As we all know, on the fateful day of Friday the 13th in 1307 – the pope condemned the Knights Templar and orders went out to round up the masters and knights. King Philip IV of France pressured Pope Clement V in to banning the two hundred year old military order, which was already on the wane after failures in the crusades in the east. Jerusalem was lost to the Saracens forever along with most of the crusader kingdoms set up in the late eleventh century and twelfth century.
But the ban on the Order was not enthusiastically embraced everywhere outside of France. England seems to have dragged its feet and the tortures and executions that characterised the French suppression of the Templars were not present in other kingdoms. Portugal in particular seems to have felt a debt of gratitude to the Templars – had they not been in the vanguard of driving back the Moors, the muslim rulers of southern Portugal and Spain?
Portugal was also a smaller and less wealthy kingdom than France and probably more pragmatic in outlook. The Templars had been a wealthy Order operating across frontiers – so why not embrace all that talent (and money) in some way? King Dinis of Portugal set up a new state sponsored organisation called the Order of Christ and duly enrolled the old Templars in to it. Pope John XXII recognised the new order and it was eventually headquartered in Tomar – where the Templars had been based up to their suppression.
A hundred years later, its Grand Master would be a son of the then Portuguese king. This man was Henry the Navigator who would instigate two hundred years of Portuguese ‘discoveries’ from Brazil to India and give birth to a vast maritime empire. The cross of the Order of Christ would be emblazoned on the sails of the caravels that plied the seas from Goa to Salvador. It’s often been said that Portugal’s mastery of international trade and commerce in this period was in no small way due to the Templar spirit imbued within the Order of Christ.
By the middle of the sixteenth century, the revenues of the Order of Christ were huge. Four hundred and fifty commanderies oversaw annual revenues of a million and a half livres. The papacy often believed it had the right to appoint new members of the Order, a move resented by the Portuguese kings who insisted that the Order fell entirely under their control. Bizarrely, this dispute still rumbles on and on the Vatican website, the Holy See today indicates that it is reticent to appoint new members of the Order even though it would like to.
In other kingdoms, the estates of the Templars often transferred to the Hospitallers or in Spain, they went to the Order of Montesa.