Knights Templar and martyrdom: the most original form of Christian sanctity

In battle, martyrdom "for the good cause" is and has always been present. As it was in the ranks of the Knights Templar. In their case, "martyrdom" had both a religious and a temporal value.

The Templars were the first religious military order dedicated to warfare, and, to them, the anticipation of a meritorious death in battle was a key characteristic that was unique to their profession.

Not only the order's Rule and early theological texts addressed to the Templar community, such as the writings of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, but also a wide range of external sources, including chronicles and trial records, suggest that the Templars were particularly associated with martyrdom as the most original form of Christian sanctity, namely in imitation of Christ's own sacrifical death.

The article mentioned at the end of this blog aims at shedding light on this neglected aspect of Templar spirituality and discusses the implications of this concept's manifestation throughout the orde's history.

Qoute from the paper:
"Martyrdom in the Order of the Knights Templar must be understood as an extremely multilayered and versatile concept. It sometimes reveals itself openly, for example in the works of Bernard of Clairvaux or the carefully constructed stories of Templars suffering martyrdom prior to being received into heaven. Sometimes, however, the concept’s influence is more difficult to discern, for example in the area of liturgy or the members’ personal experience. Thus, alternative ways of uncovering the concept need to be found. A key to this might be the “special importance [of] the motifs of the Lamb, the military sign, and the crown of victory,” as has been suggested by Penny Cole.

In any case, a core assumption with regard to martyrdom is Christ’s sacrifice for humanity. To the Templars, this was the central point of reference and the legitimization of their military and liturgical activities.That the Templars were potential martyrs is old news. However, their particular concept of martyrdom has received insufficient attention thus far, and the concept’s implications for the order’s activities remain largely unexplored. The  power of such a concept that puts a salvific meaning to an event feared by people throughout the ages can hardly be underestimated, especially in an environment charged with eschatological anticipation and violence like the Crusades. In the case of the Templars, the concept of martyrdom was not an empty construct devised by distant theologians; rather, it was one of the main pillars of their spiritual conception and had a considerable impact on their members’ reality."

Rather, Joachim, Embracing Death, Celebrating Life: Reflections an the Concept of Martyrdom in the Order of the Knights Templar; In: ORDINES MILITARES XIX (2014) Yearbook for the Study of the Military Orders

Illustration: Effigies of Knights in Temple Church, London source

Knights Templar stables at Jerusalem not built by Solomon but by Herod


In the eighteenth year of his reign (20–19 BCE), king Herod the Great (74/73 BCE – 4 BCE) rebuilt the Second Temple in Jerusalem on "a more magnificent scale".The new Temple was finished in a year and a half, although work on out-buildings and courts continued another eighty years.

To comply with religious law, Herod employed a thousand priests as masons and carpenters for the rebuilding. The finished temple, which was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, is often referred to as Herod's Temple. The Wailing Wall (Western Wall) in Jerusalem was for many years the only section visible of the four retaining walls whose construction was begun by Herod to create a flat platform (the Temple Mount) upon which his Temple was constructed. Recent findings suggest that the Temple Mount walls and Robson's Arch may not have been completed until at least 20 years after his death during the reign of Herod Agrippa II. (source of this paragraph: Wikipedia)

"When Herod built the Temple Mount courtyard he made it 485 m long and 315 m wide. The courtyard sloped southwards, and the southern part of the plat-form therefore had to be raised to keep the surface level. Herod filled in only the lower part of the space between the retaining wall and the natural slope, and built the remaining space, to the top of the platform, in the form of vaults, with their ceilings supported by pillars. The south-east corner of the Temple Mount, which had a retaining wall 48 m high, was filled with rubble and soil to a height of 32 m; over this filling was a hall, its roof forming the pavement of the courtyard, and above this rose the upper wall.

The walls of the Temple Mount were 5 m thick and consisted of enormous ashlar blocks weighing up to 150 tons. This formidable structure made the Temple into a mighty fortress, unequaled in the architecture of antiquity. Josephus writes (Antiquities XV, ): ". . . which wall was itself the most prodigious work that was ever heard of by man". The southern wall had a height equal to that of a modern fifteen-story building.

Herod constructed two halls with an area of 500 sq. m, the ceilings supported by eighty-eight pillars in twelve parallel rows with thirteen aisles between them, thus raising the level of the courtyard by 12 m. The arches were 9-10 m high, the length of the halls from east to west was 83 m and the width, from north to south, 60 m. There were additional structures which changed the shape of the halls somewhat.

The pillars consisted of large, square blocks, over 1 m high; and each pillar was 1.2 m thick. At the bases of the pillars were rings for tethering horses. The Single Gate, now walled up, can be seen at the southern end of the sixth row of pillars, from the east, and the Triple Gate is at the south end of the twelfth row; it is clearly visible from outside the wall. Tunnels and aqueducts were found underneath the Double and Triple Gates, and a drain ran under the halls.

During the Second Temple period these halls were entered by the Huldah Gates, and stairs led to the upper level of the Temple courtyard. When the Crusaders took Jerusalem they identified the halls of pillars as the stables of King Solomon, as did Nasir i-Khosrau and other Moslems.

The Crusaders used the halls to stable the horses of the Knights Templar, whose headquarters were in the El Aksa Mosque. The Crusaders entered their stables through the Triple and Single Gates (both now walled up), which they rebuilt.
(from Menashe Har-El, This is Jerusalem, Canaan Publishing House, PO Box 7645, Jerusalem 1977)"

Upper illustration and quoted text from Solomon's Stables and the Southern Gates by Tuvia Sagiv.

See many more illustrations on former and present day architecture of Temple walls, ancient Jerusalem and Herod's Temple here.

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Cistercian Clairvaux Abbey - 900 years

"The event "Clairvaux 2015" is to celebrate the 900 years of this jewel of European memory. A young monk of 25 years of age, Bernard de Fontaine went to make his abbey a model, copied throughout Europe.

Clairvaux, which was to have 339 daughter abbeys, was as much an architectural model with its ribbed vaults as well as an economic and spiritual model. It is this authentic Cistercian adventure that is told by the exhibition-event organized by the Department at the Hotel-Dieu with more than 150 works and rare items on the history of Clairvaux Abbey.

Co-organized by the County Council, the Renaissance Association Abbey and the Ministry of Culture, this "Clairvaux 2015" event celebrates an abbey finally refound, after a decade of major restorations. And it hides another birthday, that of thirty years of the opening of the abbey to the public: "It was not until 1985, said Jean-François Leroux, that for the first time in eight centuries, people who were neither monks nor detainees were able to enter Clairvaux."

Neither sculpture nor painting or stained glass. Only the architecture, with its ribbed vaults illuminates this pure Abbey of silence. A symbol that evokes the spiritual success of Clairvaux. But this success was primarily economic. Like the Templars with their Commanderies, the Cistercians relied on a network of barns located at up to 44 agricultural and industrial operation centers. Despite the Hundred Years War and the Black Death, the small business prospered. In the fourteenth century, Clairvaux and his nine hundred monks manage 25,000 hectares of land, 15,000 hectares of forests, 230 ha of vineyards, 133 houses and 43 mills, not forgetting the forges and salt and iron mines."

Illustrations and text (translated and slightly adapted) from this French brochure on the Clairvaux 2015 Event. 

Watch on Youtube this great 3D animated movie that tracks the evolution of this famous Cistercian abbey through time.