The Knights Templar always had a heavy French accent – and the great city of Paris was a powerful centre of activity for the order. It was where the huge Temple fortress housed untold wealth. And it was where the last Grand Master would be burned to death in front of the cathedral of Notre Dame.
FIND OUT MORE: The Templar founder Hugh de Payens
What is now a very trendy district – the Marais – was once the site of the Templar HQ in France – known as ‘the Temple’. Amazingly, this massive structure remained standing for nearly five hundred years after the Templars were crushed in 1307. You can see on an 18th century map below that it was located in what is now the Square du Temple.
The area was typical of what you would get in any Templar ‘preceptory’ but on a much grander scale. At the centre was the Grand Tower – which dominated the skyline. After the knights were destroyed, it later became a prison for royalists in the 1789 French Revolution. The last King of France – Louis XVI – and his notorious wife Marie Antoinette were kept there before they both went to the guillotine.
Louis XVI is pictured below, imprisoned inside the Great Tower of the Templars. Around the big tower would have been other typical Templar buildings like a chapel, refectory, living quarters, stables and possibly a buttery and other light industrial and agricultural activity. But most importantly – it would have protected vast amounts of riches deposited with the Templars for safekeeping.
Paris and the Knights Templar – right under your feet
To get an idea of what Paris looked like at the time of the Knights Templar, you can gaze at some beautiful churches from the period but for a really authentic medieval flavour, you have to venture underground. On a visit to the Marais district last year (one of many!), I was able to go down a flight of stairs under some 16th century buildings to see a Templar era crypt used as a location in the movie Highlander.
And here is what I found…
Templar Paris and the Crown of Thorns
One of the most staggering medieval buildings above ground is the Sainte-Chapelle (holy chapel) built by the saint king Louis IX of France. Louis spent a significant percentage of French GDP to get his hands on what he believed to the Crown of Thorns. That is the actual wreath of spiky vegetation crammed on to the head of Jesus before he was led off to be crucified.
And then he spent a third of that amount on the Sainte-Chapelle to protect and display it. Louis was a Catholic zealot and enforced strict blasphemy laws as well as persecuting the Jewish community in Paris. He died while on crusade of dysentery. Here I am last year in the Sainte-Chapelle (below). Don’t bother looking for the Crown of Thorns because they were moved to the treasury in Notre Dame many years ago.
Notre Dame de Paris and the Knights Templar
In early 2019, I paid two visits to the cathedral of Notre Dame just a few weeks before a massive fire consumed the roof destroying a forest of medieval timbers. This incredible church was being constructed in the early years of the Knights Templar and was pretty much completed by the time the order was crushed. Just in time for the last Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, to be burned to death in front of it!
Paris and the last Templar Grand Master
Notre Dame and the ancient city of Paris was located on a cigar-shaped island in the middle of the River Seine. Although the medieval city spilled out way beyond that island, it was still the centre of Parisian life in the Middle Ages. And it was a short distance from Notre Dame that the last Templar grand master Jacques De Molay was burned to death. Though finding the exact location is a right chore – and it’s marked by a very concealed plaque.
DISCOVER MORE: Was Jacques de Molay really the last Templar grand master?