The Templars in Vianden and Luxembourg
The Counts of Vianden and the commandery of Roth
The foundation of the commandery of Roth
The date of the establishment of the Templar order in the county of Vianden cannot be confirmed exactly. There are, however, several clues that point to the second half of the 12th century.
From November 30th 1147 to mid-February 1148, Pope Eugene III stayed in Trier. This is the phase of preparation for the second crusade, which is preached by Bernard of Clairvaux. Eugene III is the guest of the Archbishop of Trier, Albéron of Montreuil, a friend of Bernard of Clairvaux. It is very likely that there were Templars in the Pope's retinue, especially since the latter attended the general chapter of the Order of the Temple in Paris on April 27th, 1147 with the King of France Louis VII. During his stay in Trier, Eugene III issued three charters concerning the dispute between the Knights Templar and the Abbey of Troarn. Count Frederick I of Vianden held an important position at the court of Albéron and was the archbishop's ally in the conflict between the archbishop and Count Henry IV of Luxembourg.
Were there any initial contacts between the Count of Vianden's family and the Templars during the Pope's stay in Trier?
Sifroy I succeeded his father after 1156. In the "Inventory of the titles of the Magisterial Commandery of the petit St.Jean de Metz, which are deposited in the archives of the Grand-Prieuré de Champagne at the Château de Voulaines in the year 1736" there is the following undated remnant: "Donation made by Count Sifroy to the brothers of the temple of the share and portion of his patrimony which is Rhodes, after which donation are inscribed the names of several men and women who joined the said brothers of the temple and who each gave something of their property, some of the annual sums of money, others their clothes, crews and weapons after their death.”
This Count Sifroy is most probably Count Sifroy I of Vianden and Rhodes would in this hypothesis designate Roth-sur-Our near Vianden, seat of a commandery of the Order of the Temple. The foundation of this commandery would have taken place between 1156 and 1171, the year of the last mention of Count Sigefroid I in the charters of the county of Vianden.
It is worth mentioning in this context Abbot Bertels who writes in his "Historia luxemburgensis":
"Here is what happened there around the year 1170. This is why it is obvious that those who dare to claim that the castle of Vianden, with all its outbuildings, belonged to the Templars are mistaken, until the Emperor, after the total annihilation of this order, awarded this castle to some noble man. (...) it is nevertheless probable that the Knights Templar once inhabited the castle of Vianden, not as his masters, but supported by the count (of the place) for the accomplishment of their divine task, as some paintings that are still in the same place around the temple and that represent the dress and some rites of the Templars, and even the oblong refectory that they used regularly, show it rather well."
If we follow Bertels, the Templars would have first stayed with the agreement of the Count of Vianden in a part of his castle...
Conviviality and Litigation
The archives of Roth's commandery concerning the Templar period are largely lost. The few charters that have survived over the centuries show that relations between the neighbours were fairly good at least until 1236.
Indeed, on 9th of March 1236, "frater Hugo preceptor domus militie Templi in Rode" is one of the witnesses cited in a charter drawn up in the Château de Namur by the Marquis of Namur and Counts of Vianden Henri I and his wife Marguerite de Courtenay. This Templar "Hugo" is most likely part of the county council.
However, from the third decade of the 13th century onwards, the Counts of Vianden came into contact with other orders, first the Teutonic Order, then the Order of the "Porte-Glaive", later the Dominicans and finally the Order of the Most Holy Trinity and Captives, known as the Order of the Trinitarians.
In 1248, Henry I and his wife handed over the newly built hospital in the town of Vianden to the Trinitarians. This donation was authorised in May of the same year by Master Alard, rector of the church in Roth. The Trinitarians are granted the right to hold religious services in this hospital.
This situation displeased the Templars of Roth, whose rights were infringed upon. The castle and the town of Vianden belong to the parish of Roth. A legal battle ensues between the Templar order on the one hand and the counts of Vianden, Master Alard and the Trinitarians on the other. The Knights Templar appealed to the highest ecclesiastical authorities. A charter of 1249 mentions the involvement of a cardinal, the schoolmaster of Saint-Siméon of Trier and the official of Verdun. The main issue at stake in the dispute was the right of patronage of the church in Roth claimed by each of the parties.
In April 1256, the Archbishop of Trier announced that an arrangement had been reached with Foulques of Saint Michel, master of the Knights Templar in France. This arrangement granted the right of patronage and the tithe of the church in Roth to the Templar order. Vianden is separated from the parish of Roth and becomes an independent parish. The river Our delimits the two parishes. The Counts of Vianden receive the right of patronage of their castle chapel, which will be the new parish church of Vianden. However, the Knights Templar receive the small tithe in the castle and the village of Vianden. In addition, the new parish church in Vianden has to pay an annual fee to the Templars.
In the end, the Templars were not satisfied with this arrangement. They have addressed themself to the pope. The county family of Vianden, their community and their supporters have been
On March 25th 1261, two charters registered a new agreement between
the parties, this time represented by Hubert de Peraud, master of the
Templar order in France. These two charters provide among other
things that :
- the church of Roth and its parochial rights will belong to the Templars
- the county family of Vianden receives the right to erect a parish church
inside or outside their castle, the parish priest of this parish church will be
required to pay an annual fee to the Templars.
- The Templars receive the small and large tithes in the castle of Vianden.
- Hubert de Peraud promises to have all excommunications cancelled
- the parties undertake to live henceforth in accordance with the rules of
Five years later, on 23 July 1266, Count Philip I of Vianden conferred the right of patronage of the parish church of Vianden on the hospital's Trinitarian brothers, while reminding them of their obligation to pay the annual tax to the Knights Templar of Roth. From this date, the Trinitarian church in the centre of the town is the parish church of Vianden.
On an unknown date, the Templars built the St. Nicholas Chapel (Nikloskierch) in the suburb of Vianden on the left bank of the river Our, i.e. on the side of the parish church of Roth.
After the dissolution of the Templar Order in 1312, the commandery and the parish church of Roth, as well as St. Nicholas Chapel, were handed over to the Hospitaller Order (also kown as Order of Saint John).
Templar frescoes in the castle of Vianden?
The two-storey, decagonal chapel of Vianden Castle was built around 1170 and converted or enlarged at the beginning of the 13th century. The first chapel from 1170 already had two floors, but the upper floor was not a place of worship as such, but rather a kind of gallery or ambulatory. It is evident that frescoes decorated the walls of the double chapel. It was not uncommon to see crusading scenes in the castral chapels of Crusader families. Several sources from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries indeed indicate that frescoes depicting Templars decorated the walls of the Vianden castral chapel.
Lodovico Guicciardini is the first to speak of them: "Vianden (...) Ha un' bel castello dove anticamente li Cavalieri Templari dimoravano, come ancor' di presente lor' pitture & ritrati con li habiti nella cappella del detto castello si veggono." (Descrittione di M.Lodovico Guicciardini, Gentilhuomo Fiorentino di tutti i Paesi Bassi altrimenti detti Germania inferiore (1588), p.401)
A few years later Abbot Bertels wrote: "«(…) il est néanmoins probable que les Templiers ont un jour habité le château de Vianden, non pas en tant que ses maîtres, mais soutenus par le comte (du lieu) en vue de l'accomplissement de leur tâche divine, comme le montrent assez certains tableaux qui se trouvent toujours au même endroit dans les alentours du temple et qui représentent la tenue et certains rites des templiers, et même le réfectoire oblong dont ils se servaient régulièrement ». (Historia Luxemburgensis (1605), p. 110, translation from Latin provided by Mr. Roger Brachmond in collaboration with the late Mr. Othon Scholer).
During his visit in 1654, Constantin Huygens described the castle chapel in this way:
"De Ronde Cappelle op het uytterste vande Rotse gebouwt doorde Templars in nocht hecht ende volcomen, ende werdt op Feestdagen misse daer in gedaen mar de schilderyen die inden buytensten omgangh opden muer de Habyten van gemelte Templars plachten aen te wysen, syn door het weder ende lanckheyt van tyt meest vergaen." (Prof. Dr. S. Groenveld: Constantijn Huygens op dienstreis. Zijn verslag van een tocht naar Eindhoven en Spa, Luxembourg en Meurs 1654 (2013), p. 86)
In 1670 Christop Brower wrote in his "Annals and Antiquities Trevirenses" by Browerius: "Regione quoque Lutzelburgica constans fama est, Comitum Viennae munificentia oppidi castrum insedisse, ubi nostra memoria et vitae communis index caenaculum et picturae monstratae circa templum, non sine vestigies ejus ordinis, cui Johannitae successerunt". (Christop Brower and Jacob Masen: Antiquitates et Annales Trevirenses, tomus secundus, (1670), paragraph Templarii apud Lutzelburgios, p. 197)
In 1674, Alexander Wiltheim claimed that he could see in the chapel of Vianden Castle frescoes depicting Templars, some sitting on horses and others wearing holy garments ("quod hodieque in caelli arcis Viennensis parietibus vetustae admodum pictae sunt imagines templariorum, aliorum equis vehentium, aliorum sacro habitu convestitorum"). (Alexander Wiltheim: Vita Venerabilis Yolandae/Latin text with English and German translations by Gerald Newton and Guy Berg (2007), pp. 728 and 729)
In the 18th century, Claude Mansuet Lejeune wrote again: « Une sixième (maison des chevaliers de l'ordre du Temple) dans le Luxembourg, où l'on voyait encore du temps de Broverus, des vestiges de vie de vie commune, un réfectoire, une église, des murailles et des marques que l'endroit avait appartenu aux Templiers »122 Mansuet Lejeune seems to refer here to the passage in Brower's "Antiquitates et Annales Trevirenses" concerning the castle chapel of Vianden.
In the 19th century, Auguste Neyen contests the writings of Guicciardini and Bertels and speaks, however, only of « de peintures à fresque qui décoraient le château, peintures qui ont subsisté jusqu'en 1616, et qui représentaient des chevaliers cuirassés comme au moyen-âge ». (History of the Town of Vianden and its Counts (1851), pp. 47-48).
How does he know then that the frescoes have disappeared at this time for two centuries? Jean Bertels, Alexandre Wiltheim and Constantijn Huygens, on the other hand, are eyewitnesses...
Following fires caused by lightnings in 1640 and 1667, the castral chapel was renovated. It is during these renovation works that the frescos were probably destroyed.
Henry VII of Luxembourg and the affair of the Knights Templar
Count Henri VII of Luxembourg is the elder brother of Baudouin of Luxembourg. Born around 1278/79 in Valenciennes, he was educated at the Court of France and is said to have been knighted by King Philippe IV, the Fair himself.
After the death of his father on the battlefield of Worringen, his mother Béatrice of Avesnes was regent until he came of age.
In November 1294 in Pontoise, Count Henri VII placed himself under the protection of King Philip the Fair and became his liege, receiving an annual annuity of 500 Tournois pounds.
In 1305, he was part of the retinue of King Philip the Fair at the coronation of Pope Clement V in Lyon. Was he aware of the rumours about the Order of the Knights Templar that Philip the Fair reported to the Pope?
Supported by the two "Luxembourgish" prince electors Baudouin of Luxembourg and Pierre of Aspelt, Henri VII was elected King of the Romans on November 27th 1308.
King Henri VII did not involve himself in the Templar affair. This inaction seems to displease Clement V. On August 7th, 1309, Clement V informed him of the confessions of the French Templars and their Grand Master Jacques de Molay. The Pope ordered him to imprison the German Knights Templar and seize their property. He also requested that the seized goods to be inventoried and that the fields and vineyards of the Order to be cultivated at the expense of the Knights Templar. Henry VII does not seem to have followed up on the pontifical orders.
On September 21st, 1310, Henry VII left Colmar for Italy to receive the imperial crown. He was accompanied by his two brothers Waléran and Baudouin of Luxembourg.
Subsequently, Henry VII intervened with the Pope to request the dispensation of Baudouin of Luxembourg and Pierre of Aspelt to attend the Council of Vienna, a dispensation that the Pope granted them on January 14th 1312.
Henry VII was crowned Emperor by three cardinals on 29th of June 1312 in the Lateran Palace.
The emperor died on August 24th 1313 at Buonconvento near Siena.
His son, John the Blind, King of Bohemia since 1310, became Count of Luxembourg after his fathers’ death. Like his father, he was raised at the royal court of France. It is said that he protected the Templar order.
Archbishop Pierre of Aspelt and the Templar Trial in Mainz
Son a family of ministerials from the Abbey of Saint Maximin of Trier, Pierre of Aspelt was born around 1240. He studied law, medicine and arts in Italy and Paris.
From 1286 on, he was vicar and personal physician to the Roman king Rudolf I of Habsburg. In 1297, he was Bishop of Basel and Chancellor of the Bohemian Kingdom.
In 1306, Pope Clement V appointed him Archbishop of Mainz. He also became Elector and Arch-chancellor of the Empire.
Pierre of Aspelt was involved in the two parallel proceedings against the Templar order.
Indeed, on August 12th 1308, Clement V made him member of the Pontifical Commission in Germany and charged him with the investigation of the Order of the Templars. On the same day, he was charged with condemning or absolving the Templars after a diocesan investigation based on the articles of accusation transmitted by the Pope. He also orders him to recover the money and all other movable property of the Templar order, held by third parties. He was also appointed curator and administrator of the Templar property in the Kingdom of Germany.
Unlike the Archbishop of Magdeburg, who had the Templars imprisoned in the commanderies located in his ecclesiastical province, Pierre of Aspelt was not over-zealous.
On the contrary, at the request of Frederic of Alvensleben, master of the provinces of Germany and Slavonia, Pierre d'Aspelt intervened with the Archbishop of Magdeburg to have the Templars freed. These Templars regained their freedom on 19 November 1308.
The provincial council of Mainz begins on May 11th, 1310 and on May 14th, 1310, the ordinary session is interrupted by the appearance of about twenty Templars equipped and armed for combat. After hearing the Templars' protests of innocence, Pierre of Aspelt receives their demand, promises to inform the Pope and lets them go freely.
On December 23rd 1310, Clement V annulled the proceedings and the judgements pronounced by Pierre of Aspelt and his suffragans.
Following the failure of the proceedings outside the kingdom of France, the Pope fulminates on March 18th 1311, the Bull Dudum ad eliciendum , recommending to the diocesan commissions to use torture, if necessary.
Following the new pontifical ordinances, Pierre of Aspelt heard in June 1311 thirty-seven Templars and twelve witnesses on their behalf. On July 1st 1311, he acquitted all the Templars.
Pierre of Aspelt did not attend the Council of Vienna.
Map of all the known property of Military Orders in and around Luxembourg:
Coronation of Henry VII
Source: Codex Balduini Treverensis
Remains of the Templar commandery at Roth.