Back in 1842, Charles G Addison wrote his book “The History of the Knights Templars” – the plural on both words is his decision, not mine. He explains how nearly three centuries after the death of Christ, the Empress Helena – mother of the Roman emperor Constantine – “discovered” the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. One of several very convenient discoveries by this intrepid woman. Seems she couldn’t move for kicking up another relic of Our Lord.
That set in train wave after wave of pilgrims who flooded to the Holy Land until the eastern Roman Empire lost control of Jerusalem and most of what had been the province of Syria – to the armies of Islam. Or the “Arabians” as Addison puts it.
But in 637CE – Caliph Omar, the new Islamic ruler, seems to have been remarkably generous and agreed to protect Christian churches and allow pilgrims to continue to worship, Addison notes. A decision which made plenty of sense. Pilgrims brought business and early Islam was acutely aware of its theological relationship with Judaism and Christianity.
In fact, the waves of pilgrims actually increased in size over the next four centuries until in 1064, Addison points out that seven thousand arrived headed up by the Archbishop of “Mentz” and Bishops of Utrecht, Bamberg and Ratisbon. But things were about to go horribly wrong.
The next year, Jerusalem was conquered by the “wild Turcomans” and three thousand citizens slaughtered. By “wild Turcomans”, Addison is referring to the Seljuk Turks whose impressive empire extended from India to the walls of Constantinople – an achievement only matched by Alexander the Great. But when Addison wrote, the Turks were still demonised in European history books as alien, blood thirsty invaders. Not that I’m sure they didn’t have their moments – but the Seljuks get a slightly better write up these days.
Addison recounts one story that might be true – or could be crusader propaganda: “The patriarch of the Holy City was dragged by the hair of his head over the sacred pavement of the church of the Resurrection and cast in to a dungeon”. Pilgrims were massacred or robbed and access to the Holy Sepulchre now came at an extortionate fee.
Needless to say the actions of the “wild Turcomans” sparked off the First Crusade. The events that prompted nine crusader knights to form the Order of the Temple was the continued harassing of pilgrims by Bedouin horseman, Addison claims. Pilgrims, whether coming by land or sea, had to put up with “daily hostility” and even death – he says.
So in 1118 – because of the breakdown of tolerance instituted by Caliph Omar and the wickedness of the “wild Turcomans”, our friends the Templars came in to being.