Secret Societies of the Middle Ages - Thomas Keightly

B2. First Hospital at Jerusalem

Church of Santa Maria de Latina—Hospital of St. John—The Hospitallers—Origin of the Templars—Their original Poverty—They acquire Consideration—St. Bernard—His Character of the Templars—The Order approved of and confirmed by the Council of Troyes—Proofs of the Esteem in which they were held.

In consequence of the resort of pilgrims and traders from the West to Jerusalem it had been found necessary to build there, with the consent of the Saracens, hospitia, or places of entertainment for them during their abode in the holy city. For they could not, consistently with the religious animosity which prevailed between them and the Moslems, seek the hospitality of these last, and the Christians of the Greek church who dwelt in the Holy City, besides that they had no very friendly feeling towards their Catholic brethren, were loth to admit them into their houses, on account of the imprudent language and indecorous acts in which they were too frequently in the habit of indulging, and which were so likely to compromise their hosts with their Saracen lords. Accordingly the monk Bernard, who visited Jerusalem in the year 870, found there, in the valley of Jehoshaphat, near the church of the Holy Virgin, a hospital consisting of twelve mansions, for western pilgrims, which was in the possession of some gardens, vineyards, and corn-fields. It had also a good collection of books, the gift of Charlemagne. There was a market held in front of it, which was much resorted to, and every dealer paid two pieces of gold to the overseer for permission to have a stand there.

In the 11th century, when the ardour of pilgrimage was inflamed anew, there was a hospital within the walls of Jerusalem for the use of the Latin pilgrims, which had been erected by Italian traders, chiefly of Amalfi. Near this hospital, and within a stone's cast of the church of the Holy Sepulchre, they erected, with the permission of the Egyptian khalif, a church dedicated to the Holy Virgin, which was usually called Sta. Maria de Latina. In this hospital abode an abbot and a good number of monks, who were of the Latin church, and followed the rule of St. Benedict. They devoted themselves to the reception and entertainment of pilgrims, and gave alms to those who were poor, or had been rifled by robbers, to enable them to pay the tax required by the Moslems for permission to visit the holy places. When the number of the pilgrims became so great that the hospital was incapable of receiving them all, the monks raised another hospitium close by their church, with a chapel dedicated to a canonized patriarch of Alexandria, named St. John Eleemon, or the Compassionate. This new hospital had no income of its own; the monks and the pilgrims whom they received derived their support from the bounty of the abbot of the convent of the Holy Virgin, or from the alms of pious Christians.

At the time when the army of the crusaders appeared before the walls of Jerusalem the Hospital of St. John was presided over by Gerard, a native of Provence, a man of great uprightness and of exemplary piety. His benevolence was of a truly Christian character, and far transcended that of his age in general; for during the period of the siege he relieved all who applied to him for succour, and not merely did the schismatic Greek share his bounty, even the unbelieving Moslem was not repelled when he implored his aid. When the city was taken, numbers of the wounded pilgrims were received, and their wounds tended in the hospital of St. John, and the pious Duke Godfrey, on visiting them some days afterwards, heard nothing but the praises of the good Gerard and his monks.

Emboldened by the universal favour which they enjoyed, Gerard and his companions expressed their wish to separate themselves from the monastery of Sta. Maria de Latina, and pursue their works of charity alone and independently. Their desire met no opposition: they drew up a rule for themselves, to which they made a vow of obedience in presence of the patriarch, and assumed as their dress a black mantle with a white cross on the breast. The humility of these Hospitallers was extreme. They styled the poor and the sick their lords and themselves their servants; to them they were liberal and compassionate, to themselves rigid and austere. The finest flour went to compose the food which they gave to the sick and poor; what remained after they were satisfied, mingled with clay, was the repast of the monks.

As long as the brotherhood were poor they continued in obedience to the abbot of Sta. Maria de Latina, and also paid tithes to the patriarch. But a tide of wealth soon began to flow in upon them. Duke Godfrey, enamoured of their virtue, bestowed on them his lordship of Montboire, in Brabant, with all its appurtenances; and his brother and successor, Baldwin, gave them a share of all the booty taken from the infidels. These examples were followed by other Christian princes; so that within the space of a very few years the Hospital of St. John was in possession of numerous manors both in the East and in Europe, which were placed under the management of members of their society. The Hospitallers now coveted a total remission of all the burdens to which they were subject, and they found no difficulty in obtaining all that they desired. Pope Paschal II., in the year 1113, confirmed their rule, gave them permission, on the death of Gerard, to elect their own head, without the interference of any temporal or spiritual power whatever, freed them from the obligation of paying tithes to the patriarch, and confirmed all the donations made or to be made to them. The brotherhood of the Hospital was now greatly advanced in consideration, and reckoned among its members many gallant knights, who laid aside their arms, and devoted themselves to the humble office of ministering to the sick and needy.

The worthy Gerard died in the same year with King Baldwin I. (1118), and Raymond Dupuy, a knight of Dauphine, who had become a brother of the order, was unanimously elected to succeed him in his office. Raymond, who was a man of great vigour and capacity, drew up a series of rules for the direction of the society, adapted to its present state of consequence and extent. From these rules it appears that the order of St. John admitted both the clergy and the laity among its members, and that both were alike bound to yield the most implicit obedience to the commands of their superior. Whether Raymond had any ulterior views is uncertain, but in the regulations which he made we cannot discern any traces of the spirit which afterwards animated the order of St. John.

Just, however, as Raymond had completed his regulations there sprang up a new society, with different maxims, whose example that of St. John found itself afterwards obliged to adopt and follow. The Holy Land was at that time in a very disturbed and unquiet state; the Egyptian power pressed it on the south, the Turkish on the north and east; the Arab tribes indulged in their usual predatory habits, and infested it with hostile incursions; the Mussulman inhabitants were still numerous; the Syrian Christians were ill affected towards the Latins, from whom they frequently experienced the grossest ill-treatment; the Latins were few and scattered. Hence the pilgrim was exposed to numerous dangers; peril beset him on his way from the port at which he landed to the Holy City, and new perils awaited him when he visited the banks of the Jordan, or went to pluck his branch of consecrated palm in the gardens of Jericho. Many a pilgrim had lost his life on these occasions.

Viewing these evils, nine valiant and pious knights resolved to form themselves into an association which should unite the characters of the monk and the knight, by devoting themselves to a life of chastity and piety at the tomb of the Saviour, and by employing their swords in the protection of the pilgrims on their visits to the holy places. They selected as their patroness the sweet Mother of God (La doce Mere de Dieu), and their resolution, according so perfectly with the spirit of the Crusades, which combined piety and valour, gained at once the warm approbation of the king and the patriarch. In the presence of the latter they took the three ordinary vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience, and a fourth of fighting incessantly in the cause of pilgrims and the Holy Land against the heathen. They bound themselves to live according to the rule of the canons of St. Augustine, and elected as their first master Hugh de Payens. The king, Baldwin II., assigned them a portion of his palace for their abode, and he and his barons contributed to their support. As the palace stood close by the church and convent of the Temple, the abbot and canons gave them a street leading from it to the palace, for keeping their magazines and equipments in, and hence they styled themselves the Soldiery of the Temple (Militia Templi), and Templars. They attracted such immediate consideration, owing in great part, no doubt, to the novelty of their plan, that the very year after their establishment (1120), Fulk, Count of Anjou, who was come on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, joined their society as a married brother, and on his return home annually remitted them thirty pounds of silver in furtherance of their pious objects, and the example of the Count of Anjou was followed by several other princes and nobles of the West.

The English historian, Brompton, who wrote in the 12th century, asserts that the founders of the order of the Temple had originally been members of that of St. John. We know not what degree of credit this may be entitled to, but it is certain that there had been as yet nothing of a military character in this last, and that its assumption of such a character was an imitation of the society of the Temple; for, urged by the praise which they saw lavished on the Templars for their meritorious conduct, the Hospitallers resolved to add the task of protecting to that of tending and relieving pilgrims, and such of their members as were knights resumed their arms, joyful to employ them once more in the cause of God. The amplitude of their revenues enabled them to take a number of knights and footmen into their pay—a practice in which they had probably been preceded by the Templars, who thus employed the money which was remitted to them from Europe. But during the lifetime of Raymond Dupuy the order of the Hospital did not become completely a military one; he always bore the simple title of director (procurator) of the Hospital, and it was not till some time afterwards that the head of the society was, like that of the Templars, styled master, and led its troops to battle. At all times the tendence of the poor and the sick formed a part of the duties of the brethren of the Hospital, and this was always a marked distinction between them and the rival order of the Temple, whose only task was that of fighting against the infidels.

[Seal of the Knights] from Secret Societies of the Middle Ages by Thomas Keightly

During the first nine years which elapsed after the institution of their order the knights of the Temple lived in poverty, religiously devoting all the money which was sent to them from Europe to the advantage of the Holy Land, and the service of pilgrims. They had no peculiar habit, their raiment was such as the charity of the faithful bestowed upon them; and though knights, and engaged in constant warfare against the infidels, their poverty and moderation were such that Hugh des Payens and his companion, Godfrey, of St. Omer, had but one war-horse between them—a circumstance which they afterwards, in their brilliant period, commemorated by their seal, which represented two knights mounted on the one horse, a device chosen with a view to inculcating humility on the brethren, now beginning to wax haughty and insolent.

A chief cause of the extraordinary success of the first Crusaders had been the want of union among their enemies. The Saracens and Turks mutually hated each other, and would not combine for a common object, and the Turks were, moreover, at enmity among themselves, and one prince frequently allied himself with the Christians against another. But they were now beginning to perceive the necessity of union, and were becoming every day more formidable to their Christian neighbours. King Baldwin II., who had been a prisoner in their hands, made every effort when he had obtained his freedom to strengthen his kingdom, and, among other means for this purpose, he resolved to gain for the Templars, whose valour, humility, and single-mindedness were the theme of general applause, additional consideration, by obtaining from the Holy Father the confirmation of their order. With this view he despatched, in the year 1127, two of their members, named Andreas and Gundemar, to Rome, with this request to the Pope, to whom they were also to make a strong representation of the perilous state of the Holy Land. The king, moreover, furnished them with a letter of recommendation to St. Bernard, Abbot of Clairvaux, whose influence was then all-powerful in the Christian world, and who was nephew of the envoy Andreas. Shortly afterwards Hugh de Payens himself arrived in Europe with five others of the brethren.

Nothing could be more advantageous to the new order than the favour and countenance of the illustrious Abbot of Clairvaux, who had been for some time past an admirer of its objects and deeds. Three years before this time he had written a letter to the Count of Champagne, who had entered the order of the Templars, praising the act as one of eminent merit in the sight of God. He now, on occasion of the visit of the Master, wrote, at his request, an eloquent work, exhorting the brethren of the new order to persevere in their toilsome but highly laudable task of fighting against the tyranny of the heathens, and commending their piety to the attention of all the faithful, setting in strong opposition to the luxury of the knights of his time the modesty and simplicity of these holy warriors. He extolled the unlimited obedience of the Templars to their Master, both at home and in the field. "They go and come," says he, "at a sign from their Master; they wear the clothing which he gives them, and ask neither food nor clothing from any one else; they live cheerfully and temperately together, without wives and children, and, that nothing may be wanting for evangelical perfection, without property, in one house, endeavouring to preserve the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace, so that one heart and one soul would appear to dwell in them all. They never sit idle, or go about gaping alter news. When they are resting from warfare against the infidels, a thing which rarely occurs, not to eat the bread of idleness, they employ themselves in repairing their clothes and arms, or do something which the command of the Master or the common need enjoins. There is with them no respect of persons; the best, not the noblest, are the most highly regarded; they endeavour to anticipate one another in respect and to lighten each other's burdens. No unseemly word or light mocking, no murmur or immoderate laughter, is let to pass unreproved, if any one should allow himself to indulge in such. They avoid games of chess and tables; they are adverse to the chase, and equally so to hawking, in which others so much delight. They hate all jugglers and mountebanks, all wanton songs and plays, as vanities and follies of this world. They cut their hair in obedience to these words of the apostle, 'it is not seemly in a man to have long hair;' no one ever sees them dressed out; they are seldom ever washed; they are mostly to be seen with disordered hair, and covered with dust, brown from their corslets and the heat of the sun. When they go forth to war they arm themselves within with faith, without with iron, but never adorn themselves with gold, wishing to excite fear in the enemy, and not the desire of booty. They delight in horses which are strong and swift, not in such as are handsomely marked and richly caparisoned, wishing to inspire terror rather than admiration. They go not impetuously and headlong into battle, but with care and foresight, peacefully, as the true children of Israel. But as soon as the fight has begun, then they rush without delay on the foes, esteeming them but as sheep; and know no fear, even though they should be few, relying on the aid of the Lord of Sabaoth. Hence one of them has often put a thousand, and two of them ten thousand, to flight. Thus they are, in union strange, at the same time gentler than lambs and grimmer than lions, so that one may doubt whether to call them monks or knights. But both names suit them, for theirs is the mildness of the monk and the valour of the knight. What remains to be said but that this is the Lord's doing, and it is wonderful in our eyes? Such are they whom God has chosen out of the bravest in Israel, that, watchful and true, they may guard the holy sepulchre, armed with swords, and well skilled in war."

Though in these expressions of St. Bernard there may be perceived some marks of rhetorical exaggeration, they prove incontestibly the high character and sincere virtue of the founders of the society of the Templars, and that it was organized and regulated with none but worthy objects in view. They also offer, if such were required, an additional proof that the crusade was no emanation of chivalry; for those to whom St. Bernard throughout sets the Templars in opposition were the chivalry of the age.

This epistle of the Abbot of Clairvaux had been circulated, and every other just and honest mean employed to conciliate the public favour for the Templars, when, on the 31st January, 1128, the Master, Hugh de Payens, appeared before the council of Troyes, consisting of the Archbishops of Rheims and Sens, ten bishops, and a number of abbots, among whom was St. Bernard himself, and presided over by the Cardinal of Albano, the papal legate. The Master having given an account of the principles and exploits of the Templars, the assembled fathers approved of the new order, and gave them a new rule, containing their own previous regulations, with several additions drawn from that of the Benedictines, and chiefly relating to spiritual matters. The validity of this rule was made to depend on the approbation of it by the Holy Father and by the Patriarch of Jerusalem, neither of whom hesitated to confirm it. By the direction of the Pope Honorius, the synod appointed a white mantle to be the distinguishing dress of the brethren of the Temple, that of those of the Hospital being black. This mantle was plain, without any cross, and such it remained till the pontificate of Pope Eugenius III., who, in 1146, appointed the Templars to wear a red cross on the breast, as a symbol of the martyrdom to which they stood constantly exposed: the cross worn on their black mantles, by the knights of St. John, was, as we have seen, white. The order now assumed, or were assigned, a peculiar banner, formed of cloth, striped black and white, called in old French, Bauseant, which word became the battle-cry of the knights of the Temple, and often struck terror into the hearts of the infidels. It bore on it the ruddy cross of the order, and the pious and humble inscription, Non nobis, Domine, non nobis, sed nomini tuo, da gloriam, (Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to thy name give the glory!)

"His honest, sonsie, baws'nt face

Aye gat him friends in ilka place,"

says Burns, describing the "ploughman's collie," in his tale of the "Twa Dogs;" and in the Glossary, Dr. Currie explains Baws'nt as meaning "having a white stripe down the face." As, however, some notion of handsomeness or attractiveness of appearance seems to be involved in the epithet, Bauseant, or Beauseant, may possibly be merely an older form of the present French word, Bienseant.]

Several knights now assumed the habit of the order, and in a progress which Hugh de Payens, accompanied by some of the brethren, made through France and England, he acquired for it universal favour. He did not neglect the charge, committed to him by the king of Jerusalem, of invoking aid for the Holy Land, now so hard bested, and his exhortations were not without effect. Fulk, Count of Anjou, now rejoined his Master and brethren; but as he had gotten an invitation to repair to Jerusalem, and espouse the only daughter of the King, he set out before them to the East.

Hugh de Payens would admit no knight into the order who did not terminate all his feuds and enmities, and amend his life. Thus, when a knight, named Hugh d'Amboise, who had oppressed the people of Marmoutier, and had refused obedience to the judicial sentence of the Count of Anjou, was desirous to enter the order, he refused to admit him to take the vows till he had given perfect satisfaction to those whom he had injured.

Honour and respect awaited the Templars wherever they appeared, and persons of all ranks were eager to do what might be grateful to them. When the Templar who came with the seal of Godfrey of St. Omer, as his credential to the governor of that place, to demand his goods which Godfrey had given the order, he met with a most favourable reception, not only from the governor, but from the bishop; and on their applying, as was necessary in this case, to the Count of Flanders and Alsatia, that prince was so far from throwing any impediments in the way, that, in a very short space of time, the buildings which had belonged to Godfrey were converted into a church and a temple-house. Many Flemish gentlemen followed the example of Godfrey, and bestowed a part of their property on the Templars. King Henry I. of England, who met and conversed with Hugh de Payens in Normandy, was so pleased with his account of the new order, that he presented him with many rich gifts, and gave him strong recommendations to the principal of the English barons. The Emperor Lothaire bestowed in 1130 on the order a large part of his patrimony of Supplinburg. The old Count Raymond Berenger, of Barcelona and Provence, weary of the world and of the toils of government, became a Templar, and took up his abode in the temple-house at Barcelona; and, as he could not go personally to combat the infidels in the Holy Land, he continually sent rich gifts to the brethren at Jerusalem, and he complied rigorously with all the other duties of the order. In 1133 Alfonso, king of Arragon and Navarre, a valiant and warlike monarch, who had been victor in nine and twenty battles against the Moors, finding himself old and without children, made a will, by which he appointed the knights of the Temple and of the Hospital, together with the canons of the Holy Sepulchre, to be his joint-heirs, deeming, perhaps, that the most gallant defenders of the Holy Land would best prosecute his favourite object of breaking the power of the infidels. The aged monarch fell the following year in the battle of Fraga, against the Moors; and, negligent of his disposition of the realm, the nobles of Arragon and Navarre met and chose sovereigns out of his family. The orders were not strong enough to assert their rights; and this instance, therefore, only serves to show the high degree of consideration to which they had so early attained.

[Illustration] from Secret Societies of the Middle Ages by Thomas Keightly