Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Lost Templars of Monmouthshire and the Marches - Ancient Traces I

The Knights Templars were the earliest founders of the military orders, and are the type on which the others are modelled. They are marked in history by their humble beginning, their marvellous growth, and by their tragic end.

Knight of the Holy Sepulchre,Monument at St Woolos Cathedral (St Gundleius Abbey) The other knights are to be seen in the fragment above, praying for his soul.
Sir John Morgan 1493 .See below)

‘Poor Knights of Christ’, protecting pilgrims to the Holy Land from Muslim invaders.
Immediately after the deliverance of Jerusalem, the Crusaders, considering their vow fulfilled, returned in a body to their homes. The defense of this precarious conquest, surrounded as it was by Mohammedan neighbours, remained. In 1118, during the reign of Baldwin II, Hugues de Payens, a knight of Champagne, and eight companions bound themselves by a perpetual vow, taken in the presence of the Patriarch of Jerusalem, to defend the Christian kingdom. Baldwin accepted their services and assigned them a portion of his palace, adjoining the temple of the city; hence their title "pauvres chevaliers du temple" (Poor Knights of the Temple ). Poor indeed they were, being reduced to living on alms, and, so long as they were only nine, they were hardly prepared to render important services, unless it were as escorts to the pilgrims on their way from Jerusalem to the banks of the Jordan, then frequented as a place of devotion.

The Templars had at this stage no distinctive habit nor rule. Hugues de Payens journeyed to the West to seek the approval of the Church and to obtain recruits. At the Council of Troyes (1128), at which he assisted and at which St. Bernard of Citeaux was the leading spirit, the Knights Templars adopted the Rule of St. Benedict, as recently reformed by the Cistercians. They accepted not only the three perpetual vows, besides the crusader's vow, but also the austere rules concerning the chapel, the refectory, and the dormitory. They also adopted the white habit of the Cistercians, adding to it a red cross.

Notwithstanding the austerity of the monastic rule, recruits flocked to the new order, as we have described last week, with Bishop Baldwin and Gerald of Wales going all around Monmouthshire recruiting.There were comprise four ranks of brethren:
• the knights , equipped  the heavy cavalry of the Middle Ages ;
• the serjeants , who formed the light cavalry;
and two ranks of non-fighting men:
• the farmers , entrusted with the administration of temporal (physical needs-food etc)
• and the chaplains , who alone were vested with sacerdotal orders , to minister to the spiritual needs of the order.

From then on, the Templars heroically protected the Christian pilgrims, who were armed and encouraged to go on such a pilgrimage to the Holy Places, Jerusalem and Bethlehem. They became rich and powerful and successfully in the main managed to reclaim some lands from the conquering Moslems.In the end however, the Richard I, the Lion Heart treated with Salahaddin. He was poised to take back Jerusalem but realised that the Moslems had conquered all the surrounding lands,with the sword and forced conversions to that faith, which was on a mission to take over all the middle east and Europe. It would clearly need huge resources to hold the city in the future. A treaty was made with Salahaddin to allow Christian pilgrimage and the Templars returned home.

The tragic conclusion of these brave knights was a complete muddle of an evil king wishing to rob the Templars of their wealth and a weak pope, unable to stop him. There was a Commission of Philip the Fair, where various allegations were made against the templars and ennabled him to have them arrested and executed and fill his coffers. Some 'confessed to guilt' which was not there and many of these brave and valiant knights went to their death on cooked up trials after suffering terrible torture by Philip’s men, to extract bogus confessions.
By the time of the papal inquiry, they found that many of the accusations had been made up, although some abuses had occurred because of the secrecy with which the order conducted itself, some abuses had crept in, including some unsavoury ones, including murder and devil worship and sodomy in a sacred place, but these really were very much in the minority and truly unequal to the task, the pope decided to disband the Order and give their lands to the Hospitallers, another order of military Knights, but sadly he acted so slowly that some knights still met their terrible ends after giving their lives to protect pilgrims and Christian lands in the Holy Land.
In England,the following is recorded in the Book of Prisoners in the Tower of London
1307 KNIGHTS TEMPLAR Robbery, murder and "shocking habits". Order dissolved. Goods assigned to Knights of St John of Jerusalem. All members sent to other monasteries.

These fragments of alabaster are the only remainsof a mmonument, which once stood in the body of the Church,erected as the arms denote, to the memory of Sir John Morgan of Tredegar +++Knight of the Holy Sepulchre+++who died 1493 andhis wife, daughter and heiress of David Matthew of Llandaf

There is scant evidence of this Templar involvement, but there are some sacred places. Such as St Brides Netherwent-Sant y Brid. It seems the Lord had Templar connections, for there is in that beautiful little church (Ave Maria bell of 1295) a templar tombstone brought in from the churchyard, or more probably kept as a monument of the church. Nothing seems to be known about the person commemorated now as desecrations subsequent to the Reformation or Cromwell have removed the identity, but the person it did commemorate was a Poor Knight of Christ. .
Templar Tombstone at St Brides, Netherwent an abandoned Mediaeval village.

What is sad about it, is that this was a living , breathing human being who went all the way to the Holy Land to protect pilgrims and defend the Holy Places and, grateful it was preserved, who was he? Was he a de Huntley of the local manor. Probably as such a stone looks like worldly status.

 St Bride's Netherwent
 Sant y Brid

On a Llan site, next to a redundant Mediaeval village.Has a thirteenth century 'AVE MARIA' bell.
 Church at Moccas

Looking at this church, with its great apse, immediately struck me as a Templar Church and I was not disappointed. I had become interested in this church because it was an ancient Christian llan or monastic settlement of the great St Dyfrig when Ergyng and Gwent were neighbouring kingdoms and this area still part of Wales. I was not disappointed when I entered the church, which you have to approach through private land, though a right of way is afforded at normal times.

The Knight Templar is
believed to be Richard de Fresne, with his legs crossed to show he has been on Crusade lies facing the altar of his Lord. The Apse has been rebuilt in Victorian times, but in a similar style and there are interesting stained glass windows of Victorian age. The Choir stalls are unusually constructed in a kind of box formation in the chancel around the 'sleeping' crusader.

 The apse at the end, which has been rebuilt gives a Templar feel to the whole setting of the monument of Richard de Fesne and box pews are all around in a square, facing it. The Altar is in the apse.


 All Saints Kemys Commmander, a Commandery or Perceptory of the Templars. a nearby cottage is still called 'Templar Cottage'.I visited in 2009.

In the Report of Prior Philippe de Thame to the Grand Master Elyan de Villanova for AD 1338, not so long after the take over from the Templars, it seems to have been just land and a church-and village.
The Report and account on Kemys Commander is:

Est ibidem unum mesagium quod valet
ijsItem CXX acre terre, pretium acr
ijjd        Summa xxxs   (30 shillings
Et ecclesia ibidem in proprios usus valet per annum    1 s (shilling)

So the villagers' tithes were not worth as much as the fields being farmed.

 An early window in the church, which originally would not have had much natural light and been lit by candles.

Interestingly, Garway is included as the head quarters of the Welsh Templars in the Hospitallers' Report.
 Simple Church with a barrel roof, sanctuary and chancel and nave. Most of the furnishings in the church are modern.
Piscina, where the remains of the precious Blood and any crumbs from the Sacrament are sent back to the earth. These were often blocked up by Protestants, although Anglo Catholic churches often kept them.
  Tried to upload a link to google maps, but for some reason was unsuccessful-however here is a small detail of the location of Kemys Commander.

Llanmadoc Church near Swansea (dedicated to St Madoc) was the other Templar /Hospitaller Preceptory or Commandery in Wales.

The present churrch of St Madoc in  Llanmadoc, (LB 11532 II) dates to the twelfth century. When the Saxons and Normans conquered the area, the church was given to the Knights Templar in 1156 by Margaret, Countess of Warwick and, after the suppression of the order imposed by Pope Clement V in 1309, to the Knights Hospitallers of St John of Jerusalem. In turn the church was seized from the Church by the officers of Henry VIII so he could benefit from the proceeds during the Dissolution of the Monastery. The Church building was renovated by Revd J D Davies, a local historian, who spent  £500 on the restoration of the building which was finished in 1866, and the nave, tower and chancel were partially rebuilt. All the windows were restored. The eastern window to the south of the chancel  may be the original medieval east window relocated.

St Wulfstans Hospital (near Worceter)
 This was founded by a Templar known only as Walter, who began the hospital on his return from the Holy Land. It is now open to the public as a museum with Mediaeval exhibits and others. It was a wonderful hospital supported by the Knights Templar and subsequently by the Hospitallers, although the Bishop had to step in at times, as it became financially profitable too, and he needed to make sure the money ended up with the poor and sick. Henry VIII closed the hospital and turned out these people.

Tomorrow I will look at Temple Grafton and at Garway, the largest and most influential of all the Templar properties.

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