More on Friday 13th and the Knights Templar

The Templars: The History & The Myth – From Solomon’s Temple to the Freemasons: A guide to Templar History, Culture, and Locations”, by Michael Haag, ISBN 978-0-06-177593-2, 384 pages, (2009).

Back on Friday 13th, Hypatia made me aware that I knew nothing about the Knights Templar – a gap which cried out to be filled. A search brought me to this blessedly pre-Woke volume with its unusually long title.

One of the main problems with researching the Templars is that the records of the Order have mostly been lost. Contemporaneous documentation is limited, and a key record buried in the Vatican Library was published as recently as only 2007. The author tried to compensate for this absence by putting what little is known about the Templars into the broader context of the sweep of history.

The book begins with a very compressed background history, from the building of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem around 958 BC, through the Arab conquest of Jerusalem about a millennium & a half later in 638 AD, to the First Crusade’s capture of the city in 1099 AD after nearly five centuries of Muslim rule. It is page 89 before the first mention of the Templars – founded 20 years later in 1119 AD.

Over the next 116 pages, the author lays out a brief summation of the convoluted history of Outremer, as the French called the kingdoms & provinces set up by the Crusaders on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean. During the next 200 years – about 10 generations of fighting-aged knights – the Knights Templar played an important part in protecting pilgrims to the Holy Land, facilitating their financial transactions, building castles to resist the intrusions by Muslim forces, and fighting off the Muslims.

One of the major problems faced by the rulers of Outremer was that Crusades came and went, but they never could attract enough permanent European residents to form a stable population large enough to secure the land. The Knights Templar were an important part of the resulting always uphill battle. After about 90 years, Jerusalem fell to Saladin in 1187 AD, and the Europeans were finally ejected from Outremer about a hundred years after that in 1302 AD. (Parenthetically, we might note that Europeans held onto parts of the Holy Land for longer than the English held on to their North American colonies.)

The book then moves on to the fate of the Templars. With the loss of Outremer, they had largely lost their reason for existence. However, they still had large assets in France – a tempting target for King Philip IV and his scheming minister William of Nogaret, desperate for funds to support French wars against the Flemish & English. Surprisingly, the Templars were lax and unprepared – Philip IV had previously seized the property of Italian bankers and Jews in France. Five years after the ejection from the Holy Land, on Friday 13th of October, 1307 AD, his axe fell on the Templars.

As an excuse for seizing Templar assets Philip, charged the Order with heresy. During induction into the Order, Templars had to endure the kind of abuse they could expect if they were taken prisoner by the Muslims. (Similar in intent to the modern treatment of Special Forces during their training). Philip charged that the knights’ behavior during this hazing constituted heresy against the Church. Templars were tortured to admit heresy and burned at the stake. Rulers in other parts of Europe – Portugal, Spain, England, Scotland – did not support Philip’s charges; nor, eventually, did the Pope. With some rebranding, Templars in those countries were allowed to carry on. Over the subsequent march of time, various legends and myths have sprung up around the Templars, which the author explores.

The final 100 pages of Mr. Haag’s book concern directions for visitors to various Templar sites in the Holy Land, along with his reviews of books, movies, and computer games concerning the Templars – from Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe to Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. Mr. Haag has a dry wit, and some of those reviews are Laugh Out Loud funny.


Your penultimate paragraph, about how the knights had to be trained to endure the kinda abuse they could expect if captured by the Muslims, is totes fascinating. I never read that before. It would explain why they confessed to sacrileges like trampling a crucifix—but that could also be explained if they had embraced the Gnostic heresy. Personally I’ve always thought the vaunted uniformity of their confessions was due to the pre-arranged script of their torturers/interrogators.

Now what about the Baphomet, the bearded head on a platter which the Templars supposedly worshipped? Did your book mention that? To me, that brings to mind only ONE individual in all of Christian iconography : John the Baptist. The Templars took vows of poverty celibacy and abstinence: they weren’t allowed to touch any woman, even relatives, they weren’t allowed to hold a baby, and some of their emblems depict two knights on one warhorse (in full armor! Pity that diminutive Norman stallion!) to show how penurious they were. So the Baptist, that ascetic holy man, woulda been a logical object of veneration for them. ( Actually it IS kinda amazing Christianity doesn’t venerate John more: he baptized GOD! He was there at the very last time God the Father’s voice would sound on Earth till Judgment Day! ) But since I’ve never read anything on this issue (and I’ve been reading about the Templars for decades!) I reckon there must be some reason scholars have rejected this obvious idea.

Didja know ( your book probably mentions this) that when Jacques de Molay, the last Templar Grand Master, was burned at the stake at the tip of Isle de La Cité, people swam out in the Seine and carried lumps of his ashes back in their mouths? C’est vrai!
Be careful, Gavin, or you’ll get hooked, like me!


Yeah! That got discussed – along with the literal ass-kissing. It is interesting that today’s Special Forces in training face physical/psychological abuse like being waterboarded, whereas Muslim abuse of captured Templars was expected to focus on getting them to deny their religious convictions. Different times, different people.

The Knights Templar are a fascinating piece of history. Thank you for introducing it to me. Mr Haag recommends some other books. One of them is already on order!