If I had to choose between clubbing or spending the night curled in a blanket, next to a fireplace and with a book on my lap, I would definitely choose the latter. I get my energy from these moments of stillness, and often spend them reading biographies and books on historical events. With the crackingly burning firewood in the background, I time travel to different places. The most fascinating ones leave a burning impression and urge me to visit them. That was the case with Tomar and its Templars.
A few years ago, I did one of those Myers-Briggs personality tests, and to my surprise I came back as an introvert. Not that I think of myself as the heart of a party, but I always saw myself as a communicative and engaging person, so the “introvert” tag came as a surprise. At the time I learned more about what it means to be an introvert (it’s not the same as being shy), and the different degrees of introversion. I’m definitely not like Verne, and five days alone hiking would be torturous! I have cataloged myself as a “communicative introvert”, someone that thoroughly enjoys the company of others provided I can sometimes take refuge on a good book.
When I look back to my childhood years, one of my fondest memories is of my parents getting me five books from Enid Blyton’s “Famous Five”. I felt in heaven and ran to my room to devour them. This passion for reading led to a second passion: a love for history which, living in a country with such a rich history, was not difficult to fulfil.
I would get thrilled with the stories of Kings and Queens, of battles and of the discovery of the New World. My parents fuelled this by taking me to places where significant events of our history took place. In one of these trips we went to Tomar, the birthplace of the Templars in Portugal. I was only ten or eleven but still remember vividly the beauty of the Manueline window at the Convent of Christ. It made me feel humble and proud at the same time: humbled at the presence of such a beautiful thing, proud of having such monuments in our history.
Many years later I went back to Tomar and felt the same sense of wonder and fascination when entering the Convent. I could still feel the Knights living among those walls, watching us stroll through those long corridors, keeping memories and treasures safe.
The Templars in Tomar started as a religious order with a rather convoluted name (the ‘Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon’), with the main purpose of protecting the pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land. Supported by the Roman Catholic Church and deeply involved in the Crusades, they grew in power and influence and soon abandoned their vow of poverty. Some say that the foundations of the Swiss banking system go back to these Templars, which back in the 14th century established the grounds for lending. Soon most of Europe’s aristocrats owed them money, including Philip IV, the King of France.
With the loss of the Holy Land the influence of the Templars faded. Philip IV, perhaps sensing an opportunity to default on a growing debt, persecuted the Order. Expelled from the majority of the European courts, the Templars found a safe haven in Portugal. King Dinis granted them protection and provided them with a new identity: the Knights of the Order of Christ. Under a different moniker, they held on to their legacy and bore the same red across the chest.
King Dinis did not harbour the Templars out of the kindness of his heart. Apart from their wealth, the Templars brought knowledge in the art of sailing and warfare. It was a mutually beneficial agreement: the Templars found a safe haven and the King gained access to intelligence that would became crucial years later, when the Portuguese ventured beyond the Mediterranean.
The Order of Christ had an important role throughout the history of Portugal and were favoured by important rulers such as D. Manuel I (the king that sponsored Vasco da Gama’s discovery of the maritime route to India). Their influence started to wane in the 16th century, when the order was demilitarised and became solely religious. In the 18th century Queen Mary I secularized it. Finally, by 1910 the end of the Portuguese monarchy also dictated the end of the order.