At dawn on Friday, 13 October 1307, King Philip IV ordered Templar Grand Master Jacques de Molay and scores of other French Templars to be simultaneously arrested. The arrest warrant started with the phrase:
“God is not pleased. We have enemies of the faith in the kingdom.”
Founded around 1118 as a monastic military order devoted to the protection of pilgrims traveling to the Holy Land following the Christian capture of Jerusalem during the First Crusade, the Knights Templar quickly became one of the richest and most influential groups of the Middle Ages, thanks to lavish donations from the crowned heads of Europe, eager to curry favor with the fierce Knights. By the turn of the 14th century, the Templars had established a system of castles, churches and banks throughout Western Europe. It was this astonishing wealth that would lead to their downfall.
In September 1307, secret documents were sent by King Philip IV of France by couriers throughout the country. The papers included lurid details and whispers of black magic and scandalous sexual rituals. They were sent by King Philip IV, an avaricious monarch who for years had attacked the Lombards (a powerful banking group) and France’s Jews (who he had expelled so he could confiscate their property for his depleted coffers).
Due to his lavish lifestyle, Philip was deeply in debt to the Templars and decided the best way to deal with that debt is to destroy the Knights.
At daybreak on Friday, 13 October 1307, hundreds of Templars in France were simultaneously arrested by agents of Philip the Fair, to be later tortured into admitting heresy in the Order. The Templars were supposedly answerable only to the Pope, but Philip used his influence over Clement V, to disband the organization. Pope Clement did attempt to hold proper trials, but Philip used the previously forced confessions to have many Templars burned at the stake before they could mount a proper defense.
In the days and weeks that followed that fateful Friday, more than 600 Templars were arrested, including Grand Master Jacques de Molay, and the Order’s treasurer. But while some of the highest-ranking members were caught up in Philip’s net, so too were hundreds of non-warriors; middle-aged men who managed the day-to-day banking and farming activities that kept the organization humming. The men were charged with a wide array of offenses including heresy, devil worship and spitting on the cross, homosexuality, fraud and financial corruption.
Claims were made that during Templar admissions ceremonies, recruits were forced to spit on the Cross, deny Christ, and engage in indecent kissing; brethren were also accused of worshiping idols, and the order was said to have encouraged homosexual practices. The Templars were charged with numerous other offences such as financial corruption, fraud, and secrecy. The Templars were accused of idolatry and were suspected of worshipping either a figure known as Baphomet or a mummified severed head they recovered, amongst other artifacts, at their original headquarters on the Temple Mount that many scholars theorize might have been that of John the Baptist.
The legend of the Friday 13th Curse was cemented by events that followed. Within a month, Pope Clement V died in torment of a disease thought to be lupus. Clement was described as shedding tears of remorse on his death-bed for his three great crimes: the poisoning of Henry VII, Holy Roman Emperor, and the ruin of the Templars and Beguines.
Eight months later Philip IV, at the early age of forty-six, perished by an accident while hunting. Such stories were rife among the people, whose sense of justice had been scandalized by the whole affair. Philip’s death was spoken of as a retribution for his destruction of the Templars. Within 14 years the throne passed rapidly through Philip’s sons, who died relatively young, and without producing male heirs. By 1328, his male line was extinguished, and the throne had passed to the line of his brother, the House of Valois, wiped from history.