Does the secret Chinon parchment exonerate the Knights Templar as claimed?

Clement
Did this pope really exonerate the Knights Templar?

Astonishingly, the Vatican sat on key documents relating to the trial of the Knights Templar for seven hundred years until author and Vatican archivist Barbara Frale uncovered the so-called Chinon Parchment and made her discovery public in 2001. This was followed in 2007 by the Vatican’s belated release of the original trial documents.

However, contrary to what many people think, the parchment and trial account are not an exoneration of the order by the pope of that time – far from it!

Back in 1307, the Knights Templar had reached a bit of a low ebb. The crusades were failing. The Holy Land was lost. Cyprus was their main eastern stronghold.

So, the last Grand Master – Jacques De Molay – headed west to drum up interest in a new crusade. But by this time, the medieval public had gone down with a severe case of crusade fatigue. Regaining Jerusalem – surrendered to Islam over a century before – looked like a total lost cause.

Add to that a mercurial king of France, Philip the Fair, who was continuously short of money. He’d shaken down the Jews, Lombards and monasteries and now cast a greedy eye over the Templars. Weren’t they loaded? Only one way to find out.

So, in 1307 he rounded the Templars up, locked the knights in dungeons where they were tortured to sign false confessions and headed for the Paris Temple, a massive fortress, to fill his boots with Templar loot. Needless to say, he found nothing. The money had gone.

In order to assault the Templars, the king had to sell this drastic action to his people with a tsunami of fake news about the order. The knights were sorcerers, heretics, sodomites, rebels, robbers and so on. These accusations needed a holy seal of approval and luckily for Philip there was a compliant French pope at hand, Clement V, to give the thumbs up.

For seven years, the pope and his cardinals questioned Jacques De Molay and other senior Templars to squeeze confessions out of them. De Molay had returned to France in good faith to raise money and recruits for a new crusade but now found himself in court fighting for his life. At times, he broke down and admitted to the king’s trumped up charges but then recovered his nerve and tore up his previous statements.

There was only one way this appalling farce was going to end and in 1314, De Molay was burnt at the stake with two other Templars as heretics who had refused to recant. And so it might have rested. But clearly the church felt more than a pang of guilt at destroying a military order that had shown nothing but unswerving loyalty to its Catholic mission and the pope. The Chinon Parchment shows how the pope wrestled with his conscience.

Frale’s discovery of this stunning document might look like a complete exoneration of the Templars by the papacy. But it’s not. In a rather mealy-mouthed way, it lets the knights off the heresy hook but damns them on other charges. It certainly casts doubt on the way in which their dissolution was conducted and reveals a pope who was bitterly unhappy at being strong armed into this course of action.

Interestingly, it airs the Templar justification for one of its more curious practices – that of spitting on the crucifix. The order claimed that this prepared knights for being captured by the Muslim enemy. Attempts by the Saracens to break their will in captivity through acts of sacrilege could be resisted by the imprisoned Templars because they had already role played this kind of scenario.

Frale has also claimed that the Vatican archive contains evidence that the worship of a head may not have been a profane and pagan activity but a veneration of the body of Jesus. It’s often assumed that the head referred to was variously that of John the Baptist or the prophet Mohammed (if you think the Templars were secretly in league with the Saracens!) or even a cat. But Frale thinks it might have been a representation of the Messiah.

However, the Templars are not given a seal of approval anywhere in the Chinon Parchment. The pope seems to have absolved the Templars without exonerating them. Maybe this gave them a papal passport to heaven but it still meant they were going to be burnt to death first.

It’s hard to imagine this gave them much comfort as their bones were broken in torture chambers and their bodies consumed by fire.

 

 

Ten accusations made against the Knights Templar

Templar artworkIn 1307, the Knights Templar were rounded up, imprisoned and tortured under secret orders issued by the King of France. The trials of top Templars would last for years and lead to many being burnt at the stake including the last Grand Master, Jacques de Molay. He was incinerated in public in front of Notre Dame cathedral.

A string of scandalous accusations were made against the Knights Templar to justify smashing the order. I recommend Malcom Barber’s detailed account of The Trial of the Templars if you want to learn a lot more.

MolayHere were some of the most noteworthy charges:

  1. New entrants to the Templar order had to deny Christ, the Holy Virgin and the saints
  2. Templars were told that Christ was a false prophet and there was no hope of receiving salvation through belief in him
  3. Knights were ordered to spit on a crucifix and even urinate or trample on it
  4. The order worshipped a head of some description, possibly that of a cat or with three faces or an idol called Baphomet
  5. This idol was encircled with cords, which the Templars then wore around their waists
  6. The Knights Templar rejected the sacraments of the Catholic church
  7. It was thought that the Grand Master and other leading Templars could absolve sins even though they were laymen and not priests
  8. New entrants were kissed on the mouth, the navel, the stomach, the buttocks and the spine and homosexuality was encouraged
  9. The Templars were only interested in financial gain and pocketed donations for their own use
  10. Chapter meetings and initiations were held in strictest secret with only Templars present and those that revealed any details to people outside of the order would be punished with imprisonment or death

A short film from the Smithsonian includes a reenactment of what the alleged initiation ritual looked like.

Via Dolorosa – what happened before the Crucifixion

Having had his face wiped by Veronica, Jesus then met the faithful women of Jerusalem and fell once more before being taken to the place where he was to be crucified. These last stages are marked on the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem as you approach the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which marks the point of his execution and entombment.

Templar use of the Cross symbol

Emblem of the Military Order of Templars.
Emblem of the Military Order of Templars. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Three years after the fall of Edessa to the Seljuk Turks in the Holy Land, the already well established Templars were given the papal thumbs up to emblazon their white mantles with a red cross.

This made them quite a dashing sight in battle as ranks of them charged forward, white mantles fluttering in the breeze and the scarlet crosses clearly on display – in contrast to the crescents of the Saracens.

The crosses though were not latin crosses, but Greek.  In other words, the vertical line did not extend downwards as the latin cross does but was equal to the horizontal.  This has always fuelled debate on whether the cross really represented the crucifixion or was a pre-existing ancient symbol used by religious groups pre-dating Christianity.

Some credence is given to this by the use of the Egyptian ‘ankh’ by Coptic Christians to this day and which clearly relates to earlier gods.  Apart from anything else, the crucifix like the circle is an obvious design to attract spiritual meaning in ancient cultures.

There wasn’t just one type of Templar cross but the most common is the cross with each arm flaring out in to two points – giving eight points in total.  However, that wasn’t the only cross the Order used but all of them conform to the Greek model unlike the Teutonic knights who insisted on using the latin cross.