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  • Writer's pictureBen Williams

The Origins of Templary - The NW Department Commander's Speech, May 4, 2019 A.D.

Nine-hundred years ago, Anno Domini 1119, on Easter day, 700 Christian pilgrims were ambushed en route to the River Jordan after mass at the Holy Sepulcher.

Amongst the dense reeds lining the rivers near the town of Bashan, a horde of Muslims lay in wait. Their eyes gleamed in the shadows, like stars by the crescent edge of their blades. Then out into the glaring sun. Three hundred pilgrims were ignominiously slaughtered and another 60 were carried away, subjugated in slavery.

King Baldwin, seated in Jerusalem, was too late – when the few knights he could muster arrived, the blood had already sunk into the sand.

Then, on June 28, 700 knights and 4,000 infantrymen were killed at the battle of Ager Sanguinis when Ilghazi of Mardin, the Artuqid ruler of Aleppo, feigned retreat and drew Roger of Salerno, the Regent of Antioch, from the safety of his fortress, out into the passes, to meet his death there, with a sword to the face, at the base of his standard, that magnificent jeweled cross.

The loss was total; Ager Sanguinis means “the field of blood”. Christendom was faltering.

Into the vacuum left after the first crusade, instability and internecine skirmishes came.

William of Tyre, writing in the reign of Baldwin I, King of Jerusalem, wrote that:

“At this time the King realized with great concern that the Holy City, beloved of God, was almost destitute of inhabitants. There were not enough people to carry on the necessary undertakings of the realm. Indeed there were scarcely enough to protect the entrances to the city and to defend the walls and towers against sudden hostile attacks.”

But there were some remaining, some perhaps able to assist; to protect the Holy City and establish the pilgrim routes throughout the Holy Land.

After the first crusade, the clear majority of Frankish nobility had returned West. But some – perhaps in search of redemption, some other-worldly inspiration – had laid down the sword and taken up the vows of contemplation to lead an ascetic vigil at the Holy Sepulcher as monks in the service of the Church. There they remained, in the shadow of the Holy Sepulcher, where the Knights of St. John of the Hospital – the Hospitallers – had taken up residence just 30 years before, in 1080.

Hugh de Payens was among those men. With Geoffrey de St. Omer, he approached King Baldwin II, and he, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, and finally to the Prior of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, to determine a legitimate means for the withdrawal of their contemplative vows. It was agreed – the exigencies of the moment required it – and right then, the warrior monk was born.

In Hoc Signo Vinces.

This, Sir Knights, Ladies, and guests, is the more probable founding of our Order.

At the Council of Nablus, in January, 1120, the Order was officially recognized and chartered with ecclesiastical authority to take up residence at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, in the stables of King Solomon’s Temple. Their mysterious excavations conducted in the dark hours – when all prying eyes were held fast in sleep – yielded some unknown discovery – whatever it was, the Templars emerged as the foremost, international institution the world had ever seen.

This is the history of the medieval Knights Templar, ignominiously suppressed in 1307, officially disbanded in 1312, and divested of all property, parsed among the nations and taken over in the main by the Knights of St. John.

We draw symbolic connection with these men.

But is there any historical connection between the Templars and the Operative Craft? Romantics have often so opined, but most sober minds would say no. No definitive proof, that is.

However, there is an interesting contextual connection I thought worthy to bring to your attention, perhaps something in which all Knights Templar enthusiasts may take some delight.

In 1128, history records Hugh de Payens, the first GM of the KT, traveled to Scotland. He was fundraising for the new Order, which persisted entirely on alms. Hugh’s cousin, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, a Cistercian abbot, had already assisted greatly in France and would write the Templar Rule after the Council of Troyes. Bernard’s fame as a canonical scholar and man of God did much to augment the Templars ascendency, especially in the eyes of the Church. Indeed, the Knights Templar were gaining recognition.

In 1136, six years after Hugh de Payens visit, King David I of Scotland, ordained that an Abbey should be built in the Scottish borderlands, nestled by the river Tweed. It would be a Cistercian abbey, the same denomination as St. Bernard de Clairvaux, and thus an Abbey of the denomination most close to the Templars’ Rule.

The Cistercians were a poor order who venerated Mary, Mother of Christ. Like the Templars, they swore vows of poverty and chastity. The capital they lacked for the construction and maintenance of their churches and abbeys was met with labor. Rather than pay skilled craftsmen, their solution was to make lay Brethren of the Craft – that is, non-clerical Brothers of the Order who were educated in the crafts – so that the monks could employ as labor members of their Order who were administrable under the rule of their obedience.

Among these craftsmen, we might consider that none could be more important than the stonemasons, whose considerable efforts constructed the habitations for the order – many great churches – across northern Europe.

Interestingly, these lay Brethren were necessarily caused to travel. The scope and duration of these constructions required such movement of labor.

They would work without pay, without hope of fee or reward, but for simple room and board, among the cloisters and between the projects where they were called to assist.

Is it fantasy, then, to presume that, when those galleys set forth from La Rochelle, on Thursday, October 12, 1307, none came to Scotland? Is it fantasy to presume that the considerable Templar holdings in Scotland were simply abandoned? Would the Templars find succor among the Cistercian cloisters? And from there, to the operative Craft, thence, several hundred years later, to the Antients working of the Rite of Harodim, a Rite practiced in Ireland, in Kilkenny, and under which Glittering Star Lodge No. 322 would be chartered in the company of the 29th Regiment of Foot of the English Army? Then, carried with the Regiment to Nova Scotia, then to Boston, Mass., at the time so quintessential to the birth of this country, to lay the sword of knighthood on the shoulders of Paul Revere – the second Masonic Knight Templar made on record – knighted December 11, 1769?

Could there be a secret chain of initiation reaching back to Jerusalem, to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and ordained by Pope Honorius II?

There is no definitive proof… and we may never know for sure.

But where a preponderance of probabilities begins to align, we may enjoy the simple patterns of chance, and delight therein, or we may dream deeper into the memories of the past and perceive the images of secrets. For man makes meaning. And meaning makes man.

The well is deep for those that drink of its waters.

Cast in your bucket, my friends, draw forth, and drink deep!

Because, at the end of the day, it matters not if there is a definitive historical connection between our orders. It matters only if there is a spiritual connection. Whether broken or unbroken, let the lineage of Christian Knighthood be with you, let it inform your heart, let it govern your speech, and let it command you to do unto others as you would be done by.

For the Greater Glory of God!


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