I vaguely remembered stories of one of my grandfathers who was a Mason and had either achieved the level of Knights Templar or was working toward it when he passed away in his sixties. So, I thought it had something to do with the Freemasons, and I committed to doing some research to verify that.
Turns out that I can only be given credit for being half right.
|Temple of Solomon|
The group that collected that name started out as a group of nine noblemen in the early twelfth century, all related, all wealthy and on a mission to secure Jerusalem after the First Crusade. They quickly gathered support, choosing their name from the fact that they were calling the Temple of Solomon their headquarters.
They were well chosen for their quest, being among the bravest, strongest, and most skilled of the knights; easily recognized by their white tunics and prominent red cross, astride magnificent warhorses. They quickly gathered popular support and soon had the blessing of the Pope, which gave them several critical advantages: they became a popular charity, the funds collected were free from taxation, and tied to that they had free access over borders, crossing at will to protect pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land.
As their number grew, so did the diversity of their mission. Bands of Muslims, loosely united under Saladin, were a threat to the pilgrims, often being attacked and killed by the hundreds. A loose protection was afforded if the pilgrims had nothing to steal, and so the Knights Templar developed an organization that allowed depositing wealth in safe territory and redeeming the value left when they arrived in Jerusalem.
If this seems like an early banking system, that is correct. In fact the note that was given the pilgrims to redeem their deposits was called a cheque, a French word. This process was ultimately to lead to the downfall of the group, almost 200 years from their inception.
Phillip the IV of France found himself deeply in debt to the Knights and, looking for a solution to his problem, played on the general distrust of so many of the secret rituals the group practiced: secret initiations, custody of relics, including stories that they had the Holy Grail, which probably never existed and the Shroud of Turin, which, although it existed, was probably a forgery which post-dated the history of the Knights.
|King Phillip IV of France|
Eventually, Phillip prevailed. The then Pope, Clement V, was coerced into disbanding the order. Prior to that, Phillip engaged in wholesale persecution of the leaders, the most prominent of whom was Jacques de Molay. All were tortured and coerced confessions were used to accuse them of heresy. Many, including de Molay, were burned alive at the stake. After the order was disbanded, the member’s lands and assets were seized, most becoming property of the Church. At their height the order literally owned Cypress. At their depth they owned nothing.
|Templars at the Stake|
The parallel between their rise and fall and the world banking crisis is easy to make. Power and wealth become abused and the asset value may precipitously change in a short period of time. Perhaps the CEOs of Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch should feel fortunate we no longer consider heresy the great crime it once was.
Thank you, Tim for encouraging my information seeking. The current Freemasons do indeed have a tier of initiations, culminating in Knights Templar, but it has little direct connection to these original knights.
In my next post I think I’ll explain why a lunch with my family made me reflect on cues and queues.