Vatican Publishes Secret Documents on Trial of Knights Templar

The Vatican has published secret archive documents about the trial of the Knights Templar, including a long-lost parchment that shows that Pope Clement V initially absolved the medieval Christian order from accusations of heresy, officials said Friday.

The 300-page volume recently came out in a limited edition — 799 copies — each priced at $8,377, said Scrinium publishing house, which prints documents from the Vatican's secret archives.

The order of knights, which ultimately disappeared as a result of the heresy scandal, recently captivated the imagination of readers of the best-seller "The Da Vinci Code," in which the author Dan Brown linked the Templars to the story of the Holy Grail.

The work reproduces the entire documentation on the papal hearings convened after King Philip IV of France arrested and tortured Templar leaders in 1307 under charges of heresy and immorality.

The military order of the Poor Knights of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon was founded in 1118 in Jerusalem to protect pilgrims in the Holy Land following the First Crusade.

As their military might increased, the Templars also grew in wealth, acquiring property throughout Europe and running a primitive banking system. After the Templars left the Middle East with the collapse of the Crusader kingdoms, their power and secretive ways aroused the fear of European rulers and sparked accusations of corruption and blasphemy.

Historians believe that Philip owed debts to the Templars and seized on the accusations to arrest their leaders and extort confessions of heresy under torture as a way to seize the order's riches.

The publishing house said the new book includes the "Parchment of Chinon," a 1308 decision by Clement to save the Templars and their order. The document was misplaced for centuries in the archives and found again in 2001 by a researcher who works in the Vatican archives.

Scrinium said the researcher, Barbara Frale, was in Frankfurt for the international book fair and was not immediately reachable for comment.

According to the Vatican archives Web site, the parchment shows that Clement absolved the Templar leaders of the heresy charge, though he did recognize they were guilty of immorality, and he planned to reform the order.

However, pressured by Philip, Clement later reversed his decision and suppressed the order in 1312.

Jacques de Molay, Grand Master of the Templars, was burned at the stake in 1314 along with his aides.

Surviving monks fled, with some absorbed by other orders, and over the centuries, some groups have claimed to have descended from the Templars.