Templar Knights Join the Order of Christ

Crest for the city of Tomar, headquarters for the Knights Templar and the Order of Christ.(1)

As previously described, during the 200 years of the Crusades, the Knights Templar held a great deal of power and prestige. The Pope endorsed the order and granted them exemption from any authority or law except himself. That meant that no one could tell the Knights Templar what to do except the Pope. The situation made the order hugely popular with noble families who donated money, land, businesses, and sons to help fight in the Holy Land.

The Order of the Knights Templar was not just a unit of trained knights. It formed a gigantic business network, similar to a multinational corporation today. More members were employed running the organization than serving as knights. During the hundreds of years the order was successful [longer than our United States has existed], it acquired property throughout Europe and the Middle East, had its own fleet of ships, and was involved with every aspect of manufacturing and trade.

The Templars managed their huge economic infrastructure with innovative financial techniques. Many were early forms of banking. For example, a knight could deposit his valuables with the Templars in his home town in England and receive cash at the other end in the Holy Land. That allowed him to travel far and wide without carrying pocketfuls of change, a lure for bandits.

Apart from their influence in the Middle East, the Templars built a complicated and powerful infrastructure throughout Europe. Men worked for the Order’s vineyards and other businesses. Families borrowed money from its banks. There was no place in Europe a merchant could turn without running into the Templar’s powerful network. Merchants and noblemen knew that when they borrowed money from the Templar’s bank, there would be grave consequences if they did not pay it back. [Think: the Mob.]

As shown by these Knights Templar figures sold throughout Portugal, the country celebrates the Order’s participation in her history.(2)

By the time King Afonso I [Afonso Henriques] took control of infant Portugal, the Knights Templar had entrenched itself in Braga, Portugal’s religious heart. The Templars were as concerned with fighting the infidel Moors to the south, and pushing them out of Iberia, as they were with crusading in the Holy Land.

A young nobleman from the province of Minho near Braga, named Gualdim Pais (1118-1195), fought so bravely alongside Afonso Iduring the Battle of Ourique in 1139, that the new king knighted him. For the next five years, Sir Gualdim Pais joined the crusaders in Palestine. In 1157, the Portuguese Templars, still headquartered in Braga, ordained Gualdim Pais as their Fourth Grand Master. In 1160, Pais commissioned the architect Fernão Gonçalves to design and build a convent and fortress on a strategic hill in Tomar on the north bank of the Rio Tejo [Tagus River]. In those days, Tomar was on Portugal’s southern border, the frontier facing the Moors to the south.

The round church that Fernão Goncalves built under Pais’ supervision was inspired by Empress Helena’s octagonal Church of the Sepulcher in Jerusalem, the ruins of which Pais would have seen for himself. [The Crusaders mistook the building to be the remains of Solomon’s Temple.] Tomar had become the sé [seat] of the Portuguese Knights Templar.

[Left] A statue of Templar Master Don Gualdim Pais overseeing the Plaza of the RepublicTomar’s town square. [Right] The Round Church of the Convento de Cristo [Convent of Christ].(3)

In 1190, Yusuf I, King of Morocco, besieged the fortress of Tomar with his vastly superior army of Almohod Muslims. But Gualdim Pais successfully fended them off, protecting the new kingdom of Portugal.

Over the next fifty years, the Knights Templar became unnecessary in the Holy Lands, especially when, in 1244, the Muslims captured Jerusalem for the last time. The newly elected Catholic Pope Innocent IV (Pope from 1243-1254) and the Holy Roman Emperor and King of Sicily Frederic II, were threatened by the Templar network and how much power the Templars had obtained. Innocent IV began taking that power back. That meant getting rid of the Templars.

Three years after fleeing from the island of Ruad in the Middle East in 1303, the Templars found a new enemy in Philippe le Bel [aka Philip IV the Fair], who had been King of France since 1285. Philippe had borrowed a great deal of money from the Jews and the Knights Templar to wage his wars for taking control of Europe. Rather than pay off his debts, he took a cowardly route; he denounced the Jews and the Templars as enemies of the state.

In 1303, Philippe abducted Pope Boniface because the Pope had issued a bull [order] that all kings were subject to the church. Philippe disagreed with that order and ended up choosing his own pope, Clement V, splitting the church into two contingents – the French contingent and the Italian contingent. In 1306, Philippe expelled the Jews from France. In 1307, he ordered the Knights Templar annihilated. Clement V supported Philippe’s suppression of the Templars, forcing the Templars to flee to places out of papal control. [In 1309, Pope Clement V moved the center of operations for the French contingent from Rome to Avignon, which was then part of France. More on that later.]

Legend has it that some of the Templar knights fled to America. We will tell you about that later, too.

Some Templars fled to Scotland, where, in 1303, Pope Boniface had excommunicated the king of Scotland, Robert the Bruce, for killing an important noblemen called Red Comyn. With their king excommunicated, the Scottish Knights Templar were released from the Pope’s domain.

But the majority of the Knights Templar joined their compatriots in Portugal, where King Dinis pulled a clever maneuver to protect them. He convinced Pope John XXII (seated from 1316 - 1364) that Portugal needed a powerful Pope-backed army to continue its fights against the infidel Moors to the south. Dinis created a new order, which he named the Order of the Passions of Jesus Christ. Not only did Pope John recognize the order, but he granted it the right to inherit and take possession of all the assets and property previously held by the Order of the Knights Templar. King Dinis stipulated that the head of the order, known as the Grand Master, was to be appointed by the Portuguese crown.

The Portuguese Templars had already separated themselves from the Castilian Templars when Afonso I won Portugal’s independence in 1143. Afonso I had disconnected the Portuguese church in Braga from the Castilian church in Santiago de Compostela and the French church in Cluny. In a sense, the Templars in Braga were already rivals of the French.

European Templars who fled to Portugal brought their money and assets with them. It was a great deal of wealth.

The Order of Christ developed a new trademark cross, which looked like this and can be found everywhere in Portugal:(4)

The cross decorates the sidewalks in Tomar.(5)

You will find the symbol embedded in the ceilings of churches and castles that were occupied by members of the order.(6)

The cross even decorated dinnerware. The knights had two sets: one for healthy knights and a separate set for the sick. [The pottery is very rare today. Most of it was smashed to bits when, centuries later, new organizations came to power and outlawed the Order of Christ.]

The dining hall of the Knights Templar’s Convent of Christ in Tomar. Note the pulpit on the left side. Knights were also monks and listened to sermons while they ate. The top shelf on the right displays dishware from the Order of Christ. The bottom shelf displays items used by the Knights Templar. (7)

Knights wore pendants to identify themselves with the Order. Tile ceramic images of the the cross decorate castle interiors.|(8)

A curtain rod at The Pousada de Infante, a luxury hotel in Sagres at the south-western tip of today’s Portugal. The pousada was named after the most famous knight of the Order of Christ, Henry the Navigator.(9)

This cut-leaf illustrates how the cross was placed on the knights’ shields, banners, and tunics. Artist unknown.(10)

Probably the most important function of the Order of Christ’s trademark was to identify its ships. Like the Knights Templar, the Order of Christ ran its own fleets. The bright red cross on the white banners and sails was easy to recognize from miles away.

This illustration is from the 1500s. It shows a carrack, a caravel, and a galley owned by the Order of Christ.(11)

The newly arrived Templars of Portugal were particularly interested in sailing to Africa. They wanted to find the Kingdom of Prester John, which they thought was in Abyssinia [Ethiopia]. The reason they wanted to find the Christian elder was to convince him to assist the knights in fighting the Ottoman Turks, who were quickly gobbling up Eastern Europe. The Order of Christ’s fleets will soon dominate the west coast of Africa.


  1. Photo of the street plaque in Tomar showing the town crest ©2015 Mary Ames Mitchell. All rights reserved.
  2. Photo of Knights Templar figures ©2015 Mary Ames Mitchell. All rights reserved.
  3. Photos of Gualdim Pais statue and Convento of Christ ©2015 Mary Ames Mitchell. All rights reserved.
  4. Image source for Order of Christ cross: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Order_of_Christ_%28
    Nuno Tavares - Based on Orderofcriststeagalb.jpg from en:WP, uploaded by CristianChirita, who specified it as GFDL. This vector image was created with Inkscape, and then manually edited.
  5. Sidewalk in Tomar, Portugal, with the Order of Christ cross. Photo ©2015 Mary Ames Mitchell. All rights reserved.
  6. Photo of ceiling of Convento de Cristo in Tomar ©2015 Mary Ames Mitchell. All rights reserved.
  7. Photo of dining hall and dishes in the Convento de Cristo, Tomar, ©Mary Ames Mitchell. All rights reserved.
  8. Portrait of a Christ’s Knight by Domingos Vieira, c1625, housed in the Historical Museum of Évora. Photo of portrait ©2015 Mary Ames Mitchell. All rights reserved.
  9. Photo of curtain rod ©2015 Mary Ames Mitchell. All rights reserved.
  10. Artist unknown. Published by Wenceslas Hollar (aka Václav Hollar, Wenzel Hollar, Wencelaus Hollar, Weneeslas von Pracha, Wenceslaus Hollar Bohemus, a Bohemian painter, draughtsman, engraver and etcher) Members of the Order of Christ, between c1620 and c1670. Original located in the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, Plate number: P1986. {{PD-Old}} Public Domain more than 100 years old. Artwork from University of Toronto Wenceslaus Hollar Digital Collection. Unknown date (author lived 1607-1677). Image Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:
  11. Photo of illustration showing a carrack, a caravel, and a galley ship in the early 1500s marked by the cross of the Order of Christ ©2015 Mary Ames Mitchell. All rights reserved.

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