Alberto Pellaschiar, Pool/AP
Pope Benedict XVI

Knights Templar ‘Descendants’ Sue Benedict for Billions

August 19, 2008 10:52 AM
by Cara McDonough
A group claiming to be descendants of the Knights Templar is suing the pope for over $150 billion for goods allegedly stolen by the church seven centuries ago.

In Search of an Apology

The group, called the Association of the Sovereign Order of the Temple of Christ, has filed a suit in Spanish court, seeking an apology from Pope Benedict XVI and recognition that their land and property was stolen in 1307, when Pope Clement V dissolved the Knights Templar after they were accused of heresy. In addition, the group, which claims to be descended from the Knights Templar, hopes to restore its “good name,” reports London’s Daily Telegraph.

“We are not trying to cause the economic collapse of the Roman Catholic Church, but to illustrate to the court the magnitude of the plot against our Order,” the group said in a statement describing the suit.

Background: The Knights Templar

French knight Hugues de Payen founded the original Knights Templar after the First Crusade of 1099. He and his companions took a vow to defend the Christian kingdom, but the group was eventually disbanded after being accused of denying Jesus, worshipping icons of the devil, and practicing sodomy.

The relationship of today’s Spanish plaintiffs to the original Templars is questionable. Over the years, many groups have claimed to be descended from the legendary band of Christian warriors, and “legend abounds over hidden treasures, secret rituals, and their rumoured guardianship of the Holy Grail,” writes the Telegraph.

Related Topics: Secrets unveiled in Chinon Parchment, debunking the DaVinci Code

The Spanish group claims it needs to restore the Knights Templars’ “good name,” but the lawsuit comes on the heels of efforts already taken by the Vatican to improve the Templars’ reputation. Last year, the Vatican released copies of parchments recording trials of the Knights between 1307 and 1312, which had been stored in secret archive for 400 years.

The papers showed that, in 1307, the pope did not excommunicate Knights Templars leaders, but instead absolved them of heresy and brought them back into the church.

“Historians had concluded that the Templars were innocent, but most people still thought they were heretics, occultists and the like,” Barbara Frale, who is writing a book about the Chinon Parchment, told the Ottawa Citizen. “Now we have definitive proof. The Templars were not heretics. The order, which was a military brotherhood, simply practised a secret ritual that was grossly misunderstood and misinterpreted.”

Legends of the Knights Templar also featured in the recent blockbuster novel and film, “The Da Vinci Code.” In the final scenes, protagonists Sophie Neveu and Robert Langdon uncover dangerous religious secrets at Rosslyn Chapel in England, a site “often connected in popular legend to the Knights Templar,” says DaVinci’s Blog, a Web site by the authors of “The Da Vinci Code: The Facts Behind The Fiction.” Rosslyn Chapel was actually founded by Sir William St Clair in the 15th century, long after the Templar’s dissolution, says DaVinci’s Blog, “although there were still small groups who saw themselves as inheritors of Templar wisdom and rituals.”

Analysis: Can the plaintiffs prove they’re Knights?

According to popular belief, the Knights Templar went underground after they were disbanded and have been practicing in secrecy ever since, leaving no way of identifying their descendants today, Daily Telegraph reporter Fiona Govan told NPR.

But the tales are the stuff of legend, said Govan, and newspapers aren’t quite taking the lawsuit seriously: “These people can’t prove in any way that they’re actual descendants of the original knights. … The Spanish papers are having a lot of fun with it. It’s quite ludicrous.”

One newspaper, she said, suggested that any decision on the plaintiffs’ authenticity was something for psychiatrists, rather than historians, to decide.

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