Knights Templar of Old
The Knights Templar of old were a chivalric Christian order established in 1118, shortly after the First Crusade. At that time, a French nobleman, Hugues de Payens, approached King Baldwin II of Jerusalem and Warmund, Patriarch of Jerusalem, , and proposed creating a monastic order for the protection of these pilgrims. King Baldwin and Patriarch Warmund agreed to the request, probably at the Council of Nablus in January 1120, and the king granted the Templars a headquarters in a wing of the royal palace on the Temple Mount in the captured Al-Aqsa Mosque. The Temple Mount had a mystique because it was above what was believed to be the ruins of the Temple of Solomon. The Crusaders therefore referred to the Al-Aqsa Mosque as Solomon's Temple, and from this location, the new Order took the name of “Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon,” or "Templar" knights. The Order, with about nine knights to begin with, had few financial resources and relied on donations to survive. Their emblem was of two knights riding on a single horse, emphasizing the Order's early poverty.
The Knights Templar’s influence gradually spread into Western Europe with various financial donations and land purchases between the years 1122-1128. Having had a relatively quiet beginning, in 1129, the Council of Troyes officially sanctioned the Order to fundraise for Holy purposes, and donations to the Order grew almost immeasurably. New members to society were required to swear to religious vows of obedience, chastity, poverty, and piety, and donate all of their goods. The donations included, but not limited to, land, animals, material wealth, business interest, and monetary. Another major benefit for the Order came in 1139 when Pope Innocent II wrote a papal bull exempting the Order from the obedience to any local laws, and solely answered to the Pope’s authority. This rise in power concerned other orders, such as the Knights Hospitaller and the Teutonic Knights, but little could be done to stem the tide of the Templar’s influence due to their various powerful political connections.
After a series of failed military campaigns during the Crusades, such as the loss of Jerusalem in 1187 and the fall of Acre in 1291, the decline of Knights Templar began. In 1300, Knights Templar continued to have enormous financial power but had no clear focus or support. After declaring interest to form its own state, along with other political reasons, on Friday, October 13, 1307, King Philip IV of France, in coordination with his nephew Pope Clement V, ordered the arrest, torture, and execution of the Knights Templar. Many Knights were tortured into “confessing” to a variety of false charges such as spitting on the cross and worshiping idols.
In 1312, after 5 years of Templars being detained and persecuted, Pope Clement V finally dissolved the Order. After their fall from power, the remaining Knight Templar, and their vast resources, were incorporated into one body with the Knights Hospitaller of St. John of Jerusalem by order the Pope.
The Knights Hospitaller, who had originally taken up residence on the island of Cyprus along with the Templars after the fall of Acre in 1291, had established a new base and control of the island of Rhodes in 1309. Due to this, the order was also regularly referred to as the “Knights of Rhodes.” The Knights Hospitaller remained working out of Rhodes to protect the Christian faith and European interests until in 1522, when they were once again forced out by the Ottoman Empire.
In 1530, after 8 years of moving from place to place in Europe, the Emperor Charles I, of Spain, conferred on them the Island of Malta and the port of Tripoli — hence they also received the name of Knights of Malta of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem.
When residing on the Island of Malta, the Knights again re-established and expanded their Preceptories throughout Europe, focusing their efforts on the North and West, but the influence of the Order was waning throughout the continent due to the political environment of the time and the reformation of Western Christendom. Examples of this can be found in the historical records of Ireland, Scotland, and England. It is to all three of these Grand Conclaves, that the modern-day Knights Templar may be said to trace their origin.
The stronghold of Malta came to an end in 1798 when it was captured by Napoleon during his expedition to Egypt. The remaining knights were then dispersed throughout Europe and only ever existed from that point in a diminished capacity.
The earliest documented link between Freemasonry and the Crusades is the 1737 oration of the Chevalier Ramsay. This claimed that European Freemasonry came about from an interaction between crusader Masons and the Knights Hopitaller. This story is repeated in the earliest known "Moderns" ritual, the Berne manuscript, written in French between 1740 and 1744. However, it should be stated, that it is unclear why the Freemasons of the time began incorporating the Knights Templar Degree into its cannon other than a desire to strengthen the association of Christianity and Freemasonry.
It is also unclear how Templarism traveled from Medieval Europe to the America's and back again, but it is generally accepted that as the European power's missionary, colonial, and financial interests spread Templarism followed. Although the first records of the Modern-Day Templars being organized into an structured body are from America in 1797, the Degrees were offered in many Craft Lodges in both Europe and America prior to this.
In 1779, the High Knights Templar of Ireland Lodge, Kilwinning, obtained a charter from Lodge Mother Kilwinning in Scotland. This lodge then began to grant dispensations to other Lodges to confer the Knights Templar Degree. Sometime around 1790, a second Templar body, the "Early Grand Encampment of Ireland," formed. The Early Grand Encampment also began to warrant Templar Lodges, and evolved into the Supreme Grand Encampment in 1836. The Early Grand Encampment chartered several Scottish "Encampments," one of which, having been chartered in 1805 as the "Edinburgh Encampment No. 31", and then became the "Grand Assembly of Knights Templar in Edinburgh," who then sought a charter from the Duke of Kent, Grand Master of the Order in England. It seems that the Templar degree had filtered into the lodges of the “Antients” from Ireland about 1780, and was recorded at York about the same time. In the five-degree system developed by the York Masons, the Knights Templar degree sat between the Master Mason and the Sublime Degree of Royal Arch.
Templar masonry in England entered a new era in 1791, with the formation of its first Grand Conclave, with Thomas Dunckerley as Grand Master. At that time, there were eight known Templar encampments in England, the most senior being the Encampment of Redemption at York, and the Baldwyn encampment at Bristol, at whose request Dunckerley began his mission. Under his leadership, the number of encampments steadily grew until his death in 1795. Stasis then followed, until in 1805 their Royal Patron, Duke of Kent, became Grand Master himself, re-energizing the society and launching it into an era of growth and development. Dunckerley laid the foundation for this not only by promoting the order, but also by standardizing the ritual and insisting on proper record keeping.
On August 25, 1836 a Grand Convocation of Representatives of such Irish Lodges as held Encampments of High Knight Templars, was summoned to meet in the Grand Lodge Rooms, Dublin. It was resolved to establish an Encampment of of High Knights Templar under the auspices of Augustus Frederick FitzGerald, the 3rd Duke of Leinster (1791-1874), Grand Master (1813-1874), as Illustrious Grand Commander.
On February 23, 1837 the first meeting of the Supreme Grand Encampment was held under the presidency of Augustus Frederick FitzGerald, 3rd Duke of Leinster, and since that date up to the present the European "Order of the Temple" has been under the direction and government of a Supreme Body.
Knights Templar in America
Documents, relics, and records in the Library of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania expand upon the beginnings of Masonic-Templary, and how it originated among brethren in British Craft Lodges during the middle of the 18th century. The transition from these small and disjointed beginnings, held under the individual Craft Warrants, into the magnificent chivalric organization of Masonic Knights Templar, is also shown by these records.
Modern-day Masonic-Templarism in the United States, and its current national structure, was founded in Pennsylvania at a convention held for establishing an American Grand Encampment. However, in deriving its work from the English, Scottish, and Irish Rituals, it is fair to state that the present Pennsylvania Ritual, as used, is one manufactured from several rites.
This convention, the first of its kind in the United States, met on May 12, 1797, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. However, prior to the year 1797, there had already been four Encampments functioning in the state: two in Philadelphia, a third in Harrisburg, and a fourth in Carlisle. For the convention, each of these Encampments sent four delegates to discuss the merits of uniting under one Grand Encampment, as none had previously existed in America.
After mature deliberation, and anticipating the benefit that would necessarily ensue from having a controlling head, the Convention adopted a Constitution to govern the Knights Templar of Pennsylvania. Thus, in the very infancy of our Republic, Pennsylvania inaugurated the system of each State having within its limits a Grand Encampment. The Pennsylvania Grand Commandery is entitled, therefore, to the high honor of having introduced the orders of Christian Knighthood into the United States. However, the Templar bodies were still firmly associated with the Craft Lodges as the warrants they worked under were dispensed by the Grand Lodge.
At the Grand Communication of the Right Worshipful Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania on February 16, 1857, it was resolved "That Ancient Masonry consists of but three degrees, viz.: Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft, and Master Mason, including the degree of the Holy Royal Arch, and this Grand Lodge claims no jurisdiction beyond the limits of Ancient Masonry." By this action, Templarism, as a component part of Masonry, and in accordance with Masonic laws in Pennsylvania, were forever divorced, which happily eventuated in the union of all the Subordinate Commanderies in Pennsylvania, under the Right Eminent Grand Commandery of Pennsylvania, which acknowledges as its Supreme head the Grand Encampment of Knights Templar of the United States.
Although they are now a separate and independent body, the current Knights Templar still acknowledge their roots by maintaining Master Masonry, and Royal Arch Masonry, as a prerequisite for membership within their Order.
Gettysburg Commandery No. 79
Established on September 25, 1899, the Gettysburg Knights Templar Commandery has been working in the community ever since to foster good will, establish and maintain fraternal relations with its members, and to perpetuate the Christian ideals instilled upon us by our faith.
The Knights Templar operate on a local, state and national level. But their religious activities extend across international borders as well. In additions to the United States there are Commanderies in many countries such as Germany, Italy, Mexico, Japan and South American countries.
Nationally, there is a "Grand Encampment of Knights Templar." This unit defines the rituals and laws governing state and local level organizations.
The State level is called a "Grand Commandery of Knights Templar." This organization represents members of a state or area. The Local level organization is called a "Commandery of Knights Templar." Some communities depending on population have more than one Commandery while there are many populated areas that do not have a Commandery at all.
The state of Pennsylvania is broken up like this: