The constructions made by the Templars are the best traces they left to us. Books can be burned or altered. Constructions can only be destroyed and fortunately many survived for us to see. However identification mistakes have been done. The best known is the fort of Gisors in Normandy falsely attributed to the Templars. The fort was only occupied by them for a few months during the war between France and England. This is also the case of the Castle of Gréoux in Provence that was constructed in the XIV th century. Many other mistakes are due to legends created in the XIX th century.
The Templars are best known for their commanderies in Europe as well as for their military constructions and their religious buildings such as chapels and churches.
– Commanderies: The Templars have owned up to 9000 commanderies in Europe. Most of them were agricultural buildings erected on land that had been given to them. In these properties they produced corn, wine, oil, wool and bred cattle. They were typically rural constructions that looked much like the barns or priories of the Cistercian Order that had many affinities with the Templars. Most of the constructions were square or rectangular with the chapel at the South, the refectory at the North and a court-yard in the middle. The stables opened on the yard. The horse breeding was an important activity of this military order. Most horses used in the Holy Land were bred in Europe. One of the best commandery left is the village of Richerenches en Vaucluse. The fortifications, where they exist, have often been built after the Templars left. This is the case of La Convertoirade in Larzac that was given first to the Templars in 1158 and later in the XIV th century to the Hospitallers. With very few exceptions the constructions of the Templars in Europe, with the exception of Spain, were only for agricultural uses.
– Religious buildings: In around 1139 the Pope Innocent II allowed the Templars to build their own churches and chapels for their own use. Chaplains of the order generally headed them. The local bishops had no right over these churches. This created some jealousy within the ordinary clergy. Their design was generally simple: a rectangular building covered by a vault, sustained or not by arches, with often a semi-circular apsis as most such building of the XII and XIII th centuries. The constructions were very strong but without any particular research for beauty. The choir has often three windows that provide most of the light as the nave had none or one at the most. The front (portal) was very simple as well as the capital (Dome).The bell tower was very often an open arcade built above the front of the church. These sober buildings were in big contrast to the richly ornamented local churches. Among the best known that have survived we can mention: the chapel of the commandery of Petit-Mas-Dieu near Loubert, Malleyrand, Vouthon, de Charmant, Viville, Saint-Jean-d’Auvignac, Malatret, Cressac, Tastre, Guizengeard, Chateaubernard and Angles. (r)
The legend of Templars round churches as the Solomon Temple in Jerusalem is based on a few churches only. This is the case of the London Temple as well as the now disappeared Paris church. The visit to the rotunda of the London Temple is worthwhile even if it has been largely restored in the 19th and 20th century. It is a circular church with a central dome supported by six pillars. It has been consecrated in 1185 by the Jerusalem Patriarch Heraclius. Next century it was enlarged by a big rectangular chancel consecrated in 1240. Other Templar churches in England (Dover, Bristol, Garway,:::) have been built on the same circular design. Circular churches in England were built by other orders for example by the Hospitallers also in London. This type of churches in England was more due to an Anglo-Normand or Celtic tradition rather that due to a middle-East influence. The Paris Temple was also circular and rather like the London’s one. Other churches and chapels in France were also circular ( Tour des Morts de Sarlat) but many others were square or octagonal (Metz, Laon). In Spain and Portugal there are still many circular churches built by the Templars (Church of the Real-Cross in Segovia, Rotunda of Tomar in Portugal). But here the Templars have been fighting as in the Holy Land and, if only for this reason, the churches are also fortresses. Circular churches have been built by the Templars but they are not the general rule. (r)
-Military constructions: The military aspects of the Templars become apparent in their constructions in the Holy Land. Their forts played an important role in the defence of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. From the 12th century the Templars received fortified castles or towns that they had then to defend. For example in 1150 the King Baldwin III gave them the town of Gaza whose defences had only been reinforced. In 1165 they received in the same way Tartous and Saphet and had to defend them. However the main military construction of the Templars occurred after the loss of Jerusalem in 1187. The first fortified castle they then built was Chatel-Pélerin, South of Haifa along the sea. It was in this time the best defence construction ever made. Another well-defended castle was built in Saphet. In time of war it could accommodate 1700 men as well as give refuge to the local peasants. Tortosa was also well fortified and it was used as a refuge for the Templars after the defeat of Hattin. Safita or Chatel-Blanc between Tortosa and Tripoli in the Syrian mountains was perhaps the last big castle built. Other secondary forts had also been built: Beaufort and Arsour in Lebanon, Chateau-Rouge in Syria, Bagras or Gastein on Oronte as well as other still in Armenia. If we also add the castles built by the Hospitallers and some private knights we can appreciate the enormous defence effort made by Europe to defend the Holy Land. It should be noticed that these were defence constructions. It would seem that the possibility to attack the enemy was not really taken into consideration. Perhaps this explains the unhappy ending of the occupation of the Holy Land by the crusaders. (r)
Behind the military activity of the Templars there is an important financial administration involved. In effect from the beginning of their history the Templars received many donations in the Middle East but also in the West. It soon was obvious that it would be necessary to defend Palestine for a long time and to protect the pilgrims on a permanent basis. The Templars were one of the means used to do this in the Holy Land but they were also involved in the re-conquest of Spain and Portugal. Donations came as a result of their actions. For the period 1119-1150 one counts 600 donations. Fifty percents are coming from Provence and Languedoc, 33 % from Flanders, Burgundy and the East part of France and the remaining from England, Spain, Portugal and other part of France. Donations went on after 1150. They received some land, abandoned properties, vines, tax rights, … These donations were sometimes very small but also often very important. This was the base of the wealth of the Templars as it had been for other Orders such as Cluny, Citeaux, … The wealth of the Templars was specially due to the fact that they answered a need of their time. Many pilgrims wanted to visit the Holy Land and the Templars were seen as helping Christianity by protecting them. When they were suppressed it was said that they had 9000 commanderies. In Provence the donations started in 1124 when they were still known as “The Poor Knights of Christ”. From 1136, date of the formation of the Order the donations increased in number and in value. The commanderies of Richerenches, Avignon (independent since the 13th century), Arles, Saint Gilles, Aix, Saint-Antonin, Marseilles, Fos, Lachau, Sisteron, Nice, Grasse, Biot and Rigaud were among the best known and the wealthiest. One counted 29 Templar houses in the Provence as it is known now. The importance of Provence to the Templars was due to the possessions they had there but also to the importance of the Rhone Valley for communication. At that time as now it is a natural way of communication between the North and the South of France. In addition the harbour of Marseilles was favoured by the crusaders and the pilgrims since the end of the 12th century. An agreement was reached between the ship owners, the town authorities and the Templars and Hospitallers on the number of ships directed to the Holy Land. However the main financial resources of the Order came from the land and the rent paid by the peasants for its use. All these resources allowed the Order to finance its military activities in Palestine, to maintain its soldiers, to build forts and castles, … The Templars were also authorised to collect money once a year in every church of the West. Moreover they were very often the beneficiaries of wills made in their favour. This created very often conflicts with the secular clergy that contested the right given to the Templars by many Popes to collect money in churches and to benefit from wills. The bishops and the secular clergy wanted to keep 25% of the donations made by wills in favour of the Templars. The order refused and was very often able to keep all the donations (r)
As many other religious orders the Templars acted as bankers from the very beginning. It was normal at that time for the peasants to entrust their money and properties to churches and abbeys to benefit from the “Protection de Dieu” given to these houses. Some people gave themselves and all their properties to a religious house in exchange for protection and security. In addition other people deposited their movable properties, money and jewels with the same religious houses without loosing the ownership. The treasure of the churches and abbeys were then the equivalent of the present bank strong-boxes. The valuables were in this way under the protection of trusted persons, always present and in a place untouchable according to the common view. In the case of the Templars having houses in many places this depository function helped the pilgrims who could cash money in the Middle East against the proof of a deposit in Europe. This was a kind of checking accounts as we know them now. The Templars were also able to transfer money and valuables in their own boats more safely that an ordinary man or knights could do. We will give two examples of what the Templars were able to do:
– To finance a war against Simon de Montfort (the son of the Montfort of the Albigenian campaign) Henry III, King of England, deposited all his jewels in the Paris Temple to be able to borrow the money he needed.
– At the end of his crusade Saint Louis and his army were taken prisoner by the Saracens in 1250. The ransom asked was 200,000 pounds but the King was missing 30,000. He borrowed the amount needed from the Templars. (r)
The double aspect of the Order- military and religious- gave a guaranty of safety to the customers. In addition to money, jewels and other valuables the Templars were also the custodians of the standard weights. They offered guard and caution in many fields. For instance many pilgrims deposited their fortune with the Templars to be transferred to their heirs in case of death during the trip. They also took in charge for a few months the castle of Gisors in 1158 as a security during the disagreement between the kings of France and England. Their immense resources allowed them to lend money on a large scale in particular in the Middle East. They in fact, in a certain way, financed the crusades and all the needs of the Holy Land. They also went very close to invent the bills of exchange as we know them to-day. Among their numerous customers were the Italian traders present everywhere in Palestine and in the commercial fairs of Champagne, Flanders and north of France. Cautions, loans and reimbursements are kept in the archives of their numerous houses. They show to us their ability as bankers and administrators. The Templar house in Paris was dealing with the finances of the King since the end of the 12th century. When Philip-August went for the crusade he wrote a will and designated the treasurer of the Templar as executor. The royal income during his absence went directly to the Templars. From that moment the Paris Temple became the depository of the royal treasure and remained such until the end of the 13th century. It was then transferred to the Louvre under Philip the Fair to come back again to the Templars in 1303. The King had a kind of open account that he used for his needs and those of the administration of his kingdom. It is not possible to know if the King had a debit or a credit with the Templars when he gave the order to imprison all of them in 1307. All the documents have been destroyed after their arrests. From 1307 the King administered himself his finances through his agents. The royal treasure anyway remained in the Temple until 1313 when part of it went back to the Louvre. After Philip the Fair’s death the treasure was unified and the Hospitallers took possession of the Temple. (r)