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The Knights Templar: their London headquarters today

Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon

The "Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon" order, better known as "The Knights Templar", was founded in 1119 AD, and dissolved by the Pope in 1312.

In just under 200 years, they became an immensely powerful and important order of fighting monks. They were far from the only military order, but they became (and remain) the best known. They were the wealthiest, and most prestigious order.

Other monastic fighting orders included the "Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta" more usually known as the "Knights Hospitaller", the "Hospitallers of St Thomas of Canterbury at Acre" or the "Knights of St. Thomas" and "The Order of the Teutonic Knights of St. Mary's Hospital in Jerusalem" better known as the "Teutonic Order.

The Knights Templar remain fascinating to this day. And in London, you can still visit the Templars' New Temple, and see the Temple Church they built. It's still a fully-functioning parish church, and open to visitors.

I am a member of Middle Temple, and therefore a parishioner of Temple Church. It's an absolutely fascinating place.

The seal of the Knights Templar, showing two knights on one horse, intended as an image of monastic humility.

The seal of the Knights Templar, showing two knights on one horse, intended as an image of monastic humility.

The Knights Hospitaller defending Acre, a painting by Dominique-Louis Papéty.

The Knights Hospitaller defending Acre, a painting by Dominique-Louis Papéty.

A (very) brief history of the Knights Templar

In 1099 AD, the First Crusade re-captured the Holy Land in general, and the city of Jerusalem in particular, following the Muslim invasions which had conquered the area some 300 years earlier.

Lots of Christian pilgrims wanted to travel to the area, but it was a very dangerous journey.

Two ex-crusaders therefore established a monastic order to protect travellers to and from the Holy Land.

The first members were all related, by blood or as in-laws, to each other, and there were 9 founding members.

The order was approved by the King of Jerusalem, Baldwin II, and one of those crusaders, Hugh de Payens, became the first Grand Master of the order.

Baldwin gave the Temple Mount, the site of the Temple of Solomon, and now the site of the Dome of the Rock, to the Knights. They thus acquired both a headquarters, and a name for the new order.

It swiftly gained status as a favoured and important order, and was endorsed by the Papacy in 1129, and became even more powerful in 1139 when it became answerable only to the Pope, and therefore exempt from local laws, and Kings, Dukes, and Bishops.

But by the early 14th century, its sheer power and wealth attracted the envious attention of the greedy and power-hungry French King, Philip IV.

He owed the Templars rather a lot of money, and turned his full attention to the destruction of the order.

Many Templars were accused of heresy, burned alive, imprisoned in terrible conditions, or sent away to other, obscure orders of monks.

The Pope completed the task by dissolving the Knights Templar altogether in 1312.

The property from the order went mostly to the Knights Hospitaller, another military order of monks.

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In some countries, the Knights re-formed into new orders, with the same property, same people, and a new name. Some was grabbed by the rulers of the areas in question.

Plan of the Temple Church, London.

Plan of the Temple Church, London.

The outside of Temple Church in London, showing the view from the south, and the statute of the Knights Templar in the foreground

The outside of Temple Church in London, showing the view from the south, and the statute of the Knights Templar in the foreground

Effigies in stone of Knights Templar inside the Temple Church

Effigies in stone of Knights Templar inside the Temple Church

The Knights Templar in England

Hugh de Payens, the first Grand Master of the Knights Templar, visited England to set up a branch of the Order.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle recorded his visit, saying:

This same year, (A.D. 1128,) Hugh of the Temple came from Jerusalem to the king in Normandy, and the king received him with much honour, and gave him much treasure in gold and silver, and afterwards he sent him into England, and there he was well received by all good men, and all gave him treasure, and in Scotland also, and they sent in all a great sum in gold and silver by him to Jerusalem, and there went with him and after him so great a number as never before since the days of Pope Urban.