The Council of Vienne: royal blackmail for Templar condamnation

"The Council of Vienne (1311-12), the fifteenth Ecumenical Council, is a good example of the Church wrestling with the problem of secular interference and political pressure. King Philip IV of France was in urgent need of cash to continue his war with England and so in 1307 accused the Knights Templar of heresy.

The Templars had been founded after the first crusade in 1096 to ensure the safety of European pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem and had quickly built up significant holdings of property and land. Philip had already borrowed heavily from the order, and the charge of heresy was enough to avoid repaying that debt. It also enabled him to confiscate the Templars' land in France. Yet this was still not enough.

Philip insisted that Pope Clement V call an ecumenical council to totally suppress the Templars, and also to posthumously try Pope Boniface VIII, Philip's great enemy, for heresy. The Papacy at this time was entering into what is known as the Avignon captivity. Boniface VIII had been kidnapped by Philip and died not long after. His successor, Benedict XI, was allegedly poisoned by one of Philip’s agents and died one year later. It is unsurprising, then, that Pope Clement felt obliged to cooperate with the King’s demands. The Council was to be at Vienne, near Lyon, at this time an independent state and so theoretically neutral. Philip ordered 230 western bishops to attend, though in the end only 120 were present.

The Council began on the 16th October 1311 with the declared objectives of hearing the case of the Templars, discussing the situation in the Holy Land, and addressing certain wider questions concerning Church reform including an intra-Franciscan dispute over the meaning of poverty. The Council Fathers were reluctant to condemn the Templars too easily without sure proof and so after lengthy discussion left the matter unresolved and focused on considering the possibility of calling another crusade.

Meanwhile a frustrated King Philip held a general assembly of his Kingdom in nearby Lyon and began to menace Pope Clement. It seems that Clement capitulated and agreed to suppress the Templars. In return, Philip pledged not to bring a public action against Boniface VIII. On the 20th March 1312 Philip made for Vienne and within two weeks the Templar’s property and lands had been reallocated. During the same period, the Council absolved Philip from all crimes against Boniface VIII, and called for another crusade. At the third and final session, held on May 6th, Philip volunteered to ‘take up the cross’ as leader of this crusade which would begin within six years. As was customary, a church tithe was levied throughout Christendom for this preparation period and handed over to Philip to fund his mission: the Crusade never took place. Instead, Philip used the money to attack Christians in Flanders."

Illustration and text quoted from a blog by Nicholas Crowe on

The "Association Historique du Temple de Paris"

40 Rue des Blancs Manteaux
75004 Paris
Tél . +33 1 30 70 00 52

In Paris, France an association exists called L'Association Historique du Temple de Paris. This is an independent association under French law that does not receive any subsidies. The objective of the association is:
  • to establish in a general way the historical and heritage of the Temple district in Paris District (3rd Arrondissement) through the history of the Temple and of the life of the Knights Templar
  • Combining efforts to disseminate publications by supporting writers in a joint action towards booksellers, local groups and the general public
  • Organizing events such as exhibitions, lectures, tours, interventions in educational institutions, entertainment etc
  • Establishing a strategy on communication, information and promotion,in partnership with local communities.
  • Contributing to the cultural,historical and tourist development of the area of the Temple.
The work of the Association is undertaken in a totally selfless spirit and for the cultural enrichment of all.


The website of the Association holds interesting information on events of all sorts, results of research undertaken at the Temple district as well as research carried out in the subterranean caves below the old town. The most important remains of Paris are to be found below ground, in the cellars of the houses that add up to many thousands. The research project is carried out by Danny Sandron, Director of the Centre André Chastel, in partnership with the Paris Department of History of Architecture and Archaeology, The Heritage Service and Inventory of the Regional Council of Ile de France and the Center of Parisian topography.

The first Order of Jerusalem: the Hospitaller Order of St John, established 1099

Map of the "Hospitallers' Quarter" of Jerusalem
[from: Dan Bahat, The Illustrated Atlas of Jerusalem, Carta,
Jerusalem 1990, page 91]]    source
Under the protection of St. John the Baptist, close to the Holy Sepulchre, the Amalfi merchant family De Pantaleon opened a hospital in Jeruslam open to all around 1050, that is almost half a century before the first Crusade.  

A minor brother there cared for the sick and wounded. This may have been a monk of Provence origin, of whom little more is known than his name: father Gérard.

When in 1098  the barons of the First Crusade arrived at the walls of Jerusalem, it is unclear whether Gérard was among the Christians expelled by order of the Seljuk governor of the city, whether he decided to flee or to remain at his post. But we know that after the fall of the city to the Crusaders in the city, he was lead to Godfrey of Bouillon. 

There he proposed to resume his task at the hospital, taking care of the many injured during the taking of the city. This was granted. The barons visited the hospital and were amazed by the dedication of brother Gérard. They decided on a strong financial reward, quickly followed by a donation to the hospital in the form of two fiefs, Montboon in Brabant and Hessilia in Palestine.

The monk tried to interest more people to assist in taking care of the many wounded and needy. Initially, four knights respond to the call and, among them, was Raymond du Puy. The Order was officially recognized by the papal bull Pie postulatio Voluntaris, issued by Pope Paschal II on February 15, 1113. The community aimed to ensure in the Holy City the sick and wounded. The papal bull imposed on Gérard and his brothers the three classical vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, and a fourth, hospitality. In addition, the Pope authorized the community to elect successors to the founder totally free and independent, without any ecclesiastical or secular response. The Order was placed directly under the protection of Rome, thus escaping any external authority.

The monks decided to wear a black dress with a cross with eight branches, symbolizing the eight Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5).  Soon, the entire population and pilgrims honored the holders of the cross as a sign of dedication and generosity.

The above text is a slightly edited translation from the text at this source at 

This site (in Dutch) provides most interesting and concise information on the history of the St John's Hospital in Jerusalem. 

Templars now: Beauchassin, France - "Maison du temple" today

On its site  provides most valuable and comprehensive information on Templar sites in France. This allows for visits to such sites, which otherwise could be easily overlooked. TemplarsNow visited the "Maison du Temple" (Temple House) at Saint Hilaire, departement Allier in the Summer of 2012.

aerial view of the Temple House at Beauchassin, Allier France. source
view from the northwest (photo TemplarsNow 2012)
driveway seen from the west (photo TemplarsNow 2012)

The "Maison du Temple" of Beauchassin is located at the village of Saint-Hilaire, Département Allier, Arrondissement: Moulins, Canton: Bourbon-l'Archambault, municipality of Saint-Hilaire. Beauchassin is located close to and to the east of the "bourgh" of Saint Hilaire.

The name of the Templar settlement changed as follows: Bois-Chassain, Bost-Chassin or Bourg-Chassain and today Beauchassin. The site still shows traces of the Knights Templar, for instance in the stone tablet in the wall of the House (aerial photo above nr 1).
This tablet earlier was described to show a cross pattée, a type of cross which has arms narrow at the centre, and broader at the perimeter. This cross appears very early in medieval art, and became one of the characteristic signs of the Knights Templar. It is known, however, that  in their early days Knights Templar wore a simple cross, as did all early crusaders. The present day cross at Beauchassin is not clearly a cross pattée as can be seen on the recent photographs below.

cross pattée (?) above the main door of the house in the
southeast facade of the House  (photos TemplarsNow 2012)
cross pattée (?) in detail
Apart from the house the Templar possession included a chapel, agricultural buildings, fields, pastures and forests. The chapel was dedicated to Saint Blaise and Saint John. The chapel measured 15 x 6,5 meters. It was not vaulted as indicated in the drawing below.

Some traces of the chapel still exist in the form of an ornamented doorway, shown on the pictures below. This doorway, set in the northwest facade of the building indicated nr 2 on the aerial photo above, nowadays leads into a agricultural building with a tin roof.

decorated doorway in northwest facade former chapel
detail doorway (both pictures TemplarsNow 2012)
Probably southeast facade view of chapel with doorway
similar to the one shown above but in the opposite wall.
The House can be seen to the left, with the door over
which is the croix pattée also shown above. To the  right
detail drawing of probably same doorway. Dates unknown.
According to the present occupant some years ago a fire destroyed much of the building that once was the Chapel. This building was rebuilt in a simple way with only agricultural use foreseen.

So there is not very much left of the former Templar origin of the site, although this origin is still documented by some striking details. Probably the Knights Hospitaller did take this house when the Temple Order was abolished in the early 14th century. However, only about 1 km to the westnorthwest, on the nearby D1 road, another (former) Hospitaller House is located, now aptly called La Croix Rouge (The Red Cross).

The color photographs were made and copy-righted by TemplarsNow. They may be re-used for non-commercial purposes, but only with full reference to this site and TemplarsNow. The above text is mainly a French-English translation by TemplarsNow of the text in The drawings are from, which mentions as source thereof the municipal archives of Saint-Hilaire. 

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The Temple Order's original aims

In this book The New Knighthood: A History of the Order of the Temple Malcom Barber explores the original aim of the Knights Templar.The following text is based on quotes from this book.

"Chronicler William Archbishop of Tyre (died c. 1186) says: 'Under the year 1118, certain noble men of knightly order, devoted to God, pious and God-fearing’, the two most important of whom were Hugh of Payns (in Champagne, France) and Godfrey of Saint-Omer (in Picardy, France), took vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience at the hands of Warmund of Picquigny, Patriarch of Jerusalem. They promised to devote themselves to God’s service in the manner of regular canons. In return the King gave them a base in his palace, to the south side of the Temple of the Lord, which was the name given by the Franks to the Dome of the Rock.
At this time the king was resident in the al-Aqsa mosque at the southern end of the Haram al-Sharif or Temple platform in Jerusalem, for the crusaders believed this to be the site of Solomon’s Temple and therefore an appropriate dwetling for the king. In addition the canons of the Temple of the Lord gave them a square near the al-Aqsa mosque where they could follow the monastic offices. A number of benefices were granted to them by the king and his nobles and the patriarch and other prelates, the income from which was intended to feed and clothe them.

The distinctive feature of this fraternity, however, was the duty ‘enjoined on them by the lord patriarch and the other bishops for the remission of their sins’, which was that ‘they should maintain, as far as they could, the roads and highways against the ambushes of thieves and attackers, especially in regard to the safety of pilgrims’.

Old town Jerusalem, with Temple mount
at the right bottom corner  source,
including explanation of lettre codes
It seems that at first the knights intended simply to adopt a penitential way of life as a kind of lay
confraternity, and that later a more active role was suggested to them. Chronicler Michael the Syrian, the Jacobite Patriarch of Antioch (died 1199) says that it was the king, a man acutely aware of the deficiencies of the military establishment, who persuaded Hugh of Payns and thirty companions ‘to serve in the knighthood, with those attached to him, rather than becoming a monk, in order to work to save his only soul, and to guard these places against robbers’.

While it seems certain that the Templars influenced the Hospitallers to take on a military role during the 1130s, it is equally likely that initially the Hospital, which Order was established prior to the Templars, provided Hugh of Payns and Godfrey of Saint-Omer with an effective example of what could be done to help pilgrims.

Certainly the creation of a permanent guard for pilgrim travellers must have seemed to both king and patriarch an ideal complement to the activities of the Hospitallers, who provided shelter and medical care for pilgrims and had been formed as an annex to the monastery of Santa Maria Latinain about 1080. After the Frankish conquest in 1099 they quickly gained royal favour, grants of property and, in 1113, papal recognition."

The Temple Order's birthdate pin-pointed January, 1120

In his book The New Knighthood: A History of the Order of the Temple Malcom Barber reconstructs in detail the birth of the Order. This blog freely quotes key passages, occasionally adding some details from other sources like Wikipedia.

Chronicler William of Tyre reports that at least the two worldly knights Hugh of Payns (in the Earldom of Champagne, France) and Godfrey of Saint-Omer (in Picardy, France), took vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience at the hands of Warmund of Picquigny, Patriarch of Jerusalem.

They promised to devote themselves to God’s service in the manner of regular canons.Subsequently king Baldwin II, who succeeded his cousin Baldwin I at Easter 1118, gave them a base in his palace, to the south side of the Temple of the Lord, which was the name given by the Franks to the Dome of the Rock. This sequence of events sets the oldest possible date for the origin of the Order at or probably shortly after Spring 1118. However, most pobably this brotherhood already existed informally for some years as one of the the brotherhoods of the Holy Sepulcher, related to the Knights Hospitaler.

It is possible to be more precise about the date of the formal recognition of the Templars in a wider sense. Among the early grants to the Order was one by Thierry, Count of Flanders, dated 13 September 1128, which states that it was made in the ninth year from the Order’s foundation’, setting this foundation in 1119. As this grant was actually made in the presence of Hugh of Payns, it must be more reliable evidence than the earlier year 1118 given by William of Tyre, whose reputation for faulty chronology is well known and who was writing over half a century later. Nor is William consistent, for he says later in the same passage that the Council of Troyes, at which the Templars received official papal recognition, occurred in their ninth year. Jean Michel, the scribe who wrote down the council’s proceedings, dates his record as the Feast of St Hilary (13 January) 1128, ‘the ninth year from the beginning of the aforesaid militia’, information which, like Count Thierry’s scribe, he must have obtained from Hugh of Payns himself, since he was present at the council. This also sets the foundation in the year 1119 following uncorrected time reckoning of those days.

But Rudolf Hiestand has shown that this date should be corrected to january 1129, in accordance with the contemporary French practice of beginning the year on 25 March. Therefore, the official date of the foundation or at least formal recognition in the Holy Land must fall in January of the year 1120.

It is most likely that the formal occasion for their official acceptance as an Order in the east was at the assembly of prelates and secular leaders held at Nablus in January 1120, which issued a series of decrees on the 23rd of the month. The supposition is reinforced by the fact that the Christian settlers in Outremer ("The Holy Land") were experiencing a period of severe crisis at this time, and the assembly at Nablus had been called in an atmosphere heavy with contrition and penitence. A dramatic letter from the Patriarch Warmund and Gerard, Prior of the Holy Sepulchre, written at about this time, appealed to Diego Gelmirez, Archbishop of Compostella, and his people, to send help in the form of men, money, and food as soon as possible. They were, said Warmund, being attacked on all sides by Saracens from Baghdad, Ascalon, Tyre, and Damascus.

The kingdom had become so unsafe that no one dared to venture outside the walls of Jerusalem without an armed escort, while the Saracens had become so bold that they came up to the gates of the city itself. Considering this the formal recognition at Nablus in January 1120 of a military Order of Knights devoting itself to protecting pilgrims falls in the right time slot and historical context.
Buy The New Knighthood - source of most of the text