There’s an awful lot of junk written about the Order of the Knights Templar, and it’s not just the fault of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code – it stretches back at least as far back as the eighteenth century founding of the Freemasons, and ultimately has it roots in the events of the Order’s demise. The Templars were members of an order of crusader knights that was founded in the early twelfth century, entrusted with protecting pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land. From very small beginnings (their seal shows two knights on the same horse to show how poor they were), they quickly became one of the most important military orders in Christendom, accumulating substantial property and wealth across Europe and beyond (with castles from Krak des Chevaliers to Clontarf). Essentially they were fighting men (noble knights and non-noble soldiers) who took vows similar to those of monastic orders (e.g. poverty, obedience etc.). But if individual members were vowed to poverty, the order itself was much less so. In fact, its wealth was part of its undoing. Philip IV (the Fair) of France (1268-1314) was so indebted to them he figured the best way to deal with his financial problem was to have their leaders arrested on trumped up charges and confiscate their property – if you owe the bank money, execute the board of directors and help yourself to the vault.
The last Grand Master of the order was Jacques de Molay, and at Terradillos de los Templarios (about the halfway point of the Camino Frances from St Jean Pied de Port) there’s an albergue named after him. De Molay was born in what is now northern France in around 1240 or 1250 and had no association with Terradillos as far as I know, but it’s a nice albergue and he’s a prominent historical figure, not least because he was burnt at the stake in Paris, in 1314. His alleged (and most likely fictitious) curse of the Capetian monarchs of France in his final moments forms the basis of Maurice Druon’s perennially popular historical novels Les Rois Maudits (‘The Accursed Kings’).
What would the Templars have been doing in Spain, as far away from the Holy Land as you can get? Well, naturally they had property all over Europe, but don’t forget Spain was Crusader country too. The wars against the Muslim forces in the south of Iberia and the capturing of their lands were seen as holy endeavors in Christian eyes too. Fighters could gain indulgences for waging holy war in Spain just like in Jerusalem, while protection of pilgrims to Santiago (the third holiest city in Christendom) was a duty of military orders too (including the Order of Santiago). You can find remnants and reminders of the Templars and their strongholds along the Camino, but treat with a fistful of salt (not just a pinch, a fistful) all that Holy Grail and Ley Line stuff. If de Molay had seen all that in his final prophetic moment, he’d probably have gone to the stake willingly.