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Anonymous pilgrim’s account of the Knights Templar in the Holy Land

PilgrimThe original Latin text of this anonymous account has been published in Österreichische Vierteljahresschrift für katholische Theologie. The English translation is by Aubrey Stewart and is found in volume 6 of “The library of the Palestine Pilgrims’ Text Society.” As Stewart notes, these anonymous do not contain any new information. However, this brief account of the Knights Templar is interesting in its confirmation of what was commonly believed about the Order during the Middle Ages.

In this land there are two religious houses, to wit, the Temple and the Hospital. They have an exceeding great abundance of riches, for they have property in and draw revenues from every part of Europe. When they go to the wars, the Templars fight on the right wing and the Hospitallers on the left.

The Templars are most excellent soldiers. They wear white mantles with a red cross, and when they go to the wars a standard of two colours called balzaus* is borne before them. They go in silence. Their first attack is the most terrible.** In going they are the first, in returning the last. They await the orders of their Master. When they think fit to make war and the trumpet has sounded, they sing in chorus the Psalm of David, ‘ Not unto us, O Lord’ (Non nobis, Domine, Ps. 115), kneeling on the blood and necks of the enemy, unless they have forced the troops of the enemy to retire altogether, or utterly broken them in pieces. Should any one of them for any reason turn his back to the enemy, or come forth alive (from a defeat), or bear arms against the Christians, he is severely punished: the white mantle with the red cross, which is the sign of his knighthood, is taken away with ignominy, he is cast out from the society of the brethren, and eats his food on the floor without a napkin for the space of one year. If the dogs molest him, he does not dare to drive them away. But at the end of the year, if the Master and the brethren think his penance to have been sufficient, they restore him the belt of his former knighthood. These Templars live under a strict religious rule, obeying humbly, having no private property, eating sparingly, dressing meanly, and dwelling in tents.

* Obviously a corruption of Beauseant
The original text is corrupt


See also:
An account of Templar prisoners in the Holy Land after the dissolution of the Order
How can I join the Knights Templar?

The Templars’ crocodile

Medieval crocodile image from a manuscriptAnother legend from Ludolf von Sudheim‘s book about his travels to the Holy Land 1336-1341. This one comes from a chapter about Ludolf’s visit to Egypt. The story sounds completely incredible, but at the very least it apparently circulated among the Knights Templar as an illustration of the Order’s ingenuity when it came to building projects (and not only). But who knows, maybe this account also answers the question about how the pyramids were built? Beats the alien hypothesis, in my opinion.

In this river there is an evil beast called a crocodile, which is exceedingly strong, fierce, and swift, and causes much harm to those who dwell in the area, and to their beasts. For fear of him it is dangerous to sail upon the Nile. This beast is very large in size. I have seen a crocodile’s skin through which an ox might easily pass. I have been told by a certain Knight Templar that once upon a time the Templars caught a young crocodile and drew his teeth, and that a stone which ten men could not move was tied to his tail, and he drew it alone up to a building that was being made.

In hoc fluvio est quoddam animal pessimum Cocodrillus vocatum et est fortissimum, saevissimum et velocissimum et circumhabitatoribus multum gravissima damna infert et iumentis, et ob metum eius periculosum est in Nilo navigare. Nam est animal multum magnum et vidi pellem cocodrilli, per quam bos commode transivisse potuisset. Audivi a quodam milite, qui fuit Templarius, quod quadam vice Templarii iuvenem cocodrillum ceperunt et sibi dentes evellerunt, qui lapidem , quem decem homines movere non poterant, caudae suae alligatam, solus trahit ad structuram.

“Ludolphi, rectoris ecclesiæ parochialis in Suchem, De itinere Terræ Sanctæ liber”  in Bibliothek des Literarischen Vereins in Stuttgart, Volume 25. 1851, p. 59

You can find more fascinating stories in my book “Legends of the Knights Templar”.


Templar survivors in captivity

The Last CrusaderMalcolm Barber begins his great book “The New Knighthood” with a reference to this story. It seems worth the effort to publish the original text with translation. The source is Ludoplh von Sudheim‘s account of his pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1336-1341. The book first appeared in 1350 under the title “De Terra sancta et itinere Iherosolomitano et de statu eius et aliis mirabilibus, que in mari conspiciuntur, videlicet mediterraneo.” The particular encounter related here most likely took place in 1340. An important date to keep in mind is 1291, the year of the fall of Acre.

Near the Dead Sea, on its right side and towards of the Judean Mountains, Lot’s wife stands on some cliff, turned into a pillar of salt. When I traveled that way, I came across [two] Knights Templar, who had been captured during the fall of Acre. They have been cutting timber here and there for the Sultan’s needs. They did not know until then that the Templar Order had been destroyed, because they toiled in the mountains and did not see any people from across the sea after being captured. They very much advised us against riding any further along the shore of the Dead Sea if we wished to hold on to our lives, because of the stench, but they showed us at a distance the location of the Lot’s wife pillar in plain view. Within a year, the Sultan, at somebody’s request, freed these Templars along with their children and wives. They visited the court of our Lord the Pope and were honorably sent over to their homelands. One of them was from Burgundy, the other from Toulouse.

lotswifepillarCirca mare mortuum a dextris versus montes Israel, in quodam monticulo, stat uxor Loth, in statuam salis versa. In hoc itinere temporibus meis fuerunt Templarii, in destructione Acon civitatis capti, qui hinc inde in montibus ad opus Soldani ligna servabant, et ordinem Templariorum esse destructum, adhuc ignorabant, nam hinc inde in montibus laborabant, et aliquos homines cismarinos post captionem eorum non videbant; hi multum dissuadebant, quod ulterius supra mare mortuum non ecquitaremus, si prae foetore vitam vellemus obtinere, sed locum statuae uxoris Loth a longe aperte demonstrabant. Hos infra annum Soldanus ad quorundam preces cum liberis et uxoribus liberavit, et ad curiam domini nostri devenerunt et honorifice ad patriam suam fuerunt transmissi; unus eorum fuit de Burgundia, alter de Tholosa.


You can find more fascinating stories in my book “Legends of the Knights Templar”.

Knights Templar Trials. Bernard Guasc testifies.

Knight templar statue

You can find more fascinating stories in my book “Legends of the Knights Templar”.

This noteworthy deposition of a Templar sergeant Bernard Guasc has not been previously translated, as far as I know. It contains a curious story, very much in the spirit of one particular episode from Alexandre Dumas’s The Three Musketeers. Other than that, this is a typical testimony of a Knight Templar. It follows the prosecution’s articles which demanded answers to specific questions about possible transgressions of the Order and its individual members. The vast majority of the arrested brothers confirmed the accusations, but many of them eventually declared that the Order was innocent. It is generally believed that Templar confessions were made under a duress. Torture and methods of psychological pressure were widely used at the time and there is ample evidence that the trials of the Knights Templar were no exception in this respect. However, if there was indeed anything of substance in outrageous accusations against the Order this particular testimony might contain an important piece of the puzzle. Hazing practices instituted by individual members of the Order may have been the main reason behind the accusations. This deposition appears to have been recorded on May 22, 1308. The translation is still a little rough around the edges, but you will get the gist.

Serving brother Bernard Guasc from the Diocese of Rodez, having been sworn as a deponent, fifty years old or thereabouts, bearing a mantle and having a shaved face, who had been questioned by the bishop of Paris, after every single article was read and diligently explained to him, responded that he never saw anybody else being received into the Order. Hence he was not in possession of any relevant knowledge, opinion or hearsay other than the following. In the year when Acre was lost, the deponent himself was received in the Holy Land, at the chapel of the Temple commandery in Sidon by Brother Ademar de Perussa, knight of the Order, in the presence of forty brothers among whom were the knights Richard Stephan, Raymund Stephan, Guillaume de Ruppe, Raymund d’Espinasses and Pierre Tarassone, a serving brother from Languedoc. The deponent believes that these men are now in Cyprus. He had asked this receptor personally and through his friends to be received into the aforementioned Order because while the deponent was on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land his funds ran out. When told in response that he ought to consider this well, because he would have to abandon his freedom and withstand many hardships and adversities, the deponent replied that he would endure all these well, and the aforementioned receptor, with the consent of the others, agreed to receive him after demanding an oath about being a good Christian, not excommunicate, without a concealed illness, not belonging to another order, not bound by matrimony or debts that he could not repay. The receptor told the deponent that should any of these impediments be later discovered he would be expelled from the Order. Then he made him swear the vows of chastity, obedience, life without personal property, observing good customs and traditions that already existed in the Order and the ones that would be instituted later by the Grand Master and the council of the Order’s presbyters, without revealing private dealings of the chapters (no mention being made about the particular manner of reception into the Order). The mantle was bestowed on him and the receptor along with attending brothers from Languedoc kissed him on the mouth. After that the receptor instructed him on how many times he should say Pater noster as a part of his rule and how he should carry himself within the Order. That being done, Brother Raynier Lorgni, a French knight, and three serving brothers whose names the deponent did not know, told the deponent sitting in front of the receptor to rise, so they might take him to have the vestments of the Order placed on him. When they brought him to the nearby sacristy of the above-named church and he put on the vestments, the said Raynier told the deponent that he should reject God, and, when the deponent replied that he would not do that, Raynier told him that it had to be done because such was the custom of the Order and he had sworn to observe the Order’s customs and traditions. As the deponent still objected, Raynier took some sword off the couch that stood in that sacristy and, having drawn the blade, said that the deponent will either do what he was told or die a terrible death. In the meantime, the Saracens invaded the city of Sidon and a call to arms sounded. The assembly was dismissed, and Raynier, along with the three others, wanting to hurry to their arms with everybody else, made the deponent swear that he would not reveal the aforementioned dealings. And thus he did not commit apostasy and did not do anything illicit, but they all went out to fight the Saracens of which twenty were then killed. When they returned from the battle and the deponent asked Brother Raynier why he had done the things described above, Raynier replied that this was a test performed for the sake of a joke or entertainment. The deponent does not know, does not presume and has not heard anyone say either in the Holy Land or in Europe prior to the arrests [of the Knights Templar] that anything illicit went on during the reception of brothers into the Order or afterwards, nor that they kept idols or heads of idols which were mentioned in the articles and regarding which Master Antonio de Vercelli and Brother Hugo de Fauro testified. Yet indeed, as a sign of chastity, they wore cords over the shirts in which they slept. The deponent also said that he properly believed in the sacraments of the Church and thought that other brothers of the Order had the same beliefs and that their priests duly celebrated these sacraments. New members were accepted secretly, with only brothers of the Order present, and the deponent disliked this practice. He believes that this created suspicions regarding the Knights Templar. He added that revealing private dealings of chapter meetings would have caused one to lose their mantle. If there were brothers who knew about any faults within the Order they acted poorly by not correcting them and denouncing them to the Church. The Knights Templar gave away one tenth of their bread with God’s love and duly performed deeds of charity and hospitality. They were not allowed to traffic cattle belonging to other people along with their own for the purpose of deceiving worldly lords and defrauding them of tolls owed to them. Should anyone act to the contrary they would lose their mantles. They were not allowed to make unduly acquisitions for the Order. Their general chapter meetings were held in a timely manner after a sermon, with nobody present who was not a member of the Order and it was made certain that what went on inside could not be heard outside. Decrees by the Grand Master and the convent had to be observed by the entire Order against which much suspicion and disgrace have been incited because of the above mentioned serious accusations and against which the Grand Master along with others have reputedly testified. The deponent offered himself to this Order’s defense. He understood the Latin language.

When asked whether he thus testified because of entreaties, orders, fears, affections, hatred and receiving or expecting to receive a worldly reward the deponent said that he did not, but that he did so for the sake of saying the truth. He was charged not to reveal his deposition until the testimonies are made public.


Original Latin text:

Frater Bertdandus Guasc serviens, Ruthenensis diocesis, testis supra juratus, quinquagenarius vel circa, mantellum defferens, barbam rasam habens, cum quo inquisitum fuerat per dominum episcopum Parisiensem, lectis et diligenter expositis sibi omnibus et singulis articulis, respondit quot nunquam viderat aliquem alium recipi in ordine, unde nesciebat, nec credebat, nec audiverat dici de contentis in eis nisi quod sequitur: videlicet quot, illo anno quo Acon fuit perditum, ipse testis fuit receptus ultra mare, in capella domus Templi, de Sydone, per fratrem Ademarum de Perussa militem quondam, presentibus circiter XL fratribus, inter quos erant fratres Ricardus et Raymundus Stephani, Guillelmus de Ruppe, Raymundus d’Espinasses milites, Petrus Tarassone de Lingua Occitana serviens, quos credit esse in Chipro. A quo receptore, cum ipse testis fuisset peregrinus ultra mare et defficerent sibi expense, requisivit per se et per amicos suos se ad dictum ordinem recipi; et cum ei responsum fuisset quod bene deliberaret, quia opportet eum a se abdicare propriam voluntatem, et multa dura et aspera sustinere, et ipse respondisset quod bene omnia sustineret, concessit dictus receptor, de voluntate aliorum, quod reciperet eum, prestito prius per juramentum ab eo quod erat bonus Christianus, et quod non erat excommunicatus, nec habebat infirmitatem latentem, nec erat alteri religioni, matrimonio nec debitis que non posset solvere obligatus; et dixit ei quod, si aliquid ex predictis impedimentis ex post facto reperiretur in eo, expelleretur de ordine supradicto. Post que fecit cum vovere et jurare castitatem, obedienciam, vivere sine proprio, servare bonos usus et bonas consuetudines que tunc erant in ordine et que in posterum imponeratur per Magistrum cum consilio presbiterorum ordinis, et non revelaret secreta capituliorum, de modo recepcionis speciali non habita mencione; et imposito sibi mantello, receptor et astantes fratres de Lingua Occitana fuerunt in ore osculati eumdem. Post que dictus receptor instruxit eum quot Pater noster diceret pro horis suis, et qualiter regeret se in ordine. Quo facto, frater Raynerius Lorgni miles Gallicanus et tres fratres servientes, quorum nomina et cognomina ignorat, dixerunt eidem testi sedenti coram dicto receptore, quod surgeret, quia ducerent eum ad induendum vestes religionis; et cum duxissent eum ad sacristiam propinquam dicte ecclesie, et induisset dictas vestes, predictus frater Raynerius precepit eidem testi quod abnegaret Deum; et cum ipse testis respondisset quod hoc nullo modo faceret, dixit ei dictus Raynerius quod oportebat eum facere, quia talis erat consuetudo ordinis, et ipse juraverat servare usus et consuetudines ordinis; et cum ipse testis adhuc contradiceret, dictus Raynerius, arrepto quodam ense de capite lecti qui erat in dicta sacristia, et eo evaginato, dixit ei quod, aut predicta faceret, aut mala morte moreretur; et interim Sarraceni invaserunt dictam civitatem Sydonem, et fuit clamatum ad arma, et capitulium fuit separatum, et dictus Raynerius et alii tres, volentes una cum aliis ad arma currere, fecerunt ipsum testem jurare quod predicta non revelaret: et ita non abnegavit, nec aliquid illicitum egit, sed exiverunt contra Sarracenos, et fuerunt interfecti viginti ex ipsis Sarracenis. Cum autem regressi fuissent a dicto conflictu, et predictus testis peteret a dicto fratre Raynerio quare feceret supradicta, respondid quod ad probandnum eumdem et causa joci seu truphe, nec scit, nec credit, nec audivit dici ante capcionem eorum, ultra mare nec citra mare, quod aliqua illicita intervenerunt in recepcionibus fratrum ordinis vel post, nec quod haberent ydola nec capita ydolorum de quibus agitur in articulis, et de quibus deposuerunt magister Antonius de Vercellis et frater Hugo de Fauro. In signum tamen castitatis cingebantur cordulis super camisias cum quibus jacebant. Item, dixit quod bene credebat ecclesiasticis sacramentis, credens quod alii fratres ordinis eodem modo crederent, et quod eorum sacerdotes debite celebrarent. Clandestine recipiebantur, nullis presentibus nisi fratribus ordinis, quod displicebat ipsi testi, et credit quod ex hoc esset suspicio contra eos, et quod perdidisset habitum, qui secreta capitulorum revelasset. Si qui erant fratres scientes errores esse in ordine, male fecerunt, quia non correxerunt eos nec denunciaverunt Ecclesie. Decimam partem panis dabant amore Dei, et elemosinam et hospitalitatem debite servabant. Inhibebatur eis ne in fraudem dominorum temporalium et pedagriorum eis debitorum ducerent cum suis animalia aliena, et si contrarium fecissent, habitum perdidissent. Inhibebatur eis ne indebite acquirerent ordini. Eorum generalia capitulia, sermone facto, celebrabant tempestive, nullis presentibus nisi fratribus ordinis, et providebatur ne audiretur exterius quot interius agebatur. Ordinata per Magistrum cum conventu servasset totus ordo, contra quem nunc propter predicta grandia scandala, suspicio et infamia sunt exorta, et contra quem Magister et alii dicuntur aliqua fuisse confessi; ad cujus ordinis defensionem se obtulerat, et intelligebat Latinum.

Requisitus se sic deposuerat prece, precepto, timore, amore, odio, vel temporali comodo habito vel habendo, respondit quod non, sed pro veritate dicenda; cui fuit injunctum quod non revelaret hanc suam deposicionem, quousque attestaciones fuerint publicate.

Michlet. Process des templiers, v. 2 259.