They were among the most famous and feared warriors of Medieval Europe, a loyal band of knights dedicated to protecting pilgrims and the Holy Land.

The Knights Templar fought in the Crusades, and grew into one of the most powerful organisations of the age, until they were wiped out by the Inquisition.

But now the organisation, which focuses more on charity than crusading these days, is looking for new applicants in the Midlands.

On Friday, October 13, 1307, hundreds of Templars were arrested, tried by the Inquisition and burned at the stake as heretics.

And this year, to mark the 700th anniversary of the massacre, the modern-day order is throwing open its doors to interested outsiders.

Paul Martin-Beades, 36, who lives in Coleshill, has been a chevalier (knight) with the Templars for six months. He said people often have strange views of the Templars, which is sometimes portrayed as a shadowy cult in books and films like The Da Vinci Code and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

"People think we are very secretive, I think they get us confused with groups like the Freemasons, but all our services are open to the public," he said.

"The Da Vinci Code was just a fiction of the imagination.

"The Templars is just another way of celebrating Christianity; basically I was looking for answers, and it reaffirmed my faith."

The Templars work together to raise money for charities, including Comic Relief, Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital and the Salvation Army among many others.

They have also been in touch with the MoD, offering funds and volunteers to help injured soldiers being treated at Selly Oak Hospital.

The Templars are heavily involved in humanitarian work in the Middle East.

They have raised funds for medical aid for Iraqi children, and they support Andrew White, the besieged Anglican vicar of Baghdad.

Mr Martin-Beades said the chance to work together for charity had been a large part of what attracted him to the Templars.

"We do it for the feel good factor, if you need something to take away the stress and strain of daily life," he said.

"It's wonderful to know that it's not just a local cause, the work we do here touches people across the world."

Although the Templars were effectively wiped out in 1307, a modern order was founded in Paris more than 200 years ago.

Its constitution declares its commitment to "pursuing excellence in daily life and work, increasing Christian understanding of other faiths, protecting pilgrims in the Holy Land, promoting international peace and justice, and providing humanitarian relief to the poor, sick and needy."

It now has chapters across the world, in Europe, the US, and even Japan.

Members of the Birmingham preceptory say the organisation is growing, with two new chevaliers invested into the order on Saturday at the chapter meeting in St Michael's Church, Yardley.

The Templars are open to applicants from any Christian denomination, of any age or sex, who is willing to work for charity, and follow the rigorous chivalric code of the order.

The order will be holding a coffee morning at the Parish Room, on High Street, Coleshill, on Saturday October 13, for anyone interested in finding out more.


* The order of the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon, more commonly known as the Knights Templar, was founded in the aftermath of the First Crusade of 1096.

* The organisation was set up to protect pilgrims travelling to the newly-conquered city of Jerusalem.

* Its first headquarters was the Temple of Solomon, on Jerusalem's Temple Mount. This is now the site of the Al-Aqsa mosque, one of the holiest places in Islam.

* The order rapidly grew in membership and financial power after it was officially endorsed by the church in 1129.

* With a mixture of donations and business dealing, it became a hugely powerful organisation, and acted as a banker to many of the most powerful men in Europe.

* It owned farms and vineyards, huge tracts of land, churches and castles, its own fleet of ships and, at one point, even owned the whole of the island of Cyprus.

* The uniform of the order was the distinctive white mantle with the red cross of St George.

* After the Holy Land was lost and the Templars were defeated again and again in the 13th century, the order started to lose support, and became unpopular, especially among those it had lent money to.

* On Friday, October 13, 1307, King Philip IV of France, heavily in debt to the Templars, had many of the order's members, including the Grand Master Jacques de Molay, arrested.

* The arrested Templars were tortured into confession and then burned at the stake.

* In 1312 Pope Clement V, under pressure from King Philip, forcibly disbanded the entire order. Some fled to excommunicated Scotland, some moved to other orders of knights, and some simply gave up on knighthood.

* In the following centuries rumours grew about what the Templars had found at the Temple mount, the site of the original Temple of Solomon. It was rumoured they were in possession of the Ark of the Covenant or even the Holy Grail