hearings or trials at which the members of the Order of the Temple, and
the Order itself, were charged with various offenses against morality
and the Church began in October 1307 when Templars across France were
arrested. The arrests were ordered by the French king, Philip IV, although
in November of that year the pope, Clement V, took over at least ostensibly
the conduct of the interrogations. He ordered the arrest of all members
of the Order throughout Latin Christendom, a process which was carried
out much more slowly outside France. On the island of Cyprus which was
in the Christian frontline against the infidel, or Saracens as they were
commonly referred to, the arrests occurred in 1308.
allegations against the Order itself, and its members, were detailed in
general in a statement by king Philip in his order of arrest to be opened
on the day of the capture of the French Templars. The specific accusations
were sent out to those responsible for the arrests in a papal pronouncement
referred to as Faciens misericordiam on 12 August 1308. The most serious
charges were those of heresy, in particular spitting on the cross, denying
the divinity of Christ, God, and the Blessed Virgin, denying that Christ
died to redeem humanity from sin, and teaching that Jesus was not the
true God. Had Templars actually believed any of this, had the Order taught
this to new members, it would have most definitely constituted grave heresy,
a fundamental lack of belief in the most fundamental doctrines of the
second most important series of allegations were those which suggested
that when new members were inducted into the Order, at their reception
ceremony or sometimes afterward, they were told that they could have carnal
relations with other men in the Order. In fact, according to the list
of charges, they were instructed that they ought to do this and that it
was not a sin.
third serious group of charges was that relating to idolatry, specifically
that Templars adored an idol, or even several of them, at ceremonies,
venerating the idol as though it were God himself. Other accusations said
that they believed that "the head could save them; it could make
them rich; it could make the trees flower and the land germinate."
In order to link the notion of idolatry more closely to the brethren,
the cords which they, like most monks, wore around their waists were supposedly
wrapped around an idol before they put them on. (An English translation
of the 87 accusations originally used in Cyprus can be found in my book,
The Trial of the Templars in Cyprus, Leiden, 1998, pp. 45-51; a translation
of the full list of 126 accusations is in Malcolm Barber, The Trial of
the Templars, Cambridge, 1978, pp. 248-52. A list in Latin, accompanied
by the numbers of each charge, is in Gilmour-Bryson, The Trial of the
Templars in the Papal State and the Abruzzi, Citta del Vaticano, pp. 74-84.)
Order of the Temple had been present in Cyprus since 1191, when it had
bought the island from king Richard I of England. Very little is known
about their activities during the year they were there. There seems to
have been some friction between them and the local Greek population, since
a bloody riot broke out in Nicosia at Easter. The Templars obviously decided
that they could not keep the island with the reduced manpower available,
and sold it to Guy of Lusignan in the spring of 1192. From then until
theywere arrested in 1308 a certain number of Templar knights, sergeants,
and priests remained on the island, primarily in their fortresses in Nicosia,
Limassol, and Gastria. (See the many articles and books by Peter Edbury
on medieval Cyprus, especially The Kingdom of Cyprus and the Crusades,
1191-1374, Cambridge, 1991; his essay "The Templars in Cyprus",
in Malcom Barber, ed., The Military Orders, vol. 1, Aldershot, 1994, pp.
189-95; and my article "Testimony of non-Templar witnesses in Cyprus,"
also in Barber, The Military Orders, vol. 1, pp. 205-11. )
1307, when the first arrests occurred elsewhere, Cyprus was undergoing
a period of turmoil. Amaury of Lusignan, brother of king Henry II, had
engineered a coup which resulted in Henry’s being sent into exile in Armenia
while Amaury ruled in his absence. Many of the barons appear to have supported
Amaury, who was a much more dynamic individual than his brother, and so
did the Templars. The Hospitallers (Order of St John of Jerusalem), on
the other hand, supported the king, as did some of the leading nobles.
Perhaps because Amaury favored the Order, the Templars were not arrested
until 1308, although the papal letter ordering the Templar arrest and
trial was dated November 1307. Other Templars managed to hold out on the
island until 1310. They do not seem to have been mistreated or tortured,
unlike their brethren imprisoned in France and Italy. For no known reason,
the hearings did not commence until 1310 or 1311. The long delay may have
been caused by the fact that it took a long time to capture all Templars
on Cyprus, and to gain control of their fortified property.
only manuscripts which remain of the Inquisitionary process (listed as
Vatican Archives Castel Sant'Angelo, D-223 and D-228) have the date listed
only as 1310, but much of the parchment is completely unreadable. And
to muddy the waters further, some of the witnesses at this hearing, important
Cypriot nobles such as Philip of Ibelin the seneschal and his relative
Baldwin, were in Armenia as hostages who accompanied the exiled king.
How then, could they have appeared in Nicosia in May 1310? Could it have
been May 1311? But we know from other evidence that the Templars themselves,
seventy-six of them, did testify in May 1310. Is it reasonable that the
trial was suspended and reconvened exactly twelve months later? I very
much doubt it. At any rate, it is the evidence given and not the date
which is significant.
hearing or trial, like all such courts of the Inquisition, was held according
to strict protocol. A number of "silent witnesses" or observers,
often members of other religious orders, attended each session. A series
of notaries wrote down the testimony, which normally was later read back
to the witnesses for their confirmation. Two bishops presided over the
sessions: Peter Erlant, bishop of Limassol who was administering the diocese
of Nicosia in the absence of the bishop, and Baldwin Lambert, bishop of
all began with the testimony of twenty-one non-members of the order, a
relatively unusual practice. Not one of these men believed the Templars
to be guilty of anything serious whatsoever. Some of them were nobles
supporting the king and they, one would have thought, would have been
very angry at the Order and its members for helping to overthrow the king.
Yet even these men failed to implicate the Order in any serious fault
or error. They frequently stated that no one thought ill of the Templars
until the papal letters arrived in Cyprus, the ones which would have contained
the sensational allegations of heresy, illicit sexual activity, worshiping
idols and cats, for example (witnesses 1, 4, 8, 18, 20). They did agree
generally that secrecy was prevalent: the receptions were held in the
presence only of members of the Order (witness 1 and most others.). The
most interesting feature of these witnesses' testimony is the favorable
view they have of the Order and its members. I will discuss a few of the
most important elements of this testimony.
king's marshal in Cyprus, Reynald of Seisson (witness 3) said that the
Templars did, in contrast to the allegations, believe in the sacraments
and hold proper and legitimate religious ceremonies.
of Plany, the seventh person to testify, spoke passionately about the
Templars who died for their faith, shedding their blood in the many battles
in the Holy Land. He insisted that they were as good men of religion as
you could possibly find anywhere.
of Bentho (witness 9) told a marvelous story of what he was sure had been
a miracle. He had been assigned to guard the prisoners after they had
been captured at their rural property of Chierochitia. He had expected
them to be evil, terrible men after what he had heard about them. He tried
to stay away from them as much as possible. Since he had nowhere else
to attend mass, he finally decided that there could be no harm in attending
the Templar service. When the priest elevated the Host (the communion
wafer) above the altar, Raymond was astounded to see that it was huge,
much larger than normal, and white as snow. Troubled by what he had seen,
he returned the next day to talk to the priest about what had occurred.
The priest showed him his stock of wafers and Raymond saw that they were
perfectly normal in size. It was then that he concluded that it had been
a miracle caused by the Almighty because of his own unfounded assumptions
about the Templars' guilt.
of Montfort, an important noble of the king's party, testified as tenth
witness that "he frequently saw brothers of the Temple in Nicosia
and Limassol be devout in their churches and elsewhere, and...honor and
adore the cross just as any other christians he had ever seen." Percival,
lord of Mar, a Genoese, was one of the few outsiders to testify at this
stage. He recounted a story he had heard from someone else about Templars'
bravery when captured by the Egyptian sultan. It seems that this story,
one which can be found elsewhere, actually refers to Templars who were
captured when the island of Ruad fell to the Saracens in 1302, a mere
eight years earlier. According to this tale, the sultan offered the Templars
their freedom if they would deny their God. The Templars responded: "that
they would not deny the Christian faith, but they wanted to die in that
good faith of Christ, and live all their days there in captivity...rather
than to do anything against the health of their souls, and that they would
rather be decapitated than deny Jesus Christ." The result of their
defiance was that their jailers were instructed to deny them all food
and water from that moment on. They all perished. Percival, quite reasonably,
stated that he could not believe that the Templars were committing errors
of doctrine, errors against the faith such as those in the accusations.
If they had been acting in that manner, they would have obviously not
chosen death over denying the faith.
story was echoed in the testimony of Thomas, lord of Pingueno, witness
17, a knight from Acre, who said that after the Templars lost the castle
of Saphet to the enemy "many brothers of the order were captured...who
[as witnesses of the faith, not wishing to deny Christ] were decapitated."
lord of Montgisard, witness 18, said as did most witnesses that in his
view Templars did believe in all the sacraments of the Church. He had
lived with them for a month or more which means that he had first-hand
knowledge of them. "He saw them attend services devoutly and concentrate
on the divine office. Those who knew their letters (most Templars would
have been illiterate) at times used to say the Our Father with the Ave
Maria." He was one of the few who had seen a book which contained
the Templar Rule. "He did not see anything of the said errors contained
there. On the contrary, everything written in the book was good, honest,
efficacious, and useful. Nor was there any Christian in the world who
would hear these words but who would consider and hold the rule to be
holy and good."
first group of non-Templar witnesses ended with two abbots, an Augustinian
and a Benedictine, who praised the religious devotion of the brethren
and said nothing substantive against them. This group, then, composed
of two high-ranking clerics, seventeen nobles, and two merchants, did
not believe in the allegations. In fact, they stressed just how truly
good and devout the Templars were, and importantly, most of this testimony
came from eye-witnesses.
next stage involved the seventy-six Templars themselves: forty-two knights,
two priests, thirty-two sergeants or serving-brothers. This is a much
higher proportion of knights than is found in the Order’s western preceptories.
These men were asked different questions on their first appearance than
they were when all but one of them reappeared to answer the specific numbered
accusations. They all had to testify about where they were received, when,
who was present, and whether any illicit acts occurred at that time or
later. They were also asked what they knew, if anything, about the presence
of idols in houses of the Order.
marshal in Cyprus, the leading dignitary, Ayme of Osilliers gave testimony
which varies totally from the confessions made by the Templars in France.
As usual, he specified that only members were present at receptions. He
promised only the usual vows: chastity and obedience. Most witnesses,
like the second Templar, added the vow of poverty to the other two. The
Order possessed no idols.
stressed that since there were no errors in the Order they could not correct
them or reveal them to the Church (accusations 115, 116 of the usual set,
accusation 75 in Cyprus). These men were testifying not only about receptions
which had occurred in Cyprus (very few had been received on the island),
but about ceremonies which had taken place in Armenia, England, France,
Germany, Hungary, Italy, Portugal, Romania, Slavonia (Croatia or Yugoslavia),
and Spain (Aragon, Castile, Catalonia, Valencia.)
Templars on Cyprus were a quite different cohort from those found anywhere
else. They were younger, a much greater number of them were of high rank,
more had taken part in fighting than Templars to be found anywhere else.
And as I have noted, they came from almost every part of Christendom where
the Order was established.
seventy-six men reiterated that the Order had committed no serious errors.
The short preliminary depositions concentrated on the important matter
of the reception, who was there, when and where it took place. It was
correct that receptions were held in secret, with only Templars present,
but it was simply their custom, some said. In general, the reception took
place at a chapter meeting and in all religious orders chapter meetings
were held in presence only of members of the group. The main reason for
this was that at these gatherings members accused others of faults against
the Rule, or brothers accused themselves of faults. Similar to what is
said in the confessional, these were private matters not to be discussed
in public. And as has been noted elsewhere, this practice may have come
about because their chapter meetings in the Holy Land were also the place
where military strategy was discussed. Obviously, they could not allow
any strangers to be present.
these short depositions, the inquisitors heard all but one of the men
a second time, this time asking them the 123 questions of the normal 126
interrogation questionnaire used in France. The order of the questions
was slightly different, a few minor charges were left out, but generally
the questions took the same form as they had done at other hearings. To
the dismay of any intending to find them guilty, the answers succeeded
one another in a constant reiteration of innocence. According to the seventy-five
who testified, the reception ceremony was held absolutely according to
the Rule, reverently, with no illicit acts taking place either then or
later. The cord which allegedly hadbeen wrapped around idols was used
only to remind the brothers to keep their vows of chastity. It was not
true that they could only confess to priests of the Order. They could
confess to any sort of priest including Dominicans, Franciscans, and Carmelites.
Regarding the allegation that they did not offer charity and hospitality
as they should, the men insisted that one-tenth of the bread cooked in
a Templar house was given to the poor, as was money, clothing, and other
food. "About offering lodging, he responded that the order is not
obliged to offer hospitality...nevertheless, if good men came for hospitality
to the...Temple, they were generously housed." And if any of the
dignitaries had confessed to these crimes, "they have confessed and
confessed against the truth, and against justice, and their soul."
This statement was in relation to the widely publicized confessions of
the last Grand Master, James of Molay, and other dignitaries in France.
the Templars had made their second and much longer depositions, it was
the turn of another group of thirty-five non-Templars to add the last
word. This group lacked the presence of the higher nobility who had formed
such a large part of the first cohort to testify. There were at least
nine nobles, however, including the viscount of Nicosia. The highest ranking
cleric was the bishop of Beirut, accompanied by at least twenty-one other
clerics, abbots, canons, and monks. Three merchants were called to the
stand along with two civic officials. Their testimony was very short and
they made no serious charges against the Order.
bishop's deposition was particularly important as he had lived with the
Templars for forty years. He swore that "brothers of the order...believed
in the sacraments of the altar and of the church." How could they
then have committed the alleged sacrilegious and blasphemous acts? According
to a priest, archdeacon of Beirut (witness 11), the priests did indeed
say the proper words of consecration when they celebrated mass. He too
had seen them often offer charity to the poor, both money and leftover
food. Another priest (witness 12) had acted as the chaplain of a high-ranking
Templar. This man had made his confession four times a year (much more
often than usual) and attended mass daily, not a common occurrence at
the time. A secular priest (witness 14) related that he had served mass
with Templar priests on various occasions and that the service took place
in a completely normal fashion.
only vague statements made against the Order came from witness 35, the
prior of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem, the last witness. He said
that he had heard from some unknown person that Templars did not believe
in the Eucharist or the sacraments of the Church. He too had only heard
these things after the papal letters came to Cyprus. He had heard some
gossip about idols but had no specific information. Given that the Order
of the Hospital and the Order of the Temple were often rivals, and that
the Order of St John undoubtedly hoped to inherit the Templars' property,
as it did, this man's information may have been understandably prejudiced.
far as we know from the only extant manuscript, that was the end of the
trial. Obviously, the Templars had admitted no guilt. Equally, the preponderance
of evidence given by the non-Templars did not implicate them in any serious
fate of the members of the Order was obvious after pope Clement V gave
his final statement in a bull on the matter at the Council of Vienne,
a general universal council of the church held in 1312. In spite of the
fact that no clear judgement could be made about guilt or innocence, the
pope said, the Order had been so seriously defamed by the testimony of
many of its members, including the high dignitaries that it must come
to an end. No man was ever more to enter it. The members were to live
out their lives in other religious orders. Another bull gave the Templar
properties to the Order of St John of Jerusalem. The king was indemnified
for his expenses in arresting Templars and keeping them in prison for
up to five years.
far as the Templars on Cyprus, we have no real idea about what happened
to them. No contemporary document makes clear what was done to them after
the hearing ended. The much later chronicle known as the Chronicle of
Amadi stated that in 1316 many Templars in Cyprus died in prison. Other
narrative sources suggested that the Templars had been drowned as a punishment
for their crimes. What really happened to them? We are still uncertain.
(The best book on the Templar trials as a whole is Barber, The Trial of
the Templars, mentioned above.)
trial is important because it is the only one in which we have substantial
information from important men who were not part of the Order. It is important
also because we have the testimony of Templars from every part of Christendom,
all of them insisting vehemently that the charges were false, often in
some detail. It gives us precious contemporary information on the state
of the Order at the time of its suppression.
trial, like the hearings in England and Spain, leads to the distinct impression
that the guilty testimony was the result of torture in France and Italy
and that the Order was basically innocent of the serious charges imputed
to it. The hearing in Cyprus is just one small part of a significant body
of evidence, but it is an important part of it.
(University of Melbourne), firstname.lastname@example.org.