The Knights Templar and Freemasonry
Although Freemasonry is not a religious order, the fraternity does reference the Knights Templar, a Christian military order founded during the Crusades. It is thought that Freemasonry may have had its origins in the Knights Templar, but the evidence is not clear.
Who were the Knights Templar?
The Knights Templar were a Catholic military order during the time of the Crusades . The order’s full name was the “Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon”.
The Templars originally consisted of a group of knights who protected Christian pilgrims traveling to the Holy Land against attack from brigands and Saracen pirates, after the Crusaders captured Jerusalem in 1099.
They took monastic vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and pledged themselves ready to die for their faith. They were gradually transformed into a chivalric order of warrior-monks who fought with distinction and great skill in the Crusades.
Establishment of the Knights Templar
The military Order were made official in 1139 when Pope Innocent II issued a Papal Bull (decree) that allowed the Knights Templar special rights.
Among these special rights, the Templars were exempt from paying taxes, permitted to build their own oratories, and held to no one’s authority, except the Pope’s. The Templars became very, very powerful.
The rise of the Knights Templar
What started off as a group of poor monks defending the Holy Lands, became an extremely powerful Order in Europe and the Middle East.
The Templars began global banking operations throughout Europe, allowing money to be safely transferred between vast distances. They became extremely rich and powerful; a Medieval elite army with a massive treasury.
The fall of the Knights Templar
In the late 12th century, Muslim armies retook Jerusalem and turned the tide of the Crusades, forcing the Knights Templar to relocate several times. The Fall of city of Acre in 1291 marked the destruction of the last remaining Crusader refuge in the Holy Land.
European support of the military campaigns in the Holy Land began to erode over the decades that followed. Additionally, many secular and religious leaders became increasingly critical of the Templars’ increasing wealth and power.
By 1303, the Knights Templar lost its foothold in the Muslim world and established a base of operations in Paris. There, King Philip IV of France resolved to bring down the order, perhaps because the Templars had denied the indebted ruler additional loans.
To make things even worse, accusations of blasphemy and corruption were leveled against the Templars. An inquisition and a dismantling of the prestigious order followed, with the Grand Master (the Templar leader), being burnt at the stake.
The Templar – Freemason connection
Know that we know who the Knights Templar were, we’ll now discuss the connection between the Knights Templar and Freemasonry.
Masonic origins in the Knights Templar
It’s speculated that after the inquisition and forceful disbanding, the Knights Templar went into hiding throughout Europe. In this theory, a group of exiled Templar Knights, residing in Scotland, continued on in secret and would eventually form Freemasonry.
There is no clear evidence for Masonic origins in the Knights Templar and so a factual connections between the two organizations is highly doubted. Such connections have been made popular by modern media, films and books.
The Masonic version of the Templars
Although no direct connection exists between the Knights Templar of the Crusades era and Freemasonry, Freemasonry has a distinct branch within it that has adopted aspects of the Templars.
This branch of Freemasonry is known as the Masonic “Knights Templar”, named after the original “Knights Templar” of the Crusades.
The Masonic Knights Templar is an optional offshoot of Freemasonry but still resides within the larger family of Freemasonry organizations. Mainstream Freemasonry (i.e. the three degrees of Freemasonry) does not mention or allude to the Templars at all.
Unlike mainstream Freemasonry, which has no religious demands except for the belief in a Supreme Being, to be a Knights Templar Mason, you must profess belief in Christianity. Also, its invitation only – even if you are a 3rd Degree Mason, you must be invited to join the Masonic Knights Templar.
After you’ve been invited into the Masonic Knights Templar, you gradually receive a series of Templar Masonic Degrees, that, although higher that the 3rd degree of Freemasonry in numbering, are not higher in rank. It’s like a side-degree rather than a higher degree of Freemasonry.
For example, a 3rd Degree Freemason (a Master Mason) is equal in rank to a Templar Freemason.
Borrowing from the Knights Templars
Some of the terminology used in Freemasonry mirrors terms that were used by the Templars:
- Grand Master – This was the highest ranking Templar Knight. The Grand Master is the highest ranking Freemason.
- Brother – The Templars were an order of brothers. Similarly, Freemasonry is an Order with each member known as a “brother”.
- Regalia – In the Masonic Knights Templar branch of Freemasonry, members wear full Templar clothing/regalia, including the sword!
- De Molay – In the USA, there is a Masonic youth organization called the Order of De Molay. Jacques De Molay was the last Grand Master of the crusader Knights Templar who was burnt at the stake during the inquisition we mentioned earlier on.
Made popular by the media and books such as Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, there is a theory that the earliest Freemasons build the Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland.
The Chapel, built in the 15th Century, has many symbols within it that can be interpreted to be Templar and even Masonic in origin. Again, real evidence for the connection is weak. The Chapel remains a popular visiting location for Freemasons worldwide.
So is Freemasonry a religion or a religious order?
There is insufficient evidence to show that Freemasons trace their history back to the Knights Templar of the Crusades. That being said, within Freemasonry there is a branch called the Knights Templar.
The Knights Templar of Freemasonry are based on the historical Templars, all the way down to the Masonic regalia they wear and the symbols used.
This Templar branch of Freemasonry is part of the bigger Masonic family, but its optional and the vast majority of Freemasons do not belong to the Masonic Knights Templar. Its quite exclusive and its invitation only!