Three Tales of the Templars, by Jacques de Vitry

As the fame of the Knights Templar grew in Europe during the twelfth and thirteenth-centuries, countless stories must have been told about their exploits. Few, however, survive to the present day. We can find three of them that were written down by Jacques de Vitry, who was a famous priest and theologian in the early part of the thirteenth-century. He served as the bishop of Acre and even took part in the Fifth Crusade. He was also well known for his preaching efforts, and many of his sermons have been recorded.

Templar depicted on a glass stained window in a church in Cornwall, England - photo by Simon Brighton / Wikimedia Commons

Within these sermons he was fond of using exempla, or anecdotes to offer moral lessons. Three of these tales involved the Templars:

1. During the siege of Ascalon, a number of Templars were captured by the Saracens, and hanged above the city gate. When the king of Jerusalem, and the other Templars, saw this, they were about to relinquish the siege in despair, but were dissuaded from this by an eminent man of great faith, Master of the Templars, who declared that their martyred brethren had preceded them, and gone to God, in order to deliver the city to them. The result proved the truth of this, for the city was captured, contrary to all hope, two days later.

2. In the early days of the order, the Templars were considered saints by all, hence the Saracens hated them beyond measure, and while they held the other Crusaders for ransom, they killed the Templars. A noble knight from France, who had crossed the sea on a pilgrimage, was captured, together with some Templars, and as he was bald and bearded he was taken for one too. After the Templars were put to death, the Saracens said to him, “You are a Templar.” He denied it but they insisted upon it, whereupon, fired with zeal for the faith, he exclaimed, ” In the name of the Lord, I am a Templar,” and was slain like the rest.

3. A Templar took a tremendous leap with his horse from a high rock into the sea in order to escape from the Saracens. The horse bore him safely to land, and then fell dead. The spot is known as the “Templar’s Leap,” and is near the city of Acre.

You can read more of these tales, which were edited by Thomas Frederick Crane, under the title The Exempla of Jacques de Vitry, and published by the Folk Lore Society in 1890. Click here to read the book via Archive.org.

You can read more about the Templars in our issue VI:5, which is available on our web store.

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