On this day in 1128, the Pope officially recognizes the Knights Templar. They were declared to be an army in the service of God. The origin of the Knights lay in the Crusades. The first leader of the knights, the French noble Hughes de Payens, found the Knights Templar in 1118. The organization was established to protect pilgrims making their way to the Holy Land. In medieval Europe, many pilgrims sought to visit the Churches and relics in the Holy Land (modern Israel and Palestine). The Templars would protect pilgrims on the dangerous journey to the Holy Sites. They took their name from the locations of their headquarters on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. At the start, the organization had only twelve members. The Templars all had to be of aristocratic birth and they had to take vows of poverty and chastity. In 1127 the organization began a recruitment drive and the numbers of knights grew. The knights could not own property but the organization soon amassed a great deal of wealth. Members of the order were expected to be ‘fighting monks’ and protect the Christian faith in the Holy Land. The Knights received many gifts of land and bequests from pious Christians. The Knights Templar fought in the Holy Land until the defeat of the last Crusaders in the early 14th century. They earned a reputation for bravery and fearlessness and they were greatly respected by their Muslim foes. The knights were all mounted and heavily armored and were often irresistible on the battlefield. The held several castles in the Holy Land which they defended fiercely. After the defeat of the Crusades, the Knights Templar became a very powerful organization in Europe. They often acted as bankers and they became fabulously wealthy. They were no longer really interested in the Crusades, although some fought the Muslims in Spain. They were envied because of their wealth and the French King Phillip IV, on the verge of bankruptcy decided to seize the order’s vast wealth.
He and his ministers arrested the grand master of the order on trumped-up charged. They were accused of Satanism and black magic. The grand master and other leading knights were tortured to make confessions admitting these crimes. Later the Templars recanted their confessions. Phillip IV with the Pope’s permission had the leadership of the Knights burnt at the stake. Phillip IV seized all the orders lands in France and other monarchs around Europe did the same. Soon the order was dissolved. The Catholic Church later admitted that the charges against the order were false. The Knights Templar play a very important part in the Dan Brown book, the ‘Da Vinci Code’.