First New Templar Church in Seven Centuries Opens!
First New Templar Church in Seven Centuries Opens!Follow @KnightsTempOrg
The first Templar sermon, preached in the first new Templar church, in more than 700 years. And it happened on the 28th of May – one of the most momentous and symbolic dates in Templar history.
On that day back in 1291, the destruction of the mighty Templar fortress in the city of Acre marked the end of the Crusades. How fitting, then, that the very same day in 2023 saw the inaugural Sunday sermon, delivered in our just-completed Templar Priory Chapel of St. Mary Magdalene.
Even more remarkably, this was not a date we had set as a target, it wasn’t planned – by us. No, it “just happened that way”. Or did it? Or was it just another of the extraordinary “coincidences” and “bits of luck” that have astounded and aided us all the way through this remarkable project?
Read on, and then judge for yourself if all these things have been mere, random accidents, or Divine intervention to guide and aid this wonderful project.
Local tradition told us that the thick walls of the original 1620s long house and its defensive compound had been built with stones taken from the ruined Cistercian Abbey at the other end of the village.
We believed this to be true, but there was apparently no way we would ever know for sure. Similarly, it was also said that the Abbey had a special relationship with St. Patrick, the Patron Saint who brought Christianity to Ireland, from whence it spread back to Britain and to much of Northern Europe.
During the Chapter House extension and Chapel restoration, we had to punch just one doorway through the old wall. You can imagine how astounded we were when the builder pulled out not just the expected random chunks of building stone, but the stone torso of a medieval statue.
Yes, the head and arms were probably smashed off during the Reformation, nearly 500 years ago, but finding it dramatically confirmed the local story that the stones had come from the Abbey, This was established in AD 1200 by Cistercian monks from Whitland Abbey in Wales, which was itself founded directly by monks from the Mother Abbey in Clairvaux, under the direction of St. Bernard, patron and spiritual advisor to Hugh de Payens and his newly founded Knights Templar Order.
Something even more remarkable emerged during the demolition and rebuilding of a weak part of the side of the Chapel building: The fire-blackened stone head of a dog, missing an ear but instantly recognisable as an early Irish wolfhound.
The wolfhound is intricately tied into the history of St. Patrick. Legend tells that it was Patrick’s ability to calm fierce wolfhounds which won over his first converts in the slave ship in which he was wrecked on the coast of France. Later, the Irish pagan prince Dichu converted after seeing Patrick subdue his ferocious wolfhound, Lauth.
This find thus confirmed the ancient legend that the Abbey was closely connected with St. Patrick, who built a chapel either very close by, or on its actual site, shortly after his arrival in Ireland in 432 AD. The fire damage confirms another old tale, that the Abbey was burnt down at the end of the sixteenth century by the local Irish chief, O’Neill, as part of a scorched earth operation against English settlers.
As if these finds weren’t enough, there was the uncanny moment when, following a discussion about where to mount the plaque commemorating the restoration work, a plaque-sized slice of stone fell off the wall overnight, creating the perfect place for the memorial.
Then there was the wall at the end of the old long house. This had been rendered centuries ago and, while the render wasn’t in great condition, we came within an ace of deciding to repair and leave it. One brother, however, “just had a feeling” about what might be underneath. So he took a hammer and chisel to a crack in the render and…. within moments he exposed a fine piece of stonework.
What to do with the wall was still in the balance when he tried just one more experimental hole. The result this time was even more remarkable: A big chunk of render came away easily, revealing underneath a piece of limestone, delicately worked by some master stonemason of old. A conservation expert who has since seen it says that the stone is probably part of an angel’s wing, very clearly from the original Abbey from St. Bernard’s illustrious Order!
In addition to this series of astounding finds, we have also been blessed in practical ways. Repeatedly, just as a desperate shortage of money was about to force a temporary halt to the building work, a generous donation would appear, apparently out of the blue. This happened time and time again, with brethren and well-wishers living anything from round the corner to the other side of the world being inspired to help at exactly the right moment.
The first few times it happened, Brother Dowson, who is both in charge of the project and pressed for time himself, thought it was “just luck”. By now, it is clear to us all that there is much more to it than that. Deus Vult, indeed!
The now fully restored Chapel is admittedly tiny, but its roof soars towards Heaven and provides inspiring acoustics. The light pouring through the stained-glass windows, the carefully repointed ancient stones, church furnishings rescued from around Christendom, memorials, banners and all the loving and faithful attention to details – it all makes the Mary Magdalene Chapel a moving and magical place.
We look forward to welcoming you in person, preferably sooner rather than later. But even if you are unable to join us in the flesh, as a Knight, affiliate or friend of the Templar Order, you are always here with us in spirit. Together with all our brethren, from the days of Sir Hugh de Payens, through those heroic, defiant defenders of Acre, and right up until today. Deus Vult!