Wrapped in mystery and intrigue, the Knights Templar stand out from the pages of history as the keepers of Catholicism’s greatest, most dangerous secrets. In legend, the Knights are known as the guardians of the Holy Grail, the Arc of the Covenant, and other Holy relics. Historically, they are remembered as the “Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon,” the disciplined guardians to Christian pilgrims in the Holy Land. Although the order is one of the most intriguing secret societies, the literature written on the Templars is minute and thus it is one of the least understood societies in history. Sadly, the order’s important contributions to history are so vastly overshadowed by scandal and intrigue that fact and fiction have become “so intertwined that extracting a pristine truth is almost impossible" (Macintyre 1). The information that is known, however, proves that the order’s significance is far greater than the persistent legends that encompass the popular perceptions of the Knights Templar.
Formed in 1096 by St. Bernard in the aftermath of the first crusade, the Knights
Templar made their home on the Temple Mount Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem for nearly two centuries (Marzuni) . The earliest Templars were a purely militaristic company bound to a monastic lifestyle of chastity, poverty, and obedience. Income#, which depended on donations, was tight causing the Templar seal to depict two knights riding on one horse. Official endorsement from the Vatican in 1128, however, allowed the order to become the wealthiest of the crusade’s military units (Dafoe 1). In 1139, Pope Innocent II excused the Order from obedience to local laws. This meant that the Templars could now travel freely through all countries, were not required to pay taxes, and excused from all authority except that of the Pope (Burman 40).
With the Pope’s endorsement and the ability to move and act freely, the Knights began to form businesses, acquire land, and build Templar churches. One of the greatest Templar achievements was the formation of a depository system that would set the foundations for modern banking (Marzuni). Although early forms of banking were practiced by the Italian gentry in Venice, Lombardy, and Florence, they mainly consisted of currency exchange and share holding due to extensive tax and interests laws set down by the Catholic Church. The knights, as a Christian order, were also forbidden to charge usury or interest fees for services rendered to other members of the Church. The poor soldiers, however, cleverly disguised their usury fees as funding for Crusade campaigns (Sora 14). With the approval of the church and as protectors of the path to the Holy Land, the knights were able to establish banks extending from England all the way to Jerusalem. Many of the banks acted as safe depositories for the travelers, noblemen, merchants and knights who traversed along Templar protected land. These patrons could then receive their deposited wealth at any Templar bank after paying fees for every step of the transaction (Martin 42).
Donations and income from their noble and bourgeois patrons allowed the Knights Templar to also expand their business ventures to include 9, 000 properties such as “manors, farms, churches, villages, hamlets, windmills, and watermills” (Sora 15). Templar land existed in virtually every country, including Spain, England, France, Germany, and Hungary. The open land did not go unused, however, and the knights began agricultural and architectural endeavors. Their construction of strategically placed castle and churches along Templar territory and their use of gothic styles and circular buildings greatly influenced the architects of the many different countries the churches were located in (Martin 47).
Before the Order’s demise, no industry was left uninfluenced by the Templar Knights. Foreign money exchange and banking naturally lead the Templars to active involvement in the shipping...
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