The Templar Knight

Violence and murder created the Knights Templar

Massacre, murder and violence led up to the formation of the Knights Templar – some of it by invading crusaders but also committed by the Saracen rulers of the Holy Land.

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Peaceful co-existence between Muslims and Christians

Back in 1842, Charles G Addison wrote his book “The History of the Knights Templars” – the plural on both words is his decision, not mine. It’s a very typically Victorian account of

He explains how nearly three centuries after the death of Christ, the Empress Helena – mother of the Roman emperor Constantine – “discovered” the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.  One of several very convenient discoveries by this intrepid woman.  Seems she couldn’t move for kicking up another relic of Our Lord.

That set in train wave after wave of pilgrims who flooded to the Holy Land until the eastern Roman Empire lost control of Jerusalem and most of what had been the province of Syria – to the armies of Islam.  Or the “Arabians” as Addison puts it.

But in 637CE – Caliph Omar, the new Islamic ruler, seems to have been remarkably generous and agreed to protect Christian churches and allow pilgrims to continue to worship, Addison notes.  A decision which made plenty of sense.  Pilgrims brought business and early Islam was acutely aware of its theological relationship with Judaism and Christianity.

In fact, the waves of pilgrims actually increased in size over the next four centuries until in 1064, Addison points out that seven thousand arrived headed up by the Archbishop of “Mentz” and Bishops of Utrecht, Bamberg and Ratisbon.  But things were about to go horribly wrong.

JOIN: The Templar Grail quest!

Peaceful co-existence gives way to violence

The next year, Jerusalem was conquered by the “wild Turcomans” and three thousand citizens slaughtered.  By “wild Turcomans”, Addison is referring to the Seljuk Turks whose impressive empire extended from India to the walls of Constantinople – an achievement only matched by Alexander the Great.

But when Addison wrote, the Turks were still demonised in European history books as alien, blood thirsty invaders.  Not that I’m sure they didn’t have their moments – but the Seljuks get a slightly better write up these days.

Addison recounts one story that might be true – or could be crusader propaganda: “The patriarch of the Holy City was dragged by the hair of his head over the sacred pavement of the church of the Resurrection and cast in to a dungeon”.  Pilgrims were massacred or robbed and access to the Holy Sepulchre now came at an extortionate fee.

From the First Crusade to the Knights Templar

Needless to say the violence of the “wild Turcomans” sparked off the First Crusade.  The events that prompted nine crusader knights to form the Order of the Temple was the continued harassing of pilgrims by Bedouin horseman, Addison claims.  Pilgrims, whether coming by land or sea, had to put up with “daily hostility” and even death – he says.

So in 1118 – because of the breakdown of tolerance instituted by Caliph Omar and the wickedness of the “wild Turcomans”, our friends the Templars came in to being.

How the Knights Templar came to be in Ireland

Were there any Knights Templar in Ireland?  Yes is the answer.  More than likely, they came over with the armies of Henry II during the twelfth century but what role they did perform in that country?

Ireland first say Knights Templar when they arrived with the invading Anglo-Norman armies. The Templars were closely aligned to the Norman and then Plantagenet rulers of England. They were bankers and advisers to the English kings. One Templar master was even present when King John was forced to sign Magna Carta.

So not a surprise then that they were shoulder to shoulder with the Anglo-Normans as they made their unwelcome entry into Ireland followed by a very long stay.

Ireland – old people’s home for the Knights Templar

It seems Ireland was something of an old people’s home for the Order.  Knights no longer fit to battle in the Holy Land retired there to manage Templar estates.  There is evidence of Templar activity from 1220 onwards but as mentioned above, it’s widely assumed they had been in Ireland for fifty years by then.

When the Order was suppressed and leading Templars were tortured and executed, some ageing knights were taken to Dublin Castle and imprisoned.  I don’t know if they were tortured as those in France were but they were put on trial in the city cathedral. Their inquisitors were three Dominicans and two Franciscans.

In December 2019, I paid a visit to Dublin Castle, which above ground is a 17th century administrative building put up for the British viceroy and his family – when the whole of Ireland was under British rule. Go down some steps however, and you find the medieval castle constructed after the Normans first arrived. As my photos below show.

READ MORE: How the Templars became the Order of Christ in Portugal

Accusations of Templar heresy at Clontarf

One of the charges was that at their preceptory in Clontarf, a senior Templar had refused to look at the host when it was raised by the priest during the sacrament. Other charges just repeated the usual stuff about urinating on the crucifix and sodomising each other.

There is one book on the subject I know of – The Knights Templar and Ireland by Michael Carroll – which sheds more light on the subject. Basically, the Templars were part of the Plantagenet subduing of Ireland. But they would eventually share the fate of all their brothers across Europe.

Strange non-biblical tales of Jesus


Jesus is born. Then one mention in only one gospel of his teenage years – an incident at the temple. Then nothing until a few months before his death. It drove people nuts in the Middle Ages that nothing was written about the childhood of Jesus so….they invented it.

Childhood of Jesus depicted on medieval tiles

On a recent visit to the British Museum’s medieval gallery, I almost missed a group of wall tiles from the 1300s in a glass case to the left hand side of the gallery entrance.  People drifted past them without giving the innocuous tiles a second glance but to me, they’re the most interesting objects in that room.

Bought in a shop years ago, they detail stories about Jesus that you won’t find in the bible.  All of them related to his childhood – the period of his life largely ignored by the gospel writers.  The stories, it has to be said, are very odd.

Jesus kills bullies

There is a recurring theme of boys who bully Jesus falling dead.  So in one tale depicted on a tile, Jesus is making pools by the river Jordan but a bully destroys one of them.  He promptly falls down dead.  But Jesus brings him back to life by touching his foot.  Another boy leaps on Jesus’ back and also dies immediately but after the boy’s parents complain to Joseph, Jesus brings him back to life.

This one might stretch your imagination to try and visualise – but a man locks up his son in a tower to stop Jesus playing with him.  So Jesus pulls him out through the lock!   Seems there’s quite a few parents who don’t want their kids to play with the youthful Messiah – well, they do appear to run the risk of dying for a start.  One Mum and Dad even shut their children in an oven to stop them hanging out with Jesus.

Fortunately, Jesus didn’t retaliate by turning the oven on….though one begins to wonder what he’s capable of.

DISCOVER MORE: The defleshing of bodies in the Middle Ages – why?

One adult who crosses the Saviour’s path but doesn’t get killed in the process is his teacher Levi who we see slapping Jesus across the face.  Unless of course there is a missing tile which show poor Levi falling down dead.   Then one has to wonder if Jesus brings him back to life.

Battle of Montgisard – leper king anniversary

Big anniversary today for the Knights Templar. And it’s all about a young man who was a king and a leper. A tragic tale of personal and political adversity.


Leper king Baldwin vanquishes his enemies!

It was on the 25th November in 1177 that a crusader army led by the teenage leper king of Jerusalem, Baldwin IV routed a much larger army led by Saladin.   The victory was nothing short of amazing – dare one even say miraculous.

It had been preceded by plans by the crusaders to invade Egypt which had been beset by quarrels between different camps.   The agents of the Byzantine emperor constantly intrigued in the city of Jerusalem, Philip of Alsace had arrived on a notional pilgrimage but was playing a bigger political game and different candidates were lining up to succeed the leper on the throne.

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Raynald of Chatillon – disgrace to the crusades

Add to that the mercurial, bloodthirsty and possibly downright bonkers Raynald of Chatillon whose military adventures had led to a long stretch in a Saracen dungeon – which had left him with a murderous hatred of Saladin.  His treatment of Christian opponents could be sadistic in the extreme.  He had seized the Patriarch of Antioch, coated his naked body with honey and left in the heat of the midday sun on account of some or other infraction.

Saladin’s march on Jerusalem was largely a counter-measure against the well leaked plans of the “Franks” to move on Egypt.  But it backfired very badly.  In spite of superior numbers, a crusader force – including several hundred Templars – ripped in to the Saracens and Saladin only narrowly escaped with his life.   This proved to be a major lesson for the otherwise brilliant ruler.

Bizarre and unpleasant relics of saints!

In the medieval period in Europe, churches and abbeys vied to own the body parts of saints who had died. Bones, skin, blood, clothes – anything to do with a famous saint could make or break the success of a holy place. It was big business, attracting all those pilgrims to your church because you had the arm bone of Saint so-and-so!

The Templars and the relics of saints

The Templars were as much, if not more, in to relics as all good Christians of the Middle Ages.  They had a penchant for the brutally martyred variety of saint.  Tied to a wheel and rolled down a hill or cut to pieces in the arena – that was the kind of saint a Templar wanted a bone from.

The Knights Templar were also noted for their veneration of female saints like Euphemia and Barbara. Even though the Templars were an all boys’ club (with some exceptions I won’t detail here), they nevertheless seem to have respected and honoured holy women.

Bones were not the only relics of saints – body tissue too!

But it’s often forgotten that bones were not the only medieval relics of saints.  Bamber Gascoigne in his book ‘The Christians’ details St Elizabeth of Hungary lying serenely in state after her death.

Around her, mourners prayed fervently for hours on end.  Hmmm…take a closer look if you will.  Because said mourners were actually busily clipping off her hair, nails and according to Bamber – her nipples!!   All taken away to be venerated in churches all over Christendom.

The intrepid Bishop of Lincoln was shown a bone of Mary Magdalene on his travels and while nobody was looking, bit a fragment off and walked tight lipped back to a very grateful Lincoln.

READ MORE: The walking dead in the Middle Ages

How to get relics of Jesus?

Jesus presented a problem to relic hunters of the Middle Ages having ascended bodily in to heaven.  No corpse in the tomb if you recall.  Bamber describes how the medieval mind got round this little conundrum.  Jesus must have left fingernails, his own tears, blood, milk teeth and….wait for it…his foreskin from the circumcision.   Oh no, surely not.  Oh yes, I’m afraid so!  Indeed, there were several foreskins of Jesus doing a brisk trade as Gothic cathedrals soared upwards.

I’m always amused by the twig from the Burning Bush and a crumb from the Last Supper.  Years ago, I went with a friend to Prague who, unlike me, had not been subject to a Roman Catholic upbringing.  I had to explain that yes, the little house in the middle of a cloister really was Mary’s house transported brick by brick from the Holy Land overnight by a team of very obliging and presumably muscular angels.  He didn’t get it.

Very strange relics of saints

Closer to our own time, the church has still shown an ability to collect the most bizarre bits of saints.  Teresa of Avila can be venerated by worshiping the sole of her sandal, a phial of her blood or a stick she used to walk with.  Saint John Vianney (died 1859) is preserved, much like Lenin, in a casket.  He used to sleep two hours a night and was visited frequently by the devil.

The True Cross is the relic that has always intrigued me.  There’s a lot of fragments of the True Cross around.  I’m inclined to think that if they were all put together, then Jesus was crucified on a California Redwood.

Knights Templar subdue Wales!

In the 1180s, the king of England and Anjou – Henry II – was looking to consolidate his hold on Wales, a troublesome western province of his Angevin empire.  Wales would make a renewed bid for independence at the end of the century and only be completely subjugated by Edward I.  But even by the 1180s, its church was being absorbed in to that of England.

The Templars take Wales

When aiming to calm any trouble in the border areas between England and Wales, who better to call on than the Templars?  After all, they had plenty of experience of holding back the Saracen in outremer and also in Al Andalus, they had taken on the Moors.  Where others feared to tread, the Templars could be relied on to doggedly charge in, take control and consolidate rapidly.

So, Henry II gave them a place that had been known as Llangarewi but would now be renamed Temple Garway.  Up went the familiar round church with the Lamb of God symbol carved in to the walls with those other symbols that crop up in Templar churches.  One image that has aroused considerable interest is that of the Green Man, vine-like strands emerging from his mouth.

The preceptory housed the knight, including a lot of disabled and elderly knights.  King Richard and King John, who succeeded the father they so hated, confirmed Templar ownership of the area given by Henry II.

Jacques de Molay visits Wales – last Templar Grand Master

In 1294, Temple Garway had a very important guest.   None other than Jacques de Molay.  Yep, the last Grand Master whose final moments would be spent tied to a stake in front of Notre Dame cathedral as he and the last of the Templars went to their deaths.

Unfortunately, time has not been hugely kind to Temple Garway and farmers have done what farmers over the years are wont to do – incorporated much of the stonework in to their houses and boundary walls.

Templars – timeline to termination!

In 1307, the King of France issued orders to arrest all the Knights Templar in his kingdom. They were summarily rounded up, tortured in dungeons and confessions extracted. So what was the timeline to termination?


  • 14 September 1307 – King Philip of France issues secret orders to the bailiffs and seneschals in his kingdom to round up the Templars and arrest them when given the signal
  • 13 October 1307 – the signal is given and France’s Templars find themselves clapped in irons
  • 19 October to 24 November 1307 – first round of trials with 138 Templars, most of them confessing to their alleged guilt
  • 24 October 1307 – Grand Master Jacques de Molay makes his first confession of guilt
  • 25 October 1307 – De Molay goes before the University of Paris to restate his confession of guilt
  • 22 November 1307 – De Molay retracts his confessions to cardinals sent to interview him by Pope Clement V
  • 22 November 1307 – Pope Clement V gives up trying to resist the French king and demands that all Christian rulers in Europe follow the French example and arrest their Templars as well as confiscating their property
  • May 1308 – a letter arrives at Cyprus from Pope Clement V calling for the arrest of Templars on the island
  • 28 June to 2 July 1308 – about 54 Templars tried at Poitiers where the pope was in residence
  • August 1308 – the Chinon Parchment, revealed in recent times, appears to show the pope absolving the Templars but as a puppet of the French king there was little he could realistically do
  • 13 September 1309 – Two inquisitors arrive in England to question Templars there
  • December 1309 – Pope Clement V authorises the use of torture to gain rapid confessions
  • 1310 – papal commission into the trials of the Templars
  • 12 May 1310 – 54 Templars are burnt at the stake
  • May 1310 – the Archbishop of Sens takes control of the trial process until 1316
  • 22 March 1312 – Pope Clement V issues the papal bull Vox In Excelso suppressing the Knights Templar
  • May 1312 – Pope Clement V issues the papal bull Ad Providam transferring the assets of the Knights Templar to the Knights Hospitaller
  • 21 March 1313 – the Knights Hospitaller pay enormous compensation to the king of France most likely saving their order from the same fate as the Templars
  • 18 March 1314 – Jacques de Molay and the preceptor of Normandy Geoffroi de Charney retract their confessions saying they were extracted under torture. They are burnt at the stake before Notre Dame as heretics

Top Ten Martyred Saints!

The Templars loved to worship saints who had given up their lives for their Christian faith so here’s a list of top ten martyred saints the knights would have revered.

READ MORE: Is there a Muslim inscription on the throne of Saint Peter?


AGATHA – died 251 CE – during the reign of the Roman emperor Decius who had outlawed Christianity, Agatha was tortured very brutally including being rolled over broken tiles, cut in various places and burning coals applied to her flesh. She is always depicted with her severed breasts. The incorrupt body of the saint was apparently sent to Constantinople centuries later but somehow parts of Agatha ended up in Catania.


ALBAN – died 304 CE (disputed) – an Englishman and a pagan by birth. He hid a priest from the Roman authorities and then to protect him, dressed as the priest when soldiers arrived at his house. The local governor new Alban and asked him to return to the state religion. He refused. After being scourged he was taken to be beheaded but supportive crowds blocked the way and a river had to be crossed. Alban caused the waters to part so he could be martyred for Christ. The executioner was so impressed that he converted on the spot. Both men were then beheaded.


EUPLIUS – died 304 CE – like so many of the early martyred saints, this is another one under the reign of Diocletian. He was found reading the gospels and was led to the place of execution with the sacred texts hung round his neck. He had been brutally tortured and beheading was apparently a sweet release.


FEBRONIA – early fourth century – like many other young female martyrs of this time, she was said to be exceedingly beautiful and a virgin. She refused to renounce her faith and was roasted on a gridiron, had her teeth knocked out and breasts cut off. Then she was executed. Out of remorse, the uncle of the local Roman prefect was said to have dashed his own brains out.


GENESIUS – died 285 CE – yet another Diocletian purge victim. This time starting out in life as a pagan actor and comedian who mocked the Christians but then suddenly realising the error of his ways, converted. Unfortunately, he was giving a performance in the theatre to Diocletian at the time. The praetorian prefect Plautian had Genesius stretched on a rack and torn at with hooks before the inevitable beheading.


GORDIUS – early fourth century – a Roman soldier who became a Christian. In the town of Caesaria, he was told there were to be games in honour of the god Mars. When Gordius showed up, both pagans and Christians were queueing up for the festivities and entertainment in the arena. So he began insulting Mars and was dragged before the governor who offered him riches to recant. But he wouldn’t. So it was off to the torturer and when that didn’t work, he was burned to death.


LUCY – died 304 CE – one of the most revered female saints from very early on in the church’s history. Martyred at Syracuse in Sicily, she was reputed to have either gouged out her own eyes to put off a potential suitor (bit extreme!) or they were gouged out by the Romans during her torture. As a result, she is patron saint to the blind.


POLYCARP – died 155 – the Knights Templar believed they had the head of Saint Polycarp. He was said to have been a disciple of the apostle Saint John. Polycarp was made bishop of Smyrna before John was banished to the island of Patmos, from where he wrote the Book of Revelation. It’s claimed he was martyred during a persecution by the emperor and stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius. That is the emperor played by the actor Richard Harris in the movie Gladiator.


QUIRINUS – early fourth century – Diocletian abdicated as emperor but his co-emperor Galerius continued the policy of purging Christians. Quirinus was a bishop who was ordered to sacrifice to Jupiter and refused. He was tied to a millstone and chucked in the river. But miraculously, the millstone and Quirinus floated to the top and he continued to preach for a while to the huge crowds. Then he sank and died.


VITALIS – first or second century – an early Christian martyr. A similar tale to the above with a refusal to renounce Christ and accept the state gods leading to his execution. What distinguishes this story is that his wife Valeria was then set upon by the pagans and died of her injuries. She was subsequently canonised too. One of the statues in St Peter’s square in Rome is of Vitalis and the Byzantines built a octagonal basilica to him at Ravenna that can still be seen today. It includes a mosaic of the emperor Justinian, a Christian and a Roman ruler.

READ MORE: Bizarre and strange saints!

Couple of things to note.

Many Christians did not wish to be martyred and so sacrificed to the gods. This caused an early division within Christianity where some of the faithful refused to associate with those who had chickened out of martyrdom. These die-hard Christians were called Donatists and held sway in parts of north Africa. Their view did not prevail and even though the martyrs were lauded, those Christians who had chosen the path of compromise prevailed.

Also – just to reiterate that the Roman state was largely disinterested in theology.  It was more focussed on the correct practice of religion and loyalty to the emperor than what the Christians actually stood for.

READ MORE: Top ten heresies against the Catholic church!

There is an enduring myth that when Rome became Christian, slavery, brutal capital punishment and the games disappeared. They did not. Christians and pagans shared many social values including the holding of slaves and the need for executions to maintain order.

In fact, Christians introduced new capital crimes related to moral failing – for example executing slaves who assisted their owners in committing adultery.

Assassin’s Creed – so did the REAL assassins hate the Templars that much?

Assassin’s Creed has been a hugely successful franchise – but was there REALLY ever a major battle between the Knights Templar and the Assassins? Did they hate each other to the extent that the game suggests? And in fact – who were they in reality?

READ MORE: Were the Knights Templar heretics?

Assassin’s Creed – the Templar related plot

Well, to start with we better re-cap on Assassin’s Creed. To crunch down the storyline and probably not do it complete justice – Desmond Miles is a young American brought up by a family who come from a long line of Assassins.

He gets away from his Assassin family in South Dakota to become a bartender in New York city. But while there, he is kidnapped by the Templars – sworn enemies of the Assassins – and forced into a machine called the Animus which sends him back in time.


The machine is owned by Abstergo Industries, a Templar run enterprise. The Templars are using Desmond to get hold of “Pieces of Eden” that are in different locations, of course. The Pieces of Eden are part of a device used by the First Civilisation on our planet to control early humans.

The First Civilisation was run by god-like creatures of superior intelligence called the Precursors or Isu, who had created the human race and were initially worshipped by their creations.

Human beings were mind controlled slaves at the outset but then bred with the Isu over time and this eroded the ability of the First Civilisation to control their creations who eventually rebelled.  This coincided with a cosmic calamity to befall the earth reducing humanity to a few thousand. The recovering race of humans comprised those who wanted to restore some kind of order – Templars – and those who valued free will more – Assassins.

Desmond, therefore, is being manipulated by the Templars to bring the world back to a more disciplined path while the Assassins try and stop him giving away the location of Pieces of Eden that would allow this to happen. And this is battle between Templars and Assassins has been raging for thousands of years.

It’s a fun story and encompasses elements of Greek mythology, Scientology, gnosticism, philosophy and so on. But it’s not very historical. There was a Knights Templar order of militarised monks. And there was a fanatical sect called the Assassins. They did exist at the same time in the Middle East during the 12th and 13th centuries.

DISCOVER MORE: Is Knight Templar bravery a myth?

So, who were the real Assassins?

The Assassins were Shia Muslims and fought both the Sunni Muslim kingdoms of medieval Asia and the Christian crusaders who had come as invaders to the region. Their tactic was to assassinate leaders on both sides, which they did with horrific success. But their attitude to the Templars was more ambiguous.

The historian Dan Jones writes that they tended to avoid battling the Knights Templar. That may have been out of respect but also an awareness that if you killed one or ten or a hundred Templars, there were always others to take their place. The Templars could, basically, regenerate rapidly. Killing a king or a sultan could cause chaos. But the Templars took the death of their own warriors in their stride.

So in reality, far from being engaged in an eternal life or death struggle – the two forces seem to have sidestepped each other. Rather a different story then!

Prester John – the imaginary Christian king who never existed

"Preste" as the Emperor of Ethiopia,...

Prester John was a fabled king who medieval chroniclers imagined ruled lands in the East or in deepest Africa (most likely Ethiopia). He was a Christian, possibly a Nestorian, and some hoped he could be an ally against the Muslim realms. The fact that nobody had ever seen him didn’t deter fervent belief in his existence.

READ MORE: The Templars and Islam – friends or enemies?

Prester John – the fabulous but mythical king

There were all sorts of fantastical ideas about this illusory monarch. His wealth was fabulous. He was descended from the Magi, the wise man who had showered gifts on the baby Jesus. Prester John had discovered the fountain of youth and had a mirror through which he could see events happening at any place in his kingdom.

Reports of his existence first emerged during the Crusades after Christian Europe had stormed into the Middle East. Bishop Hugh of Gebal (modern Jbail in Lebanon) wowed the papal court at Viterbo in 1145 with stories of this Christian ruler.

Did Prester John fight Muslim armies?

As recorded by Bishop Otto of Freising in Germany, Prester John was said to have defeated the Muslim emirs of Persia and might have taken Jerusalem if he had been able to cross the mighty Tigris river. There were then confused tales about the Mongols and their wars with Persia and how Prester John might have been involved.

Jacques de Vitry, bishop of Acre, believed that somebody called King David of India had inflicted a huge defeat on the Muslims. He was said to be the grandson of Prester John. In fact, some think this King David was actually Genghis Khan but in a world with poor communications and unreliable histories, the Khan morphed into Prester John’s grandson.

Alberic des Trois Fontaines, a 13th century chronicler, wrote that in 1165, Prester John had sent letters to the Byzantine emperor Manuel I Comnenus, the Holy Roman emperor Frederick Barbarossa and other kings of Europe declaring that he would soon come to liberate Jerusalem from Muslim rule. The Holy Sepulchre, sacred to the Templars, would be retaken.

READ MORE: The Templars, Atlantis and the Nazis

A pope even writes to Prester John

Such was the willingness to believe in Prester John, that even Pope Alexander III penned a reply to the legendary king in 1177. He sent an envoy to try and track down Prester John but to no avail.

As the tide turned against the Knights Templar, it was claimed that Prester John had written a letter warning about the order stating that the Templars were enemies of Christ and had to be overthrown. This document was undoubtedly a forgery.

When the Knights Templar morphed into the Order of Christ in Portugal, the rebranded Templars set sail in the 16th century to resume the search for Prester John. But he proved to be impossible to trace.