This month will see the year’s second Friday the 13th, and to make it worse it lands in October, the scariest of all months. For centuries the superstitious have feared this day as bad luck, although there is little evidence to suggest that Friday the 13th is any different to any other day. Why then, does this day strike such fear into the hearts of those who choose to believe the superstition? To answer that question we must travel back 710 years.
In the medieval period, the Knights Templar were the most powerful organisation in Europe. They were an elite group of monk-soldiers who fought holy wars and protected pilgrims along their journey to the Holy Land. They were Christendom’s special forces, body guards and eventually their bankers.
Pilgrims and Crusaders would hand their assets over to a local Templar before leaving home. In return, they were given a letter of credit, a sort of early cheque, which could be cashed on their arrival in the Holy Land. With no need to carry large sums of money, pilgrim’s and crusader’s assets were protected in the event they were robbed on the journey.
Rulers and aristocracy all over Europe began donating their land, castles and other assets to the Templars. The Templars then used their vast network of resources to move horses, men and supplies to the Middle East. Despite their wealth as an organisation, each individual Templar took a vow of poverty.
By the late 13th century, the Crusades were coming to an end with Islam still the dominant religious power in the Holy Land. This loss brought heavy criticisms to the Crusaders, including the Knights Templar.
Despite their decline in influence, their wealth coming in from their banking facilities was still very strong. Much of Europe’s aristocracy, including kings, found themselves in debt to the Templars. Philip IV, King of France was one such monarch. A year earlier, he had gone after the jewish banking industry to help alleviate his debts, this time he targeted the Knights Templar.
At dawn on Friday 13th of October 1307, Phillip struck. Using the charge of heresy, the king ordered the simultaneous arrest of Templars all over France. This including their leader Templar Grand Master, Jacques de Molay. Over the next several weeks the Templars were systematically tortured resulting in confessions to a series of bizarre crimes. Amongst these crimes, the men confessed to spitting on the cross, homosexuality and worshipping the god Baphomet.
The scandal caused Pope Clement V to issue a Papal Bull dissolving the Order and handing over all of their assets to the Knights Hospitaller. Many kings, including Edward I of England chose not to believe the accusations and refused to order their arrest. This created a sanctuary for knights running from persecution.
This sanctuary lasted only a year when Edward I finally agreed to obey the papal bull. His heart was clearly not in it as he arrested only a handful of knights, none of whom were found guilty. Still, the king seized their assets and the Order either disbanded, joined the Knights Hospitallers or carried on in secret.
The cruelty and suddenness of Philip’s attack reverberates even today. Friday the 13th leaves some people fearful for what the day may bring. Unless you’re one of the Knights Templars, you can relax, Friday the 13th is just another day.
For a bit of fun regarding Templar history, visit the Knights Templar: Site Mapping Project It’s an interactive map listing various places around the world which have connections with the Knights Templar