Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Over and over along the camino we saw signs of the Knights Templar, usually their equal-armed red cross etched into the walls of a church. Ponferrada, our starting point for the second half of our trek, is the site of a Knights castle that we toured, feeling the presence of knight-ghosts.
I know very little about them--I'm reading a history now. Here's a thumbnail: the knights were a military order, founded to provide armed protection for pilgrims to the Holy Land. "Templar" refers of course to Solomon's Temple, their spiritual HQ. They made a name for themselves also in the Crusades, which, along with their support of pilgrims, made them, for a time, a popular cause to give money to: though their individual lives were quite austere, the order became very wealthy. The seal of the order shows two knights on one horse, symbolizing poverty solidarity (which may also have contributed to accusations of homosexuality in the ranks. Well, gee--an all-male society of guys who've sworn off female companionship, could that appeal to men attracted to men? Duh!)In fact, the rule forbade sharing horses. Bernard of Clairvaux, nephew of one of the founding Kinghts, was an effective advocate in their formal recognition in 1129.
Despite their military charism, realtively few were actually combatants. One non-military way they protected pilgrims was this: people starting out on pilgrimage could present cash to a local Templar spot, and get a letter of credit that could be cashed at another Templar spot down the road. Pilgrims were safer not carrying cash, (in fact, before this they were routinely killed for money,) and the Templars became an international banking system. With cash on hand, the Templars also began loaning money, including an unfortunate large loan to King Phillip IV of France.
Church and State colluded in trumped-up charges against the Kinghts. The Pope readily agreed to accuse them of heresy and other enormities, and on Friday, October the 13th, Philip orchestrated the arrest of Templars all over France (who repays debts to heretics?) Other arrests across Europe followed. Many were tortured into false confessions and burned at the stake. The last Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, was burned at the stake in Paris, 1314.
In 2001, a parchment was found in the Vatican Archives that revealed that the Pope had absolved the Knights of all the charges of heresy--in 1308, 4 years before he disbanded them anyway. (And of course long before the burnings at the stake stopped.) Political pressures, you know--what's a Pope to do?
I can't help but think of the upcoming investigation of US women's apostolic religious orders in light of the history of the Templars. No Church-State collusion here--it's all inside the Church. And it feels all political. And, at least so far, no credible justification has been offered for their investigation. At least we don't burn people at the stake any more.