Here’s an interesting book: http://quintessentialpublications.com/twyman/?p=885
Tracy Twyman makes the point that wealth in the ancient and medieval world was something that had to be carried around in sacks – making the rich easy prey for robbers like Robin Hood. This made journeying pilgrims, burdened with their earthly belongings, juicy targets and as part of their role as protectors of the religious traveller, the Templars devised a system that would make them less attractive to thieves.
Quite simply, you placed your money in one Templar preceptory – say in London – and withdrew it another – say in Acre. To do this you carried a chit which carried secret Templar coding – an essential form of security. Think about the number code on your Visa card and hologram and you get the idea.
Like all bankers, the Templars charged an administration fee and interest but somehow managed to avoid the opprobrium of the church with regards to engaging in usury – an activity that had been largely confined to the Jewish community.
The term ‘cheque’, Tracy opines, is a reference to the chequered board on which Templars and bankers settled their accounts.
The eventual loss of the Holy Land left many of the Templar’s royal and powerful creditors salivating over the Order’s assets which didn’t seem to have a practical use anymore – there being no crusades to fund.
In addition, the way in which the Templars had amassed such huge treasure became the subject of salacious stories about bizarre rituals – the kissing of a goat’s backside – worship of the devil, worship of the head of Baphomet, etc. To have so much money, the Templars must have been in league with the devil – it was felt.
This would be rather like saying that Lehman Brothers was in cahoots with Satan to have become so mighty and that the Archangel Michael laid it low as divine wrath. Or if you prefer, that Bernie Madoff is the Antichrist. I’m sure many of his former clients would probably concur.