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The Knights Templar in Herefordshire

If you’ve ever explored the beautiful area around Garway in Herefordshire you may have discovered the wonderfully historic church of St Michaels and its links to the Knights Templar, a Catholic military order founded in 1118. Templar Knights, in their distinctive white mantles with a red cross, were amongst the most skilled fighting units of the Crusades and remained active until 1312. Non-combatant members of the order, who made up as much as 90% of their members, managed a large economic infrastructure throughout Christendom, which could now be considered an early form of banking. There was a threefold division of the ranks of the Templars: the noble knights, the non-noble sergeants, and the chaplains. The Templars did not perform knighting ceremonies, so any knight wishing to become a Knight Templar had to be a knight already. All three classes of brother wore the order’s red cross.

It is told that the Knights Templar built a church on the Garway site after Henry II granted them 2000 acres of land in what was known as Archenfield in 1187. Being a resourceful kind of group the Templars managed their farming and other interests from this estate and an administrative hub called a Preceptory was created. Their presence however in Herefordshire was not just limited to Garway they held other estates across the county. These were also places that cared for Knights who were ill or injured in battles or the Crusades, acting as a safe place for them to return to and recuperate. At the time of its foundation Garway was the most powerful Templar church in the Welsh Marches.

History records that the churches built by the Templars were always round and fashioned on the Holy Sepulchre Church in Jerusalem, in fact archaeologists found that the site at Garway was indeed linked to the Templars after uncovering the foundations during excavations in the late 1920’s. It was concluded that a Templar church had once existed on this site.

As the battle of the Crusades was lost and the purpose of the Knights diminished, the order became a force that were feared by not only the King of France but indeed the Pope himself. For the Knights had become both very rich and powerful during their tenure. So in a bid to discredit and disband them the Templars were accused of despicable crimes against the church, rounded up and arrested by those who they had once fought to protect. The English Grand Master James de Molay was captured and taken to Paris where he endured a terrible fate and a very slow death.

Many of the most powerful Templars were taken to the Tower of London where they were imprisoned for their ‘crimes’ and tortured mercilessly. Philip de Mewes and William de Pokelington, two of the the Knights located at Garway were arrested, charged with heresy and subsequently tortured. Surprising they publicly confessed, were immediately absolved and re-entered the church.

As you can imagine all of the Templar estates were ransacked and confiscated and eventually handed over to their rivals the Knights Hospitaller by the Pope, which included the Preceptory at Garway.

Following the dissolution of the Knights Templar, the Order of Christ was created in 1319 in Portugal and absorbed many of the Knights Templar into its ranks.

This lovely church is well worth a visit, in particular look out for the exterior walls of the nave and the chancel arch which have some amazing carvings. We do love a bit of Herefordshire History.

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