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A military religious order founded c.1118 by Hugh des Payens, a knight from Burgundy, and Godfrey of St.-Omer, a knight from N. France. The original purpose of the Templars was to aid and protect pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land, thus acting in conjunction with the Knights of St. John, or Hospitallers,* who tended sick pilgrims in Jerusalem. These warrior-knights took the monastic vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, and refrained from adopting many of the pompous rites and garbs prevalent among religious orders at the time. The official name of the order, “the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon,” is derived from their early state of poverty and from the portion of the king of Jerusalem's (Baldwin II) palace in which they lived, known as the Temple of Solomon.

After their modest beginnings the Templars grew rapidly during the twelfth century in purpose, size, and wealth. Their duties were expanded to include the defense of the Latin states of Palestine. In January 1128, at the Council of Troyes, a rule of order prepared by Bernard of Clairvaux* was accepted and the Knights were allowed to wear a white mantle, to which was added a red cross in later years. By the middle of the century, “commanderies” were established throughout Europe, governed by a hierarchy centering in the Holy Land headed by the grandmaster of the Temple of Jerusalem. Although knighthood was required of applicants during the early years of the order's existence, gradually three ranks were recognized in the membership: Knights, who joined for life; sergeants, consisting of wealthy bourgeois; and chaplains, who were priests, bound for life, to perform religious services for the Knights. As the Templars grew immensely wealthy due to gifts from royalty and pious donations, their influence spread to include financial and banking operations in Europe, and they even loaned money to the sultan of Damascus at one time.

With the fall of Jerusalem in 1187 and the expulsion of all Christians from the Holy Land after the fall of Acre in 1291, the Templars lost their crusading function. As a secret organization, independent of secular authority, they continued to acquire wealth and began to evoke hostility from European royal houses. In 1307 Philip IV* the Fair, king of a bankrupt France, moved against the Templars. By destroying this order Philip felt he could acquire much-needed land and money as well as striking indirectly at the authority of the papacy. In 1312 Pope Clement V,* pressured by Philip, issued the bull Vox in excelso, formally dissolving the order throughout Europe. In spite of protestations of innocence on charges of heresy, witchcraft, and sodomy, 120 Templars were executed in France, including Grand Master Jacques de Molay. Although Philip's debts to the disbanded order were eradicated and he seized much of their property, his desire to acquire all their wealth was not realized. Most of their possessions were transferred by the pope to the Hospitallers, with the exception of the Spanish and Portuguese branches, whose holdings went to other military religious orders.

G.G. Addison, The History of the Knights Templars, the Temple Church, and the Temple (3rd ed., 1852); M. Dessubré, Bibliographie de l'ordre des Templiers (1928); M. Merville, La vie des Templiers (1951).