The Order of the Poor Knights of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon, or, as it is otherwise called, Knights Templar, was founded in Palestine in the 12th century by the Crusaders. The Order was a purely military one. It was made for the purpose of guarding the pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem. It order got the latter part of its name, “Temple of Solomon,” from the fact that the King of Jerusalem, Baldwin I, gave a part of his palace known as the “Temple of Solomon” for its use.
At the head of the Order was a Master of the Temple, afterwards known as a Grand Master. His authority was very great, and generally this word was law; but in extremely large matters- as declaring war, etc.-he had to consult the chapter. and the members decided by a majority vote. The celibate life members wore a white mantle with a red cross on it; the others a black or brown one, also with a red cross on it. Within fifty years after it was founded it was established in nearly all of the countries of Europe. Lands and manors and castles were given to the Knights by different kings in their kingdoms and the Pope allowed them to have their own churches and even churchyards in which the excommunicated could be buried.
They were even free from tithes and all local jurisdictions, and finally became a separate ecclesiastical society under the Pope. The result was “war” between them and the secular clergy, but as long as the Crusades continued they remained all powerful with the Papacy. Their object was to carry on the Crusades and wrest the Holy Land from the Infidel, and for this purpose they gathered money and recruits from all parts of Europe. It is now seen that when the Crusades were over it was the inevitable fate of the Knights Templar to fall. Until nearly the end of the 13th century, when the Moslems expelled the Christians from the East, the history of the Crusades is a history of the Templars.
In 1291 the Templars retired from the Holy Land to Cyprus, and ten years later the curtain was rung down on their vast theatre of action-Asia Minor.
The Knights who in the 12th century came together to protect the pilgrims going to and returning from Jerusalem, and took an oath to live in chastity, obedience and poverty, two hundred years later were the most influential, rich and powerful body of men in the world. When their last Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, came to Paris he brought with him 150,000 gold florins, and ten horse loads of silver. But this was a very small part of their immense wealth. They had castles and strongholds and estates in all parts of Europe, and they had a strict military organization connecting them together. They were the international bankers of the then known world. They were trusted with money and with its transmission to all parts of Europe, and the East on account of their great wealth, great protective power and their pious life. While they never exercised governmental power like the Knights in Prussia and in Rhodes, still they were really far more powerful-an ecclesiastical power that covered the entire civilized world. They never, apparently, were so high as just before they fell.