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Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon
[Templar Knights]

The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon, more popularly known as The Templar Knights or Knights Templar, was a monastic military order that was formed in 1118. The founders of the order were two French knights, Hugues de Payens and Godfrey of St Omer. In 1119 or 1120, after the successful campaign to recapture the holy city of Jerusalem, King Baldwin II, acutely aware of the military deficiencies of the military establishment of the Latin East, seemed to have convinced these men and their companions to take an oath to provide a military escort for Christian pilgrims en route to the Holy Land, in particular on the road from the port of Jaffa up to Jerusalem.

The full original title of the new order was Pauperes commilitones Christi Templique Salomonis (Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon). They were officially sanctioned by the church at the Council of Troyes in 1128 and received the support of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, who was commissioned to write their "Rule".Of their founding, William of Tyre wrote some years afterwards:

"In this same year [1118] certain pious and god-fearing nobles of knightly rank, devoted to the Lord, professed the wish to live perpetually in poverty, chastity and obedience. In the hands of the patriarch they vowed themselves to the service of God as regular canons. Foremost and most distinguished among these men were the venerable Hugh de Payens and Godfrey de St. Omer. Since they had neither a church nor a fixed place of abode, the king granted them a temporary dwelling place in his own palace, on the north side of the Temple of the Lord. Under certain definite conditions, the canons of the Temple of the lord also gave them a square belonging to the canons near the same palace where the new order might exercise the duties of its religion."
Two Templars burned at the stake, from a French 15th century manuscript

By the 1180s, the Order of the Temple looked very different from the small group that was originally formed by the two French knights. Even so, the protection of pilgrims remained central to the order's activities and ethos. The organization of "warrior monks" became known for being ferocious in battle and it acquired, primarily through donations, vast holdings of land all over Europe, particularly in France. Despite their vows of poverty, the Order also accumulated enormous wealth during the time of the crusades. After the crusades were over, the knights returned to their Chapters throughout Europe and became known as moneylenders to the monarchs. In the process many historians believe they invented the Banking System.

For nearly two centuries the Templars grew in size, strength, political clout, reputation (good at first, but bad towards the end), but most of all in wealth, and this would prove to be their undoing. In the early fourteenth century King Philip IV of France, who was deeply in debt to the Templars, decided to not only cancel that debt but seize their wealth and property for himself and having his puppet pontiff Clement V dissolve the order. On October 13th, 1307, King Philip had all the Templars arrested on the grounds of heresy, since this was the only charge that would allow the seizing of their money and assets. [This is similar to the way a major debt was discharged to Elizabeth Bathory, the so-called "Blood Countess", in the early 17th century.]

As he burned at the stake, Jacques de Molay, Grand Master of the Knights Templar, cursed King Philip and Pope Clement to meet eternal justice within the year. Pope Clement died only one month later and Philip IV seven months after that. Commentators were extremely pleased with such development and often featured this story in their chronicles.

Myths and Mysteries

The Knights Templar later become surrounded by legends concerning secrets and mysteries handed down to the select from ancient times. Perhaps most well known are the those concerning the Holy Grail, the Ark of the Covenant, and secrets of building. Some sources say the Holy Grail, or Sangreal, was found by the order and taken to Scotland during the scourging of the order in 1307, and that it remains buried beneath Rosslyn Chapel. Some say that the order also found the Ark of the Covenant, the chest which contained sacred objects of ancient Israel, including Aaron's rod and the tablets of stone inscribed by Moses with the Ten Commandments.

These myths are connected with the long occupation by the order of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Some sources record that they discovered secrets of the master masons who had built the original and second temples secreted there, along with knowledge that the Ark had been moved to Ethiopia before the destruction of the first temple. Allusion to this is made in engravings on the Cathedral at Chartres (considered along with the Cathedrals at Amiens and Reims to be one of the best examples of gothic architecture), great influence over the building of which was had by St. Bernard of Clairvaux, who was also influential in the formation of the order. Further links to both the search by the order for the Ark and to its discovery of ancient secrets of building are suggested by the existence of the monolithic Church of St George in Lalibela in Ethiopia, which stands to this day and whose construction is incorrectly attributed to the Knights Templar. There is also an underground church dated to the same period in Aubeterre in France. There is growing speculation surrounding relics that would indicate the possibility that the Knights Templar may have undertaken pre-Columbian voyages to America.

Conspiracy theories related to the suppression of the Knights Templar often go far beyond the suggested motive of seizing property and consolidating geopolitical power. It is the Catholic Church's position that the persecution was unjust, that there was nothing wrong with the Templars, and that the Pope at the time was manipulated into suppressing them. In 2001, Dr. Barbara Frale found the Chinon Parchment in the Secret Vatican Archives, a document that shows that Pope Clement V secretly pardoned the Knights Templar in 1314.

The Templars in Istria and Environs

The Templars' headquarters were first moved from Jerusalem to Cyprus and then to France. In Istria they established themselves at Risano, at S. Clemente of Muggia, and at S. Maria di Campo near Visinada. In 1221. S. Giovanni del Prato of Pola, passed into the hands of the Templars, of which monestary, as also that of S. Maria del Campo near Visinada, was still noted in 1229.

In the 9th and 10th century a Benedictine Monastery was built attached to both side walls of the old Basilica on the island of Brioni. The Monastery belonged to the Templar Knights in the 13th century and in 1312 when this order was suspended by the pope the site was probably abandoned. A few decades later the islands suffered from plague. In the 16th century the building was restored and was in use up to the 18th century. The last time it was restructured was in 1721.

In the 12th century, the order of the Knights Templar erected a hospice next to the water spring at Pola (Fons Nymphea). After the order was abolished, it was taken over by the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem. Due to strategic reasons the Venetian authorities demolished several structures that were located outside of the town wall in 1357, and it seems that the St. John of the Nymphaeum church was one of them. It is believed that they held knightly contests (jousts) in the Arena. From 1219 to 1269 Otočac in the Lika was owned by Templar Knights, given to them by king Andrija II. In 1184, Croatian-Hungarian king Bela III gave the town of Senj (Segna) to the Templars, which town in 1271 then became the property of the counts of Cherso, the Frankopans.

In 1240 the bishop of Parenzo gave the Templars an ex-Benedictine monastery, St. John at Prato (Prato Grande, Pragrande) near Parenzo, requesting that they maintain a hospital there for the pilgrims.

In 1267, in the women's division of the Templars, Agnes Chatela was accepted as "Sister Templar" in the preceptory of Bras in Provence. In 1305 another Agnese took the votes from the hands of the preceptor of Venice and S. Michele di Leme (Istria, diocese of Parenzo), father Simone da Osimo, who accepted her in the religion of the Temple and in the monastery of S. Michele di Leme.

Despite accusations that the Templars had failed in their mission, which followed the loss of Palestine and Syria in 1291, they continued to expand this provision for pilgrims. The Templars order had succeeded in planting preceptories along the important pilgrimage routes. In the thirteenth century they took particular interest in developing their Italian possessions, for the Adriatic ports were becoming increasingly important for contact with the Holy Land, and Istria was certainly on one of the routes.

In April, 1305, Boniface, Bishop of Parenzo, taking account as he said of the fact that the order had no houses in Istria, granted the Templars possession of the monastery of  San Michele di Leme which was better known as the Camaldolenses monastery [see note] which was linked to Sanvincenti. The monastery had been neglected due to wars and pestilences, as well as poor administration and licentious monks, and abandoned in 1300. Thus, the Templars planned to transform the abbey, which was close to embarkation points on the Adriatic, into a complex there explicitly for pilgrims setting out for and returning from the Holy Land (in quo peregrinos euntes et redeuntes de ultramarinis partibus valeant recepturi). At least some of the religious there joined the Temple; within two days domina Agnes, a conversa, offered herself with the usual ceremonies to God and the Order, and then received back the custody of the place from the hands of the Templar. It is not known, however, if they ever went there because shortly thereafter the Templars were suppressed by King Philip, their order was disbanded and the monastery was returned to the Camaldolenses order in 1314. Also after the disbandment of the order, the monastery of St. John at Prato was given back to the order of St. John who then abandoned it at the end of the 15th century.

The Coat of Arms of the Templars of Rabuiese
 

There is also evidence of the Templars at Rabuiese (or Raboiese, Rabujeis), the true door to Istria which in recent years gave its name to the international check point to Slovenia.  Rabuiese is the eastern slope of mount Castellier, facing the torrent Ospo, at the end of the Salinera valley, once called valley of St. Clemente. There, in a locality called Malson, in the XII century stood a church dedicated to St.Clemente, and nearby the old Hospice of the Templars. At the suppression of this religious order, the monastery and all its appurtenances passed to the Knights of Malta, who kept it till 1530, when they ceased all activities there. Thereafter the properties passed to the church of Muggia, which kept them until 1823.

In 1576 masses were still being officiated there, but in 1683 the place was already in complete neglect, seeing that in the report to the Bishopric of Trieste it is not even mentioned.

Those dilapidated walls of the convent and of the church could still be seen a century ago, whereas they have now completely vanished, together with their very name. The ruins looked like the remnants of some palace, so much that people renamed the place as "Palazòt".

Villa Marie in Barat was originally a mud and cow-dung structure, and is purported to have been owned by the Knights Templar when they criss-crossed Istria on their way to the Holy Land. Their emblem decorates the gates and you can spot their crosses in the local graveyard among the mossy stones.

Note:

The Camaldolese (Camaldolenses as mentioned above), were part of the Benedictine family of monastic orders founded by St. Benedict in the sixth century. Noted for their strict and solitary discipline, they had several monasteries and possessions in Istria from about the year 1000. The Camaldolese branch was established through the efforts of the Italian monk St. Romuald in the eleventh century. His reform sought to revitalize the best of the communal and solitary dimensions of monastic life. St. Romuald founded the Hermitage of Camaldoli high in the mountains of central Italy. There are Camaldolese hermitages and monasteries throughout Italy. The most ancient is the urban monastery of St. Gregory the Great in the heart of Rome.

As for the Templars, the first military order in the Church, in their brief history spanning only two centuries, they became very rich and powerful, the very reasons that led to their downfall and abolition.

Their presence in Istria, interesting as it may be, was only a marginal aspect of their exploits.

See also:
  • Templari tra Istria e Venezia - http://www.croponline.org/traccetemplari.htm

Sources:

  • Bernardo Schiavuzzi, "La malaria in Istria. Ricerche sulle cause che l'hanno prodotta e che la mantengono", Atti e memorie della Società istriana d'archeologia e storia patria. p. 390, 395.
  • Dario Alberi, ISTRIA - storia, arte, cultura, Edizioni LINT (Trieste, 1997), pg. 369.
  • http://www.templarhistory.com/who.html
  • http://www.ecu.edu/history/whichard/MBarberCharitable.htm
  • S.J. Skunca, Istarska Enciklopedija, Leksikografski Zavod 'Miroslav Krlež' (Zagreb, 2005)
  • Text (Italiano) - http://www.mansiotempli.it/storia/regola2.htm
  • http://hallencyclopedia.com/Senj, http://hallencyclopedia.com/Knights_Templar, and http://hallencyclopedia.com/Secret_Vatican_Archives
  • http://travel.guardian.co.uk/countries/story/0,7451,1406799,00.html
  • Hospitaller Women in the Middle Ages, edited by Anthony Luttrell, Helen J. Nicholson,  Anthony Luttrell, Helen J. Nicholson, Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2006, p. 85.
  • http://www.smrikve.com/istria/books/smrikve/places/west-istria/brijuni/page-6/
  • http://www.ami-pula.hr/en/projekti/crkva-sv-ivana/

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Created: Saturday, August 06, 2005; :Last Upated: Friday, January 01, 2016
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