Knights Templar and popular culture  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The original historic Knights Templar were a Christian military order, the Order of the Poor Fellow Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon, that existed from the 12th to 14th centuries to provide warriors in the Crusades. These men were famous in the high and late Middle Ages, but the Order was disbanded very suddenly by King Philip IV of France, who took action against the Templars in order to avoid repaying his own financial debts. He accused them of heresy, ordered the arrest of all Templars within his realm, and had many of them burned at the stake. The dramatic and rapid end of the organization led to many stories and legends developing about them over the following centuries. The Order and its members increasingly appear in modern fiction, though most of these references portray the medieval organization inaccurately.

In modern works, the Templars generally are portrayed as villains, as misguided zealots, as representatives of an evil secret society, or as the keepers of a long-lost treasure. Several modern organizations also claim heritage from the medieval Templars, as a way of enhancing their own image or mystique.


Modern organizations

The story of the secretive yet powerful medieval Templars, especially their persecution and sudden dissolution, has been a tempting source for many other groups which have used alleged connections with the Templars as a way of enhancing their own image and mystery. There is no clear historical connection between the Knights Templar, which were dismantled in the 14th century, and any of these other organizations, of which the earliest emerged publicly in the 18th century. However, there is often public confusion and many overlook the 400-year gap. It is also worth pointing out that medieval Templars were members of a monastic order and most were required to take vows of celibacy and avoid all contact with women, even members of their own family. Therefore it was not possible, in most cases, for Templars to have any descendants.

Since at least the 18th century Freemasonry has incorporated Templar symbols and rituals in a number of Masonic bodies. One theory of the origins of Freemasonry claims direct descent from the historical Knights Templar through its final fourteenth-century members who took refuge in Scotland, or other countries where the Templar suppression was not enforced. This theory is usually deprecated on grounds of lack of evidence, by both Masonic authorities and historians. However, there are many modern references to the Templars in Freemasonry, such as the Degree of Knight of the Temple, also known as the "Order of the Temple", the final order joined in "The United Religious, Military and Masonic Orders of the Temple and of St John of Jerusalem, Palestine, Rhodes and Malta" commonly known as the Knights Templar. Freemasonry is traditionally open to men of all faiths, asking only that they have a belief in a supreme being. But membership in the Templar Masonic body (and others) is open only to Freemasons who profess a belief in the Christian religion. The word "United" in this title indicates that more than one historical tradition and more than one actual Order are jointly controlled within this system. The individual Orders 'united' within this system are principally the Knights of the Temple (Knights Templar), the Knights of Malta, the Knights of St Paul, and only within the Masonic York Rite, the Knights of the Red Cross.

Another Templar-related order, the Sovereign Military Order of the Temple of Jerusalem, is a charitable organization founded in 1804 which has achieved United Nations NGO special status. They are a part of the larger Ordo Supremus Militaris Templi Hierosolymitani (OSMTH), commonly called Knights Templar International. Some members of the OSMTH claim to be the direct descendants of the original Knights Templar using the Larmenius Charter as proof, however this document is suspected to be a forgery.

In 2011, Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik, distributed a 1500-page manifesto, claiming he was a one-man cell in an "anti-Jihad" re-established crusader-order by the name of Pauperes commilitones Christi Templique Solomonici, or PCCTS. The new organisation was allegedly founded by nine European and Russian men in London in 2002 to take political and military control of Western Europe. Breivik was later diagnosed with schizophrenia by forensic psychiatrists, and following an extensive international investigation assisted by several security agencies, the police were unable to find a single piece of evidence that Breivik's network existed or that the 2002 London meeting ever took place. The police view the organisation as a figment of imagination in light of Anders Behring Breivik's medical diagnosis.

Modern depictions and analysis

Modern scholarly attention to the Knights Templar is often devoted just as much to the conspiracy theories and popular culture depictions of the Templars, as to the actual historical facts of the medieval organization.

At the 2004 Annual Conference of the American Culture Association, their call for papers was specifically about such conspiracy theories relating to the Templars and their association with other legends and mysterious organizations. Literary theorists puzzle over Umberto Eco's use in his novel Foucault's Pendulum, of the Templars as a symbol of postmodernist rewriting of history. Historian Malcolm Barber writes that "Mystic Templars are omnipresent in all good conspiracy theories." On Day to Day, a program on American NPR, host Alex Chadwick discussed "the literary fascination with the Knights Templar." In Poland, the Toruń Museum had an exhibition entitled "The Knights Templar - History and Myth" which offered a description, "Apart from pieces of "high art", the exhibit will grant equal importance to "popular culture" items (literature, film, Internet content) exploring the subject of the Knights Templar." And in 2007, a National Post editorial noted that "the Templars remain a living presence in popular culture. This has happened precisely because the historical record concerning their sudden annihilation in the early-14th century at the hands of Philip IV ("the Fair") of France has been so sparse and ambiguous. Time and revolution have damaged and dispersed the sources, and made the Templars a magnet for speculation and imagination."

Notable examples

Novels and comics

A brief list of some works which have featured the Knights Templar:




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