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13 things you didn’t know about the Knights Templar

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In Lost Relics of the Knights Templar, treasure hunters Carl Cookson and Hamilton White investigate the provenance of five items from a hoard of treasure that they believe originated with the Knights Templar, a religious military order that was disbanded in 1307.

Even 700 years after they disappeared off the face of the earth we are still fascinated by the Knights Templar and with good reason. Check out these fascinating 13 facts to find out why.

1. Formed to protect pilgrims

When Christian forces conquered Jerusalem in 1099 after it had been under Muslim control for 450 years, pilgrims began streaming into the Holy Land from all over Western Europe. However many were attacked and killed as they crossed Muslim lands. As a result, a religious order of knights – The Templars – was established to protect these devout travellers on their perilous journey East.

2. Nine founding members

The order that Hugues de Payens created in 1119, had eight other members, all fellow knights, related by blood or marriage. Their patron was influential French abbot Bernard of Clairvaux. The order was later recognized by Pope Honorius II who granted the Templars a papal sanction declaring the knights to be an army of God.

3. The Templar seal is of two knights on a horse

This iconography represents the initial poverty of the order that can only afford a single horse for every two men. The two riders perhaps represent founder Hugues de Payens and Godfrey de Saint-Omer, another one of the eight founding members.

4. Knights Templar take their name from the Temple of Solomon.

After they were founded, the Templars based themselves at Temple Mont, repurposing the Al-Aqsa mosque that stood there into their headquarters. That site which was built on the long-gone Temple of Solomon gave the order their name, the Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon, or Knights Templar for short.

5. They had a side-line in financial services

The Templars diversified their offering from safeguarding pilgrims to safeguarding their money, establishing themselves as a sort of medieval bank. Pilgrims would deposit the money at the start of their journey, and withdraw it once they reached Jerusalem using a Templar letter of credit. Thereby, pilgrims could avoid the risk of carrying large amounts of valuables on the journey.

6. They may have inspired Star Wars

George Lucas was so indebted to the Templars for his inspiration for the sci-fi epic that he even named them Jedi-Templars in the original script for Star Wars. More recently you can see their influence in Game of Thrones and the Night’s Watch. Like the Templars, these celibate warriors have taken sacred oaths and fight an enemy that represents an existential threat to their world; they're essentially Templars in black fur pelts.

7. They had a simple hierarchy

There were three main ranks in the Knights Templar: noble knights, sergeants, and chaplains. Only those from noble families whose fathers and grandfathers were knights could become a noble night. The sergeants were drawn from non-noble families and wore black or brown. Chaplains were ordained priests who tended to the Templars spiritual requirements.

8. Strict rules dictated every part of their lives

The Latin Rule was the Templar code of conduct and was inspired by a similar set of rules followed by the Benedictine Monks. For the Templars, these rules represented a solemn pact with God so adhering to them was more than just about honour, it was a test of their deeply held faith. The Latin Rule covered everything from guidelines on their uniforms to their vows of chastity even to the minutiae of their daily life. Bizarrely, the Latin Rule forbade Templars wearing lace-up shoes or using napkins on Good Friday. A knight had to ask permission to adjust their stirrups.

9. They refused to ever surrender

The Knights Templar were ferocious warriors who were driven by religious devotion. For them, breaking their vows was worse than death and one of the cardinal rules, as laid out in ‘The Rules of the Knights Templar’ ordered them never to retreat, surrender or charge without being ordered. Because of this, they were formidable and tireless fighters. They proved themselves invaluable in numerous clashes throughout the Crusades as in the Battle of Montgisard in 1177, where the heavily outnumbered Christian forces defeated the Muslim army in a stunning reversal of fortune.

10. Their clothing had a symbolic meaning

The papal Council of Troyes in 1129, decreed that the Templars could wear a white mantle which represented the vow of chastity they took on joining the order. While married men could join the order they were forbidden from wearing the mantle. The mantle was a religious garment rather than a piece of uniform and Templars had to wear it during prayer and in their other religious ceremonies as well as on the battlefield.

11. You could tell a Templar by their hair

According to Bernard de Clairvaux in his book In Praise of the New Knighthood, Templars kept their hair short to follow the example of the Apostles. And as fighting men, it made sense to keep their hair short as long hair might get in the way on the battlefield. Unlike other knights of the period, they let their beards grow. Alberic of Trois-Fontaines in 1240, described the Templars as an ‘order of bearded brethren’.

12. They acted as shock troops of the Crusades

The central strategy of the Templars and one in which they were very well trained was to act as the 'shock' troops at the forefront of any battle they were involved in. Riding in on horses, the Templars were like the tanks of their day, deployed to break enemy lines and deal a heavy blow. One chronicler of the time, described their tactics: 'Recognizing the battalion in which Saladin commanded many knights, they manfully approached it, immediately penetrated it, incessantly knocked down, scattered, struck and crushed.'

13. Friday the 13th was the unluckiest day for the Templars

On Friday the 13th of October, 1307, all the Templars in France were arrested following orders from King Philip IV on charges of heresy. They were brutally tortured and forced to confess to outrageously trumped-up charges including homosexuality, devil worship, heresy, financial corruption, fraud, spitting on the cross, idolatry, obscene kissing and the denial of Christ.

The journey of the Knights Templar