God’s Bankers

08 20 molayOn this day in 1308 Pope Clement V absolved Jacques de Molay, the last Grand Master of the Knights Templar of heresy. Always nice to be absolved of heresy, especially so in the 14th century. The accusations levelled against the Knights Templar, whether they were true of not, have never really gone away. I’m a bit interested in them because some of them used to live around here. If you see a picture of a knight and he is wearing a white mantle with a red cross on the front, he is a Knight Templar. They fought in the crusades but were also responsible for all the money that was donated to support those crusades. They quickly became a very powerful order. They were basically bankers.

At the beginning of the 14th century interest in waging war in the Holy Land was waning but the Templars were still very much in control of finances. King Philip IV of France was deeply in debt to them. He thought it would be a good idea to merge the Templars with another order, the Knights Hospitaller. What he really wanted was for him to be put in charge of both orders, because then his debt would be cancelled. Neither order were keen. Philip changed his tactics, he would accuse the Templars of heresy and if they were found guilty, all their wealth would be forfeit and his debt would be cancelled. On Friday 13th October 1307 he had Grand Master Jacques and as many other members of the order he could find arrested in a dawn raid. Philip had a list of charges prepared for them which ran to 127 articles, mostly to do with the nature of their secret initiation rites. I can boil it down to the following: He said that neophytes were expected to deny Jesus and either spit, trample or urinate on the cross. That they adored idols, specifically a cat and a head with three faces that they worshipped as a being that brought fertility to the land. That they did not believe in the sacrament and didn’t bless it. That they believed they could be absolved of sin by people who weren’t priests. That initiates were kissed on the mouth, navel, stomach, buttocks and spine and that homosexuality was encouraged. That they acquired some of their money by unlawful means and kept it and finally that they held their meetings in secret and under guard, punishing anyone who revealed the nature of their rites with imprisonment or death. Molay admitted the charges, but possibly under torture. When he was questioned again by the Pope he denied all of it and was let off. It was only a temporary respite for him, he was later questioned again in the presence of royal agents and returned to his first admissions which he later denied again in front of the Papal Commission. He was burned at the stake in 1314 and the order was dissolved.

So I don’t know if any of it was true of not. It’s certainly true that people will admit to anything under torture. It’s also true that a person wouldn’t want to admit to the Pope that they had pissed on the Cross. And it does sound like the sort of thing bankers would do…

08 20 templar cross


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