Templars in Sweden?

People who read Jan Guillou's books on Arn Magnusson, the imaginary Swedish Knight Templar, often ask if there really have been Knights Templar as far up north as Sweden. It has of course been speculated that the noble man who appears in the relief on Forshems church, and who inspired Guillou, must have been a Knight Templar. Is there reason to believe this?

There are several reasons for a negative answer. Firstly, it is highly unlikely that a Templar Knight,  an elite soldier-monk,  should in person have taken the land and built a church in Sweden in the 1100s. The man who took the initiative for the building was in all probability a wealthy local landowner and his family, not a warrior monk.

Secondly, there is no written evidence for a single Knight Templar in these northern latitudes, although there is considerable evidence for the second Crusader. There were plenty of Knights Hospitaller in the Nordic countries (for example in Eskilstuna) and during the 13th and 14th century the Teutonic Knights held considerable estates in eastern Sweden. If the Templars were here, one would surely have heard of them too.

A third argument is that actually a North European variant of the Knights Templar was founded, the Fraters Militiae Christi (commonly known as "sword brothers" or "sword knights", the name coming from their white robe adorned with red insignia in the shape of a cross and a sword). During the first decades of the 13th century these knights had conquered most of present Latvia and Estonia. Their words were rule and their buildings resembled those of the Templars but instead were derived more directly from the buildings constructed by the fully monastic Cistercian order. If the Knights Templars themselves had been present in the Baltic Sea area, it would have been unnecessary to found the almost identical order of the sword knights.

The closest the Knights Templar are known to have come up to the north in the sense of land ownership or permanent presence, was in Poland. Their influence there was short lived. It was limited to control of lands by the rivers Vistula and Bug in the mid 13th century.

Translated from Swedish and adapted by TN from blog.svd.se. Illustrations: top Forshems kyrka (source Wikimedia), middle en bottom details of the entrance of this church, source

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