Temple Church London - Sarah Woodbury

Temple Church London


Temple Church is the only commanderie in England we have ever visited. Unlike in France, they aren’t so thick on the ground. Only guessing, but the lack of surviving commanderies may be a product of the way their lands were parceled out after the fall of the order, combined with the Reformation, which destroyed many, if not most, religious sites throughout Britain. The Templars in England were disbanded but were allowed to continue living, which is one of the significant differences between what happened to the Templars in England as compared to in France.

Initially, the London Templars met at a location that had once been a Roman temple. But because of the rapid growth of the order since its founding in England in 1128, by the 1160s the site was too small, and the Templars established a larger monastic complex at Temple Church and made it their headquarters in England. In addition to the church, the new compound originally contained residences, military training facilities, and recreational grounds. The complex needed to be extensive to accommodate not only the numbers of knights but their novices, who were not permitted to go into the City without the permission of the Master of the Temple.

As in France, the Knights Templar wielded enormous influence in England, with the Master of the London Temple sitting in parliament. Their compound was regularly used as a residence by kings and legates of the Pope, and served as an safety-deposit bank, much as the Paris Temple at one time stored the treasury for the French crown.

The original church was consecrated in 1240 and is still visible today, consisting of a central aisle and two side aisles, north and south, of identical width. Looking up, the dome is just over 36 feet high. The church building itself has two separate sections: The original circular church building, called the Round Church, which now acts as a nave, and a rectangular section built later, which adjoins the nave on the east side, and which forms the chancel.

That the church is round is a nod to Christian holdings in the Holy Land, which include the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Dome of the Rock, which (though Muslim in origin) had been turned into a Church by the Augustinians. Both were featured on Templar iconography throughout the Middle Ages. In addition, after the Crusaders took Jerusalem in 1099, the Templars made the mosque adjacent to the Dome of Rock their headquarters.

In January 1215 William Marshall was instrumental in negotiating a treaty between King John and his barons at Temple Church, which resulted in Magna Carta. Marshall later became regent during the reign of John’s infant son, King Henry III. Henry later expressed a wish to be buried in the church. To accommodate this desire, in the early 13th century, the chancel of the original church was pulled down and a new larger chancel built, the basic form of which survives today. However, although one of Henry’s infant sons was buried in the chancel, Henry himself later altered his will to reflect his new wish to be buried in Westminster Abbey. William Marshal, on the other hand, as I said in last week’s video, himself became a Templar on his deathbed and was buried in the nave at Temple Church, and you can still see his tomb today.

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