The Templars

Origin of the Knights Templar

Following the capture of Jerusalem in 1099, the city was placed in the control of Geoffroi de Bouillon. Celebrated as one of the most fearless crusaders, de Bouillon was installed as ‘Defender of the Holy Sepulchre’ the nearest title to being king of the new kingdom of Jerusalem. The kingdom was known as Outremer in Europe, translating to ‘land beyond the sea.’ De Bouillon died a year later and was replaced by his younger brother Baldwin, henceforth the King of Jerusalem. At the time, the new kingdom of Outremer was effectively a collection of several minor territories, mostly ruled by European allies.

Even before the taking of Jerusalem, the holy sites were still a popular destination for pilgrims of Christian faith. The conquest of Jerusalem by the Crusader forces was successful in reducing the risks faced by the pious pilgrim. Yet, the new kingdom led to a new influx of visitor, many of whom were murdered before reaching the walls. By 1119 the problem had escalated. At Easter of that year, as many as 300 pilgrims were murdered on the road to the River Jordan. At least as many also suffered violent attacks. The plight of the pilgrims weighed heavily on the mind of the new king Baldwin II, cousin of the first king, and soon after a potential solution presented itself.

Plagued by the difficulties encountered by their fellow brethren, Hugues de Payens, a Frenchman of noble status, travelled to Jerusalem with eight of his kin to offer their lives in protection of the travellers. Among his number were Geoffrey de St Omer, Payen de Montdidier, Archambaud de St Agnan, Andre de Montbard, Geoffrey Bisol, one unnamed knight and two others known only as Rossal and Gondamer.

On receiving these men, Baldwin II welcomed them and allowed them to set up their headquarters on the south-eastern side of the Temple Mount, in the location used by the Al-Aqsa Mosque. According to tradition, this was the same place once used as the stables of the Biblical King Solomon, who built a Temple on the site chosen by his father, King David, recognised by the Jews as where Abraham nearly sacrificed Isaac, and later used as the resting place of the Ark of the Covenant. Due to the location of their headquarters, the knights became known as ‘The Poor Knights of the Temple of Solomon’ or more famously ‘The Knights Templar’.

For the first nine years, the new order seem to have lived a reasonably inactive existence. Yet, this changed in 1129 following their official endorsement at the Council of Troyes. Among their supporters was the leading Cistercian monk St Bernard of Clairvaux, nephew of Andre de Montbard. In 1125 Clairvaux wrote to Pope Calixtus II informing him of the need to have regular soldiers on service in Outremer to counter the threat posed by the Saracens. Hugues de Payens had previously written to Clairvaux asking for his sponsorship of the order, an act that would prove decisive in their later rise to power.