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Knights Templar History

The Ghost of Montbran

montbranThis story can be found, along with many other fascinating tales, in Legends of the Knights Templar.

The tower of Montbran in Pléboulle (Brittany) marks the location of a former Knights Templar preceptory. This structure is 10 meters high and follows an unusual plan: it is octagonal on the outside and circular on the inside. Annual fairs used to be held in the vicinity and the tower helped the Order maintain an imposing presence at a viable center of commerce.

A rather strange legend exists in connection with this tower. It is most definitely from a later time and appears to be heavily influenced by medieval folk tales, very representative of how the Knights Templar were often misunderstood and misinterpreted. They say that a Knight Templar captured a certain princess and brought her to live in the castle in Brittany. The noble female was placed in the tower of Montbran where she soon died from being sad and homesick. Before burying the body, the grieving Templar cut off the girl’s hand. He kept this macabre souvenir of love until his death, upon which the hand was placed in the grave with him. Supposedly, every year on the anniversary of the princess’ death her phantom comes to the preceptory’s graveyard, and in vain tries to reclaim her hand.

Image from templiers.org.

Jacques de Molay’s noble and pious death. March 18, 1314

molayOn March 18, 1314 Jacques de Molay, the last Grand Master of the Knights Templar was burnt at the stake in Paris. A medieval poetic account tells the story of his bravery, composure and faith during the execution (Chronique métrique de Godefroy de Paris). According to this chronicle, Geoffroi de Charney was executed minutes after de Molay already became a martyr.

Keep in mind that the original text of the poem is in Old French, which explains the grammar and spelling. This translation is from the English version of Alain Demurger’s The Last Templar, an excellent recent biography of the last Grand Master.

The master, who saw the fire ready,
Stripped with no sign of fear.
And, as I myself saw, placed himself
Quite naked in his shirt
Freely and with good appearance;
Never did he tremble
No matter how much he was pulled and jostled.
They took him to tie him to the stake
And without fear he allowed them to tie him.
They bound his hands with a rope
But he said to them: “Gentlemen, at least
Let me join my hands a little
And make a prayer to God
For now the time is fitting.
Here I see my judgement
When death freely suits me;
God knows who is in the wrong and has sinned.
Soon misfortune will come
To those who have wrongly condemned us:
God will avenge our death.
Gentlemen,” he said, “make no mistake,
All those who are against us
Will have to suffer because of us.
In that belief I wish to die . . . ”
And so gently did death take him
That everyone marvelled.

 

Le mestre, qui vit le feu prest,
S’est dépoillié sans nul arrest;
Et, ainsi com le vi, devise;
Tout nu se mist en sa chemise
Liement et à bon semblant;
N’onques de riens n’ala tremblant,
Combien qu’en le tire et desache.
Pris l’ont por lier à l’estache.
Cil liez et joiant s’i acorde;
Les mains li lient d’une corde,
Mès ains leur dist: «Seingnors, au moins,
» Lessez-moi joindre un po mes mains,
» Et vers Dieu fere m’oroison.
» Car or en est temps et seison :
» Je voi ici mon jugement,
» Où mourir me convient brement;
» Diex set qu’à tort et à péchié ;
» S’en vendra en brief temps meschié
» Sus cels qui nous dampnent à tort:
» Diex en vengera nostre mort.
» Seiognors, dit il, sachiez, sans tère ,
» Que tous celz qui nous sont contrère,
» Por nous en aront à souffrir
» En ceste foy veil-je mourir:
» Véz ci ma foy; et je vous prie
» Que devers la vierge Marie
» Dont Nostre Seingnor Crist fu nez,
» Mon visage vous me tornez.»
Sa requeste l’en li a fet.
En ceste guise fu desfet,
Et si doucement la mort prist,
Que chascun merveillex en fist.

Miravet castle and its legend

miravet-castleThe Templar castle of Miravet (Castillo de Miravet) was among the strongest in Aragon. The original Moorish fortress at this location was captured by Ramon Berenger IV in 1153 and given to the Knights Templar. The Order enlarged and fortified the castle. In early 1308, at the height of the Knights Templar trials, King James II of Aragon besieged Miravet. A Templar garrison of no more than 70 knights defended the castle for almost a year under the command of Ramon sa Guardia, the last Preceptor of Mas Deu. The besieged brothers firmly insisted that the Order was innocent and holy. Ramon sa Guardia used every opportunity to remind the King of Aragon that the Templars shed their blood for his realm in the past and that they led exemplary lives. In a letter addressed to James II, Ramon stated his pity towards him, the King of France and all Catholics, because they would  experience great harm stemming from these events, even more so than the Templars themselves who had to endure the evil attacks. The Preceptor believed that persecutors of the Order were doing the Devil’s work.

The starving garrison finally surrendered in late 1308. Ramon sa Guardia was sent to Rousillon where he eventually faced a tribunal, once again denying all accusations against the Knights Templar. After the subsequent dissolution of the Order, Ramon was allowed to reside at the former preceptory of Mas Deu, where he died around 1320.

According to a local legend, every year on December 28 (the date of the Miravet’s final surrender to James II of Aragon) the ghost of the fortress’ commander appears on its delapidated walls. Dressed in Templar uniform, he encourages his brothers to reconquer the Holy Land.

Image by Marcel Germain

See also: Famous Knights Templar

The Templars’ battle prayer

Praying Knight TemplarBefore engaging in battles, the Knights Templar responded to the sound of the trumpet by singing the psalm containing the Order’s famous motto: Non nobis, Domine, non nobis, sed nomini Tuo da gloriam (‘Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but to Thy name give glory’). This battle hymn would be often followed by a full-scale cavalry charge, the most impressive display of force known in the Middle Ages.

It is likely that the Knights rarely had the time to sing the entire Psalm. But it is also worth mentioning that the division of chapters in the book of Psalms during that time was different from what you will normally encounter in a modern Bible. As a result, simply looking at the text of KJV or NIV might be confusing. In modern editions the Templar motto begins Psalm 115. In actuality, the complete battle hymn probably resembled what we see in medieval manuscripts. The two texts, now known as Psalm 114 and Psalm 115, were combined into a single Psalm, now identified as Psalm 113  in the Vulgate (the commonly used text of the Latin Bible). This Psalm begins with the words In exitu Israhel de Aegypto (‘When Israel went out of Egypt’). The entire congregation would typically kneel during this phrase.

nonnobis

Fragment of ‘The Alphonso Psalter’ (c 1284-1316)

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