The true life of the sword bearers
Orders of knights in Extremadura
During the wars against the Moors, Extremadura was the most fiercely disputed region of Spain. The Holy Father and kings sent off orders of knights to drive back invaders. In return they were granted privileges and large pieces of land. Fortresses of knight orders can still be visited today.
The castle Castillo de Segura de Leon. As an assignment of the Santiago order since the 13th century, the castle was built at the beginning of the 16th century.
The fortress Fortaleza Jerez de los Caballeros. Knights, who resisted the dissolution of their order, were kept imprisoned in that fortress.
The castle Castillo de Alburquerque. It was erected in the 15th century and belonged to the Santiago order.
Alcantara is located in the outskirts of western Extremadura. Its coat of arms is a bridge above which a green cross stands. The Roman Bridge outside the city represents the most important landmark of the town. The green cross of the Alcantara order has had significant impact on the town over the centuries. In fact the order, which bore the name of the town, has been established there for a long time. Originally, the knight orders were created in the 12th century to protect pilgrims going to Palestina’s Holy Sites. But after a while they began crusading in the Holy Land. They struggled against the wicked Moors in Asia Minor and stormed their sanctuaries and palaces. Even in Western Europe struggles between Christians and Moslems were raging. At the end of the 12th century knights built an alliance in present day Extremadura in order to defend or to re-conquer the country or single towns from the Moors. That is what was going on when Don Suero Fernandez Barrientos and Gomez Fernandez created the Alcantara order in 1156 with a view to protecting the town Ciudad Rodrigo.
The knights obtained privileges of many kinds as a result of their services. They got, for instance, the right to collect custom duties at the bridges of Guadiana. Moreover, the kings of Léon and Castile donated a piece of land to the noble warriors. That land is the current Serena and is used as the Alcantara knights wanted it to be: as pasture land. Sheep herds have been pastured here year in year out changing the growth of the grass. And they have been doing it the same way until today.
The order was appointed by the Holy Father. All members had to take vows, including of celibacy as the monastic orders do. They also adopted a way of living based on a hard rule from former monastic communities. The Alcantara knights obey the Cistercian’s rule, which was originally the rule of Saint Benedict. The St. Benedict monastery in Alcantara still remembers this tradition. The church was the head office of the order.
One of the residences of the knights was the fortress of Azagala. You reach this place when proceeding along the EX 110 motorway northwards from Badajoz, and following the signposts in Albuquerque. The knights used the fortress of Azagala as a military outpost for defending Badajoz. However, there were no struggles there during the Reconquista. The knights held their meetings in the fortress and debated over the state of their order and planned new projects.
The dissolution of the Templar order in the 14th century was more profitable to the Alcantara order than its military successes. The military supremacy of this order finally led to its end. In fact, by the time it was dissolved in 1312 it had the strongest army in Europe. It had been banned by the pope because he regarded it as too dangerous. The knight’s suits of armour are displayed in Puebla de Sancho near Badajoz, the place where the Santiago knights used to live.
For a better understanding of the Templar’s story you have to visit the fortress in Jerez de los Caballeros The fortress was erected by the Moors and was transformed into a defence complex against invaders after the re-conquest of the town. Today a multi-day feast is celebrated in commemoration of the famous ancient knights. During the festivities the town remembers once again the dramatic end of the Templar. Some knights refused to abjure their order and pledged endless loyalty to their confreres. They entrenched themselves in the fortress and fought until the royal troops eventually killed them. Theses men went down in history as the Caballeros de Jerez - the men of Jerez - and the city is named after them.