The Knights Templar in Cyprus - A History
Between 1244 and 1314, many Knights Templar Brothers considered the stunning island of Cyprus their home. From their castles and monasteries, the Templars enacted the will of their leaders in the name of Jesus Christ and for the betterment and defence of Christendom. The presence of the Templars was considered a blessing at first, with their heavily armoured knights defending Christians across the entire island from the encroach of Islam.
But after decades of rule, the Templars found themselves opposed by a rebellion and later relinquished control of the island in favour of returning to the Holy Land to protect pilgrims and travellers.
Even after the rebellion, many Knights decided to remain on the island to pursue their own purposes - after all, many had spent decades here and considered the region their home. Whilst they were here, they established a variety of strongholds, many of which can still be seen today; albeit in a raised and ruined format. For example, the Twin Churches in Famagusta belonged to the Templar Order, as did Buffavent Castle and Bellapais Abbey. These sites are now protected by law and can still be visited with permission.
A Queen in Captivity
One of the most famous stories relating to the Knights Templar in Cyprus is that of an ancient Queen and Empress - Helena, who ruled over the island many centuries ago. After developing leprosy and spreading the condition to her lone companion; her pet dog, she discovered that it was cured after bathing in a nearby lake. She ventured in to the depths and over time found herself cured of the ailment and to commemorate the miracle, she founded the nearby Ayios Ioannis Chrysostomos Monastery.
Not Your Average Knight
Although many Templars swore oaths and took up sword and shield in defense of Christendom; vast numbers of their Brothers chose to pursue calmer pursuits and so went on to become master brickshapers, builders and stonemasons. That's why many of the iconic fortresses and structures of the Knights remain visible today - thanks in no small part to the skill and expertise of the construction workers within the Order. Even after a multitude of sieges, fires and attacks, these buildings have refused to collapse entirely.
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Templar Influence on Cyprus
Although many centuries have passed since the Templars of old were in Cyprus, our Commandery is a part of the OSMTJ, refounded by Napolean Bonaparte in 1807 and our members strive to emanate the honour and integrity that our ancestors lived by. Cyprus still remains a vital military stronghold and these days we aim to provide charitable assistance, fundraisers, Christian support schemes and more to honour our brethren.
Where Did the Templars Live?
According to Ottoman records, the Templars were present in a variety of villages and cities, including Higher and Lower Arodez, parts of the village of Akursos, Episkopi in Lemesos, Rhodes and Mora. The two main bodies of Templar Knights were stationed in Salami (Ammochostos) and Lemesos. They chose strategic parts of the island to install garrisons and these were often manned by units of Knights that could act to reinforce, or call for reinforcements whenever needed. Outside of the castles and garrisons, many Brothers found room and board locally.
The village of Templos in specific is one of the most iconic parts of Templar history, as it was actually named after the Order itself. Located in the now Northern part of the island, it has retained much of its previous architecture and has become a hotspot for tourists and followers of the Knights Templar in general.
A Fact for the Ages
During the Third Crusade, three of King Richard's ships sank close to Cyprus and the survivors were able to make their way to the coast. Isaac of Cyprus; the previous ruler, decided to take the Knights hostage and kept them prisoner. When King Richard arrived and discovered the events, he laid seige to the island and decimated the Cypriot forces who weren't able to stand against such a heavily armoured host. Isaac surrendered the island under the condition that Richard the Lionheart wouldn't force him to wear iron chains.
King Richard accepted this deal but as punishment, he bound Isaac in silver instead. Recognising the potential of the island as a stronghold nation, the Grandmaster of the Knights Templar; Robert de Sablé, purchased the island from the King for 100,000 gold bezzants. Unfortunately, the Templar rule would be brief, with the locals disliking their new masters. The villagers planned an attack on Easter morning in 1192. After being alerted, the Templars offered to leave the island if their lives were spared without any blood needing to be spilt.
Refusing their plea deal, the villagers attacked and the Knights had no choice but to venture forth, killing countless rebels to save their own lives. Reluctantly, many Knights fled to Syria to better protect pilgrims while arrangements were made on their behalf in Cyprus. The end result was that the Templar Order could retain much of their possessions and properties, allowing them a foothold on the island. It wasn't long after this event that King Phillip IV of France decided to take advantage of the Templars dwindling numbers by accusing them of being evil.
On Thursday the 12th in the year of 1307, King Phillip demanded that all Templars be arrested on sight and tried for heresy and witchcraft. Many were forced to falsify confessions of guilt and as a result, countless Knights were burnt at the stake. Their assets were handed over to the Knights Hospitalier and they were hunted like animals. Many claim that the Chinon parchment alleviated the charges against the Templars and this is what allowed the survivors to avoid further punishment.
In 1571, the Ottomans invaded Cyprus, murdered the inhabitants and claimed the island for their own. Had the Templars have still been present defending Christianity, this event may well have turned out very differently.