By Jochen Schenk
As Ordens Militares. Freires, Guerreiros,Cavaleiros. Actas do VI Encontro sobre Ordens Militares, Vol. 1, ed. Isabel Cristina Ferreira Fernandes (Palmela, 2012)
Introduction: The military orders were unique religious institutions in very obvious ways, but one characteristic feature that has so far attracted little attention is the fact that of all the regular religious orders and communities that existed during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries only they wore the cross, which was the sign of the crusader, permanently on their habit. At a time of heightened crusade activity and spiritual refocusing on Christ the potency of the cross symbol could not have been lost to those who saw or wore it. It marked the bearer as a participant in Christ’s suffering, and at the same time projected on him the penitential and spiritually elevated status of the pilgrim and armed crusader. More than that, the symbol associated the bearer with the actual relic of the True Cross itself, which was at the core of crusader identity.
The Templars were from the start closely connected with the localities of Christ’s Passion; yet they do not seem to have added the signum of the cross to their habit until after the composition and translation of their original rule, but before 1139, when Pope Innocent III mentioned it in his bull Omne datum optimum. As part of the Templar habit it is frequently mentioned in the Templar statutes, the retraits, which provided detailed regulations on how and where the cross should be worn (§ 141), and when it should be removed (§§ 470, 489, 496, which show that by not wearing the cross the penitent was visually, spiritually as well as factually excluded the community of the brothers). These references further added to the already very diverse Christological imagery of the Templar rule recently described by Tom Licence, which have led him to conclude that even in the intensely Christocentric period of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the Templars’ ostensive identification with Christ stood out. His observation seems to find subtle support in the research of Joan Fuguet i Sans, who in an earlier article regarded the cross as the most prominent element in the Order’s iconography. It is also in line with Sebastián Salvadó’s more recent observation that the Templars in the Crown of Aragon made extensive use of True Cross relics and devotional icons from the East to express their association with the Holy Land and ‘recreate the spiritual homeland of their order’.
In this article I intend to follow in particular the lead of Salvadó by expanding the list of True Cross relics associated with the Order of the Temple, and, in a second step, by investigating more closely what the Templars’ association with these relics can tell us about the Templars’ religious culture. The sources that are most relevant for this kind of research are the Order of the Temple’s inventory lists, which have survived in large number in many western archives but of which only a few have so far been edited. These the Templars had sometimes commissioned themselves; more often, however, they were the result of royal decrees during and after the trial of the Templars to have the Order’s mobile and immobile belongings catalogued. In the inventories are recorded the Templars mundane possessions but also, albeit to a more limited extend, their liturgical instruments and religious objects, including relics. And it is from these entries that first conclusions on the religious culture of the Order of the Temple can be drawn.