A Vatican researcher has uncovered evidence that the order, which was brutally suppressed in 1305 by King Philip IV of France and Pope Clement V, guarded and venerated the Shroud.
In an article published by the Vatican daily, L’Osservatore Romano, a historian, Barbara Frale, said she had uncovered “missing clues” to both the mysterious fate of the Templars and the Shroud.
Vatican documents included an account of a Templar initiation rite in 1287 of a young Frenchman, Arnaut Sabbatier.
“(I was) shown a long piece of linen on which was impressed the figure of a man and told to worship it, kissing the feet three times,” said the document.
The shroud, a long piece of cloth bearing the image of a man’s face and body, is kept in Turin is dated from at least 1357 when it was first displayed by the widow of a French knight.
A similar relic is known to have been worshipped in Byzantium, now Istanbul and to have disappeared from there during the sack of the city by Crusaders, including Knights Templar, in 1204.
The Templar order, whose full name was “Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon”, were founded in 1119 by knights sworn to protecting Christian pilgrims visiting the Holy Land after the Crusaders captured Jerusalem in 1099.
The order amassed enormous wealth and helped finance wars of medieval European monarchs, over 700 years later legends of their hidden treasures, secret rituals and power have fascinated millions and dominated the bestseller lists with books such as “The Da Vinci Code”.
Rumours about the secret initiation ceremonies of the Templar order and the allegation of idolatry, specifically the worship of images of bearded men, were crucial in 1307 when hundreds of knights were arrested, tortured into giving false confessions, and then burned at the stake.