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August 13, 2019 2 min read

After building up a successful, widespread organisation throughout Christendom why did the Church outlaw and destroy the Knights Templar? Who was behind the downfall and what happened with the devoted remnants of the Order?

In mid-12th century, the Muslim world became more united and under effective rulers like Saladin. There was also dissension and division in Christendom. The Knights Templar were occasionally at odds with two other Christian military Orders, the Teutonic Knights and the Knights Hospitaller. The Templars were involved in a few unsuccessful campaigns, including the decisive Battle of Hattin in 1187. Jerusalem and the Temple of Solomon was taken and reclaimed as the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Holy Land was now under the control of Saladin. After a brief recapture by the Roman Emperor between 1229 and 1244, Jerusalem was not to return to Western control until 1917. The Templars were forced to relocate their headquarters to other cities in the north, such as Acre, but c. 1303, they lost their final foothold in the Holy Land when the island of Arwad was lost to the Egyptians. 

With their mission in the Holy Land lost, the Knights Templars began to lose support. They still managed businesses throughout Europe and the Near East, such as farms and vineyards and their banking network. In 1305, Pope Clement V sent letters to the Grand Masters of the Templars and Hospitallers, to discuss merging the two Orders. Neither liked the idea, but eventually agreed to meet. The Knights Templar Grand Master, Jacques de Molay arrived first in early 1307. However, whilst he waited, King Philip IV of France, in debt to the Templars, trumped up criminal charges from claims made by an ousted Templar. At dawn on Friday 13 October 1307, Philip acted against the Templars and scores of Templars were arrested in France. Phillip put pressure on Clement and two papal bulls were subsequently issued. Templars were arrested throughout Europe and assets seized. Many were burnt at the stake and most of their assets given to the Hospitallers. The Knights Templar Order were officially abolished on 22 March 1312.

However, the Portuguese king, Denis I, refused to pursue and persecute the former knights, providing protection. In 1319, the former Knights Templar Order in Portugal was reconstituted as the Military Order of Christ. Denis negotiated with Pope Clements’s successor, John XXII, for recognition of the new Order and their inheritance of the Templars assets and properties. Today this small remnant of the former Christendom wide network still exists, with the President of the Portuguese Republic acting as Grand Master.       

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