Headquarters of the Knights Templar in Portugal

We’ve seen a lot of old monasteries and convents in our time here in Portugal. The decorations may change, but the features are the same – a big church, a sacristy, some fancy tombs, and a cloister. They are all beautiful in their own way, but they are incomplete.

That is, we don’t get a sense for how the monks and nuns lived day to day. The bedrooms are gone, as are the kitchens and the dining hall, and wherever the heck they kept all their paperwork.

All that changed in our visit to Tomar, a darling little town that happens to be where the headquarters of the Knights Templar once stood.

The exterior of the main church and courtyard for Knights Templar monastery. Though founded in Jerusalem, this was the seat of their order from 1160 to 1319. Photo by Tricia Griffin.

There is so much lore and mystery surrounding the Knights Templar that just walking around this place felt like an initiation. The order began as a defensive force, escorting Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land. Eventually the order grew so large, skilled, and powerful that it became that which it was founded to protect against. The Knights were instrumental in the Crusades, slaughtering non-Christian pilgrims by the hundreds and forcing the conversion of whoever was left.

The cloister and exterior of the church. Photo by Tricia Griffin.
Going up the spiral staircase to the second level of the cloister. These are the corner pieces of the cloister (see center of the picture above) and are of Moorish design, which tells us that this location was once in their hands. Photo by Tricia Griffin.
The kitchen. My most favorite place. Photo by Tricia Griffin.
The dining hall. There was no one around so I sat down in the big leather captain’s chair at the front of the room. It was epic. Photo by Tricia Griffin.
All of the dormitories are still intact. I am six feet tall and did not fit through this door. We deduce that the Knights were either all forced to duck before going to bed or they averaged about 5’7″ tall. Photo by Tricia Griffin.
The main church is an octagon. The Knights would have attended mass in full armor. Hence, no seats. Photo by Tricia Griffin.
A look at the ceiling of the church. The place was stunning. Photo by Tricia Griffin.

The history of this order, and indeed all of Christianity, is a lot to take in. I mean, this is a religion founded on the teachings of a pacifist who proclaimed that to follow him was to give all your money to the poor. And yet through this order alone it boasted a giant military and the beginnings of banking as we know it. So what made this order that much more successful than all the others? Was it the promise of adventure and battle against the forces of evil? Was it belonging? Being part of something greater than oneself? Was it safety? It’s probably all of those things, but I also wouldn’t underestimate the value of a good brand.

A logo so simple a child could draw it. This is the power of branding – a mission people want to get behind and a uniform they all want to wear. Photo by Tricia Griffin.


  1. SOLD! My as of yet, unplanned, trip to Europe, will most definitely include Portugal. I can just follow your example and I’ll be set for a wonderful trek, indeed. Thanks, T.


  2. Though I have yet to visit Portugal, my experience of the Alhambra and other holy places in Spain evoked many of the feelings you shared. It is such a gift to share these sites through your lens.


  3. Wow, what a beautiful place. I can imagine them all standing for service…trying not to clank in their armor. I would have been tossed out on my ear for fidgeting I’m sure…
    I agree with the branding theory.


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