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Templars in Europe:1291-1314

When the Templars leave the Holy Land, after the fall of Acre in 1291, they already own estates in most of the countries of Europe, bequeathed to them by rich admirers. Their wealth, and their reputation for honesty, give them an extra role as bankers to noblemen (especially those making a crusade or pilgrimage to the east) and even to the exchequers of kingdoms. The kings of France borrow from the Templars and use the Paris Temple for the safe deposit of treasure.

But in the early 14th century there is a sudden reaction against the power of the Templars. Rumours begin to circulate of secret and scandalous activities.

The most damaging rumour is one of heresy. It is said that newly appointed knights, in a secret admission ceremony, are required to deny Christ and to spit on a crucifix. Philip IV of France, perhaps with an avaricious eye on the wealth of the Templars, professes to take this rumour seriously. During the night of 13 October 1307 every Templar in France is arrested, including the grand master of the order.

Under torture they all agree that they have engaged in these initiation ceremonies. Similar arrests are later made of Templars in other countries, but the main persecution is in France.

In May 1310, outside the walls of Paris, fifty-four Templars are burnt at the stake; their immediate offence has been to withdraw their earlier confessions. All Templars in France now face a choice between life imprisonment (as a repentant heretic) if confessing, or death at the stake (as a relapsed heretic) if withdrawing the confession. Most, including the grand master in 1314, prefer death.

The order does not survive these ordeals, though outside France many of the knights are cleared of the charges against them. There is no firm historical evidence on the issue, but the weight of modern opinion is that the Templars were probably - for whatever reason - unjustly accused.

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