Around 700 years ago, one of the most powerful religious orders of Christianity was living its tragic end. The French king subjected the Christian warriors to torture with the approval of the pope. No protest was heard on April 3, 1312, in the cathedral of Vienne, south of Lyon. Bishops and princes have been gathered there for more than half a year. In the space of the altar are the most important characters.
King Philip IV the Beautiful and Pope Clement V
Nor could the two be any different. Philip, ruling since 1285, was rigid, harsh, speechless, and had an iron will. But Clement seems to be at the helm, suffering from cancer. The function was due exclusively to the king, who obliged him to reside not in Rome but in France. In the cathedral of Vienne, a decision had been applied that had been taken since March 22, which will remain controversial for a long time. The papal bull “Vox in excelso” provides for the abolition of the order of the Templars. It was, in a way, the height of the series of heresy processes from the Middle Ages, and historians regard it as a precedent for all the facade processes that took place in the twentieth century.
Exacerbated accusations were brought to the members of the famous order: impiety, blasphemy, idolatry, sodomy, and generally reprehensible deeds. They were accused of corrupting the young clergy, denying Bible prophets, of spitting on crosses. Ordinal would have represented a place of perdition, of ruin. However, the Templars were not charged with de jure, that was, based on the law, but per viam provisionis et ordinationis, that is, they were dissolved by administrative-bureaucratic means after five years of prosecution and torture. But how did the order get in this situation?
The soldiers of Christ were bankers
Not long ago, the organization between 1118 and 1120 represented an embodiment of chivalry and religiosity. “Enjoy, Jerusalem!”, Enthused at 1130 the Cistercian Bernard de Clairvaux, who admired the Templars for their courage and bravery. The external beauty came from the zeal of fighting against the Muslims, and the internal beauty from the struggle with the forces of evil that resides in man.
In 1095 Pope Urban II launched the appeal to the crusade. It was the time of the Gregorian reform, a phase of religious renewal, and the expansion of papal power. The Templars were the children of their time. Thousands of pilgrims took the road to Jerusalem, and cross-country states were set up in Edessa, Antioch, Jerusalem and Tripoli. To protect the believers on the dangerous roads, Huges of the heathen set up a special community. The King of Jerusalem offered them shelter in the palace that stood on the site of the legendary Solomon’s temple — hence the name of the order.
Probably because the early Templars were very poor, they did not even have the white mantle with the red cross they would consecrate later. Their coat of arms features two knights who share a horse, a symbol of the ambivalence of their institution. This was because the Templars reconciled what seems irreplaceable: they were monks and warriors.
They joined the line of the Ionians, who appeared two decades earlier, except that the Templars were dedicated to war; they were a category of holy warriors. A regulation was made at the Troyes council of 1129, and later the Templars received an important series of privileges: the soldiers of Christ were under the protective wing of the pope, had their own priests, were exempt from the tithe, and were subject exclusively to Rome.
Clerics were striving to enter the structure that already had a reputation for neglecting. Kings gave them lands and burghs, and bishops’ church. From France to the Iberian Peninsula, from England to Italy, the Templars gained ground and established their colonies. Cultivated wine, grew cattle, and even maintained a fleet in the Mediterranean. Without the general European support, the order would have gone a long way, and without the Templars, the Latin states of the East would not have resisted too much.
Knights were also bankers and treasurers, working with advanced accounting techniques. Kings allow them to manage their assets. The English crown borrows from them, and treasures resembling true fortresses preserve French treasures. The Templars become a kind of state in the state and Church in the Church. In the 13th century, it had about 7000 members and owned no less than 870 burghers.
But with Glory increasing, so did the danger that the order was undertaken. States were beginning to prevent them from gaining more ground; the Templars became greedy and arrogant, abandoning their ideals. Then came the year 1291, and everything changed. Akkon fortress falls, the last Christian bastion in the East. The Templars moved their headquarters to Cyprus. The Holy Land was lost.
The order seems superfluous. The Teutons were concentrated in northern Europe, in Prussia, and the Ionians moving to the island of Rhodes were waging heavy wars with the Turks. But the Templars will only have one thing: the Holy Land. In 1291 the great master arrived Jaques de Molay, a character regarded as a tragic hero by the latter.
The drama began in 1306. The Templar’s attempt to enter the East again fails, but the crucified spirit does not disappear. Pope Clement V summons the Templar and Ionian master Falko von Villarets at Poitiers. Molay doesn’t suspect the danger. There were rumors of the blasphemies of knights. A certain Esquieu de Florian spreads idolatry and sodomy. The king of Aragon ignored him because the Templars still fought with the Moors in the Iberian Peninsula. But French Minister Guillaume de Nogaret regards the rumor as an extraordinary chance to annihilate the already far too strong order. He recruits witnesses, collects alleged evidence, and infiltrates spies.
The last nail in the coffin
Molay’s terrified. With full confidence in the pope, he begs Clement to open an inquiry to clear the structure of any suspicions. But the Pope could not oppose the king, his power was declining under the conditions of the state centralization operated by Philip, who wanted a modern state and for this, he tried to reorganize the administration, the finances, and the justice. How things were with the papal scion was shown in 1303: when Boniface VIII defies the king’s policy, he accuses him of heresy. Following him was the bishop of Bordeaux, Clement V, with his residence in Avignon.
But what does the king have against the Templars? The rumors were rather a pretext. Philip’s state of modernization and the wars against England and Flanders drained the treasury. In 1306 he ordered the expropriation and expulsion of 100,000 Jews after taking action against the Lombard creditors. Fillip knows what treasures the Templars had. But another reason was suspected: Philip had the ambition to become a master of the order and even to organize a cross to conquer Jerusalem.
What a triumph it would have conflicted with the pope! Vinery, on October 13, 1307, gives the signal. The Templars were arrested, and the properties were checked. The arrest includes 546 members, 138 from Paris alone, including Jaques de Molay. Fillip gives the pope a stinging blow because the trial should have been handled. But the great prisoner, Guillaume Imbert, plays alongside the king.
Templar Knights were tortured to death
Clement trembled with anger, considering Philip’s action an offense against the Church. Even outside France, Philip was not supported. No monarch wants to follow his example. Then Philip presents the evidence, that was, what the authorities put out of the mouths of the accused who went through hard-to-imagine cases. On October 24, the great master endures terrible torments, after which they adhere to the principles of the Templars and acknowledges that he had spit on the cross.
He also told his colleagues to do the same. Fillip reaches its goal: the Templars were defeated just before the trial. There was nothing left for the Pope to do except follow the path drawn by the king. To gain some of his reputations, he ordered the confiscation of the Templar’s properties and their assignment to the Church. A wave of arrests occurs throughout the West. Molay still nourishes hopes. He denies his claims of torture before two bishops, but he will retract the words because he fears he will not be killed, as was the practice for heretics who admitted and then denied. So Molay calms down and only asks to see the pope.
A strategy without success because it was not allowed, and anyway, it would have solved a little thing. In 1308 Philip convened all the assemblies of the country. Guillaume de Plaisance, a minister, threatens the Pope. Clement had no choice. The process takes years. In 1309 a papal commission was set up in Paris to deal with the problem. And here Philip was the maneuvered.
Those who do not give up their order, accusing the manipulation and blackmail, come to the scaffold. During the Vienna Council, Philip’s policy reached its peak. Philip goes into practice with the army in town. Clement saves his skin and a shadow of reputation by ordinarily dissolving on March 22, 1312. We do not know if he believed the Templars guilty. It was certain that the pope surrendered before the royal authority.
However, the drama does not end. The situation with the great master remains to be resolved. Clement is careful but then decides to send the cardinals to Paris. Two more years he spent his time between the walls of the prison until the verdict was given, on March 18, 1314, in front of the door of Notre Dame. Molay was sentenced to life imprisonment.
Until the last moment, Jaques de Molay relied on the pope’s attitude, but when he hears the sentence, he rebels along with another accused, the Normandy master. Jaques de Molay and Geoffroy de Charnay were burned on the same day. But soon, the knights of the knights die: Cancer clement on April 20 and in December, following a hunting accident, follows the king.
And what happened to the other Templars?
Did the Freemasons inherit it?
Did they hide their treasures?
The historical truth seems to be a little harsher: the order had gradually disappeared from Europe. Only in Portugal remains some of it in the form of another order whose fortunes will help the small state to rise as a naval power. The treasure of the Templars, which was actually much smaller than Philip had expected, was for the Ionians. Thus the purpose of creating a united order was achieved. The French crown kept little for itself because it had to give the young people money to redeem their brethren from prison.
So the dilemmas were not quite as great as the fantastic literature wants them to be. Moreover, the Templars disappeared as a result of applying a state policy that aimed at any means, including torture, which was a fairly normal process at the time. Philip used justice as an instrument of power in an unscrupulous way. It was not about bringing the truth to light but about pretending the suspect was guilty. The way the king manipulated public opinion was a step in the building of absolutism that would dominate European history for centuries.