NEO-TEMPLARISM (Religious Movement)

The Knights Templars, a Catholic military-religious order whose history is linked to the Crusades, was dissolved by Pope Clement V (1260-1314) in 1307, following its cruel persecution by King Philip IV of France (1268-1314). After its suppression, the Order survived for a few decades outside France, but by no later than the early fifteenth century the templars had disappeared completely. The theory of their secret continuation has been denounced as ‘completely crazy’ by medieval scholars such as Regine Pernoud (190998).

The idea that the templars, officially suppressed, secretly continued their activities well into the eighteenth century, spread mainly in French and German Freemasonry, and was based on the legend of persecuted knights templars who had ‘hidden’ themselves in English and Scottish guilds of Freemasons in order to continue their activities. This is the origin of the Masonic templar grades which—created in Europe—are now found in both the Scottish rite and in the York rite, and also of the current Encampments of Knights Templars, quite popular in Anglo-American Freemasonry (its membership being restricted to masons only).

During the years of the French Revolution, a particularly convulsive period for Freemasonry, not everyone agreed with the idea that the complex of templar grades constituted only a part of the Masonic system and that they had to remain subordinate to Freemasonry as a whole. The controversy was created by an adventurer active in the period, a former seminarian named -Raymond Fabre-Palaprat (1773-1838) who, in 1804, declared that he had discovered documents proving the uninterrupted lineage of clandestine templar ‘Grand Masters’ from the suppression of 1307 up to 1792. In 1805,

Fabre-Palaprat was appointed Grand Master and re-established the Knights Templars. The idea of independent Knights Templars (i.e. independent of Freemasonry—as opposed to templar grades) was attractive, and even interested Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821), who authorized a solemn ceremony in 1808. But Fabre-Palaprat’s idea was not simply to establish a knightly order destined to rapidly re-enter the fold of the Catholic Church. His much more ambitious idea, which began to take shape in 1812, was to link the neo-templars to a new religion.

The most direct lineage of the Knights Templars founded by Fabre-Palaprat, is the Belgian ‘lay’ branch (the only one still active), which in 1894 promoted the formation of an International Secretariat of Templars in Brussels. In 1942, the Order’s archives were entrusted to Antonio Campello Pinto de Sousa Fontes (1878-1960) in Portugal, and Fontes thereafter proclaimed himself Grand Master, thus assuring the neo-templar movement international diffusion. In 1948 he designated his son Fernando Campello Pinto de Sousa Fontes to succeed him as Grand Master. On his death, Fernando assumed the title of ‘Prince Regent’. There were, however, several independent national branches that had not recognized Antonio’s authority, and other national branches declared themselves independent when Fernando took over. At a 1970 meeting in Paris, a number of Grand Priorates rejecting Antonio Sousa Fontes’ authority, appointed Polish marshal Antoine Zdrojewski (11988) as Grand Master. Since then, there have been two main international organizations: OSMTH (Ordo Supremus Militari Templi Hierosolymitani), under Sousa Fontes’ leadership, and OSMTJ (Ordre Souverain et Militaire du Temple de Jerusalem), under the authority of Zdrojewski, even if—complicating the matter even further—Sousa Fontes also occasionally uses the French name as well as the acronym OSMTJ. Zdrojewski (succeeded by Georges Lamirand (11994) in 1988), however, became entangled in political controversies, while Fernando de Sousa Fontes was unable to control all of the priorates he had authorized. As a result, a dozen other organizations and numerous ‘independent’ national priorates sprang up alongside OSMTH and OSMTJ. Various federations were later formed, such as the OIMT (Ordo Internationalis Militiae Templi Confederationis), which was founded in Rome in 1979, and the IFA (International Federative Alliance, 1989). In 1994-8, there were various attempts to reduce the number of acronyms (including one following the merger of OSMTJ and IFA in Turku, Finland, in 1998), and also to bring about reconciliation between OSMTJ and Sousa Fontes’ OSMTH. All these attempts failed for various reasons, and new splits emerged. The only moderately successful result was an agreement signed in London on 12 May 2000 by OSMTJ and OIMT, which was intended to achieve an actual association. In recent years, however, the schisms have been complicated by the desire— and necessity—for all the neo-templar groups to distance themselves from a crazed splinter group, the Order of the Solar Temple, involved in group suicides and murders in 1994-7.

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