The Templars were almost everywhere in medieval Europe: at royal courts, in towns, overseeing markets and fairs, taking care of parish churches, and supervising farm workers. They loaned money and offered safe deposit and money transfer facilities. They developed underproductive land, maintained flood defences, and provided employment for clerks, household servants, and farmworkers. They invested in modern technology, notably fulling mills. Their houses, scattered across the countryside, provided hospitality to travellers and distributed alms to the needy on three days a week.
The Templars’ reason for existence was to defend Christendom and Christians, and to this end they used their European properties to raise money, supplies, and personnel for their military activities on the frontiers. Leading Templars in the Latin East sent regular newsletters to their brothers and leading secular and religious figures in Europe, with the latest news of their activities, an overview of events on the frontier, and requests for aid. Their alms-collectors travelled regularly around Europe, preaching and collecting donations. They had papal authority to visit churches under interdict once a year, and to judge from contemporary complaints they visited more often.
Yet, their patrons, tenants, and estates away from the frontiers of Christendom also made demands on them. Although they were founded to fight physical battles in defence of Christians, by the time of the Templars’ arrests in 1307 and 1308 the brothers in Latin Europe were spending a considerable amount of time and money providing post-mortem care for their patrons. They were known (in fact and in fiction) for providing fine tombs for their patrons. A substantial number of the chapels that they maintained, at least in England, supported priests who performed mass for the souls of past patrons; and a large proportion of these chapels did not also serve a Templar house—in other words, their primary purpose was to commemorate the Templars’ benefactors and provide post-mortem care for their souls.
Templars were popular providers of pastoral care. One possible reason for this was that popes had allowed the brothers exemption from observing interdicts, so that they could keep their churches open when other local churches were closed. What was more, during the trial of the Templars in England, some non-Templar witnesses stated that the Templars lifted excommunications from their own people—employees, associate members, and perhaps even tenants—without episcopal permission.