Posted April 7th, 2013 at 6:41 am6 Comments
The knights, sergeants, and chaplains of the Order were its inner group of brothers: the familia. The affiliates and paid staff were a more loosely connected group: the societas. Together, they made up the Order.The previous blog looked at the knights. This one will focus on these other members.
Whenever Templars appear in books or films, it is always the knights of the Order in their flowing white surcoats, hacking their way through the dust of battle.
But to function properly, the Order needed more than squadrons of combat-hardened knights.
It required armies of other men to undertake the hundreds of skilled tasks necessary to keep everything running.
Traditional monasteries faced an identical challenge, and many turned to the most obvious solution in addition to paid staff: two types of monks.
‘Choir monks’ were educated: trained to read, write, and chant. As the medieval period progressed, they were increasingly also ordained as priests, and the high-flying frequently had careers that took them to royal courts or the papal curia.(1)
Medieval monasteries were like self-contained villages. To manage the hundreds of skilled tasks necessary to keep them functioning, many had ‘lay brothers’ (often called conversi).
These lay brothers took the same monastic vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience as the choir monks, but instead of concentrating on theology, administration, or politics, they brought the vital practical abilities, knowledge, and experience necessary for the monasteries to function.
The conversi were frequently masons, carpenters, glaziers, blacksmiths, farriers, cooks, butchers, bakers, millers, grooms, swineherds, gardeners, and all the other crucial craftsmen, artisans, and workers the monasteries required. (2)
The Templars quickly adapted this two-monk model. Where monasteries had choir monks and conversi, the Templars had knights and sergeants.
The sergeants took exactly the same vows as the knights, promising to become poor, chaste, and obedient monks. But where the knights focused on their military calling, the sergeants employed a wide range of skills to keep the Templars operational.
Maintaining the Order was a vast logistical task. Aside from looking after the fabric of the buildings, managing the land and kitchens, maintaining the weapons and horses, and all the other necessary jobs, there was also the pressing economic need to raise money.
The Templars had to arm and equip a vast number of troops and maintain hundreds of castles and commanderies worldwide. This took large resources, and raising the money was something many sergeants were experienced at.
Although the Templars’ larger commanderies in European cities were home to knights busy with the Order’s administration and political relationships, the hundreds of smaller commanderies and ‘granges’ scattered across the countryside lay at the heart of a vast international property and farming empire.
These rural European commanderies were the domain of thousands of sergeants.
When the sergeants were not attending services in the commanderies’ small chapels, they generated the rental incomes and rural produce (agriculture and livestock) to fund the resource-hungry war effort in the East.
Thanks to widespread exemptions from many taxes, they were able to sell their produce easily and profitably.
For example, the Templars had significant property in and around Roquefort in southern France, where they developed expertise in making and selling the famous blue sheep’s cheese that has since made the village’s name famous worldwide.
Another role undertaken by sergeants was caring for pilgrims and the sick, as the Templars, like many of the later military orders who copied them (like the Hospitallers, the Teutonic Knights, and the Order of Lazarus) operated hospices and infirmaries throughout Christendom, especially along major pilgrim routes.
Over in Palestine, there were different priorities.
The Templars in the Crusader States needed thousands of men to run and garrison the many castles they controlled.(3)
A crusader castle was as much a self-contained village as a monastery. Inside its walls there were continual building and fortification works, crops to be dried, olives to be pressed, mills to be worked for flour, animals to be raised and slaughtered, meat and fish to be salted, weapons to be forged and maintained, and vast storerooms to be filled in preparation for winter and for war.
Many of these tasks were undertaken by the sergeants.
To cope with the Templars’ extensive military duties, there was an additional group of sergeants in Palestine: a large, specialized corps whose primary task was fighting alongside the knights.
These military sergeants were a vital part of the Templars’ combat forces. Although they fought on horseback (a rare privilege for non-noblemen), they did not take part in the knights’ heavy cavalry charge. Instead, they followed up immediately behind the charge to contain the scattering enemy and control the melée, allowing the knights time to turn and re-engage.
These military sergeants were under the command of the Order’s Turcopolier, and played a critical role in the Templars’ battlefield domination.(4)
Although Templar sergeants were by definition socially inferior to the knights, the Order promoted them higher than they were ever likely to rise in civilian life. Many ran commanderies in Europe, and five of the Order’s senior positions were reserved exclusively for sergeants, including the Commander of the Vault of the Acre, who was the Admiral of the Templars’ powerful naval fleet.(5)
Another indication of the sergeants’ importance was that the council of ‘wise/chivalrous men’ (prodomes) formed on the death of a Grand Master to elect the next one had to be made up of eight knights, four sergeants, and a chaplain.
As full Templars and brothers of the Order, the sergeants were entitled to wear the distinctive large red cross patty. However, they were easy to tell apart from the knights as they wore black habits and surcoats with black or brown mantles instead of the pure white of the knights.
To ensure maximum manpower, as with the knights, sergeants could join for a fixed period if they did not want to make a permanent commitment to the Order.
The ratio of sergeants to knights varied according to time and place. In Europe, many commanderies were staffed exclusively by sergeants. And in some Palestinian castles, sergeants outnumbered knights nine to one. On average, the ratio was around three to one. For instance, in the late 1200s, the Order had perhaps 2,000 sergeants and 600 knights in Palestine.
In the Order’s very earliest days, women joined as Templar nuns in the same way that the Benedictines and Cistercians (who came to greatly influence the Templars) allowed women to join. But the Order soon changed its mind (or the prohibition was imposed on them), and the Templars became an exclusively male organization.(6)
The third category of Templar brothers was the chaplains.
In the Order’s earliest years, the first Templars heard daily prayers in the nearby Church of the Holy Sepulchre or in the Temple of the Lord (the Dome of the Rock) on Temple Mount.
However, as the Order rapidly expanded across Palestine and Europe, it soon needed its own chaplains.
In 1139, Pope Innocent ii published one of the most important documents in the Order’s history.
It was a bull called Omne datum optimum (Every best gift).
In Omne datum optimum, Pope Innocent formally recognized and approved the Templars, made them answerable only to him, gave them his protection, and approved their Rule.
He also gave the Order a number of specific rights, including permission to build churches, to have chaplains, and to bury the dead.
Although these privileges were tucked away in the bull’s dense text, their effect was electrifying.
With just a few words, the pope brought the Templars into the church’s inner circle, giving the Master of the Temple equal status with some of Christendom’s most senior and powerful churchmen.
From that moment on, the pope effectively invited the Templars to compete for the large revenues (called spiritualia) that came from running an Order that owned chapels and served parishes.
It was doubly revolutionary because the Templars were now in charge of administering the spiritual welfare of those who came to their chapels, even though the Master of the Temple and his senior officials were all knights and not ordained priests.
And amazingly, the pope did not stop there. To mark this radical break with the past, he gave the Templars another privilege to underline their special and unique status. In order to ensure the Templars were always served by chaplains, he gave the Master of the Temple the right to poach priests from bishops even if the bishops objected.(7)
In many ways it was the starting gun that signaled a century of immense change in the church and the way it operated.
The chaplains were not allowed to fight in battle.(8) But like the knights and sergeants, they were full Templar brothers, and therefore entitled to wear the Order’s red cross patty.
Like the sergeants, the chaplains’ robes were dark not white, although they were distinguishable from the sergeants by their clerical clothes and clean-shaven faces.
One exception was that any Templar chaplain who became a bishop or an archbishop was entitled to wear the knights’ white in honour of his status, although there are perhaps only two examples of Templar chaplains ever being promoted that high in the church.
AFFILIATE BROTHERS AND AFFILIATE-SISTERS
When the Templars built a new commandery in Europe, they recruited locals to join as its knights, sergeants, and chaplains. This ensured strong links to the surrounding community, which smoothed the way to attracting donations of land, property, and manpower.
To deepen ties with local people even further, the Templars quickly copied existing monastic practice, and allowed men to join on their deathbeds.
In a ceremony called ‘reception ad succurrendum,’ a dying man could have the Templar habit placed over him as he breathed his last, allowing him to die as a brother of the Order.(10)
Although the arrangement may have seemed like the best of both worlds for the dying man, there was a snag. If he recovered, he could not return to his family, but was obliged to live the life of a poor, chaste, and obedient Templar. This did happen, most famously to Brother Pons of Gusans, who later rose to be the Order’s Turcopolier.
However, not everyone who wanted to support the Templars wished to become a full brother. Some wanted merely to become a patron or friend of their local commandery.
In this, as in so many other areas, the Templars broke the mould by welcoming ordinary civilians as affiliate-brothers (confratres) and affiliate-sisters (consorores).
The established monasteries offered nothing similar.
In return for a gift from a member of the public (usually land or annual agricultural produce), the Templars were happy to add the person to the list of members of their community and those they prayed for. Although this may not sound like much, it was a highly sought after comfort and privilege in an age when people were increasingly preoccupied with the afterlife’s terrors of purgatory and hell.
Traditionally, paying a community of priests or monks to pray for souls was a privilege normally only open to the very wealthy, who commissioned chantry chapels in the great cathedrals and monasteries. The Templars revolutionized this practice by effectively opening up its benefits to a far broader slice of society.
Affiliation turned out to be a winning idea.
Affiliates did not have to give up or modify their normal lives in any way. They continued their daily business as normal, but at the same time were comforted by the knowledge that the Templars’ chaplains were regularly saying masses for their eternal souls. And when the time came, they would be buried in the holy ground of the Order’s graveyards.
Affiliation brought earthly benefits, too. An affiliate could stamp the Order’s cross on his door, property, and even brand it onto his animals. (The commonest Templar cross was the cross patty, with the arms splaying out like a German Iron Cross. However, contemporary manuscript illustrations, frescoes, and carvings show the Order in reality used a variety of crosses.)
Anyone interfering with goods marked in this way would have to answer to the Templars.
THE SOCIETAS AND THE FAMILIA
Knights and sergeants gave the Templars all their property when they joined, and brought the Order their various skills and expertise. Priests cared for the Orders’ spiritual needs. And affiliates provided a constant stream of donations and relationships that often culminated in fresh recruits.
Together, they all kept the Templars running: supporting a self-contained world, dependant on nothing and no one except its own members’ skills and resources.
Over time, the urgency for the sergeants to generate revenues from agriculture declined as the Templars devised other ways for raising money to fund their crusading and castle building. They invented international cheque accounts. They stored and transported valuables. They provided finance. And they even arranged and financed pilgrimage and crusade packages to Palestine on their ships.
Underneath it all, the Templars’ meteoric rise to success lay in the simple appeal of their mission.
Many ordinary people, inflamed by waves of emotional preaching, believed the crusades were God’s will. The cry of “Deus vult” (God wills it) echoed across the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.
People inspired by the dream of a Christian Jerusalem identified the Templars as the crusades’ leading ambassadors, prompting many to join up (permanently or temporarily) as knights, sergeants, or priests. For thousands of others not prepared to take monastic vows, the Order offered them the next best alternative: a variety of realistic ways to support and contribute to the crusades without having to make the arduous journey to Jerusalem themselves.
The next blog will deal with the background to the foundation of the Templars by Hugh of Payns in 1119, and the first few decades of the Order’s existence.
(1) In the early church, monks were not ordained as priests, but lived lives of quiet contemplation under the authority of the abbot of their monastery. Over time, however, an increasing number of monks were ordained as priests and celebrated mass and administered the sacraments within (and sometimes outside) their monasteries.
(2) These roles could also be undertaken by servants or paid employees.
(3) A full list of Templar castles would be enormous. The following were their principal castles in Palestine and Syria: Ahamant, Al-‘Arimah, ‘Atlit, Baghras, Beaufort, Caco, Casal des Plains, Castel Arnald, Chastel-Blanc, Chastellet, Darbsak, Destroit, Gaza, Jerusalem, La Colée, La Fève, La Roche du Roussel, La Roche Guillaume, Le Petit Gerin, Maldoim, Merle Dor, Port Bonnel, Quarantaine, Safad, Saffran, Toron of the Knights, Tortosa.
(4) The Turcopolier was a senior Templar knight who commanded the sergeants in battle (but not in peacetime) and also the Turcopoles, who were locally raised soldiers, often archers.
(5) The senior positions always occupied by sergeants were: the Under-Marshal, the Standard Bearer, the Cook Brother of the Convent, the Farrier of the Convent, and the Commander of the Vault at Acre.
(6) The Rule of the Templars, cap. 70.
(7) ‘Quod si episcopi eosdem vobis concedere forte noluerint, nichilominus tamen eos suspiciendi et retinendi auctoritate sancta Romane ecclesie habeatis.’ Pope Innocent ii, Omne datum optimum. Normally, bishops were in charge of the priests in their diocese, and controlled in which of their churches priests worked.
(8) Strictly speaking, priests were not supposed to spill blood. However, there are many examples of those who did. For example, Patriarch Warmund of Jerusalem died besieging Balhacem in 1128. And as early as 1120 (at the Council of Nablus) the crusaders had begun to relax the rules on priests fighting as they needed every available able-bodied man, and canon 20 expressly permitted priests to spill blood in self-defense.
(9) Brother William of St John, bishop of Nazareth, and Brother Humbert, bishop of Banyas.
(10) Ad succurrendum means ‘towards salvation’.
SELECT IMAGE CREDITS
Medieval builders, from Biblia Historiale, 1300s, (Bibkiotheque Nationale de France)
Medieval farming, from the Luttrell Psalter. 1300s (British Library)
Making and testing medieval medicine recipes, from Avicena’s Canon of Medicine
Crusaders in a flotilla of ships, from William of Saint-Pathus, Life of Saint Louis, late 1300s (Bibliotheque Nationale de France)
Cistercian nuns, c. 1290, Yates Thompson (British Library)
Two Templar chaplains being arrested, from the Chronicle of France or of St. Denis, 1300s (British Library)
A Cistercian monk giving communion to a dying man, from James le Palmer, Omne bonum, 1360-75, London (British Library)
Boats heading to the Crusader States, from William of Saint-Pathus, Life and miracles of St Louis, 1200s (Bibliothèque Nationale de France)