From The Church Treasury of History, Custom, Folk-Lore, etc., edited by William Andrews; London :  William Andrews & Co., 1898; pp. 112-128.




The Knights Templars: their Churches and their Privileges.



THE Templars, with other similar religious Orders, were born of the Crusades. All that Christians held dear in the holy Land was being either ruthlessly swept away or shamefully desecrated by the unbelievers, and throughout Europe a great cry went up “What can we do? What shall we give?” The Crusades were the answer; and out of the Crusades arose the mighty Order of the Red Cross Knights. It originated in the determination of two French Knights, Hugo de Payens and Godefroi de St. Omer, to devote their services to the protection of pilgrims as they travelled along the infested roads of Palestine. Seven other French Knights associated themselves in the work, and the nine accordingly pledged themselves to live without personal property, in obedience and chastity, according to the rule of the Canons Regular. Apt and expressive was 113 the title they obtained, at this time, for “Poor Soldiers of Christ;” of everything connected with them was of the utmost plainness and simplicity.

A black and white engraving of a Knight Templar.


Their garments were white (the distinguishing feature of the Order — the red cross — was not assumed until the time of Pope Eugenius III.); and whilst furs were forbidden them, lambs’ or sheeps’ skins were permitted in winter time; but whatever the dress, it was made in the simplest pattern, so that it might be put on or off with readiness. Flesh food was permitted them but three times a week, except at Christmas, Easter, and the Feast of the Virgin; whilst for bedding, a pillow, a piece of sacking, and a single coverlet were deemed sufficient for each. Every knight was ordinarily called to attend upon the holy offices at the regular hours; if prevented he was to say thirteen pater-nosters for missing 114 matins, nine for missing vespers, and seven for each of the other hours.

Their ancient badge was the Lamb: a seal attached to a charter of A.D. 1304, now in the British Museum, has the Lamb bearing the flag, with the legend around it: Testis Agni; but before the Templars took this device they seemed to have used that of a horse, with two men riding upon it, a rude woodcut of which is to be seen in the 1640 folio edition of Matthew Paris. Their red cross was that now known as the Maltese, with its eight points, which, as to form, was subsequently taken by the Hospitallers, who had at first used the patriarchal cross. Their banner, which they called Beau-Seant, was, according to Favine, “halfe white and halfe blacke, because they were, and shewed themselves wholly white and fayre towards the Christians, but blacke and terrible to them that were miscreants.” What Beau-Seant means no one seems to be able to say with certainty; Froude thought it originate in an old cry of the Burgundian peasantry, and was originally adopted by the Knights as “a sort of link with the old home.”

But the humility and poverty of the Templars appear to have been but short-lived. Bravery 115 was an undoubted characteristic of the Order; and in those days armed force in the service of what was considered unarmed truth, was bound to be well recompensed. Accordingly, privileges and indulgences, wealth and power, were poured into the laps of the “Poor Soldiers of Christ,” with the usual results. When Richard Cœur de Lion was once being preached to, and urged to give up his three favourite daughters, pride, avarice, and voluptuousness, he unhestitatingly answered that he had already bestowed pride on the Templars. Their wealth soon became enormous, and in almost every part of Europe they were found established, and in possession of churches, chapels, tithes, farms, villages, mills, rights of pasturage, of fishing, of venery, and of wood. “They had also, in many places, the right of holding annual fairs, which were managed, and the tolls received, either by some of the brethren of the nearest houses or by their donates and servants. The number of their preceptories was, by the most moderate computation, rated at 9,000;* and the annual income of the Order at about six millions sterling — an enormous 116 sum for those times! Masters of such a revenue, descended from the noblest houses of Christendom, uniting in their persons the most esteemed secular and religious characters, regarded as the chosen champions of Christ, and the flower of Christian knights, it was not possible for the Templars, in such lax times as the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, to escape falling into the vices of extravagant luxury and overweening pride.” William, Archbishop of Tyre, writing from Jerusalem, about the end of the twelfth century, says: — 

“Quorum res adeo crevit in immensum, ut hodie, trecentos in conventu habeant equites, albis chlamydibus indutos: exeptis fratribus, quorum pene infinitus est numerus. Possessiones autem, tam ultra quam citra mare, adeo dicuntur immensas habere, ut jam non sit in orbe christiano provincia quæ prœdictis fratribus suorum portionem non contulerit, et regiis opulentiis pares hodie icuntur habere copias.”

Being so wealthy, they naturally became the bankers of those days; and he several branches of their establishment soon became storehouses of treasure, which were faithfully preserved for, and in due course rendered back to, their rightful owners. Matthew Paris tells us that when Hubert 117 de Burgh, Earl of Kent, was disgraced and committed to the Tower, the King, hearing of the wealth of Hubert in the custody of the Templars, summoned to his presence the Master of the Temple, and endeavoured, by threats and otherwise, to obtain from him the aforesaid money. The refusal, however, was unmistakeable; the answer was that “money confided to them in trust they would deliver to no man without the permission of him who had intrusted it to be kept in the Temple.” And so it remained until the King had extorted an assignment of it from the imprisoned Hubert, when “the king’s clerks, and the treasurer acting with them, found deposited in the Temple gold and silver vases of inestimable price, and money and many precious gems, an enumeration whereof would in truth astonish the hearers.” Other curious trusts were reposed in the Order. In Jerusalem, the crowns of the Latin kingdom were kept in a large chest, fastened with two locks, the keys of which were kept, one by the Grand Master of the Temple, and the other by the Grand Master of the Hospital.

Some idea of their power may be gathered from the following incident. Henry III., complaining of their wealth and pride, said to their 118 Grand Prior in England: — ‘You prelates and religious, but especially you Templars and Hospitallers, have so many liberties and charters, that your superabundant possessions fill you with pride and madness. Those things, therefore, which have been hastily and imprudently granted by our predecessors, must be prudently and deliberately recalled. I will infringe both this charter and others, which I or my predecessors have rashly granted.” But mark the Templar’s reply: — “It is far from thee, O King, to utter such an absurd and ungracious word. As long as thou observest justice thou art a King; when thou infringest justice thou wilt cease to be so.” Henry failed to fulfil his threat.

The wealth and pride of the Templars were the causes of their downfall in the early days of the fourteenth century. It is an interesting chapter of history, but limited space prevents our dwelling upon it at any length just here. Fuller, in his Holy War, quaintly puts it: — “As Naboth’s vineyard was the chiefest ground of his blasphemy, and as in England, sir John Cornwall, Lord Fanhope said merrily, not he, but his stately house at Ampthill, in Bedfordshire, was guilty of high treason, so certainly their (the Templars’) wealth 119 was the principal cause of their overthrow.” He continues to say that no lives would have been taken in the Continent if their lands could have been secured otherwise, but the mischief was, the honey could not be got unless the bees were burnt, and the honey was surely sufficient to tempt rapacity. When De Molay, the last Grand Master of the Order, came to Paris, prior to his trial, he brought with him no less than twelve mules’ load of gold and silver.

All the world was asked to believe that the Templars were suppressed because they were infidels and blasphemers, given to debauchery, and steeped in crime. Students, however, should give close attention to all pertinent points, and form their own judgment on the matter.

A curious sequel to the suppression of the Order is on record. When De Molay was being burnt to death in Paris, he raised his voice and summoned his persecutors to meet him straightway before the judgment-throne of God. A year and one month afterwards, the Pope was attacked by illness and quickly died. Before the same year was closed, King Philip of France died of a disease which had baffled his medical attendants, and the informant, on whose evidence the 120 Templars had first been arrested, was hanged for fresh crimes. Ranouard, summoning up the matter, says: — “History attests that all those who were foremost in the persecution of the Templars, came to an untimely and miserable death.”


The churches and preceptories of the Templars were not built after one uniform plan, as is sometimes supposed. They were erected to suit the exigencies of he times, the customs of the countries in which they were situated, and the geographical peculiarities of the various districts in which they lay. Preceptories were sometimes castles, sometimes ordinary manor-houses; and the churches as a rule were by no means characterised by the graceful outline and proportions of the Temple Church of the Metropolis.

In the early days of the Order, before the Templars were wealthy enough to possess buildings of their own, they used the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, and from this fact some antiquaries have concluded that the round church, wherever found, is evidence of the building-hand of the Red-Cross Knights, working after the model of the church they originally 121 worshipped in. They say: — “Wherever you find a round church, you may conclude it belonged at one time or another to the Templars.” This, however, is not correct. Take, for instance, the case of one of the round churches — that of Little Maplestead, in Essex. The whole of the parish, including the church, was given to the Hospitallers by Juliana, daughter of Robert Dosnel, as early as A.D. 1185, and continued in their possession until the suppression of the religious houses by Henry VIII. in the 16th century. It never belonged to the Templars.

A black and white engraving of a Knight Hospitaller with a cloak bearing a Maltese cross.


Of course some of the circular towers and round churches were once the properties of the Red-Cross Knights.§ The Temple in London 122 was theirs, and so was the church at Acre with its round tower, “the scene of the death struggle of the band of gallant Templar who fought to the last in defence of the Christian faith in Palestine;” but we must disabuse our minds of the idea that all round churches, or rather round towers at the west ends of square churches, carry undoubted indications of their having once been in the possession of the Templars.

The Temple Church in London appears to have taken upwards of fifty years in building. The circular part of it was consecrated by Heraclius, patriarch of Jerusalem, in 1184; but the body of the church, as it now stands, was not consecrated until 1240, when King Henry III. was present at the ceremony. The feverish haste of modern contract work was unknown in those days, when men with noble ardour devoted all, — “money, time, thought, hope, life itself — to raise for God and man, shrines as worthy of God as human hands could raise, and fit and able to lift man’s thought and hope beyond earth, and lead it on heavenward.” The building has experienced many vicissitudes: in order to efface all evidence of the Popish faith the early Puritan lawyers had it well white-washed: it narrowly escaped the 123 flames in 1666; was beautified in 1682, and so on. But “in the year 1706, the Church was wholly new white-washed, gilt and painted within, and the pillars of the round towers wainscoted with a new battlement.” The effigies were also “new cleaned and painted.” This was restoration with a vengeance! In short, from the times of James and Charles I. down to the middle of the present century the Temple Church was disfigured by “incongruous innovations and modern embellishments, which entirely changed the ancient character and appearance of the building, and clouded and obscured its elegance and beauty.” Lamenting this, a writer in the Gentleman’s Magazine for May 1808 said: “If a day should come when pew lumber, preposterous organ-cases, and pagan altar-screens are declared to be unfashionable, no religious building, stript of such nuisances, would come more fair to the sight, or give more general satisfaction to the antiquary, then the chaste and beautiful Temple Church.” The looked-for day came at length, and in the year 1840 the societies of the Inner and Middle Temple determined to give their attention to the whole matter. Galleries and screens, wainscoting, partitions and pews were thrown out, paint and 124 white-wash scraped away; and in a little while the ancient Gothic Church of the Knights Templars “stood forth in all its native purity and simplicity, and astonished and delighted the beholder by the harmony of its proportions and its fairy-like beauty, and gracefulness of form.”

We have already noticed the immense wealth of the Templars; and as a detailed enumeration of their various houses would occupy an altogether disproportionate number of our pages, we must content ourselves by pointing out to our readers where they may obtain information on the subject. A list of possessions, chiefly foreign, will be found on pp. 242-252 of Secret Societies of the Middle Ages, (London: Nattali, 1848); the works of Dugdale and Tanner will furnish particulars of English properties; whilst the admirable chapter on “The Rise, Extension, and Suppression of the Order of Knights Templar in Yorkshire,” in Kendrick’s Papers on Archæology and History (London: Longman, 1864), will prove of great service to those really interested in the subject. The Knights Hospitallers in England, issued by the Camden Society as their 1855 publication, has much information regarding the transferred Templar-possessions in the hands of the Hospitallers 125 in 1338. Addison’s Knights Templars (London: Longman, 1842) must also be consulted; whilst much incidental information is to be found in the pages of the several works, English and Continental, on the history of the Knights Hospitallers. It is hardly necessary to extend our list; the genuine student will soon add to it according to his own fancy or requirements.


In the year 1162, Pope Alexander III. issued his famous bull confirming the rights and privileges already enjoyed by the Templars, and granting them other and new powers and immunities. It is a somewhat lengthy document, from which we extract the following items: — 

a.  Permission is granted them to elect their own Master: ‘No man shall be set in authority over the brethren . . . except he be of the religious and military order; and has regularly professed your habit and fellowship; and has been chosen by all the brethren unanimously, or, at all events by the greater part of them.’

b.  They are freed from ecclesiastical interference: ‘Henceforth it shall not be permitted to any ecclesiastical or secular person to infringe or diminish the customs and observances of your religion and profession . . . No ecclesiastic or secular person shall dare to exact from the Master and Brethren of the Temple, oaths, guarantees, or any such securities as are ordinarily required from the laity . . . We prohibit all 126 manner of men from exacting tithes from you, in respect of your moveables or immovables, or any of the goods and possession appertaining unto your venerable house.’

c.  But they were not only exempted from tithes: they were permitted to take them: ‘As to the tithes, which by the advice and with the consent of the bishops, ye may be able by your zeal to draw out of the hands of the clergy or laity, and those which with the consent of the bishops, ye may acquire from their own clergy, we confirm to you by our apostolic authority.’

d.  They are permitted to choose their own priests: ‘It shall be lawful for you to admit within your fraternity, honest and godly clergymen and priests, as many as ye may conscientiously require . . . so that ye ask them from the bishop, if they come from the neighbourhood; but if, peradventure, the bishop should refuse, yet nevertheless ye have permission to receive and retain them by the authority of the holy apostolic see . . . As regards the cure of souls, they are to occupy themselves with that business so far only as they are required. Moreover, they shall be subject o no person, power, or authority, excepting that of your own chapter. . . .  It shall be lawful for you to send your clerks, when they are admitted to holy orders, for ordination, to whatever Catholic bishop you may please.

e.  Their cemeteries were to be free from the interference of the regular clergy.

f.  They were to have (what soon conferred on them immense power) the privilege of causing, in times of excommunication, the churches of what towns and villages they passed through to be thrown open once a year for divine service.

It need hardly be said that such powers soon brought the Order into antagonism with the regular clergy. It was stated at a general council 127 held at the Lateran, in 1179, that “the Templars and Hospitallers abuse the privileges granted them by the Holy See; that the chaplains and priests of their rule have caused parochial churches to be conveyed over to themselves without the ordinaries’ consent; that they administer the sacraments to excommunicated persons, and bury them with all the usual ceremonies of the church: that they likewise abuse the permission granted the brethren, of having divine service said once a year in places under interdict, and that they admit seculars into their fraternity, pretending hereby to give them the same right to their privileges as if they were really professed.”

The privilege of Sanctuary was thrown around their dwellings; and several papal bulls sternly forbade anyone laying hands either upon the persons or property of those flying for refuge to Temple houses.

Even the tenants of the Templars could reckon up their benefits; and in order that these might be known to all men, they erected crosses on their houses, thus proclaiming that they were free from several of the duties and services of the ordinary tenant. In the city of Leeds the cross still remains on some houses, once the property 128 of the Templars, the inhabitants of which were free of the obligation to grind at the Soke mill.

Some of the returns made by the Templars for gifts to their Order are interesting. Camden tells us that the Templars, in gratitude for the munificent gifts of Roger de Mowbray, conferred on him and his heirs the privilege of pardoning at any time any of the brethren exposed to public penance for transgressions against the rules of the Order, provided they came and acknowledged their crime before their benefactor.



 *  Matthew Paris tells us their possessions included nine thousand manors and sixteen thousand lordships.

 †  Secret Societies of the Middle Ages, 1848 Edition, p. 252.

 ‡  Will. Tyr. lib. xii., cap. 7.

 §  “It is very doubtful whether any of the round churches in this country were originally complete rotundas. Certainly the Temple Church was not; for the oblong building on the South Side, pulled down some years ago, was undoubtedly a portion of the original design . . . and the later specimen of the kind at Maplestead had the square and the round parts built at the same time.” (Cottingham, quoted in Burge’s Temple Church, p. 14.)