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Chastity, Poverty & Obedience: How a monastic order of knights dominated the medieval world.
on 10 April 2016
On Christmas Day in 1119 at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, on the spot which marks the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, a religious order of fighting knights was established to protect pilgrims to the Holy Land from attacks by Muslim raiders. Because their headquarters was on the Temple Mount, where King Solomon had built his Temple two thousand years previously, they called themselves the Poor Knights of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon - although they are most commonly known as the Knights Templar. Over the following two hundred years the order became one of the wealthiest and most powerful forces in the medieval world until, falsely accused of blasphemy, heresy and immorality, they were destroyed by King Philip IV of France in 1307. Ever since, the Templars have been the subject of wild speculation and conspiracy theories galore and in this fascinating and very readable book the classical and medieval historian, Michael Haag, distills the fact from the fiction as he retells the story of the Knights Templar from Crusader-era Jerusalem to the present day.
There are countless books about the Knights Templar on the market but what attracted me to this particular one was that it is the first history of the order, written by a serious historian, since the discovery of the Chinon Parchment in the Vatican archives in 2001. This document showed that in 1308 Pope Clement V had absolved the Templars from the exaggerated charges brought against them by King Philip’s Inquisition. The Parchment, combined with other historical sources cited in the book, proves - according to Haag - that the Templars were simply “the victims of a titanic power struggle between France and the Papacy, between emerging European nationalism on the one hand and the universalist claims of the Church on the other” - rather than some unholy conspiracy cooked up by secret dark forces as some of the more outlandish theories of their demise proclaim.
An outstandingly good read for history buffs and those interested in the esoteric, this very well laid out, well-illustrated book is divided into 7 parts and 20 chapters making it easy to dip in to - and out of - at your leisure. With each chapter sub-divided into key points it is very much targeted at modern readers like me with internet-induced short attention spans [there is actually a guide to recommended Templar sites on the internet for those wishing to use the web to find out more]. It also has a useful section on places associated with the Templars which I found particularly interesting as I am planning to visit Jerusalem and the Holy Land – or the land of Outremer as it was known in Templar times – shortly and I’ve put a number of these locations on my list of things to see while I’m there. What is striking, after having read this book, is how much of the modern world has been shaped by this band of chaste warrior monks and how their legacy survives, in the most unlikely of places, right up to the present day.