The closest one can come today to the Temple compound in which Jacques de Molay and the other Templars were arrested is to take the Paris Metro (line 3) to the stop labeled “Temple.” But don’t expect to find anything of the Templars there. The buildings were destroyed during or shortly after the French Revolution. “Of the imposing group of its monuments, church, donjon, cloister and monastic buildings, and constructions of all sorts, homes and houses of commerce that were encircled and sheltered by its vast enclosure, not one stone remains.”1
When did the Templars first have a building in Paris?
The commandery of the Knights Templar in Paris is first noted during the time of Louis VII. A woman named Gente, the daughter of the physician of Louis VI, donated a water mill, under the Great Bridge in Paris, to the Templars. Unfortunately, we can only date this within the years 1137 and 1147.2 The Templar who acchepted the gift was Everard de Barres, master of the Temple in Paris and later Grand Master.
King Louis made a gift to the Temple in 1143, of twenty-seven livres to be paid once a year. However, the donation charter doesn’t specify that this is to the Temple in Paris, only to the Templars. Neither does a donation made to the Templars in 1145 by Bartholomew, deacon of Notre Dame.3It’s frustrating, but part of historical research is not to assume anything, so while it makes sense that there would have been a commandery, there is still no proof.4
A meeting with the king outside the Temple walls in Paris. The
pointed towers in the background are the Louvre. (Art Resource, NY)
Finally, in 1146/47, there is a record of a donation from Simon, the bishop of Noyon, to the Templars. It states clearly that this was done at the Temple in Paris, in the presence of the master and the “convent of knights.” Now we can be certain that there was a building in Paris where the Templar master for France and the knights lived.5Whether it is the same as the one that became the center of the Templar compound in Paris still isn’t sure, but we’re closer.
In August of 1147, there was a great gathering of Templars. Pope Eugenius III was in town and preparations were being made for the Second Crusade. Lord Bernard of Balliol gave the Templars lands that he possessed in England. This was witnessed by the pope, King Louis VII, several archbishops, and 130 brothers of the Knights Templar, “wearing the white cloaks.”6 This means that there were that many nobly born knights of the Temple in Paris. Since the fighting force in Jerusalem at that time averaged from three to six hundred it’s a good bet that these knights had arrived from all over France, and perhaps England, before they left for the East.
If we had the charters of the Temple itself, a lot of the mystery surrounding the order would be cleared up. As it is, the next major gift in Paris that we know of was not until 1172, when Constance, sister of King Louis, gave the Templars a house in Champeaux. In this case, nine Templars of the house in Paris are listed by name.7
By the end of the twelfth century, the Temple in Paris was being used for the royal treasury. Louis’ son Philip II (Philip Augustus) used the Temple as a depository for taxes and other revenues. His officials then drew money out for personal expenses for the king and his family.8
This was continued under his son, Louis VIII, and grandson, Louis IX.
Even though the kings had their own palace, many times the entire royal family chose to stay at the Templar commandery while they were in Paris. Philip III stayed there with his wife and children in 1275 and again in 1283 and 1285.9In order for the Temple to house the king and court, they would have needed a spacious guest house within the grounds.
The Temple in Paris also served as a safe place to keep royal documents, such as treaties. In 1258, Henry III of England agreed to renounce his claims to Normandy, Maine, Anjou, Touraine, and Poitou, about a quarter of the territory of modern France. The treaty was deposited at the Temple. In return, Louis promised to pay a certain amount to Henry, to be deposited to Henry’s account at the Temple in Paris twice a year.10
Henry III also stayed in the Temple when he came to Paris in 1254. He may have just wanted to be close to his money, but he seems to have been on good terms with the Templars, as well. In 1247, the Grand Master, William of Sonnac, sent the king “a crystal vase allegedly containing a portion of the blood of Christ.”11
As the government of the kings of France became more complex, a special section was created called the Chamber of Accounts. “This body met three times a year at the Temple in Paris to act on agenda prepared by a sub-committee which met at the Chambre des Deniers in the Louvre.”12 The members were not Templars; they just used the house for their meetings.
The Paris Temple was the heart of the financial connection between the Latin kingdoms and the West. When the patriarch of Jerusalem (in exile in Acre) needed to arrange for money and weapons to defend the city, he wrote to Amaury de la Roche, commander of the Temple in Paris. The patriarch needed funds sent to Acre to pay cross- bowmen, knights, and soldiers.13 He expected Amaury to be able to make the arrangements for the loans and the transfer of the money.
In 1306, just a year before the arrest of the Templars, King Philip the Fair felt sure enough of the loyalty of the Templars to seek refuge in the Paris Temple during the riots caused when he devalued the money.14By then the Templar compound was surrounded by thick walls and included several buildings as well as the church and living quarters for the brothers. In that year, Philip issued charters that were made “at the Temple.”15
It was rumored that Philip even spent the night of October 13, 1307, at the Temple so that he could be the first to start counting the loot after the arrests.16It’s a nice image but there is no evidence.
After the fall of the Templars, the Templar enclosure was taken over by the crown for a time before it was finally turned over to the Hospitallers. The surviving daughter-in-law of Philip the Fair, Clemence, seems to have lived there starting in 1317 until her death in 1328.
In a piece of poetic justice, one of the architects of the downfall of the Templars, Enguerrand de Marigny, was briefly imprisoned at the Temple by King Louis X.17 Enguerrand had been accused of taking bribes and falsifying accounts. When he was proved innocent of those charges, he was then accused of sorcery and hanged.
Even though the Temple in Paris was in the hands of the Hospitallers until the French Revolution, it continued to be called the Temple. It was used as a prison off and on, the most famous prisoners being King Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette. They were imprisoned in the tower of the Temple and it was from there that they were taken to the guillotine.18
The church of the Temple has also vanished but an eighteen the
From Henri de Curzon, La Maison du Temple de Paris, 1888.
century sketch remains. The church was much like the one at the Temple in London, with a round nave and a long choir. Parts of it may have been added to in the mid thirteenth century so we can’t know what it looked like originally.
Apart from the buildings used exclusively by the Templars, there was an entire village within the walls made up of the people who worked for or were dependent on the Templars and then after the order was dissolved, the Hospitallers. It was made up of kitchen gardens, sheds, storehouses, small shops, and houses. The Templars may have lived in their own world within Paris, but it was a busy one. With all the comings and goings of the wealthy, the nobles, and all of the rest of society that took care of them, it would have been difficult for the Templars to keep many secrets.
Oh yes, when the Metro system was dug for the Temple station, no treasure was found.
Henri de Curzon, La Maison du Temple de Paris (Paris, 1888) p. 1.
Cartulaire Général de Paris, Tome Premier, ed. Robert de Lasteyrie (Paris, 1887) p. 265, charter no. 270.
Ibid., p. 297, charter no. 321. This was made in the presence of Bernard of Clairvaux and witnessed by other men from Notre Dame and officials of the king, but no Templars are named.
Ibid., p. 288, charter no. 303.
Ibid., p. 299, charter no. 324. “Actum Parisius in Temple, presente magistro et conventu militum.”
Ibid., p. 307, charter no. 334, “alba clamide indutis.”
Ibid., pp. 422-23, charter no. 507.
John Baldwin, The Government of Philip Augustus (California University Press, 1986) p. 165. Also, please see chapter 24, Templars and Money.
Curzon, p. 240.
G. P. Cuttino, English Medieval Diplomacy (Indiana University Press, 1985) pp. 9-12.
Thomas W. Parker, The Knights Templars in England (University of Arizona Press, 1983) p. 48.
John L. Lamonte, The World of the Middle Ages: A Reorientation of Medieval History (New York, 1949) p. 468. For more on the Templar and French finances please see chapter 24.
Malcolm Barber, The New Knighthood (Cambridge, 1994) pp. 266-67.
Curzon, p. 241.
Ibid., p. 240.
Ibid., p. 242. He cites this story but doesn’t seem to believe it.
Ibid., p. 259.
Saul K. Padover, The Life and Death of Louis XVI (New York: Appleton, 1939) pp. 285-91.