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History and The Da Vinci Code
The Knights Templar came into being in 1118 after the holy city of Jerusalem (which had been conquered in 614 A.D. by the Caliph Umar) was recaptured by Christian forces during the First Crusade. The new Kingdom of Jerusalem was ruled by Baldwin I, crowned in 1100, and the Knights, led by Hugues de Payens, occupied a wing of his castle in the former Al Aqsa Mosque, where the great Temple of Solomon had once stood. As a result, they soon became known as the Knights of the Temple, or Templars. The Knights were a monastic military order dedicated to the protection of Christian pilgrims visiting the Holy Lands. As knightly monks, they took vows of poverty and celibacy. Their emblem was a red cross on a white tunic, while their sergeants (who were not members of the nobility) wore red on black. The order was endorsed by Bernard, the powerful Abbott of Clairvaux (founder of the Cistercian Order, later beatified as St. Bernard) and the order was officially recognized by the Church at the Council of Troyes in 1128. It is probable that Bernard wrote the Templars' "Rule,” which swore allegiance only to the Pope.

These fabled warriors soon began expanding their mandate from protecting pilgrims to fighting for all the causes of the Holy Kingdom of Jerusalem. They went from protecting property for absent pilgrims to banking — loaning would-be pilgrims funds for the journey against their property — and levying taxes as well as collecting tithes. Their land holdings and wealth soon became vast, and their influence was sufficient to provoke resentment by political leaders, who were never able to gain control of them. The Templars' holdings stretched across Europe and included castles in the Holy Land and Cyprus, and their knowledge of the East inevitably involved them in politics. They were the forerunners of the modern professional military, a dedicated, well-trained and disciplined institution that eschewed individual heroics in favor of the greater goal.

The Templars' chief rivals were the Hospitalers, an order begun in 1070 to care for pilgrims and provide the less wealthy with lodging. They, too, quickly evolved into a military order with great power and wealth. The refusal of these two powerful orders to work together and increasing indebtedness to them became a major headache for Europe's secular rulers, but the Hospitalers continued with their charitable works, which deflected the wrath that eventually destroyed the Templars.

On Friday October 13, 1307 (believed to be the origin of the superstition that Friday the 13th is an unlucky day), King Philip IV of France issued orders for the arrest of the Templars and confiscation of their property. The captured Templars were tortured and confessed to a variety of heresies and perversions. In spite of efforts to save the order — in a few trials members were found innocent — the forces against them were too determined, and Jacques de Molay, the order's last Grand Master, was burned at the stake in 1314, ending the Knights Templar after 200 years.

In his novel, The Da Vinci Code, author Dan Brown contends that the Priory of Sion is a real organization founded in 1099, and that parchments housed at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris reveal that its membership included many leading figures of literature, art and science. However, the documents in the Bibliothèque Nationale have been revealed to be modern forgeries placed there by Pierre Plantard, who admitted to having "founded” the Priory with three friends in 1956, either as a lark or part of a con. He was elected the Grand Master of the Priory in 1981.

The phoney documents and manuscripts, which have become known as the "Dossiers Secrets,” claim that the secret organization was founded in 1099 by Godefroy de Bouillon, who led the first army to depart for Jerusalem during the First Crusade, and w

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