Praying and training to be warriors in communities called Ribats, a certain class of muslim warrior could have been an influence on the founders of the Knights Templar. Unless somebody wants to dispute this and please feel free. But it’s certainly tempting to believe that knights who found themselves exposed to the influences of the Islamic world, adopted some of their practices. They saw Ribat warriors effectively combining prayer with fighting and thought, hey – we’ll have some of that.
Visiting churches in Portugal, I’ve often noticed the presence of the Pentagram symbol and wondered – what on earth is an occult image doing in a Christian place of worship?
In the United States in recent years, a group of self-proclaimed Satanists have repeated unveiled a statue of the goat-headed demon Baphomet with a pentagram fixed to its forehead.
They are protesting against Christian religious displays by some states that they argue contravenes the constitution – in terms of separating church and state. And they make their point by carting round this provocative bit of sculpture.
For us on this blog, there are two interesting points to note about that. One is that the pentagram pops up in medieval Christian churches – and especially Templar places of worship (mainly in Portugal for some reason). Furthermore, the evil Baphomet was alleged to have been worshipped by the Knights Templar – an accusation made at their trials.
So it is very disarming when you see a pentagram in a Christian church. Surely this is a pagan or Satanic symbol?
Having been brought up a Catholic myself, I know all about the Catholic obsession with numbers. The Trinity. Twelve apostles. Seven crops up everywhere – seven churches, seven trumpets, seven seals, etc. The Virgin Mary grants you seven graces for saying seven Hail Marys in recognition of the seven sorrows she suffered leading up to the death of Jesus.
Nine choirs of angels – no more, no less. And of course thirteen is the number of betrayal. These figures – 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 10, 13, etc – are charged with meaning in Catholic theology.
The Pentagram has five points. Catholics argue that it’s OK to find it in a place of worship because it represents the five wounds suffered by Jesus at the crucifixion. It provokes you into contemplating his torment on the cross.
The Catholic church obviously lists the wounds with gory relish: two in the wrists for the nails; two through each of his feet and one wound from the lance of the Roman soldier Longinus who pierced the side of Jesus.
The church pictured above is actually Franciscan and was built after the Templars were destroyed in 1307. However, one normally associates the Pentagram with paganism so it’s interesting to see it pop up in a Christian context. And it seems to do so especially in Portugal.
At Santa Maria Olival in Portugal, the Pentagram is very clearly evident at the end of the nave. This is the church where Templar grand masters were buried in the Middle Ages. It’s based in the former Templar citadel of Tomar. When you walk into the church – you just can’t miss it – it’s like an evil eye staring down at you.
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At Rosslyn chapel in Scotland, there are pentagrams carved everywhere. Most of them, the authorities tell us, are masons’ marks. They have no meaning or significance. But, some have argued that a particular carving in the sacristy down below represents the star Venus.
I investigated this mysterious star carved into the sacristy wall with American TV presenter Scott Wolter on a Templar special edition of the Discovery documentary American Unearthed.
We looked into theory that this pentagram-shaped star was proof that the Knights Templar journeyed to the New World after being crushed by King Philip of France. They would have navigated by the stars. Was this carving therefore some kind of navigational map?
If you want to get an idea on why the Templars may have made quite a few enemies early on, then their acceptance of excommunicated men in to the Order is a good starting point.
Some early sources say that the Order had to gain the permission of a local bishop to allow somebody who had been cast out of the church to become a Templar. But even that requirement seems to have been junked as the Order blithely informed the “established” church that it answered only to the Pope.
So…it could admit anybody it wanted so long as the Holy Father, in far off Rome, didn’t raise any objections. In the context of medieval Christendom, that does seem quite extraordinary.
It must have been angered and confused many prelates to see the Temple recruiting people who, one assumes for good reason, had been forbidden the holy sacraments and shut out from the Catholic church.
Yet it seems they could knock on the door at their local Templar preceptory and next thing, they were off to the crusades. How did the Templars get away with this?
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?
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.
READ MORE: Secrets of the Knights Templar
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?