The origins of Freemasonry are cloaked in mystery, but one theory links the early 14th century rise of the fraternal organization in Great Britain with the expulsion of the Knights Templar from France around that same period.
The Rise and Fall of the Knights Templar
The Order of the Temple, more popularly known as the Knights Templar, was founded in the early 12th century as a means of protecting Christian pilgrims who had journeyed to Jerusalem. Two French knights Hugues de Payens and Godfrey de Saint-Omer, veterans of the First Crusade, built a fortress for the Order on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount on what was believed to be the ruins of King Solomon’s temple.
The Templar Order grew quickly, developing into a military unit that led Christian charges in subsequent Crusades. Along the way, the Templars accumulated a great deal of wealth and were among the first to establish a financial network in the modern sense of the word. Their affluence would prove to be their undoing: in 1307, King Philip IV of France – who had borrowed heavily from the Templars to subsidize his ongoing war with England – ordered the arrest of scores of French Templars on trumped up charges. Shortly thereafter, Pope Clement V – French by birth and headquartered in Avignon – followed suit. The Templar Order was officially dissolved, its members excommunicated, and its assets seized.
Across Europe Templars were arrested and tortured, but a few escaped to Scotland, then under the rule of Robert the Bruce who had been excommunicated by the Church himself a few years earlier. Records point to the existence of Masonic lodges throughout Scotland that predate the founding of the Grand Lodge of England by over one hundred years.
The Chevalier Ramsay
The first Freemason to advance the connection between Freemasonry and the Knights Templar was Sir Andrew Michael Ramsay, a student of Sir Isaac Newton, better known as the Chevalier Ramsay. In 1736 the Chevalier delivered a now famous oration positing that England’s Edward I, long before he became King, brought troops back to England from his unsuccessful Crusade; these troops then became the nexus of the fledgling Freemasonry Order.
Although the Chevalier never explicitly mentioned the Knights Templar by name, the conjecture was freely bandied about by Ramsay’s Masonic colleagues who pointed to the importance of the Temple of Solomon both in Masonic ritual and Templar history. And so a myth was born.
The Temple and the Lodge
In 1988 Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh published a book entitled The Temple and the Lodge that purported to document the 14th century flight of the Knights Templar to Scotland, thereby reawakening the controversy. Although it is not known whether bestselling author Dan Brown read the book as part of the research for his blockbuster novel The Da Vinci Code, many of the speculations set forth as fact in The Temple and the Lodge are echoed throughout the Da Vinci Code.
Knights Templar (Freemasonry)
Freemasonry is a worldwide organization whose members are joined through certain rituals that are not to be disclosed to non-members, who are dedicated to self-improvement and community service, and who profess belief in a Supreme Being.
A number of ancillary organizations exist that use Freemasonry as a membership requirement. These are called appendant, or sometimes affiliated, bodies.
One such modern appendant organization is the United Religious, Military and Masonic Orders of the Temple and of St John of Jerusalem, Palestine, Rhodes and Malta, more popularly known as the Knights Templar, the Knights of Malta, and the Knights of St. Paul.
The Knights Templar appendant body is modeled specifically after the historical Knights Templar. Membership requires not just belief in a Supreme Being, but a specific belief in the Christian religion.