious context. Again, Heer(108) writes:
Their willful practice of power politics (sometimes in alliance with Islamic leaders) and
the cheerful arrogance of their members, all combined to give them a double-edged
reputation: If they were respected, admired, and renowned, they were also feared,
hated, and envied… Against [their good work: medical care to pilgrims, their
chivalry, charitable works, their bravery] must be set the record of their grand and
petty political intrigues, their odious personal quarrels, and their collective egoism in
these military corporations which turned them into competitive rather than
cooperative brotherhoods with no compunction about the betrayal of a brother of a
different cloth and allegiance. The growth of these characteristics in that alien
country was rapid; by the second generation the members of the orders had often
become so very much acclimatized in dress, manners, and customs (both good and bad)
that they struck new comers from Europe as half-pagan at the very least.(109)
This, indeed, was held against them at their trial.
The period we are considering—the second half of the twelfth and the beginning of the thirteenth century—saw the famous twelfth century Renaissance at its height. We also saw it as a time of strife in society, of instability, wars, and contentions. But, as in the Renaissance that will take place a few centuries hence, it was also a period of transformation and creativity. It is the time when courtly civilization develops.
The tapestry of courtly civilization was created from the interweaving of many strands,
Celtic, Moorish, Spanish, and Oriental, together with material of magical, archaic,
pre-Christian and anti-Christian (that is, Gnostic and Oriental) origin…
Dissimulation and concealment now gained wide currency as artistic devices, since
lovers and religious sects had their secret languages and members of small esoteric
liques were made known to each other by signs and symbols, colors and passwords.
This art found its master-practitioner in Dante.(110)
This is the period within which the Templars flourished. It should not therefore require a stretch of the imagination to see that in such a cultural climate, not only a certain degree of esoterism could be attributed to the Templars by people outside their orbit, but that the Templars themselves, forming a close-knit and powerful organization within Christendom would naturally be inclined toward similar practices.
Dante (1265-1321) who lived through the Templars’ trial and is reputed to have been a tertiary or lay member of the Templars(111) takes up their defense as he inveighs, though in veiled terms,(112) against both the King of France and what Dante considers his tool, Pope Clement V(113) whose combined efforts resulted in the suppression of the Order.
If Dante’s esoterism was the acme of the genre, the same intellectual approach may be seen at work more than a century before his time in the littérature courtoise. From Chrétien de Troyes and his Tristan (ca 1170) to the Grail legends in the first third of the thirteenth century, as well as the prose story of Lancelot and Tristan or the Roman de la Rose of Guillaume de Lorris, layers upon layers of meanings are to be discovered by the attentive reader.
The first three commanderies founded in France by the Templars in the second quarter of the twelfth century were those of Payens, Fontaine, and Sylpe. They were established on the properties deeded by the three most prominent members of the group of nine—Hugh of Payens, who gave his land of Payens near Troyes in Champagne; Payen of Montdidier, who gave his land at Fontaine near the village of Montdidier, while Godefroy of St. Omer had his father, a lord of St. Omer who owned churches in Flanders at Sylpe and Leffinghe, grant those and all their considerable revenues to the nascent Order.(114)
Templars’ jurisdictions and dioceses did not coincide. In the case of Chartres, the Templars’ jurisdiction extended south beyond the diocese to include the areas of Vendôme and Blois(115) to form the Bailiwick of Chartres. The existence of Templar foundations is attested there in the second half of the twelfth century (La Villedieu en Dreugesin in 1165, Saint-Marc d’Orléans in 1171 and Sours, near Chartres, in 1195)(116) Orléans, however, is considered outside the limits of the Bailiwick and mentioned here only because of its proximity. These dates, however, refer to the existence, not the foundation of the commanderies. Folliot(117) mentions that the implantation began in the area of Vendôme, Châteaudun, and then Dreux, i.e. from south to north, eventually ending with that of Sours, which became the major commanderie of the Bailiwick. Close to the town of Chartres, it unified the jurisdiction of Chartres. In this, the development of the commanderies closely followed the mobilization movement of the Crusaders into the army of their suzerains while geographically, it followed the movement of economic development of the region.(118)
According to Chédeville(119) many of the Chartrian aristocracy participated in the various crusading expeditions. More than one hundred names can be culled from the documents of the period. Before the end of the eleventh century some of these nobles were in southern Italy with the Normans, others went to Spain towards the beginning of the twelfth century with the intention of settling there when the count of Perche (Rotrou III) became Lord of Tudela. Typically crusaders to the Holy Land did not generally intend to settle outremer(120)though many did not make it back. Three counts of Chartres fell on the battlefields of the Orient. The numbers and enthusiasm for these ventures, however, dissipated progressively in the course of time. The first crusade saw a peak but the flow of volunteers, though continuous through the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, where more than forty names are mentioned, tapered off and became more and more an occasion for young knights to participate as a kind of initiation to the métier des armes (soldiering). Even the crusade against the Albigensians in the south of France, at the beginning of the thirteenth century (1209-1229), did not prove very attractive to Chartrians in spite of the participation of the Bishop of Chartres in person—Renaud de Mousson—and of the infamous Simon de Montfort. Only four lords are mentioned, one of them, however, going in expiation of his previous crimes!
Geographically, the possessions of the Templars in the Chartrain developed according to the generosity of donors. Little by little these possessions would be found throughout the whole territory from Blois in the south, on the Loire River, to Dreux in the north, close to Normandy and Ile de France.(121) When and where conditions became favorable, particularly in economic terms, houses or even commanderies were founded. This happened early in the region.
At the Council of Troyes in 1128, under the aegis of Saint Bernard, when the Order of Templars was legally founded and its rule approved, the high aristocracy and clergy of Chartres were present in the persons of Thibaud-le-Grand,(122) Count of Blois and Chartres, and Goeffroy de Lèves, Bishop of Chartres. This double protection of the temporal and spiritual powers will facilitate the local implantation and development of the Order in the area.(123)As early as 1128, in fact, the commanderie of the Temple-près-Mondoubleau, the Order’s mother house in the Chartrain, was founded on an already developed property with cleared cultivable land and houses.
It is interesting to note that it is in the local aristocracy, vassals of the counts of Blois and Chartres, that Knights Templar in the region were recruited. Templars were therefore part of the local society from the start and integrated into the local spiritual and secular power structures.
|Fig. 10 Commanderie of Arville: Entrance and
western church façade
Notwithstanding their integration, Templars were not welcome everywhere. The complex feudal system of obligations and taxation often created contention and friction with neighbors either feudal lords and, not infrequently, other religious orders, potentially leading to legal disputes.
The region of Châteaudun(124) at the time, as well as that of the Paris basin, were being reclaimed on the forest and new towns (Villeneuves) were being built. With the commanderie of Arville, west of Châteaudun we see such a new town develop, the only one that will be in the Bailiwick of Chartres. Many projects of land clearing never took
place due to the lack of a sufficient labor force. However, a common defense system rather than parochial churches(125) served as a pole of attraction forcing people to group their habitats around Temple houses.(126)Their social origin and formation oriented the Templars more toward their military vocation rather than towards land clearing and town planning and development.(127)
At the time of the construction of the cathedral, the Templars were at the apogee of their influence and well-established in the area. Though, through their assigned mission, their focus of attention was Outremer, their presence throughout Europe and, in our case, the Chartrain region, had a lasting impact. This direct influence lasted during a good fraction of the twelfth century and the whole thirteenth century. It came to an abrupt end early in the fourteenth with the suppression of the Order, as we have seen.
Many tokens of the Templars’ presence in the Chartrain remain to these days, particularly in the regional toponymy. The names of locations and villages such as Le Temple, La Villedieu, La Templerie, etc.(128) are evident throughout, confirming that the Templars were firmly rooted in the region and formed an integral part of the local society. It is difficult to untangle the heritage of the Templars from that of the crusades in general. If one relies on the written documents and archeological evidence nothing much out of the ordinary seems to emerge. In the region of Chartres, it may be noted that all the Templar commanderies were built, not precisely as fortresses, but nevertheless as strongholds able to withstand armed bands and irascible neighbors in the troubled times that we have previously mentioned.(129) Thus, in the course of the twelfth century, before they were able to build in stone, the Templars defended their commanderies by means of motes.(130) A good example is the commanderie of Arville, built from scratch, which is located in a winding loop of the river Couétron serving as a natural mote. The same applies to the houses of the homines templi (the skilled men serving the commanderie) particularly in the areas bordering the large forest of the Perche. These commanderies and houses, however, were built in the style prevalent in the area at the time. One cannot speak here of a “Templar architecture.”(131) In these local, utilitarian constructions, how many skilled men (homines templi) were directly involved in the work? No doubt local labor was abundantly tapped. Possibly through it, some different ways of doing things or just simply some different things might have been done. There is no doubt that many ideas and items were imported from the East and the Templars may have, to a certain extent, been involved in this. But many besides the Templars went Outremer and came back bearing something besides relics, be it the seed of the carnation(132) or of a rose,(133) of an artichoke or a taste for coffee, sugar, and spices. Some among the “skilled men” may have been sensitive to the grace of Moslem architecture or, indeed, to that of other types of Christian architecture, from that of the Orthodox Santa Sophia in Constantinople to that of the Armenian or Coptic churches already established in the Holy Land since the dawn of Christianity in the second and third century and that the crusaders discovered in the wake of their invasion.
4.3 Chartres in the Aftermath of the Templars’ Debacle
As far as the repercussions in the Chartrain of what de Lépinois(134) calls “Le lugubre drame des Templiers” (The dismal Drama of the Templars), one doesn’t see it as having created much agitation in Chartres. Presumably Templars present on that fateful day of October 13th 1307 were arrested as everywhere else in France and taken to Paris. “All we know,” says de Lépinois,
“is that the cathedral chapter was represented by deputies at the provincial council
of Paris. Summoned by the Archbishop of Sens in May 1310. This council condemned
the Order in the ecclesiastical province. Furthermore the Count of Chartres, Charles,
took part in 1311, together with his advisors and the Bishop of Chartres, Jean II Garlande,
and some canons to the general council of Vienne when the appeal by the Templars was
rejected. All Templar properties at Chartres and in the county were passed on to the
Hospitallers according to the agreement between the king and the pope.”
Charles Métais(135) let us know that the properties of the Templars were joined to the hospitalliers’ and consolidated in the two commanderies of Sours and Arville in the Chartrain and that of La Villedieu in the Dreugesin. At the dissolution of the Temple Order, their archives were taken to Paris at the seat of the Grand Priory of the Hospitallers where they went untouched by the “revolutionary storm” [of 1789]. Métais notes that previous local historians (de Lépinois, Souchet, Merlet) were unaware of their existence and that Mannier summarized them too rapidly. Métais studied them in detail and published his findings. He describes them meticulously with drawing illustrations of the architectural heritage of the Templars in the region of Chartres—manor houses, large farms, and country chapels blend in the countryside inconspicuously, confirming that, indeed, “compared to the Benedictines and the canons of the Cathedral chapter, the Templars and the Hospitallers have only had a very secondary role in the region of Chartres,” as Métais(136) informs us. This, as we have already mentioned, is partly due to their commitment to wealth production and fund raising for the purpose of sustaining the war effort Outremer. With the loss of the Latin Kingdoms in the Orient, particularly after the fall of Acre and the retreat to Cyprus, it became difficult for charity givers to support an institution whose original goal had been eliminated, so to speak, though a new crusade for the reconquest was much in the mind of both the Grand Master of the Order and King Philip IV. But, as we know, Philip had also other more immediate and pressing plans.
However, during the glory days of the Order, in spite of the high participation in the crusades of the Chartrian nobility and their close ties with the Templars, the monumental implantation of the Order—churches and priories—“do not reveal anything grandiose and majestic.”(137) The relatively high manpower and blood contribution to the crusading effort by the Chartrian nobility is probably the very cause of the comparatively low contribution to the Templars, particularly after 1291. It is also probably the cause of the lack of emphasis on local, low-yield development such as land clearing in the Perche region. As noted before a number of such projects were left undone or never attempted through lack of manpower.
Going from architecture to the religious plastic arts, one may find affinities between the Ethiopian and Occidental arts, particularly in terms of the bestiary decorating Romanesque capitals and to be also found in Ethiopian buildings, as Tourniac affirms.(138) There is no indication, however, that these similarities are due in any way to some direct influence transmitted through crusaders, let alone through Templars. If material items passed from East to West, however, there can be little doubt that ideas followed the same path: from the biological rose to the mystical rose—symbol of the Virgin—to the rose windows that then blossomed on the façades of cathedrals dedicated to the Mother of God throughout northern France. One can see concepts emerging and maturing whose seed may have seen the light in the Orient but whose growth and development in western soil yielded something apparently entirely new. It could be said that these ideas may have been the spark of inspiration that contributed to activate and shape the famous twelfth century Renaissance as well as keep up and renew the Gnostic spirit among Cathars, Vaudois, and other sects in southern France and northern Italy.
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Fig. 1 Two Templars playing chess, from a manuscript of Alfonso X of Castile’s Libro de
Ajendrez, dados y tables. Ref.: Biblioteca del Monasterio de El Escorial, Ms. T.I 6
Fol. 25. Copyright Patrimonio Nacional, Spain. (From Nicholson 2004, 125)
Fig. 2 Templars dressed for battle and for prayer, as depicted in an 18th century French
history of the Order. (From Haag 2009, 105)
Fig. 3 Matthew Paris’s drawing of two Templars on one horse, showing the Order’s
black and white banner: from his Chronica Majora, Corpus Christi College MS. 26,
p. 220. Copyright: the Master and Fellows of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. (From
Nicholson 2004, 30)
Fig. 4 The battle of Hattin, 4 July 1187: Saladin seizing the True Cross: a fictional scene
visualized by the monk Matthew Paris of St. Alban (d. 1259). (From Tyerman 2006
Fig. 5 Images of Holy War: Christ leading the host of Heaven. Ref.: BL. MS. Royal 19B XV f. 31.
Copyright: British Library. (From Nicholson 2004, 40)
Fig. 6 The old city of Jerusalem during the Crusader period (From Nicholson 2004, 31)
Fig. 7 The burning of the Templars at Paris. Ref.: BL. MS. Royal 20 CVII f. 48. Copyright:
British Library (From Nicholson 2004, 222)
Fig. 8 Illustrations for Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival. The ‘Templeise’ appear in the
Bottom picture. Ref.: Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich, Cgm 19, fol. 50v.
Copyright: Bayerische Staatsbibliothek. (From Nicholson 2004, 239)
Fig. 9 Implantation of the Templars in the Chartrain (From Folliot 1983, 3)
Fig. 10 The commandery at Arville—Entrance and church façade (From Folliot 1983, cover)