Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Knights Hospitaler and Templar

Following the conquest of Jerusalem by Catholic Christians in 1099, a man named Geraudo started a hospice to offer hospitality to Christian pilgrims visiting the city. Thankful pilgrims rewarded his excellent hospitality with generous donations of money and land. He used these to establish other hospices for pilgrims on the way to Jerusalem. In 1113, the ruler of the Catholic Church issued a letter officially approving Geraudo's organization. For the patron saint of his organization, Geraudo chose St. John the Baptist. His organization, then, came to be known as the Order of the Hospitalers (providers of hospitality) of St. John of Jerusalem.

Christian pilgrims to Jerusalem after 1099 still needed protection from bandits and even murderers. In 1120 a French knight named Hugues de Payens asked both the ruler of Jerusalem and the representative of the ruler of the Catholic Church in Jerusalem for permission to start a monastic order dedicated to protecting pilgrims. Both gave their approval. The king even gave Hugues and his half-dozen fellow knights use of a portion of his palace on the Temple Mount. In this way Hugues' organization came to be called the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon or the Knights Templar.

Bernard of Clairvaux, the most powerful man in Catholic Christendom and nephew of one of the founding Knights Templar, strongly endorsed the Order and arranged its official recognition by the ruler of the Catholic Church. The Order quickly attracted means and members and became wealthy and powerful. In 1139 the ruler of the Catholic Church even exempted members from obedience to all state authorities and payment of any taxes. The Knights Templar grew in a short time from a handful of poor knights in Jerusalem to one of the most feared armies in Levantia and a financial organization spanning Catholic Christendom.

Raymond du Puy, a knight from Provence, succeeded Geraudo as leader of the Hospitalers in 1120 and served as its first Grand Master until his death in 1160. Raymond had larger and more useful buildings constructed for the Order near the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and dedicated some of these to caring for sick and injured pilgrims. Raymond also recruited other knights to serve as armed escorts for pilgrims where necessary. As with the Templars, these squads of knights eventually developed into a sizable army. Eventually the Hospitalers had three types of members: knights, medical caregivers, and chaplains who celebrated daily Mass.

Knights Hospitaler and Templar fought side by side against Salah ad-Din and his army at the Battle of Hattin near the Sea of Galilee in 1187.

After Salah ad-Din's victory at Hattin and conquest of Jerusalem in 1187, the Hospitalers lost their lands in the Kingdom of Jerusalem and retained only those in the state of Tripoli. These included their formidable fortress called Krak des Chevaliers.

In the mid-1200s, Catholic leaders controlled several cities along the coast of Levantia including Jaffa, Acre, Tyre, and Tripoli. The municipal states of Genoa and Venice enjoyed a brisk trade with these coastal cities. Strangely enough, competition between those two states over this trade exploded into armed conflict from 1256 until 1271. Stranger still, Knights Hospitaler and Knights Templar, the first loyal to Genoa and the other loyal to Venice, battled and killed each other.

The weakened Hospitalers lost Krak des Chevaliers to Baibars and his army in 1271 and their remaining possessions in Tripoli when it fell in 1289.

After the loss of Acre in 1291, both Templars and Hospitalers regrouped in the Catholic Christian state of Cyprus.

In 1305 a man from southern Gallia became the new ruler of the Catholic Church. For the rest of his life he wrongly acted as a loyal subordinate to the ruler of France. One way he did this was by helping the ruler of France, who owed much money to the Templars, to destroy the Order. In October 1307 the ruler of France had dozens of Templar leaders simultaneously arrested on false charges, tortured until they confessed their guilt, and then burned at the stake.

In 1307 the Hospitalers decided to leave Cyprus and establish their own state on the Muslim-held island of Rhodes. They won control of the island after two years of battles. At that point they became known as the Order of the Knights of Rhodes. The ruler of Catholic Church ended the existence of the Knights Templar in 1312 and gave most of their property to the Knights of Rhodes.

The ruler of France had seventy-year-old Jacques de Molay, last Grand Master of the Knights Templar, burned to death in Paris on March 18, 1314. Tradition tells us that amidst the flames Jacques declared that disaster would strike both pope and king for what they'd done. The pope died of a lingering illness a month later aged 50. Tradition adds that lightning struck the church building in which his body lay in state and the ensuing flames burned both building and body. Soon Dante would find him in Hell. The king died on November 29 aged 46 following a stroke. His three sons all succeeded him as king but they all died within 14 years of him and, with the death of the youngest, the 300-year-old Capet dynasty died as well.

Following their conquest of Rhodes in 1309, the Knights Hospitaler attacked Barbary (Berber Muslim) pirates, looted Muslim merchant ships, and even raided coastal Muslim cities. Surrounding Muslim states attacked them but they successfully defended themselves until 1522. That year Suleiman, ruler of the Ottoman Turks, besieged Rhodes with an overwhelming number of soldiers and took control of it. He permitted surviving Knights to leave for Sicily.

In 1530 Charles 5th, ruler of Iberia, Germania, Alpinia, and Latinia, gave the Knights control of the island of Malta. In that year they became known as the Sovereign and Military Order of the Knights of Malta. The eight-pointed cross they had always used as their emblem became known thereafter as the Maltese cross.

Suleiman launched another attack on the Knights in their new home. The siege of Malta began in May and lasted until September 1565. At first the heavily outnumbered Knights fared poorly but they triumphed at the end of this last battle fought by Crusader knights. All Catholic Christendom rejoiced. The new capital city of Malta was named Valletta in honor of the Grand Master who had withstood Suleiman.

The Knights of Malta were not destroyed by Muslims. They lost their island and existence when Napoleon Bonaparte, a devout Olympian, occupied Malta on his way to Egypt in 1798.

Copyright © 2013 by Steven Farsaci. All rights reserved.