Knights Templar and Magna Carta Service

Knights Templar Stained Glass
On October 3rd, we welcome the Grand Priory of England and The Priory of Wales of The Order of The Knights Templar to St Mary Magdalene’s for a Service of Investiture of knights and a celebration of the signing of Magana Carta 800 years ago.

The Supreme Military Order of The Temple of Jerusalem is a non-denominational Christian Chivalric and confraternal association, who are absolutely: (a) not affiliated to or with any political party, nor (b) masonic or affiliated in any way whatsoever with freemasonry in any form. (c) not an historical or re-enactment society. (d) not a secret or secretive society.

The order was founded in about 1118 to protect the pilgrim routes and Christian communities of the holy land (outremer – the kingdom “beyond the sea”). Under their first grand master, Hugues de Payens, the order’s members were originally known as the poor knights of Christ and took monastic vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Recognising their valuable role as champions and defenders of Christendom, King Baldwin II of Jerusalem gave them the temple of Solomon, on the Temple Mount, as their headquarters – and as a result they soon became known as the order of the Temple of Jerusalem. These Templars were men of war and of prayer – “warrior monks” – and such was their fame that abbot Bernard of Clairvaux, founder of the Cistercian order and one of the foremost Christian scholars of his age, wrote a book in support of the Templars, entitled In praise of the new knighthood. Bernard also gave the Templars their new rule under which they were to lead their lives and advance the Christian cause. Each Templar was to be loyal to the order above all else – and the courage, discipline and military achievements of these warrior monks, with their distinctive white mantles and red crosses, earned them the respect and admiration of all Christendom. By the middle of the twelfth century the order had become a major force both in the holy land and Europe, and was answerable only to the Pope.

For two hundred years this religious-military order fought for Christianity wherever it was threatened – establishing fortress strongholds and winning many battles. Invariably the Templars were in the vanguard of the crusader armies, and the order’s supporters and admirers included none other than king Richard I, “the lionheart”. But whilst they were formidable warriors, the Templars were as much respected for their zeal and dedication to God as for their bravery or military prowess.

However, by the fourteenth century – whilst members of the order still lived modestly, according to the strict rule given to them by St Bernard of Clairvaux – the order itself had become immensely powerful and rich. Its influence extended not merely to religious or military affairs but to finance and commerce too. It was the order’s wealth and power that attracted the envy of others, and in 1307 the French king, Philip the Fair, had all the Templars in France rounded up, imprisoned and many were tortured to force false confessions. These arrests were made in the early hours of the morning on Friday 13th October – hence, the ‘unlucky’ “Friday the thirteenth”. The confessions of heresy, though obtained through torture, led the pope, Clement V, under further pressure from King Philip, to disband the order in 1312. In 1314 the grand master of the order, Jacques de Molay, having retracted his forced confession, was burnt to death outside the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. In England, Edward II followed the French example and seized all Templar properties for himself – although the persecution of the Templars here was not as severe or far-reaching as in France. Only in countries such as Scotland, Switzerland and Portugal did the Templars survive more or less intact – and even there they were eventually forced to stop using the order’s name. Gradually, over the centuries, the Templars disappeared from view. Their beliefs and traditions, however, persisted – being introduced over time to other organisations and fraternal societies.

Then, in the late 1700’s the order emerged from the shadows once more, and such was the revival of interest in chivalric values and ideals that in 1804, with the approval of Napoleon, a reconstituted order of the temple of Jerusalem was officially inaugurated in Paris – the very place where its downfall had been engineered by a greedy and envious king, and where Jacques de Molay had been martyred.

So, the supreme military order of the Temple of Jerusalem has continued to this day. Under its present grand master, His Excellency Dom Fernando Pinto Pereira de Sousa Fontes, of Portugal, the order has grand priories and priories throughout the world with thousands of members.

Its members are dedicated to upholding traditional Christian values and virtues, the noble ideals of chivalry, charitable works and the preservation of the monuments, archives, history and heritage of the Templars.

The order is non-denominational, and stands for Christian unity and cooperation under the banner of the cross of Jesus Christ.

Nine hundred years after the founding of the order of the temple, the grand priory of England (O.S.M.T.H. England) is among the Templar organizations keeping alive the noble and ancient Templar traditions today. The grand priory of England stands in defence of the nation’s Christian values and heritage, and members pledge to defend church and crown. Templars are not new to England. There has been a strong Templar presence in this country since the early years of the order, and the Templars played a pivotal role in the history of mediaeval England. Indeed, in June 1215 the master of the English Templars, Aymeric de St Maur, was a key person involved in the production and sealing of magna carta – the great charter – at Runnymede, by King John. Another patron of the English Templars at this time was the powerful Sir William Marshal, the 1st earl of Pembroke, who brokered the peace between king John and the barons, and who played a vital role alongside the Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton, in preparing magna carta. An unequivocal statement of the rights and liberties of freeborn Englishmen, magna carta is generally acknowledged to be the world’s very first “bill of rights”. Only four copies of the 1215 magna carta have survived – two are held in the British Library, the others are in Lincoln and Salisbury cathedrals.

Both Mymeric de St Maur and Sir William Marshal are buried in London’s Temple Church where effigies of Sir William, his son (also William) and other knights can be seen. Before his death Sir William had become a Templar. The Temple area of the city was the headquarters of the English Templars from 1160 until the order’s suppression. However, in 2012, the grand priory of England was at last fully restored, having been first established in 1960 when the grand master recognised the need for a protestant priory in England. So there are members from many different denominations – Anglican, Baptist, Congregationalist, Pentecostal, Salvation Army, Roman Catholic, United Reformed, all keen to demonstrate unity in Christ.