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The Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon

Updated: Jun 20

Templar grave slab, Templetown, Co.Wexford.

Not to us lord, not to us, but to thy name let the glory be given

Rule 1 of the poor knights of the Holy City - “How they may hear the divine office. Surely you, who renounce your own will and others with you who fight temporarily with horse and armour for the highest king and for their souls, strive unfailingly to hear with devout and pure affection matins and every complete service according to canonical tradition and the custom of regular clerics of the Holy City.

Therefore, reverend brothers, it is your obligation most of all because having despised the light of the present life and having ignored the suffering of your bodies you have promised to count as vile the raging world for the love of God, nourished and filled by divine food, and learned and strengthened by the teachings of the Lord after the consummation of the divine mystery. Let no one fear battle, and let him be ready for the crown”.

The Templars. The knights of the Order especially, have had much written about them over the years, some of it fantasy, some works have been ‘spun’ with the deftness of Alistair Campbell to fit an agenda, but through a process of deduction derived from some ‘between the lines’ research, I have formed an opinion which leans more towards the prosaic, and not the highly dramatic versions of events that so many have described. The common denominator between both the Cistercian and Templar Orders is of course Bernard of Clairvaux and a handful of noblemen from Burgundy and Champagne. These men were responsible for the founding and subsequent growth of both Orders. In particular, Bernard’s influence grew within the established Church of his day, with a mixture of simple religious zeal, an acute intellect, and some important familial connections, he managed to involve himself in the general running, not only of the Cistercian Order but the Roman Church itself. Bernard was instrumental in the appointment of Gregorio Papareschi, Pope Innocent II in the year 1130, and this was in spite of the fact that Gregorio did not have full support in his claim to the Papal throne. Bernard traveled at length and consulted with the great and the powerful of his day in order to facilitate as much as he could Gregorio’s appointment. His success in this endeavour marked St Bernard as probably the most powerful man in Christendom, for as ‘Pope Maker’ he probably had more influence than the Pontiff himself. This appointment should not be underestimated, for it was Pope Innocent II who formally accepted ‘The Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon’ into the fold of the Roman church. This he did, almost certainly, at the behest of Bernard and possibly as a result of promises he had made to this end in exchange for Bernard’s support which led him to the Vatican.

How and why Bernard became involved in the formation of the Knights Templar may never be fully understood. There is no doubt that he was related to some of the first Templar knights, notably Andre de Montbard, who was his maternal uncle and of course Hugues of Payens his cousin. He may also have been related to the Counts of Champagne, who themselves appear to have been pivotal in the formation of the Templar Order. Also, King Alfonso the First who was a nephew of Bernards was the first king of Portugal; and a Templar. These two new religious Orders were essentially created by a select cadre of noblemen from Northern France who remained intertwined by their beliefs and to a much greater extent their personal contacts. Many knights after their tour of the Holy Land opted to join the Cistercian order, one of the many who followed this path was Evrard Des Barres, the Third Grand Master, who upon entering Clairvaux described it as the true ‘New Jerusalem’. In a letter to the Bishop of Lincoln in c.1129 Bernard says - “Clairvaux itself is Jerusalem; it is one with the Jerusalem which is in heaven, in wholehearted devotion of the mind and in similarity of life and in spiritual kinship”.

The permanent Templar knight when not on the battlefield was expected to live as a monk, expected to undertake the same duties and where possible, the devotions of his non-military brother. The only exception to this was time allowed for the warrior monk to finesse his battle skills, maintain weapons/armour and supervise the care of his horses. There were three classes of Templar knight. The first was the permanent knight: this man devoted his life to the Templars, took vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, and when not on the battlefield lived to all intents and purposes as a monk. These men were assisted by temporary knights who would devote themselves to the Order for several years and during this period of service would live as a permanent knight under the same rules and vows. These two classes of knight wore the white mantel as a symbol of purity and chastity, and being a member of the nobility was a prerequisite to acceptance. A married man could join the Order with the consent of his wife but would wear their heraldic family colours rather than a white mantel. He could provide assistance in the Holy Land to elevate his soul but was able to return to normal life when he chose. These secular knights, or perhaps I could call them ‘lay knights’ (note the overlap with the Cistercian Order) had no contact with the permanent or temporary knights unless it was necessary to discuss strategy or battlefield tactics in pre-conflict briefings.

Sergeants at arms and the huge support network of servants and staff wore black or brown so that if captured no mistake could be made surrounding the rank of the prisoner. The set piece for a Templar battlefield manoeuvre was the cavalry charge. A contemporary Saracen scholar described the Charge as utterly terrifying: 100 or so Knights on armored horses riding so close to each other that if an apple was thrown amongst them it would never touch the ground. After the charge had scattered the enemy, the sergeants at arms and foot soldiers would enter the fray and pick off enemy combatants from an army left in disarray. If necessary these charges would be repeated. The legendary courage and discipline of the Templar knights were given account by Jaques de Vitry - “Thus they became so terrible to the enemies of Christ’s faith that one of them sued to chase a thousand, and two of them two thousand; when they were called to arms, they did not ask how many of the enemy there were, but where they were. They were lions in war, and gentle as lambs at home; in the field they were fierce soldiers, in church they were like hermits or monks; they were harsh and savage to the enemies of Christ, but kindly and gracious to Christians”. This vivid description of the two sides of a knight is the basis for the design of the Baucent or Templar standard. The white represents the monk, the black a depiction of the fearless warrior, a living nightmare to the enemies of Christ. The level of discipline displayed by the Templars was a game changer in the twelfth century, for most knights of the time the desire for personal glory had the potential to distract them from the overall strategic objectives of battle.

When not on the battlefield the Templar knight would live as his Cistercian brother, rising at 04.00 for Matins which comprised 13 paternosters. The brothers were then permitted a brief period of rest until the division bell summoned them to prime at 06.00, the first mass of the day. Terce was at 08.00 and Sext at 11.30, followed by the first meal of the day. The knights ate first followed by the sergeants. Meals were taken in silence, pairs of knights eating from one plate while scriptures were read. At 14.00 hrs it was Nones, followed by Vespers at 18.00. After Vespers, an evening meal would be consumed followed by the final office of the day Compline. During winter months the offices were compressed with Matins at first light and Compline at twilight. If brothers were overseas and unable to attend offices Bernard’s instruction was described in Rule 2 of the fellowship of the poor knights - “Moreover, if another brother is by chance distant because of the business of Eastern Christianity (which we do not doubt has happened rather often), and on account of such an absence he has not heard the service of God, we recommend and affirm unanimously with an unrestrained voice that he say thirteen Lord’s prayers for Matins and seven for the individual hours, but nine for Vespers. For they who are so directed in the labour of salvation are not able to attend their divine office at the proper time, but, if possible, let the prescribed hours not pass before the obligation has been performed.”

The Templar church at Gowran Kilkenny. The interior was subterranean when constructed.

What did the Templars discover under the Temple Mount during the first nine years of their occupancy? It has been suggested that they were searching for Enoch's cube in a system of tunnels nine layers deep. To me this sounds more like a message than a statement of activities undertaken. A part of the myth and legend of the Templars is that during the early years of their formation they devoted a huge portion of time to excavations underneath the mount (see also Sacred Spaces, telluric energy, conductive rock formations). Solid evidence of Templar excavations was provided in the 19th century by a British army expedition of archeologists who themselves tunneled under the Temple Mount. The archaeologists discovered the remains of a lance, spurs, belt buckle, and a cross. The tragedy exhibited here surrounds how a knight managed to get a horse down the tunnels and then how his inability to turn around ensured his unfortunate demise. Seriously though, a widely held belief is that this tunneling led to the discovery of the Ark of the Covenant and as many other treasures and relics as you might care to imagine. Many believe that this ‘treasure’ was what initially endowed the Templars with the wealth that they subsequently capitalised on. The treasure I suspect in this instance was written knowledge contained in ancient scripts left behind by the Essenes monastic colony after their time on the Temple Mount; that confirmed perhaps some of their own and Bernard’s mystical beliefs when decrypted (more likely translated) in 1121 by Lambert de Saint Omer. There are many schools of thought that liken the Templar knight to a mystic, or a magician imbued with a deep understanding of the occult and the esoteric. This assumed knowledge would play a significant part in their downfall with heretical allegations being weaponised at their trial at the beginning of the 14th century. As with most myths, there is a kernel of truth however. The knowledge these soldiers of Christ attained whilst in the East, would have indeed been considered heresy by the papacy at the time. An example of this understanding of diverse beliefs is their use of the God Abraxus on a Templar seal (perhaps for local political reasons?) Abraxus is described as a fat-bellied character with the head of a lion or a cock, sometimes crowned, with a dragon's tail, and serpent's legs. This deity is placed amongst the Egyptian gods, was the Persian sun god, and in Syria Abraxus was the name for Yahweh or Jehovah. The Gnostics claimed Abraxus as the virgin birthed offspring of the archon Sophia and described Jesus Christ as a spirit/phantom sent to earth by him. They believed his name contained great mysteries, as it was composed of the seven Greek letters (gematria) that formed the number 365. He had command of 365 gods each with a virtue for a day of the year.

“Abraxus is a god whom it is difficult to know. His power is the very greatest, because man does not perceive it. Man sees the summum bonuum (supreme good) of the sun, and also the infinum malum (infinite evil) of the devil, but Abraxus he does not see, for he is indefinable life itself, which is the mother of good and evil alike. He is the monster of the underworld…he is the bright light of day and the deepest night of madness…he is the mightiest manifest being, and in him creation becomes frightened of itself”.

Carl Jung - The Seven Sermons of the Dead

The idea that the Templars discovered a hoard of gold underneath the Mount doesn’t in my opinion bear close examination. The Templars between 1119 and 1128 were literal poor knights of the Temple of Solomon, they had nothing, surviving on handouts and charitable donations for the barest necessities of life. The situation was so dire that there was some unrest among the knights as to whether their mission was worth the sacrifice. I would suggest that even if they had found a pot of gold it would have been of little interest to them; keep in mind the vow of poverty, they might have bought weapons and horses but an extravagant lifestyle wasn’t their bag. In later years this early endeavor was conflated with their subsequent accumulation of assets. Hugues wrote to Bernard on the matter of their rock-bottom morale, asking for a letter of support and encouragement before the council of Troyes in 1128. It was at this point Bernard was motivated to seek papal approval for the Order which he duly delivered at the council. Bernard's approval during this time would have been considered a guarantee of success. It was as a product of the heartfelt endorsement of Bernard at the council (and his subsequent treatise - in praise of the new knighthood) that the wealth started to accumulate - not before. Whatever they discovered under the Mount it was clearly of spiritual not financial significance. To put the matter of the Order's wealth into context, upon their dissolution the Templars had acquired the same overall wealth as the Hospitallers. Both military Orders were half as wealthy as the Cistercians.

It is a well established fact that wherever the Templars settled it wasn’t too long before they started to excavate, create tunnels and underground spaces. I could speculate at length the purpose of their subterranean labours but clearly tunnels make great escape routes and proved beneficial when both Jerusalem and Acre fell.

It’s worth at this point seeking to understand the nature of the massive logistic support the Templars required to maintain their overseas activities. If the Order lost a battle in the Holy Land and 100 knights perished, this would mean recruiting replacements along with the

purchase of horses, hiring replacement combatant and attendant support, and transporting the whole ensemble overseas. During this time and upon arrival, this small army would have to be fed and maintained. An expensive business, all of this in addition to funding the existing force. The most efficient way to transport equipment and materials from West to East was by sea, initially the Templars relied on Italian merchants but in the fullness of time developed their own naval branch.

To make the act of pilgrimage as safe as possible the Order created Temple houses at key locations on several routes. pilgrims could deposit their money at these sites and receive a rudimentary travelers cheque which they could redeem at locations en route. Although a fee was charged for this service the advantages to the traveler were obvious. As Templar wealth increased, their liquid banking funds became of interest to many, and this inevitably led to loans being granted to individuals and monarchs alike. To charge interest was at this time illegal so presumably a flat fee was also charged on a loan. The annals of history have seen these activities as a product of cupidity and greed but again we must remember that the motive for these activities was the generation of ever-larger sums to fund the ever-growing infrastructure requirements and core mission in the Holy Land. The penalty for getting ‘caught with your hand in the till’ was horrendous. An example would be one of the last masters of Ireland, Walter Le Bachelor who was condemned to death by starvation in a penitential cell at the Temple Church in London for his crime. He took eight weeks to die in a cell measuring 2’6” by 4’6”.

After the seventh crusade, incursions by the Mongols, and the fall of Acre in 1291, the Templars made a tactical retreat to Cyprus and I’m sure from here they had to acknowledge that for the foreseeable future, Christendom had lost occupation of the Holy Land. I’m confident that in the eyes of the Templars there would always be hope that another crusade could be launched and this crusade would need to be financed. Legitimacy could be ascribed to any effort to protect Christendom from those who would attack it, but in truth, their most singular central duty was always in the Holy Land and without this duty, they must themselves have considered the validity of their existence as an Order. Before their dissolution the Templars had fallen out of favour with many, the clergy viewed the Order with distaste as they had no control over it; the Templars only answered to the Pope, not bishops. Excommunicated knights, such as William Marshall were made Templars on their deathbed and buried against the wishes of senior clergy in Templar locations which were in consecrated ground, thus facilitating a swift passage to the afterlife. The knights of the Order were also free of taxes, customs duties, and other financial encumbrances, you can imagine how well that went down. To cap it all, the Order in later years wasn’t even particularly successful on the battlefield suffering a string of losses. Unfortunately, the financial ventures undertaken by the Order during this period were one of the fundamental causes of its dissolution. By the mid-13th century, the Templars had to a great extent become estate managers and landlords. They owned and operated vast swathes of highly profitable land which they now had a responsibility to manage and which continued to accrue wealth. As previously mentioned, one of the ways these funds were developed was through the issue of loans to some of the most powerful people in Europe, an entirely sensible and pragmatic enterprise as the Order had no immediate use for the funds and it would seem wise to curry good favour with those that might instigate a return to the land of their inception.

King Philip the Fourth of France had borrowed heavily from the Templars and through immense good fortune had discovered allegations of all manner of heinous crimes were being levelled at those to whom he was indebted. Something similar had happened with Jewish lenders only a year or so before and this of course absolved him of his need to repay his loans. I guess sometimes everything just goes your way! Confessions were solicited from the Templars by torture and at the trial of the last Grand Master, Jaques de Molay, he and his brother Templars were offered life sentences rather than execution in exchange for an open admission of guilt in court. De Molay responded that he’d rather die with honour than live a lie. He was burned at the stake in 1314. It is said that whilst the flames licked around him he cursed Both King Philip (the Fair) and Pope Clement the 5th exhorting that they would both be dead within 12 months. The Pope died in April 1314 and in November Philip suffered a stroke whilst hunting and subsequently died. King Philip’s bloodline died out in 1328. A second reason for the dissolution ordered by an at the time reluctant Pope was Jaques de Molay’s flat refusal to accept the unification of the religious Military Orders. To Philip this was perhaps the last straw, a show of independence from the rest of medieval society that simply couldn’t be tolerated, combine this with the now apparent lack of need for a crusading army of warrior monks and the Templars decline can be considered an inevitability. It was only in France that torture was employed in the prosecution of charges, of the 138 men interrogated only 15 were Knights (in general about 10% of the Templar organisation were knights) and although these trials were also conducted across Europe, the majority of the accused were acquitted and allowed to live out their days in peace, sometimes on a small pension. Those knights that had no interest in retirement were welcomed by the Knights Hospitaller and The Order of Christ in Portugal, whilst some chose to retreat to Cistercian abbeys to undertake a primarily spiritual existence in a formal monastic environment.

The Templars in Ireland

Black Castle, Templemore, Tipperary.

On September 29th, 1155 Henry II held a council at Winchester to deliberate with his nobility on whether to conquer Ireland. Henry put off the expedition since the idea was displeasing to his mother Empress Matilda. As any right-thinking son would do, he decided to win his mother over by obtaining papal approval for his conquest. The Pope at the time was Pope Adrian IV, an Englishman, whose good friend was John of Salisbury. Henry, through John, succeeded in his request and based his petition on his desire to “extirpate the seeds of vice among the Irish people” in a manner that would not injure the Christian community. John later recounted the event in his philosophical work Metalogicus, “At my request he ceded and bestowed Ireland upon the illustrious king of England, Henry II, to be possessed by hereditary right, as his letters prove to this day”.

The years passed and then, much to Henry’s advantage, a certain Dermot Mc Murrough who had been deposed as the king of Leinster, traveled to Wales to seek the help of the Normans in regaining his lost title. He was initially assisted by Maurice de Prendergast who landed at Bannow Island on the 1st of May 1169. This partnership didn’t last long however, the two men suffered a disagreement so severe Prendergast decided to return to Wales. The reason for this dispute is not recorded but it is thought plausible that the Norman knight was so horrified by

Mc Murroughs brutality that he felt unable to continue their alliance. A further four Norman landings took place over the next three years with landings at locations including Crooke in Co. Waterford and Baginbun just outside the Village of Fethard in Co. Wexford. It wasn’t until Easter Sunday 16th of April 1172 that the Templars arrived in Ireland as part of the retinue of Henry II.

Upon the acquisition of these territories by Henry, the Templar Order was quickly granted lands on either side of the Waterford estuary, the monarch entrusting this area of strategic importance to his most trusted knights. At the end of an inevitable process of ebb and flow of land grabs between a host of religious Orders a settlement of territories was eventually accepted. The Templars now controlled swathes of Irish land upon which they could raise revenue to support their activities in the Holy Land. The means of raising these monies ranged from fees to use water mills, Saladin tithes, customs charges, tenant rents, donations, etc. It should be understood that these monies did not engender irrational greed on the Part of the organisation as some might have us believe. The knights of the Order had taken a vow of poverty and lived accordingly, the funds collected were only to be used to support their brothers in the Levant. Some consider Ireland to have been a Templar retirement home, it may well have been after the dissolution but before this, I’m not so sure. Entrusting the movement of considerable sums of money around the country before dispersal by sea in Templar ships would not be a deployment given to those who didn’t have full fighting capability. The Templars and later the Cistercians relied on the collection and dispersal of money to fund their interests, this will naturally have made them a target for the unscrupulous; and then as now, there was no shortage of such people. The defensive castellated towers above the crossings of the Abbeys were an addition made circa the 15th century. Although initially the Cistercians were desperately poor and had nothing worth stealing, as time progressed their business acumen saw them gradually become wealthy land owners with Abbots being considered on a par with their secular contemporaries. Reminiscent of Bernard's departure from the ‘opulence’ of the Benedictines, the Trappists made a similar departure centuries later from the Cistercians for the same reasons.

Kilcloggan Preceptory.

Templar Preceptories were functional towers around four stories high and 20’ (6-7 metres) square. Again, a repository for collected tithes/rents/donations would seem an obvious conclusion. A handful of knights could defend these structures for as long as they had supplies. I would also suggest that adding structures to these relatively small towers would weaken their strategic advantage catastrophically. Any sleeping/living facilities would have been a distance away along with a Chapel. It’s perhaps interesting to consider the possibility that some preceptories might have been places of duty with knights/brothers perhaps manning them for periods of time before a change of personnel. Local to Tintern abbey, Co. Wexford; beginning now at Poulfur, is a road named Templars Way. This road then travels to a junction halfway between Kilcloggan and Templetown preceptories. Could it be that between tours

of duty at the aforementioned preceptories the knights made their devotions at Tintern? Or was this road used for the regular transportation of collected funds etc? For the road to have been named thus, the Order must have used it frequently. A time machine would be handy.

The Templar land ownership empire expanded slowly with various noble families donating land at different times, these included, the DeLacy Family, Matilda DeLacy Butler gifted a huge property on the Cooley Peninsula of County Louth in c.1250, by the Taffes of Louth of lands in County Dublin, by the Bourkes of land in Sligo and by the FitzGeralds of land in Kildare. The Irish also supported the Templars, with the O'Morras (O'Moores) gifting Lands at Kilcloggan in County

Wexford. Eleven major preceptories and manors of the Order have been identified, namely, Clontarf in County Dublin (which was the most important preceptory in Ireland), Rathronan and Athkiltan in County Carlow, Gowran in County Kilkenny, Crook and Kilbarry in County Waterford, Templehouse in County Sligo where the Knights Templar built their most westerly European stronghold in 1216, Kilsaran and Cooley in County Louth (the most wealthy apparently), Clonaul in County Tipperary and Kilcloggan (Templetown) in County Wexford.

The Templar Church at Crooke, Co. Waterford. The Preceptory is extreme left.

The Templar (Later Hospitaller) preceptory at Templetown Co. Wexford. The Original Templar church would have been in the foreground adjacent to the Agnes Dei grave slab.

Templar knights enjoying their retirement.

Further reading

Niall Byrne - The Irish Crusade

Sean Martin - The Knights Templar

Alain Desgris - L’Esoterisme Templier : Le Livre des Mysteres & des Revelations

Robert Wojtowicz - Original rule of the Templars translation

Billy Colfer - Arrogant Trespass

Billy Colfer - The Hook Peninsula

Herbert Wood - The Templars in Ireland

Peter Partner - The Murdered Magicians

Edward Burman - The Templars Knights of God

Patrick Cummins - The Parish of St. James and Dunbrody

Dolores Kearney - A tale of the Wexford Knights Templar

Freddy Silva - First Templar Nation

Alan Butler & Stephen Dafoe - The Knights Templar Revealed

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