The History Of Templars In Portugal

The History Of Templars In Portugal

As we delve into the annals of history, we often encounter stories of knights, castles, and epic battles, intertwined with tales of faith and intrigue. Few of these narratives are as captivating as the saga of the Templars, the medieval Christian military order, and their indelible imprint on Portugal’s history. 

This article embarks on a journey through time, unraveling the intricate tapestry of the Templars’ role in shaping the Kingdom of Portugal. It invites questions about the founding of Portugal and the influence of the Templars knights and seeks to understand how these threads of the past are woven into the cultural fabric of modern Portugal. We will explore historical milestones, challenges, transformations, and the lasting legacy of the Templars. Journey with us as we uncover the remarkable story of the Templars in Portugal, a tale as fascinating as it is complex.


The history of Templars in Portugal is an intriguing saga that draws in scholars and enthusiasts from around the globe. It intersects with the fundamental development of Portugal as a nation-state, leading to fascinating questions like, “was Portugal founded by Templars?” Exploring the Kingdom of Portugal Templars Knights offers a compelling and nuanced insight into the past, illuminating the interplay of religion, politics, and war in medieval Europe.

What Countries Were Templars From?

The Knights Templar was a Catholic military order founded in 1119 in the aftermath of the First Crusade. The founders were French knights, led by Hugues de Payens from Champagne and Godfrey de Saint-Omer from Picardy, who sought to protect Christian pilgrims traveling to the Holy Land. Therefore, the earliest Templars were primarily from France, and the order maintained strong ties to the French nobility throughout its existence.

However, the Templars grew rapidly in size and scope, and knights from across Christendom soon joined their ranks. Templars were recruited from European kingdoms, contributing to the order’s growth and development. From the British Isles to the Iberian Peninsula, from Italy to the Holy Roman Empire, men from diverse lands and cultures brought their unique skills and perspectives to the Templars.

In England, the Templars were known to have substantial estates, and English knights played a significant role in the order. Templars were critical participants in the Reconquista in Spain and Portugal, aiding Christian forces in their campaign against Moorish rule. Similarly, Templars from Italy, the Holy Roman Empire, and other European territories made their mark, contributing to the order’s military, financial, and architectural endeavors.

The Templars’ international composition was a reflection of their widespread influence and the pan-European nature of the Crusades. As a military order with a global mission, they were able to transcend national borders and bring together knights from across Europe under a common cause. Despite their origins in France, the Templars became a European-wide phenomenon, attracting knights from numerous countries, each leaving their unique imprint on the order’s history and legacy.

Were There Knights in Portugal? 

The presence of knights in Portugal is deeply rooted in the country’s history, particularly during the Middle Ages when the concept of knighthood was at its peak. The role of knights was significant in Portugal’s struggle for independence, its consolidation as a kingdom, and its expansion during the Reconquista.

Knights were among the primary military forces that aided Portugal’s first king, Afonso Henriques, in his quest for independence from the Kingdom of León in the 12th century. They played a pivotal role in the Battle of São Mamede in 1128, which marked a decisive victory for Afonso Henriques and was a crucial step towards the establishment of the Kingdom of Portugal.

Moreover, Portugal was home to a number of medieval military orders of knights, including the Order of Aviz, the Order of Saint James of the Sword, and the Order of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem. Like the Templars and the Hospitallers, these orders played crucial roles in Portugal’s Reconquista, the centuries-long effort to reclaim Iberian lands from Moorish control.

Of these orders, the Knights Templar had a particularly substantial presence in Portugal. Their influence extended beyond military matters; they helped shape Portugal’s economic, cultural, and architectural landscape. After the dissolution of the Templars in the 14th century, their legacy in Portugal continued through the Order of Christ, which played a pivotal role during the Age of Discovery.

So, not only were there knights in Portugal, but these knights were instrumental in shaping the nation’s history. They were at the forefront of the country’s struggles and victories, its drive for expansion, and its cultural and economic development journey. The legacy of these knights is woven into the fabric of Portuguese history and continues to be a source of national pride.

The Emergence of Templars and Portugal’s Birth

The Knights Templar, or “Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon,” emerged in the early 12th century. They originated in Jerusalem during the Crusades, where their initial role was to protect Christian pilgrims traveling to the Holy Land.

Around the same time, the Kingdom of Portugal was on its path to being born, growing out of the Christian Reconquista’s efforts against Muslim Moors in the Iberian Peninsula. In 1128, after the Battle of São Mamede, Afonso Henriques declared himself the Prince of Portugal, slowly setting the foundation for an independent Kingdom of Portugal.

Was Portugal Founded by Templars? 

The claim that the Templars founded Portugal is an oversimplification of a complex historical reality. Portugal’s foundation predates the Templars’ formation by a few decades. Afonso Henriques, generally considered the first King of Portugal, declared independence from the Kingdom of León following the Battle of São Mamede in 1128.

Yet, the Templars had a significant role in the formative years of Portugal, aiding in its expansion and consolidation as a kingdom. Afonso Henriques invited the Templars to Portugal to assist in the Christian Reconquista against the Moors. In return, the Templars were granted land, rights, and privileges. They established strongholds, like the Castle of Soure, and helped secure Portugal’s borders.

The Templars’ presence greatly influenced Portugal’s economic and cultural development. They introduced new agricultural methods, contributed to architectural advancements, and fostered trade connections. Later, as the Order of Christ, they significantly influenced Portugal’s Age of Discovery.

So, while it is not accurate to say that the Templars founded Portugal, their contributions were undeniably critical to the development and expansion of the kingdom. They helped shape Portugal’s political, economic, and cultural landscape in ways that are still visible today. Therefore, their role in Portugal’s history is not of founders but of influential and essential contributors to the growth and establishment of the Kingdom of Portugal.

Templars in Portugal: Initial Establishment

The connection between Portugal and the Templars began when Afonso Henriques, now the first King of Portugal, sought the Templars’ assistance in expanding Christian influence by retaking land from the Moors. In 1129, the Templars arrived in Portugal, establishing their first stronghold at Soure. Their skill in battle and architectural expertise, demonstrated in the castles they erected, significantly aided the Portuguese in the Reconquista.

The Role of Templars in the Development of Portugal

The Templars’ influence on the development of Portugal was significant. Their role was pivotal in the Reconquista, helping Portugal secure its borders and expand its territories. In return, they were granted vast lands, particularly in central Portugal, along with extensive rights and privileges.

Their presence also led to advances in the Portuguese agricultural system. The Templars introduced new farming methods, improving the productivity of the land. They also established strong trade connections, which boosted Portugal’s economic growth.

Controversy and the Disbanding of the Templars

In the early 14th century, the Templars fell out of favor with the church and were persecuted across Europe, primarily instigated by King Philip IV of France and Pope Clement V. Accusations against the Templars ranged from heresy to obscene rituals. In 1312, Pope Clement V disbanded the order, leading to the arrest, torture, and execution of many Templars, including their last Grand Master, Jacques de Molay.

In Portugal, however, King Dinis managed to shield the Templars. He negotiated with the Pope, creating the “Order of Christ” in 1319. This new order essentially continued the Templars in Portugal, inheriting their properties and maintaining much of their traditions and rules.

The Order of Christ and the Age of Discovery

Under the leadership of Prince Henry the Navigator, the Grand Master of the Order of Christ, the Templars’ seafaring legacy was put to use. The order played a crucial role in Portugal’s Age of Discovery during the 15th and 16th centuries. It provided funding and manpower for expeditions, enabling Portuguese explorers like Vasco da Gama to find sea routes to India and other parts of Asia.

What Happened to the Templars in Portugal?

The fate of the Templars in Portugal took a unique turn in contrast to their counterparts in the rest of Europe. In the early 14th century, when the Templars faced persecution and eventual disbandment by Pope Clement V, Portugal’s King Dinis managed to safeguard the order within his realm. Rather than submitting to the Papal directive, King Dinis successfully negotiated a resolution that allowed the transformation of the Templars into a new order, the “Order of Christ,” in 1319.

This clever maneuver ensured the survival of the Templars, albeit under a different guise. The Order of Christ inherited the Templars’ properties and wealth and maintained much of their traditions and rules. As a result, the Templars continued to influence Portugal’s fate for centuries, notably during the Age of Discovery, under the leadership of Prince Henry the Navigator, the Grand Master of the Order of Christ.

While the Templars ceased to exist as an original entity, their legacy lived on through the Order of Christ. Their substantial impact on Portuguese society, culture, economy, and politics remained evident. Thus, rather than facing the dismal fate of dissolution and destruction that befell the Templars in other parts of Europe, in Portugal, they adapted and evolved, ensuring their enduring influence on the nation’s history.

What Was the Last Templar Castle in Portugal?

The Almourol Castle, perched majestically on a small rocky island in the middle of the Tagus River in central Portugal, is often considered the last Templar Castle in Portugal. Its association with the Templars and its preserved medieval architecture symbolize the order’s lasting legacy in the country.

Originally a Moorish fortification, the Templars took over the castle in the 12th century during the Christian Reconquista. The Templars transformed it into a formidable stronghold that played a vital role in controlling and protecting the territory against Moorish incursions.

The castle is renowned for its distinct Templar architecture, featuring a keep, ten towers, and a perimeter of walls providing a panoramic view of the surrounding landscape. Despite its compact size, the strategic positioning and robust design of the Almourol Castle highlight the military genius of the Templars.

After the disbandment of the Templars in the early 14th century, the castle passed onto the Order of Christ. It continued to serve as a military outpost until the 16th century, after which it was abandoned and fell into decay. However, in the 19th century, it was restored as part of the Romanticism wave that swept over Europe, leading to renewed interest in medieval heritage.

Today, the Almourol Castle stands as a testament to the Templars’ significant influence on Portugal’s history. Despite being abandoned centuries ago, it remains one of the most evocative and best-preserved Templar castles in Portugal, stirring the imagination of visitors with its impressive architecture and aura of mystery and legend. In a way, the Almourol Castle’s enduring presence encapsulates the Templars’ story in Portugal – one of transformation, adaptation, and enduring legacy.

What Is the Oldest Knights Templar Church in Portugal?

One of Portugal’s most historically significant religious sites linked to the Knights Templar is the Church of Santa Maria do Olival, located in Tomar. This church, often considered the oldest Templar church in Portugal, was built in the 12th century and served as the spiritual hub for the Templars during their presence in the country.

Santa Maria do Olival was established around 1160 by Gualdim Pais, the master of the Knights Templar in Portugal. The church’s simple design, typical of early Templar architecture, reflects the order’s initial emphasis on simplicity and function. Still, it underwent significant renovations in the 13th and 14th centuries, adding a touch of Gothic elegance to its earlier Romanesque style.

This church is uniquely significant as it served as the burial ground for the Templar Masters in Portugal. Gualdim Pais himself, along with other Templar Masters, are buried within its sacred grounds, further cementing its importance within the Templar tradition.

Even after the dissolution of the Knights Templar in the 14th century and their subsequent transformation into the Order of Christ, the church continued to serve as a spiritual center. Its symbolic importance carried over into the new order, representing the continuity of the Templar tradition in Portugal.

Today, the Church of Santa Maria do Olival stands as a monument to the profound influence of the Templars in Portugal. Though time-worn, it remains an emblem of Portugal’s rich historical tapestry, an evocative link to a past shaped by faith, war, politics, and the ceaseless march of progress. Visiting this ancient church offers a glimpse into the heart of the Templar’s spiritual life in Portugal, making it an essential stop for anyone exploring the Templar’s history in this fascinating country.

The Influence of the Templars on Portuguese Culture and Society 

The influence of the Templars on Portuguese culture and society is profound and enduring, extending far beyond their initial role as a military order. Their impact can be traced in various aspects of Portuguese life, from architecture and economy to spirituality and national identity.

Architecture is one of the most visible legacies of the Templars in Portugal. They erected impressive castles and fortifications that not only served as critical defense structures but also influenced the architectural style of the period. Examples include the Convent of Christ in Tomar, a UNESCO World Heritage site that blends Romanesque, Gothic, Manueline, and Renaissance architectural styles, and the Almourol Castle. This Templar stronghold still stands majestically on a small island in the Tagus River.

The Templars also significantly contributed to Portugal’s economic development. They introduced advanced agricultural techniques, cultivated lands, and established markets, thus stimulating economic growth and trade. They improved infrastructure, building roads, bridges, and mills, which facilitated communication and commerce.

In terms of spirituality, the Templars left an indelible imprint on Portuguese religious life. They brought a unique blend of martial and monastic traditions that shaped the spiritual landscape of medieval Portugal. This influence carried over to the Order of Christ, which remained prominent in Portuguese religious affairs long after the Templar era.

Moreover, the Templars’ role in the Reconquista and the Age of Discovery has become integral to Portugal’s national identity and historical narrative. Their courage, resilience, and commitment to their mission have come to symbolize the pioneering spirit that drove Portugal’s global explorations.

In summary, the influence of the Templars on Portuguese culture and society is multifaceted and deeply ingrained. Even centuries after their dissolution, the Templars’ footprint continues to be felt in Portugal, a testament to their significant role in the nation’s history.

Knights Templar Sites in Lisbon

Lisbon, the vibrant capital of Portugal, is rich with history and is home to several sites associated with the Knights Templar, reflecting the order’s significant influence on the city’s past.

One of the most prominent Templar sites is the Convento do Carmo, a Gothic church once the largest in Lisbon. Although it was heavily damaged in the 1755 earthquake, its grand, skeletal remains stand as a testament to its former glory and the significant role the Templars played in Lisbon’s religious and architectural history.

Not far from the city center, the Belem Tower (Torre de Belém), a UNESCO World Heritage Site, symbolizes the Age of Discoveries when it was built in the early 16th century. Although not directly built by the Templars, it was commissioned by King Manuel I, a member of the Order of Christ, the successor of the Templars in Portugal. The richly ornate tower displays emblems associated with the Order of Christ, linking it to the Templar tradition.

Another important site is the Igreja de Santa Maria dos Olivais, the church that served as the pantheon for the Knights Templar and later for the Knights of the Order of Christ. Located in the historic district of Alfama, this church is a must-visit for those interested in the Templar history of Lisbon.

Visiting these sites offers a unique insight into the layered history of Lisbon and an opportunity to explore the enduring influence of the Templars on Portugal’s capital city.

Conclusion: The Lasting Legacy of Templars in Portugal

The history of Portugal Templars is a tale of faith, warfare, politics, and exploration. From their essential role in the formation and expansion of the Kingdom of Portugal to their transformation into the Order of Christ, which ushered in the Age of Discovery, the Templars left an indelible mark on Portugal. 

While it may not be accurate to say Templars founded Portugal, it is clear that their contribution was invaluable in shaping the kingdom’s history. Today, the remnants of the Templars, from castles to carvings, continue to fascinate locals and tourists, serving as enduring symbols of a complex and intriguing past.