London’s Temple Church

London’s Temple Church

London is blessed with an extraordinarily rich history… But now and again you come across a place where the past echoes that little bit louder than normal.

Tucked quietly between buildings just off the north bank of the River Thames, the Temple Church in London is easy to miss.

It may not boast the expansive grandeur of St Paul’s or the regal opulence of Westminster Abbey, but this relatively simple round church built in 1162 AD has a dramatic tale to tell.

In Britain, the headquarters of the Knights Templar was originally in Holborn. But, as the organisation grew, so did its needs and a spot close to the River Thames was chosen not simply for a church, but also an area of residence and a military training ground.

The church’s rare circular design was based on the Dome of the Rock which is part of the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem.

Completed in 1162 AD, but not officially consecrated until 1185 AD, the building initially known as The Round Church served as a base for the Knights Templar until the organisation was outlawed in 1307 AD.

As you enter the Temple Church it’s impossible to miss the nine life-size marble effigies that are laid out on the floor. While the tombs don’t contain any remains, they are thought to have been added to commemorate members of the Knights Templar.

The most significant man immortalised in marble is William Marshal, the 1st Earl of Pembroke, who was instrumental in the negotiations between the King and the Barons in the lead-up to the signing of the Magna Carta.

Shortly before his death, he was invested as a member of the Knights Templar and buried in the nave of Temple Church. His eulogy, read out by the English cardinal Stephen Langton, included the immortal line, “the best knight that ever lived.”

In 1307 AD, the world of the Knights Templar came crashing down with widespread arrests and the confiscation of all its property. This included the Temple Church, which was eventually handed over to another Catholic military order, the Knights Hospitaller.

Things remained relatively calm for just over two hundred years until King Henry VIII abolished the Knights Hospitaller in 1540 and placed the church under the control of the crown.

Two ferocious events have of course decimated London.

The first, the Great Fire, swept through the city in 1666 but remarkably the Temple Church escaped the fiery inferno. It was however completely refurbished by Christopher Wren as part of wider plans to rebuild the much-destroyed city.

Just over two and a half centuries later, carnage once again returned to the streets of London in the form of the Luftwaffe.

On 10th May 1940, incendiary bombs set fire to the Temple Church and this iconic symbol of London was engulfed in flames that all but gutted the building.

It was 17 years before the church was completely refurbished, and much of what we see today comes from these renovations.

Temple Church was rededicated on 7th November 1958 and, while it may have changed countless times during its nearly nine centuries of existence, it’s impossible not to get a sense of its dramatic history. This is a place where great things happened.