Even the authoritative--if highly opinionated--Catholic encyclopedia at
newadvent.org seems unsure about this, so you're in good company. On the
one hand, they follow the standard history of the Knights Templar and say
that "...In 1118, during the reign of Baldwin II, Hugues de Payens, a
knight of Champagne, and eight companions bound themselves by perpetual
vow, taken in the presence of the Patriarch of Jerusalem, to defend the
Christian kingdom..." (referring to the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem,
founded as a result of the First Crusade in 1099 and finally falling in
Yet, in another context, the same source says that "Nocera
[near Naples] is the birthplace of Hugo de Paganis (Payus), one of the
founders of the Templars." So, which is it, Hugues de Payens (from the
Ch‚teau Payns), in Champagne, France? or Hugo de Paganis from
Nocera dei Pagani (today, Nocera inferiore) in Campania, just down
the autostrada from where I sit? Wait, you say--those two names, Hugues
de Payens and Hugo de Paganis sound...uh...similar, maybe the same.
(Uh-oh. You, too, now see that "Campania" looks a lot like "Champagne."
Your head hurts.) Aren't they talking about the same guy? I don't know.
I told you someone is confused.
In any event, this first great group of "warrior monks," the Knights
Templar (which name derives from the "temple" of Solomon, their first
headquarters in Jerusalem) was an important international military and
financial institution throughout the Christian west until it was charged
with heresy and other crimes by the French Inquisition under the
influence of the French King Philip IV (Philip the Fair) and was forcibly
disbanded in the early 1300s. At the height of their power and influence,
the order fielded a large army, answered only to the Church and not the
temporal princes of the earth, had acquired large tracts of land both in
Europe and the Middle East, built churches and castles, was involved in
manufacturing and trade, and had its own fleet of ships. In their two
centuries of glory, the Templars owned considerable land in southern Italy;
the established themselves in Barletta, Matera, Brindisi, Foggia, among
other places, and operated monastery-like estates, trading, and resupplying
their soldiers in the Holy Land from the ports of Puglia. That much has always
The controversy surrounds the identity of the founder of the order, Hugues
or Hugo. A recent book entitiled The Italian who founded the Templars. Hugo
de Paganis, Knight of Campania
, by Mario Moiraghi (Collana Medioevalia 2005,
Edizioni Ancora) makes the claim that the French have been unjustly grabbing
the credit all these centuries. The book cites a 1621 text, a census of the churches
of Ferrara, by MarcíAntonio Guarini entitled Compendio Historico, which says the
premises of the church of San Giacomo in Ferrara contain the burial site of Ugo
[Hugo] de Paganis. That text refers to him as "...the person who, according to William,
archbishop of Tiro, founded, with others, the Order of the Knights Templar..."
There is no reason to doubt the authenticity of the document, according to its
defenders, and the church of San Giacomo was a known Templar establishment.
[Such a claim, while plausible, would also have to deal with the obvious fact
that even authentic documents--that is, documents that are not forged and that
were written in good faith--can be wrong.]
In any case, Nocera is still there, as it has been ever since it was founded by
the Etruscans in 600 b.c. It was sacked by Hannibal, was a Saracen colony for a
while (hence "paganis"), almost destroyed by Roger, first king of the Kingdom of
Sicily (and Naples), and was smack in the path of the Anglo-American invasion at
Salerno in WW2. A little more controversy won't hurt. I have a few students from
Nocera at the Orientale university in Naples; they have been unable to confirm or
deny that their home town is cashing in on this. Maybe a Knights Templar Pizzeria.