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Another Grand Master Gets Burned

Jacques de Molay. Illustration by anonymous (c. 19th century). Bibliotheque Nationale de France. PD-70+ Wikimedia Commons.
Jacques de Molay. Illustration by anonymous (c. 19th century). Bibliotheque Nationale de France. PD-70+ Wikimedia Commons.

I gave my father a copy of our recently published book Where Did They Burn the Last Grand Master of the Knights Templar? A Walking Tour of Medieval Paris–Volume One. He actually read the book. I only know this because he asked me the other day who the Knights Templar were and what did they do.

I stared at him in disbelief. My first thought was how could you not know who the Knights Templar were. I mean, haven’t you seen the Indiana Jones movies? I immediately flashed back to the book and its contents and asked myself if I had ever explained in the books who they were and why they existed. I looked over at Sandy and she had read my mind. She shook her head and said nope.

This is a great example of taking your audience for granted.

The Origins of the Knights Templar 

Coat of arms of Jacques de Molay, last Grand Master of the Knights Templar. Illustration by Odejea (2008). Musée de Versaille. PD-Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0. Wikimedia Commons.
Coat of arms of Jacques de Molay, last Grand Master of the Knights Templar. Illustration by Odejea (2008). Musée de Versaille. PD-Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0. Wikimedia Commons.

On 16 July 1099, the First Crusade ended after Jerusalem fell to the Christian crusaders. Only approximately 300 knights and 300 foot soldiers remained behind after the majority of the crusaders returned to Europe. Christians were now able to make the pilgrimage to the Holy Lands and Jerusalem. However, it was a very dangerous journey.

During this time, organizations of knights were being formed around Europe. The premise was that a knight should use their weapons in the service of God. Hugh of Champagne founded one of these, the Order of the Temple, in 1125. The pope gave his blessing to what became the first approved religious military unit.

The original intent of the knights was to protect pilgrims on their journey to the Holy Lands. As time went on, their role turned to a more military active one whereby they became participants in future crusades.

Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries

Tour de Temple, circa 1795. Painting by anonymous (c. 18th century). Photo by PHGCOM at Musée Carnavalet (2009). PD-Author’s release. Wikimedia Commons.
Tour de Temple, circa 1795. Painting by anonymous (c. 18th century). Photo by PHGCOM at Musée Carnavalet (2009). PD-Author’s release. Wikimedia Commons.

Despite a vow of poverty, the Templars became fabulously wealthy. They originally depended on donations from wealthy French nobles and the king. Over time, the organization began business enterprises throughout Europe including banking, farming, vineyards, import/export, shipping, and manufacturing. Our current foreign exchange and payment methods are based on the Templar’s original financial system. Their headquarters were in Paris in the area of what today is known as the Marais District. It was called The Temple (Napoléon had it destroyed in 1809).

By 1139, the Templars were exempted from having to obey all local laws, they could pass across all borders, were exempt from paying taxes (technically they were a charity organization), and exempt from all authority except the pope.

The Temple Church, London. Photo by Baggy Suggs (2006). PD-Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0. Wikimedia Commons.
The Temple Church, London. Photo by Baggy Suggs (2006). PD-Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0. Wikimedia Commons.

However, by the mid-thirteenth century, the Holy Lands were lost once and for all to the Muslim forces of Saladin and others (Jerusalem didn’t return to Western control until 1917). The influence of the Templars began to decline. The Templars began to consider founding a monastic state similar to the Teutonic Knights (Prussia) and Knights Hospitaller (Rhodes). This didn’t sit too well with most of the nobility and by the early 1300s, Pope Clement V and King Philippe IV of France decided to do something about the Templars.

The Elimination of the Knights Templar

Jacques de Molay’s Burning at the Stake. Engraving by anonymous (c. 19th century). Jules Edouard Alboise du Pujol, Auguste Maquet Les Prisons de l’Europe, Paris, Administration de librairie, 1845. PD-70+ Wikimedia Commons.
Jacques de Molay’s Burning at the Stake. Engraving by anonymous (c. 19th century). Jules Edouard Alboise du Pujol, Auguste Maquet Les Prisons de l’Europe, Paris, Administration de librairie, 1845. PD-70+ Wikimedia Commons.

In 1305, Pope Clement V suggested the Templars and the Hospitallers merge into one organization. The two Grand Masters, Jacques de Molay (Templars) and Fulk de Villaret (Hospitallers) declined the pope’s “invitation.” In the meantime, Philippe IV was deeply in debt to the Templars and persuaded the pope to disband the Knights Templar.

On Friday, 13 October 1307, Phillipe IV had de Molay and his knights arrested. They were charged with financial corruption, fraud, secrecy, and homosexual practices. Most of them confessed under torture to having spit on the cross and worshipping a mummified severed head.

Jacques de Molay and one of his lieutenants were burned at the stake in 1314 on the Île de la Cité in Paris. As the pope and king watched the former grand master begin to burn, de Molay yelled out a curse that each of them would be dead within a year. His curse came true.

While Philippe IV never recovered the riches and treasures he thought had accumulated under the Templars, the Knights Hospitaller “inherited” much of the Templar’s possessions without that aforementioned merger.

The Knights of Malta

Cross of the Knights Hospitaller: a white Malta cross on the black background. Illustration by Own Work (2009). PD-Author’s release. Wikimedia Commons.
Cross of the Knights Hospitaller: a white Malta cross on the black background. Illustration by Own Work (2009). PD-Author’s release. Wikimedia Commons.

The Knights of Malta or the Order of Malta is the modern successor to the medieval Knights Hospitaller. Its original purpose (founded in 1099) was to defend the Catholic faith and assist the poor. While the Knights Templar provided military protection to the pilgrims, the Knights Hospitaller provided medical assistance to them.

Today, the order is based in Rome and has sovereignty under international law. The United Nations recognizes it as a permanent observer status. The order issues passports to its members along with its own currency and postage stamps. The Knights of Malta established military brigades in conjunction with the Italian military forces. Its primary mission remains as a global humanitarian organization with more than 100,000 staff and volunteers. It is a very conservative Catholic organization devoted to traditional Catholic religious practices.

That is, until recently.

Pope Francis Routs the Knights of Malta

So you think squashing an organization like the Knights Templar only belonged to the Middle Ages? Pope Francis now joins the ranks of King Philippe IV and Pope Clement V from the 14th century. He recently took over control of the Knights of Malta.

HMEH Fra’ Matthew Festing, 79th Prince and Grand Master, Sovereign Military Order of Malta. Photo by Aquilachrysaetos (2008). PD-Author’s release. Wikimedia Commons.
HMEH Fra’ Matthew Festing, 79th Prince and Grand Master, Sovereign Military Order of Malta. Photo by Aquilachrysaetos (2008). PD-Author’s release. Wikimedia Commons.

The grand master of the Knights of Malta, Fra’ Matthew Festing, demanded the resignation of the fellow who was responsible for the order’s humanitarian activities. It seems he authorized the distribution of condoms—a practice in direct opposition to the church’s long-standing policy on birth control. Mr. Boeselager refused to resign so the grand master fired him.

Remember one of my favorite sayings? It’s always good to be the friend of the king. Well, Mr. Boeselager is a friend of the pope as well as other well-placed individuals within the church. The pope formed a committee to investigate and the grand master refused to cooperate.

Despite the order’s sovereignty, the pope “invited” Fra’ Festing to resign and Pope Francis replaced him with a temporary grand master. The pope effectively destroyed the order’s independence and sovereignty.

Perhaps this is an example of a modern burning at the stake?

The moral of this story is don’t refuse the invitation of a pope.

Dad, I hope this helps explain the Knights of Templar (he never uses a computer so he never reads my blogs—I’ll copy it and send it to him via snail mail).

Read more on this story.

What’s New With Sandy and Stew?

Again, if you have read any of the walking tour books (in whole or part), we would very much appreciate you writing a brief review on Amazon. It seems books move up the Amazon hierarchy ladder based on the number of reviews. Thanks for taking a couple of minutes to do that for us.

Someone Is Commenting On Our Blogs

Thanks again to my good friend Kathleen for her kind comments on our recent blog, The Sussex Plan and a Very Brave Woman.” Kathleen said, “Another great post. I always enjoy your stories.”

Kathleen, there’s more to come. Stay tuned.

In the next book, Where Did They Put the Gestapo Headquarters?  A Walking Tour of Nazi Occupied Paris I will take you to the location of the former bistro that served as one of the safe houses for the Sussex Plan agents.

If there is a topic you’d like to see a blog written about, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I love hearing from you so keep those comments coming.

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