By Ruth Gledhill
The knights want a Papal apology nearly 700 years after they were disbanded and hounded into exile
THE VATICAN is giving “serious consideration” to apologising for the persecution that led to the suppression of the Knights Templar. The suppression, which began on Friday , October 13, 1307, gave Friday the Thirteenth its superstitious legacy.
A Templar Order in Britain that claims to be descended from the original Knights Templar has asked that the Pope should make the apology.
The Templars, based in Hertford, are hoping for an apology by 2007, the 700th anniversary of the start of the persecution, which culminated with the torture and burning at the stake of the Grand Master Jacques de Molay for heresy and the dissolution of the Order by apostolic decree in 1312.
The letter, signed by the Secretary of the Council of Chaplains on behalf of the Grand Master of the Poor Fellow Soldiers of Jesus Christ and the Temple of Solomon Grand Preceptory, with a PO box address in Hertford, formally requests an apology “for the torture and murder of our leadership”, instigated by Pope Clement V.
“We shall witness the 700th anniversary of the persecution of our order on 13th October 2007,” the letter says. “It would be just and fitting for the Vatican to acknowledge our grievance in advance of this day of mourning.”
Apologies have already been made by the Roman Catholic Church for the persecution of Galileo and for the Crusades. The Templars hope that these precedents will make their suit more likely to succeed.
Hertford Templar Tim Acheson, who is descended from the Scottish Acheson family that has established Templar links and whose family lived until recently in Bailey Hall, Hertford, said: “This letter is a serious attempt by a Templar group which traces its roots back to the medieval Order to solicit an apology from the Papacy.”
He added: “The Papacy and the Kingdom of France conspired to destroy the Order for reasons which modern historians judge to be primarily political. Their methods and motives are now universally regarded as brutal, unfair and unjustified.
“The Knights Templar officially ceased to exist in the early 1300s, but the order continued underground. It was a huge organisation and the vast majority of Templars survived the persecution, including most of their leaders, along with much of their treasure and, most importantly, their original values and traditions.”
The Hertford Mercury newspaper has reported newly discovered Templar links with Hertford, including a warren of tunnels beneath the town. At the heart of the maze of tunnels is Hertford Castle, where in 1309 four Templars from Temple Dinsley near Hitchin were imprisoned after their arrest by Edward II, who believed that they were holding a lost treasure. The treasure was never found.
When Subterranea Britannica, a group of amateur archaeologists, expressed an interest in investigating Hertford’s tunnels last month, they received anonymous threats telling them not to.
The Templars captured Jerusalem during the Crusades and were known as “keepers of the Holy Grail”, said to be the cup used at the Last Supper or as the receptacle used by Joseph of Arimathea to catch Christ’s blood as he bled on the Cross, or both.
Interest in the Templars and the Holy Grail is at an unprecedented high after the success of books such as The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown, and the earlier Holy Blood Holy Grail, by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln, which claimed that Jesus survived the crucifixion and settled in France.
The Knights Templar were founded by Hugh de Payens, a French knight from the Champagne area of Burgundy, and eight companions in 1118 during the reign of Baldwin II of Jerusalem, when they took a perpetual vow to defend the Christian kingdom. They were assigned quarters next to the Temple. In 1128, they took up the white habit of the Cistercians, adding a red cross. The order knights, sergeants, farmers and chaplains amassed enormous wealth.
In Rome, a Vatican spokesman said that the demand for an apology would be given “serious consideration”. However, Vatican insiders said that the Pope, 84, was under pressure from conservative cardinals to “stop saying sorry” for the errors of the past, after a series of papal apologies for the Crusades, the Inquisition, Christian anti-Semitism and the persecution of scientists and “heretics” such as Galileo.