Posted by Richard Rawlinson
I’ve just seen a Templar knight in Bristol, walking the streets in helmet, chain mail and white tunic with red cross. This is not uncommon in a city with a rich Templar history, reflected by the station name, Temple Mead, and a Weatherspoon pub called Knights Templar.
I’m not sure if he was a ghost or a man in fancy dress, just pretending to be a member of the monastic military order founded in the 12th century to protect pilgrims to Jerusalem. Paranormal Site Investigators (PSI) have reported many apparitions, especially at the HQ of Avon Fire and Rescue, built over a Knights Templar temple. Interestingly, the sightings are invariably accompanied by the sound of Gregorian chant.
Next year is the 700th anniversary of the death of Jacques de Molay, the last Grand Master of the Knights Templar, who was burned at the stake on 18 March 1314 after the former darlings of Christendom had fallen from grace.
King Philip IV of France was the main catalyst for their downfall, torturing them into confessing heretical religious practices and the crime of finding sexual release with each other.
Philip’s motives were dubious. He was broke and the Order of Templars was rich. As well as being holy monks and crack soldiers, another dichotomy of the Templars was they were pioneering bankers, so talented at finance that the Order was richer than monarchs, who it then dutifully bankrolled. Philip owed the Order money but needed plenty more to fund his appetite for European wars. By persecuting the Templars, he could clear his debt, grab some booty, and, at the same time, strengthen France’s position by destroying the Vatican’s formidable army.
Some later historians have also had it in for the Templars, portraying them as a proto-Nazi ethnic extermination squad. But the Templars’ recorded mission was to protect pilgrims and the vulnerable, with no mandate in their book of 600 rules for ideological murder of people holding a different faith.
The Crusades was hardly a time of religious and cultural tolerance. Perhaps the Templars did overstep the mark by modern standards. Perhaps they did lose support in powerful places because they got too big for the boots.
But the ghosts down Bristol way are a chivalrous bunch.