A Knight Templar
The Freemasons also have been connected with a mysterious order called the Knights Templar. These knights were monks who took up arms in 1118 A.D. in order to protect Christian pilgrims traveling from Jaffa (a port city in Israel) to Jerusalem. According to legend, the Knights Templar discovered the greatest treasure in history buried in the ruins of King Solomon’s temple. The Knights became rich—so rich, in fact, that they were the targets of envy and suspicion. In 1307, King Philip IV of France had all of the Knights Templar arrested so that he could take possession of their great wealth. What happened to the Knights after their imprisonment remains a mystery, but some say they went into hiding and continued their work in secret, only to reemerge in Europe during the 1700s as the modern Freemasons. (There is even a theory that the Knights, in their desire to seek vengeance on King Philip IV, had a hand in starting the French Revolution.)
These stories lend a dramatic flair to the Freemasons’ history, but a more credible explanation for the brotherhood’s birth can be found in the Middle Ages. At that time, Masons were stone workers hired by kings and churches in England, Scotland and France to build great castles and cathedrals. Two kinds of Masons existed at the time—those who worked with ordinary stone were called “rough masons.” Those who carved more intricate designs into softer stone, called “freestone,” were named “freestone masons” or “free masons” (the two words were later combined to form the title, “Freemason”). The Freemasons enjoyed a monopoly of sorts because of their special skill, and wanted to keep it that way. They established trade guilds to discuss their craft and fair wages. They founded lodges where they would eat and keep their tools. And they developed secret handshakes, code words and other signs to distinguish one another from the rough masons.