The order of the Knights Templar was founded by Hugh de Payens, a French nobleman from the Champagne region, along with eight of his companions, in Jerusalem around 1119.
By Nick Squires, Rome
They originally consisted of a group of knights who protected Christian pilgrims travelling to the Holy Land against attack from brigands and Saracen pirates, after the crusaders captured Jerusalem in 1099.
The order’s full name was the “Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon”.
They were given quarters next to the temple and adopted their distinctive uniform – white tunics with an eight-pointed blood-red cross.
In 1129 they took monastic vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and pledged themselves ready to die for their faith.
They were gradually transformed into a chivalric order of warrior-monks who fought with distinction in the Crusades.
Thanks to generous donations they received from kings, feudal lords and the Church, they accrued territory and property throughout Europe.
They were granted special privileges by the Vatican – in 1139 Innocent II exempted them from lay and ecclesiastical jurisdiction.
They may even have secretly venerated and guarded the Shroud of Turin for 100 years after the end of the Crusades, Vatican researchers claimed two years ago.
Dr Barbara Frale, a historian in the Vatican Secret Archives, said the Shroud – said to be the cloth in which Christ was buried after his crucifixion – vanished during the sack of Constantinople in 1204 during the Fourth Crusade and did not surface again until the middle of the fourteenth century.
She found a document in which a young Frenchman who became a Templar in 1287 said that as part of his initiation he had been shown “a long linen cloth on which was impressed the figure of a man” and that he was told to venerate the image by kissing its feet three times.
After being dissolved in the 14th century, the Knights Templar was revived as a movement in Paris in 1804, adopting the title The Grand Priory of the Ordo Supremus Militaris Templi Hierosolymitani, commonly called Knights Templar International.
Its remit to carry out charitable works and historical research and to protect Christian sites in the Holy Land, through diplomatic rather than military means.
It is recognised as a non-governmental organisation with special consultative status by the United Nations.
The Templars now have representatives around the world, including around 500 members in Italy, and a branch in England and Wales, based in Hertfordshire.
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