The history of the Knights Templar is possibly the most misconstrued of all orders within the Catholic Church: their abrupt fall from power has made them the subject of countless myths, legends, and folk stories. While the tales of mysterious hidden Templar treasure are most certainly imaginative fictions, what really happened to the wealth of the Knights Templar?
The Knights Templar can trace their origins back to shortly after the First Crusade. Around the year 1119 Hugues de Payens, a French nobleman from the Champagne region of Northern France, enlisted the services of eight of his knight relatives to protect Christian pilgrims on their journey to the Holy Land. Upon arrival, he approached King Baldwin II of Jerusalem and asked for his permission to form the order. He allowed them to setup their headquarters on the southeastern side of the Temple Mount, from which they derive their full name “The Poor Knights of the Temple of King Solomon,” later shortened to the Knights Templar.
In 1129, the Knights Templar were officially recognized by the Holy See at Council of Troyes. The influence of the Knights Templar grew, with their fundraising campaigns asking for donations of money, land, or noblemen to join the order as knights. Ten years later in 1139, more power was conferred upon the Order by Pope Innocent II when he issued the papal bull, Omne Datum Optimum. The papal bull stated the Knights Templar had free passage through all lands, owed no taxes, and answered only to the pope. The order rapidly grew, with chapters appearing all over Europe.
The Knights Templar found great wealth through their involvement in banking. With their political connections and growing power, they came to own large tracts of land, supported the construction of churches and vineyards, owned a naval fleet, and were even involved in manufacturing with imports and exports.
When Muslim invaders retook Jerusalem, the founding pillars of the Knights Templar to support efforts in the Holy Land was upset. With loss after loss, the Templars continued to lose land and support of monarchies. King Philip IV of France, deeply in debt to the Knights Templar, took advantage of the situation. In 1307, he had members arrested, tortured into giving false confessions of heresy, and then burned at the stake. Five years later, under pressure from King Philip, Pope Clement V disbanded the order in 1312 at the Council of Vienne.
With the dissolution of the order by Pope Clement V, what happened to the great wealth they had amassed? At the Council of Vienne, Pope Clement V issued the papal bull Ad Providum, concerning that exact question. The bull granted all the wealth and land to the rival military order the Knights Hospitaller, so the original mission of the Templars could be carried out, despite King Phillip’s wishes that the lands be given to him.
While the wealth of the Templars was ordered to be transferred to the Knights Hospitaller, King Phillip held onto a majority of the lands in France until 1818. In England, the lands were divided up amongst the crown and nobility until 1338. In other parts of Europe, the land was never transferred to the Knights Hospitaller, but instead taken over by nobility and monarchs.
So are there vast caches hidden across the world of cursed Knights Templar gold? The answer is a resounding no. A majority of the wealth of the Knights Templar was not in raw currency, but in the land they held around the world and other material assets. They also derived wealth from their first primitive form of banking by issuing “checks,” where a pilgrim could give the Templars money and receive a promissory note in return good for that money upon their arrival in the Holy Land.