Long-lost text lifts cloud from Knights Templar
700-year-old document shows pope absolved order
of heresy charges
A reproduction of a 700-year-old document bears a
replica of one of the three seals used by inquisitors in the case against
the Knights Templar. In the long-lost document, Pope Clement V
absolved the knights of heresy. However, the order was still disbanded for
"the good of the church" in 1312, apparently under pressure from King Philip
IV of France.
Alessandro Bianchi / Reuters
AP=Oct. 12, 2007
ROME - The Vatican has published secret documents about
the trial of the Knights Templar, including a parchment — long ignored
because of a vague catalog entry in 1628 — showing that Pope Clement V
initially absolved the medieval order of heresy.
The 300-page volume recently came out in a limited
edition — 799 copies — each priced at $8,377, said Scrinium publishing
house, which prints documents from the Vatican’s secret archives.
The order of knights, which ultimately disappeared
because of the heresy scandal, recently captivated the imagination of
readers of the best-seller “The Da Vinci Code,” which linked the Templars to
the story of the Holy Grail.
The Vatican work reproduces the entire documentation of
the papal hearings convened after King Philip IV of France arrested and
tortured Templar leaders in 1307 on charges of heresy and immorality.
The military order of the Poor Knights of Christ and of
the Temple of Solomon was founded in 1118 in Jerusalem to protect pilgrims
in the Holy Land after the First Crusade.
As their military might increased, the Templars also
grew in wealth, acquiring property throughout Europe and running a primitive
banking system. After they left the Middle East with the collapse of the
Crusader kingdoms, their power and secretive ways aroused the fear of
European rulers and sparked accusations of corruption and blasphemy.
Accused by an indebted king
Historians believe Philip owed debts to the Templars
and used the accusations to arrest their leaders and extract, under torture,
confessions of heresy as a way to seize the order’s riches.
Publicist Rosy Fontana reads a replica document in
which Pope Clement V absolved the Knights Templar of charges of heresy.
The publishing house said the new book includes the
“Parchment of Chinon,” a 1308 decision by Clement to save the Templars and
The Vatican archives researcher who found the parchment
said Friday that it probably had been ignored because the 1628 catalog entry
on the 40-inch-wide parchment was “too Spartan, too vague.”“Unfortunately,
there was an archiving error, an error in how the document was described,”
the researcher, Barbara Frale, said in a telephone interview from her home
in Viterbo, north of Italy.“More than an error, it was a little sketchy,”
she said. The parchment, in remarkably good condition considering its 700
years, apparently had last been consulted at the start of the 20th century,
Frale said, surmising that its significance must have not have been realized
Burned at the stake
Frale said she was intrigued by the 1628 entry because,
while it apparently referred to some minor matter, it noted that three top
cardinals, including the right-hand man of Clement, Berenger Fredol, had
made a long journey to interrogate someone.“Going on with my research, it
turned out that in reality it was an inquest of very great importance” on
behalf of the pope, Frale said. Fredol “had gone to question the Great
Master and other heads of the Templars who had been segregated, practically
kidnapped, by the king of France and shut up in secret in his castle in
Chinon on the Loire.”
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to the Vatican archives Web site, the parchment shows that Clement initially
absolved the Templar leaders of heresy, though he did find them guilty of
immorality, and that he planned to reform the order.However, pressured by
Philip, Clement later reversed his decision and suppressed the order in
1312.Jacques de Molay, Grand Master of the Templars, was burned at the stake
in 1314 along with his aides. Surviving monks fled. Some were absorbed by
other orders; over the centuries, various groups have claimed to have
descended from the Templars.