The conquest of Jerusalem in July 1099 and the founding of the crusader states of Tripoli, Antioch and Edessa connected Europe to the new Christian kingdom in the Middle East. Until the fall of Acre in 1291, Europeans flocked to the Kingdom of Jerusalem to see the very sites where Christ had walked, and to follow in His footsteps. Though, in the opening decades of the 12th century, the mountainous pass from the port of Jaffa to Jerusalem teemed with roaming bands of nomadic Bedouin as well as Turkish forces that lived in the north and Egyptians in the south. Quite frequently, pilgrims who grew weary on the road to Jerusalem or those who travelled in unarmed groups were viciously attacked, raped, slaughtered, all the money they had carried with them, stolen. One of the worst attacks took place at Easter in 1119 when a large group of unarmed pilgrims ‘set out from Jerusalem to the river Jordan’ (Michael Haag, p. 95). They were ruthlessly attacked by an Egyptian sortie from Ascalon. ‘Three hundred pilgrims were killed and another sixty were captured to be sold as slaves’ (Haag, p. 95).
Shocked, but probably not surprised, King Baldwin II recognized the urgency for a larger, stronger fighting force: not just men who were capable of bearing arms in battle, but men who could also guard and defend the roads to Jerusalem. That need served to the great benefit of Hugh de Payns, Godfrey of Saint-Omer, two knights from France who had fought in the First Crusade. Sometime in 1118 or 1119, they proposed to King Baldwin II and the Patriarch of Jerusalem Warmund of Picquigny their God given desire to lead what remained of their lives in contemplation within the walls of a monastery. Baldwin instead urged them to ‘save their souls by protecting pilgrims on the roads’ (Haag, p. 96). In the words of one chronicler, ‘they were to take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience but were also to defend pilgrims against brigands and rapists’ (Haag, p.96).
On Christmas Day 1119, Hugh de Payns, Godfrey Saint-Omer and seven other men took their vows before the patriarch in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. They called themselves the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ. Since the king had built a new palace for himself and his family, he gave the Al-Aqsa mosque to the Poor Fellow-Soldiers. Since the al-Aqsa mosque was built on the ancient site of Solomon’s temple, the Poor Fellow-Soldiers quickly adopted the name, the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon. In short, they referred to themselves — as were referred to by everyone else — as the Knights Templar.
Since the birth of Christianity, men who had chosen to devote their entire lives to God and the Church, they were forbidden by the Pope to bear arms and shed blood. The Knights Templar was a religious order, not unlike any other, so why were they permitted to fight while monks from most other religious orders were not granted the same right?
Desperate times called for desperate measures. The Holy Land, so sacred to all of Christendom and militarily fragile, could only survive if it had a strong enough army. Baldwin had every intention of sending delegates to Europe to gain recruits. However, so precarious was the situation in the Kingdom of Jerusalem, he realized that if he didn’t utilize what manpower he already had, it was very possible the Kingdom of Jerusalem would fall to the Muslims before recruits arrived from the west. Building a strong kingdom began with the defense of the roads on which pilgrims travelled.
Europe, on the other hand – with the exception of the Iberian Peninsula (Spain) – faced no immediate threat of Muslim invasion. For that reason, the Pope determined, warfare should be the call of duty to only those men who had chosen to live their lives by the sword.
Haag, Michael. The Templars: The History and the Myth. New York; London; Toronto; Sydney; HarperCollins, 2009.