California University plans event on Kinghts Templar history

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Those who have read Dan Brown’s best-selling novel “The Da Vinci Code” are already familiar with some of the mystique surrounding the Knights Templar, a medieval organization formed in 1120.

Thursday, two days shy of the 700th anniversary of the Templars’ arrest by French King Philip IV, California University of Pennsylvania will stage a daylong series of events, open to the public, meant to explore some of the truths and falsehoods of this fascinating but often misunderstood order.

“The Templars, a fusion of the monastic impulse and chivalry, were not monks,” said Paul Crawford, the event coordinator and Cal U assistant professor of ancient and medieval history. “Rather, they were what’s best termed ‘fighting religious.'”

Besides a series of afternoon and evening lectures by academic experts, Cal U’s exploration of the Templars will include demonstrations of broadsword and rapier-style sword fighting by John Lennox, a historical combat specialist and doctoral candidate from Wayne State University in Michigan. The event will also include a viewing of Friesian horses, the closest living descendants of the medieval war horses used by the order’s knights.

“The Templars were originally formed to protect pilgrims on the route from Jaffa, the area around present day Haifa and Tel Aviv, to Jerusalem,” said Dr. Crawford. “They then quickly became a part of the army of Jerusalem and lasted almost 200 years until their arrest by the French king and subsequent suppression by Pope Clement V in 1312.”

At dawn on Friday, Oct. 13, 1307, Philip the Fair arrested the Templars residing in his kingdom and charged them with a long list of reprehensible crimes. After a long and muddled trial, some were burned at the stake, and an elaborate mythology grew up around the order.

“While we know a lot about what happened to the Templars in general, we’re not sure about what happened to them as individuals, which accounts for the subsequent legends,” said Dr. Crawford.

To dispel some of the erroneous notions about the Templars, three speakers will address the audience starting at 12:30 p.m. when professor Constance Bouchard of the University of Akron will discuss medieval Catholic religious orders in general. Professor Bouchard will again take to the podium at 2 p.m. to deliver a talk on medieval chivalry.

At 3:30 p.m., professor Jochen Burgtorf of California State University-Fullerton will speak on the general history of the Templars, while Malcolm Barber of the University of Reading in England and one of the world’s foremost experts on the Templars, will deliver the keynote speech at 7:30 p.m.

All talks, free and open to the public, will take place in the Performance Center of the Natali Student Center.

“Dr. Barber, author of the authoritative book, ‘The Trial of the Templars,’ will speak at a total of eight universities in the U.S. during this anniversary year, including California University of Pennsylvania,” said Dr. Crawford, an ancient history and medieval scholar selected as one of the commentators by the History Channel for the production of its 2006 documentary on the Templars.

For more information and a complete schedule of events, phone 724-938-4054.

in the post-gazette