Militant Monks


The Knights Templar, a military order of monks answerable only to the Pope
himself, were founded in 1118. Their primary responsibility, at least
initially, was to provide protection to Christians making pilgrimages to the
Holy Land. They rose in power, both religious and secular, to become one of
the richest and most powerful entities in Christendom. By the time of their
disbandment in 1307, this highly secretive organization controlled vast
wealth, a fleet of merchant ships, and castles and estates spanning the
entire Mediterranean area.
When the crusaders captured Jerusalem from the Muslims in 1099, the Church
encouraged all faithful Christians to visit that holy city in order to
affirm their faith. The area, however, was still subject to sporadic attacks
from various non-Christian factions. A small group of knights, led by Hugh
de Payens, vowed to protect the pilgrims. The group was granted
quasi-official status by King Baldwin II of Jerusalem, who allowed them
quarters in a wing of the royal palace near the Temple of Solomon. It is
from this initial posting that the order derived its name. They took the
standard vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and were bound to the rules
of the Augustinian order. [Upton-Ward 1]
The order languished in near-anonimity for several years, despite generous
contributions from various European personages. In 1126, Count Hugh of
Champagne, having donated his estates to Bernard of Clairvaux for use in
building a monestary for the Cistercian order, arrived in Jerusalem to join
the Templars. This action indirectly obligated Bernard to support the newly
chosen advocacy of his benefactor. He wrote to the count, “If, for God’s
work, you have changed yourself from count to knight and from rich to poor,
I congratulate you.” [Howarth 49]
In the year 1126, King Baldwin found two reasons for wanting official
recognition of the order. First, he had, perhaps prematurely, bestowed upon
Hugh de Payens the title of Master of the Temple. Second, the king had the
opportunity to launch an attack on the city of Damascus, but he needed more
knights. Papal recognition would allow open recruiting in Europe for the
order. King Baldwin sent a letter to Bernard of Clairvaux, the order’s
primary patron, later known as Saint Bernard, asking him to petition the
Pope for official recognition of the order. [Howarth 50-51] The King’s
letter was hand-carried to Bernard by two loyal and trusted knights, Andrew
de Montbard, maternally related to Bernard, and Gondemare. Upon their
arrival at Clairvaux, the two knights presented Bernard with Baldwin’s
letter, which came right to the point. [Upton-Ward 3] “The brothers Templar,
whom God has raised up for the defence of our province and to whom he has
accorded special protection, desire to receive apostolic approval and also
their own Rule of life … Since we know well the weight of your
intercession with God and also with His Vicar and with the other princes of
Europe, we give into your care this two-fold mission, whose success will be
very welcome to us. Let the constitution of the Templars be such as is
suitable for men who live in the clash and tumult of war, and yet of a kind
which will be acceptable to the Christian princes, of whom they have been
the valuable auxiliaries. So far as in you lies and if God pleases, strive
to bring this matter to a speedy and successful issue.” [qtd. in Howarth 50-51]
Bernard realized at once the genius of the proposal to combine religious
and military endeavors. Through such organizations, the borders of
Christendom could be extended and fortified. He immediately granted his
approval of the plan and pledged his full support. He petitioned Pope
Honorius II for a special council to consider the matter, and he notified
Hugh of his actions. [Howarth 51]
The Council of Troyes convened on January 13, 1128, a bitterly cold Saint
Hilary’s Day, for the primary purpose of considering the request of the
Knights Templar. Despite the delays of written communications, Hugh de
Payens, accompanied by several brother knights, arrived from the Holy Land
in time to attend the meetings of the Council. [Howarth 51]
William of Tyre wrote an account of the events: “Nine years after the
founding