When Jacques de Molay was first questioned, on October 24, 1307, about the sins of the Templars, the only accusations were about his entry into the order. Did he deny Christ and spit on a crucifix? Was he told that he could have sex with the other brothers?1 These seem to have been the only things that the accusers of the Templars had come up with at the time.
In the next few months, the list of accusations grew to 127. Many of these, however, are almost identical. For instance, there are five that deal with spitting, trampling, or urinating on a cross. Then there are two more that say they did this “in contempt of Christ and the Orthodox faith,” and that the men who received them into the order made them do this.2 Templars confessed to just about everything suggested to them.
One can imagine a Templar sergeant or knight brought in after several months of imprisonment and torture:
“Good day,” the inquisitor begins. “We’re here from the church and the king and we only want the truth for the good of your soul.”
The Templar is distracted by the smell of roast venison, which reminds him that he’s starving and also that his fate will be similar to the deer’s if he doesn’t get the answers right.
“Now, when you joined the Templars, were you told to spit on a cross?”
“Yes, sir, but I cleverly spat next to it and no one noticed.”
“Were you ordered to stomp on the cross?”
“I sort of remember something like that.”
“Did you stomp on the cross?”
“No, I didn’t.”
“Did you stomp and urinate on the cross on Good Friday? Was that the ritual for the day Our Lord died for your sins, you heretic scum?”
“No, my lord, it wasn’t.”
“Ah, then you must have stomped and urinated on another day. What day was it, Holy Thursday? Just when did you desecrate the cross? We know you did. All the other Templars have confessed. Are you saying that you were the only one who didn’t do this?”
And so on. Eventually, the Templar is so cowed and confused that he’s happy to confess to anything and go back to his quiet cell.
Although this scene is the product of my imagination, I have heard that this technique of interrogation—asking the same question several times in various ways—is still being used. Fortunately, I don’t have firsthand knowledge.
Since so many of the charges are almost the same, we can group the 127 charges into more manageable groups:3
A Summary of the Charges
1. That the Templars denied Christ in their reception ceremony or soon after. They also spat and trampled on a cross.
2. That they exchanged kisses on various parts of the body, the navel and base of the spine being favorites.
3. That at the reception they were told they could have sex with other Templars. They were made to swear that they would never leave the order. Also, the receptions were held in secret.
4. That they were not allowed to reveal what happened in the reception to anyone.
5. That they did not believe in the Mass or in other sacraments. Their priests did not say the words of consecration over the Host.
6. That they were told that the masters could absolve their sins, implying that they had no need of a priest.
7. That they venerated an idol, as their God and savior. Well, some of them did. That is, most of them in the chapters did.4 Each province had one, it was said, sometimes with three faces, sometimes one. Sometimes it was a human skull. Anyway, they believed that it could make them rich and also make the flowers bloom and the land be fertile. Each of them wore a cord around their waist that had touched the idol and they even slept in it.
8. That they were only allowed to confess their sins to a priest of the order.
9. That they didn’t give charity as they ought and they believed that it was not a sin to make money and that they were authorized to do so by any means possible, legal or illegal.5
10. That they met at night and in secret.
11. That everyone, well, almost everyone, in the order knew about these things and did nothing to correct them.
12. That many brothers left the order because of the “filth and errors.” 6(But see number 3.)
13. That the whole matter has caused public gossip and scandal throughout Christendom.
14. That the Grand Master and other officials of the order have confessed.
AS the reader will notice, even broken down like this, some of the charges aren’t charges at all but statements. Others are qualified so many times that it seems as if the inquisitors were trying to make various individual confessions make sense.
I address the first five charges in the chapter on the Secret Rite of Initiation. The sixth charge, that they believed the master could absolve their sins, seems to be true. Apparently, some of the brothers were confused between the absolution they received after confession to a priest and the absolution that the master or commander gave them after confessing in the weekly chapter meeting about breaking the rules of the order.
The question of the mysterious Templar idol is covered in my chapter on Baphomet. Since to modern readers it seems to be one of the most fascinating of the charges, I don’t think it hurts to repeat that no idol of any sort was ever found in any of the commanderies. In Paris a search revealed a silver reliquary containing the skull bones of one of the eleven thousand virgins martyred with Saint Ursula in Cologne in the fourth century.7And, even under torture, most of the Templars only appeared confused by the question about an idol.
Templars did have their own priests but many of them were only hired for a certain term. The number of priests of other orders who testified for and against them from information learned in confessions proves that this accusation was false.
On the accusation that the Templars did not give charity, it’s hard to say. Answering that would need more records than we have. However, they seem to have given alms at least three times a week and the Rule had strict guidelines for giving to the poor. Anything might be given as alms except military equipment.8When the Grand Master visited a commandery, five poor people were to be fed the same food as the brothers ate, in his honor.9Also, every day one-tenth of the bread prepared should be given to the almoner to give to the poor.10
The Templars did not set up hospices as the Hospitallers did, but they did spend a great deal to ransom poor prisoners of the Moslems and they had places to give shelter to pilgrims.11 Did they give enough? I don’t know. Do any of us give enough?
The Templars were on thin ice with the charges about money. There are too many cases in charters where they seem to go to great lengths to get all that they legally could and one or two times when they may have taken money that they weren’t entitled to. Please see the section on Templars and Money for a more complete look at this issue.
On the accusation that the Templars met at night, and in secret, that’s one of those no-win accusations. They sometimes met at night in the time after reciting the predawn prayers called matins. According to the Rule, they were first to check up on their horses and gear and then they could go to bed. But this was also a convenient time for holding chapter meetings. The meetings were held in secret in the sense that what happened in them was not to be discussed with outsiders.
The odd thing about the charge is that most religious orders had closed meetings. The purpose of the chapter was to discuss faults and problems. These weren’t things they wanted the public at large to know about. I don’t know why no Templars bothered to mention this. It’s possible that they didn’t know much about the practices of other orders.
The real problem was the secret reception. Most orders had public ceremonies for new members. It was a big day and families looked forward to seeing it. It was stupid for the Templars to welcome new recruits privately. But it does seem to be something that select societies like to do.
The accusation that everyone in the order knew these things were going on is classic distortion. It assumes all the other charges to be true.
I love the charge that brothers had left the order because they were disgusted with the heretical behavior. First of all, the inquisitors already accused the Templars of forbidding members to leave. Of course, men could have left without permission and some did. But the number who left legally for various reasons was far too many for the order to have a policy of silencing those who wanted out.
One of the men who testified against the order in Paris was a priest named Jean de Folliaco. He stated that he had been forced to do all the nasty things at his reception and that he had complained to the king’s provost in Paris in 1304. He told the pope that he had a letter proving his complaints were true, but it was missing. Eventually, he admitted that his main objection to remaining in the order was that the life was too hard and he was afraid of being sent overseas where the fighting was.12
One interesting case, however, concerns a Spanish brother, Pons of Guisans, who became a Templar when he fell ill on his way to the East. He thought he was dying and assumed he’d get a shorter time in purgatory if he died a Templar. But he didn’t die. Instead, he became a full member of the order and had a position of responsibility in Jerusalem. Then he met this woman. He left the order to marry her. After her death, he decided that he wanted to come back. He had to do penance for a year for leaving, but they let him back in.13 Obviously Pons was not put off by “filth and error.”
Finally, the last two charges aren’t charges at all. They are simply excuses. The final reason for the dissolution of the Templars at the Council of Vienne was that the scandal was so great that no one would take the order seriously again. It may seem odd to people today but a fear of creating scandal was something that medieval organizations and individuals dreaded. They knew the power of a well-placed rumor. Even if one were innocent of all charges, the shame of being accused was enough to ruin a person’s life, as the Templars found out to their sorrow.
Georges Lizerand, Le Dossier de l’Affaire des Templiers (Paris, 1923) pp. 33-37.
Jules Michelet, Le Procès des Templiers Vol. I (Paris, rpt. 1987) pp. 90-91. These charges are all translated in Malcolm Barber, The Trial of the Templars (Cambridge, 1978) pp. 248-52S.
The following is taken from Helen Nicholson, The Knights Templar (Sutton, 2001) p. 206. Her organization is slightly different from mine but it was a handy starting point.
Michelet, p. 92. “Item, quod aliqui eorum. Item quod major pars illorum qui errant in capitulis.” I’m not making this up.
Ibid., p. 94, “dicti ordinus quibuscumque modis possent per fas aut nephas procurare.”
Ibid., p. 96, “multi fraters de dicto ordine propter feditates et errors ejusdem ordinis exierunt.” Translation in Barber, p. 251.
Paul Guéron, Vie des Saints Vol. XII (Paris: Bollandistes, 1880) pp. 496-97.
Laurent Dailliez ed., Règle et Statuts de l’Ordre du Temple (Paris, 1972) p. 126. Rule no. 82.
Ibid., p. 129. Rule no. 92.
Ibid., p. 27. Rule no. 27.
Desmond Seward, Knights of the Cloister: Templars and Hospitallers in Central-Southern Occitania c. 1100-300 (Woodbridge: Boydell, 1999) pp. 111-15.
Barber, p. 99.
Seward, p. 122. The case is from the Barcelona Rule of the Temple.