Many brothers will have heard the name of Jacques de Molay and will in one way or another associate it with the Order. Those within the Knights Templar will undoubtedly know of this larger-than-life figure of the Christian Crusades, but others may not be so aware of his story.
In this post, we take a look at the interesting life of Jacques de Molay, before understanding his relevance within Masonic history.
Jacques de Molay and the Knights Templar.
Jacques de Molay was born into an aristocratic but impoverished family in Besancon, Burgundy, France. Until he joined the Knights Templar, little is known about his life.
As a result, his life is best understood through his involvement with the Knights Templar. Molay joined the order in 1265 and fought his first fight against Muslims in what is now Syria, according to records.
To fight for the Holy Sepulchre, he joined the order of Grand Master William de Beaujeu. He spent the majority of his Templar life in the Holy Land, at least until he was appointed as Grand Master.
After a lengthy and brutal chapter in the history of the Christian Crusades seemed to be coming to a conclusion, he was elected Grand Master of the Knights Templar in around 1298. He served as the Knights Templar’s twenty-second Grand Master.
De Molay moved his knights to Cyprus after a long sojourn in the Holy Land ended when they lost Palestine, and lived there until he returned to France. As the order’s strength seemed to decline, Cyprus became the order’s headquarters.
When de Molay was brought back to France to explore the idea of conducting a new crusade, he requested that Pope Clement V investigate blasphemy and sodomy accusations leveled against the order. On his return to France, he was accompanied by sixty of his knights.
De Molay’s desire to unite the Knights Templars and the Knights Hospitallers, a competing order that cared for sick and injured pilgrims in the Holy Land, irritated King Phillip in particular. The King desired to unify the two orders under his leadership rather than de Molay’s, as this would have effectively made him Christendom’s undisputed King of War.
All of the Templars in France, including Molay, were arrested and interrogated by Phillip’s men after investigations into Pope Clement’s command were conducted. Phillip’s men wanted to crush the order’s power and steal the wealth they had accumulated from their years of battle throughout the Crusades.
Five significant charges were leveled against de Molay and his fellow knights, most of them involved corruption and immoral behavior. Phillip took advantage of de Molay’s arrest to seize the order’s vast assets and give them over to the royal treasury.
The knights were all seized as soon as they arrived in France and taken to the University of Paris, where they were read the charges. De Molay was imprisoned and subjected to interrogation by the King’s troops for the next five years.
De Molay admitted to several crimes as a result of these investigations and possibly torture, and was eventually burned at the stake by King Phillip’s troops, who judged him to be a heretic and guilty of his crimes.
In his forced confession, de Molay testified to the order’s heresy, which included the brothers’ denial of Christ and even abuse of the cross in sacrilegious initiation rituals. It’s unclear whether de Molay and his fellow knights were involved in these practices.
One could claim that King Phillip meticulously organized the charge of heresy, as it was nearly hard to avoid such a charge at the period. It was frequently utilized as a means of ruining an opponent throughout the Middle Ages because it was difficult to prove against.
The Knights Templar was officially disbanded by papal edict at the Council of Vienne in 1312, just before de Molay’s death. De Molay, along with three other Templar leaders, were taken to their deaths in 1314.
He was set ablaze on a scaffold in front of a large crowd. At his death, he proclaimed the order’s innocence, and with his final words, he predicted that the Pope and King would soon join him in before of God for judgment.
Many interpreted de Molay’s final remarks as a curse on the King and Pope, and the events that occurred shortly after his death imply that it was a successful curse.
The Pope died only thirty-three days after de Molay was burned. King Phillip fell critically ill seven months later and died as a result of his illness. Whether or not people believed in de Molay’s curse is debatable, but the Capetian dynasty of which King Phillip was a part came to an end in the short time after his death, as his barren sons also died young.
Why is the story of de Molay relevant to Freemasonry?
Because it took about 400 years from Jacques de Molay’s death to the establishment of Freemasonry in Northern Europe, the exact link between de Molay and the Knights Templar may not be obvious at first.
However, in order to grasp the connection to the Crusades, it’s necessary to acknowledge that Masons propagated extravagant tales about their order. Many of these traces can be traced back to the Crusader knights, while others can be traced all the way back to the builders of King Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem.
Indeed, the secret rituals and initiation procedures of the Knights Templar supplied important source material for early Masonic writers to use in perpetuating the new mythology around Freemasonry’s origins.
Given the Knights Templar’s role in the Christian Crusades, membership in the modern-day Templar is limited to Christian Masons. Freemasonry simply requires a brother to believe in the Supreme Being, but the Knights Templar affiliate teaches brothers about the Christian faith.
Many of the Knights Templar’s teachings today place a strong focus on Jacques de Molay’s valiant defiance following his incarceration in France. There is also a Masonic branch in Kansas City, known as ‘The Order of Molay,’ which was formed by brother Frank S. Land in 1919.
However, very little is known about the intricacies of the Knights Templar’s initiation procedures, and much speculation prevails about what actually happened.