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.

 

 

Were the charges against the Templars trumped up?

Here’s one bit of evidence that says yes – they were.

In 1307, the Templars were accused of some terrible crimes – by medieval standards. Christ’s divinity was being denied in their secret initiation ceremonies. They venerated idols, possibly including the head of a cat. Templars were encouraged to be homosexual and in their rites, kissed each other at the base of the spine, on the navel and the mouth. The holy sacraments were ignored because the Templars thought they were a sham. And so it went on. But were any of these charges true?

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Pope Boniface VIII

King Philip IV of France – Philip the Fair – had form when it came to trumping up charges against those who crossed his path. Pope Boniface VIII refused to be bullied by the French king so Philip unleashed his spin doctors to characterise the pontiff as a heretic, sodomite, wizard and magician.

But it’s an example of the king’s bullying of a French bishop that suggests the crimes against the Templars may have been made up. In his book on the Templar trials, Malcolm Barber gives the example of Guichard, the bishop of Troyes, who had fallen out with Philip’s wife Joan of Navarre and her mother Blanche.

Philip’s spin doctors set to work dreaming up some pretty steamy charges. Guichard was accused of making a wax image of the queen, baptising it and then sticking pins in the dummy. This apparently resulted in the queen’s death in 1305. He then made a potion from snakes, scorpions, toads and spiders with the intention of poisoning the royal princes. The bishop was thrown into prison and witnesses were tortured to back up the allegations.

By 1313 however, the king was distracted by the Templar trials and the bishop was released from jail later that year. He died after being transferred to a bishopric in modern day Bosnia. The manner of his treatment and over-the-top charges sounds very familiar. A king who wanted somebody out of the way got his advisers to set about total character assassination throwing everything they could at the bishop. So – could the same tactics have been employed against the Knights Templar?

 

 

The Devil at the movies!

Portraying the Devil in film is not an easy task – as hard as it was to portray him in paint on the wall of a medieval church.  Is he a fallen angel or a hairy beast?  Does he appear to us as a human or a monster?  One Spanish movie – El Dia de la Bestia (released 1995) – depicted him as an enormous goat headed creature.  In this rather bizarre film, a Catholic priest discovers that Anti-Christ is to be born in Madrid in the year 2000.  To summon up the devil and kill his creation, the priest deliberately sets out to do evil deeds in the hope the devil will take notice of him.  It’s a black comedy for sure with typical Spanish anarchic humor.

While the Devil is indisputably a beast in that Spanish movie – he’s in human form for the movie Devil released last year.  A group of people trapped in an elevator discover that somebody among them is not quite what they seem.  When the lights go out – this individual bites!

There are those like Faust who summon the devil to make a pact they come to regret at leisure – either for riches or in the case of the 1961 movie The Devil’s Partner, for the return of youth.  You can watch the entire movie from Openflix at this link:

Of course there are those unwise souls who get together to indulge in black masses or covens to conjure spells and mess with dark forces.  One very underrated Horror movie – Blood on Satan’s Claw (released 1971) – shows a group of young villagers in seventeenth century England indulging in Satanic practices at a time when witch burning was at its height.  You can see the full movie here: