Were Templars warriors and monks

Were Templars warriors and monks?

The Knights Templar are claimed to be elite warriors — a sort of special forces warrior on horseback. Medieval chroniclers extoled them as “formidable rather than flamboyant,” and they were known for their simple but functional kit and humble appearance.

The term warrior-monk was also used in chronicles of the day, and the term has carried over to modern times. But were Templars really fighting monks?

Their origins provide clues. Historians quibble over details of the Templar Order’s founding, yet most agree their primary purpose was guarding pilgrims and defending the Holy Land. Knights were honed to one task — war. Most members of the Order were farriers, blacksmiths, bankers, scribes, and the like. Yet their labours, as non-warriors, served only to fuel the war machine.

Templar knights were nobility (or most were; sergeants were commoners, though some could be raised to knighthood through heroic deeds). Noble birth meant Templars were steeped in the knightly arts since toddlers. Wielding all types of weapons. Riding a destrier. Using a lance. Templars joined the Order as fully-formed fighting men, then, for the Order did not have the time or money to manufacture knights.

The phrase “medieval warfare” suggests muscled brutes, crude weapons, hacking. Some knights fought this way. Most Templars were supremely skilled at arms, however, and erudite fighting systems had existed in Europe for centuries. Techniques were time-tested, brutally effective, yet elegant. Armor was hand-fitted and comfortably functional, like a modern-day businessman’s suit, and weapons were made to precise specifications by highly by skilled artisans.

There is also evidence, as well as common sense, that tells us Templars trained rigorously after taking vows. William of Tyre, in his work Foundation of the Order of Knights Templar, indicates Templars were given areas in which to train. Tyre wrote, “The canons of the Lord's temple gave them... a square near the palace. This the knights used as a drill field.”

Templars trained and fought together, as a cohesive unit, which was unusual for the time. The Order’s Rule and a Templar’s vows instilled a discipline lacking among other fighting units of the day that, it has been argued, was the equal of any modern army. Unfailing bravery was also expected; a brother was expected to fight until death and paradise was his promised reward.

Templars were an elite fighting force of their day, then — impeccably trained, well-armed, highly motivated. But were they also monks in the traditional meaning?

They took strict monastic vows of poverty, obedience, and chastity. They were expected to be humble and prayerful, and at the same time warlike and violent. In Saint Bernard’s treatise De laude novae militiae, written in the 1130s, Templars were described as a new species of knight not seen in the secular world. The knight and the monk, both revered occupations of their day, were thus bred into a rare beast — the Knights Templar, an order of knights who took monastic vows.

Despite taking vows, though, a Templar was not ordained as a priest. Ministry of the priesthood was denied them, which means they were not priests or monks in the strict sense. A Templar knight could not give communion, for example, because they were required to go into battle and shed blood, whereas a priest was forbidden to do either.

The notion of the Templar as a warrior-monk is partly accurate — and perhaps a bit of marketing by the chroniclers. They were imminently skilled at war, yes, but were not ordained monks in the true sense of the word.

Daniel Colter is the author of Templar historical fiction set near the end of the second Crusade; his works include Brotherhood of Wolves, Fortress of Crows, and Blood of Lions. You can find his work at: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0C74KWWSG?binding=paperback&ref=dbs_m_mng_rwt_sft_tpbk_tkin

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