The Order of the Solar Temple claims a spiritual heritage from the Order of the Knights Templar(founded c. 1118 and dissolved in 1307). Among its declared goals are helping Earth to prepare for the return of Christ in solar glory and assisting humankind through a time of transition as spirituality assumes primacy over materiality. Although the group claims it is descended from the original Templars, the Order of the Solar Temple was founded in 1984 by Joseph Di Mambro (1924–1994) and Luc Jouret (1947–1994). By 1989, the cult had gathered about 500 members, most of them in Switzerland, France, and Canada.
Joseph Di Mambro, of Pont-Saint-Espirit, France, had a fascination with the occult dating back to his childhood. In 1976, he became a self-appointed spiritual master, and by 1978, he had established the Golden Way Foundation in Geneva. About then he made a hard assessment of own appeal, deciding that if his cult was to expand, he needed to find a more charismatic individual to share its leadership.
In 1981, Luc Jouret, a physician who had been grand master of the Renewed Order of the Temple, another group that combined concepts of the Knights Templar and the Rosicrucians, left that order over a policy dispute. Di Mambro appealed to him to jointly form a new order. Jouret agreed, and the two founded the Order of the Solar Temple.
Jouret's credentials as a physician and his dynamic platform personality drew large crowds to his lectures. From 1984 to about 1990, Jouret convinced many that the time of the apocalypse was drawing near and the best way to survive was in the safety of the Order of the Solar Temple.
But by 1992, Jouret and Di Mambro had made too many unfulfilled predictions and promises. Even Di Mambro's son Elie declared that he doubted the existence of the masters who were allegedly guiding his father and Jouret, and he went so far as to expose some of the illusions his father employed to create certain phenomena during demonstrations.
With the structure of the Order crumbling, Di Mambro and Jouret began preparing for their transition to another world. Those who remained faithful to the teachings also began their own transitions.
When authorities from Chiery, Switzerland, investigated a fire in a farmhouse on October 4, 1994, they discovered a secret room containing 22 corpses, many of them wearing ceremonial capes. On October 5, three adjacent houses burning in the village of Granges-sur-Salvan yielded the bodies of 25 more members of the Order. Six charred bodies found in Morin Heights, Quebec, a day earlier, were also members. In December 1995, 16 more members were found dead in France, and in March 1997, five killed themselves in Quebec. Joseph Di Mambro and Luc Jouret had convinced at least 74 of their followers to join them in mass suicide.