Knights Templar: Alfonso I, the king who wanted to conquer Jerusalem

Those mysteries that made European Romanticism so popular in the 18th and 19th centuries were originally battles fought in the name of the Christian faith. Those knights who would later be covered in esoteric enigmas were men who swore to die defending the kingdom of heaven and its pilgrims. When the former did not exist, the mysteries and legends, when only the latter mattered, the faith and the battles in their name, the Templars settled in the Holy Land.

From that remote place, so far away in the Middle Ages, they managed to penetrate the whole of Europe. And they reached the Iberian Peninsula, where they fought those same battles, and also new ones, under the protection of one of the most important kingdoms in our history: the Kingdom of Aragón with Alfonso I.

Knights Templar: reality and legend

The Order of the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon was officially founded somewhere between 1118 and 1119. The spirit in which it was born goes back in time to the first fighters of the First Crusade for the Christian faith. Nine knights who, following those ideals of the late 11th century and led by the Frenchman Hugo de Payens, concluded that going to the Holy Land would never be enough. They had to settle down, learn to live, in the place they wished to protect. With this objective, and with the approval of the King of Jerusalem, Baldwin I, they stayed in the holiest city. They did so, in fact, in the royal mosque itself, which was built on top of what was once the Temple of Solomon. This is how the order was founded, settled and named. The Knights Templar.

The Knights Templar order was made up of knights who gradually shaped a way of life that aroused astonishment and admiration. Over time, an aura of secrecy would also be unleashed around them; due to the fascinating nature of their existence, which would never leave them. But this was later. At the beginning, with a definite purpose shared by the Western world, their fame grew and grew until their name reached all corners of Europe as the defenders of Christianity. These Templars were seen by the people as men of sacrifice, courage and commitment to those travellers who only wanted to profess their faith. Almost saviors, certainly protectors, always knights. Warrior monks with the power to wage war in their name.

En primer plano Torre de Jaime I a la derecha y torreón de dormitorios a la izquierda

Monzón Castle, one of the areas inhabited by the Templars in Aragón. | Shutterstock

Europe embraced their devotion with them, making the legend great from its very birth. The Templars unleashed in their European peers a deep feeling of fervor and gratitude. They were grateful to them for their work in the Holy Land; feeling not only protected: also represented. They knew that there was someone out there in the sacred lands who felt they were theirs without knowing them, defending their beliefs. Living in accordance with those beliefs.

The mysteries would come later. In those early years, there was nothing but gratitude. Thus they were enriched. From the beginning, these selfless knights received donations from all over the continent. And little by little, they began to live in these places as well.

King Alfonso I, the battler of the Kingdom of Aragón

During the same year that the Knights Templar were founded, in 1118, Alfonso I conquered Zaragoza for the Christian community of the Iberian Peninsula. The struggle of the two was the same, separated by a continent but united by a deep religiosity. For the same ideals that were the driving force behind the sovereign of the Kingdom of Aragón; who reached the crown after a series of tragic deaths. Alfonso I, known as The Battler, governed in Aragón, without having been born for that purpose, from 1104 to 1134, the year in which he died.

Monasterio de San Pedro de Siresa

Monastery of San Pedro de Siresa, where Alfonso I was raised. | Shutterstock

He conquered miles and miles of land for his kingdom, relentlessly challenging the Muslims. Perhaps he remembered the words that the Church dedicated to his brother and predecessor, Peter I of Aragón. The holy war was also to be fought far from the holy places. Had it been in his hands, Alfonso I would have set sail for Jerusalem, to conquer it himself, to defend it with his blood, for the glory of that kingdom he loved so much. But he remained on the peninsula, living and dying for his own holy war. Moved by that deep faith of which he was always well aware, and also by a strong expansionist character that led him, moreover, to travel a lot. Alfonso I was a fighter and a great traveller, according to the chronicles.

The first Templar to arrive in the Iberian Peninsula was during the reign of Alfonso I. This king, who had grown up among French knights, who grew up alongside the fighters of the first Crusades, welcomed them with enthusiasm. Alfonso I was aware of what it might mean for these warrior monks to settle in his lands; but he also liked to surround himself with their company. He was just another Templar, at least in spirit. Actually, he never left the crown, but it was precisely this that allowed the Knights Templar to make a name for themselves on our peninsula, becoming the most important religious order in the history of the Kingdom of Aragón.

An impossible will

Its importance in Aragón can be seen throughout the two centuries that it remained active, but we find an example of great value just one year after its arrival. In 1131, in the context of the struggle for Christianity in which it was common to bequeath possessions to these religious orders, Alfonso I stipulated this in his will. He established that his kingdom, for which he had fought so hard, would be divided between the three great religious orders of the time: the Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, the Hospitallers and the Knights Templar. It had barely been two years since the Church had ratified the official status of the Templars; but their fame and value were already two decades old. Alfonso I valued them, as did the people.

Castillo templario de Miravet

Templar castle of Miravet, one of the territories they won as a result of that will.

But his will was implausible. The law did not allow it, nor would the nobles; who found an opportunity in the absence of Alfonso I’s descendants. Days before he died, after succumbing to the wounds left by his heavy defeat at Fraga in 1134, he reviewed this will. Nothing changed. It was clear to Alfonso I that he would make up for the lack of descendants with faith. He had fought all his life to recover for Christianity what he considered his own, and he wished that, in his absence, those who would continue to fight, his knights, would have the necessary means to do so. He bequeathed his kingdom and his horse and weapons to the Knights Templar; whom he admired so much during his lifetime and with whom he shared so many ideals. How significant this is.

Alfonso I died with this wish; and left the Templars the certainty that they had the kingdom in their hands to arrange it as they wished. Perhaps they did not get to reign, but they would no longer leave.

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