'Priory of Sion' and the Knights Templar
"Tell me about the Priory of Sion,"
. He wondered where to begin. The brotherhood's
history spanned more than a millennium
an astonishing chronicle
of secrets, blackmail, betrayal and even brutal torture at the hands
of an angry Pope.
(Chapter 37, p. 157)
of Sion' described in The Da Vinci Code never existed. Far
from having a 'history (that) spanned more than a millennium', it
was a hoax created by the convicted fraud and anti-Semitic French
royalist, Pierre Plantard, in the late 1950s. See The Priory of
"The Priory of Sion," he began, "was
founded in Jerusalem in 1099 by a French king named Godefroi de
Bouillon, immediately after he conquered the city."
(Chapter 37, p. 157)
Bouillon was not 'a French king', he was the Count of Lorraine.
Since the 'Priory of Sion' did not exist prior to the 1950s, despite
the claims by the fraud that created the whole 'Priory of Sion'
hoax, it is untrue that Godefroi de Bouillon or anyone else founded
it in 1099. There is absolutely no evidence linking Godefroi de
Bouillon to any so-called 'Priory of Sion' or any other secret society.
This entire story never appeared until it was invented by Pierre
Plantard in the 1960s and propagated by the amateur, sensationalist
authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail in the 1980s.
"King Godefroi was allegedly the possessor
of a powerful secret - a secret that had been in his family since
the time of Christ. Fearing his secret might be lost when he died,
he founded a secret brotherhood - the Priory of Sion - and charged
them with protecting his secret by quietly passing it from generation
(Chapter 37, p. 158)
is zero evidence that Count (not 'King') Godefroi founded the so-called
'Priory of Sion'.
"During their years in Jerusalem, the Priory
learned of a stash of hidden documents buried beneath the ruins
of Herod's temple, which had been built on top of the earlier ruins
of Solomon's temple. These documents, they believed, corroborated
Godefroi's powerful secret and were so explosive in nature that
the Church would stop at nothing to get them."
Sophie looked uncertain.
37, p. 158)
Sophie had good
reason to 'look uncertain'. Nothing Brown says here has any foundation
whatsoever. The idea that the Knights Templar excavated under the
Temple and found something 'explosive' in nature is a mainstay of
occult, conspiracy folklore. Precisely what it was they supposedly
found varies from conspiracist to conspiracist - allegedly they
found the Temple treasury, 'documents', a lost gospel, the bones
of Jesus himself, Jesus' skull, the Ark of the Covenant or evidence
of extraterrestrials, depending on which conspiracist you read.
The fact remains, however, that there is no evidence at all that
the Templars excavated under the Temple or that they found anything
the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail by switching this older
esoteric myth of the excavating Templars to the more recent myths
of the so-called 'Priory of Sion'.
Creation of the Knights Templar
"The Priory vowed that no matter how long
it took, these documents must be recovered from the rubble underneath
the temple and protected forever, so the truth would never die.
In order to retrieve the documents from the ruins, the Priory created
a military arm - a group of nine knights called the Order of the
Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon." Langdon
paused. "More commonly known as the Knights Templar."
Sophie glanced up with a surprised look of recognition.
Langdon had lectured often enough on the Knights
Templar to know that almost everyone on earth had heard of them,
at least abstractedly. For academics, the Templars' history was
a precarious world where fact, lore and misinformation had become
so intertwined that extracting a pristine truth was almost impossible.
Nowadays, Langdon hesitated even to mention the Knights Templar
while lecturing because it inevitably led to a barrage of convoluted
inquiries into assorted conspiracy theories.
(Chapter 37, p. 158)
theories' indeed. In his witty, well researched and erudite satirical
novel on conspiracy theories, Foucault's Pendulum, Italian
author and academic Umberto Eco depicts a group of publishers who,
for amusement, create a conspiracy theory that binds all such speculation
together. Their dictum is "THE KNIGHTS TEMPLAR ARE CONNECTED
have been a mainstay of conspiracies and occult speculation since
at least the Seventeenth Century. In the three centuries since they
have attracted a bewildering array of nutty theories and multiple,
confused, contradictory and baseless claims have been made about
them, largely because the Masons claimed they were 'descended' from
the suppressed knightly order. About this much, Brown is correct.
Where he is in error is in his claim that it is somehow impossible
to sort the historical facts from the frenzied fiction. The real
Templars' history is well documented and it is quite possible to
sort out what can be said about them and what is nonsense.
Real Origins of the Templars
To begin with,
there is absolutely nothing to indicate that Count Godefroi de Bouillon
had anything to do with the founding of the Templar Order. The Order
was founded in 1118 when nine French crusader knights led by Hugh
de Payns took vows to protect pilgrims to the Holy Land in the wake
of the successful capture of Jerusalem in the First Crusade. King
Baldwin I of Jerusalem gave this small group of knights quarters
in his palace on the Temple Mount and they took their name from
The group did
not gain much momentum until Hugh de Payns returned to France, gained
approval for the new order at a local church council at Troyes in
1128 and won the support of the powerful Cistercian polemicist,
Bernard of Clairvaux. Bernard had a kinsman amongst the nine founders
and wrote a 'Rule' for the new knightly order based on the Cistercian
monastic rule. He lent his weighty support to the novae militia
Christi (new knights of Christ) in the hope that this new form
of knighthood would come to replace the pride, brutality and warlike
nature of secular knighthood.
The new order
now began to attract widespread support and recruits from across
Europe. In 1139 the pope granted them independence from local bishops
and made them answerable directly to the papacy - much as had been
done for the other new military order, the Knights Hospitaller,
in Palestine soon gained a formidable military reputation. Supported
by non-knightly sergeants, they became an elite force in the Crusader
Kingdoms' increasingly desperate efforts at holding on to the territory
captured in the First Crusade. The Crusader Kingdoms were crippled
by a manpower shortage, since most crusaders treated service in
Palestine as a kind of pilgrimage - something to be achieved and
then returned from. As a permanent, professional and skilled fighting
force of dedicated believers, the Templars were a prime military
asset in the struggle for survival. They were recognized as such
by their Muslim enemies, who tended to ransom many other prisoners,
but who always executed any captured Templars.
in Palestine were never large. It is estimated that there were only
three hundred actual knights in the order in the territory at any
time, commanding only a few thousand squires, sergeants and support
troops. The tide began to turn against the Crusader Kingdoms with
their crushing defeat at the hands of Saladin at Hattin in 1187
and by 1291 the last crusader strongholds fell, with the Templars
retreating to Cyprus and back to Europe.
In Europe the
Templars had attracted many recruits and set up 'preceptories' in
many major cities and towns, where they received donations of land
from patrons and supporters. The Templars soon became rich, and
began to act as prominent bankers, managing to get around the Church's
bans on lending money at interest. This made the order richer, but
also gained it powerful (heavily indebted) enemies.
This was the
real nature of the Knights Templar. They were originally a purely
military order which later increased its power and prestige by becoming
a financial institution. As a closed organisation, they attracted
rumours about supposed inner rituals and secret initiations, but
only to the same extent that any closed society always does.
in the Rubble
that the 'real' purpose of the Templars was to dig up hidden documents
from the rubble of the ruined Temple in Jerusalem is without any
foundation at all. He never explains why this excavation would require
the co-called 'Priory of Sion' to create 'a military arm'. Why would
digging under the Temple require 'a military arm'? Why did this
supposed 'Priory' need to create another organisation for this digging?
The whole story
of Templar excavations under the Temple is also based on no evidence
at all. There is nothing in any sources of the time or anything
that was written about the Templars later to indicate that any such
excavations took place. Once again, this whole idea did not even
arise until very recently and has only ever been asserted, without
any evidence, by amateur, sensationalist conspiracy theorists. Real
historians regard such things as wearisome nonsense.
Sophie already looked troubled. "You're
saying the Knights Templar were founded by the Priory of Sion to
retrieve a collection of secret documents? I thought the Templars
were created to protect the Holy Land."
"A common misconception. The idea of protection
of pilgrims was the guise under which the Templars ran their mission.
Their true goal was to retrieve the documents from beneath the ruins
of the temple."
(Chapter 37, p. 158)
What Brown has
Langdon dismiss as 'a common misconception' is actually the truth,
supported by all the actual evidence. The fantasy about secret excavations
under the Temple, on the other hand, is a modern myth supported
by nothing at all. Brown has lifted this directly from Holy Blood,
Holy Grail, despite the fact it has no foundation whatsoever.
"And did they find (the documents)?"
Langdon grinned. "Nobody knows for sure,
but the one thing on which all academics agree is this: The Knights
discovered something down there in the ruins
made them wealthy and powerful beyond anyone's wildest imagination."
(Chapter 37, p. 158)
The only wild
imagination at work here is Dan Brown's. No actual academic who
has studied the Templars regards these supposed 'excavations' as
anything other than a set of modern myths, so the assertion that
they somehow 'agree' that the Templars 'discovered something' in
excavations which never actually took place is pure nonsense. Throughout
the book Brown has Langdon and Teabing make several statements about
what 'scholars' and 'academics' apparently agree on, and they are
usually used to bolster concepts that real academics regard as arrant
nonsense. Brown seems to be trying to prop up his wilder assertions
by reassuring his non-specialist readers that they have scholarly
support, when they simply do not.
did become wealthy, but there was no mystery or secret to their
wealth - it derived from their activities as bankers to the nobility
of Europe. Their wealth was also not 'beyond anyone's wildest imagination',
but was precisely what we would expect from an organisation lending
money at interest to nobles in need of ready cash.
For almost a decade the nine Knights lived in
the ruins, excavating in total secrecy through solid rock.
Sophie looked over. "And you said they discovered
"They certainly did," Langdon said,
explaining how it had taken nine years, but the Knights had finally
found what they had been searching for. They took the treasure from
the temple and traveled to Europe, where their influence seemed
to solidify overnight.
Nobody was certain whether the Knights blackmailed
the Vatican or whether the Church simply tried to buy the Knights'
silence, but Pope Innocent II immediately issued an unprecedented
papal bull that afforded the Knights limitless power and declared
them "a law unto themselves" - an autonomous army independent
of all interference from kings and prelates, both religious and
(Chapter 37, p. 159)
The idea that
the Templars' approval from the papacy and the growth of their wealth
and influence in Europe was due to some 'discovery' is totally without
foundation. Leaving aside the fact that there is absolutely no evidence
for these supposed 'excavations' under the Temple, let alone any
vastly significant 'discovery' or 'treasure', the growth of the
Templars in Europe was no more 'sudden' than that of any other new
order of the time - the Cistercians before them or the Dominicans
and Franciscans after them for example.
The papal bull
Brown refers to here is the one issued in 1139 and it was in no
way unusual, let alone 'unprecedented'. Precisely the same form
of immunity had been granted to other orders many times since it
was first granted to the Cluniac order in the Ninth Century. And
the Templars were not even the first military order to gain such
papal privileges, since the Knights Hospitaller were granted them
26 years earlier in 1113. Once again, Brown uses quotation marks
to make it seem as though his statements are coming from some (unnamed)
authoritative source, but these papal privileges did not make the
Templars a '"law unto themselves"' at all. This is also
one of many places where Brown anachronistically refers to the Catholic
Church and the papacy as 'the Vatican' - a modern expression which
is meaningless when used in relation to the medieval Church.
says here is either without any foundation or is a distortion or
wild exaggeration of the truth.
Fall of the Templars
"By the 1300s, the Vatican sanction had
helped the Knights amass so much power that Pope Clement V decided
that something had to be done. Working in concert with France's
King Phillipe IV, the Pope devised an ingeniously planned sting
operation to quash the Templars and seize their treasure, thus taking
control of the secrets held over the Vatican. In a military manoeuvre
worthy of the CIA, Pope Clement issued secret sealed orders to be
opened simultaneously by his soldiers all across Europe on Friday,
October 13 of 1307.
(Chapter 37, p. 159)
Brown writes in this passage is, in fact, completely incorrect.
After the fall of the last strongholds of the Crusader Kingdoms
in Palestine, the Templars rapidly became considered an obsolete
institution. By the early 1300s there was strong pressure on them
to merge with the Knights Hospitaller - pressure which their Grand
Master, Jaques Molay, resisted. But with their raison d'etre
- the defence of pilgrims in the Holy Land - now gone and with growing
resentment of their pride and the debts owed to them via their banking
activities, the Templars were making powerful enemies.
them was King Philip IV of France. The kings of France had been
deep in debt to the Templars since the Second Crusade, but Philip's
wars against King Edward I of England had left him virtually bankrupt
and he was soon greatly in debt to Jewish bankers in France, bankers
from the great financial houses of Lombardy and, of course, the
Philip Cancels His Debts
hit upon a sure fire way to eliminate his crippling debts: eliminating
his creditors. In 1306 he was doing badly in his wars, not only
running up huge debts to fund them, but losing valuable and lucrative
territory: Edward I had conquered Gascony and the rebel Countess
Margarite had seized control of her native Flanders. Facing financial
ruin, Philip debased the coinage, causing rampant inflation and
turning the people, especially in the cities, against him.
a source of funds and a way to relieve his debts, Philip chose to
strike against France's Jews. He expelled all Jews from the kingdom,
arresting them in lightening raids and seizing their property. Having
used this technique successfully against the Jews, Philip next turned
on the Lombard bankers, expelling them in 1311, seizing their wealth
and canceling his debts to them. He was soon to turn these same
techniques on his final group of creditors - the Templars.
Philip and the Popes
that it was Pope Clement who orchestrated the fall of the Templars,
'working in concert with France's 'King Phillippe IV'. Yet again,
Brown gets his history completely backwards. In 1307 the papacy
was actually almost completely under the thumb of the French king
and it was Philip, not Clement, who orchestrated, initiated and
executed the strike against the Templars.
on popular modern ideas about the medieval papacy; depicting it
as a vastly powerful theocracy that virtually ruled Europe. In fact,
nothing could be further from the truth. The Middle Ages were marked
by a drawn out, centuries-long struggle by which the papacy sought
to assert its independence and shake off the political domination
of Lombardic dukes, then Frankish emperors, then German kings/Holy
Roman Emperors, Italian nobles and the kings of France. By the time
the Frenchman, Bertrand de Got of Gascony, was elected Pope Clement
V, the papacy was well and truly under the thumb of King Philip
IV of France.
this was because of Philip's debts and the need for money. To fund
his wars with England, Philip had levied a substantial tax on the
lands owned by the Church. Seeing this, King Edward I of England
followed suit. In an attempt at preserving the independence of the
Church, the then pope, Boniface VIII, issued a papal bull in 1296
called Clericos Laicos forbidding any clergy to pay a tax
to a secular lord without papal permission.
This led to
a war of words, pamphlets and propaganda between Philip and Boniface,
with the French king attacking the Pope for pride and greed and
the Pope issuing a stream of bulls asserting the political independence
of the Church. Eventually Philip arrested the Pope, accusing him
of heresy and sodomy, and Boniface VIII died in a French prison
soon afterwards, in 1303.
Benedict XI, only reigned for a year and it was widely thought that
he was poisoned by Guilliame de Nogaret, a close friend and agent
of the French king, because he would not submit to the French king's
It is in this
context of French royal pressure, with one previous pope having
died in a French royal prison and his successor having been poisoned
by a French royal agent, that the cardinals elected a Frenchman
as Pope Clement V.
Clement V never
even set foot in Rome. At King Philip's insistence, he was crowned
in France, at Lyon, on November 14, 1305, in the presence of Philip.
He established his papal court in France, at Avignon, and one of
his first acts was to approve Philip's taxing of the French clergy
and to promptly absolve the French king of any wrongdoing in his
arrest of Boniface VIII. Despite some feeble token resistance to
Philip, Clement V remained under the thumb of the French monarch
throughout his pontificate and throughout Philip's persecution of
'Sting Operation' Against the Templars
With the papacy
now under his control, King Philip now turned his attention to the
Templars. Brown pretends that this 'sting operation' was orchestrated
by Pope Clement, depicting him sending 'his soldiers all across
Europe' with secret sealed orders to arrest and imprison the knights.
This is pure nonsense. The Pope had no 'soldiers', the initial strike
against the Templars was in France only and the Pope had absolutely
nothing to do with it.
Citing the claims
of heresy (supposedly) made by a renegade Templar, Philip insisted
that Clement investigate the Order. Clement, who suffered from chronic
stomach problems, replied that he was too ill to begin any such
investigation, so Philip - as impatient as ever - struck against
the Templars anyway.
On October 13,
1307, he arrested the Templar Grand Master Jaques de Molay and several
thousand other Templars in France. Lacking any condemnation from
the Pope, he sent letters to the kings of Spain, England and Scotland,
accusing the Order of heresy and sodomy (the same charges he had
made against Pope Boniface VIII and the French Jews), but these
letters were met with disbelief and a diplomatically polite refusal
Far from initiating
the strike against the Templars, Clement V initially condemned it.
He wrote a furious letter to Philip saying 'You have
every rule and laid hands on the persons and property of the Templars
. Your hasty act is seen by all, and rightly so, as an act
towards ourselves and the Roman Church.' ( Malcolm Barber, The
Trial of the Templars 1978 p. 48-49). This was because, like
the Hospitallers, the Templars were under the direct jurisdiction
of the papacy. In an belated attempt at re-asserting authority over
the situation, Clement issued a papal bull ordering that all Templars
in Europe be arrested until the issue was settled. In 1308 he also
suspended the members of the Inquisition in France who Philip had
been using to interrogate the arrested French Templars.
The tide of
opinion and evidence began to swing against King Philip. Those Templars
who had confessed to (widely varying accounts of) heresy under torture
promptly revoked their confessions and Templars from across Europe
came forward to defend their Order against what they insisted were
false accusations. Clement also insisted that the Templars could
only be tried in a papal court and set up a papal commission in
Vienne to fully investigate the whole affair. The Vienne Commission
first met in 1311, but by this time King Philip was becoming impatient
with his puppet Pope.
On May 12, 1312,
King Philip took the Templars he had in his custody and who had
retracted their confessions, including Grand Master Jacques de Molay,
and had them publicly burnt at the stake as heretics. He then put
massive pressure on Pope Clement and the Vienne Commission, marching
an army up to the town as a blatant threat, and Clement eventually
relented and ordered the Order of Knights Templar to be dissolved.
But he never
condemned the entire Order. No Templars outside of France were ever
executed or jailed - most of them simply joined the Knights Hospitaller,
formed their own, new, orders of knights or simply entered monasteries
or civilian life. King Philip got what he wanted though - his debts
to the Templars disappeared and the Knights Hospitaller bought the
Templar properties he has seized from him for a vast sum of money.
He solved his financial problems.
Fiction and Historical Facts
depiction of the fall of the Templars is entirely without foundation.
There was no 'secret' that gave the Templars power over the papacy,
Clement V did not initiate the move against the Templars, the attack
on them was not Europe-wide, there were no secret papal orders and
the Pope had no 'soldiers' to orchestrate in his CIA-style 'sting
operation'. The attack on the Templars was made by King Philip as
part of a pattern of such strikes for financial reasons and the
Pope, despite being ultimately crippled by the dominance of French
royal power, actually did everything in his (rather feeble) powers
to resist and thwart the King. Brown's version of events is complete
and utter fantasy.
Clement's letter claimed that God had visited
him in a vision and warned him that the Knights Templar were heretics
guilty of devil worship, homosexuality, defiling the cross, sodomy
and other blasphemous behaviour. Pope Clement had been asked by
God to cleanse the earth by rounding up all the Knights and torturing
them until the confessed their crimes against God. Clement's Machiavellian
operation came off with clockwork precision. On that day, countless
Knights were captured, tortured mercilessly and finally burned at
the stake as heretics. Echoes of the tragedy still resonated in
modern culture; to this day, Friday the thirteenth was considered
(Chapter 37, p. 160)
Brown refers to here never happened, was never claimed to have happened,
is never mentioned in any of the medieval sources on the suppression
of the Templars and is not even mentioned in the New Age/sensationalist
books that Brown uses for many of his wilder claims. It seems to
be yet another product of his imagination. Far from being the 'Machiavellian'
orchestrator of the fall of the Templars, Clement V was actually
a reluctant bit player in a drama engineered by King Philip of France.
that Friday 13th is 'unlucky' actually seems to be a reasonably
modern one. The number 13 has been considered unlucky by the Egyptians,
Hindus and others for a very long time - long before 1307. This
is variously attributed to a Viking belief that the evil god Loki
formed the thirteenth member of the feast at which Baldur was killed
or a similar belief about Judas Iscariot and the Last Supper. Fridays
have also long been considered unlucky and the idea that Friday
13th is unlucky is a more recent conflation of these two superstitions.
Sophie looked confused "The Knights Templar
were obliterated? I thought fraternities of Templars still exist
"They do, under a variety of names. Despite Clement's false
charges and best efforts to eradicate them, the Knights had powerful
allies, and some managed to escape the Vatican purges. The Templars'
potent treasure trove of documents, which had apparently been their
source of power, was Clement's true objective, but it slipped through
his fingers. The documents had long since been entrusted to the
Templars' shadowy architects, the Priory of Sion, whose veil of
secrecy had kept them safely out of range of the Vatican's onslaught.
As the Vatican closed in, the Priory smuggled their documents from
a Paris preceptory by night onto Templar ships in La Rochelle."
(Chapter 37, p. 160)
Sophie was right to look confused (something she does with remarkable
regularity during Langdon's discourses on 'history'). The campaign
against the Templars was King Philip's, not Pope Clement's, and
it was aimed at eliminating his debts and seizing the Order's wealth,
not at seizing any fictional 'secret documents'. And the modern
Templar fraternities have no real connection with the original medieval
military order at all.
In the Seventeenth
Century it became fashionable for men to join secret societies of
various kinds, one group of which were to give rise to Freemasonry.
The Masons created a variety of legends linking themselves to much
older societies and traditions. The main legends connected them
to actual historical medieval guilds of stone workers, which did
(like the later modern Masons) have a closed structure, a strict
hierarchy and secret, ritual initiations. The medieval mason guilds
were actually simply trade unions, designed to protect knowledge
of stone working from outsiders and maintain pay and conditions
for stone workers.
legends linked the modern Masonic clubs to a much older and rather
more fanciful legacy: saying they were founded by Hiram, the legendary
architect of Solomon's Temple, and to the builders of the Pyramids.
The first Mason to claim a link between the Masons and the Templars
was Andrew Michael Ramsey (1696-1743), claiming a secret order of
Scottish crusading knights were the original founders of Freemasonry;
though he did not say they were Templars.
Rite' and parallel 'York Rite' of Freemasonry developed this idea,
linking Masonry directly to the Knights Templar. The legend developed
that surviving Templars fled to Scotland and founded Freemasonry
there, though there is no evidence of this. The 'York Rite' thus
has 'Knight Templar' as its highest degree and the thirtieth 'Knight
Kasosch' degree in the 'Scottish Rite' has a ritual where the images
of the 'three abominables' - a king, a pope and a traitor - are
legend eventually led to the point where the myth that the Templars
survived in the Masons became widely accepted in Masonic circles
and where the connection between the Masons, the Templars, the Holy
Grail, the Gnostics and many other wild speculations have become
a mainstay of occult speculation. This tangled set of myths found
its way into Baigent et al's Holy Blood Holy Grail and, from
there, into The Da Vinci Code.
The facts, however,
are quite different. In most parts of Europe the Templars were neither
imprisoned nor executed, but simply passed into civilian life or
joined the Knights Hospitaller. In Portugal the Templars merely
changed their name to The Knights of Christ and went on operating
under a new banner. No-one 'fled' anywhere, there was no secret
treasure or hoard of documents 'smuggled' out of La Rochelle and
all the modern fraternities of so-called 'Knights Templar' are only
as ancient as some Seventeenth Century men's social clubs with a
penchant for dressing up and indulging in rituals.
to Chapters | Back to Home | Back