Vatican historian Frale supplies plenty of facts about the controversial Crusaders.
In these post–Da Vinci Code days, the very mention of the Templars is enough to spark readers’ curiosity, yet the true history of this shadowy order of warrior-monks has more often than not been misrepresented in film and fiction. The author debunks common delusions about the origins, organization, rise to prominence and ultimate demise of the Knights Templar, using troves of documents she unearthed from the Vatican Secret Archives. The military order was originally intended to protect the interests of the king of Jerusalem during the Christian occupation of the Holy Land between the 12th and 14th centuries. The ideal Templar was a knight whose religious devotion and piety were strong enough that he would take vows of poverty and chastity, offering his body in sacrifice to defend Christians against Saracen threats. The Templars enjoyed an unprecedented degree of independent governance. They were not required to answer to any church authority except the pope, nor was their strictly regulated income subject to taxation by secular rulers. Since no other monastic order in the Catholic tradition had ever born arms against actual rather than spiritual enemies, the foundation of the group required some creative theological solutions. Once the Christian territories in the Middle East had been lost and the Crusades no longer inspired the masses to war, the Templars continued to serve as bankers to Europe’s potentates, a role that, coupled with their shocking initiation practices, would prove the order’s undoing. Perhaps by design, the subject’s enormous popular appeal is not reflected in Frale’s prose; her straightforward history privileges names and dates over an entertaining narrative. Detailed chronicles of each Crusade and the political workings of successive popes overshadow the story of the Templars themselves.
A good resource for scholars, but not particularly satisfying as a revelation of “secret history.”