Friday 13th.
November 4, 2008

Not being a person interested in superstitions and so ignorant of their silly histories, I decided to find out about the significance of Friday the 13th.

The most common explanation for the belief that Friday the 13th is unlucky is that there was a massacre of the Knights Templar on that date. The Knights formed one of the most important and most well known international organizations in the Middle Ages. Their destruction was one of the most well known events ever to fall on any Friday 13th.

But they did not disappear. Some went underground and their influence continued. For example the Masons may be descendants of some of the Knights who were based in Robert the Bruce’s Scotland (the Scottish Rite of the Freemasons). Some of the Templar symbols and rituals have been incorporated into Masonic rituals. The legend of the Knights Templar has continued to live on over the centuries. For example, the Knights receive a mention in the novel “The Da Vinci Code”.

The Knights Templar had been formed in 1118 to protect Christians from Muslims in the Holy Land. They were among the best soldiers of their era. They also ran Europe’s first international banking system.

The Knights were good at both fighting and finance. They were bankers with swords.

Christian pilgrims headed for the Holy Land could deposit their funds with the Knights Templar in Europe. The way to Holy Land was dangerous and so the pilgrims were given coded statements of their finance. When they got to their lodgings along the way, their coded statement would be “debited” each time to pay for the accommodation. This early form of credit card saved the need to carry cash.

The Knights were often the first into a battle and the last to leave. They had to be tough because the Muslims were determined to get back the Holy Land.

The Knights Templar brought back to Europe many ideas for architecture and buildings. The Islamic world was then near its peak and it was in many ways a more developed region than was Europe. There was much for Europeans to learn from it.

But the Pope and French king were sick of them: they were too rich and powerful. Besides, the king needed additional revenue. In those days, there was no regular way to collect tax. He wanted to seize the assets of the Knights (having created all sorts of charges against them).

The king’s soldiers moved on them. The pope excommunicated all the Knights in all the lands.

At dawn on Friday October 13, 1307, under the orders King Philip IV of France, a well-planned operation was unleashed to seize every Knight Templar in France. Estimates of the number of knights involved vary from about 2,000 up to 15,000. Only 20 escaped.

Various allegations were made against them dealing with heresy, blasphemy and immorality. Virtually all were tortured to death to make them agree to “confessions”. Many were executed. All of their assets were taken by the king and so it was a very profitable operation.

The last Grand Master of the Order, Jacques de Molay – one of those captured on Friday October 13th 1307 – was tortured and then burned at the stake in 1314 in front of Notre Dame Cathedral.

His final words were a curse on the French king and the pope. Coincidentally, the pope was dead within a month and the king died in a hunting accident nine months later.