April 20, 2006 — -- The mystery of the Knights Templar has been in the public conscious lately because of their portrayal as the guardians of the Holy Grail in Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code" and other contemporary works.
Intrigue and controversy, though, have followed them since medieval times.
"I think every generation hopes that there is a secret, there is one secret and if only we could get the key to that secret we would understand so much and we all look for it in past movements," said the Rev. Robin Griffith-Jones, the mater of the Temple Church and an expert on the Knights Templar.
The Knights Templar began in 1120 as a band of modest monks who took up arms to protect pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem.
"The Knights Templar were conspicuously brave," Griffith-Jones said. "They were dreaded and feared in equal measure by the enemy. They were known among the European forces to be the most talented and ferocious fighters."
The knights were handsomely rewarded for their services by rich patrons. They amassed a great wealth and held sway over kings and popes.
Just as fast as they appeared, they disappeared from sight. In the early 14th century, King Phillip of France declared the Knights Templar heretics, hunted them down, and raided their vast treasuries.
Since then, their legend has grown.
"This is a rich ground for fantasy, for theory, for dreams, for questions to which we will never really know the answers," Griffith-Jones said.
After being wiped out by King Philip, the surviving members formed a new group, the Freemasons, some say. They are rumored to have found the Holy Grail and other religious secrets in Jerusalem.
"We hope that there is something, a key discovered in ages gone by, and if only we could pick up that key and turn the lock, vast amounts would be revealed," Griffith-Jones said.