Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

 ErN 15, entry April 2006 update Nov. 2014

he Knights Templar
Welcome to Nocera Inferiore

   If you were confused by The Da Vinci Code, this won't help.

Even the authoritative, if highly opinionated, New Advent Catholic encyclopedia is unsure about this, so you're in good company. On the one hand, they follow the standard history of the Knights Templar and say that 

...In 1118, during the reign of Baldwin II, Hugues de Payens, a knight of Champagne, and eight companions bound themselves by perpetual vow, taken in the presence of the Patriarch of Jerusalem, to defend the Christian kingdom... 

(That refers to the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, founded as a result of the First Crusade in 1099 and finally falling in 1291).

Yet, in another context, the same source says that

Nocera [near Naples] is the birthplace of Hugo de Paganis(Payus), one of the founders of the Templars.

So, which is it? Hugues de Payens (from the Château Payns), in Champagne, France? or Hugo de Paganis from Nocera dei Pagani? (, the town of Nocera Inferiore) in Campania, just down the autostrada from where I sit. Wait, you say, those two names, Hugues de Payens and Hugo de Paganis sound...uh...similar, maybe the same. (Uh-oh. You, too, now  see that "Campania" looks a lot like  "Champagne." Your head hurts.) Aren't they talking about the same guy? I don't know. I told you someone is confused.

In any event, this first great group of "warrior monks," the Knights Templar (which name derives from the "temple" of Solomon, their first headquarters in Jerusalem) was an important international military and financial institution in the Christian west until it was charged with heresy and other crimes by the French Inquisition under the influence of the French King Philip IV (Philip the Fair) and was forcibly disbanded in the early 1300s. At the height of their power and influence, the order had a large army, answered only to the Church and not the temporal princes of the earth, had large tracts of land in Europe and the Middle East, built churches and castles, was involved in manufacturing and trade, and had a fleet of ships. In their two centuries of glory, the Templars owned considerable land in southern Italy; they established themselves in Barletta, Matera, Brindisi, and Foggia, among other places. They ran monastery-like estates and supplied their soldiers in the Holy Land from the ports in Puglia. That much was never uncontroversial.

Book coverThe controversy surrounds the identity of the founder of the order, Hugues or Hugo. A recent book entitled The Italian who founded the Templars. Hugo de Paganis, Knight of Campania by Mario Moiraghi  (Collana Medioevale 2005, Edizioni Ancora) (pictured, right) makes the claim that the French have been unjustly grabbing the credit all these centuries. The book cites a 1621 text, a census of the churches of Ferrara, by Marc’Antonio Guarini entitled Compendio Historico, which says the premises of the church of San Giacomo in Ferrara contain the burial site of Ugo [Hugo] de Paganis. That text refers to him as "… the person who… according to William, archbishop of Tiro, founded, with others, the Order of the Knights Templar…". There is no reason to doubt the authenticity of the document, according to its defenders, and the church of San Giacomo was a known Templar establishment. [Such a claim, while plausible, would also have to deal with the obvious fact that even authentic documentsthat is, documents that are not forged and that were written in good faithcan be wrong.]

In any case, Nocera is still there, as it has been ever since it was founded by the Etruscans in 600 b.c. It was sacked by Hannibal, was a Saracen colony for a while (hence "paganis"), almost destroyed by Roger, first king of the Kingdom of Sicily (and Naples), and was smack in the path of the Anglo-American invasion at Salerno in WW2. A little more controversy won't hurt. I have a few students from Nocera at the Orientale university in Naples; they have been unable to confirm or deny that their home town is cashing in on this. Maybe a Knights Templar Pizzeria.

update Nov. 2014 - In Brindisi, the ancient quarters, church, hospital and even shipyard of the Templars are now open to the public. See this Miscellany link.)

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