Written to “discuss many of the theories that have been put forth about the Knights Templar” Susan J. Hodge’s soon to be published book (Quercus) Secrets of the Knights Templar: The Hidden History of the World’s Most Powerful Order, brings to light through solid scholarship and numerous illustrations, a clearer portrait of this legendary group of soldier-monks who were formed for the expressed purpose of protecting pilgrims in the Holy Land but who also rose to prominence during The Crusades and elsewhere.
Early in the book Hodge, while acknowledging the popularity of the group, especially since the publication of books such as Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code, admits that the lack of true documented evidence, destroyed in the Ottoman-Venetian conflict of 1571, has left it to “later generations to piece together their history.”
She begins in chapter one, The Holy War, with an overview of the conflict which caused the Templar Knights (officially sanctioned by the Council of Troyes in 1129 and officially called the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Jesus Christ and the Temple of Solomon) – The Crusades. Here Hodge introduces the personalities, Christian and Muslim, who were involved in the battles fought, not just in the Holy Land but throughout the Mediterranean.
Then with chapter two, The Temple of Solomon, Hodge turns her attention to what she calls “some of the most enduring legends surrounding the Knights Templar” which “revolve around the location of their first headquarters” the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. Situated close to the Dome of the Rock, which still is today a prominent, and controversial, feature of the Jerusalem skyline, the Al-Aqsa mosque served as the home of the Templars until Jerusalem was re-taken by Muslim forces in 1187.
In chapter three, The Guardians, Hodge turns her attention to the wider impact of the Templars as they gain international prestige and become financially adept at sustaining their base of support and developing a banking system whose features are prominent even today – safety deposit boxes, loans, pensions and the like; the diversity of recruitment amongst Catholics and non-Catholics; and the leadership structure of the Templars with their head called “Grand Masters.”
Chapter four, Sacred Defense, highlights the evolution of castle and cathedral design and Hodge spends time writing about the origins and nature of ‘sacred geometry’ which she notes “have given rise to speculation that the Templars had secret links with Islamic masons.”
In chapter five, Shifting Sands, Hodge writes about the crucial Third and Fourth Crusades which result in the loss of Jerusalem and the rise to prominence of Saladin on the Muslim side and Richard the Lionhearted on the Christian side; and the fifth and subsequent Crusades that do not result in the re-capture of Jerusalem and finally the historically significant loss of the island of Ruad (also known as Arwad) off the coast of Syria. The loss, as Hodge notes, “of the last Crusader foothold in the Holy Land” begins the downward spiral of the Templar’s power and influence that will ultimately lead King Philip IV of France, whose rule, Hodge notes, caused him to devalue the French currency in order to satisfy his financial hunger and cause riots, to blame the Templars for the defeats in the Holy Land resulting in their abolishment.
The result is also an arrest of the Templars, their imprisonment and torture, and the deaths of many of them at the stake, outlined in chapter 6, The Descent. But Hodge also notes the support of Pope Clement V (whose time as Pope never included living in Rome or Italy but only in France) for the Templars and the Chinon Parchment, discovered in 2001 in the Vatican Secret Archives, provides documentation that Clement V “secretly absolved Jacques de Molay (the last Grand Master) and the entire Templar Order from all charges brought against them by the Medieval Inquisition.”
The final chapter, The Myths, outlines several common myths and mysteries the Templars have been associated with throughout history, the Shroud of Christ to name a prominent one, with the goal of disproving many of them due to lack of verifiable documentation. Hodge concludes her examination with the assertion that most of the “the theories and legends about the Templars have arise because of their shocking, sudden, and ignominious end, ironically at the hands of fellow Christians rather than their Muslim enemies… Perhaps predictably, their isolation from society contributed to their lack of worldliness, which meant they did not see their demise.”
Does Hodge make her case? I am not an expert on the Knights Templar nor Medieval History, but I do believe that Hodge, without rancor or demeaning, makes it clear that while the Knights did exist, the legends which have grown up around them are just that – legends. This book is an attempt to provide some clear understanding of just who the Templars were, and were not. It accomplishes that task.
There is also an additional point that I think Hodge indirectly makes which should reminds us of the historical significance of this period. This is the declining influence of the Catholic Church and the increasing power of political states seen in two ways. First the unwillingness of Clement V to publish the Chinon Parchment absolving the Templars verses the resoluteness of Philip IV to persecute a group of men whom He blamed for the loss of Jerusalem and the Holy Land makes clear that the secular state is in the ascendancy of power and influence and the Church is losing influence. Second is the predominance of state in the Third Crusade, often called the Kings’ Crusade, because of the many European Kings who led the effort.
I believe that this book is a wonderful and helpful introduction to the Templars as well as the wider issues and times in which they lived. At times, the narrative was difficult to follow but it was well written in a manner so that the reader can understand the larger picture and main point of the book.
I very much enjoyed this book and rate it a “great’ read.
Note: I received a copy of this book via the Amazon Vine review program in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.