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By Eamonn Casey
Is there a connection between the Temple Bar and the Knights Templar? Or is the name purely coincidental? Many people, including a prominent British genealogist, claim to know the true story of the Temple family and England and their masonic past, and affirm there is a definite connection.
Today, the prevailing view of the Knights Templars is that of a gallant and chivalrous group of men with splendid white mantels and shields adorned with a red cross, sitting on white horses, setting off to Jerusalem to defend Christiandom. That is a romantic view, but what of the real view?
What was the Order of the Knights Templar? The order was founded in 1119 to protect pilgrims en route to Jerusalem and had their headquarters on the Temple Mount on the side of the old Temple of Solomon, in Jerusalem. They were initially named the Poor Knights of Christ & The Temple of Solomonm, or the Knights Templars for short.
The order received the official recognition of the Catholic church in 1129 and became a favoured early medieval charity, rapidly acquiring land, wealth and influence. They were not subject to any form of taxation and were exempt from all authority other than that of the Pope.
The Templar order grew rapidly and excelled in many battles throughout the crusades, but a far greater significance was their growth in influence and in monetary matters. The order became extraordinarily wealthy as they established a vast financial network across the whole of Christiandom, in the process of establishing the earliest known form of banking.
They acquired large tracts of land, both in Europe and the Middle East; they bought and managed farms and vineyards; they built churches and castles; they were involved in manufacturing, import and export; they had their own fleet of ships; and at one point even on the entire island of Cyprus.
The original ‘Friday the 13th’ came into being on Friday October 13th of 1307, when King Philip IV of France had all the Templars in France arrested and charged with various offences including heresy, apostasy, idolatry, obscene rituals and homosexuality, financial corruption, fraud and secrecy. Under extreme forms of torture many of the Templars confessed (charges which they later recanted).
King Philip IV burned hundreds of Templars at the stake in Paris and a period of persecution followed throughout Europe. Under constant military threats from Philip of France, Pope Clement instructed other Christian monarchs in Europe to arrest the Templars and seize their assets. He eventually suspended the Templars at the Council of Vienna in 1312.
However, a historic document recently discovered in the Vatican, the the Chinon Parchment, states that Pope Clement absolved the Templar order of all heresies in 1308. The Catholic Church today officially states that the medieval persecution of the knights Templar was unjust; there was nothing inherently wrong with the order or its rule; and that Pope Clement was pressured into his actions by the magnitude of the public scandal and the dominating influence of King Philip IV.
Right across Christian Europe, with the exception of Portugal, decades of persecution and confiscation of assets followed for the knights Templars. Persecution was a convenient tool for many states, nobleman and monarchs as they were heavily indebted to the order. Many of the Knights Templar members assumed new identities and traveled to new lands to escape persecution, taking their many secrets with them.
Perhaps the foremost romantic secret is that of the ‘Holy Grail’ which the Templars were said to have protected and kept secret from the Catholic church following their persecution. But there is no historical evidence to support this popular tale which has proven increasingly appealing to the world of literature. Another concerns the shroud of Turin which was mysteriously discovered in Turin in the 14th century in the possession of a family with the Knights Templar name and historic connection.
Many Normen noblemen who were Knights Templars fled to Britain under assumed names in the 14th century, declaring loyalty and agreeing to pay taxes to the monarch to became free of persecution. Secret covenants continued throughout the decades and when the Anglican church was separated from the Vatican by Henry VIII in 1536, the birth of Protestantism began in England. Many of the Knights Templar’s families whose descendants suffered persecution in earlier times were now free to play a more active role in society. The Temple family were, according to British historical records, a family who had historical links with the knights Templars and one who coincidentally came to prominence in England under Protestant rule.
So when William Temple landed in Dublin in 1599, one wonders did he bring his family history of secret societies with them? Did he practice secret rituals with fellow members in Trinity college or at his family home in the Temple Bar? Did he embrace and continue his family heritage as a member of the Knights Templar?
Some freemason organisations today claim their societies have links to the Templars. We know that since at least the eighteenth-century freemasonry has often incorporated Templar symbols and rituals, most notably the Order of the Temple, the final order joined in the United Religious, Military & Masonic Orders of the Temple, and of St John of Jerusalem, Palestine, Rhodes & Malta, commonly known as the Knights Templar.
One theory of the origins of freemasonry claims direct descendance from the historical Knights Templar through its final 14th century members who took refuge in Scotland, or other countries were the Templars were not persecuted. However, there is no historical evidence available to substantiate this claim.
One wonders, are they keeping something from us? Is there another secret of the Knights Templar?
Following the recent and not-so-astonishing revelation by the Catholic Church attesting to the Innocence of the Knights Templar in the 14th century, a popular cult of admiration, wonder and mystery has developed around the order.
Today the image of the knight with the white mantle adorned by the red cross is a potent brand that is considered warm and brave, with beautiful honesty and integrity. The idea of covert rituals and hidden secrets has undoubtedly stimulated the imagination of the general public, who have developed a strong affinity to spin offs like the Da Vinci Code and similar literary outputs.
Some commentators say the secrets of the Knights Templar have been locked in manuscript form, concealed amid layers of puzzles, mathematical conundrums and literary imagery. One wonders if the Temple Bar in Dublin holds some of the clandestine secrets of the order?