Christian Crusaders took Jerusalem in 1099, but struggled to maintain control of venerated holy sites tied to the birth, life and crucifixion of Jesus. In 1119, two French knights swore to defend these sites from ‘infidels’ and protect Christian pilgrims. They amassed a small band of compatriots and were given shelter in the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is believed to be the ancient site of King Solomon’s Temple.
In 1129, the Knights Templar military order took monastic vows of chastity and poverty. Soon they received recognition and financial support from the Vatican, and were given land by kings and feudal lords throughout Europe. Christians were expelled from the Holy Land in 1291, and the Knights Templar never recovered.
The Templars’ grand master, Jacques de Molay, was arrested in 1307 by the king of France and accused of heresy, sodomy and idol worship. Although the charges and Molay’s ‘confession’ were almost certainly false, the leader of the Templars was burned at the stake.