Yes, on this very day in 1128 – Pope Honorius gave official recognition to the Knights Templar. You should all know the early part of this story off by heart. In 1119, Hugues de Payens and Godfrey de Saint-Omer found the Order to protect pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land.
This duo and the band of knights who joined them seem to have been part of a Burgundian social/religious scene that included Bernard of Clairvaux – who went on to write their rule book. There were ties of blood and kinship between all these fellows and it’s suggested that the idea of setting up the Order came from Bernard and was suggested to De Payens. There’s no doubt they ended up becoming the military wing of Bernard’s own order, the Cistercians.
There had been a deterioration in safety for pilgrims in the Holy Land since the emergence of the Seljuk Turks, who had conquered the Levant from the Fatimids.
In contrast to the Seljuk’s more aggresive stance, many of the early caliphs who had ruled over Jerusalem were surprisingly tolerant of Christians flooding in to the holy places – as they were people of the book and, at the risk of being vulgar, there was a fast buck to be made out of this medieval form of tourism.
The First Crusade saw Jerusalem fall to Christian forces from the west but this did not mean that pilgrims now had a trouble free journey to the city. Crime was a serious threat with many losing their lives to robbers.
By 1119, things had got so dangerous with bandits and thieves pouncing on passing groups of pilgrims that the Knights Templar were ostensibly set up as protection for them. Well, that’s the official reason for the Order being set up. Whether the Knights had a wider agenda from the outset is a matter of ongoing debate.
The group seems to have grown as an Order pretty rapidly and barely a decade later were getting a papal thumbs up from Honorius. This included the sanction to wear a white mantle – to which a later pope, Eugenius, would permit the red, eight pointed cross, to be emblazoned.
The Templars were to be answerable only to the Pope and enjoyed a measure of self-government that was sooner or later going to irritate the hell out of the feudal aristocracy. Nobody likes a parallel power structure on their patch.
Honorius II was elected pope on the death of Callistus II and got the top job largely as a result of being backed by the powerful Frangipani clan in Rome – who were opposed by the equally powerful Leoni. The latter had quickly stuck a cardinal on the throne as Celestine II when Roberto Frangipani stormed in and removed him – putting the Cardinal of Ostia in his place, who became Honorius II.
This was an example of the unseemly politics that surrounded pope making for centuries – with aristocratic factions or rival monarchs pushing their favoured candidates. Honorius not only gave the green light to the Templars but also gave papal approval to the Premonstratensian Order.