After the time when Christian fighters captured Jerusalem during the First Crusade, many pilgrims crossing Western Europe were getting killed by Muslims throughout their journey on the way to the Holy Land. A French knight, Hugues de Payens, and eight other knights founded a military order under the title ‘The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ’ in 1118. With an endorsement from King Baldwin II, the French King of Jerusalem, they set up headquarters on the site of Solomon’s Temple and vowed to protect Christian visitors to the city which is how they acquired their title ‘Knights Templar’. After decades of criticism from religious leaders, in 1128 they were officially and formally endorsed by Pope Honorius II of the Catholic Church, and Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. Fresh recruits and generous donations poured in from appreciative European monarchs as the Knights gained a reputation for being fierce in battle, brave, and noble.
With having thousands of members, the Templars established new branches throughout Christendom. As new members joined, further resources came in, and since the members themselves had taken oaths of poverty, all large amounts of cash and property were donated to the Order itself. Their riches were so immense, they started the first form of organized banking by setting up a network of banks which enabled pilgrims to deposit their valuables in their homeland, and withdraw their funds in the Holy Land through letters of credit. With their donated fortunes and business dealings, this gave the Order vast financial influence, even to have become known as moneylenders to prominent European monarchies. By acquiring large plots of land in Europe, and the Middle East, they built churches and castles, bought farms and vineyards, associated in manufacturing and import/exports, had their own fleet of ships, and even owned the entire island of Cyprus.
In the late 12th century, the tides began to turn in the Crusades, as the Muslims took over control of Jerusalem, the Templars were forced out of the Holy Land to relocate elsewhere. By 1303, the Knights established a headquarters in Paris, but the French king Philip IV was determined to bring down the order. This was due to the knights expressing a desire to form their own state in southeastern France, and denying the ruler additional loans, as King Philip IV was already severely indebted with staggering sums to the order. On October 13, 1307, all members of the Templars were arrested along with the Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, and charged with the offenses of heresy, devil worship, homosexuality, and financial corruption. Their assets were seized and the men were brutally tortured and forced to confess under duress. Only the Pope could condemn the order, so a newly appointed Pope Clement V was more than happy to appease Philip’s coercion. In 1310, scores of Templars were burned at the stake for recanting their earlier confessions during the trials. While On March 19, 1314, Jacques de Molay, suffered the same as fate as his brethren by being burned at the stake on an island in the middle of the Seine River in Paris. It is believed that as the fire rose, de Molay hexed King Philip and Clement threatening they would both follow him within a year, and they did. Pope Clement died only a month later, and King Philip died seven months later.
While it is agreed that the Knights Templars were disbanded over seven hundred years ago, it is said that they continued in secret by going underground and it still exists today. Jacques de Molay was said to have passed on his powers to a successor, while some had taken refuge in Scotland during the following years, but the order did not exhibit its presence again until 1705.
Set aside from the adamantly guarded rituals and traditions, there are still several mysteries surrounding the Knights Templar. The knights were of mighty, courageous character, so a prominent question is — Why didn’t they fight back when arrested by King Philip’s men? As King Philip never fully located all of their riches, some say, they responded meekly, in order to let their great treasure slip away. Most assume it was a treasure beyond material value, possibly something of spiritual importance such as the Ark of the Covenant or the Holy Grail. Others have suggested it was a Christian secret, like the ‘bloodline of Jesus Christ’.
The Knights Templars’ treasure, in whichever shape or form has never been found, and its location remains a mystery. Some Templar researchers have considered it has connections to Bérenger Saunière’s inexplicable wealth, and it was buried underneath the church of Rennes-le-Château. A widely believed theory is that the surviving Templars hid it within Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland. Supposed the order did carry on after being banished, it’s within good reason to believe there are a chosen few with the secrets to the treasure. While to the rest of the world, the Knights Templar is just a piece of a historical puzzle.