Knights Templar on Cyprus

St Hilarion Castle, Kyrenia Cyprus

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The Knights Templar have an important, long and rich historical relationship with Cyprus, having once owned the Island in its entirety.  The following is a very concise summary.

The Kingdom of Cyprus was a Crusader State that existed between 1192 and 1489. It was ruled by King Richard I the Lion heart, the Knights Templar 1191 -1192, the French House of Lusignan and Knights of St John Hospitaller, 1192-1489.  The Kingdom comprised not only the island of Cyprus, but also included territory on the Anatolian mainland (Turkey): Antalya between 1361 and 1373, and Corycus between 1361 and 1448.

Kyrenia Castle, Cyprus

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King Richard I realised in 1191, after his conquest of the Island, that Cyprus would prove to be difficult to maintain and oversee, whilst campaigning in the Holy Land. King Richard was able to sell the Island to the Knights Templar for a fee of 100,000 bezants, 40,000 of which was to be paid immediately, while the remainder was to be paid in instalments.

Kolossi Castle (part of the Knights Templar & Knights Hospitaller Commandery) nr Limassol & Paphos Harbour Fort, Cyprus

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At this time, the Knights Templar were renowned for their financial wealth and considerable holdings of land and property throughout Europe and the Middle East. However, the rigour of their commander’s rule in Cyprus quickly incurred the enmity of both the native nobility and citizenry. On Easter Day 1192, the Cypriot force attempted a massacre of their Templar rulers.  The Templars were forewarned of the attack and decided in view of their limited numbers of troops, to take refuge in their castle stronghold in Nicosia.

Twin Churches of the Knights Templar & Hospitallers, Famagusta and Bellapais Abbey Kyrenia, Cyprus

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A siege ensued and the Templars, realising their dire circumstances and their besiegers’ reluctance to bargain, sallied out into the streets at dawn, taking the local factions completely by surprise. The subsequent quelling of the rebellion was harsh and widespread.  Although Templar rule was restored following the event, the military order was reluctant to continue rule due to the envisaged amount of the Order’s resource required – the strength and determination of Cypriots’ refusal to be ruled and devout Orthodox beliefs.  They beseeched King Richard I to take Cyprus back at a reduced price. King Richard took them up on their offer and most Templars returned to Syria, though the Order retained land estate and commandery holdings on the island.

Kantara Castle, Five Fingers Mountains, North Cyprus

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After the fall of Acre Crisis in 1291, the few Knights Templar who had escaped the siege and fall, returned to Cyprus, along with  the Knights Hospitaller, Knights of St Thomas, Knights of the Holy Sepulchre and a few other Monastic groups.

The Knights Templar cooperated with the Order of the Knights of St Thomas in Cyprus, who had also returned from Acre.  This group took over a small Byzantine Church in Nicosia, next to the Cathedral and named it the Church of St Nicholas, possibly from its original Byzantine heritage.  Within Cyprus it became known as the ‘Church of St Nicholas of the English’, due to the relationship with the English Knights of St Thomas.  The Templar property was taken over by the Knights Hospitaller but as the church was not Templar property it remained in the hands of the Knight of St Thomas.

Knights Templar St Nicholas Church, Nicosia, Cyprus

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Following the 1307 betrayal of the Knights Templar in Europe, when all the Order’s Knights were to be arrested on the mainland, only a few arrests were made on Cyprus.  A number of these Knights were imprisoned in St Hilarion Castle, however no executions or property losses were recorded in Cyprus.  In 1312 after the “Dissolution” of the Order, there were still some Knights Templar resident in Cyprus. The Order disappeared on the Island shortly after the dissolution, with all Templar properties being transferred to the Knights Hospitaller.

Larnaca Castle, Cyprus & Buffavento Castle, Five Fingers Mountains, North Cyprus

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In 1316 the remaining ‘free’ Knights Templar in England, of the now dissolved Order, tried to amalgamate with the Order of St Thomas.  The Master of the Order of St Thomas refused to leave Cyprus for discussions in London, as he viewed the proposal as an attempted takeover by the Knights Templar. The Church of St Nicholas is mentioned and described in a few of the Papal Bulls regarding Church property and land management in Cyprus.  By 1360, the Order of St Thomas eventually became bankrupt, for all intents and purposes and was finally dissolved by Henry VIII in 1526.

Limassol Castle, Cyprus

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The Knights Templar had two opportunities to establish Cyprus as their own sovereign state.  Firstly, when they purchased the Island from King Richard I in 1191/2, and secondly when Jacques de Molay, Grand Master moved the Order’s Grand Priory to Cyprus after the fall of Acre in 1291.

An interesting question to consider.  How would subsequent European, Near Middle Eastern and perhaps world history have changed, if the Templars had established their own sovereign country?   King Philip IV and Pope Clement V would not then have had the opportunity to initiate their conspiracy and power/wealth grab in 1307, culminating in dissolution, fabricated trials and executions.

Crusader States map – 1229 & 1241

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Foinikas ‘Ghost Town’ nr Paphos (ex Templar estate) & Castle of the Forty Columns Paphos, Cyprus

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Antiphonitis Church, North Cyprus

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