Lament for the Templars Anonymous

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 all.
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) 322-327.
Copyright (C) 1998, Helen J. Nicholson. All rights reserved..
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