The Knights Templar trace their origin back to shortly after the First Crusade. Around 1119, a French nobleman from the Champagne region, Hugues de Payens, collected eight of his knight relatives including Godfrey de Saint-Omer, and began the Order, their stated mission to protect pilgrims on their journey to visit The Holy Places. They approached King Baldwin II of Jerusalem, who allowed them to set up headquarters on the southeastern side of the Temple Mount, inside the Al Aqsa Mosque. Since the Temple Mount was the site of biblical King Solomon’s Temple the Order took the name “The Poor Knights of the Temple of King Solomon”, which later became abbreviated to “Knights Templar”.
Little was heard of the Order for their first nine years. But in 1129, after they were officially sanctioned by the church at the Council of Troyes, they became very well-known in Europe. Their fundraising campaigns asked for donations of money, land, or noble-born sons to join the Order, with the implication that donations would help both to defend Jerusalem, and to ensure the charitable giver of a place in Heaven. The Order’s efforts were helped substantially by the patronage of Bernard of Clairvaux, the leading churchman of the time, and a nephew of one of the original nine knights. The Order at its outset had been subject to strong criticism, especially of the concept that religious men could also carry swords. In response to these critics, the influential Bernard of Clairvaux wrote a multi-page treatise entitled De Laude Novae Militae (“In Praise of the New Knighthood”), in which he championed their mission and defended the idea of a military religious order by appealing to the long-held Christian theory of just war, which legitimated “taking up the sword” to defend the innocent and the Church from violent attack. By so doing, Bernard legitimised the Templars, who became the first “warrior monks” of the Western world.
Donations to the Order were considerable. The King of Aragón, in Spain, left large tracts of land to the order upon his death in the 1130s. New members to the Order were also required to swear vows of poverty, and hand over all of their goods to the monastic brotherhood. This could include land, horses and any other items of material wealth, including labor from serfs, and any interest in any businesses.
In 1139, even more power was conferred upon the Order by Pope Innocent II, who issued the papal bull, Omne Datum Optimum. It stated that the Knights Templar could pass freely through any border, owed no taxes, and were subject to no one’s authority except that of the Pope. It was a remarkable confirmation of the Templars and their mission, which may have been brought about by the Order’s patron, Bernard of Clairvaux, who had helped Pope Innocent in his own rise.
The Order grew rapidly throughout Western Europe, with chapters appearing in France, England, and Scotland, and then spreading to Spain and Portugal.