On December 24 1307, Grand Master Jacques de Molay of the Knights Templar retracted his earlier confession of homosexuality and other mortal sins. However, he died cruelly, tied to a stake on an island in the Seine and slowly burned to death.
Over 700 years after their demise, the Knights Templar remain the most talked-about Crusaders. The ‘warrior-monks’ inspire novels, movies, academic treatises, documentaries and looney conspiracy theories.
Believed by some to guard the Holy Grail, others whispered the order protected the secret descendants of Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene. The Knights are variously portrayed as martyrs, heretics, heroes and devil-worshippers. But the true story of the ‘Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of King Solomon’ is pretty straightforward. A charity instituted with worthy intention turns into a pack of greedy bastards and is brought down by an even less scrupulous bastard. Happens all the time.
The Knights originally were poor. Initiates swore an oath of poverty, chastity, and obedience. They guarded European pilgrims travelling to Crusader citadels in the Holy Land from attacks by Muslims and bandits. However, the order became fabulously wealthy through a mix of donations and business dealings. Like many charities, the knights eventually devoted more resources to accumulating and managing money and assets than they did to their supposed raison d’être.
The order ran cities and ports and established a European banking empire. They owned castles, farms, forests, fleets of ships, manufacturing concerns and import/export businesses in Europe and the Middle East.
But then, between 1291 and 1303 CE, Muslim forces drove the order out of the Middle East. The Knights retreated back to their business holdings in Europe. Now, they faced their greatest challenge – an unprincipled debtor with immense personal power. King Philip IV of France didn’t like paying bills. He previously escaped some of his debt by cheating Jewish merchants.
But demonising Jews was never difficult. The Knights, on the other hand, were a Christian religious order, backed by the Church and revered throughout Europe. So Philip IV seized on gossip about secret goings-on. He charged his creditors with obscene blasphemies guaranteed to turn public opinion against them.
Philip’s men tortured every Knight they could lay hands on – from teenage boys to an 80-year-old. His inquisitors starved their prisoners and deprived them of sleep, stretched them on the rack, burned the soles of their feet and dangled weights from their testicles. They tied their victim’s hands behind their backs and hauled them up on a strappado, a torture device designed to dislocate their shoulders.
The victims of these cruel punishments eventually confessed to whatever their torturers suggested.
Kiss my arse
Numerous knights admitted that the order’s secret initiation ceremony required new recruits to deny Jesus Christ. The initiates were made to spit or urinate on the cross. Then their sponsor stripped, lay face down on a bench and ordered the initiates to kiss his arsehole. Some claimed they balked and kissed the base of his spine instead. Finally, they kissed their sponsor on the navel and the mouth.
English author Thomas Wright claimed that, out of a concern for decency, accounts of the trials omitted mention of initiates kissing the receptor’s penis.
“One of the initiation ceremonies required the novice to kiss the receiver on the mouth, on the anus, or the end of the spine, on the navel, and on the virga virilis.”
Thomas was perhaps gilding the lily. It seems unlikely that a king happy to insinuate ritual rimming would blanch at the thought of implied cocksucking.
Finally, each initiate received instruction that if the ‘heat of nature’ became too hot to bear, he should ‘cool himself’ with his brothers. In other words, if the vow of chastity became too much to bear, bonk another knight rather than cause scandal by visiting prostitutes.
The inquisitors also heard of Grand Master Jacques de Molay’s sexual relationship with his valet de chambre. They attributed the young personal attendant’s death by drowning to divine retribution for his sinful sodomy with de Molay.
Other charges involved worshipping false idols and kissing a toad on the mouth – no big deal – princesses in fairy tales do that shit all the time. Initiates apparently also had to kiss a cat on the arse.
When news of the confessions reached the pope, Clement V sent two cardinals to check. They spoke to Jacques de Molay and other knights on December 24 1307. The Grand Master and others either recanted their confessions or equivocated.
Under Catholic law, heretics who confessed could be forgiven. But those who recanted were sentenced to a cruel death. Following a tug of war between Philip IV and Clement V, Philip had scores of the Knights loaded onto a cart and burnt to death in a paddock outside Paris.
In 1314, Jacques de Molay also went to his death. He was tied to a stake on a small island in the Seine, facing the Cathedral of Notre Dame. According to legend, as flames licked at the old man’s feet, he shouted a curse on Philip IV and Clement V.
Whether true or not, both were dead within a year.
Read more: December 23 <— On this day —> December 25
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