Brotherhood of Vice: Sodomy, Islam, and the Knights Templar

Brotherhood of Vice: Sodomy, Islam, and the Knights Templar

By Mark Steckler

Perspectives: A Journal of Historical Inquiry, Vol.34 (2007-8)

Introduction: On Friday October 13, 1307, members of the Order of the Knights Templar in France, under the orders of King Philip IV (d. 1314), were arrested en masse. Amongst the charges levied against the Templars were: denying Christ, God, the Virgin and the Saints; committing sacrilegious acts against both the Cross and images of Christ; denying the sacraments; performing idol worship; absolving fellow Templars of sin; engaging in secret ceremonies; illegally increasing their own wealth; placing obscene kisses on new entrants on the mouth, naval, and buttocks; and practicing sodomy. Undoubtedly a majority of the charges were legitimate concerns for both secular and ecclesiastical authorities. To have a religious order denying Christ and worshiping false idols or allowing non-clerical officials of that Order to absolve brethren of sin infringed on the authority of the Church. Even the charges relating to financial impropriety were legitimate concerns for secular authorities. The Templars had, by the beginning of the fourteenth century, become one of the most economically powerful organizations in Europe, one that remained independent of secular and religious authority, beholden only to the Pope himself. But the charge of sodomy was unique because it was a crime of personal moral failure, rather than an organizational heresy which could threaten state authority. On the other hand, charges of moral corruption does offer institutionalized power, whether state or Church, a way to essentialize an enemy and attribute to it the ability to corrupt society. For much of medieval history that enemy was Islam, which by the time of the Templar trials had become associated with sodomy. Accompanying the belief that the crusaders’ moral failures had contributed to the inability to wrest control of the Holy Land from Islam, sodomy added a recognizable moral element to the charges of religious heresy and financial impropriety.

The Templars, like many other religious military orders, were founded to protect Christian European pilgrims visiting sacred sites in the Holy Land. Though the Christian crusaders were victorious in the bloody battle at Jerusalem in 1099, roads to the Holy Land were dangerous places for Christian pilgrims. The Russian abbot Daniel described the region as “terrible and difficult of access for here live fierce Saracens (Muslim Turks) who attack travellers at the fords on these rivers.” The desire to protect such pilgrims led to the formation of the Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon (Knights Templar). The first of the purely military orders, it was founded in 1118 by veterans of the First Crusade, the French knight Hughes de Payens and the Flemish knight Godfrey de Saint-Omer. The Order was permitted to establish their headquarters at the Temple Mount by King Baldwin II ofJerusalem; thus the Order was born.

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