The Great Seal of the Templars
In medieval times, written communications were sealed and authenticated by the practice of using melted wax into which a unique pattern was impressed by the sender. In this way, the seal rendered the communication private; confirmed, by being intact, that the letter had not been improperly opened and identified the sender to the recipient.
In the 12th and 13th Centuries, the Grand Masters of the Knights Templar used a double sided “Great Seal”, one side bearing an impression of the “Dome of the Rock” and the other the well-known emblem of the Order, two knights riding on a single horse.
The inscription surrounding the Seal varied according to the Grand Master. The sixth Grand Master, Bertrand de Blanquefort – to whom is credited the design of the first Seal in 1168 – used the inscription SIGILLUM MILITUM on the obverse and CRISTI DE TEMPLO on the reverse.
A hundred years later, the nineteenth Grand Master, Renaud de Vichiers, was using the same image, but with the inscription reading SIGILLUM MILITUM XPISTI.
It is interesting to note the admixture of Latin and Greek letters in that motto. The use of the Greek XP (“Chi Ro”), instead of the Latin CHR (as in Christ) is a reminder of Christianity’s roots from the time of Emperor Constantine in the 4th Century, after he adopted it following the vision that led to his conversion.
The “two knights on a horse” image is popularly explained by suggesting that sharing what would have been a vital commodity in those days confirmed their adherence to the vows of poverty that all had to take to join the Order. There is some evidence that the image was primarily used by French Templar Knights, as it is not found in English Templar documents of the period.
This explanation is somewhat contradicted by the Latin Rules of the Templars, written in 1128 and attributed to Bernard de Clairvaux.
Specifically Rule 51 states “each Knight Brother may have three horses and no more without the permission of the Master, because of the great poverty which exists at the present time in the House of God and of the Temple of Solomon. To each Knight Brother we grant three horses and one squire, and if that squire willingly serves charity, the Brother should not beat him for any sin he commits”.
Whatever the explanation, the image of two knights sharing a horse is so powerful that it has endured over the centuries and is used to this day by the Great Priory of the Order of the Temple in England and Wales. The subscription, “Pauperes Commilitones Christi” translates as the “Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ”.
Other images were used in Templar Seals. Robert of Sandford and other Masters of the Temple in England adopted “The Lamb of God” (Paschal Lamb, or “Agnus Dei”) – an heraldic device depicting a lamb, with its forelimbs crossed and carrying a pennant. In Great Priory, the badge of the Great Prelate and Great Almoner depict a lamb carrying a Beauceant pennant.
The “Double Headed Eagle” is another image dating from the thirteenth century. The oldest example is that of the seal affixed in 1222 by Guillaume de l’Aigle, Master of the Temple in France. Though less used than the aforementioned images, the Double Headed Eagle is an important emblem of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite in America and the Red Cross of Constantine Order in England.
The “Cross Pate” was frequently used in Templar Seals, occasionally embellished with local insignia such as the Fleur-de-lys. Knights themselves might embellish their own seal with images to confirm their membership of the Order – Etienne de Til-Chatel, Preceptor of La Fontanotte, used a seal bearing an image of a dove bearing an olive branch in its beak; an unknown English Knight in 1303 used a seal with the Lion of England together with a Cross Pate; and William, Master of the Temple in Hungary and Slovenia in 1297 depicted a winged griffon.
Perhaps most disturbingly, some 13th Century Knight Templar seals depicted the “Abraxas”. This figure, popular in the 2nd Century, enjoyed a resurgence in medieval times but was considered to be a demon. Images often showed a composite creature, with the head of a rooster, a man’s body and limbs made of serpents. Frequently shown holding a whip and shield, allegedly to represent wisdom and power, the figure might also be depicted driving a four horse chariot representing the four Elements of the Universe.