Temple Church was built by the Knights Templar in the 12th century and served as their English headquarters. Temple Church is one of the prettiest and oldest churches in London and is famous for its choral music and organ recitals which are enhanced by the church’s acoustics. Temple Church was a key location in the controversial book The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown and also featured in the film.
Among other purposes, the church was originally used for Templar initiation ceremonies. In England the ceremony involved new recruits entering the Temple via the western door at dawn. The initiates entered the circular nave and then took monastic vows of piety, chastity, poverty and obedience. The details of initiation ceremonies were always a closely guarded secret, which later contributed to the Order’s downfall as gossip and rumours spread about possible blasphemous practices. These rumours were manipulated and exploited by the Order’s enemies, such as King Philip IV of France, to fabricate a pretext for the order’s suppression, a practice not unheard of in those days.
Today the Temple Church holds regular church services. It also holds weddings, but only for members of the Inner and Middle Temples, the Legal profession organizations that are now in possession of the church. The Temple Church serves both the Inner Temple and the Middle Temple as a private chapel as well. Any law student can apply to become part of these legal organizations from their second year of law studies onwards. The main purpose of the Inner and Middle Temples is to provide legal education and support for British lawyers. Relations with the Bishop of London are very good and he regularly attends events and services at the Temple Church.
During the reign of King John (1199-1216) the church served as the royal treasury, supported by the role of the Knights Templars as proto-international bankers. The church was heavily damaged by German bombing during World War II and has since been restored and rebuilt. The area around the Temple Church is known as the Temple and nearby is the Temple subway station.
In addition to the church, the compound originally contained residences, military training facilities, and recreational grounds for the military brethren and novices, who were not permitted to go into the City without the permission of the Master of the Temple.
The church building comprises two separate sections. The original circular church building, called the Round Church and now acting as a nave, and a later rectangular section adjoining on the east side, built approximately half a century later, forming the chancel. In keeping with the traditions of the order, the original church was constructed on a round design based on the 6th century Byzantine Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Temple Church is 55 feet in diameter, and contains within it a circle of the earliest known surviving free-standing Purbeck Marble columns. It is probable that its walls and grotesque heads were originally painted in colors. The church was consecrated on 10 February 10, 1185 by Heraclius, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem. It is believed that King Henry II (1154-1189) was present at the consecration.
Between 1185 and 1307, the Knight Templar order was very powerful in England, with the Master of the Temple sitting in parliament as primus baro (the first baron in precedence of the realm). The compound was regularly used as a residence by kings and by legates of the Pope. The Temple also served as an early safety-deposit bank, sometimes in defiance of the Crown’s attempts to seize the funds of nobles who had entrusted their wealth there.
In January 1215 William Marshall (who is buried in the nave next to his sons, and is represented by one of nine stone effigies there) served as a negotiator during a meeting in the Temple between King John and barons demanding that the king should uphold the rights enshrined in the Coronation Charter of his predecessor and elder brother King Richard I. Marshall swore on behalf of the king that the grievances of the barons would be addressed in the summer, which led to the signing by the king of Magna Carta in June.
The Magna Carta was greatly influential in the writing of the Constitution of the United States where some language was literally copied straight from the Magna Carta into the U.S. Constitution. Marshall became regent during the reign of John’s infant son, King Henry III (1216-1272). Henry later expressed a desire to be buried in Temple Church. In order to accommodate this, the chancel of the original church was pulled down and a new larger chancel was built in the early 13th century, the basic form of which survives today. It was consecrated on Ascension Day 1240 and comprises a central aisle and two side aisles, north and south, of identical width. The height of the vault is 36 feet 3 inches. Although one of Henry’s infant sons was buried in the chancel, King Henry III himself altered his will to reflect his new wish to be buried in Westminster Abbey.
After the destruction and abolition of the Knights Templar in 1307, King Edward II took control of the church as a Crown possession. It was later given to the Knights Hospitaller, who leased the Temple to two colleges of lawyers. One college moved into the part of the Temple previously used by the Knights, and the other into the part previously used by its clergy, and both shared the use of the church. The colleges evolved into the Inner Temple and the Middle Temple, two of the four London Inns of Court.
In 1540 the church became the property of The Crown once again when King Henry VIII abolished the Knights Hospitaller in England and confiscated their property. Henry provided a priest for the church under the former title “Master of the Temple”. In the 1580s the church was the scene of the Battle of the Pulpit, a theological conflict between the Puritans and supporters of the Elizabethan Compromise. In 1585 the Master of the Temple, Richard Alvey, died. His deputy, Walter Travers, expected to be promoted, but Queen Elizabeth I and her advisers regarded his views as too Calvinist so Travers was passed over. Instead, a new Master, Richard Hooker, was appointed. On Hooker’s arrival, a unique situation arose. Each Sunday morning Hooker would preach his sermon; each Sunday afternoon Travers would contradict him. People came to call it the Battle of the Pulpit. There was a lasting result of all this: Hooker published his teaching as Ecclesiastical Polity and came to be recognised as the founding father of Anglican theology.
Shakespeare was familiar with the site as the church and garden feature in his play Henry VI, part 1 as the setting for the fictional scene of the plucking of two roses of York and Lancaster and the start of the Wars of the Roses. In 2002 this event was commemorated with the planting of new white and red roses in the modern gardens.
Following an agreement in 1608 by King James I, the two Legal Inns were granted use of the church in perpetuity on condition that they should support and maintain it. They continue to use the Temple church as their ceremonial chapel. The church escaped damage in the Great Fire of London of 1666. Nevertheless, it was refurbished by Christopher Wren, who made extensive modifications to the interior, including the addition of an altar screen and the installation of the church’s first organ. The church underwent a Victorian restoration in 1841 by Smirke and Burton, who decorated the walls and ceiling in high Victorian Gothic style in an attempt to return the church back to its supposed original appearance. Further restoration work was executed in 1862 by James Piers St Aubyn.
On May 10, 1941 German incendiary bombs set the roof of Temple Church on fire. The fire quickly spread to the nave and chapel. The organ and all the wooden parts of the church, including the Victorian renovations, were destroyed and the Purbeck marble columns in the chancel cracked due to the intense heat. Although these columns still provided some support to the vault, they were deemed unsound and were replaced in identical form. The original columns had a slight outward lean, which architectural quirk was followed in the replacement columns. The church was rededicated in 1958.
Music at the Temple Church
The church offers regular choral music performances and organ recitals. A choir in the English cathedral tradition was established at the Temple Church in 1842 under the direction of Dr. E. J. Hopkins, and it soon earned a high reputation.
In 1927, the Temple Choir under George Thalben-Ball became world famous with its recording of Mendelssohn’s Hear my Prayer, including the solo “O for the Wings of a Dove” sung by the young talented boy Ernest Lough. This became one of the most popular recordings of all time by a church choir, and it sold strongly throughout the twentieth century, reaching gold disc status (a million copies) in 1962 and achieving an estimated 6 million sales to date. I have included a link to the original recording performed at the church at the end of this article as well as a current performance by today’s Temple Church choir.
The choir continues to record, broadcast and perform, in addition to its regular services at the Temple Church. It is an all-male choir, consisting of 18 boys who are all educated on generous scholarships (most of the boys attend the City of London School) and 12 professional men. They perform weekly at Sunday services.
Master of the Temple
The church always has two clergy, called the “Master of the Temple” and the “Reader of the Temple”. The title of the Master of the Temple recalls the title of the head of the former order of the Knights Templar. The present Master of the Temple is the Reverend Robin Griffith-Jones, appointed in 1999. The Master gives regular lunchtime talks open to the public. The official title of the Master of the Temple is the “Reverend and Valiant Master of the Temple.” Reverend Robin Griffith-Jones is very popular in the United States for appearing on numerous History Channel and other documentaries.
List of men buried in Temple Church
Geoffrey de Mandeville, 1st Earl of Essex
Sir Anthony Jackson (1599-1666)
Sir Richard Chetwode, Sheriff of Northamptonshire(1560-1635)
William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke (1146–1219)
Robert de Veteripoint, Sheriff of Westmoreland (died 1228)
William Marshal, 2nd Earl of Pembroke (1190 – 6 April 1231)
Gilbert Marshal, 4th Earl of Pembroke (1194 – 27 June 1241)
Sir Edmund Plowden (1518-1585)
Dr. Richard Mead (1673-1754)
Francis Rogers (1791–1851)
James Simpson (1737-1815), Attorney General of Colonial South Carolina. His wife, who predeceased him, is buried in the South Transept of Westminster Abbey.
Sir John Tremayne (1647–1694)
Silvester de Everdon ((died 1254)
Thank you for reading! I hope you listen to the music linked below.