During the trial of the Templars, one of the charges against them was that they worshipped an idol, sometimes called “Baphomet.” The inquisitors may have accepted this as plausible because they had heard the name before. In the Middle Ages most Europeans knew little about the beliefs of Islam. The Koran had been translated into Latin in the 1140s at the request of Peter the Venerable, abbot of Cluny.1 However, most people received their knowledge of the faith through fiction.
The French chansons de geste, tales of the deeds of great warriors, were full of battles against “Saracens,” their term for Moslems. In these stories, the Saracens were pagans who worshipped many gods, among them Apollo and “Baphomet.”
Under various forms, Baphomet appears often in the chansons de geste, always associated with Islam. For instance, in the twelfth-century epic Aymeri de Narbonne, Baphomet is one of the Saracen kings of Narbonne whom Aymeri must fight.
Rois Baufumez . . .
avec aus .xx. paien armé
Qui Deu ne croient le roi de majesté
Ne sa mere hautisme.
King Baphomet . . .
with twenty pagan warriors
Who don’t believe in God, the king of majesty
Nor in his mother most high.
This late-twelfth- or early-thirteenth-century crusade poem has a character called Bausumés or Baufremé, who is the uncle of a Saracen warrior.3 The Enfances Guillaume of the thirteenth century also has a Moslem character named Balfumés.4
It is generally agreed that “Baphomet” is a corruption of the name “Mohammed,” and linguistically, this is probable. There is a quote from the mid 1200s from a Templar poet, Ricaut Bonomel, lamenting the number of recent losses of Christian forces. “In truth, whoever wishes to see, realizes that God upholds them [the infidel]. For God sleeps when He should be awake, and Bafomet works with all his power to aid the Melicadeser [Baibars, the Mamluk ruler of Egypt at that time].”5
There is no information that indicates that Baphomet was the name of an ancient god. It is only in a few cases that the so-called idol of the Templars was even given a name at all.
During the trials most Templars said they didn’t know anything about an idol. One sergeant, Peter d’Auerac, admitted to denying Christ in the reception ceremony, but he “neither knew nor had heard it said that there was an idol in the form of a head.”6 The same is true for Elias de Jotro, a servant, and for Peter de Charute.7As a matter of fact most of the Templars, even the ones who had been tortured, claimed to have no idea what the inquisitors were talking about.
However, the ones who did tell of an idol all described it differently. One said it was the head of a bearded man, “which was the figure of Baphomet.” Another said it was a figure called Yalla (a Saracen word [possibly Allah]). Others called it “a black and white idol and a wooden idol.”8
One Templar, the knight William of Arreblay, stated that he did see a head venerated in Paris. “He frequently saw a certain silver head upon the altar that he saw adored by most of those at Chapter, and he heard it said that it was the head of one of the eleven thousand virgins.” 9 Saint Ursula and her eleven thousand virgins were popular among the Templars as saints who were steadfast in their faith even in the face of death. If mere women could do so much, the Templars could do no less.10After a little more coaching, William realized that “it seemed to him that the head really had two faces, a terrible aspect and a silver beard.”11
A servant was sent to go through the possessions of the Temple of Paris to look for any heads, either of metal or of wood. After some searching, he came back with the head of a woman, gilded in silver. Inside were bones from a skull, wrapped in a linen bag. There was a tag on the bag that said that this was head number fifty-eight of eleven thousand.12 No other head was found.
The historian is left with two choices. The first is that somehow the Templars managed to find out that the inquisitors were coming and hid the idol they normally worshipped. The second is that William made up the description of the two-faced idol under duress and that the only head owned by the Templars was the reliquary of Virgin Number 58. I think number two is the most likely.
There was also supposed to be another head belonging to the Templars, that of Saint Euphemia of Chalcedon, an early Greek martyr. This was kept in the Templar headquarters in Cyprus. It was among the property that was given to the Hospitallers after the dissolution of the order. They took it with them to Malta, where it was probably captured by Napoleon in 1798. If this is so, then Saint Euphemia went down with Napoleon’s ship, l’Orient, off the coast of Egypt.13
Even though we don’t have the head of Saint Euphemia that the Templars owned, it was likely much like the one of Virgin Number 58. If there had been anything odd or sacrilegious about it, the Hospitallers or a later scholar would have said something.
And, for those who are sorry that part of a saint has gone missing, don’t worry. Euphemia’s entire body is still kept at the Church of St. George in Istanbul.14 As with those who bought slivers of the True Cross or the foreskin of John the Baptist, it appears that the Templars were taken in by a shady relic salesman.
As for Baphomet the idol, he belongs firmly in the realm of fiction.
Charles Bishko, Peter the Venerable and Islam.
Aymeri de Narbonne, ed. Louis Demaison (Paris: Société des Anciens Textes Français, 1887) pp. 13-14.
La Chanson de Jérusalem, ed. Nigel R. Thorp (Alabama University Press, 1992) p. 236, line 9019.
Les Enfances Guillaume (Paris: Société des Anciens Textes Français, 1935) p. 117, line 2755.
Alain Demurger, Jacques de Molay: Le Crepuscule des Templiers (Paris: Biographie Payot, 2002) p. 63.
Roger Séve and Anne-Marie Chagny Séve, Le Procès des Templiers d’Auvergne 1309-1311 (Paris, 1986) p. 142. “Nescit nec audivit dici quod illud ydolum sue capud.”
Jules Michelet, Le Procès des Templiers Tome I (Paris, 1987; rpt. of 1851 ed.) pp. 531-33.
Malcom Barber, The Trial of the Templars (Cambridge University Press, 1978) p. 62.
Michelet, vol. I, p. 502. “Vidit super altare frequenter quoddom capud argenteum, quod vidit adorari a majoribus qui temebant capitulum, et audivit dici quod erat caup unius ex undecim milibus virginum.”
Helen J. Nicholson, “The Head of St. Euphemia: Templar Devotion to Female Saints,” in Susan B. Edgington and Sarah Lambert, Gendering the Crusades (Cardiff, 2002) pp. 112-14.
Michelet, vol. I, p. 502, “quia videtur sibi quod haberet duas facies, et quod esset terribilis aspectu, et quod haberet barbam argenteam.”
Ibid., vol. III, p. 218. That must have been a gold mine for the relic sellers. As a matter of fact, in 1156, some new holes were dug near Cologne that turned up some extra virgins to distribute. In Paul Guéron, Vie des Saints Vol. XII (Paris: Bollandistes, 1880) p. 497.
Nicholson, p. 111.
Ibid., p. 110.