We’ve seen a lot of old monasteries and convents in our time here in Portugal. The decorations may change, but the features are the same – a big church, a sacristy, some fancy tombs, and a cloister. They are all beautiful in their own way, but they are incomplete.
That is, we don’t get a sense for how the monks and nuns lived day to day. The bedrooms are gone, as are the kitchens and the dining hall, and wherever the heck they kept all their paperwork.
All that changed in our visit to Tomar, a darling little town that happens to be where the headquarters of the Knights Templar once stood.
There is so much lore and mystery surrounding the Knights Templar that just walking around this place felt like an initiation. The order began as a defensive force, escorting Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land. Eventually the order grew so large, skilled, and powerful that it became that which it was founded to protect against. The Knights were instrumental in the Crusades, slaughtering non-Christian pilgrims by the hundreds and forcing the conversion of whoever was left.
The history of this order, and indeed all of Christianity, is a lot to take in. I mean, this is a religion founded on the teachings of a pacifist who proclaimed that to follow him was to give all your money to the poor. And yet through this order alone it boasted a giant military and the beginnings of banking as we know it. So what made this order that much more successful than all the others? Was it the promise of adventure and battle against the forces of evil? Was it belonging? Being part of something greater than oneself? Was it safety? It’s probably all of those things, but I also wouldn’t underestimate the value of a good brand.