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The Tem­plars Dan Jones (Head of Zeus, £25)

IN ad1119, 20 years af­ter the fall of Jerusalem to the Chris­tian army in the First Cru­sade and more than 200 years be­fore the found­ing of the or­der of the Garter by Ed­ward III in Eng­land, the most mil­i­tant Chris­tian or­der of knight­hood was set up to pro­tect pil­grims on their way to the Holy Land. Its mem­bers were es­sen­tially ‘knights who took up a re­li­gious call­ing rather than ser­vants of a hos­pi­tal that added a para­mil­i­tary wing.’ From the be­gin­ning, the Knights of the Holy Tem­ple at­tracted con­tro­versy.

The rule of the or­der de­manded that ‘the flower of chastity… the Knight­hood of Christ should avoid at all costs the em­braces of women;’ the al­ter­na­tive risk of sodomy was to be avoided ‘by their lodg­ings not be­ing with­out light at night, so that shad­owy en­e­mies may not lead them into wicked­ness’.

Poverty was also a re­quire­ment, but this did not pre­vent the or­der from ac­quir­ing a rep­u­ta­tion for pride and greed demon­strated by the vil­lain­ous Knight Tem­plar in sir Wal­ter scott’s novel Ivan­hoe (1820). Their aura of mys­tery and self-serv­ing prac­tice of mon­eylend­ing con­trib­uted to the Tem­plars’ fa­cil­ity for mak­ing en­e­mies. This came to a head in the grue­some sup­pres­sion of the or­der by the King of France, with the back­ing of the Pope, in 1312, when many Tem­plars were burnt alive.

only in Por­tu­gal did the or­der trans­form it­self into the Mil­i­tary or­der of Christ, which took over many Tem­plar cas­tles and con­tin­ued the war against the Moors in the Ibe­rian penin­su­lar. (My own mem­ber­ship dates from a royal visit to Por­tu­gal in 1973 to cel­e­brate the 600th an­niver­sary of the an­gloPor­tuguese al­liance). In an age when Chris­tian/mus­lim clashes con­tinue, the story of the Tem­plars has an im­me­di­ate rel­e­vance and could have no more lively nar­ra­tor than Dan Jones. John Ure

De­tail of a fresco from a chapel built by the Tem­plars at Cres­sac­sur-char­ente

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