To understand the history of the Knights Templar and the Crusades in the Holy Land, we have to go back in time some 1,000 years before the birth of Jesus.
In the year 993 BC, King David conquered Jerusalem and between 958-951 BC, David’s son Solomon built a temple to his God; “King Solomon’s Temple.” In the temple’s inner sanctum, known as the “Holy of Holies” was housed the “Ark of the Covenant.” A wooden casket designed to hold the stone tablets, upon which were carved the laws of the land; “The Ten Commandments,” which God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai.
For the Jewish nation, Jerusalem is significant, for it is where Abraham would prove himself to God, by sacrificing his own son; Isaac. God stepped in, and sent a Ram for sacrificial purposes.
Genesis Chapter 32 v 12-13
He said “Do not lay hands on the lad or do anything to him; for now that I know you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, from me.” Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns; and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.
Jerusalem was also the city where the son of a carpenter; Jesus was condemned to death by crucifixion, upon the order’s of Pontius Pilate, and rose from the dead. Overnight, Jerusalem became a place of Christian pilgrimage.
According to history, Solomon’s Temple is said to have been twice the size of the Tabernacle and the centre piece in Jerusalem. It was built by Phoenician craftsmen over a seven year period. The inner walls were lined in gold, with marble blocks and fine emeralds adorning the temple.
Upon the death of King Solomon, he was succeeded by his son; Rehoboam who became King of Israel. In the fifth year of his reign, Shishak the King of Egypt, ransacked Solomon’s Temple and for the next 367 years it lay in decline, for its wealth, splendour and importance was gone.
In the year 586 BC, the Babylonians led by King Nebuchadnezzar totally destroyed Solomon’s Temple.
The construction of the Second Temple started in 535 BC and was completed in 515 BC.
Persian rule of the area, gave way to Greek rulers, followed later by the Romans.
Herod the Great remained ruler under Roman rule from 47-04BC. He was responsible for enlarging the Second Temple with courts and walls. The work was started in 20 BC and took eighty-three years to complete.
In 70 AD, the Jews rose up and revolted against their Roman Rulers, and Titus their Roman General, later known as Caesar replied by besieging the city, which led to the destruction of the Second Temple by fire.
In 326 AD, Hadrian’s Temple had been built by the Roman’s to their God; Venus built on Calvary and was torn down by order of Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine.
In 691 a shrine was built upon the site and called “Dome of the Rock” with the Al-Aqsa mosque built alongside by 715. Some two earthquakes later, it had been destroyed.
In 1035 a new Al-Aqsa mosque was built upon the former site. Around 1118, part of the site became the headquarters in the Holy Land for the Knights Templar.
By 1056 the Muslims refused Christian pilgrim’s access to Jerusalem, yet they still kept coming. In 1064 the pilgrim situation had worsened, which led to the slaughter of hundreds of Christian pilgrims, as they neared Jerusalem.
By 1071, Seljuks a Turkish tribe had captured the Holy Land, and many sacred places were desecrated or even destroyed.
In 1074, the Byzantine Emperor; Michael VII pleaded with Pope Gregory VII, for help… he who had expected mercenaries would come to his rescue, was disappointed when his call went unanswered.
In 1095 the Byzantine Emperor; Alexius I appealed to the Council of Piacenza for help against the Seldjuk Turks.
On the 27th November 1095, at The Council of Clermont, Pope Urban II preached about the oppression being inflicted upon Christians in the Middle East by Muslim Seljuks. He called upon knights and warriors to pick up their arms, and fight as one; “Warriors for God.” Wear his cross as your badge, and if you be killed, know your sins will be pardoned.
Peter the Hermit, a French monk upon hearing the speech given by his Pope, believed it be his duty to rally support, for a crusade to the Holy Land and free Christians and preserve the Holy Sepulchre.
Dressed in nothing more than a coarse cloth robe tied at the waist with a rope, with no shoes upon his feet. This humble monk travelled across Italy, France and Germany, preaching in churches and streets, enlisting an army to join with him, on a crusade to the Holy Land.
Thousands of warriors, men, women and children went on the “People’s Crusade” led by “Peter the Hermit,” in April 1096. Each wore the emblem of the cross upon their shoulder. They had no provisions, and intended to live off the land.
When the army of Peter the Hermit, reached Cologne, they called a halt to take advantage of the food supplies on offer.
The first known holocaust of the Crusades, would take place against German Jews, by bands of followers, claiming to be followers of Peter the Hermit, against Rhineland towns of Mainz, Cologne, Spier, Trier, Worms and Metz.
The Jewish communities came face to face with forced baptisms into the Christian faith, and refusal led to death.
These communities were unlucky, for they lay in the path of Crusader’s on route to Jerusalem. Many were murdered, homes and synagogues destroyed, and money shared among unscrupulous Crusader’s.
The Jews of Mainz, upon hearing of the slaughter in other towns, feared for their lives against an army out of control. They sought shelter with Bishop Ruothard, placing their treasures and life, firmly in his hands.
Count Emich, an enemy of the Jews; showed no mercy towards the old and young women, and slew their young men.
On the 27th May 1096, Emich and his follower’s attacked the Bishop’s Palace with death in their hearts.
Emich’s forces fought these men of Israel at the gatehouse, and overwhelmed them, they had chance against battle hardened warriors. As they moved into the courtyard, the Bishop’s men had fled leaving the Jews at the mercy of Emich; they were slaughtered.
Those located within the Palace, knew they faced a horrific death. “There is none like God and we can do nothing better than to sacrifice our life to him,” was shouted out… The men and women slaughtered their off-spring, then each other, rather than be butchered.
Walter the Penniless also known as Walter Sans Avoir, chose to take some of the army and continue on their quest. As they passed through Semlin in Hungary, disputes broke out when his warriors stole food. At Belgrade they pillaged the surrounding area for food, as the harvest had not been gathered. The Belgrade garrison attacked Walter’s forces; some 60 who took shelter in a chapel were burnt alive.
Supplies were sent by Alexius Comnenus and an escape to march them into Constantinople.
Peter the Hermit following up behind Walter the Penniless reached Semlin, only to discover spoils taken from Walter’s men were displayed on the city walls.
At Constantinople Peter’s army were welcomed, but lack of supplies for such a large army, led to attacks and thefts from surrounding villages. It had been suggested by Emperor Alexius that Peter’s forces should wait for the fully trained forces of the first crusade before they moved on. However the pressure on feeding the people of Constantinople and Peter’s army forced their departure.
The People’s Crusade moved on to Civetot a former army base, where they attacked surrounding area in search of food. They came under attack, when the base was attacked by Turks, who slaughtered most of the crusaders.
Peter the Hermit joined with the forces of Godfrey of Bouillon, leader of the First Crusade. Whose armies had departed for Byzantium in the August of 1096, led by; Raymond of Saint-Gilles, Godfrey of Bouillon, Hugh of Vermandois and Bohemond of Taranto.
The first target for these crusaders, eager for battle was the fortress city of Nicea, which was taken with ease.
The second target was Antioch, a strongly protected Turkish city, which took seven months to crack. The city of Antioch was developed into a Norman State within the Holy Land.
It is believed some 70,000 people died during a massacre of Jews and Muslims after the city had been taken by the Crusader’s. The streets of Jerusalem, were said to run red with blood. The city was ransacked for treasure.
Finally on the 15th July 1099, the Turks surrendered. The Muslim flag was torn down and replaced by a banner flying a single cross.
The Kingdom of Jerusalem was created with Godfrey of Bouillon as its first King. Upon his death, he was succeeded by his brother; Baldwin of Boulogne in 1100.
Four large settlements; Jerusalem, Edessa, Antioch and Tripoli were established, each guarded by castles, giving the Crusader’s the upper hand in the region. This lasted until the fall of Edessa in 1144.
Peter the Hermit, a French monk from Amiens, preached from the Mount of Olives, and shortly afterwards returned to Europe where upon he founded a monastery in France, and lived out the remainder of life there, until his death in 1131.
(Images) King Solomon’s Temple – Sacrifice of Isaac – Pope Urban II: Wikipedia
(Images) Massacre of Jews – Peoples Crusade: Wikipedia
(Image) Sacrifice of Isaac: Tiepolo Crucifixion: Giotto
(Image) Solomon’s Temple: ishareimage