Crusaders giving up pork. Even dressing like their Muslim neighbours (the wealthier ones) and living in eastern style houses with gurgling fountains. It’s enough to make a European Catholic in the Middle Ages gag. But apparently, some crusaders in the Holy Land went kosher or halal – influenced perhaps by the Jewish and Muslim faiths.
Crusaders going native in Jerusalem
It seems that many of the first wave of the crusaders who invaded and slaughtered the good people of Jerusalem, once they had settled down, went a bit native. So much so that they even stopped eating pork.
A story told by an Arab chronicler who went to dinner at the house of a “Frank” – their word for all crusaders – related that he boasted at having dumped all his old culinary habits and even hired some Egyptian cooks.
Pork never enters this home, he noted. This disgusted many knights in the west who felt that their compatriots in the east had got a bit effete and heretical in their manners. Why, they were probably feasting on dates and almonds every day.
But what was the real reason? Were the crusaders being influenced by their Muslim and Jewish neighbours? There is no law against pork in Christianity despite the dietary laws stated in the Old Testament. But in Judaism and Islam, pork is not kosher or halal respectively.
When the Templars were eventually put on trial in 1307, one accusation was that they had got too close to the Muslims. Could this aversion to pork have been used as evidence to support that allegation?
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Were the Templars an all boys club or could women get a look in? Well, it seems the Knights Templar may not have been the woman haters they have been accused of being. Indeed, their attitude to women may have been better than the traditional monastic orders:
It seems that money has always opened doors and the Middle Ages were no exception. There are a few examples of wealthy ladies who gave themselves to the Order as ‘donatas’. In return for a portion of their fortune, they gained access to the order.
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There were also women handed over to the Order by benefactors as bondswomen. And there was even a Templar convent at Muhlen. This was, however, the only example of a nunnery in the order.
What was definitely a men only area was the battlefield. But away from the clash of sword against scimitar, there seems to have been a surprisingly ability for women to ingratiate themselves in to the Order’s company. All that in spite of the misogynist ravings of Bernard of Clairvaux, the saintly abbot who was the religious mentor to the knights.
Templar historian Helen Nicholson notes that the Templars held female saints in special reverence that contrasted with the all-male atmosphere of daily life in the Templars and their vows of celibacy.
And during the trial of the Templars when medieval accountants started looking at Templar assets to dispose of them to interested parties – women Templars are noted. They did exist. But their role remains shrouded in mystery.
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Were the Templars masons? In other words, did they actually engage in the activity of cathedral and church building? Aside from their own distinctively round churches, were the knights instrumental in building great structures like Notre Dame in Paris?
The Order of the Temple existed at the same time as a massive boom in cathedral building. In their book The Hiram Key, Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas estimate that in the hundred years from 1170, more stone was cut by masons than in the entire history of ancient Egypt.
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Templars as masons
Throughout the twelfth and thirteenth century, Europe resounded to the striking of chisel against stone and yet, it all seems to have been the work of Benedictines and Cistercians. The holy warriors of the Temple were too busy channeling all that bullion to the crusades in the east.
So – does that mean no Templars were masons? Well, section 325 of the Templar Rule intriguingly mentions masons being members of the Temple, but not as full knights.
Karen Ralls, a great Templar scholar, points out that mason brothers were the only Templars allowed to wear leather gloves apart from chaplains. And it seems they were restricted to a kind of “associate” status.
But it seems hard to believe that if a cathedral was springing up near a Templar preceptory and it was all on hands on deck to get the thing built that the Templars would have just ignored and refused to get involved. I’ve seen churches in Europe and the Middle East which almost certainly bear imagery one associates with the Templars.
Could it possibly be that these Templar masons lent a helping hand? And left their mark?