In essence, did the Knights Templar not die and disappear in the flames before Notre Dame – but continue to the present day within the Masonic lodges?
It’s a testament to the Freemasons that many people automatically assume that the Masons and Knights Templar have always been one and the same thing. It’s impossible to find anything from the Middle Ages that identifies such a link.
The Templars were an order of monks who took up the sword to fight in the Holy Land (and other places) against the Saracens/Moors….basically, Islam. The Masons – on the other hand – were people who carved stones in to different shapes for high status buildings – particularly cathedrals and had their own guilds and restrictive practices one might associate with 20th century trades unions – say the print unions for example.
So how do these two bodies of men (mainly men) get conflated together? As I’ve said before, there’s not much evidence that Templars were involved in any cathedral building….unless you can tell me otherwise. And there was no obligation on the part of master masons to go off on crusade unless they voluntarily took the cross. Masons were not bound to the Rule laid down in the main by Saint Bernard for the Templars – as the masons were not monks.
One account of how the link got made suggests that in the late seventeenth century, a chap called Chevalier Ramsay began lecturing to the Grand Lodge of France on the links between their organisation and the Templars of old. At this time, the great fortress of the Templars in Paris was still standing – as I mentioned in another blog. So their physical presence was still very strong in that city. The forbidding building, used to imprison Louis XVI, jutted skywards in the Marais district.
Masons were of growing important in France at this time – they were allegedly at the forefront of the bourgeois movement that would sweep away the Bourbon Monarchy in the 1780s. They had no reason to feel any affection for a Catholic monarchy that had oppressed France’s protestants and sceptics. No doubt many Freemasons were ardent supporters of what we now call The Enlightenment. But why bother forge a link with the Templars?
Well, every movement and every nation needs its creation myths. To be more weighty and credible, how much better to show that your secret order has been around five or six hundred years longer than it actually has. And how butch to say that your forebears were knights in shining armour fighting valiantly for the truth.
I do wonder that as the Catholic church was hostile to the Masons until recent times – and vice versa – that there was some appeal in identifying with an order of monks who fell out so badly with the pope at the beginning of the fourteenth century. But one should note that relations with the papacy were famously cordial for most of the Templars’ existence. Pope Eugenius III was the midwife of the Order and granted it all its privileges.
The attraction for the Freemasons must be that of the outsider – the Templars were outsiders and so are they. And also the Templars’ alleged secret rituals – much like the Freemasons again. Though note that much of what the Templars were supposed to do in secret was scurrilous stuff raked up during the trials of Jacques De Molay and others. And of course the Masons disappeared – like a puff of smoke. So where did they go? Fleeing to Scotland, Switzerland, China or the Americas….as I’ve read. Being effectively nationalised by the Portuguese monarchy. Or subsumed in to the Hospitallers.
Or….they went underground and….they’re down at your local Freemason lodge!