Originally formed to protect Christians in the Holy Land during the early Crusades, the Knights Templar were a military order of the Roman Catholic church. Dressed in their famous white mantles decorated with a red cross, these warrior monks enjoyed a reputation as the most skilled fighters in the world during the Middle Ages. They also amassed great wealth and helped to finance wars waged by European monarchs.
But in October 1307 Jacques de Molay, the elderly grand master of the order, and 620 other Templars, were arrested and accused of heresy, blasphemy and sexual misconduct by King Philip IV of France, who was deeply in debt to the order. After a trial conducted by Pope Clement V, de Molay was burned at the stake outside Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris in March 1314.
The rest faced claims that their initiation ceremony, which involved ‘spitting on the cross’ and kissing the lower back, navel and mouth of the man proposing them, was blasphemous. The accused explained that the custom imitated the humiliation that knights could suffer if they fell into the hands of the Saracens, while the kissing was symbolic of their total obedience. Under pressure from the king, however, the pope disbanded the order in 1312.
The Templars then hit the headlines again in 2001 when the Chinon parchment, which had been lost for hundreds of years, was rediscovered in the Vatican. A record of the papal trial, the parchment shows that Jacques de Molay had been tortured into confessing and absolves the Knights Templar. The pope found that they were not guilty of heresy, it revealed, but elected to disband the order to maintain peace with their accuser, King Philip IV.
Answered by: Dan Cossins, freelance writer and journalist.