As K is not an original letter of the Portuguese alphabet, but one adopted into it in following the Portuguese Language Orthographic Agreement of 1990, it was a bit of a quandary what to write. After all how do you write about a subject significant to the country when there are no native words beginning with the letter?
However it didn’t take long to figure out what to write about. It’s a subject I love, the Knights Templar and they are as significant as you could get when it comes to Ks in Portugal.
The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon, or Knights Templar as they are more commonly known, are shrouded in mystery. Myths, legends and exaggerated stories have been passed down the centuries which have only enhanced their appeal.
More recently books, films and television programmes have tried to uncover some of the deeper mysteries surrounding the Order, though separating fact from fiction can sometimes be difficult.
One fact, which has never been disputed, is the role they played in the history of Portugal (and vice versa).
So, who were the Knights Templar?
The Knights Templar were founded in 1118, after the First Crusade, with the primary objective of providing safe passage to pilgrims going to and from the Holy Land in Jerusalem.
The Knights Templar adopted a code of behaviour, loosely based on those of the Cistercian monks, later termed the Latin Rule and relied solely upon the donations of others to survive. Although the Knights Templar received the blessing of the King of Jerusalem, Baldwin, almost immediately, it took a further 11 years for papal recognition from the Catholic Church thanks mainly to whisperings made by their patron, Bernard de Clairvaux, a powerful cleric and nephew of one of the founding members.
Following recognition from the church donations became to flood into the order, which grew in size by the day. At it’s peak the order boasted around 50,000 members, though only 10,000 of who were actual Knights. The rest were serfs, and other lowly people in the employ of squires and often forgotten about.
The warrior monks’ became a powerful order in a short period of time, accruing lands and wealth through donations. At their height they commanded their own fleet of ships and had churches, monasteries and castles built along the route to Jerusalem.
In addition to this the Templars are credited with introducing a crude but effective cheque system. To ensure the pilgrims they protected were not robbed en-route to Jerusalem, the Templars issued letters of credit. Pilgrims deposited their valuables with the Templars preceptory and on arrival in the Holy Land the money was retrieved.
Why was Portugal so important to the Knights Templar?
Portugal was the first European country where the Knights Templar set up headquarters outside of the Holy Land. In 1128, long before the Kingdom of Portugal was founded, the Templars settled on land they’d be given at Soure, near Coimbra in central Portugal. But Templars will be forever held in high esteem in Portugal thanks to their assistance in the Reconquest of the country from the Moors, which led to the Kingdom of Portugal, as we know it.
Alongside the future king of Portugal, Afonso Henriques, the warrior monks fought long, hard, bloody battles to drive the Moors from what had been known by the Romans as Portucale.
Their reward was a ruined castle at Tomar on the banks of the River Nabão with land stretching as far as the River Mondego. In 1160 Gualdim de Pais, the then master of the Templars, ordered the construction of a new castle and church on this site.
The Castelo Templário and Convento Cristo, edifices which, over 850 years later, still inspire and dominate the town.
Although the Knights Templar resided in castles in other areas of Portugal, namely Pombal, Castelo Branco, Almourol, Monsanto and Idanha Velha, Tomar became the headquarters.
It’s position ideal to fend off attacks, fertile land all around and on a direct trade route. The round church they built, which it’s believed to be modelled on the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, was adorned with gold leaf.
Tomar was dear to the Templars, this much we know. It was the only castle they constructed from scratch in Portugal and the church across the Nabao, Santa Maria dos Olivias, remains of actual Templars.
Seven members of the order are buried in the church and although Gualdim de Pais, whose statue adorns the pedestrianised Praca de Republica in Tomar, was also buried there, local legend states his remains were moved to a secret location to foil bounty hunters.
However after only 150 years of settling in Portugal religious politics came into play. The then Pope, Clement V, possibly scared of the Templars power and influence, disbanded the monks in a flurry of accusations of heresy and other such stuff. All Templar assets had to be surrendered to the Catholic Church, all knights denounced and handed over to inquisitors with immediate effect.
While other countries across Europe acquiesced, scared of any heretical backlash, the Portuguese King, Dinis, delayed and pondered the situation. The Knights Templar were powerful allies with vast tracts of land and unrivalled wealth in his own kingdom. So he blocked all access from the inquisitors to the Templars and announced their lands were state owned.
Meanwhile Dinis jockeyed for a new holy order be created, the Order of Christ, then gifted all the former Templar lands to them. It is believed all remaining Templars within Portugal transferred to the order, where they remained for many years to come, adding further lands and castles to their wealth.
The Order of Christ went on to help build the Portuguese nation’s fortunes under the leadership of the grand master Prince Henry the Navigator.
And the rest they say is history, Portuguese history.