Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - August 10, 2018

The Templar Knights back in the day

Years ago when husband Art and I first traveled to Europe, one of the first orders of business was to decide how to handle money. Should we go to a large bank in Kansas City and obtain currency for the countries we expected to visit? Would travelers’ checks - remember those? - be better? Credit cards were an option, but still fairly rare overseas and not accepted for small purchases such as food.

Then there were other concerns. Where would we stay? How would we communicate? What if we became sick? Would we be safe?

Finding answers has become much easier over the past 30 years, but it is hard to imagine what it was like for my ancestors emigrating to America. So it was particularly intriguing when we recently came face-to-face with a relic from an organization that helped certain European travelers in the Middle Ages.

In the 12th century, the same challenges faced by a modern traveler were combined with the high cost of travel, slow transportation and strict employment demands. The result was few people visited foreign lands. In fact, in feudal times, most people never traveled farther than 10 miles from their homes.

But just as Muslims today are encouraged to make a pilgrimage to Mecca, Christians of the Middle Ages were encouraged, if able, to visit the Holy Land. The impetus to do so increased greatly after the first Crusades subjected many of these areas to Christian rule. Still, the journey was a daunting one.

But three large organizations stood by to help. Today, we generally know them as the Teutonic Knights, the Knights Templar and the Knights of Malta. Originally formed to help soldiers traveling to take part in the Crusades, the first two provided places to stay and guidance on travel, while the latter operated hospitals for those in need of medical attention. But over time, they all grew to provide a similar range of services.

All three were Catholic organizations recognized by the Pope. Since local kings were all part of the Holy Roman Empire, the Pope was able to grant those organizations the right to operate across the borders of those kingdoms. In effect, they had to answer to no one but the Holy Father.

In those times, wealth in the form of gold, silver or other items of universal value had to be taken with travelers to pay for food and lodging as there was no universal currency. This made them easy targets for robbers. These three organizations allowed both pilgrim and crusader to deposit their valuables with one of their “offices,” and in return, receive a letter detailing from whom it was received and the amount. At another office, the letter allowed the traveler to receive assets equal to part or all of what had been left behind. In effect, these three became the first bankers.

Last year while in Metz, France, we visited a small battlement on what was once the city’s eastern edge that had also been part of the city’s fortifying wall. What we did not realize then was it is today called the German Gate because the Teutonic Knights once had a hospital nearby.

The commandery, or local headquarters, for the Knights Templar in Metz was one of the earliest built. It was located near what is now the center of the city, but was then near the southwest edge. All that remains is the chapel.

The frescoes on the interior of the small chapel are quite interesting and include images of the 12 disciples, Mary with Jesus and the Last Supper, but are not original. In fact, the chapel's survival may well have been because it was useful for other purposes. The military at one time used it to store powder and later it became a telephone equipment facility.

One of the more intriguing aspects is a Gregorian chant placed on the floor using musical notations now unfamiliar to us. Prior to the 9th century, the tonal and timing aspects of church music was largely passed on orally. Small notations placed above the text was the first attempt to guide the singer. They indicated how the pitch changed, but did not define a particular pitch for notes.

All three organizations became quite wealthy, partly by charging for services, partly by retaining assets of travelers who died and, later, by using their own militaristic wings to take property by force from non-believers.

When the Holy Land was retaken by the Muslims, these organizations seemingly lost their reason to exist, but they persisted. The Pope turned the Teutonic Knights on the “heathens” in northeastern Germany and the Baltic states. The message was simple enough: convert or meet your maker on the spot.

The Knights Templar was officially disbanded in 1312. There had been reports of impropriety in the organization that were almost certainly false. But when the Pope asked the king of France about them, Phillip IV suggested they were true. This led the Pope to dissolve the Templars and distribute their assets between the remaining two. The Pope apparently did not know that Phillip was deeply in debt to the Templars and eliminating them relieved his financial problem.

The Teutonic Knights live on today as a Catholic charitable organization with headquarters in Vienna presided over by their 65th Grand Master. The Knights of Malta or Knights Hospitaller ceased to exist early in the 20th century, but an organization called the Sovereign Military Order of Malta claims to be the rightful descendant and operates hospitals and other charitable organizations in many countries from its headquarters in Rome led by the 80th Grand Master.

The Templars too live on, but more as an idea in popular literature such as “The Da Vinci Code.” The Order of DeMolay, an organization founded in Kansas City to support teenage men, is named after Jacques de Molay, the last Grand Master of the Templars.

And, of course, the Templars live on in a small chapel in the heart of Metz, France.

Top-left: (l-r) Art, daughter Mariya, Gloria and daughter Katie at German Gate in 2017; bottom-left: Metz Templar chapel image from Metz city tourist site; Center-top: Gregorian chant music symbols in Templar chapel floor; Center-bottom three: in order, Teutonic Knight, Templar Knight and Knight of Malta heraldic symbols; right: view from west entrance into the Metz Templar chapel. Gloria is sitting at the left while three others visit the chapel.

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