In November 1095, Pope Urban the Second addressed a large gathering of French clergy and noblemen at the Council of Clermont in Auvergne, France. In his speech, he referred to the terrible unrest across the country and reminded the nobles of their holy duty to rule their provinces with an even hand. In particular, they were to ensure the protection of the clergy at all levels and restore justice and public order to the people.
Those present acknowledged and supported the Pope’s direction and it wasn’t long before he cleverly turned their attention to the main issue on his mind, suggesting that once righteousness had been restored, it could be used in God’s service to support the Christians in the east, who were suffering terrible atrocities at the hands of the Turks.
He went on to report that untold numbers of Christians had either been killed or captured by the Saracens in the east, with many being tortured to death or sold into slavery. Churches were being desecrated and the kingdom of God was being devastated. The audience was horrified and listened intently as he went on to recount terrible stories of the rape and murder of Christian women amongst other unspeakable atrocities.
Pope Urban went on to entreat everyone present to spread the message widely, persuading people of all stations to rise in anger at the treatment of the Christians and engage in a holy war to defend God’s people. He went on to preach that brothers who had fought brothers could now unite under one banner, and those who had led a life of crime could become righteous once more in the service of God’s army. Furthermore, he promised that all who died in such a war would receive full absolution from whatever sins they had committed throughout their lifetime, guaranteeing them entry through the gates of heaven.
The effect of Pope Urban’s speech was immediate, and word spread far and wide. For the next few months, his clergy spread the message throughout Europe and soon, tens of thousands of people ranging from the highest echelons of the aristocracy to the humblest of peasants pledged to aid the Christians of the Holy Land.
Eventually, four separate crusader armies were recruited, assembling sometime just after November 1096 outside the walls of Constantinople and after making their holy vows, crossed the Bosporus in early 1097.
After enduring terrible hardship and fighting in many brutal battles, the soldiers of the first crusade finally reached the gates of Jerusalem in July 1099. However, due to the terrible state of their forces and vastly reduced numbers, the rumours that a relieving Turk army was already on its way forced their commanders to act quickly and they decided to take the city rather than lay siege to seek its surrender. Consequently, they attacked immediately, and on the 15th July 1099, Jerusalem fell to the crusaders.
Led by Raymond of Toulouse and Godfrey of Bouillon, the victors rampaged through the city slaughtering anyone they could find, even killing those who surrendered or who hid away in mosques and synagogues. Thousands died, and the streets ran with blood but by the time the Crusaders had finished, Jerusalem was entirely in the hands of the Christian army.
The victory was overwhelming yet despite being offered the kingship, Raymond of Toulouse refused. At first, Godfrey of Bouillon also refused the honour stating that Christ himself only wore a crown of thorns but finally he accepted the governance of Jerusalem, though only accepting the title of Advocate of the Holy Sepulchre.
The following year Godfrey struggled to expand his influence so after immense political pressure from the Archbishop of Pisa amongst others, stood aside to allow his own brother Baldwin of Bouillon to be crowned king on Christmas day AD 1100. The first crusade had been successful and at last, vast parts of the Holy Land was in Christian hands.
For the next decade or so, the number of pilgrimages from the west hugely increased. However, the journey was fraught with danger and many travellers were attacked and killed en-route in retribution for what the Muslims saw as nothing more than a sacrilegious invasion of their homeland.
Finally, in 1119, an Italian nobleman, along with eight other knights formed an alliance with the stated ambition of protecting pilgrims on their journey to the holy places of Jerusalem and approached the new king, (also called Baldwin) to seek recognition and a place to base themselves. Baldwin II subsequently allowed the knights to set up their headquarters in the Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount within the city walls.
The new order needed a name and as the Mosque was also known as the ‘Templum Solomonis,’ they became known as ‘The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon.’
This title soon become shortened and within a few years, the order became famous across the Christian world as a body of fearless knights who fought to protect pilgrims in the name of the lord.
The order of the Knights Templar had been born.