When the Crusades made it possible for medieval Christians to again visit the Holy Land, the question of security arose. How could pilgrims be safe from banditry? In 1118 Hugh de Payens, a knight of Campagne, joined eight others in a solemn vow to protect European travelers, thus organizing the “Knights of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon.” Hugh obtained church sanction, and the Templars, as they were called, grew quickly in influence and wealth. They purchased property and set up an organization across Christendom. They acquired castles and became an elite military force coveted and often hired by rulers. As their wealth increased, they established financial institutions in Paris and London.

In 1305 Philip the Fair of France, eyeing their wealth, used a disgruntled knight to bring charges against the order. The initiation rites involved blasphemy and homosexuality, it was claimed. The Templars, it was alleged, in secret admission ceremonies forced recruits to deny Christ, to spit on the cross, and to kiss the posteriors and navels of fellow knights. On the night of October 13, 1307 (“the accursed day”), all the Templars in France were rounded up and arrested. Philip used torture to obtain confessions, and many died in agony. Pope Clement was persuaded to disband the Templars and expand the persecution across Europe.

But Paris remained the center of suffering, and on May 10, 1310 54 knights were burned alive in one mass inferno. Thirty-six more died under torture, four more were burned a week later, and hundreds perished in prison. The twenty-second (and last) grand master of the order, Jacques de Molay, was reserved for burning another day. On the eve of March 12, 1314 he was led in front of Notre Dame and tied to the stake. According to sources, while the flames were shooting around him, he summoned the pope and king to meet him at the judgment within a year.

Pope Clement died a few weeks later of a loathsome disease, and Philip, 46, perished in a hunting accident within six months.

I saw a great white throne with someone sitting on it. … I also saw all the dead people standing in front of that throne. Every one of them was there, no matter who they had once been. Several books were opened, and then the book of life was opened. The dead were judged by what those books said they had done. (Revelation 20:11,12)

Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). May 10.

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