Translation and notes by Helen J. Nicholson
Ed. note: the following original translation was provided to ORB by
Dr. Helen Nicholson, who teaches at the University of Wales-Cardiff College.
by Helen Nicholson
This was written early in 1308, by an anonymous writer close to the Templars.
Everything in brackets  has been added by the translator.
To the honourable doctors and scholars of the university of Paris, Greeting.
If the quite amazing and absolutely stupifying cruelty of the enemy of
the human race treacherously devised by diabolical instigation in the
area of Gascony, which is recognised to be part of the French kingdom,
is diligently examined it ought to turn the hearts of the faithful to
compassionate mourning and bitter tears of compunction. Meanwhile, the
kingdom's living fount of justice which used to irrigate the whole globe
with its example and customs has completely dried up. The shining light
of truth, which used to reside on the crown of the candelabra, lighting
not only this kingdom but all nations and peoples, has been placed under
a bushel so that it may not be seen!
All this is clearly apparent from the unheard of and inquitious proceedings
issued against the Templars, which contain no justice but rather savage
tyranny, since they were arrested without warning, suddenly without right
or judgement being made, shamefully and dishonourably incarcerated with
destructive rage, afflicted with taunts, the gravest threats, and various
sorts of torture, compelled to die or produce absurd lies which they knew
nothing about, wrongly given into the hands of their enemies, who force
them through those torments to read out a foul, filthy and lying list
which cannot be conceived by human ears and should not enter the human
heart. But when the brothers refuse to produce these lies, although they
know absolutely nothing about them, the torments of the attendants who
press them daily force them to speak the lies, saying that they must recite
them before the Jacobins and assert that they are true if they wish to
preserve their lives and obtain the king's plentiful grace.
But many of them, choosing to serve God rather than Mammon, have so strongly
embraced truth, that thirty-six of them in the Paris house alone, besides
an infinite number of others who have been similarly treated throughout
various parts of the kingdom, have passed through these torments like
athletes of Christ with the martyr's palm to the Lord and attained the
celestial kingdom. Of the rest, many, belted with divine virtue, have
been destroyed by the tortures of the aforementioned attendants and left
for dead, only half-alive. Like the strongest of warriors they have always
held to the word of truth, saying that the brothers of the Temple promise
four things when they enter the order, i.e., obedience, chastity, poverty,
and that they will expend all their strength in the service of the Holy
Land. They are received with an honourable kiss of peace; they take the
Lord's Cross together with the habit, custom and rule from the Roman Church
and the Holy Fathers and they are taught to keep them safely. The same
brothers of the said order report, assert and repeat this on their own
oath again and again.
But the said attendants and the Jacobin friars, masters--or rather, assassins--of
great iniquity, block their ears like adders do against this truth, which
they are unable to understand, and twist it like venomous serpents do,
since in their malice they desire to get the result they hope for; because
they are deceived by their ardent hatred and blinded by their savage cupidity.
They hope to enrich their monks and associates at the expense of others,
to get fat on the Templars' goods, so that they will be able to gain a
part of their revenues forever. So they order that the Templars who tell
the truth should be tortured fiercely for so long until either they die
from the punishment or they are forced to suppress the truth and lie that
they denied God, despised Christ's Cross and produce the other worthless
things which not only should not be done but not even described.
What is more, if they do not say these things, not only before but even
after torture, they are always held in dark prison cells, with only the
bread of sorrow and the water of affliction, in winter time with the pressing
cold, lying with sighs and grief on the ground without straw or coverings.
In the middle of the night, to increase their terror, now one, now another
are taken from cell to cell. Those whom they have killed in torture they
secretly bury in the stable or in the garden, for fear that such horrible
and savage deeds should reach the royal ears, since they had told and
tell that the aforesaid brothers did not confess their crimes by violence
but of their own accord.
Anyone who is defeated by the tortures and produces the lies which the
attendants and Jacobins want, although they ought to be punished for lying
even though they did not want to lie, is raised up to chambers where they
are happily provided with everything they need, so that they will keep
up the lie. They are continually warned with threats, or with rough or
flattering words. What is more, a certain monk--or more truely a demoniac--ceaselessly
runs through the chambers at any hour, day and night, tempting the brothers
and extending warnings of what will happen to them. And if he discovers
that anyone has repented of the said lies, he sends them straight back
to the aforesaid afflictions and penuries.
What more is there to say? In short, I say that human tongue cannot express
the punishments, afflictions, miseries, taunts, and dire kinds of tortures
which have been suffered by the said innocents in the space of three months
since the day of their arrest, because by day and night constant sobs
and sighs have not ceased in their cells, nor have cries and gnashing
of teeth ceased in their tortures. Is it amazing if they say what the
torturer wants, since truth kills them and lies liberate them from death?
The protection of the truth is certainly not a human attribute but a completely
divine attribute; as many have miraculously shown divine courage. But
those who are shattered with such terrors and scourges persist in pure
truth, although the torture would stop if they lied. As for the rest,
however, who are fearful and timid, it is not surprising if they say these
things solely out of terror, since the punishment of one brings fear on
So pay attention, you wise men, and see the sorrow; there is no sorrow
like this sorrow. Ah, God, what is this great error and blindness of hearts,
such great madness and loss of senses, which has appeared without cause
among Christians in our time? It is truly astounding and terrifying. O
good Jesus, merciful Father, what kind of advice has led such a great
prince to act like this--when he always used to rule and be ruled by Your
Will? Didn't you adorn him with a special privilege above all the other
princes of the world, so that there is no similar arm of the Church in
the world, none so worthy of the Christian name? For what reason did you
allow him to be given such crooked advice, when he is good in himself,
just, merciful, and benevolent. Be vigilant, therefore, and pour Your
Spirit of Counsel over him, uncover the ancient watercourse of the accustomed
fount of justice, take away the bushel and place the lamp back on its
candelabra, so that he may see the truth and recall the said brothers
of the Temple to their old position and punish their false detractors,
who have totally defamed the golden crown of honour, the visible sign
of glorious sanctity, and the whole kingdom subject to him by bringing
in such a grave scandal and sin, such that one cannot read of any such
having been committed since the beginning of the world.
In fact it brings opprobrium and contempt not only on the kingdom itself
but also on the holy Church and the whole Christian faith, for the whole
world says and sees that this iniquity arose from the accusers' manifest
cupidity alone, and nothing can conceal it. For who can believe that a
free man, of whatever status or condition he might be, would seek to enter
a religious order to the detriment and death of his soul? This would certainly
be ridiculous and insane! It would seem absurd and absolutely incredible,
or rather, impossible, that the noble brothers, clergy and burgesses of
a religious order which has spread through the whole world should be ensnared
by such crimes, when they have given themselves to the service of the
glorious Virgin for the salvation of their souls, and constantly bear
the cross out of reverence for the Crucified and in memory of His passion.
Moreover, in ancient and modern times a great many people have left the
order because they lacked firmness of purpose. After apostacizing in this
way, they received many taunts from their parents and friends because
their religious order had dismissed them. If such people knew about the
blot in the order, why did they keep quiet, when they could have excused
themselves by saying that they did not wish to remain among men involved
in such wickedness? Instead, after tearful prayers and long insistence,
the penitents received permission to return, and ate for a year and a
day on the ground, fasting for six days on bread and water, and each Sunday
they stripped down to the underpants and went up to the altar at solemn
mass to receive discipline from the hand of the priest, and could not
recover the habit nor the company of the brothers without first completing
a year's penance humbly and devotedly. So why did such people return like
dogs to their vomit, and receive such great penance in peril of their
souls and disgrace to their bodies? Others, who sinned so far that according
to the statues of the order they could not receive permission to return--why
didn't they reveal this blot, if not that they could not tell such incredible
and unheard-of lies?
What is more, I believe that around a hundred brothers of the said order
are still in Egyptian prisons, who preferred to die there in penury in
order to win life eternal, rather than to do anything against their faith;
and if they wished to give up their faith, they would be honoured by the
Saracens and have wives, horses and weapons and live among nobles; but
they prefer to end in obedience to their religion rather than to lose
eternal life for a transitory life.
So anyone wise may clearly recognise the innocence of the unjustly oppressed
poor brothers of the Temple, who are denied both justice and a hearing.
And since various voices of ignorant people who should not by rights be
heard are crying that sentence should be given against them, the dictator
of the present letter has endeavoured to tell you the truth. Therefore,
may your circumspections' great assembled wisdom consider what ought to
be done and how, with all obstacles of fear, hatred and love removed,
having only God before your eyes, so that you may offer advice which will
deserve to receive reward from God and praise from humanity.
Translated from the edition by C. R. Cheney, 'The Downfall of the Templars
and a letter in their defence', in his Medieval Texts and Studies (1973)
Copyright (C) 1998, Helen J. Nicholson. All
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