The Temple Church
The experience of walking along a busy, bustling and noisy Fleet Street and stepping through an innocuous gate in to the quiet, calming courtyards and lanes of Temple, is (I think at least) ... rather magical. If you spend some time exploring this area, you'll find many fascinating historical trinkets but before long you'll find yourself standing in front of the 12th century Temple Church.
The church was originally built by and belonged to the Knights Templar, a monastic order of Knights that became one of the wealthiest and most powerful orders in Christendom; a fact that ultimately proved to be their undoing. The Round Church, modelled on the Church of Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem (considered the site of Christ's death, burial and rising) came first, consecrated in 1185, whilst the rectangular Chancel or 'Hall Church' came in to use in about 1240. The Chapel once formed part of a much larger compound that comprised of halls, cloisters, domestic buildings, butteries and a kitchen. The whole ensemble sat conveniently next to the medieval waterfront, as at that time, the Thames invaded inland rather more than it does today.
On a date in 1307, which is now forever associated as a day of ill fortune (Friday 13th October) the mighty Templars were finally toppled on the orders of King Philip the Fair of France. The accusations of blasphemy and heresy brought against the Templars are generally considered to be a convenient excuse for King Philip to seize the order's vast wealth and treasures, so as to pay off his own substantial debts. Either way, it marked the end for the Knights Templar, and the church was passed to the Knights Hospitallers, an order which still survives today in the form of St John Ambulance. They in turn had the land confiscated by Henry VIII during the Reformation and the church and surrounding area reverted to the Crown. For centuries now, the area nestling between Fleet Street and the Thames has accommodated the legal profession, housing two of the four Inns of Court in London; Inner Temple and Middle Temple. In the early 17th century, James I formally granted the area to 'those studying and following the profession of the laws' and even today, as part of the same arrangement, the two Inns are responsible for maintaining the church and ensuring that its priest, the Master of the Temple has a splendid mansion to live in.
The church survived largely unscathed during the Great Fire of London, but almost inevitably, succumbed to German incendiary bombs during the Blitz. On the 10th May 1941, Temple Church was struck during an attack and badly damaged. It was to be seventeen years before it was fully repaired, and despite this it is amazing to think, that aside from the pews, a few Victorian alterations and the post WWII stained glass windows, the church is much as it would have looked to the Knights Templar all those centuries ago. If you're familiar with your William Shakespeare, then there is a scene in the play 'Henry VI, part 1' which takes place in the church garden; the plucking of two roses, one red and one white, representing the War of the Roses.
More recently, the Temple Church has seen a bit of a renaissance in the interests of tourists visiting London (and perhaps why they began charging a modest fee to enter) which can probably be attributed to a visit from Tom Hanks whilst filming the film version of Dan Brown's 'The Da Vinci Code'. Either way, it's a beautiful area, an incredible church and is one of those places that often, people who have lived in London for many years don't even know exists.
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