The Templar Knights (1118-1307)
The Templar Knights or 'Poor Knights of Christ' were a monastic order of knights founded in 1112 A.D. on the Temple Mount to protect the pilgrims along the path from Europe to the Holy Lands. Founded after the First Crusade, the Knights were only nine in number and relied entirely on alms from the surrounding Christian community. The order grew larger after they made the Order answerable only to the Pope and began took advantage of the immense military and religious fervor of the time. The official sanction of the church led to massive donations from wealthy patrons eager to do their part in the fight for the Holy Land. To accompany this new found wealth, the Knights set up a very efficient banking system unlike any other in the world at the time.
As the Crusades wound down, support for the order gradually diminished. In the early 14th Century, King Philip IV of France was in dire need of money to continue his war with England. He also owed a great deal to the Knights and would be unable to pay them. Therefore, he began to arrest and kill the Knights charging them with numerous crimes thus allowing him to simultaneously not pay them and loot their temples. He also successfully pressured the Pope to outlaw the order and most returned to secular life or began to fight with other groups. Only a few hundred knights across Europe were unaccounted for, thus leading to great speculation.
The Knights Templar have become surrounded by legends concerning secrets and mysteries handed down to the select from ancient times. Most of these legends are connected with the long occupation by the order of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, and speculation about what relics the Templars may have found there, such as the Holy Grail, the Ark of the Covenant, or fragments of the True Cross from the Crucifixion. And still more stories were started by fictional embellishments upon the Templar history, such as a treasure long hidden by the Templars. This idea has been used in two recent Hollywood movies, The Da Vinci Code and National Treasure, and in a novel by Steve Berry, The Templar Legacy.