France, Départment of Var (83), 15 km south of Barjols, in the center of the triangle formed by Barjols, Brignolles and St-Maximin-la-Ste-Baume.
The date of the settling of the Templars in Bras cannot be fixed with certainty.
The first known document concerning the existence of the preceptory in Bras is dated from August 1220. This document is an arbitration carried out by the Bishop of Fréjus(1) between the preceptor Bras, Brother Bernard and the prior of the parish, concerning the construction by the Order of a chapel next to the preceptory, to replace the existing oratory.
The judgement given by the Bishop of Frejus stipulated that the offerings made at the oratory and the future chapel should be divided between the preceptor and the prior, that the oratory and the chapel should contain only one altar and would have only two bells, which should ring the offices after those of the parish; that no public ceremony would be celebrated, such as marriage, churching of women(2), procession of the Palms, or kissing of the cross; And that, finally, no parishioner of Bras would be permitted to be buried there, unless an express request was made out of all constraint, one third of the bequests eventually granted to the Temple returning in this case to the prior.
This document only gives us the indication that at that time the Templars were already well established in Bras and that they wanted to increase their influence by building this chapel.
Another element that may give an indication of the date of the installation of the Knights Templars is to be found in Richerenches's cartulary, which shows that a certain Fulk of Bras was mentioned as preceptor of Richerenches between 1173 and 1179. He probably made a gift of land or estate upon admission to the Order of the Temple.
The same Fulk of Bras was found as commander of Bayle in 1170. This last date would then seem to indicate that the creation of the Preceptory of Bras would therefore be well before 1170, since it is unlikely that Fulk became Preceptor from his entrance into the Order.
A second document, dated from March 21st, 1221, tells us that a certain G. Fouques confirms a sale of land, meadows and vines to Brother Bernard, preceptor of the house of the Temple of Bras.
In 1232, Bertrand d'Auriac and his wife gave up to the Brothers de Bras the rights they had on an estate located in the hamlet "Rodels de Auriaco", between Bras and Auriac.
On January 31st, 1235, Pierre de Pontevès(3), Lord of Bras, sold a large part of his seigniory to the Templars, that is to say lands, the rights of jurisdiction, three mills, an oven... With this purchase, the preceptor of Bras, also gets the title of co-lord of the region.
The Order will not cease to enlarge its domain of Bras, by new donations, new acquisitions or exchanges. It will have properties in Saint-Maximin(4), in the town itself and in many surrounding hamlets, and even estates at La Roquebrussane(5).
After the dissolution of the Order of the Temple and the transfer of its preceptories to the Order of the Hospital of Saint John, the preceptory of Bras was first attached to that of Aix and then to that of Marseille.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, the title of co-lord was devolved to the bailiffs of Montfort. The important revenues of its estate and the noble lands it possessed valued the preceptory to have often at its head the great names of the Provençal nobility.
Of that preceptory, located in the hospital hamlet, at the exit of the village on the road to Saint-Maximim, there remains only the small roman chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Bethlehem.
It is a fine example of a roman rural chapel in Provence, remarkable above all for its neat walls. It is oriented east-west and has a small apse in "cul-de-four" on the east wall, surmounted by a bell tower with two bays.
The door, with its beautiful ornaments decorated with saw-teeth, is pierced in the north facade, an unusual arrangement, but which can be explained here by the presence of the buildings of the preceptory opposite it.
The interior consists of two bays delimited by double arches. It is illuminated by a small opening in the wall of the apse, and an oculus in the south wall.
The archives of the preceptory, preserved in Marseilles, in the departmental archives, give a very interesting tableau, which reflects the economic life of the land in the 12th century to our days through the Revolution.
These archives gives us the names of the successive preceptors in Bras:
(1)We know very little about Bishop Olivier, who succeeded Raymond de Puyricard at an unknown date. It is known that he was Prior of the Chartreuse of Verne before being appointed to the episcopal see of Frejus.
(2)The Churching of Women is a medieval Christian ceremony wherein a blessing is given to mothers after recovery from childbirth.
(3)Pierre de Pontevès comes from one of the oldest and most illustrious noble Provencal families. Little is known about him. He is undoubtedly a cousin or uncle of the last lord of Pontevès, in direct male line, Fulk 1st, died around 1220.
(4)Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume, located around 9 km west of Bras.
(5)La Roquebrussane, located around 22 km south of Bras.