The most serious charges brought against the Templars by King Philip—and the ones that still seem to fascinate people today—all revolved around the secret ceremony of initiation into the order. All of the Templars who were arrested were asked about what they did at their entry. The answers fell into two categories. The first was the normal rite that was spelled out in the Rule.
The ceremony of reception is in the Old French version, so it was accessible to anyone who could read or have it read to him. It was a secret ceremony not in the sense that no one could find out what happened, but in that family and friends were not invited.
Here are the main parts of the initiation:
If a man wishes to become a Templar, he is first brought into a room near the chapter hall where the Templars gather for their weekly meetings. There he is asked several questions.
The first questions are about his willingness to join the order: “Brother, do you ask to join the company of the house?”1
If he does, then they are to tell him about all the difficulties of the job and the suffering he will endure and ask if he is prepared to be a serf and a slave of the house for always, all the days of his life.2 This is stressed several times. It is not an unusual request. Anyone joining a religious order is told that they must obey their superiors without question. This was true of the Benedictines, Cistercians, Franciscans, Dominicans, and all other orders.3 However, it was considered that men who had been trained as knights would have more trouble being subservient than most monks.
If the applicant is not deterred by this information then he is asked questions that concern reasons why he may not become a Templar. Is he married? Is he a member of another order? Does he owe money that he can’t repay? Does he have a communicable disease?
If the answers to these are satisfactory, then one of the brothers questioning him goes into the chapter hall and says to the master:
“Lord, we have spoken with this worthy man who is outside and have told him of the hardships of the house as well as we could. And he says that he wishes to become a serf and slave of the house. . . .”4
Then the applicant is brought in. He kneels before the master and joins his hands, saying:
“Lord, I have come before God and before you and before the brothers and implore and ask you by God and by Our Lady, that you may welcome me into your company and the benefits of the house as one who desires to be a serf and a slave of the house for all my days.”5
The master tries again to dissuade the man:
“Good brother,” he says. “You ask a very great thing, for of our order you see only the outer appearance. For in appearance you see us having fine horses, and good equipment, and good food and drink, and fine robes, and thus it seems to you that you would be well at ease. But you do not know the harsh commandments which lie beneath: for it is a painful thing for you, who are your own master, to make yourself a serf to others. For it will be difficult for you to do as you wish; for if you wish to be in the land this side of the sea, you will be sent to the other side; or if you wish to be in Acre, you will be sent to the country of Tripoli or Antioch or Armenia. . . . And if you wish to sleep, you will be wakened; and if you sometimes wish to stay awake, you will be ordered to stay in your bed.”6
If the applicant is not a nobleman, he is reminded that he will be made a sergeant. This means an even harder life, doing work that he may think beneath him. The master doesn’t mince words. He lists all the irksome jobs the man might be required to do. Honestly, I would have changed my mind when he got to the part about cleaning out the pigsty and sweeping up after the camels. But many men remained firm in their desire to join.
The applicant is then sent outside to await the decision of the chapter. If they decide to accept him, he is called back in and asked once more if he’s willing to endure all that they have told him.
When he agrees, the master rises and asks them all to stand and pray to “Our Lord and Lady Saint Mary that he may do well.”7 They then say the Lord’s Prayer and the chaplain gives another prayer to the Holy Spirit. After that the applicant is given the Gospels and, with his hands on them, is asked one final time if there is any reason why he should not become a Templar.
Lastly, the man takes the oath, “Do you promise God and Our Lady that all the days of your life you will be obedient to the master of the Temple and whatever orders that will be [given] you? Again, do you promise to live chastely, without property, that you will live according to the customs of the house? Do you promise to God and Lady Saint Mary that, for all your life, you will aide in conquering the holy land of Jerusalem with the force and power that God has given you? And that you will help to protect and save any Christian who may need it? Do you promise never to leave the order without the permission of the master?”8
To all of these, the man answers, “Yes, if it pleases God.”9
Finally, the master says:
“And we, by God and by Our Lady Saint Mary and by my lord Saint Peter of Rome and by our father the pope, and by all the brothers of the Temple, we welcome you to all the benefits of the house which have been done since the beginning and will be done until the end, and . . . you also welcome us to all the good deeds that you have done and will do. And so we promise you the bread and the water and the poor clothing of the house and more than enough of pain and torment.”10
At last the new Templar is given his cloak, white for a nobleman or black or brown for a sergeant. The chaplain reads Psalm 133, “Behold how good it is for brothers to live together in unity.” The brothers recite the Lord’s Prayer again and the master raises the new recruit up and kisses him on the mouth.11
A kiss on the mouth was the normal way to seal an oath. This was done both in religious communities and in royal treaties, as well as official greetings. My impression is that it was ceremonial and not sexual. I’m fairly sure no tongues were involved.
At least on paper, this is a sacred and completely orthodox reception. There is nothing in it that needed to be secret. The Templars simply preferred that the ceremony be private.
This desire for privacy was to lead to their downfall. In the minds of some people, things that are secret are automatically suspect. If they weren’t doing something bad then why couldn’t anyone come and watch? Therefore, there must be something blasphemous about the reception or a second ceremony must also take place.
This theoretical second ceremony was spelled out in the charges: after the usual reception, the new Templar was supposedly taken aside and told to deny Christ and spit on the crucifix. Then he either kissed the master on the base of the spine and the navel or the new Templar was kissed. Reports varied. This ceremony was described mostly by Templars who had either been tortured or expected to be if they didn’t give the answers that their inquisitors wanted.12
The problem with the reports of the interrogations is that they are all in the third person, not in the exact words of the men. Each Templar was asked if he had participated in the crimes the order was accused of. These were read out one at a time. Then the inquisitor wrote down the gist of the answer.
The first statement of Grand Master Jacques de Molay is almost a template for these reports of a secret reception.
On October 24, 1307, nine days after his arrest, Jacques told the inquisitors that, after he received his white cloak, he was shown a cross of bronze on which was the image of Christ and he was told to deny. And he, with much distaste (licet invictus), did it.13 Then he was told to spit on the cross, but he spat on the ground. Finally, he was asked if he had taken a vow of chastity. “Yes,” he answered. “But they told me I could unite carnally with the brothers, but I swear on my oath that I never did.”14
Other confessions would follow this pattern. Brother Peter la Vernha, a sergeant, testified that after he received his cloak he was told to kiss the receptor between the shoulder blades, which he did. Then he was told to deny God, for that was the custom of the reception. He did this “by mouth, not in the heart” (ore, non corde).15
Brother Steven the Cellerer only had to kiss the receptor on the navel over his clothes. He also denied Christ, also ore, non corde, and spat next to, not on, the crucifix.16
These two confessions were made in Paris. In the Auvergne, far to the southeast, Brother John Dalmas of Artonne, a knight, said that he had been received into the order in 1299 before the preceptor, Imbart Blanc. Imbart told him that the denial of Christ was part of the regulations of the order. So John did it, again ore, non corde, and spat next to the cross.17
The early interrogations only mention the denial of Christ, spitting on the cross, and sometimes permission to have sex with the other brothers. As the months passed, the Templar prisoners were asked about idol worship. This accusation is treated elsewhere in this book.18
Now, many of the Templars insisted that their reception had been completely orthodox but of the ones who confessed, they all follow a pattern. The first two actions, denying Christ and spitting on the crucifix, are almost identical in each statement. The “obscene kiss” varies as to place, with the navel and the base of the spine being favorites. None of the Templars admits to being enthusiastic about it. In their hearts they all remained believers, or so they said.
So what did the inquisitors think was the purpose of this secret initiation?
Did they really believe that every new Templar was immediately let in on the great surprise that the order wasn’t really Christian at all, but denied Christ and defiled the crucifix? It seems odd that a new recruit, ready and eager to give his life fighting for Christ, should be told on the first day that that wasn’t the reason for the order’s existence. I also find it strange that, after they supposedly denied Christ, they were then told to worship an idol that some called Baphomet. It seems a lot to throw at a man on his first day on the job.
Also, according to the testimonies of the Templars at their trials, after this ceremony, nothing more happened. They continued hearing the Divine Office and going to Mass, although some said that the priests omitted the words to consecrate the Host. They also continued shipping out for the Holy Land, where they fought and died.
But for what? If they weren’t there to protect pilgrims and fight the infidel in order to gain remission of their sins and have the hope of heaven, what were they doing there? While people have come up with lots of theories, at the time of the trials, none of the men who confessed came out with a set of beliefs to replace the Christian ones.
They didn’t say they had become Moslems. They didn’t give any of the alternate beliefs of other Christian heretics. They didn’t say that they were Cathars. They certainly didn’t tell the inquisitors that they were atheists, a concept that was barely known at this time. It is unprecedented in the history of heretical movements not to have some sort of set of beliefs. And yet, if the Templars weren’t Christian, they didn’t confess to being anything else.
I tend to think that this was something that the accusers of the Templars slipped up on. Maybe they counted on the public to fill in the blanks with their most dreaded heresy. But it is another reason to suspect that the heretical reception ceremony existed only in the imagination of the inquisitors.
Alan Demurger thinks that there really was some sort of unorthodox part of the ceremony, put in as an initiation test.19I don’t think it makes sense to demand that an initiate deny the very reason he wants to join a group, even as a hoax. However, I won’t completely discount this, just because of the strange things I’ve heard of modern male initiations. However, I think that the most probable answer is that there never was such a ceremony. No Templar who testified without the threat of torture confessed to a heretical reception.
One of the most shocking accusations was that at the reception, the Templars denied Christ and spat or even urinated on the cross. Like Demurger, some scholars have assumed that this might have happened and explain it as a test of loyalty or obedience. I think that’s nonsense. This was just another of the general beliefs floating around concerning heretics.
THE Templars opened themselves up to lurid speculations by keeping the reception secret. Why?
The best answer I have heard is one given by Imbart Blanc, the preceptor of Auvergne, who had been captured and tried in England. Despite the testimony of John Dalmas, related above, Imbart insisted that the accusations were all lies.
The inquisitor then asked him why the Templars kept their reception ceremonies a secret.
His reply: “We were foolish!”
Imbart added that there was nothing in the reception ceremony that “was not fit for the whole world to see.”20
Rather than confess to something he had never done, Imbart died in prison in England.
It seems to me that the mostly likely explanation is Imbart’s. For centuries people have tried to make sense of the “secret rites” of the Templars. As I mention in the section on the Templars and the Saint, there is a story told about Louis IX, grandfather of Philip the Fair. While in captivity, Louis was asked to take an oath that, if he failed to deliver his ransom, he would be an apostate who denies Christ and spits on the cross. Also, in the 1147 account of the taking of the city of Lisbon by the crusaders, the Moslem defenders of the city are supposed to have “displayed the symbol of the cross before us with mockery: and spitting upon it and wiping the filth from their posteriors with it, and finally making water upon it.”21
Many people have imagined a religion to fit the testimony given under torture. Most of these “religions” have little or nothing to do with the statements made in the confessions. There is no place where the Templars give any doctrine of belief that goes with the rituals they are supposed to have practiced. It’s a very strange heresy that has no dogma. With the information we have, I am forced to conclude that there was probably no secret reception and that there certainly wasn’t a heretical alternate religion practiced by the Templars.
The Templars were established to serve God and protect other Christians and that is what they lived and died believing they were doing.
Laurent Dailliez, Régle et Statuts de L’Ordre du Temple (Paris, 1972) p. 307. “Freres, requerés vos la compaignie de la maison?”
Ibid., “et qu’il veaut ester serf et esclafe de la maison a tou jors mais tous les jors de sa vie.”
One good way to understand this is to read the Benedictine Rule, on which most of the others are based. It has been translated into most languages. One in English is Anthony C. Meisel and M. L. del Mastro, The Rule of St. Benedict (Garden City, 1975).
Dailliez, p. 307. Rule no. 659. “Sire nos avons parle a cest prodome que est defors et li avons mostré les durtés de la maison si come nos avons peu et seu. Et il dit qu’il veaut estre serf et esclaf de la maison.”
Ibid., p. 308. Rule no. 660. “Ire, je suis venu devant Dieu et devant vos et devant les freres, et vos prie at vos require por Dieu et por Nostre Dame, que vous m’acueilliés en vestre compaignie et en vos bienfaits de la maison come celui qui to los jors mès veaut ester serf et esclaf de la maison.”
Ibid., p. 308. Rule no. 661: “Biau frere, vos requires mult grand chose, quar nostre religion vos ne veés que l’escoche qui est par defors. Car lescorches se est que vos nos veé beaus chevaus, et beau hernois, at bien bovre et bien mangier, et beles robes, et ensi vos semble que vos fussiés mult aisé. Mais vos ne sav es pas le fors comandemens qui sont par dedans: quar forte chose siest que vos, qui est sires de vos meismes, que vos vos faites serf d’autrui, Quar a grant poine ferés jamais chose que vos veulles: car si vos veulleés estre en la terre deça mer, l’en vos mondera en la terre de Triple ou d’Antyoche ou d’Ermenie. . . . Et se vos vol es dormir on vos fera veillier: et se vos volés aucunes foi veillier l’envos commandera que vos ailliés en vostre lit.” I have adapted the English quote from the translation made by J. M. Upton-Ward, The Rule of the Templars (Boydell, 1992) p. 169. I only found out about this translation toward the end of my work on this book. It is very good, but occasionally her carefully literal translation is a bit hard to follow so I have gone back to the original to clarify.
Dailliez, Rule no. 668. “Priés nostre Seignor er madame sainte Marie, que il de doit bien faire.”
Ibid., Rules no. 675 and 676.
“Oil, sire, si Dieu plaist.”
Dailliez, p. 314. Rule no. 677. “Et nos de par dieu et de par Nostre Dame sainte Marie, et de par mon seignor saint Pierre de Rome, at de par nostre pere l’apostile, et de par tous les freres dou Temple, si vos acuillons a toz les bienfais de la moison qui on esté fais dès le comencement et qui seront fais jusques a la fin, . . . Et vos aussi nos acuilliés en toz les biensfais que vos avés fais et ferés. Et si vos prometon dou pain et de l’aigue et de la povre robe de la maison et de la poine et dou travail assés.”
Ibid., p. 315. “et le baiser en la bouche.”
Please see chapter 31, The charges Against the Templars.
Georges Lizerand, Le Dossier de l’Affaire des Templiers (Paris, 1923) p. 34.
Ibid., p. 37. “Interrogatus, quum vovit castitatem, si sibi aliquid dictum quod commisceret se carnaliter cum fratribus, dixt per jarmentum suum quod non nec numquam fecit.”
Jules Michelet, Le Procés des Templiers Vol II (Paris, 1987; rpt. of 1851 ed.) pp. 216-17.
Ibid., pp. 241-42.
Roger Sève and Anne-Marie Chagny-Sève, Le Procès des Templiers d’Auvergne 1309-1311 (Paris, 1986) pp. 127-28.
See chapter 40, Baphomet.
Alain Demurger, Jacques de Molay: Le Crepuscule des Templiers (Paris: Biographie Payot, 2002) p. 335.
Malcom Barber, The Trial of the Templars (Cambridge, 2006; 2nd. ed.) pp. 220-21.
Charles Wendell David, ed. and tr. The Conquest of Lisbon De Expugnatione Lyxbonensi (Columbia University Press, 1936; rpt. 2002) pp. 132-33, “atque in illam expuentes, feditis sue posteriora extergebant ex illa, sique demum micturientes in illam.” I am grateful to Malcolm Barber for pointing out this reference to me.