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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Vatican Documents Clear Knights Templar

VATICAN CITY -- The Knights Templar, a medieval Christian military order accused of heresy and sexual misconduct, will be partly rehabilitated when the Vatican publishes trial documents it has guarded for 700 years.

A reproduction of the minutes of trials against the Templars, "Processus Contra Templarios -- Papal Inquiry into the Trial of the Templars" is a massive work, costing 5,900 euros ($8,333).

"This is a milestone because it is the first time that these documents are being released by the Vatican, which gives a stamp of authority to the entire project," said Professor Barbara Frale, a medievalist at the Vatican's Secret Archives.

"Nothing before this offered scholars original documents of the trials of the Templars," she said in a telephone interview ahead of the official presentation of the work on Oct. 25.

The epic comes in a soft leather case that includes a large-format book with scholarly commentary, reproductions of original parchments in Latin and replicas of the wax seals used by 14th-century inquisitors.

One parchment measuring about half a meter wide by 2 meters long is so detailed that it includes reproductions of imperfections seen on the originals.

Pope Benedict will be given the first set of the work, published by the Vatican Secret Archives in collaboration with Italy's Scrinium cultural foundation, which acted as curator and will have exclusive world distribution rights.

The Templars, whose full name was "Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon," were founded in 1119 by knights who were sworn to protect Christian pilgrims visiting the Holy Land after the Crusaders captured Jerusalem in 1099.

The Knights have also been portrayed as guardians of the legendary Holy Grail, the cup used by Christ at the Last Supper before his crucifixion.

The Vatican expects most copies of the work to be bought up by specialized libraries at top universities and by leading medieval scholars.

The Templars went into decline after Muslims reconquered the Holy Land at the end of the 13th century and were accused of heresy by King Philip IV of France, their foremost persecutor. Their alleged offenses included denying Christ and secretly worshipping idols.

The most titillating part of the documents is the so-called Chinon Parchment, which contains phrases in which Pope Clement V absolves the Templars of charges of heresy, which had been the backbone of King Philip's attempts to eliminate them.

Templars were burned at the stake for heresy by King Philip's agents after they made confessions that most historians believe were given under duress.

The parchment was "misplaced" in the Vatican archives until 2001, when Frale stumbled across it.

"The parchment was catalogued incorrectly at some point in history. At first I couldn't believe my eyes. I was incredulous," she said.

Philip was heavily indebted to the Templars, who had helped him finance his wars, and getting rid of them was a convenient way of canceling his debts, some historians say.

Frale said Pope Clement was convinced that while the Templars had committed some grave sins, they were not heretics.

Their initiation ceremony is believed to have included spitting on the cross, but Frale said they justified this as a ritual of obedience in preparation for possible capture by Muslims.