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New light shines on Templars

The Vatican has released a 699-year-old document that reveals evidence that Pope Clement V had refuted charges of heresy brought against the mysterious medieval Order of the Temple.

The publication comes as the Knights Templar have inspired countless conspiracy theories and works of fiction, such as "The Da Vinci Code," that speculate that the secretive society concealed knowledge that Jesus had a child with Mary Magdalene and the papacy wanted to suppress the truth.

The 300-page document, titled Processus Contra Templarios — Latin for Trial Against the Templars — is a transcript of the court case and was reproduced and printed in a limited edition of 799 copies and can be bought by collectors and enthusiasts for 5,900 euros ($8,400). The original, also known as the Chinon parchment, came to light after being "misplaced" for more than 300 years, according to a statement released Friday by the Vatican Secret Archives.

The Templars were a French society of warrior monks founded in the 12th century to guarantee the safe passage of pilgrims to the Holy Land after the Christian armies conquered Jerusalem in the First Crusade. Thanks to donations, they became so wealthy that they began lending money.

Philip IV of France, engaged in a financially ruinous war with England, denounced the Templars to the Inquisition. Contemporary historians interpret the act as a political ploy because he was so indebted to the church-protected military order. According to Processus Contra Templarios, Clement V absolved the knights of the charge of heresy in his 1308 verdict, while still finding them guilty of other abuses.

Pope Benedict XVI will receive the first copy of the work, published by the Vatican archives together with the Scrinium cultural foundation.