Conspiracy, accusations, executions: the Pont Neuf Bridge, the Knights Templar and Friday the 13th

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This picture is of the Pont Neuf Bridge in Paris.  It is a lovely spot, just down the Seine River from Notre Dame.  It is unique for the fact that it the oldest bridge in Paris (though not one single stone is original, they have all been replaced at some point or another.)

Faces on the Pont Neuf Bridge
Each one of the faces on the Pont Neuf Bridge is unique, and one could spend some time adminiring them and the scenery of the Seine River.

The Pont Neuf bridge is also covered with faces…lots of strange faces.  They are each unique and individual, and one could spend some time just marveling at them.  I have read on the internet that the faces on the Pont Neuf Bridge are there to ward off evil spirits.

Our tour guide on our walking tour in Paris told us that they were friends of Henry IV (who was responsible for building the bridge) and were put there as a joke after a night of drunken revelry.  I have not found any credible source for either theory, and if someone can enlighten me as the the truth, I would be much obliged.

This normal looking bridge in Paris is also linked by history to the Knights Templar and Friday the 13th.  I am going to explain how (and hopefully, you will learn a little snippet of history in the process…)

The Knights Templar were a religious order that was started when Hughes de Payens approached King Baldwin II of Jerusalem with an offer to protect pilgrims coming to visit the Holy Land.  The order initially had nine knights.

The Knights Templar quickly grew in numbers and spread across Europe and became more powerful as they were granted leave by the Pope not to pay taxes and given the freedom to cross borders at will.  The were granted immunity to local laws and answered only to the Pope himself.

A statue of Henry IV next to the Pont Neuf Bridge

While the Knights themselves took an oath of poverty, the Order amassed countless property and riches.  The Knights Templar established a crude version of the first bank, and invented the idea of the check when they issued letters of credit to pilgrims traveling so that they would not need to carry cash with them, which would make them prey for robbers.  The pilgrims would present the letter to a Knights Templar branch at the other end to “withdraw” those funds.

The Knights became a part of daily life in Medieval Europe, and were some of the best soldiers in Europe.  They contributed to victory at many battles during their time.

The decline of the Knights Templar started in the 12th century when Christians lost influence in the Holy Land.  The need for the knights in their military capacity was less, and support started a slow decline.

In 1307, King Philip IV of France was asked to help investigate some charges that had been levied against the Knights Templar (charges that most people involved agreed were false.)

Because King Philip IV owed money to the knights that had been loaned to him for his war with the English, he convinced the Pope that the charges were true.

On Friday, October 13, 1307, King Philip ordered the Knights Templar arrested.  This has been thought to be a possible source for our superstitions about Friday the 13th, and while historians are now contesting this, it makes for a good story nonetheless.

The end of the road for the Knights Templar

All of the Knights Templar were rounded up and arrested.  They were tortured into making false confessions.  Many of them were executed.

This spot, near the Pont Neuf Bridge was the place where Jaques de Molay, the last Grand Master of the Knights Templar, was executed after he retraced his confessions.  This angered Phillip, and he ordered Jaques de Molay burned at the stake, at this spot, near the Pont Neuf Bridge on March 18, 1314.

So, as promised, a dramatic story for you to ponder next time you find yourself near the Pont Neuf Bridge in Paris, now peaceful, but once a place where history culminated and brought to an end the order of the Knights Templar in Europe.

If you enjoyed this little moment of historical reflection, please continue on to these other pieces:

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