Temple Church


For detailed notes on Temple Church see below

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Temple Church
Outside and Inside the round
Graves of the Knights Templar
The Nave The Holy Table
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Some notes on the Church
This house of worship, famed for "the Round," its rare circular nave, was built by the Knights Templar in the 12th century. The Red Knights (so called after the red crosses they wore; you can see them in effigy around the nave) held their secret initiation rites in the crypt here. Having started out poor, holy, and dedicated to the protection of pilgrims, they grew rich from showers of royal gifts, until in the 14th century they were charged with heresy, blasphemy, and sodomy, thrown into the Tower of London, and stripped of their wealth. You might suppose the church to be thickly atmospheric, but Victorian and postwar restorers have tamed its air of antique mystery. Still, it's a very fine Gothic-Romanesque church, whose chancel ("the Oblong," dating from 1240) has been accused of perfection.

The Temple Church is one of the most historic and beautiful churches in London. Use the left-margin tool-bar to read its story, period by period. Here are eight hundred years of history: from the Crusaders in the 12th century, through the turmoil of the Reformation and the founding father of Anglican theology, to some of the most famous church music in London, Sunday by Sunday - music which we invite you to come and hear when you are next within striking distance of the Temple at a weekend.

The Temple Church lies 'off street' between Fleet Street and the River Thames, in an 'oasis' of ancient buildings, courtyards and gardens. To make sure that you find you way to the Church, you may like to check Directions before coming.

The Church is generally open Wednesday - Sunday. We would not want you to be disappointed by finding the Church closed; if you are planning a visit, you may like to contact the Verger first, Brian Nicholson, 020 7353 3470, verger@templechurch.com, to confirm our current opening hours.

We hope to see you here soon!


The Church was built by the Knights Templar, the order of crusading monks founded to protect pilgrims on their way to and from Jerusalem in the 12th century. The Church is in two parts: the Round and the Chancel.

The Round Church was consecrated in 1185 by the patriarch of Jerusalem. It was designed to recall the holiest place in the Crusaders' world: the circular Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. It is a numinous space - and has a wonderful acoustic for singing.

In the Round Church you will find the life-size stone effigies of nine knights. Most famous of these knights was William the Marshal, Earl of Pembroke, the most important mediator between King John and the Barons in 1215. John was at the Temple in January 1215 when the barons demanded that he confirm the rights enshrined in the Coronation Charter of his predecessor; it was William who swore on the King's behalf that the barons' grievances would be satisfied in the summer. William became Regent in the minority of Henry III.

William's own eldest son, also William, was among those chosen by the barons to force John's compliance with Magna Carta; and on John's death he joined the rebels against Henry's rule. His father eventually won him over to Henry's cause. The effigy of this younger William lies next to his father's.

The Chancel was built in 1240. Henry III had signalled his intention to be buried here. (He was in fact buried in Westminster Abbey; one of his sons, who died in infancy, was interred in the Temple.) If you look at the dark marble columns in the chancel, you will see that they 'lean' outwards. These columns are replicas of the 13th century columns that stood until the War; they leant outwards too. The church was bombed in 1941: the Chancel's vault survived; the columns cracked in the heat, and after the War they had to be replaced. The architects wondered whether to build the new columns upright. But if the 'leaning' columns had done good work for seven hundred years, their replacements, it was decided, should lean too - and so they do!

 The Temple Church has, until recently, been one of London's best-kept secrets. It was built by the Templars as a 'Round', on the plan of Jerusalem's Holy Sepulchre; the shape was far more significant then than we might realise today. The church extended in the reign of Henry III and for a time his chosen burial-place; home in the 16th century to Richard Hooker, founding father of Anglican theology, and in the 20th to the most famous choir of the Inter-War years.

The Church has for four centuries been maintained by the Middle and Inner Temples, societies of lawyers whose offices ('chambers') surround the Church. 'Our Realm of England,' wrote James I, in the charter that still defines the Templars role, 'is sensible that great part of its welfare is justly owing to the ancient and proper Laws of that Realm, tried through a long series of ages, adapted to that populous nation and approved by constant experience.' In our Round, fittingly enough, lies the effigy of William the Marshal, Earl of Pembroke. He was a driving force behind Magna Carta, 1215, a foundation of English law. Its coda laid down the principles that the courts still daily apply: 'We wish and firmly enjoin,' signed the King, 'that the men in our kingdom shall have and hold all the aforesaid rights and liberties well and peacefully, freely and quietly, fully and completely, in all matters and all places for ever.'

Our services at the Temple follow the Book of Common Prayer.  It reached its present form in 1662. Its language is venerable enough; and may, at first sight, seem to require of us as much respect (and as little regular attention) as Shakespeare's.  It can be too grand and smooth for our taste; as if its sound was more important than its sense.  How wrong we are.  The services we hear today were more than a hundred years in the making.  It was quite a century: a rebellion from the Pope, a Protestant decade, a reversion to Rome, a conciliation of all parties, a Catholic monarch, a civil war, a King's execution - and finally his son's return as Charles II.  The prayer-book's use was re-established in 1662.  The voice of Thomas Cranmer was heard again. His formulae had ensured, a hundred years before, that those could worship God together who would never discuss Him without bitter, often violent disagreement. Things had not changed in a hundred years; they have hardly changed today.  The same questions divide us; and the same forms of worship can unite us.

We know in the Temple how hard-won such unity can be:- Richard Hooker was appointed Master in 1585. He and the Reader disagreed on point after point of doctrine; what Hooker preached on Sunday morning, Reader Travers rebutted in the afternoon. In the building of Solomon's Temple nothing had been hammered, cut or nailed in the precincts themselves; 'Alas, in this Temple,' wrote a chronicler of London life, 'not only much knocking was heard, but the nails and pins which one master-builder drave in were driven out by the other.' The dispute was famous; as months turned to years, it became a scandal. Travers was forbidden to preach; Hooker left, 'weary with the noise and opposition of the place'. I am relieved to report that Hugh Mead and I already agree on more than Hooker and Travers ever did.



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