In 1160, a Knights Templar castle was constructed in Tomar, and thirty years later they fought to free Portugal from Islamic domination. Tomar came under siege as the Islam army crossed the Tejo river, capturing the nearby castle at Torres Novas.
For six long days, the Muslim army relentlessly attacked Tomar, yet despite overwhelming odds, Gualdim Pais, Grand Master of the Knights Templar led his warriors to victory. A victory led by a fighting monk, led to the Christian faith being taken up across the land.
Several frontier castles were built in protection of Portugal by these Knights Templar; Almourol, Monsanto and Pombal. Gualdim Pais founded the city’s of Tomar and Pombal.
Who would have believed, it would come to a tragic end in the early part of the 14th century. King Philip IV of France, had persuaded his puppet Pope, that the Knights Templar should be destroyed.
The Order of the Knights Templar had been officially dissolved by Pope Clement in 1312, and Knights Templar, servants and Monks were considered outlaws.
These Knights Templar, warriors of God, had their possessions seized from them, based on accusations of greed by one man; the King of France.
King Denis of Portugal, questioned these accusations, and he came to the rescue of Templars living in Portugal. He proposed to them, the creation of a new order, run by the Knights Templar upon approval of the Pope.
King Denis of Portugal applied to Pope John XXII, for the creation of the “Order of Christ” in 1317. Its aim was to take over the land, buildings and wealth of the Knights Templar within his realm. Many Templars were no longer outlaws, for they came under the protection of the “Order of Christ.” In 1319, the Pope granted the proposal put forward by the King of Portugal.
These knights were now members of the “Order of Christ,” followed their vows of poverty, chastity and obedience to the King of Portugal. With its first Grand Master being Dom Gil Martinez, a former knight of Saint Benedict.
In 1323, a Papal Bull was issued by Pope John XXII, which gave King Diniz the authorisation to remove the estates of the now disbanded Knights Templar, to the new “Order of Christ.”
In 1415, Prince Henry the Navigator led his forces, in the conquest of Ceuta, in creation of a Portuguese empire, which stretched out far beyond their coastline. In 1417 he became Grand Master of the Order of Christ until 1460, undertaking works of evangelism for the Pope and Church. Henry went on to colonise the Azores and Madeira islands, building two gothic cloisters in the Convent of Tomar during his time as grand master.
The Grand Mastership of the “Order of Christ” was held by the royal family, after Henry’s death.
In 1484, Emanuel the duke of Beja became 11th Governor of the Order, which showed signs of declining membership, due to its rules. In 1492, Pope Alexander VI commuted vows of celibacy to conjugal chastity, and in 1496 conjugal chastity was withdrawn, as was poverty in 1505 by Pope Julius II.
Manuel I of Portugal became Grand Master of the Order by Pope Leo X, Papacy Bull of 1516. During his time as Grand Master he enlarged the church of Tomar westwards, opened up the Charola and created a Nave to house the choir and sacristy.
In 1522, the Order was divided into two separate divisions; a religious order under the Pope and a civil order under the King.
In 1523, John III held a chapter, and gave brother Antonius of Lisbon, a Spanish Friar, to reform the order. In 1529, the Grand Prior was removed along with his priests, and ordered to wear the habit and cross associated with the order.
Dom Antonio became the new Prior, and under his leadership many Knights Templar Grand Master tombs were destroyed along with documents. In 1567, Antonio got control of the convents within the order by approval of Pope Pius V. In 1574 King Sebastian attempted to reverse the order.
In the tears 1580-1640 another attempt to reform the order took place, when Philip III changed conditions of entrance, to one being of noble birth plus two years service in Africa or three years service with the fleet.
Pope Pius VI and Queen Mary I reformed the order, making the convent of Tomar, headquarters of the whole order in 1789, yet it lost its religious character in the process.
The new order consisted of: Grand Master, Great Comander, six knights of the Grand Cross, 450 Commanders plus knights and only those of Catholic faith could be admitted to the order.
In 1834, Portugal became an anti-Catholic land, following the defeat of King Miguel in the Civil War, and so the order lost its properties.
In 1910, saw the end of the Portuguese monarchy, and all Orders were abolished except the “Order of the Tower and Sword.”
The Military “Order of Christ” was re-activated, consisting of a Chancellor and a Council of eight members, appointed by the President of the Republic.