The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon (Latin: Pauperes commilitones Christi Templique Salomonici), also known as the Order of Solomon's Temple, the Knights Templar or simply as Templars, were a Catholic military order recognised in 1139 by papal bull Omne Datum Optimum of the Holy See. The order was founded in 1119 and active from about 1129 to 1312.
The order, which was among the wealthiest and most powerful, became a favoured charity throughout Christendom and grew rapidly in membership and power. They were prominent in Christian finance. Templar knights, in their distinctive white mantles with a red cross, were among the most skilled fighting units of the Crusades. Non-combatant members of the order managed a large economic infrastructure throughout Christendom, developing innovative financial techniques that were an early form of banking and building fortifications across Europe and the Holy Land.
The Templars were closely tied to the Crusades; when the Holy Land was lost, support for the order faded. Rumours about the Templars' secret initiation ceremony created distrust and King Philip IV of France – deeply in debt to the order – took advantage of the situation to gain control over them. In 1307, he had many of the order's members in France arrested, tortured into giving false confessions and burned at the stake. Pope Clement V disbanded the order in 1312 under pressure from King Philip.
The abrupt reduction in power of a significant group in European society gave rise to speculation, legend, and legacy through the ages. The appropriation of their name by later organizations has kept the name "Templar" alive to the present day, while helping to obscure its origin.
At the beginning of the 12 century Christian pilgrims to Jerusalem began to suffer growing casualies from Saracen raids. In one incident in 1119, over 300 pilgrims were killed. The Knights of the First Crusade had long returned home: who would now protect the new settlers and their pilgrom visitors? The answer - a new breed of Warrior Monks.
The same year, Hugues de Payens offered his services to the King of Jerusalem, Baldwin I. He along with eight of his fellow knights, would be willing to devote themselves to policing the pilgrims routes. The King accepted the offer and soon was so impressed with their efforts that he gave the fledgling Order a wing of his own royal palace as their headquarters. In Moslem times, this wing had been the mosque Al-Aqsa, built on site once occupied by the Holy Temple of Solomon itself. Thus it was that Huges de Payens gave the new Order its name: the Order of the Poor Knights of Christ and Temple of Solomon- the Knights Templar.
The Order grew rapidly. They trained as fighters and became highly skilled warrior knights. Their activities also widened. From their original role protecting pilgrims parties, they were soon regarded as the military defenders of the Holy Land. Over a period of 200 years, what began as 9 man team of well-intentioned noblemen become the most powerful and most secretive organisation in history.
Their story is one of puzzling contrast. In spite of devout Christian beliefs, they slaughtered men, women and children in the name of God.
They owned many fabled religious treasures including , it is said the Crown of Thorns worn by Jesus as he perished on the Cross. They were thought to be the guardians of the most revered of all Christian relics, the Holy Grail.
History books also describe how the Templars were in possession of a mysterious 'great secret'. A particular knowledge, which if reveled, would undermine our fundamental view of Christianity itself. A knowledge which it seemed, had endowed the Templars with great and lasting power...
The Templars were spectacularly brought down by King Philip of France, who swooped on the order on Friday the 13th October 1307 (the reason that, even now Friday the 13th is considered an unlucky day). Somehow, however, the Templars knew of the impending threat. When the King's men arrived, they found that the fabulous treasures and the enormous Templar fleet moored at La Rochelle - had simply disappeared.
To this day, its whereabouts has never been discovered. Some historians claims therefore that the organisation never really died at all, it simply went underground. They maintain that the Order of the Knights Templar is in existence today, though under another name. And throughout Europe, its members still meet secretly to discuss unknown business, conduct arcane rituals and plot our destiny behind closed doors...