This morning in the Old Synod Hall, the a number of Vatican officials and laypeople presented "Processus Contra Templarios" (Trial Against the Templars), a compendium of reprints of the original acts of the hearings against the Knights Templar, the group novelist Dan Brown linked to the Holy Grail in "The Da Vinci Code."
The volume is the third in the "Exemplaria Praetiosa" series of the Vatican Secret Archives, issued in collaboration with the Scrinium publishing house.
Despite its hefty price tag -- $8,377 -- the 799 available copies of the volume have been sold to collectors, scholars and libraries from all over the world, reported the Vatican press office. The 800th copy will be given to Benedict XVI.
The military order of the Poor Knights of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon was founded in Jerusalem in 1118 to protect Christians in the Holy Land.
The order eventually fell into disfavor with King Philip IV of France, who wanted their money, or perhaps, wanted to cancel the debts he owed it. The French king arrested members of the Knights and resorting to torture, extracted confessions of heresy.
In 1308, however, Pope Clement V decided to save the order, as recorded by the "Parchment of Chinon." King Philip IV later pressured the Pontiff to reverse the decision, and the order was suppressed in 1312.
The acts of the hearings against the Knights Templar (1308-1311) had been kept in the Vatican Secret Archives, but until recently, had not been reviewed since the early 20th century.
Barbara Frale, an official at the Vatican Secret Archives, found the "Parchment of Chinon" in 2001. Frale told the Associated Press the 3-foot-wide document probably had been ignored because a catalog entry in 1628 was "too vague." "Unfortunately, there was an archiving error, an error in how the document was described. More than an error, it was a little sketchy."
Frale was interested by the 1628 entry because it included a reference to Clement V's aide, Cardinal Berenger Fredol, who had gone with other important cardinals to interrogate someone.
The book reproduces all of the documentation of the papal hearings convened after Philip IV arrested and tortured the Templars on charges of heresy and immorality.
Frale said the parchment reveals the cardinals reached the conclusion the Templars were guilty of abuses, but not "a real and true heresy."
"There were a lot of faults in the order -- abuses, violence ... a lot of sins, but not heresy," she said.
"Processus Contra Templarios" was presented by Archbishop Raffaele Farina, archivist and librarian of the Holy Roman Church; Bishop Sergio Pagano, prefect of the Vatican Secret Archives; Frale and Marco Maiorino, officials of the Vatican Secret Archives; Franco Cardini, a professor of mediaeval history; Valerio Massimo Manfredi, an author and archaeologist; and Ferdinando Santoro, president of Scrinium.