A Muslim army quietly set up camp on the Mount of Olives in 1152, preparing for a surprise attack on the city of Jerusalem. Victory seemed certain: Jerusalem’s Christian ruler, Baldwin, was away in Tripoli.

But during the night, the encamped Muslims were slaughtered in a surprise counterattack that reportedly left 5,000 dead. Who had so heroically saved the city of Jerusalem?

Brothers in a religious order, men who had vowed themselves to poverty, chastity, and obedience.

But these devout men came from new religious groups—military orders known as the Knights Templar and the Hospitallers. They had been commissioned by the pope to defend the Holy Land.

Christian History invited Mr. Michael Gervers to describe the three most prominent of these unprecedented religious orders.

The Templars:
Fabled Success, Sudden Fall

Founded in 1118 by the French knights Hugh de Payens and Godfrey de St. Omer, the Templars were also called “The Poor Knights of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon” because they had been granted quarters on the site of Solomon’s Temple. Their mission was to protect Christians on pilgrimage in the Holy Land, but this protection soon expanded to include the land itself.

Nine years after their founding, the Templars gained the valuable support of Bernard of Clairvaux, who would draw up the order’s rule (guidelines for community life). Bernard composed a treatise, In Praise of the New Knighthood, championing the Templars’ Christian calling: “A new sort of chivalry has appeared on earth … that tirelessly wages … war both against flesh and blood and against the spiritual forces of evil. … Go forward in safety, knights, with undaunted souls drive off the enemies of the cross of Christ.”

The Templars gained the favor of monarchs ...

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