Monks who were soldiers don’t just include the Knights Templar but also the Knights Hospitaller, Teutonic Knights and the various Orders set up during the ‘Reconquista’ in what is now Spain and Portugal. It’s sometimes forgotten that the Templars, for example, saw themselves first and foremost as monks and then warriors. The Rule of the Order, largely written by Bernard of Clairvaux, set down stringent obligations to pray and lead a monastic life. There were regular prayers from sunrise to sunset and a dress code enforced by the Draper which included a religious habit.
The book explains how the monastic life emerged in the transition from the Roman Empire to what is sometimes called ‘Late Antiquity’ but used to be called the ‘Dark Ages’ when I was a nipper. Then in the early Middle Ages, the first militarised monks emerged after the first crusade and establishment of Christian kingdoms in the Middle East. This development wasn’t without controversy and as we know now, the military orders of monks were not universally loved.
The Cistercian Order was the midwife of the Templars. The Cistercians had been set up as a response to the perceived laxity and worldliness of the Benedictines, often referred to as the Cluniacs. Bernard was a Cistercian and you can almost look at the Templars as a military offshoot of that order.
This book goes through the history of the various orders and interestingly traces the start of modern Templar myths to a chance comment made in a tract published in the sixteenth century. The said tract, in case you want to know, was called De Oculta Philosophia by Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa. He doubted the charges against the Templar but having reminded people of the charges made two hundred years before, they now got repeated over and over until they were pretty much accepted as true.
By the eighteenth century, the Templars were firmly embedded in the popular psyche as spooky secretive mystics and it only took the revival of Freemasonry in that century to crown the myth. I’m amazed by the number of people today who think the Templars and Freemasons are one and the same thing.
The Masonic link was traced back to masons who worked on the Temple of Solomon or even back to the Essenes, the sect that John the Baptist was supposedly a member of. Michael Walsh shows how a prominent Jesuit – and therefore a fierce opponent of the anti-Catholic masons – saw the hand of the Templars/Masons in the ongoing French revolution. Comments like that only firmed up the spurious link in the popular consciousness.
Michael Walsh then discourses on the link with the Holy Grail. All in all, a good read and to be recommended. Plenty of debunking and proof once more that the real history of the Templars doesn’t need hokum – it’s fascinating in its own right.