When you hear “Friday the 13th”, what comes to mind? Bad luck? Superstition? Black cats? A gruesome movie franchise involving a serial killer in a hockey mask and fake blood by the bucket-full? Or maybe the season premiere of Syfy’s spooky mystery show, Haven? (Yah!)
I know. Most, if not all, of the above, right? But do you know where the idea that Friday the 13th is unlucky originates? I’m betting probably not.
All of superstition is rooted in some sort of fact. And the dreaded, much-feared Friday the 13th is no different.
On this day, September 14, in 1307, King Philip IV “The Fair” of France (1268 – 1314) issued a sealed mandate to his police officers throughout France, asking that discrete preparations be made for the arrest of every French Templar at dawn on October 13, 1307.
On Friday the 13th, Templar Grand Master, Jacques de Molay and every Templar in France were thrown in jail. Of nearly 5,000 French Templars, fewer than 20 escaped.
Founded in 1119, the Knights Templar (or Poor Knights of the Temple of Solomon, or Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Jesus Christ) were a religious military order of knighthood and began at the time of the Crusades.
Jerusalem, still known today as the Holy City, was a place of pilgrimage for Christians at the time. But these peasants were often endangered by marauding Muslim bands. After a group of 700 pilgrims had been attacked on the eve of Easter in 1119, a number of knights led by Hugues de Payens – the first leader of the Templars — formed an order to protect the people who wished to travel to and from the Holy Land.
Over the years, they were able to expand and diversify. At their height, the Templars numbered about 20,000 knights.
In time, they came to acquire considerable wealth; they owned much property thanks to the generosity of kings and nobles. The Templars’ military strength enabled them to safely collect, store and transport bullion to and from Europe and the Holy Land. The Templars were eventually used as bankers by both kings and pilgrims alike.
But being in a position of such great financial power didn’t come without consequence.
The Templars had enemies, and by 1304, false rumours began circulating throughout Europe. Enter King Philip IV. The allegations against the Templars included heresy, sodomy, unspeakable crimes against God, Christ, the Church and Europe, as well as witchcraft, treason, sexual perversion, and many other such heinous offences. King Philip, using his influence over Pope Clement V, issued a warrant for the arrest of the Templars, to be carried out on Friday, October 13, 1307.
Philip was a war-monger and his exploits left he and his kingdom in near financial ruin. His attack on the Templars brought him substantial financial gain. By his own admission, he believed himself to be called by God to act as judge of the morals and welfare of his subjects. He believed that he and his kingdom were guarded by God and were chosen as special defenders of the Catholic faith. He was proud, and being inspired by his great sense of mission, he was receptive to accusations of sin and heresy brought against others. And he was ruthless in the persecution of those charged with such failings.
The story of the Templars is not unlike that of the Salem Massachusetts Witch Trials of 1692. Some Templars admitted to the charges. Clement himself heard damning confessions from the mouths of representatives of the Order, but only after many, if not all, of the men were tortured.
This was during the time of the Inquisition, where torture was the legal and accepted method of conducting interrogations. Creative torture techniques were plentiful.
Perhaps the most well-known device of torture was the rack. Bound by the ankles and wrists, the victims were stretched until their arms and legs were dislocated from their sockets. They were often subjected to further torture while so painfully confined: being burned or having their finger/toe nails ripped out.
Another popular method of torture was the strappado. After binding the hands behind the back with one end of a rope and throwing the other end over a ceiling beam, the victim would be hoisted up and then dropped—then yanked to a halt inches from the floor, cracking and dislocating arms, shoulders, wrists and ribs. Then of course you had the usual beatings, starvation, irons and chains, deplorable conditions — run-of-the-mill stuff.
Many of the Templars died in prison, and some desperately took their own lives. And some, including Jacques de Molay, were burned at the stake. But after the torture-induced confessions, many Templars retracted their earlier admissions, insisting that the Order was innocent and that the confessions had been made because of the torture and not due to guilt. Molay and Preceptor of Normandy Geoffroi de Charney were among these. On March 18, 1314, they loudly proclaimed their innocence and orthodoxy as they were burned to death on Ile de Javiaux, a small island in the Seine, drawing much reverence from the crowd of onlookers who collected their ashes as holy relics. The four ranking Templar leaders were tried that day. Two died, and the other two spent the rest of their lives in prison. The Knights Templar were no more.
That fateful Friday morning on the 13th of October, 1307, is still remembered today as the unluckiest of days. It struck such a cord that it birthed a superstition. The beginning of the end of the dutiful and brave Knights Templar is the reason Friday the 13th is considered unlucky.
706 years ago today, the wheels were set in motion by a greedy and ungodly king, who let his lust for money destroy the lives of these men of God. But perhaps the Templars saw justice after all.
A number of legends were quickly birthed regarding these men who were still highly regarded throughout Europe.
The most poignant of these stories is perhaps the curse thought to have been uttered by Jacques de Molay. As he was engulfed in flames, it is said he demanded that if the Order was innocent, that the pope be summoned before God’s court within forty days, and the king within the year, to answer for their vicious crimes. In thirty-three days, Pope Clement was dead. Eight months later, King Philip died also. Philip’s throne was succeeded by three of his sons. All were dead within fourteen years of Philip’s death, and with them ended the 300-year reign of a prominent royal family.
Legend? Fact? Or maybe God’s poetic sense of justice for His people …
“As He then drove out with His mighty hands the principalities of darkness, so now does He attack their disciples, the sons of disobedience, banishing them by the hands of His protectors.”