First English edition of the Nuremberg chronicle: being the Liber chronicarum of Dr. Hartmann Schedel…

The Order of the Templars had its origin under Pope Gelasius, and endured for fully two hundred years. After Godfrey (Gothifredo), the illustrious duke of Lorraine, attained supremacy over the kingdom of Jerusalem, and several pious and chivalrous men noted that the pilgrims, who through devotion and contemplation visited the holy place, were subjected to robbery and murder, they vowed to the Lord to practice knighthood. At first their number was small, and they voluntarily lived in poverty. Their master was the guardian of the Temple, from which their Order derived its name. They lived not far from the Holy Sepulchre; and no matter from where the pilgrims came to visit it, the templars zealously protected them, and guided them from one holy place to another, in order to ward off the annoyance of infidels. They led such Christian and virtuous lives that they were praised in a wondrous manner by the pilgrims, and were kindly remembered with many alms. The members of the Order wore a white cloak with a red cross. The Blessed Bernard (Bernhardus) made a rule for them; and while they lived in poverty and observed the rule, they flourished in piety and virtue; but when they attained to riches and abundance, they began to indulge in pleasures and avarice, adulterous and clandestine conduct. In consequence they fell from virtue into wantonness, resulting in their suppression.

The Knights Templars, or Poor Knights of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon (paupers commilitones Christi templique Salomonici), founded in the 12th century, formed one of the three great military orders. Unlike the Hospitallers and the Teutonic Knights, it was a military order from its very origin. Its founders were a Burgundian knight named Hugues de Payns and Godeffroi de St. Omer, a knight form northern France, who in 1119 undertook the pious task of protecting the pilgrims who, after the First Crusade, flocked to Jerusalem and to the other sacred spots in the Holy Land. They were quickly joined by six other knights and soon organized themselves as a religious community, taking an oath to the patriarch of Jerusalem to guard the public roads, to forsake worldly chivalry, and, living in chastity, obedience and poverty, according to the rule of Benedict, “to fight with a pure mind for the supreme and true King.”

To this nascent order of warrior monks Baldwin I, king of Jerusalem, handed over a part of his royal palace lying next to the former mosque of al-Aksa, the so called “Temple of Solomon,” from which they took their name. They had at first no distinctive habit, wearing any old clothes given them. Nor was their community exclusive. Their primitive rule seems to have enjoined them especially to seek out excommunicated knights, and to admit them, after absolution by the bishop, to their order, and they thus served a useful purpose in at once disciplining and converting the unruly rabble which streamed to the Holy Land in hope of plunder and salvation. It was this rule that led later to the most important privilege of the order, the immunity from the sentences of excommunication pronounced by the bishops and the parish priests. The rule of the order was sanctioned in 1128 by the Council of Troyes. The Rule of the Temple, in its final form as we now possess it, contains the rules for the constitution and administration of the order; the duties and privileges of the various classes of its personnel; the monastic rules, regulations as to costume and religious services; for the holding of chapters, and a summary of offences and their punishment; the procedure for the election of a grand master; a definition of the relations of the order to the pope, and to other religious orders.

At the head of the order was the master of the Temple at Jerusalem (in Cyprus after the fall of the Latin Kingdom), known as the grand master. His authority was very great, but he was not absolute; for in matters of special importance he had to consult the chapter, and was bound by the vote of the majority.

Of peculiar importance were the chaplains (fraters capellani). They did not originally form part of the order, which was served by priests from outside. The bull Omne datum optimum of 1163 imposed on clerics attaching themselves to the order an oath of life-long obedience to the grand master. By the middle of the 13th century the chaplains took the same oath as the other brothers and were distinguished from them only by their orders and the privileges these implied, namely, they were spared more humiliating punishments, shaved the face, and had a separate cup out of which to drink. The order thus had its own clergy, exempt from the jurisdiction of diocesan bishops and parish priests, owing obedience to the grand master and the pope alone.

The brethren were admitted either for life or for a term of years. Married men were also received, but on condition of bequeathing one half of their property to the order.

Long before Bernard’s death (1153), the new order was established in almost every kingdom of Latin Christendom, and every establishment was the recipient of rich endowments. Spiritual privileges were granted them by the pope as lavishly as temporal possessions by the princes and the people. They had their own churches and churchyards, and as defenders of the Church were exempted from tithes. So long as the attention of the papacy and of Christendom was fixed on the problem of recovering and safeguarding the Holy Land, the position of the Templars was unassailable, and all efforts to curb the growth of their power were in vain. The Paris Temple was at the center of the world’s money market, and in it popes and kings deposited their revenues, which were not horded but issued as loans on adequate security. The Templars were the bankers of the age.

Never had the order of the Temple been more powerful than immediately before its ruin. Difficulties had arisen between the Order on the one hand and the French crown on the other, and with the pope; but these had been disposed of. Yet for several years the French king continued to plot a treacherous attack on the order. His motives are clear: He had used every expedient to raise money, had robbed and expelled the Jews and the Lombard bankers, and had debased the coinage. The suppression of the Templars would at once rescue him from their unwelcome tutelage and replenish his coffers. He also sought the amalgamation of all of them under the control of the French crown. He contemplated one order, of which the grand master should always be a prince of the royal house of France. The excuse was found in the denunciation of the Order for heresy and unspeakable immoralities by a venal informer; the opportunity was the election of a pope, Clement V, wholly devoted to the interest of the king of France. Strange stories circulated as to the secret midnight rites of the Order, which probably had their origin in the extreme precautions taken by the Templars for military reasons, which excited popular curiosity and suspicion. Philip of France introduced twelve spies into the order, and also sought to win over the pope to his views against it. The pope hesitated, but Philip determined to force his hand. All France was at that time under the jurisdiction of the Inquisition, and the grand inquisitor was the king’s confessor and creature, and on October 13th, 1307, the Inquisition caused the arrest of Jacques de Molay, the grand master, and 60 of his brethren in Paris. The Templars were caught in the toils. To force them to confess, they were first tortured by the royal officials, and then handed over to the inquisitors to be tortured again, if need be. At Paris 36 died under the process. Of 138 examined in Paris between October 19th and November 24th, some of them old men, 123 confessed to spitting on the crucifix at their reception. Many of the prisoners confessed to all the charges, however grotesque. Even the grand master was forced to a similar confession. On November 22nd, the pope issued a bull for the arrest of the Templars everywhere, and the fate of the order was sealed by its condemnation by the pope at the council of Vienne in October 1311. The order was abolished, not at a general council, however, but in a private consistory on March 22nd, 1312. By a bull published on May 2nd, 1312, the goods of the society were transferred to the Knights of St. John.

The final act of the tragedy came in 1314. Molay, the grand master, had not yet risen to the height of his great position. Fear of torture made him confess, and this confession had been used to extract avowals from his brethren, subject as they were to unspeakable sufferings and accustomed to yield to the military chief. Before the papal commission Molay flamed into anger, protested, equivocated, only to repeat his confession in the end. But Molay recovered his courage at last. When he appeared on the scaffold in front of Notre Dame on March 14th 1314, in the presence of the papal legates and of the people, to repeat his confession and to receive his sentence of perpetual imprisonment, he seized the opportunity to withdraw his confession and to protest to the assembled thousands the innocence of the Order. King Philip the Fair did not wait to consult the church as to what he should do. Molay was burned at the stake.

The destruction of the Templars had three consequences fateful for Christian civilization: (1) It facilitated the conquest of the Turks by preventing the Templars from playing in Cyprus the part which the Knights of St. John played in Malta; (2) it partly set a precedent for, partly confirmed, the cruel criminal procedure of France, which lasted to the Revolution; and (3) it set the seal of the highest authority on the popular belief in witchcraft and personal intercourse with the devil, sanctioned the expedient of wringing confessions from the accused by unspeakable tortures, and so made possible the hideous witch-persecutions which darkened the later middle ages.

The Order Of The Knights Templars, called the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, had (as Vincent writes) its beginning in the Year of the Lord 1020 after the Incarnation. They lived under the Rule of the Blessed Augustine, and wore black lay garments, and a white cross on their breasts, and were under obligation to render corporeal service against the infidels. Their principal place of abode was the island of Rhodes, where they, together with all their churches and houses, were under the jurisdiction of a grand master. Of these churches and houses there are many of wealth throughout the empire and the world. Although few of them are clerics, or consecrated, they enjoy the personal privileges of the consecrated, and occupy their days in saying the Paternoster[The Christian prayer, “Our Father…” in Latin begins with the words Pater (‘Father’) noster (‘our’).]. Of this, mention is made later.

Knights of the Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem, known also as the Knights of Rhodes, and the Knights of Malta, were briefly called “Hospitallers” because they built at Jerusalem a hospital or hospice for the entertainment of pilgrims. Ever since Jerusalem became a center of Christian pilgrimage, a hospital or hospice for pilgrims had existed there; and early in the 11th century one of these was restored, and was later dedicated to John the Baptist. When, in 1087, the Crusaders surrounded the city, the head of the hospital was a certain Gerard, who earned their gratitude by assisting them in some way during the siege. After the capture of the city, he used his popularity to enlarge the hospital, and adopted for his order the Augustinian Rule. Donations and privileges were afterwards showered on the new establishment. In 1113, the pope took the Order and its possessions under his immediate protection. Gerard was officially looked upon as the institutor, if not the founder, of the order. During his lifetime it was purely eleemosynary. The armed defense of pilgrims may have been part of its functions, but its organization was an aggressive military force as a result of the renewed activity of the Saracens. This organization was the work of Raymond du Puy, who succeeded Gerard as grand master in 1120. From 1137, the Order took a regular part in the wars of the Cross. During the Second Crusade, Raymond was present at the council of the leaders held at Acre in 1148, which resulted in the ill-fated expedition against Damascus. This was repaired five years later by the capture of Ascalon in which the grand master and his knights had a conspicuous share.

The Hospitallers grew in wealth and power as did the companion order of the Temple. The rule of the Hospital, as formulated by Raymond, was based upon that of the Augustinian Canons. Their dress is black with a white cross of eight points. The statutes of the order were analogous to those of the Templars, but the two orders differed in that the Templars were a purely military organization, while the Hospitallers were primarily a nursing brotherhood. The Hospitallers, Templars and like military orders, who alone offered organized resistance to the victorious advance of Saladin, sultan of Egypt, who in 1186 began the systematic conquest of the kingdom. The Hospitallers and Templars who fell into the sultan’s hands were massacred in cold blood. In October 1187, Jerusalem fell. This aroused the crusading spirit in Europe. Acre was recovered, and in this the Hospitallers played a prominent part, resulting in a steady restoration in the property and privileges of the order. But in 1291, the Moslems recaptured Acre, the last hope of the Christians in the Holy Land. The headquarters of the Hospital were moved to Cyprus, the order reorganized, and enhanced by immense additions of property and privileges in Europe from the pope and many queens and princes.

Certain changes took place in the order, probably through fear of the designs of Philip IV of France and his successors to which point had been given by the fate of the Templars, and the consequent desire to destroy the preponderance of the French element. Hitherto the order had been a federation of national societies, united only for the purpose of war and commerce, with headquarters in the strategic island of Rhodes. Rhodes became the chief distributing point in the lively commerce which in spite of papal thunders, Christian traders maintained with the Mohammedan states. Thus the Hospitallers became divided in their duty as sovereign, which was to watch over the interests of their subjects, and their duty as Christian warriors, which was to combat the infidel. But the crusading spirit was everywhere declining, although their galleys policed the narrow seas, their consuls in Egypt and Jerusalem watched over the pilgrims, and their hospitals were still maintained. The attitude of the knights toward the infidels was necessarily influenced by the fact that their supplies were mainly drawn from the Muslim mainland, and, by the 15th century, the crusading spirit became so weak that a commercial treaty was attempted by the Ottoman sultan.

The history of the Hospitallers at Rhodes is one of intermittent naval encounters with the infidels. In 1453, the Turks captured Constantinople. In 1522, Suleiman the Magnificent besieged Rhodes, and the following year the knights capitulated, withdrawing to Candia (Crete). They received no assistance from Emperor Charles V, although a number of years later he handed over to the Hospitallers the island of Malta. Their settlement of Malta was contemporaneous with the Reformation, and the knights later restored their prestige by victories over the Turks.

The French Revolution was fatal to the order. Emanuel, Prince de Rohan, who became grand master in 1775, made no secret of his sympathy with the losing cause in France, and Malta became a refuge for émigrés. In 1792, the vast possessions of the order in France were confiscated, and six years later the Directory resolved on forcible seizure of Malta itself. With this the history of the order of St. John practically ends.

In India the patriarch is called Prester John. These patriarchs were first appointed by the Apostle Matthew, and afterwards by the eunuch of Candix, the queen of Ethiopia. The Blessed Apostle Thomas converted India to the Christian faith. Now this Prester John is regarded not only as a bishop, but also as an emperor. It is said that seventy-two kings are subject to him, and obligated to him for annual tribute. In the same kingdom are one 127 archbishoprics, the archiepiscopal and imperial seat being in the great and mighty city called Bibrith. In the Year of the Lord 1120 John, the patriarch, one of the greatest men in India who came to Rome, openly told Pope Calixtus, the cardinals, and other prelates, that Saint Thomas the Apostle there gives to the people the Holy Sacrament every year, in the city of Hulna, in India, with his own hand conferring it on the worthy, and withholding it from the undeserving.

Prester John is a fabulous medieval Christian monarch of Asia. Before he appears upon the scene, we find the way prepared for his appearance by a kindred fable, which entwined itself with the legends about him. This is the story of the appearance at Rome (1122), in the pontificate of Calixtus II, of a certain Oriental ecclesiastic, styled “John, the patriarch of the Indians,” or “an archbishop of India.” This ecclesiastic related wonderful stories of the shrine of St. Thomas in India, and of the miracles wrought there by the body of the apostle, including the distribution of the sacramental wafer by his own hand.

Nearly a quarter of a century later Prester John appears upon the scene in the character of a Christian conqueror and potentate who combined the characters of priest and king, and ruled over vast dominions in the Far East. This idea was universal in Europe from about the middle of the 12th to the end of the 13th, or from the beginning of the 14th century. The Asiatic story then died away, but the name remained, and the royal presbyter was now assigned a place in Ethiopia. It is not improbable that from an early date the title was assigned to the Abyssinian king. Confusion of Ethiopia with India is as old as Virgil.

The first mention of Prester John occurs in the chronicle of Otto, bishop of Freisingen. This writer states that when at the papal court in 1145 he met with the bishop of Gabala (Jibal in Syria), who related how, “not many years before one John, king and priest, who dwelt in the extreme Orient beyond Persia and Armenia, and was, with his people, a Christian, but a Nestorian, had made war against the brother kings of the Persians and Medes, who were called Samiards (or Sanjards), and captured Ecbatana their capital. After this victory, Presbyter John – for so he was wont to be styled – advanced to fight for the church at Jerusalem; but when he arrived at the Tigris and found no means of transport, he turned northward where the river might be frozen over in wintertime. After halting on its banks for some years in expectation of a frost, he was obliged to return home.”

About 1165, a letter was circulated purporting to be addressed by Prester John to the emperor Manuel, in which the writer claimed to be the greatest monarch under heaven, as well as a devout Christian. The letter dealt at length with the wonders of his empire. It was his desire to visit the Holy Sepulchre with a great host, and to subdue the enemies of the cross. Seventy-two kings, reigning over as many kingdoms, were his tributaries. His empire extended over the three Indies, including that farther India, where the body of St. Thomas lay. In war thirteen great crosses made of gold and jewels were carried in wagons before him as his standards, and each was followed by 10,000 knights and 100,000 footmen. There were no poor in his dominions, no thief or robber, no flatterer or miser, no dissensions, no lies, and no vices. Before his palace was a marvelous mirror on a high pedestal; and in this he could discern everything that went on throughout his dominion. He was waited on by 7 kings at a time, by 60 dukes and 365 counts; 12 archbishops sat on his right hand and 20 bishops on his left, besides the patriarch, protopope and archprotopope.

European travelers in Asia looked for a prince to whom the legend of Prester John could be attached. Carpini (1248) makes him the king of the Christians of India the Greater; Rubruquis (1253) gives the title of “King John” to Kushluk, king of the Naimans, and makes him a brother of Ung Khan, ally of Genghis. In Marco Polo’s narrative “Unc Kahn,” alias Prester John is the lord of the Tartars up to the advent of Genghis Khan. This story is repeated by other writers. But Marco Polo and Friar John of Montecorvino speak of the descendants of Prester John as holding territory about 300 miles northwest of Peking. Friar Odoric gave a circumstantial account of this kingdom, and with this Prester John disappeared from Asia to figure in African legend.

From the 14th century onward, Prester John had found his seat in Abyssinia. It is there that Fra Mauro’s great map (1459) presents a fine city with the Rubic “Qui il Preste Janni fa residential principal.” When, toward the end of the century King John II of Portugal was prosecuting inquiries regarding access to India, he opened communication with “Prester John of the Indies,” who was understood to be a Christian potentate in Africa. Vasco da Gama heard of Prester John; and more than twenty years later, when the first book on Abyssinia was composed – that of Alvarez – the title designating the king of Abyssinia as “Prester John,” or simply “the Preste.”

Burdinus, antipope, a native of Spain, confirmed by Henry (Heinricus the Fifth), together with his adhering tyrants, created such turmoil and indulged in such murderous conduct in a number of streets, that no one was at liberty to pass through them to attend the Council which Calixtus had summoned to Rome. Afterwards Pope Calixtus besieged the city of Sutri, in which Burdinus was staying. But the citizens promptly gave him up. He was placed backwards on a camel, his face turned toward the tail; and thus he was not only ridiculed at Rome, but by all the people on the way. Yet Calixtus refrained from spilling the blood of this evil man, but forced him into a monastery.[Burdinus (Maurice Bourdon), a Spanish archbishop, was elected antipope as Gregory VIII by the Roman people, who were incited to this action by Emperor Henry V, as an attempt on their part to recover their original right of election. He was elected in opposition to John of Gaeta (Gelasius II), whom the cardinals had elected to succeed Paschal II, who died in exile. The emperor confirmed Gregory VIII, and compelled Gelasius to seek refuge in France; and there he died. The cardinals in his train immediately elected Guido, archbishop of Vienne, as Calixtus II, in opposition to Gregory VIII. Calixtus was favorably received by the Romans, while Gregory fled to Sutri, but was delivered up to Calixtus and treated with great ignominy. The controversies which ensued between Henry V and the new pope were settled by the Concordat of Worms (1122), which was ratified by a General Council in the Lateran Palace, in 1123. Calixtus died in 1124.]


Thomas is represented in a small woodcut, in the act of administering the sacramental wafer to the worth who kneel before him. The scene takes place before the altar in a medieval church.