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13.03.12, Schenk, Templar Families

13.03.12, Schenk, Templar Families

This superlative study, based on meticulous research into the extensive surviving Templar documents in the public archives in Dijon and Paris, demonstrates the Templars' role as a religious order in medieval western Europe. It is not the first study to use French archival resources to trace the Templars' relations with their patrons in France: Damien Carraz's work in this area, for example, is frequently acknowledged throughout this study. However, it is the first academic study to examine the Templars' relations with their French lay patrons in such detail, and in English, thus making this scholarship available to the many scholars, students and wider readership in the English-speaking world who still think of the Templars as primarily a military institution. Specialists on the military religious orders who are already familiar with the Templars' role as a religious order, supported by gifts in alms from a network of patrons who expected spiritual rewards for their generosity, will relish the immense volume of new evidence which Dr. Schenk has brought to light.

Given the Templars' military vocation, it is not surprising that many modern students find it difficult to believe that the brothers were pious men or that anyone donated to or joined the Order from pious motives. They may even call the Templars "non-Christian" for using violence. Reading the Templars' regulations, they find that women were not permitted to join the Order, and deduce that the Order could have drawn its members and support from a small pool of military men. Jochen Schenk shows just how far wrong they are. Both men and women from a wide social field donated to the Order and became lay associates of the Order. While there were many reasons to become involved with the Templars, piety was the major factor. Schenk draws out the Order's connections with the Cistercian Order, arguing that this was two-way; not only did the Templars look to St. Bernard of Clairvaux as being in some sense their founder, but the Cistercians regarded the Templars as spiritually related to them. Like the Cistercian Order, the Templars were at the vanguard of Church reform: they followed the vita active rather than the contemplative life, but this was nevertheless spiritually meritorious. The Order also attracted support because of its connection with the crusade. Families who supported monastic reform supported both the Cistercians and the Templars; families who supported the crusade also gave to the Templars. Schenk points out that there is further research to be done in this area to establish how far the families who supported the Templars also supported the Augustinian canons (118).

Schenk examines the different routes through which individuals and families became involved with the Templars, and the different forms of association with the Order. Both women and men gave donations to the Templars and associated themselves with the brothers. Those who became associates of the Templars would have been very closely tied to the Order, and for some it was the first step to joining the Order. As the Templars abandoned the system of novitiate for newly- received members in the late twelfth century, Schenk suggests that lay association performed a similar function, allowing prospective members to become accustomed to the rule and customs of the order and for the Order to test their vocation before they took full vows. He also notes that the non-noble membership of the Order increased with time, "which made it increasingly difficult for the established aristocratic clientele to identify with the community" (258). The fact that the Order offered opportunities to all social classes drew in the donations that the Order needed, but in the longer term undermined the noble networks on which its long-term survival depended.

There is an excellent discussion of the family and friendship networks which supported the Templars, and how these benefitted the Templars and related to them. Schenk admits that his detailed discussion covers mainly the better-off families, who were more active in religious donations than the less well-off. This is, obviously, because these are the families for whom more records survive. These are also the families who appear in other records, allowing Schenk to place them in a wider context, tracing their involvement in crusades, in donating to other religious orders and in the history of their regions. The Templars themselves were drawn by their patrons into playing a wider role in their communities than simply raising money to support military activity in the East: they were given hospitals to care for, and took responsibility for parish churches (36).

Those who believe that the Templars were a secretive, closed institution whose houses were barred to outsiders and who held heretical beliefs will find no support for their views here. Schenk shows that the Templars gave no help to the Cathars in France: although some individuals who were accused of being involved in heresy had been Templar patrons, after the Albigensian crusade they disappeared from the Templars' records. The Templars appear to have separated themselves from suspected heretics, while families involved in heresy separated themselves from the Templars. Far from being closed houses, Schenk points out that "the charters suggest that some Templar communities must at times have been buzzing with guests" (73). These charters show lay people from the local area of a Templar house making frequent visits to make or witness donations, conduct business, redeem pledges, pay or negotiate rents, arrange contracts of association or to even to enter the Order. Schenk builds up a picture of the Templar houses as busy centres of the local community, with ties to families of various social stations, from noble to peasant. While there were sometimes clashes, Schenk points out that many of the bishops who had dealings with the Templars were related to members of the Order and to crusaders, had an interest in Church reform and came from the same social class as the leading Templars. Most bishops supported the Templars and saw the Order as a positive development which could help build up the Church.

This very thorough and enlightening study reveals the Order of the Temple as a medieval religious order which sprang from the Church reform movement of the late eleventh and early twelfth century, closely associated with the Cistercian Order. It reveals the very extensive evidence that survives for the Order's history, despite the loss of its central archive. It will be essential reading for all scholars seeking to understand the Templars as a whole, beyond their activities on the battlefield.