I haven't posted an article on Templary, Masonic or Crusader, in a while so I thought I'd get one out. Like many organizations, the Templars were known to employ a variety of symbols for various purposes such as official seals, shield ornamentation, and gravestones, but there never existed a single symbol that was used during the entire existence of the medieval order.
The most common symbols used at various stages were the Red Cross, the Beauceant, Agnus Dei, and the image of two knights upon a single horse. Some lesser known symbols that were used by the Provincial Masters included the star, dove, lion, crosses, and the fleurs-de-lis. Templar graves could be seen engraved with swords and the cavalry cross. At Chinon and Domme, where the Templars were imprisoned, there was seen graffiti carved into the walls, one such carving in Chinon was a hand with a heart superimposed on its palm.
The most popular symbol image associated with the medieval Knights Templar is the image of two knights upon one horse. This symbol was used by many Grand Masters as one of their seals with minor variations through the successive line of Grand Masters; starting around 1167 and lasting until around 1298. The official seal of the Grand Master was closely guarded in the Treasury under the protection of the Commander of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, and could only be accessed by a select few.
Like many things associated with the Templars, this symbol mystifies them and since there downfall there has been many theories as to the meaning of it. Some military experts believe it is to emblematically represent what is seen as today as the "buddy system" where soldiers, or knights in their case, would operate in pairs. Some believe this symbol goes back much farther too ancient Sumeria which was thought to represent a tactical device during battle, but also symbolic of duality and balance. This may be the reason the Templars adopted it, to represent their dual function as both warriors and monks. Others theorize that it originated with the birth and initial poverty of the Templar Order, but this would fly in the face of the Rule of the Order which established the number of horses allocated to knights (according to their rank and position) and which also prohibited the sharing of the same horse.
The next most prominent symbol for the Knights Templar is the Red Cross, which would have been emblazoned upon the mantle (color varied depending on class). The Red Cross was not an ornament of the Templars until 1147 when Pope Eugenius III granted them that privilege via papal bull. There was an exact design, but the most common cross used was the cross pattee (a variation of the Greek cross).
As I discussed in my articles "The Crown and the Cross" and "Crosses", the cross is an ancient symbol that long preceded its use by the Christian religion:
It has been found in ancient Africa, the Far East, Assyria, Phoenicia, India, Persia, Mesopotamia, Scandinavia, and Mesoamerica/Pre-Columbian America. To these ancient cultures, the cross represented the Sun or has been a symbol of Earth and nature with the number Four representing the Cardinal directions, the changing seasons, the four winds, the quarters of the moon, and the alchemical elements. Like the crown does, the cross may also emblematically represent the union of Heaven and Earth. The number four also reminds us of the Four Evangelists and their Gospels. By it are we reminded of time and the delineation of seasons, as it was on the Fourth Day that God put lights in the firmament to separate light from darkness, to mark days, and to outline the passing of seasons and time.
For the Templar, the red cross was a symbol of martyrdom to remind them of Christ.
Primarily found in England and parts of France, the Lamb of God (or Agnus Dei) was used on seals, but was not uniquely used by the Knights Templar. The Agnus Dei is often depicted as a haloed lamb cocking its leg so as to hold either a cross or flag, but there have been several variations since it first was used which was around 1241. Its origins are debated, like most symbols, but many believe that it started around the 9th Century AD since no evidence exists prior to that time of its use although this is contested as it was primarily used first in Rome and thus would most likely stem from some pagan use.
The Agnus Dei is symbolic of the martyred Christ and which is referenced in the 29th Verse of the First Chapter of the Book of John wherein it is written "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." In Masonry we are reminded that the lamb has long been an emblem of innocence.
Another famous symbol would be the Beauceant which I discussed back in 2012. The Beauceant was the standard of the Knights Templar, and still used by the Masonic Knights Templar. The Beauceant consisted of a black sec¬tion above a white one. The etymology of "Beauceant" is not known, an unknown pilgrim around the 12th or 13th century, while visiting Jerusalem, stated:
When they go to war, a standard of two colors called 'balzaus' is borne before them.
The colors of the Beauceant also remind us to be good and true to our friends and terrify theenemies of Christ. The black section can also depict the sins of the secular world that the Templar knights had chosen to leave while the second section was white depicting the purity that the order offered them, a sort of transformation of darkness to light. To symbolize duality through the colors of black and white is quite ancient as most cultures see white and black as symbolic of good and evil. It has also been used as a comparison between the physical and spiritual world, male and female, and the sky and the earth.
The Beauceant was a rallying point during battles so they could easily regroup when separated. Knights were also not allowed to retreat or stop fighting while the Beauceant was flying. As the Beauceant was such an important symbol that the Marshall would select a group of Templars to protect it, to be led by the Confanonier, or Standard Bearer. The Standard Bearer is still an officer in the modern Masonic Templars and whose duty it is to protect the Standards of our Order. Historically the duties of the Standard Bearer included being the paymaster and ensuring the equipment (to include the horses) was kept in working order. It should be noted that although he was referred to as the Standard Bearer he never carried the banner, but led the procession which carried and protected it.
The Lion is a fairly obvious symbol for any Christian order as the lion is the king of the beasts so too is Christ the King of Kings. It was used as the sigil of the Tribe of Judah. It was used by warriors and noblemen alike as a symbol of their strength and authority. Symbolically the lion represents courage, valor, power, royalty, dignity, justice, wisdom, and ferocity. The lion while the ancients saw the lion as a "solar animal", but the lion is primarily a nocturnal hunter; with this we see the lion as a symbol of balance between night and day, darkness and light. The Templars may have also chosen this symbol as a remembrance of those words spoken by their early champion, Bernard of Clairvaux, who described them as ferocious lions.
Found on some seals of the Templar Order, the Dove is a well-known Christian icon. The dove symbolizes peace as well as the Holy Spirit.
The Cavalry Cross, or Stepped Cross, is a Latin cross surmounted on a base of 3-steps. Cavalry is the Latin name of the Aramaic word, Golgotha, which we learn from Biblical history, is the place of a skull as there is a skull-like appearance on the hillside and it was the place where Christ was crucified. The 3-steps while were said to represent the hill, were also symbolic of the virtues: Faith, Hope, and Love (or Charity). Along with being used as gravestones, the places where Templars were imprisoned had Cavalry Crosses etched into the prison cells.
The Fleur-de-lis, or “lily flower”, is a stylized lily used as a decorative design or symbol. It was first used around the 11th century and then continued to spread in use throughout the Middle Ages. The lily from the retired state of its pedals symbolizes that it is a symbol of peace and purity, but is also said to symbolize light, faith, wisdom, and chivalry. In Christianity, the lily was said to represent the Virgin Mary and there appears many pieces of art with Mary carrying the lily. Some believe that the fleur-de-lis represents the Holy Trinity.
The carving of hands with a heart superimposed on a palm is a peculiar symbol found in the cells of Templars. This symbol is symbolic of charity as well as mercy. This symbol was also used by John Calvin and with it this motto: “My heart I offer to you LORD, promptly and sincerely." It has been used in recent times by such groups like the Shakers and the Odd Fellows.
When reading through the Knights Templar Encyclopedia by Karen Ralls, I came upon the entry of "Abraxas" that just had a quick note for the reader to go to the section on Symbols. As I perused that section it talked about that the symbol of Abraxas is displayed on "Templar Grand Master's seal in the Archives Nationales in Paris, which was used in a French charter in 1214." The seal displays a figure that is Chimera-like and portrays a male warrior with a roosters head, human arms, and snakes as legs, who carries a shield and a whip; and bears the words "Secretum Templi". This particularly description of Abraxas was known as Anguipede which means "snake-foot". It is interesting to note that this seal was not used for particularly significant Templar documents, but can be found on ordinary, seemingly unimpressive, historical records like those dating from 1214.
Abraxas (Greek: ΑΒΡΑΞΑΣ) is a god written about in Gnostic texts and may also be known as Abrasax (as there is thought to have been a mistranslation from Greek to Latin). Carl Jung in his writings on the Seven Sermons to the Dead stated that Abraxas was a god higher than Jehovah. He is said to be the father of all things, "the power above all and the First Principle," and the ruler of 365 heavens. It is said that Abraxas created Nuos and Logos which led to Providence, Virtue, and Wisdom which gave rise to Principalities and Powers, and from "from these infinite productions and emissions of Angels." It is these angels who govern the 365 heavens which was said to include the Judeo-Christian God, Jehovah, which followers of Basilides denied of being a god, but rather an angel. This obviously was not a very popular belief in the 2nd century and Basilides is considered a heretic and damned by many historical Roman Catholic figures.
Some have speculated that the imagery of the Anguipede represents emanations of this being which are as follows:
The human body is displayed as it is written that God created man in his own image. The snakes represent the two great supports of man given by God, Nous (mind, intellect) and Logos (reason and judgment). The cock (rooster), being the creature who traditionally greets the golden dawn, is an emblem of foresight and vigilance. He carries the shield of wisdom and the whip or flail is said to be the "whip of Helios" (Abraxas is associated with the Sun) which represents dynamism or strength/power.
No one knows the origins of Abraxas and the relics associated with him. Some believe that it originated with a man named Basilides (an Alexandrian mystic) in the 2nd Century AD, but even then it cannot be proven and is also hypothesized that it was transmitted to him from another source, yet unknown to us in modern times. Abraxas was also referred to as the Great Archon, the Lord Creator, Almighty God, and Greatest God.
Many have attempted to guess as to the reason the Templars would use such an image, but without proper records and evidence it all falls into the realm of speculation. Historical writings and modern scholars have drawn parallels between Abraxas and Mithras of Persia as well as beliefs found in Hinduism. It is possible that the Templars were introduced to Abraxas through their time in the Middle East, but again, without hard evidence we can only imagine. Although it is an interesting symbol, the use of this seal does not mean that the Templar Order was a Gnostic one.
There are many interesting symbols used by the ancient Templars. Some of these symbols are still seen or used today in Masonic orders that have similar names to commemorate the deeds of these great men. It is a tragedy that too little of the Templars remains for analysis and study. The symbols we know seem to resonate with their dual personality of being men of the cloth, of God, and being warriors feared on the battlefield. While not conclusive, it leads to a belief of influence by Gnostic and Eastern beliefs that the Templars may have encountered in their travels.
1. A Brief History of the Medieval Knights Templar. n.d. http://www.osmth.org/templar-legacy.
2. Abraxas. n.d. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abraxas.
3. Agnus Dei. n.d. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01220a.htm.
4. Doves as Symbols. n.d. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doves_as_symbols.
5. Fleur-de-lis. n.d. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fleur-de-lis.
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9. Heart in Hand. June 21, 2011. http://gravelyspeaking.com/2011/06/21/heart-in-hand/.
10. "John 1:29." In Holy Bible, KJV. n.d.
11. King, Charles W. The Abraxas Religion. 1887. http://www.sacred-texts.com/gno/gar/gar40.htm.
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14. Lion as a Templar Symbol. n.d. http://knightstemplarvault.com/category/templar-symbols/.
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18. Newell, Barry. Symbols of Royal Arch Masonry, Part 2. June 8, 2012. http://www.travelingtemplar.com/2012/06/symbols-of-royal-arch-masonry-part-2.html.
19. Newell, Barry. The Crown and the Cross. September 9, 2012. http://www.travelingtemplar.com/2012/09/the-crown-and-cross.html.
20. Ralls, Karen. Knights Templar Encyclopedia. Franklin Lakes, NJ: New Page books, 2007.
21. Symbolic Meaning of Lions. n.d. http://www.whats-your-sign.com/symbolic-meaning-of-lions.html.
22. The Calvary Cross. n.d. http://www.seiyaku.com/customs/crosses/calvary.html.
23. The Chimera Androgyne: The Esoteric Mystique of Baphomet and Abraxas (Part 2). July 12, 2011. http://theaeoneye.wordpress.com/tag/abraxas/.
24. The Templars & Gnosticism. n.d. http://www.templeofmysteries.com/the-knights-templar/the-templars-and-gnosticism/.
25. Lamb of God. n.d. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lamb_of_God.