From the Vatican to Skaneateles

A rare facsimile of commentary on trials of the Knights Templar — known as the Processus Contra Templarios (Papal Inquiry into the Trial of the Templars) — was on public display on February 3, 2011, at the Skaneateles Masonic Lodge. The facsimile was published in 2007 by Italy’s Scrinium society, which releases works from the Vatican Library, the Vatican Secret Archives and the Vatican Museums. “This is a milestone because it is the first time that these documents are being released by the Vatican,” said Professor Barbara Frale, a medievalist scholar.

One of the most fascinating parts of the Processus is the Chinon Parchment, in which Pope Clement V absolved the Knights Templar of charges of heresy. The parchment was “misplaced” in the Vatican archives until 2001, when Frale found  it. “The parchment was cataloged incorrectly at some point in history. At first I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was incredulous,” she said.

The Knights Templar were founded in 1119 to protect Christian pilgrims visiting the Holy Land, after Crusaders captured Jerusalem in 1099. The Templars amassed wealth and helped to finance some European monarchs, including King Philip of France, who later saw getting rid of the Templars as a convenient way of canceling his debts. To enlist the sympathies of the Vatican, he accused the Knights Templar of heresy, and burnt the leaders, including the Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, at the stake. The Vatican inquiry documented in the Processus exonerated the Knights Templar, but the organization was absorbed into another order, their assets taken and their history brought to an end.

The manuscript is of special interest to Masons because many scholars maintain that the Knights Templar, driven underground, surfaced centuries later as the Masonic order. A wider public has followed legends of the order’s hidden treasures, secret rituals and guardianship of the Holy Grail in films and bestsellers such as The Da Vinci Code, National Treasure and Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade.

Each set of the Processus is priced at approximately $8,000. This set was “on tour” from the Chancellor Robert R. Livingston Masonic Library of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the State of New York, in New York City. The library’s director, Thomas M. Savini, accompanied the set and spoke on the history of the Knights Templar, the lessons of their history, and their relevance today. His talk was well worth the time spent, and it’s always a pleasure to be in the Masonic lodge, built by Freeborn Jewett and once the home of William Marvin, whose garden occupied the space now paved over for the municipal parking lot.

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