Rise of the Knights Templar

An In Nomine Resource

By Emily Dresner

The First Crusade

"The Holy Roman Empire was neither Holy nor Roman, nor an Empire. Discuss."
-- Mike Myers

As Laurence ascended to the position that Uriel once held, he found himself inheriting a Western Europe of the Viking and Icelandic sagas, a land split by strife and bloodshed caused by marauding bands of barbarians and warlords. European Christendom had been long neglected by the Archangel of Purity in his crusade to destroy the creatures of myth, and the people suffered under the hand of the Dark Ages.

Laurence, through his soldiers and angels, tried to influence the local warlords to change their ways and bring the Word of Christ to the populace. In the early days, it was through chivalry, a valiant attempt by the young Archangel to instill a Christian ideal of the warrior into the unruly nobility. He imagined creating a glorious shining knighthood from the barbarian warlords, a brotherhood that was to become an almost religious calling, entwined with vigils, weapon blessings, and vows of chastity that were Laurence's hallmarks.

"A knight must be merciful without wickedness, affable without treachery, compassionate towards the suffering, and open handed. He must be ready to help the needy and to confound robbers and murderers, a just judge without favor or hate. He must prefer death to dishonor. He must protect the Holy Church for she cannot defend herself."
-- Chrtien de Troyes, Lancelot (Vulgate Cycle)

Eventually the notion of chivalry became popular among the young nobility. The old sagas were replaced by the romances of King Arthur, the berserker was replaced by Don Quixote, and the Catholic Church slowly civilized the hordes of the Roman Empire. Unfortunately, this was slow, and Laurence desired a more expedient method of civilizing Europe to compete with Gabriel's flourishing Moslem lands to the East. The only way to accomplish that, Laurence surmised was with a good, solid, galvanizing crusade to bring all the people under one banner and one quest. It certainly worked for his people. The concept of reclaiming the Holy Land from Gabriel's rogue untamed religion also appealed to Dominic on a base level, and with that he threw in some quiet, discreet political support in Heaven for this decision.

Laurence's original vision, through his Soldier, Pope Urban II, was one of a beautiful spiritual pilgrimage to the Holy City to unify the Christian peoples of Western Europe under the banner of Rome. He hoped to bring together the peoples who had been long neglected, left behind in the ravages of Uriel's Crusade, and unite them with Gabriel's enlightened Islamic society to demonstrate the true soul of Christianity.

Pope Gregory VII, strongly pulling together the Church, had set the papacy on a course to become the leader and judge of Western Christendom in a new enlightened era of optimism. In 1095, Pope Urban II, changing a precept handed down from Laurence's angels to suit his own vision of himself as the Pope-Emperor, called upon the faithful to recover Jerusalem in a pilgrimage to strengthen the faith and bind them into one unifying force under the banner of Rome. Inspired by a new vision of Christ's humanity, prevalent among the enlightened and educated of the day, the faithful set forth to free the Holy City from the infidel.

The noblemen knights, their ranks sown with bloodthirsty feudalistic warlords who wished nothing more then to bring home the spoils of war, saw the crusade as a method in which to win new lands, manors, and treasure beyond their wildest imaginations. They marched off to the Holy City, singing the ancient hymn, Vexilla regis prodeunt:

"Behold the royal ensigns fly,
The Cross's shining mystery;
Where Life itself gave up its breath
And Christ by dying conquered death"

The march was marked with massacres. Infused with the belief of being the "Chosen of God" by the Pope, the crusaders believed they could murder recklessly and their souls would be safe in Heaven. As they moved toward the Holy City, through Turkey, they fell on Moslem cities, viciously killing the residents, uncaring if their targets were women and children. They impaled those who resisted their attempts to take the cities, and beheaded their foes. There were even reports of cannibalism, where, prompted by demonic cruelty, the crusaders boiled women in pots and burned children on stakes over open flame. Demons giggled in glee.

In 1099, the crusaders besieged Jerusalem. In the name of God, and to Laurence's horror, the barbarians of Europe fell upon the Moslems, and put 70,000 men, women and children to the sword. In places, men waded in blood up to their ankles. Weeping, the devout conquerors went barefoot to pray at the Holy Sepulcher before rushing back to battle. Tethers to Death and Nightmares formed and dissipated as the demons goaded the crusaders onto higher and higher acts of depravity.

Neither Moslems nor their patron Archangel, Gabriel, accepted this travesty nor the loss of Jerusalem to such invaders. The Turkish Saracens, in retaliation, attacked the travelers and pilgrims who wished to visit the now Christianized Holy City. The fight for the liberation of Palestine had begun, and the traditional peace between the Moslem and Christian communities would never be the same.

Laurence despaired at his first major failure as an Archangel. The Malakite had underestimated the humans of medieval Europe. It was a hard lesson in both Celestial and human politics for the young Archangel. He needed a new tool to fight the horror of his own making. Defeated, he turned to his other ally, Archangel Michael, for help. From their talks was born the concept of the first warrior-monks.

Beginning of the Templars

"Certain noblemen of knightly rank, devoted to God, professed a wish to live in chastity, obedience and without property in perpetuity, binding themselves in the hands of the lord patriarch to the service of Christ in the manner of secular canons. Among these, the first and most important were the venerable men, Hughes de Payens and Godefroi de Saint-Omer . . ."
-- William, Archbishop of Tyre

In Heaven, Michael was helping Laurence to recover from the crushing embarrassment of the First Crusade. Laurence, Michael knew, needed something other than inspired humans slaughtering other humans in a quest to purify the Holy Land in the name of Christ. He needed a symbol of shining knighthood to which the true Christian nobleman could aspire, a purity the young Malakite Archangel embodied passed down to the mortals. Instead of influencing a Pope to call down a bloody Crusade to unite Europe all at once, an act which had resulted in disastrous results to Heaven, Michael encouraged Laurence to think in manageable sizes, small groups, and work up towards great Wars through inspiring Christian ideals. Michael even acquiesced to giving Laurence a little human help in his aims.

In 1118, nine religious knights in Palestine were brought together under the strong leadership of a remarkable, charismatic man, a Soldier of Michael named Hughes de Payans. They called themselves the Order of the Poor Knights of the Temple of Solomon, named for the location of their housing. They were dedicated to the selfless protection of travelers on the road between Jaffa and Jerusalem from the deadly Saracens. The Order slowly formed into a volunteer police force in the East, dedicated to the protection of the helpless pilgrim on its quest.

The knights took solemn oaths of chastity, obedience, and honor, transforming themselves from the murderous barbarians into a new brand of hero, holding high Archangel Laurence's own brand of ethics. They emerged from the horrors and devastation of the First Crusade as a band of shining knights who would inspire the population back home in Western Europe. The Templars were formed.

Simultaneous with the rise of the Knights Templar was the copycat order, the Knights of St. John, better known as the Order of the Hospitallers. This order was influenced by a Mercurian of Michael to be healers of the sick and wounded after the battle. They grew in parallel with the Templars, emerging from the same devastation, but their ultimate aim was at a tangent, to heal instead of do battle. In the East, they flourished, and soon spread across Europe as well.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux

"Indeed, the knights of Christ fight the battles of their lord in safety, by no means fearing to have sinned in slaying the foe, nor fearing the peril of their own deaths, seeing that either dealing out death or dying, when for Christ's sake, contains nothing criminal but rather merits glorious reward. On this account, then: for Christ! hence Christ is attained. He who, forsooth! freely takes the death of his foe as an act of vengeance, the more willingly finds consolation in his status as a soldier of Christ. The soldier of Christ kills safely; he dies the more safely. He serves his own interests in dying, and Christ's interests in killing!"
-- St. Bernard

When the Order was founded, it was a "poor order," whose primary function was the protection of pilgrims. A transformation took place when the new Order was given a shove in the right direction by St. Bernard of Clairvaux, a powerful Saint of Dominic and nephew of one of the founding members of the Order. Dominic had no interest in seeing the young Archangel Laurence falter in his purpose once again, considering he backed him the first time, and Bernard was ordered to throw his weight behind the newly formed Knights.

The command from Heaven was carried out easily, as St. Bernard took a strong liking to Hughes and his purpose. In Hughes, Bernard recognized a means in which to channel the feudal nobility's destructive energy. Bernard saw that Hughes would convert them from the warlike barbarians, easily swayed by a well-placed demonic suggestion, to the shining knighthood of the legends the Archangel Laurence envisioned. He recognized a method in which the nobility could truly fight the battle of the Lord and nurse their destinies to become soldiers of God, while still holding fast to their warlike tendencies. The military Christianity that Laurence embodied was finally finding an outlet in which to express itself.

The Knights Templar

In 1139, backed by St. Bernard, Pope Innocent II granted the Order the privilege to build their own churches, and made them beholden to only the Pope himself. They became the holy knights of the Pope, the true Defenders of the Faith in the most literal sense. Given the ability to expand, the Order grew at an amazing rate. As heroes of the First Crusade, and defenders of the innocent, they captured the public's imagination and drew many young men to their service.

As warriors in the Service to the Sword, the Grand Masters formed the Order from a small group of Knights into a vast following of warrior-monks, held in check by the chains of vows, often mirroring Laurence's Malakim in Heaven. The Knights lived under vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience, similar to and influenced by the rules of the Cistercian monks of St. Bernard. They were forbidden to touch women, even their sisters and mothers. They were instantly obedient to any of the commands of their superiors, and they built their own codes of laws and systems of punishments, all the way up to and including the death penalty, should the crime be suitable. They lived a life of a mendicant, participating in daily religious services that emphasized the books of Joshua and Judas Maccabees, intertwined with military duty, and they often carried out their duties in complete silence.

Above all, the Knights were marked for their bravery, as the Templars were forbidden to flee from battle unless they were outnumbered three to one, a softer refracted mirror image of Michael's angels in Heaven. This edict made them fierce fighters, loyal unto the death to their Order, and they believed the greatest honor that could be bestowed upon them was to die on the battlefield. Many of them did die in just that manner, out in the East, fighting the Turkish Saracens who raided Christian towns and fortresses they defended. The Knights were willing to die on the field rather then retreat to safety, and the tales of their prowess spread through Europe.

The initiation rites of the Order were held in secret. Once a young applicant was found to be of sound mind, free of disease, unmarried, unattached, and of proper birth, they were free to join the Order itself. They committed themselves to being "Servant and Slave" to God and the Virgin Mary, and finished their vows with Psalm 133. While the secrecy made the vows all the more holy to those who chose to take them, it would later serve to undo the order as a whole.

The Growth of the Order

Once the Knights reported to no one but the Pope, the growth of the Order was nothing short of explosive. Donations flooded into Templar coffers, and not just the usual donations of a few pennies or trinkets. The Templars were bequeathed huge tithes of land, jewels, and treasure brought back from the East, with the belief that giving to the Templars, as Soldiers of God, would reserve a place in Heaven for those who donated. Laurence watched his Order grow. He saw that his knights were beginning to have the imagined effect upon the human populace where his Crusade failed.

The Templars strove to meet Laurence's ideals, and became more than just the defenders of pilgrims and those that held the Holy Land. They were held up as those who defended Christendom as a whole, and the young flocked to serve. The numbers swelled, and by the Second Crusade in 1180, the Knights held a chain of fortresses and castles that lead from Spain all the way to the Holy Land in the East.

The First Bankers

The Knights were in a unique position of holding land and gold all across Western Europe. They took vows of poverty, so the knights had little interest in spending the money they accumulated. As they were trusted to transport pilgrims from one end of the empire to the other, they became trusted also to transport the pilgrim's cash. Since the money system of the time was still based on gold, a traveler, interested in going to the Holy Land, could place their money into the hands of the Templars on one side of Europe in return for the first bank notes. In the East, their bank notes would be exchanged for hard cash. From this, the first banks were formed, and Marc, the Archangel of Trade, felt his Word grow among the population of Europe.

In time, they became widely trusted with large amounts of capital. The Templars became the bankers of the papacy itself. They were entrusted with the taxation of the held lands in the East, since no one would dare refuse payment to the Knights, and doing so would be to refuse God himself.

The Order grew and there evolved a split in the duties and the needs of the Order. Safe in Western Europe, the Templars became less militant and more interested in being farmers, financiers, bankers, and glorified travel agents. In the East, on the front lines with the Saracens, they were known as battle-hardened veterans who held the lands for the Pope and for God. They served different Archangels, in different ways, and were no longer under the pure jurisdiction of Laurence.

The Templars began to reach the height of their power. They were spread from France, through Spain and Italy, across Central Europe, all the way to Palestine. They held vast tracts of land, dozens of fortresses, enormous coffers of money and stores of holy relics. They influenced nobility and the church alike. The Templars inspired poems of King Arthur and Camelot, and tales of great quests. They had made their mark on history, and entrenched themselves as the protector of the Christian faith. With so much prestige, it couldn't last forever. It was only a matter of time before they fell.

Bernard of Clairvaux, Saint of Judgment

Corporeal Forces -- 1 Strength -- 2 Agility -- 2
Ethereal Forces -- 3 Intelligence -- 7 Precision -- 5
Celestial Forces -- 3 Will -- 6 Perception -- 6
Status: 4
Charisma: +2
Skills: Knowledge/4 (Religion), Emote/4, Savoir-Faire/4
Songs: Healing (Corporeal)/4
Attunements: Incarnate Law

At the time of the First Crusade, Bernard, the charismatic abbot of the Cistercian Abbey of Clairvaux in Burgundy, was amongst the most powerful men in Europe. He had enormous political leverage on the Pope and the King of France. His eloquence had convinced scores of young men to leave their homes and to follow him into the Cistercian order, which sought to reform old form of the Benedictine religious life.

Bernard was destined to preach the Second Crusade in 1146, a pronouncement that was so enthusiastically accepted he was nearly torn to pieces by his audience. Recruits flocked to the armies in such numbers that Bernard wrote to the Pope, mentioning that the countryside seemed deserted.

Bernard was a man of great intelligence, who gave the external piety of Western Europe a new dimension. He heartily mistrusted intellectualism and rationalism in religion, and encouraged faith.

Hughes de Payans, Soldier of War

Corporeal Forces -- 2 Strength -- 5 Agility -- 3
Ethereal Forces -- 2 Intelligence -- 4 Precision -- 4
Celestial Forces -- 2 Will -- 3 Perception -- 5
Status: 3
Charisma: +2
Skills: Fighting/3, Emote/2, Dodge/3, Large Weapon/3, Tactics/3

Hughes de Payans was originally from Champagne, and on traveling to the Holy Land during the Crusades, was a cadet in the service to the Count of Troyes.

Hughes was a remarkable man, a master of organizational skills, and charismatic enough to drive the Templars to success. He was instrumental in the founding of the Knights as first a volunteer police force, and then later, an order of warrior-monks. At one time, soon after the First Crusade, the Templars were on the verge of extinction, but through Hughes's contact with Bernard, and later the endorsement of nobility and the Papacy, allowed it to prosper and thrive. He returned to Europe when the order needed assistance, and convinced St. Bernard of Clairvaux to support him.

Hughes became the first in a line of many Grand Masters of the Knights Templar.

Adventure Seed: Guarding the Pilgrims

The year is 1184, and the Crusaders have fought long and hard to liberate the Holy City, Jerusalem, and now it is held by the Franks. After hearing tales of miracles, pilgrims from all over Europe are traveling to the East to worship and find enlightenment. The problem is, they are being attacked by marauding groups of raiders along the coast.

A group of angels has been ordered to provide escort to group of travelers headed toward the Holy City. They will meet them as they disembark the boat at Jaffa. One of the members is an old Catholic Priest, and his wish is to see the Foundation Rock under the Dome of the Rock. But why is this man so important? This ornery, stubborn, frustrating old man has a great destiny to be deeply moved by this spiritual experience, return to Europe and establish a chain of monasteries which will evolve over time into institutes of great learning.

[Editor's Note: This is the first of a two-part series. Look for the rest next week. What happens? Remember the axiom, "What goes up . . ."?]

Article publication date: January 15, 1999

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