The Knights Templar
Matthew Christmas looks at The Religious, Military and Masonic Order of The Temple
Passers-by who look in regalia shop windows and see a tailor's dummy rigged out as a Knight Templar, or even those brethren on a ladies' night sharing a masonic centre with a Preceptory meeting, must wonder what the Knights Templar is really about. Many outside the Order may be of the impression that it is simply about dressing-up. This clearly puts many off joining: "just what is my wife going to think when I come home with all that kit? A white cloak and a sword!"
For others, the cost is a key factor: mantle, tunic, cap and badge, sash, belt, sword and three jewels do not come cheap. That is just the start. Other orders, by contrast, have much more reasonably-priced regalia because there is much less of it. And then there are all the books and theories that Freemasons are a direct survival of the medieval, crusading Order of the Temple suppressed in 1312, that order dissolved on charges of devilish heresy with many stories of their hidden wealth and arcane secrets. So what is it really all about?
Despite what the many, money-spinning books on airport and station bookstalls around the world try to claim, there is no evidence for any direct, underground, link between the medieval and the masonic Knights Templar, or for any ancient secrets passed down from generation to generation from the 14th Century under the cover of the Craft. The Order of the “Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon”, symbolised by an early seal depicting two knights sharing a horse, was founded in 1118-19. These monastic knights had an instrumental role in the crusades and defence of the Holy Land and did indeed acquire enormous power, status and virtual autonomy. They were a legend even in their own time. After the end of the Crusades, they returned to their extensive possessions and influence in Christian Europe. They became even more powerful, not least as the bankers of Christendom. For a variety of complicated reasons, they fell particularly foul of the ruthless King Philip IV of France and, following the standard medieval trumped-up charges of denying Christ, practising homosexuality and worshipping idols, were dissolved by Pope Clement V on 22nd March 1312. The last medieval Grand Master of the Temple, Jacques de Molay, was burnt at the stake in Paris on 18th March 1314; the Templars were finished.
The Order of the Hospitallers received many of the Templar possessions throughout Christendom and, in many cases, Templars simply became Hospitallers. This latter Order still remains today as the Roman Catholic, Sovereign Order of Malta and, in England, as the Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem, the parent body of the ubiquitous and much valued St John Ambulance Brigade. Now the legends would have a secret band of fugitive Knights Templar riding to aid Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn; not impossible, but where is the data? Or that their alleged descendants - the Freemasons - organising the French Revolution; or that the crowd watching the guillotining of Louis XVI cried that Jacques de Molay was avenged; or even, that the lost Templar treasure and secrets are buried in and around Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland!
These stories may or may not be true. As an historian, I don't consider that there is sufficient evidence to support any of them. So if the legends prove to be myths, why do we have a masonic Order of the Temple with over six hundred preceptories under the Great Priory of England and Wales and its Provinces Overseas? What attracts many to the “Religious, Military and Masonic Order of the Temple”?
The Desire for Knighthood
After the de-Christianisation of the Craft following the 1723 Constitutions, there is no doubt that many masons wanted to maintain, or create, masonic systems which championed the Christian Faith. There is also no doubt that many desired not only more elaborate degrees and social advancement, but also were determined to give their Freemasonry a link with that most romantic of times, the Crusades, and what more beguiling than the Knights Templar? After all a legendary knightly order was rather more aristocratic and thrilling in origin than descent from operative stone masonry! Certainly, at some time from the 1740s, a number of philosophical and Chivalric degrees with a Christian background appeared in France, in the hands of the Scottish, Irish and English Jacobite exiles. These degrees gradually spread all over Europe before crossing the Channel to the British Isles. Here they were often adopted by Royal Arch Chapters and worked under their existing warrants and we have the qualification today that one must be in Chapter before one can join the KT. From 1791, Preceptories (until 1873 known as Encampments) began to be formally established and regularised under a English national sovereign body, the Grand Conclave. Between 1872-1895, the Order nearly foundered before the establishment of Great Priory in 1895. Great Priory remains in control of the Order today, administered from Mark Masons' Hall, under the current Grand Mastership (since 1997) of Most Eminent and Supreme Knight, Leslie Felgate Dring GCT.
A Pilgrimage in Search of the Lost Word
In Craft masonry and those other degrees which we might term 'solomonic degrees' (see the article in Issue 7, Winter 1998/9), such as the four in the Cryptic Rite (properly known as the Order of Royal and Select Masters), one or two of the Allied Degrees - such as the Red Cross of Babylon - and, par excellence, the Supreme Order of the Holy Royal Arch, candidates are engaged in an allegorical and symbolic journey, as expressed in a search for masonic light in the quest for the Lost Word. So also, in the masonic Templar Order, masons become pilgrims and, ultimately, knights seeking to re-interpret the search for that Word in a Christian sense.
Whilst all masons would acknowledge the universality of Freemasonry and accept that the three degrees of the Craft and the Royal Arch contain all the essential secrets of masonry, those Christian orders such as the Knights Templar, reflect the desire which many Christians feel also to interpret those secrets in a Trinitarian sense.
A candidate desiring to be admitted as a Knight Templar has a long arduous journey ahead of him in ritual terms. The ceremony of installation as a knight of the Order is a most impressive and inspirational one. The ceremony is necessarily quite involved. First, the candidate symbolically embarks on a seven years journey as a poor pilgrim to prove the sincerity of his faith. Should he pass that test of fidelity, he is admitted to the noviciate and is ceremonially clothed as a novice before being entrusted with a sword to enable him to wage spiritual warfare, as instructed by St Paul in his Epistle to the Ephesians. After a further seven years of this warfare as a test of his fortitude, he is forced to undergo the penance for his earthly sins. Following this supreme test of his conviction, he submits to a period of reflection and prayer that he be found worthy of being admitted as a Knight of the Temple.
After re-admittance to the Preceptory, he is further severely tested according to ancient custom, before being admitted to the honour of knighthood and to full membership of the Order of Knights Templar. He is then finally rewarded with the ritual clothing of the order, each item of which has a specific meaning – rather than being mere kit! As a Knight Templar, the regalia genuinely has lessons to teach and is not mere adornment. The new knight is then proclaimed, before being instructed as to the teachings and traditional history of the Order.
In seeking admission as a Soldier of the Cross, he has to journey from ignorance against spiritual wickedness to the knowledge of the Word. On his way, the candidate becomes aware that the knowledge which he seeks is both guarded and perilous to discover. He will genuinely need penance, humility and meditation in order to prepare himself, if he is to become a knight and understand the masonic journey which he has already completed and will be required to undertake henceforth. Thus the “Knight Templar” is truly an initiatory rite, from darkness to light, from ignorance to knowledge. The candidate is finally brought, not merely before a pedestal in the East, but before the altar of God and it is here that the esoteric Lost Word is revealed. This reward is far more important that being dubbed with a sword, being given new, elaborate regalia and declared a knight, despite the significance of all of these. The candidate will have taken an important step on his spiritual journey and it is this which is the true link with those illustrious crusading knights whose name, clothing and aspirations we have appropriated.
Issue 19, January 2002|
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