If the Knights Templar and Freemasons are connected in some way then how to explain it? We need to get to the bottom of this mystery and discover the truth. Is there any link between the Templars and Masons or is it entirely a myth? Regardless of your own view, the story is fascinating. Let me regale you with the facts and evidence below – then form your own opinion.
Who came first – Freemasons or Templars?
Easy answer you might think. The Knights Templar were founded in 1118. And the Freemasons went public in the early 18th century. Therefore there’s a six hundred year gap between them. But of course, things are not so easy. In Masonic lore, their origins are far more ancient. It’s said this secret society dates back to the building of the Temple of Solomon three thousand years ago.
Though some Freemasons have made far more incredible claims. In one 1883 newspaper report, encountered in my research, Freemasons mocked some in their own ranks who asserted that Adam and Eve formed a lodge in the Garden of Eden; Noah founded Freemasonry after the deluge; or that Jesus, his disciples, and the Essenes (authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls) were all Masons.
Intriguingly, there is a longstanding theory that Freemasonry existed in the Muslim world a thousand years ago. It was transmitted to the Templars during their crusading in the Middle East from Islamic as opposed to Christian sources. This is further evidenced, the theory runs, by Syrian influences which shaped Templar secret rites and beliefs.
Importance of the Jerusalem Temple to Templars and Freemasons
One thing that is undeniable is that the Temple in Jerusalem plays a big part in both the history and mystery of both the Knights Templar and Freemasonry. Not just as a bricks-and-mortar structure but what it represents spiritually and the hope that one day it will rise again to its former glory.
Masonic beliefs centre on the construction and subsequent destruction (twice) of the Temple in Jerusalem. King Solomon built the original temple a thousand years before Christ to house the Ark of the Covenant, a sacred gold casket holding the Ten Commandments and kept in a room called the Holy of Holies. Anybody entering that room who was not a Temple priest could expect to die instantly. That much is in the bible.
But Freemasons add a further bloody layer to the biblical story. They claim that the Master Mason and chief architect of Solomon’s temple, Hiram Abiff, was murdered by three junior masons Jubelo, Jubela, and Jubelum. The reason being that he wouldn’t share the knowledge that would allow the wicked trio to accelerate their rise through the profession. This terrible crime is re-enacted in Masonic ritual. Freemasons claim the dramatised story is an allegory for courage and fidelity. It also suggests there is no short cut to true wisdom.
In 587 BC, Solomon’s Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians and the Ark of the Covenant disappeared forever. Four centuries later, King Herod rebuilt the temple on a huge, grandiose scale. But after the Jewish Revolt against Roman rule between 66 and 70 AD, this temple was razed to the ground as a punishment.
In the 7th century AD, Jerusalem became part of the rapidly expanding Islamic caliphate and what was left of Herod’s temple – the Temple Mount – was transformed into a Muslim shrine with the construction of the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa mosque.
Fast forward to the early 12th century and the formation of the Knights Templar. Jerusalem was now in Christian hands and the newly founded Templars insisted on being headquartered in the Al Aqsa mosque, which they believed sat on the ancient Temple of Solomon. They even named themselves the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon – or Knights Templar for short.
So, Jerusalem and its temple were central to both the Knights Templar and the Freemasons.
Did the Knights Templar flee into the arms of the Freemasons?
The rise and fall of the Knights Templar is detailed all over this blog but essentially in the 12th century and for most of the 13th century, the Templars were the adored poster boys of the Crusades. Then after a string of defeats and being pushed out of the Holy Land, their wealth and power became a target for the King of France and even the papacy that had once protected them. Arrest warrants were issued for leading knights, their assets seized, and executions followed.
The Knights Templar were facing doom. Members of the order were being rounded up, imprisoned, tortured, and executed. In Masonic lore, some fleeing knights sought refuge and protection among the stone masons. These were the skilled craftsmen who built Europe’s cathedrals – organised into secretive guilds. Out of gratitude, no new knight was to be created without having gone through the various degrees of Freemasonry.
And what about that word ‘Freemason’? Some believe that the word ‘free’ is a corruption of the French ‘frère’ meaning brother while others think it refers to masons who refused to be governed by the guilds while yet another view is that it’s a name for the type of workable stone used by masons.
Ironically, the notion of a merged Templar and Freemason underground movement was popularised by anti-Masonic propagandists like Augustin Barruel. He was a Jesuit priest who blamed the French Revolution of 1789, with its violent opposition to the monarch and Catholic church, on an Illuminati/Templar/Freemason plot. The evidence for this accusation was scant.
So it was actually anti-Masons – who even had their own political party in the United States at one point – who did much to promote the idea of the Knights Templar and Freemasons being inextricably linked.
Why did Enlightenment influenced Freemasons identify with Roman Catholic Knights Templar?
The Knights Templar were set up to protect medieval pilgrims journeying towards Jerusalem. But they rapidly became something much bigger. An order of monastic warriors accountable only to the Pope and showered with wealth and privileges. If their history had ended with that state of affairs, it’s difficult to see how Freemasons would have felt any affinity with a bunch of Catholic soldiers slaying enemies of the church.
The Freemasons emerged into the light during the 18th century Enlightenment. This was an intellectual movement rejecting the superstition and church-dominated thought of the past. It supported scientific progress and the growth of technology. Freemasons were entirely embedded in this movement, adopting the Enlightenment values of tolerance and cosmopolitanism.
How different could Freemasons be from the medieval Catholic church and those papally sanctioned holy warriors, the Templars?
But of course, things took a very dramatic turn for the Knights Templar. After two hundred years of crusading, they were crushed in the year 1307. By order of the King of France and Pope Clement, the knights were rounded up, imprisoned, and executed. The Pope had turned against the Templars. They had been transformed into enemies of the corrupt and over-powerful Catholic church with its decadent perversion of Christ’s teachings.
Now, that was something the Freemasons could identify with. Two decades after Freemasonry burst into public view with the formation of England’s first Grand Lodge in 1717, the Roman Catholic church made it crystal clear that Catholicism was not compatible with Masonic teaching and practice. Up until then, many Catholics across Europe had flooded into Freemasonry. Now the Pope ordered his flock to leave the Lodges or face being excommunicated.
Freemasons felt just like their Templar brethren centuries before – rejected and persecuted by Rome (article continues after the 19th century image below of Catholics and Freemasons in conflict).
DISCOVER: Where are the Knights Templar today?
Two Pope Clements – one condemns the Templars – the other outlaws Freemasonry
Pope Clement V banned the Knights Templar in 1307 beginning a painful process of church trials and commissions that led to the last Templar Grand Master being burned to death. Just over four hundred years later, another pope with the same name – Clement XII – issued a papal ‘bull’ (decree) titled In eminenti apostolatus specula forbidding Roman Catholics to join Freemason lodges. This position was reaffirmed by the Vatican as recently as 1983.
Cynics claim the real reason for the papal ban on Catholic membership of lodges was because too many of the faithful were becoming Freemasons and falling under the influence of political forces hostile to the church. But interestingly, one modern Catholic source insists that “the condemnations of Freemasonry were actually very similar to those used in the suppression of the Albigensians: the Church sees Freemasonry as a form of heresy”. This is a curious admission from a pro-Catholic writer comparing Freemasons to medieval heretics.
The Albigensians were also known as the Cathars who existed during the Templar period. They rejected the sacraments of the Catholic church and condemned its obscene wealth in the Middle Ages. It took a full-blown, bloody crusade in the 13th century to suppress them. Some have speculated on links between the Knights Templar and the Cathars and whether the former were influenced by the Gnostic beliefs of the latter. Could the Templars have come to be regarded as heretics by Clement V in the same way Clement XII viewed the Freemasons?
As a side note, Clement XII and his successors were convinced that Freemasons admitted Jews, Muslims, and “pagans” into their ranks as well as treating all faiths equally. Of course this was all anathema to the Vatican. There is only true faith in the Pope’s view and in the 18th century, the thought of treating Jews let alone Muslims equally was inconceivable to Rome. But actually the Vatican was wrong. Most Lodges only accepted baptised Christians. It took until the 19th century for Jews and Muslims to be more freely admitted into Freemasonry.
One last comment on the Vatican and Freemasonry. In the late 19th century, Pope Pius IX was incredibly hostile to Freemasonry. For a thousand years up until 1860, the Popes ruled most of central Italy. But as Italy unified into the modern country we know today, the Pope saw his territory invaded by degrees until Rome was taken in 1870. A furious Pope Pius lashed out blaming Masonic forces for the loss of his secular kingdom.
At the time, Masonic sympathisers retorted that Pius had another reason for hating Freemasons. He was once, allegedly, a Mason himself. In an American publication, Mackey’s National Freemason, in the early 1870s, it was claimed that the future pope, as a young man, had been expelled from a Masonic lodge for “violating his vows and for perjury”.
Knights Templar and Freemasons – linked or not?
A large body of writing has built up over the last three centuries in support of the idea that the Knights Templar and Freemasons have an intertwined history. But go back further than that and the trail goes cold. Masons and anti-Masons have made a great deal of noise in recent history that has drowned out the silence before then.
But what I think attracts Freemasons to the Knights Templar is the idea that the knights were guardians of forbidden knowledge and truth acquired at some point in their history, most likely in the Holy Land. And that both the Templars and Masons understood the true meaning of the higher power that created the universe in sharp contrast to the degenerated excuse for a church in Rome that had become utterly venal and self-serving.
Of course, the Freemasons were in search of a creation myth. And most Masons today in conversation always stress that the claimed link to the Knights Templar should not be taken too literally. Maybe they’re weary of this link being scrutinised and ridiculed. However, while there may not be a formal connection, and stories about fleeing Templars holing up with stone masons may require a pinch of salt, there may nevertheless be a continuation in terms of ideas and values.
There’s also revenge. It’s an attractive, even amusing notion to think that Freemasons have exacted revenge on behalf of the Templars. For example, if they really did have a hand in the French Revolution, getting King Louis XVI, the descendant of King Philip of France, guillotined then this would have fulfilled the curse put upon the French monarchy by the last Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, as he was burned to death. Ditto snuffing out the Papal States in 1870 and a similar curse on the Pope from De Molay’s lips.
So, it’s easy to see how the links have been established. This is a subject I’ll have to return to many times over so subscribe to the blog to keep updated. There is so much more to reveal but I think you’ve had enough for now!