Origin of the Knights Templar
The Order was founded in Jerusalem in 1118 by nine French Knights:
- Hughes de Payens, a vassal of Hugh de Champagne and a relative by marriage to the St Clairs of Roslin.
- Geoffroy de St. Omer, a son of Hugh de St Omer.
- Andre de Monthard, the uncle of Bernard of Clairvaux and another vassal of Hugh de Champagne.
- Andre de Gundomare
- Payen de Montdidier (Nivard Montdesir?), a relative of the ruling family of Flanders.
- Archambaud de Saint-Aignan, another relative of the ruling house of Flanders.
- Geoffrey Bissor (Bisol?)
- Roffal (Roral?)
King Baldwin II, the French King of Jerusalem (1118-1131) installed the Order in a part of his Palace, on the site of Solomon’s Temple, for their residence, stables and armory, from which it took its name of Knights of the Temple or ‘Templars’.
At the Council of Troyes in 1128 the Order was confirmed by Pope Honorius II, who gave it the strict Rule dictated by St. Bernard, a monk of the Cistercian Order who became the first Abbot of Clairvaux. The Knights also received the white mantle as a symbol of purity of their life, to which in 1146 Pope Eugenius added a red Templar cross.
The Order’s battle honors in defense of the Holy Land were many. Following the fall of Jerusalem in 1187 the Templars withdrew to Acre. They remained at Acre with Grand Master William de Beaujue until 1291 when the city was captured and he was killed. The surviving Templars, with their new Grand Master, were the last to leave the city. The Order withdrew to Limmasol, Cyprus and had its Headquarters at the Temple Monastery in Paris.
After many years of sacrifices and rendering services to both Christianity and civilisation, this very rich and powerful Order excited the envy and greed of others. The principal malefactor was Phillipe le Bel, King of France, who was financially indebted to the Order. In 1307 Phillipe arrested all serving Templars in France with the intention of sequestrating all the Order’s possessions. However, these were hidden in a secret place and have never been found to this day. Not able to judge the Order himself, (it was only answerable to the Pope) Phillipe set about to coerce the Pope to suppress the Order, but the Pope refused. Whereupon, the king dismissed him and created his friend, the Bishop of Bordeaux, Pope Clement V, who readily issued a Bull suppressing the Order in 1312. The Order then reverted to its original status of a Secular Military Order of Chivalry.
Only in France were the Templars treated with any severity, with Grand Master Jaques de Molay and others burnt at the stake in March 1314 on an island in the Seine. In England, Edward II (a patron) at first did not take any action against the Order, but finally, he allowed the inquisitors to judge the Order at the Church of All Hallows By-the-Tower. Edward then set about reclaiming English Templar lands and possessions including the London Temple, rather than passing them to the Hospitallers. After Edward’s actions The Templars sought refuge in Scotland where they were welcomed.
History of the Templar Order in the United States
The first Templar to be initiated in the United States was William Davis (pictured left) who was given the degrees of Excellent, Super Excellent, Royal Arch, and Knight Templar by the St. Andrew’s Royal Arch Lodge on August 28th, 1769. Davis owned an apothecary business in Boston, but is perhaps most noted for his efforts at the Battle of Bunker Hill. Here it was Davis who suggested the “Barrel Defense” in which Barrels full of earth and stone were rolled down on the attacking units.
Of course other Revolutionary War notables would be invested with the honor of being Knights Templar, among them Paul Revere who was initiated on December 11th, 1769. Latterly, on May 14th 1770, Joseph Warren another Revolutionary War hero would add his name to the roster of early American Templars.
The Order of Knights Templar Today
The fourth, and last, of the York Rite Bodies of Masonry, Commanderies of Knights Templar serves as the crowning glory in completing the path towards Masonic Light in this tradition. This is the only recognized Masonic Body that has religious connotations, since it is based on the Christian Religion and virtues. As a consequence, while not all Masons will become Knight Templars, every Christian Mason should, to complete his Masonic journey.
In the Commandery, there are three ‘degrees’ or steps, which are called Orders. These are:
- The Illustrious Order of the Red Cross
- The Mediterranean Pass and Order of Malta
- The Order of the Temple
These were formed after the Orders of Knighthood and Chivalry as known in Europe before the reformation. Hence, we are called Chivalric Masonry. As such, our history goes back prior to the Union of the Grand Lodges in England. In fact, it is stated in the Act of Union of 1813 that ‘this article is not intended to prevent any Lodge or Chapter from holding a meeting in any of the degrees of the Orders of Chivalry, according to the constitution of said Orders.’ At this time, Chivalric Masonry was removed from the control of the Symbolic Lodges and generally placed with the Royal Arch Chapters. At a later period the Grand Commandery was formed as a separate and distinct body.
Each Commandery of Knights Templar is subordinate to the Grand Commandery of the State in which it is located. Each Grand Commandery is subordinate to the General Grand Encampment of Knights Templar, which was founded in 1813.
Commanderies are the only uniformed Masonic Body. Each member should, and every officer must, have a uniform. There are two different uniforms recognized by the Grand Commandery of Colorado: the traditional double-breasted black naval uniform with the plumed chapeau, and the ‘cap and mantle’ uniform adopted by many of the Commanderies. Both of these uniforms require plain white shirts, black ties, and a sword suspended on a belt or baldric. The jewels of office are set by the Grand Encampment and are uniform throughout the United States.
To petition a Commandery of Knights Templar or membership, you must first be a member of a Masonic Lodge and other pre-requisite bodies such as the Royal Arch Chapter and possibly a Council of Royal and Select Masters. (This depends on the state where you reside) To petition a Commandery one must profess a belief in the Christian Religion.
The Commandery of Knights Templar
The Commandery Orders represent a different direction of Masonic thought and experience, in that they take Ancient Craft Masonry into the ideals and practices of chivalry and Christianity. The first Commandery Order, the Illustrious Order of the Red Cross, presents the story of the Jewish Prince, Zerubbabel, and his efforts to secure permission of the Persian King Darius to rebuild the second temple at Jerusalem. The next Order, Knight of Malta, is a departure from Blue Lodge Masonry based on the Old Testament, and is the first Christian Order. Here, the candidate represents a knightly warrior of the Crusades prior to his departure for the Holy Land. The last Order is that of Knight Templar, the crowning glory of the York Rite system. In this Christian Order, the candidate represents a knightly postulant who desires to unite with a Commandery of Knights Templar during the era of the Crusades. After several trials to test his faith, courage, and humility, he is rewarded by achieving his desire.
The Illustrious Order of the Red Cross
This Order consists of two sections: (1) Zerubbabel’s (the candidate) admission to the Jewish Council at Jerusalem, in which he is invested with permission and authority to travel to Babylon and attempt to obtain leave from King Darius to stop the enemies of the Jews from hindering their progress in building the Temple, as well as to recover the holy vessels of the Temple which were taken as booty to Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar when he destroyed the First Temple. Zerubbabel is also given a sword to defend himself; a sash to remind him of his cause; and a password to get him by Jewish sentinels on his journey. Unfortunately, he is captured and made prisoner upon reaching the domains of King Darius. (2) At the court of Darius, Zerubbabel renews his earlier friendship with the king, and is granted a position in the royal household. He then participates in a friendly contest with other nobles of the realm regarding the question: ” Which is greater? The strength of wine? The power of the king? Or the influence of woman?” Zerubbabel contends for the latter, and adds an additional factor: The force of truth. After delivering his declamation on women and concluding in favor of truth above all, Zerubbabel is declared the winner of the contest and is granted his desires by the king. To perpetuate the occasion, Darius creates a new order, the Illustrious Order of the Red Cross, and after an obligation, makes Zerubbabel its first member. Next follow the signs, grips, and words as well as a historical lecture. The body is called a Council. The cornerstone of this Order is the all-important attribute of Truth, and the importance of keeping one’s word. It foreshadows the words of Jesus: “I am the Way, the TRUTH, and the Life.”
The Mediterranean Pass and Order of Malta
This Order actually consists of two: The Order of St. Paul, or the Mediterranean Pass, which is a preparatory order, and the Order of Malta itself. The Order of Malta must be conferred in and is quite elaborate and beautiful. The Order of St. Paul is based on the story of Paul’s shipwreck on the island of Melita (Malta). The candidate represents a knight about to depart for the Crusades in the Holy Land. He receives sustenance, both spiritual and physical, to prepare him for the ardors of his journey. The Order of Malta is a suitable preparation for the Order of the Temple, in that it provides the candidate with additional New Testament instruction, particularly in the eight Beatitudes. The symbol of the order is the Maltese Cross, symbolic of the Beatitudes and the eight languages which once were spoken by its members. The candidate is created a Knight of Malta and invested with words and signs specific to the Order. The body is called a Priory.
The Order of the Temple
This Order begins with the candidate, a Knight of Malta, who, after soul-searching reflection and suitable answers to certain questions, seeks to unite with a Commandery of Knights Templar. To test his faith, he is directed to perform a certain number of years of pilgrimage. Being full of zeal and wishing to accomplish more useful deeds, he requests and is granted remission. He assumes a most solemn obligation, and then is obligated to a certain number of years of knightly warfare, as a test of his courage and constancy. Having satisfactorily performed these, he is admitted to the Asylum of the Knights Templar, where he is a participant in certain memorial exercises to KS, HKofT, GMHA, and Simon of Cyrene. He is then required to perform a time of penance in token of his humility. Following this, he seals his membership in the Order in the most solemn, impressive and binding manner, and is duly dubbed a member of the Valiant and Magnanimous Order of the Temple. He receives an explanation of the important accoutrements of Templary, the Grand Standard, Baldric, Beauceant, Sword, and Spur. The body is called a Commandery. The relevance of this sublime Order to the Christian Mason can scarcely be overstressed. It provides a vivid connection between the Craft and Christianity.