Templars and the Reconquista
After many in England believed that Operative Freemasonry had died out, the “Revival” of Freemasonry was made possible by five significant events that changed the course of English history during the preceding five hundred years: the persecution of the Knights Templar, the dissolution of monasteries, the suppression of guilds, the Reconquista and finally the Act of Supremacy. Here we will examine two of these events.
The Knights Templars
The order of the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon, known as the “Templars,” was established around 1118 by the French knight Hugues de Payens, together with seven or eight fellow knights, to protect pilgrims while they travelled to the Holy Land. Jerusalem had been liberated from the Saracens during the First Crusade in 1099 and once again Christian pilgrims were able to visit holy sites. Prior to the retaking of Jerusalem, pilgrims used to visit Saint Catherine's Monastery in the Sinai. Twenty years after its founding, the order of the Templars was sanctioned by Pope Innocent II as a Benedictine order.
While in the Levant, the Templars, who had been garrisoned in the stables of the fabled ruins of the Temple of Solomon, reputedly excavated under the foundations looking for, among other things, the Ark of the Covenant. There are no records to verify this story, and it seems that they found nothing. However, in 1139 the Pope suddenly gave the Templars sweeping powers, including freedom of movement and exemption from taxation throughout Europe, which led people to assume that they had found some important treasure in Jerusalem. However, it may be that the knights petitioned the Pope for these rights and benefits so that they could build an economic base on which to expand their order. Within a few years they had amassed land and money donated by wealthy landowners who joined their cause. This enabled them to set up community buildings known as “preceptories” all over Europe, and afterwards to establish the world's first banking organization. The Templars would receive money from pilgrims who were afraid of being robbed en route to the Holy Land, and gave them a letter of credit, allowing the pilgrims to receive money, less a small fee, in Jerusalem, Sidon, Antioch or at other preceptories.
The Templars soon expanded into lending money and trading, and eventually they owned a fleet of twelve galleys, so were able to protect trade routes as well as pilgrims. Their trading operations came to an end in 1291 when the Saracens retook Jerusalem. The Templars also attracted enemies who were envious of their wealth, particularly King Philip IV “Le Bel” who needed money to continue fighting expensive wars against the English and the Flemish, and he had borrowed heavily from the Templars. In 1307 Philip outlawed the Templars and at dawn on Friday, 13 October (the origin of the Friday the 13th superstition is linked with this date), ordered their arrest. Many knew of the plan in advance and escaped to neighbouring countries, especially Spain, Germany, England and Scotland. It was rumoured that a Templar fleet allegedly sailed from France carrying a small fortune, but it was said to have been lost in a winter storm. How much of their wealth remained at that time it is impossible to say, but probably not much as their extensive system of preceptories in several countries (said to be the world’s first multinational corporation) would have been expensive to maintain.
Of the estimated 6,000 Templars in France at that time, 138 went to trial and in 1310 fifty-four were allegedly burned in Paris for heresy.[i] However, in 2001 a document known as the Chinon Parchment dated August 1308, was discovered in secret archives in the Vatican. It records the trial of Templars and shows that Clement had absolved them of all heresies in 1308, before formally disbanding the Order of the Knights Templar in 1312 at the Council of Vienne. Clement gave their property to the rival Order of the Knights of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem, known as the “Hospitallers.”
It wasn’t until March 1314 that the leader of the Templars, Grand Master Jacques de Molay, was burned at the stake after many years of torture. By this time the Templar knights had fled France, many joining other religious orders and some escaped to Scotland, as it was a Catholic country at the time, and there were garrisoned preceptories there that the Templars owned.
De Molay is famous for having put a curse on Pope Clement V and King Philip, saying that "within a year and a day [they would] be obliged to explain their crimes in the presence of God." Clement died a month later in April, and King Philip died in November of that year.
Rosslyn Chapel and the Templars
De Payens visited England and Scotland in 1128, to raise men and money for the order, and at that time he met with King David I of Scotland. De Payens founded a preceptory near Edinburgh at Balantrodoch, in a village in Midlothian later renamed Temple after one of only two Templar preceptories in Scotland, and another at Maryculter, in Aberdeenshire.[ii] It is said that a large Templar treasure was hidden in this preceptory, which is just nine miles from the estates of Henry St Clair and Rosslyn Chapel, completed c1490..
Two hundred years later, at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, Henry St. Clair, the 1st Baron of Rosslyn, fought alongside his two sons supporting King Robert the Bruce, in Scotland’s first war of independence from the English. Whereas most medieval battles lasted only a few hours, the battle lasted two days.[iii] There is a legend that Templars joined in the battle to help Bruce, whose army was half the size of the English, helping the Scots to win the battle. Bruce was so grateful for the Templars’ support that he donated land to them. Again, there is no evidence to support this claim.[iv] It is also said that Bruce created a new order of knights, the Order of St. Andrew of the Thistle, and the Templars were inducted into it,[v] but history is vague on this story and the modern order dates from 1687.
Bruce died in 1329 and several knights, including St. Clair’s two sons, were tasked with taking his heart to the Holy Land. However, they and many knights lost their lives in a battle in Spain against the Moors. The remaining knights were able to take Bruce’s heart back to Scotland, where it is buried at Melrose Abbey.
Henry St Clair, served with Hugh de Payens, and the fact that the St. Clairs fought alongside the Templars suggests to modern Freemasons that, as his descendant William Sinclair was Scotland’s first Grand Master, that the Templars and Freemasonry are connected. Freemasons see further connections in the images of Templars carved into the St. Clairs’s family chapel, Rosslyn Chapel. Building on this very ornate, small, private church, situated just eight miles south of Edinburgh, started in 1456 and took 40 years to complete. However, houses for the builders were first started on receiving the deed from the Vatican in 1444. The chapel is dedicated to St. Matthew, but the evidence of carved scallop shells also suggests a connection with St. James.
The chapel is small, measuring only sixty-eight feet long and thirty-five feet wide, and is supported by eleven pillars, with a further three pillars in the east and a small crypt behind that. The three pillars in the east are now named, from left to right, Master Pillar, Journeyman Pillar and Apprentice Pillar, though they were originally named the Earl's Pillar, the Shekinah and the Prince's Pillar. Their names were probably changed in the 1800s as part of the Freemason/Templar theory. The Apprentice Pillar is very attractively carved, with cords of leaves and flowers spiralling around the column. There is a story that it was to be carved by a master mason, but he was called away before starting on the carving and it was completed by his apprentice in his absence. On his return, the master mason was so furious that he struck the apprentice with a setting maul, killing him on the spot. As a punishment, the master’s face was carved into a pillar on the other side of the nave so he would have to face the Apprentice Pillar forever.
Many people see a correspondence between the three pillars and the three degrees of Freemasonry. However, this is impossible as the third degree of Freemasonry was not introduced until after 1723, 260 years after Rosslyn Chapel was built. There are also various intriguing carvings that suggest a Templar connection, but these are thought to have been added at a later date as the chapel was built 140 years after the dissolution of the Knights Templar, though some Templars are buried in the crypt. The relationship between the St. Clairs and the Templars seemed to have turned hostile, as the St. Clairs testified against the Templars when they were put on trial in Edinburgh in 1309.[vi] Lastly, many claim that the floorplan of Rosslyn Chapel is a copy of Solomon's Temple, though authors Oxbrow and Robertson refute this claim, “If you superimpose the floor plans of Rosslyn Chapel and either Solomon's or Herod's Temple, you will actually find that they are not even remotely similar. [But] If you superimpose the floor plans of Rosslyn Chapel and the East Quire of Glasgow Cathedral you will find a startling match: the four walls of both buildings fit precisely.”[vii]
Following the Scottish Reformation of 1560, which saw Scotland adopt Calvinist Presbyterianism for the national Kirk, Catholic services were stopped at Rosslyn Chapel, although the family continued in the faith. The altars were destroyed in 1592, possibly in reaction to the Beggars' Summons of 1559 which threatened to evict Catholic clergy with the “cleansing” of friaries and churches. The chapel was abandoned for 250 years until 1842 when it was visited by Queen Victoria, who asked for it to be restored.
The involvement of Templars in Freemasonry is negated by the fact that firstly, the organization had been dissolved and the members dispersed over Europe in 1307 and secondly, there was a four hundred year gap between the demobilization of the Templars and the start of the Revival of Freemasonry in 1717. This is the equivalent of sixteen generations, so it would be impossible to maintain a secret ritual for so long without a supporting organization. Lastly, the Templars were both ordained priests and soldiers, so one would expect to see more chivalry and overt Christianity in the ritual, and this is none.
The fourth event that changed English history and laid a path for the revival of Freemasonry in 1717, was the Reconquista. In 711, 7,000 Islamic Moors from North Africa invaded Spain by way of Gibraltar and for 780 years Moors controlled and governed the country, building the Islamic palace of Alhambra, the castles of Alcazar and Madrasas, as well as establishing universities of international renown in Cordoba, Seville, Toledo and Granada. Though there were centuries of conflict based on religion and culture, the Moors were highly educated, leading the world in medicine, optics and mathematics in what is now called the “Islamic Golden Age.” The Moors did not take control of the whole Iberian Peninsula, which resulted in there being constant attacks from the Christian kings of Europe, who tried to reclaim control of the peninsula. This conflict ended with the “Reconquista,” the retaking of Spain, which finally succeeded in 1492. The fall of Granada marked the end of Muslim rule in Iberia, although a small community of Muslims remained until their expulsion in 1609. Following the Reconquista, Spain and Portugal “re-discovered” the Americas in 1492 when “Columbus sailed the ocean blue,” ushering in an era of colonial empire building for the two nations.
This period can also be termed a “Golden Age” for Judaism as well. The Iberian Peninsula was the main centre of Jewish culture in the Middle Ages, and many have written about the way that Muslims, Jews, and Christians coexisted in some level of harmony. Jewish communities were often wealthy and well educated, and as they had lived previously in rapport with Muslims in the Middle East, this was extended to their new situation in Spain. Christians and Jews had to pay a tax called “jizya” for this harmony, in exchange for the right to practice their religion in the Moslem caliphate.[viii] Non-Muslims living in a Muslim state were collectively known as “dhimmis” a term which originates in the Koran that states if non-Muslims did not pay jizya, which was a higher tax than Muslims paid, they should either convert to Islam or be executed. This is often misunderstood as the choice of “Islam or the sword” which was only applied to heretics and atheists, whereas Christians and Jews were protected as “People of the Book,” as long as they paid jizya. This tax became an important source of income for the caliphate.
The Reconquista was finalized at the Treaty of Granada in 1491 when King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella signed a treaty with the caliphate to end the siege of Granada. There was to be a short truce giving time for the caliphate to relinquish their properties to the King of Spain, in exchange for religious tolerance and fair treatment, but the imposition of punitive taxes remained. However, the tables were turned the following year when cardinal Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros, the archbishop of Toledo, insisted that Moslems convert to Catholicism as “moriscos” or be expelled. This led to an uprising by the Moors, which the king took to be a violation of the treaty and justified his revoking it. In 1492 the Jewish community, totalling about 200,000 people, was forcibly expelled, and soon after the remaining Moors were given the option to convert to Catholicism or be expelled as well.
This is the time of the Spanish Inquisition, correctly named the Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition, which was established by Ferdinand and Isabella in 1478, with authorization for all Spanish territories, including the Spanish Netherlands and newly claimed territories in South America. One of its prime functions was to replace the Inquisition that had existed since 1184 and which was under papal control. In addition, Ferdinand and Isabella wanted more jurisdiction over their special situation in Spain.
Many Jews preferred to convert to Catholicism than leave Spain, and these converts were known as “conversos.” They were not persecuted, however, they were not allowed to hold a position of authority over a Catholic, and were viewed with suspicion by the Inquisition, who believed the Conversos were only Catholic on the outside and were still Jewish on the inside. “marranos,” or Jews in hiding, performed ceremonies in secret and were the target of the Inquisition. If caught they were charged with crimes against the Spanish state, by which was meant practicing Judaism or Islam, and would be imprisoned, executed or, if lucky, expelled. Moriscos, converted Moors, found work as cheap labourers, but this brought social unrest as Spanish workers were forced out of work by uncompetitive bargaining. Again, rioting followed, especially in the eastern Spanish areas of Aragon and Valencia, and eventually over the next twenty years many Moriscos were also forced to leave the country.
The Spanish Inquisition has a reputation of using torture and brutality on a scale never seen before, however it seems that the numbers were exaggerated. Protestants claimed that Catholic Inquisitors executed as many as 32,000 of the 150,000 people they incarcerated, but modern historians put the number at nearer 3,000.[ix] It was not so much a case of the Inquisition wanting to be seen as fearsome, as an invention of Protestants in the 1800s who sought to discredit the papacy.
Many arrested by the Inquisition were required to undergo an act of public penance, an “Auto-de-fé,” meaning an “act of faith.” Initially this was done in private in front of a bishop or cardinal, but over time they became public spectacles, and for those for whom the sentence was condemnatory, it resulted in being burned at stake. The events drew large crowds and were staged to cause the greatest effect possible on the populace, with the “autos” being held in public squares and often on public holidays when the most people could attend.
 A generation is calculated as 25 years in this era.
[i] M. Barber, The Trial of the Templars, 2012
[ii] E. Lord, The Knights Templar in Britain, 2004
[iii] J. Black, The Seventy Great Battles of All Time 2005
[iv] H. Richardson, The Knights Templar on Trial: the trials of the Templars in the British Isles 1308-11; 2009
[v] A. De Hoyos, Scottish Rite Ritual, Monitor and Guide, 2008
[vi] M. Oxbrow, I. Robertson, Rosslyn and the Grail, 2005
[vii] M. Oxbrow, I. Robertson, ibid.
[viii] L. Bernard, The Jews of Islam, 1984
[ix] H. Kamen, The Spanish Inquisition: A Historical Revision, 1999