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The secrecy around the powerful medieval Order of the Knights Templar, and the speed with which they disappeared over the space of a few years, has led to Knights Templar legends. These range from rumors about their association with the Holy Grail and the Ark of the Covenant, to questions about their association with the Freemasons, to searches for a lost treasure. Speculation about the Templars has increased because of references to them in bestselling books such as The Da Vinci Code and films such as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and National Treasure.
Legends surround the location of the Templars' first headquarters on the Temple Mount, which had been assigned to them by King Baldwin II of Jerusalem. They were in operation there for 75 years.
The Temple Mount is sacred ground to Jews, Christians, and Muslims, and is the location of the ruins of Solomon's Temple, and the ancient resting place of the Ark of the Covenant. Pseudo-historical books such as The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail theorise that the Templars could have discovered documents hidden in the ruins of the Temple, possibly "proving" that Jesus survived the Crucifixion or possibly "proving" Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and had children by her. Indeed, the supposition that the Templars must have found something under the Temple Mount lies at the heart of most Templar legends and pseudo-historical theories, also popularised by French author Louis Charpentier. There is no physical or documentary evidence, however, to support such a supposition. It is true that they are documented as having carried a piece of the True Cross into some battles, but this was probably a portion of a timber that was discovered during the 4th century by Saint Helena, the mother of the Emperor Constantine.
Other legends of modern invention say that the Holy Grail, or Sangreal, was found by the Order and taken to Scotland during the suppression of the order in 1307, and that it remains buried beneath Rosslyn Chapel. Other more recent discoveries say the Holy Grail was taken to Northern Spain, and protected by the Knights Templar there.
Some sources claim that the Templars discovered secrets of the Masons, builders of Solomon's Temple, Zerubbabel's Temple, and Herod's Temple at the Temple Mount, along with knowledge that the Ark had been moved to Ethiopia before the destruction of the first temple. Allusion to this is made in engravings on the Cathedral at Chartres, the construction of which was greatly influenced by Bernard of Clairvaux, the Order's patron. Further links to both the search by the order for the Ark and to its discovery of ancient secrets of building are supposedly suggested by the existence of the monolithic Church of Saint George in Lalibela, Ethiopia, which stands to this day but whose construction is incorrectly attributed to the Knights Templar.
Some scholars, such as Hugh J. Schonfield, and fringe researchers argue that the Knights Templar may have found the Copper Scroll treasure of the Qumran Essenes in the tunnels beneath the Temple Mount. They suggest that this might explain one of the charges of heresy which were later brought against the knights by the Medieval Inquisition.
The last Grand Master of the Templar Order, Jacques de Molay, was burned at the stake in 1314, by order of King Philip IV of France, who had also pressured Pope Clement V to disband the Order. Legend has it that de Molay issued his dying curse against the King and Pope Clement V, saying that he would meet them before God before the year was out. Pope Clement died only a month later, and King Philip died later that year in a hunting accident. Malcolm Barber has researched this legend and concluded that it originates from La Chronique métrique attribuée à Geffroi de Paris (ed. A. Divèrres, Strasbourg, 1956, pages 5711-5742). Geoffrey of Paris was "apparently an eye-witness, who describes Molay as showing no sign of fear and, significantly, as telling those present that God would avenge their deaths".
Albert Pike claimed the Knight Kadosh, the 30th degree within the Ancient Accepted and Scottish Rite, commonly known as a 'Vengeance degree', involved the trampling on the Papal tiara and the royal crown, destined to wreak a just vengeance on the high criminals for the murder of de Molay. The figure of Hiram Abiff representing Jacques de Molay, with the three assassins representing Philip IV of France, Pope Clement V and Squin de Florian. Malcolm Barber has cited a masonic legend that resembles Pike's claims, in Louis Claude Cadet de Gassicourt Le Tombeau de Jacques Molai (Paris, 1796, first edition).
A frequent recurring legend relates how when Louis XVI was guillotined, an anonymous French Freemason rushed from the crowd, dipped his hand in the king's blood (or grabbed the head and held it) and yelled, "Jacques de Molay, thou art avenged!" This story first appeared in The Illuminatus! Trilogy, a work of science fiction, in 1975.
Many modern stories claim that when King Philip IV had many Templars simultaneously arrested on October 13, 1307, that started the legend of the unlucky Friday the 13th. There is ample evidence from informed sources that the legend is true. The legend goes that King Philip prepared and sent secret orders to all of his governors to arm themselves on October 12, and on the following night, no sooner, on pain of death, to open the king's letter and act on it. On Friday 13 October, Templars within France were arrested at the break of day. Their property was seized, and then were told in the letters to subject them to torture if deemed necessary. This was followed through in France and Italy, but ignored in other countries. In Germany and Spain, the Order was acquitted at once. Cyprus also ignored the accusations and bore honorable testimony of the behavior of the Sir Knights on this island.
|“||The lunatic ... doesn't concern himself at all with logic; he works by short circuits. For him, everything proves everything else. The lunatic is all idée fixe, and whatever he comes across confirms his lunacy. You can tell him by the liberties he takes with common sense, by his flashes of inspiration, and by the fact that sooner or later he brings up the Templars.||”|
Some historians and authors have tried to draw a link from Freemasonry and its many branches to the Templars. This alleged link remains a point of debate. Degrees in the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite such as the Knight of Saint Andrew, the Knight of Rose-Croix, and the 32nd Degree in Consistory make reference to a "Masonic Knights Templar" connection, but this is usually dismissed as being ceremonial and not historical fact.
John J. Robinson argues for the Templar-Masonic connection in his book Born in Blood: The Lost Secrets of Freemasonry, in which he alleges that some French Templars fled to Scotland after the suppression of the Order, fearing persecution from both Church and state. He claims they sought refuge with a lodge of Scottish stonemasons within which they began to teach the virtues of chivalry and obedience, using the builders tools as a metaphor; and eventually they began taking in "speculative masons" (men of other professions) in order to ensure the continuation of the Order. According to Robinson, the Order existed in secret in this form until the formation of the United Grand Lodge of England in 1717. An example of Templar-Masonic transitory symbolism can supposedly be found in Rosslyn Chapel owned by the first Earls of Rosslyn, a family with well documented ties to Scottish Freemasonry, however Rosslyn Chapel itself dates from at least 100 years after the suppression of the Templars.
However, historians Mark Oxbrow, Ian Robertson, Karen Ralls and Louise Yeoman have each made it clear that the Sinclair family had no connection with the Medieval Knights Templar. The Sinclairs' testimony against the Knights at their 1309 trial is not consistent with any alleged support or membership. In "The Templars and the Grail" Karen Ralls states that among some 50 who testified against the Templars were Henry and William Sinclair.
The Order of the Solar Temple is one infamous example of a "neo-Templar" group, founded in 1984, that claimed descent from the original Knights Templar; there are several other self-styled orders that also claim to be descended from, or revivals of, the Templar Order. One such organization is the Sovereign Military Order of the Temple of Jerusalem (SMOTJ), an ecumenical Christian society based on the traditions of the medieval Knights Templar and principles of chivalry. However, the order is not a genuine order of chivalry, having neither official state recognition nor a head of state as sovereign. SMOTJ was created in 1804 and is dedicated to the preservation of the holy sites in and around Jerusalem, charitable works, and antiquarian research. In 2001, the most prominent faction of the SMOTJ was recognized by the United Nations as a non-governmental organization.
Some people point out a few assumed similarities between Knights Templar and Switzerland. This is mainly because of the similar flags, the Knights, a square cross flared at the ends, and the modern Flag of Switzerland, a square cross, without flared ends. In addition, the Swiss, like the Templars, are known for their banking practices.
Ultimately, throughout history and to this day, various organizations have tried to claim links to the original Templar order. To date, none of these claims is historically verifiable nor widely accepted in academia.
There are various legends concerning a treasure that some Templars managed to hide from King Philip and that was later lost. One particular story concerns Rennes le Chateau, where a treasure was supposedly found in the 19th century; one speculative source for that treasure was the long-lost treasure of the Templars.
According to a legend, the Knights Templar hid and buried the great treasure in Vrana, Zadar County, because Ramón from Serò near Granja del Pairs in Noguera (comarca) in Catalonia in Spain gave a generous gift to the Knights Templar into the hands of their Grand Master Arnold of Torroja. This Ramón was the son of Romana the daughter of Benesmiro de Siponto who was the justitiarius of Monte Sant'Angelo and who was sent by Pope Alexander III as a notifier to Šibenik.
Another strand of Templar legend states, in its fullest form, that many Templars escaped to Scotland in 1307 with their treasure and much of their fleet. Given sanctuary by the excommunicated Robert the Bruce, they played a crucial part in the Battle of Bannockburn, helping defeat the numerically superior English Army of Edward II and ensure Scotland's independence. Their story is encoded in the carvings of Rosslyn Chapel, with a great secret or treasure buried in the foundations, and their legacy is the ritual of Freemasonry.
The tale of the missing Templar fleet originated during the suppression of the Templars, from the interrogation of Jean de Châlons by the Inquisition. He claimed that he had heard that preceptor of the French Templars, Gérard de Villiers, had been warned of his imminent arrest. De Villiers had escaped with 50 horses and eighteen galleys. De Châlons' son, Hugues de Châlons, escaped with him carrying the wealth of his uncle, Hugues de Pairaud. In Baigent and Leigh's The Temple and the Lodge, the fleet carried the treasure of the Paris preceptory of the Templars.
Scotland became the destination of the fleet over four centuries later, in the claims of George Frederick Johnson, an exiled Jacobite living in Austria. Johnson, however, turned out to be a fraudster who was probably called Johann Samuel Leuchte. After a chequered career based on alchemy and forgery, "Johnson" convinced a masonic lodge in Jena that he possessed the highest secrets of masonry, and having declared the rest of German masonry irregular, brought a surprising amount of lodges under his control. Exposed as a fraud by Karl Gotthelf von Hund in 1764, he was later apprehended by a previous victim, and spent the rest of his life in prison.
Hund's initial attraction to Johnson was spurred by a need to find his own superiors. He had been received into the Order of the Temple by high ranking Jacobites in Paris during 1743, being introduced to Charles Edward Stuart himself. After the failure of the 1745 rebellion, his masters were either in hiding or dead, and had lost interest in maintaining their Templar offshoots, leaving Hund with a depleted ritual book which he had to reconstruct from memory. As Johnson's collection of lodges now looked to him for leadership, the Rite of Strict Observance was born. Again, the foundation myth alleged that Freemasonry was started by Templar refugees under the protection of Robert the Bruce. This time, they had travelled from France through England disguised as stonemasons, and their use of masonic symbols in their allegories paid tribute to this deception.
Under Hund's leadership, the Rite of Strict Observance became the most popular branch of Freemasonry in the German states, with lodges all over Continental Europe. However, Hund's continuing inability to produce, or even contact his "Unknown Superiors" led to increasing dissatisfaction. Six years after his death, a convent meeting in Wilhelmsbad from 1782 to 1783 finally agreed that Freemasonry had no connection to the Templars, and Strict Observance ceased to exist, most lodges being absorbed into the Rectified Scottish Rite. For most of the previous two decades, the most common foundation myth among German masons stated that Freemasonry came from the Knights Templar, protected and allowed to flourish in Scotland.
The legend refused to go away. In 1815, Claude Thory, a respected French scientist and Freemason, claimed that Robert the Bruce had created the Order of St. Andrew for masons who had supported him at Bannockburn, which was later joined to the Order of Heredom, which he founded at Kilwinning. In 1837, a Scottish Freemason called James Burnes, in attempting to revive a Scottish order of "Knights Templar", expanded the masonic link to Bannockburn. He introduced the Knights Templar as the bearers on Freemasonry to Scotland, and had the Templars play a crucial part in the battle. This appears to be the basis of subsequent tales of Templar involvement at Bannockburn. The contemporary Royal Order of Scotland makes use of a similar foundation myth, which is no more intended to be taken as historical fact than any other piece of masonic allegory.
The story of the missing Templar fleet would acquire a new twist in the twentieth century. As stated above, this tale was based on a single item of testimony from serving brother Jean de Châlon, who says he had "heard people talking that [Gerard de Villiers had] put to sea with 18 galleys, and the brother Hugues de Chalon fled with the whole treasury of the brother Hugues de Pairaud." However, aside from being the sole source for this statement, the transcript indicates that it is hearsay, and this serving brother seems to be prone to making some of the wildest and most damning of claims about the Order, which have led some to doubt his credibility.
In Holy Blood, Holy Grail, the knights that allegedly boarded these ships then escaped to Scotland, but in some versions the Templars are claimed to have fled to the New World by following old Viking routes, making one of the pre-Columbian voyages to America. Once there, this version of the conspiracy theory has it that they buried a treasure in Oak Island, Nova Scotia, Canada (a story taken up in the 2004 movie National Treasure starring Nicolas Cage). However, many historians have questioned the plausibility of this scenario. For example, historian Helen Nicholson has argued that
In Portugal, the Knights Templar did not disband, but simply changed their name to Knights of Christ. In 1492, this group is alleged to have provided the navigators for Christopher Columbus' journey, and the Order's cross was featured prominently on the sails of his ships, however there is no actual evidence to support this.
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Further speculation revolves around the Templar's association with other Orders. This matter is additionally confused because some Orders, such as the Freemasons, started adopting Templar symbols and traditions in the 18th century. (See: Knights Templar (Freemasonry)) Another modern (but much smaller) order that claims Templar ancestry is the Sovereign Military Order of the Temple of Jerusalem.
Conspiracy theorists claim that the Knights Templar stored secret knowledge, linking them to myriad other subjects: the Rosicrucians, the Cathars, the Priory of Sion, King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, the Hermetics, the Ebionites, the Rex Deus, lost relics or gospels of James the Just, Mary Magdalene or Jesus (such as a "Judas Testament"), King Solomon, Moses, and, ultimately, Hiram Abif and the mysteries of ancient Egypt. This, in turn, has contributed to the Knights Templar having several influences on popular culture.
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A Masonic legend speaks of three Templars searching the site of Jacques de Molay's burning and finding only his skull and femurs. These they took with them and allegedly were used as the impetus to create the first Jolly Roger flag of Piracy, so that they would never forget. This same symbol is used today by the Yale Skull and Bones society.
A painting discovered in 1945 by Mrs Molly Drew in the roof of an outhouse of a cottage in Templecombe, England, has been the subject of various speculations. It has been on display in St Mary's Church in the village since 1956 (the only Templar-related site to have survived there), and has been carbon-dated to 1280 AD. Some people believe that it is a Templar-commissioned image of either Jesus Christ or the severed head of John the Baptist, although it is without a Halo. The painting is best known as possibly being a copy of the image on the Turin Shroud, and therefore evidence of the Turin Shroud being in the possession of the Knights Templar during its "hidden years".
Many locations claim various links with the Templars with varying degrees of reliability. The following is a list of some of the places that have been associated with the Knights Templar, either in fiction or legend, but which have not yet been proven to have a factual association.
Item dixit, quod potentes ordinis prescientes istam confusionem fugiunt et ipse obviavit fratri Girardo de Villariis ducenti quinquaginta equos, et audivit dici, quod intravit mare cum XVIII galeis, et frater Hugo de Cabilone fugiit cum tot thesauro fratris Hugonis de Peraudo.