Timothy H. Darnell, 32
This three-part series retells the life of Jacques
DeMolay, Martyr of Masonic Chivalry and namesake of the International Order
World Of DeMolay
The 13th Century was a time unlike any other in human history, an era almost impossible for an American of today to imagine or comprehend.
The world, to the common man, reached only as far as the hard plot of ground on which he lived and to which he belonged, as did his ox and plow. All of his labor and dues went to the local lord, so his master in turn could make war on the lord next to him.
Men had few hopes for this world, and so they brooded upon the next. The Pope was the supreme authority in Europe, and the Church taught that to escape sin, men had to do penance here on Earth. But when a man named Mohammed founded the new religion of Islam--changing the course of history forever--the people of Europe, ignited by the oratory of their leaders, turned their attention to this new threat to their way of Christian life.
And into this vortex strode a man destined to become a martyr in his age and whose name would be given to a Masonic youth organization designed to grow outstanding men from the bloom of youth, the International Order of DeMolay.
That man was Jacques DeMolay. While every Freemason knows what DeMolay is--“That group for boys that my Lodge’s dues support” is the answer given by too many--few of us actually know who he was. Here is the real story of the man. To understand Jacques DeMolay, we must first understand his time, for his era produced the man he became.
Deliver Us From The Turks!
Mohammed (570–632 A.D.) was the most extraordinary individual to live since Jesus. He was born in Mecca, and was visited by dreams and visions in his childhood that led him to believe he was the prophet of a new religion.
Converts came slowly at first. But after a time, multitudes flocked and followed him to the city of Medina. There he set up a new religion, organized a powerful army, returned to Mecca, and conquered it. From that crude settlement--ever since a holy city to his devotees--Mohammed organized the Arabic tribes into an army of warriors, planned the overthrow of Christendom, foretold the Islamic conversion of the world and, on his deathbed in 632 A.D., bequeathed to the world the Koran, the sacred book of Islam.
Mohammed’s successors were called Caliphs. Their motto was “Islam, tribute, or the sword.” Omar, the second Caliph, conquered Jerusalem in 637. Where Solomon’s Temple once stood, Moslems built a huge mosque, and on the sites where St. Peter preached the gospel of Jesus, Bedouins proclaimed “There is but one God, Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet.”
Moslem armies conquered Palestine, Syria, Egypt, and North Africa in 707. In 711, they conquered southern Spain and set up their European capital in Cordova. In 732, they attacked France, only to be defeated. Looking east to Rome, the Moslem armies conquered Asia Minor in 1071 and built a stronghold in Nicaea, 100 miles from Constantinople, the capital of the Eastern Christian Empire. Throughout the churches of Europe, Christians prayed to be “delivered from the Turk.”
Knee Deep In Blood
Europe responded with the Crusades whose goal was the defeat of Mohammedism. Over the next two centuries, there were eight Crusades. In 1099, 20,000 knights laid siege to Jerusalem for two months. After they conquered the city, they treated the inhabitants with such barbarity that the soldiers rode through the streets through a writhing mass of men, women, and children. Their horses were, as one chieftain boasted, “knee deep in Moslem blood.” Even before Jerusalem was conquered by the Europeans, however, many Christians succeeded in making the long and dangerous trek to the Holy City. In 1023, a number of merchants were permitted by Moslem rulers to establish a hospital for poor, sick Christians. From this humble beginning, a brotherhood of men sworn to Christian charity, came a military organization of fearless, fighting knights, armed with swords, mail and mace, who battled on behalf of the Crusades for more than 200 years. They were known as Knights Hospitallers.
Two young French knights, Hugh de Payens and Godfrey of St. Omer, conceived the idea of an organization of soldiers to protect Christian travelers making the trek to the Holy City. Originally called “Poor Soldiers in Christ,” they later became known as the Knights of the Temple, or Knights Templar. Before long, these young men, along with others who joined them, became famous in Europe where enthusiasm for the Crusades was running high.
European rulers, along with the Catholic Church, discovered great possibilities in this young knighthood. If Europe were to retain Jeru-salem and defeat Islam, it could not depend on volunteers who may or may not come out at their own expense, fight for a time, and then go home. A fixed garrison was needed, one that was well disciplined, permanently established, and always ready for war at a moment’s notice. In January 1128, the Catholic Church gave the knights an official sanction, and the Order immediately became immensely popular. Money poured into the Templar treasury, and rich estates were founded. Princes sent their sons to join the Knights Templar. Headquarters were set up in England, Spain, France, and Germany.
This order existed for 186 years. The knights comprised the highest grade in the general membership, each of whom was entitled to two horses, a squire, and two tents. The knights wore white mantles embroidered with a red cross. Each brother was bound to attend religious services at least once a day. Any self-indulgences, idle amusements, or games were forbidden. Though the knights were required to eat two full meals a day and sometimes three, their religious zeal and the temptation to fast were so great that the knights ate in pairs, each keeping an eye on the other to assure neither fasted. They were not permitted to marry or even associate with women. Hunting was forbidden, except for lions, believed to be sent from satan. A knight, if captured by the Moslems, was never to be ransomed. To die in the cause was his first duty.
DeMolay Is Born
Jacques DeMolay was born in the mountains of northern France, near the Vosges Mountains and the Marne, Seine, and Rhone Rivers. His exact birth date isn’t known, but scholarly research indicates sometime in 1244.
Also, little is known about his early life. In his later years, he would describe himself as a “poor and illiterate soldier.” His father may have been an obscure nobleman, and if so, young Jacques received the education customary to a boy of noble birth in that period. He would have been left in the care of his mother until age seven, and then sent to the household of some lord to live and serve, thus learning firsthand what would be required of a young knight of France.
Such an apprenticeship was call-ed “learning courtesy,” that is, the breeding and customs required at the court of a prince or noble. The sons of dukes and kings underwent the same discipline. If such was the education of Jacques DeMolay, he worked at humble tasks until 14 and then became a squire, the next rank.
Inside the circle of chivalry, as the system of knighthood was called, all knights were free and equal, entitled to their own land, and revered for their valor and faith. The great English writer, Alfred, Lord Tennyson told us these tales in his epic poems of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, The Idylls of the King. Knighthood was the glory of Europe during the Crusades, and Jacques DeMolay was to be a central part of it.
End of Part I. Part II will appear in the February
Scottish Rite Journal and Part III will conclude this series in March.
The information for this article was taken from Jacques DeMolay by H. L.
Haywood, 1925, Order of DeMolay, Kansas City, Mo.
remember the Scottish Rite Foundation, S.J., USA,
with your gifts and in your will, 1-800-486-3331.