Why Friday the 13th is Considered Unlucky

Our fear of the date Friday the 13th is rooted in what became of the Knights Templar back in 1307.
Marcia Wendorf

This past week included a Friday the 13th, considered an unlucky day. For those of us who use the Gregorian calendar, which is most of us, there is at least one Friday the 13th in every year, and there can be up to three Friday the 13ths in the same year.

2015 was one of those years, with a Friday the 13th occurring in February, March, and November. In each year from 2017 through 2020, there have been two Friday the 13ths, and in 2021 and 2022, there will be only one Friday the 13th, occurring in August and May, respectively.

There's a name for fear of Friday the 13th

While fear of the number 13 is called triskaidekaphobia, fear of Friday the 13th is called paraskevidekatriaphobia, from the Greek Paraskevi for "Friday" and dekatreis for "thirteen". The film series Friday the 13th, which began in 1980, exploited our fear of that date, and it's clear that the number 13 is much less popular than its next door neighbor, the number 12. There are 12 hours in a day, 12 months in a year, 12 zodiac signs, and even 12 days of Christmas.

Leonardo da Vinci's
Leonardo da Vinci's "The Last Supper". Source: Wikimedia Commons

The unlucky aspect of the number 13 is thought to have come from Jesus' last supper, at which there were 13 diners, one of whom, Judas, betrayed him. The 13 diners can be seen in Leonardo da Vinci's famous painting, The Last Supper.


In Norse mythology, 12 gods were dining in Valhalla, the great hall located in Asgard and ruled over by the god Odin, when an uninvited 13th guest named Loki arrived. The evil god Loki caused a fellow guest to shoot and kill Balder, the son of Odin.

But, the biggest influence on why Friday the 13th is considered unlucky likely came from the arrest of the Knights Templar on Friday, October 13, 1307.

Who were the Knights Templar?

If you're a fan of Dan Brown's books, you've probably heard of The Knights Templar. They were a Catholic military order created in 1119 to protect pilgrims and crusaders in the Holy Land. The Templars' headquarters was located on Jerusalem's Temple Mount, once the site of the ancient Temple of Solomon.

The Temple Mount is home to the Western Wall, the only remaining part of the Temple, which is a holy site for Jews, and the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock, which are Muslim holy sites.

Templar cross
Templar Cross. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Known for their white tunics displaying the Templar Cross, the Templars were considered highly skilled fighters during the Crusades. They were heavily armored, highly trained, and they enjoyed a reputation for courage. When joining the order, new recruits had to sign over all their wealth and goods and take vows of poverty, chastity, piety, and obedience.

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However, the Templars' real skill lay not on the battlefield, but in finance. They are credited with inventing the modern banking system, where a traveler could give his purse of money to Templars in say, England, receive a letter of credit, then travel to his destination without fear of being robbed. Once there, he would receive the amount of money he had originally deposited.

The Templars became a favored charity throughout Christendom, and they were awarded money, land, and businesses. These businesses often included import-export, manufacturing, and banking. On the donated land, they established farms and vineyards, and they built a series of great cathedrals and castles.

Templar castle
Templar castle, Tomar Portugal, 1160. Source: Daniel Villafruela/Wikimedia Commons

In England, Templar buildings include Temple Church in Bristol, Denny Abbey in Cambridgeshire, Temple Sowerby in Cumbria, Temple Dinsley in Hertfordshire, and Templars Square, Oxfordshire.

In London, buildings built by the Templars retain the word "Temple" in their names, and these include Temple Church, London, which gave its name to the surrounding area, now known simply as 'Temple'. 

In 1139, Pope Innocent II issued a papal bull that gave the Templars the freedom to cross all borders and exempted them from paying taxes and from the local authority. The Templars even owned their own fleet of ships, and at one time they ruled over the island of Cyprus.

The Templars could be considered the world's first multinational corporation, having a presence in France, Poitou, Anjou, Jerusalem, England, Aragon (Spain), Portugal, Italy, Tripoli, Antioch, Hungary, and Croatia. Knights in each region were governed by a Master of the Order for the Templars for that region, and at the very top of the organization was a Templar Grand Master, who was appointed for life.

At their height, the Templars had an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 members, however, only around a tenth of them were actual knights. By 1305, there were almost 1,000 Templar Houses scattered across Europe, and their money lending business was going strong.

Friday, October 13, 1307

Philip IV of France
Philip IV of France. Source: Bibliothèque nationale de France/Wikimedia Commons

One of the Templars' biggest debtors was the King of France, Philip IV, who reigned between 1285 and 1314. Philip was also heavily in debt to Jewish money lenders, and in 1306 he hit upon a novel solution for relieving his debt. That year, he expelled all Jews from France, and set his sights on the Knights Templar next. 

At dawn on Friday, October 13, 1307, hundreds of Templars in France were rounded up in simultaneous raids conducted by Philip's soldiers. The arrest warrants stated: "Dieu n'est pas content, nous avons des ennemis de la foi dans le Royaume," which translates: "God is not pleased. We have enemies of the faith in the kingdom."

The arrests had the authority of Pope Clement V, who had been elected Pope thanks to manipulation by King Philip, and were based on trumped-up charges of heresy made by an excommunicated former Templar.

Philip's soldiers next set about torturing the Templars into admitting heresy against the Pope. On November 22, 1307, Pope Clement V, issued a papal bull instructing monarchs all over Europe to arrest Templars and seize their assets. Only Portugal's king, Denis I, refused to prosecute Templars living in his country. In 1312, under pressure from Philip, Pope Clement disbanded the Order of the Knights Templar.

Templars burned at the stake
Templars burned at the stake. Source: Giovanni Boccaccio/Wikimedia Commons

Soon, Philip began burning Templars at the stake. In 1314, after languishing in jail for seven years, Jacques de Molay, the last Grand Master of the Temple, and Geoffroi de Charney, Preceptor of Normandy, were burned at the stake.

An account of the event included:
"... by sunset, a stake was erected on a small island in the Seine, the Ile des Juifs, near the palace garden. There de Molay and de Charney were slowly burned to death, refusing all offers of pardon for retraction, and bearing their torment with a composure which won for them the reputation of martyrs among the people, who reverently collected their ashes as relics."

As he was burning, de Molay is said to have uttered "Dieu sait qui a tort et a péché. Il va bientot arriver malheur à ceux qui nous ont condamnés à mort," which means, "God knows who is wrong and has sinned. Soon a calamity will occur to those who have condemned us to death".

Soon after de Molay and de Charney were executed, Pope Clement V died of a sudden illness, and Philip IV was killed in a hunting accident. He was succeeded by his sons, none of whom produced a male heir, and Philip IV's line died out completely.

The Templars' legacy

During the 18th century, the fraternal organization Freemasonry incorporated many of the Templars' symbols and rituals. Since the 1960s, there has been speculation by conspiracy theorists and fiction writers that the Templars found the Ark of the Covenant and the Holy Grail while occupying Jerusalem's Temple Mount. There has never been any evidence of this, however.

The Ark of the Covenant
The Ark of the Covenant. Source: James Tissot/Wikimedia Commons

Recently, some fiction authors have found success with works on the secrets and mysteries surrounding the Knights Templar. These include Dan Brown's 2003 novel The Da Vinci Code, and the 2006 movie of the same name, the 2004 movie National Treasure, and 1989's Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

The television shows The Last Templar and Knightfall, and the video games Broken Sword, Deus Ex, Assassin's Creed, and Dante's Inferno all use Templar imagery.

In September 2001, an Italian historian named Barbara Frale was poking around in the Vatican Secret Archives when she stumbled upon a document that was misfiled in 1628. Known as the Chinon Parchment, it was dated August 17 – 20, 1308, and it is a record of the trial of the Templars.

Another Chinon Parchment that hadn't been misfiled, and which dated to August 20, 1308, was addressed to Philip IV of France. It proposed that all Templars who had confessed to heresy should be "restored to the Sacraments and to the unity of the Church".

Now that you know the history of our fear of Friday the 13th, you can enjoy all the Friday the 13ths to come. Just don't walk under any ladders or let a black cat cross your path.

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