The Knights Templar

Amanda Ruggeri wrote on the BBC travel website on 13 May 2016:

“…The Middle Temple has perpetuated the heraldic symbol of the Knights Templar by using the Agnus Dei symbol, a sacrificial lamb holding the banner of innocence set in a red cross on a saintly white background. The doors and borders of the Middle Temple are generally marked by this symbol, as those belonging to the Inner Temple are marked with the Pegasus.

The area, known as Temple, remains far less known to tourists than other nearby attractions like St Paul’s Cathedral or Trafalgar Square. And most of those who do find their way here don’t realise Temple’s biggest secret: this whole area was once the stronghold of the Knights Templar.

The medieval order, known for their role in the Crusades and as one of the Middle Ages’ most powerful and wealthy religious orders, lived, prayed and worked here from about 1185 up until their dissolution in 1312.

They built monastic dormitories, chambers and two dining halls – now known as Middle Temple Hall and Inner Temple Hall, though they’ve been rebuilt many times over the years – and, most famously, Temple Church.

“They lived right here,” said Robin Griffith-Jones, the reverend of Temple Church and a historian of the Knights Templar. (In a sign of how historic and traditional this area is, his official title is Reverend and Valiant Master of the Temple). “The hall of the Templars was what is Inner Temple hall now – right over there. And the priest’s house was where my house is.”

In 1120, Christian knights had just captured Jerusalem in the First Crusade. But even while the holy city was safe, the pilgrimage routes to get there were not. Travellers were routinely attacked, robbed and even killed.

A handful of knights took monastic vows and devoted themselves to protecting the pilgrims and their routes. In return, the king of Jerusalem gave them headquarters on the Temple Mount. The Knights Templar was born and they were soon world-renowned for their courage.

“They were a very disciplined fighting force – and hugely self-sacrificial. If there was a disaster in battle, they were decimated. They didn’t run away. They just got killed,” said Griffith-Jones.

They also became extraordinarily rich. As well as owning land and other assets, they didn’t have to pay tithes. They were also the first to issue what today we would call cheques. If a pilgrim was leaving home, they could give the Templars all the money they’d want in the Holy Land, get a promissory note in return and collect that amount when they arrived. By 1191, they were so wealthy they were able to buy the island of Cyprus.

Little surprise then that by the mid-12th Century they needed a grander headquarters for their London chapter. By 1185, they had built Temple Church…

…By 1307 the knights were no longer needed as crusaders. Their military stronghold of Acre, in present-day Israel, had fallen in 1291. The knights were still engaging in smaller-scale raids, but the Crusades had effectively ended – and, for the Church, had not ended well.

As well as no longer having any military purpose, the Knights Templars’ wealth had made them potential enemies of some powerful people – including King Philip IV, who owed them a vast sum of money.

The charges of devil-worship in their initiation rites quickly followed. Scores of knights were arrested on Friday 13 October 1307, and those who wouldn’t confess were burned at the stake. The rest scattered. In 1312, the order was dissolved.

The land at Temple went to the Knights Hospitaller, another military religious order. That order leased the land to lawyers in 1346, and today the Temple area is well known to England’s barristers, all of whom must belong to one of London’s four Inns of Court – medieval legal associations – in order to practice. Two of these Inns of Court, the Inner Temple and Middle Temple, are based here…”

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