The Order of the Temple, commonly known as the Knights Templar, was founded by crusading knights in Jerusalem and recognized officially by the Catholic Church in 1120. The Templars were responsible for protecting pilgrims to the Christian holy sites and defending Jerusalem from attack. Full members of the order took the standard monastic vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

Excommunicated Crusaders

The Templars were founded not long after an army of Christian knights from Europe captured Jerusalem from its Muslim rulers in the First Crusade. A fraternity of knights living at the Al-Aqsa Mosque took it upon themselves to protect Christian pilgrims and live under monastic discipline, taking their name from the mistaken belief that the mosque was the ancient Temple of Solomon. In 1129, the church granted the Templars a monastic rule of their own. Many of the early members had been excommunicated for various crimes, but hoped to be forgiven by taking monastic vows and performing services for the church. Any knight who took the vows of a Templar was officially forgiven for his past sins.

Full Members

All fully professed members of the Knights Templar had to take the same three vows any monk would have taken in Christian Europe. The vow of poverty prevented Templars from owning any private property. The vow of chastity required Templars to be completely celibate. The vow of obedience required them to obey their commanding officers and the rule of the Templar order. Many of the Templars were effectively warrior monks, but some members of the order did not fight. Members required to take monastic vows included the knight brothers, sergeants, Templar sisters and the order's chaplains.

Associate Members

As the Templar organization grew and spread throughout Europe, many people became associates of the order without taking the full vows and becoming monks. Associate members were sometimes people who simply donated money to the order in exchange for prayers and a pension in their old age. Others were preparing to join the order as full members but had not yet taken their final vows. Others were not necessarily planning to take full vows but still lived with the Templars and participated in their work. Associates, like full members, could include both men and women. Some female associates, such as Berengaria of Lorach, functioned as advisers to the Templar commanders. Associate members were required to swear vows of obedience, but not of poverty or chastity. This allowed them to live secular lives if they wished, while still assisting the order.

Fall of the Templars

Templar vows of poverty applied to the individual knight, not the organization as a whole. Donations of land and money from associates and wealthy admirers eventually made the Templars extremely wealthy, with branches in a number of different countries including England, Spain, France and elsewhere. They were also politically powerful, because the Templars were legally accountable only to the pope and not to the kings of the countries where they were based. In 1307, the Templars were suddenly accused of heresy, idolatry and other crimes at the instigation of France's King Philip IV. Tortured by the Inquisition, the leaders of the Templars confessed to the charges and the order was disbanded by Pope Clement V in 1312. Templar leaders James of Molay and Geoffrey of Charney insisted that their confessions had been coerced. They were burned at the stake in 1314.