A Temple for Knights

Temple Church

In London near the hustle and bustle of what was once the press capital of England – Fleet Street – lays a beautiful church. Unless one is looking for it, you will not really know it is there. It seems hidden from view. However although visually hidden there is a tube stop which is named after this church giving away the identity of it. Such importance that this church has that the underground station was named so, the church is called Temple.

temple church map

Temple Church is not your ordinary church; it was located on the site of the English headquarters of the Knights Templar. There were three administrative centres of the order along with one in Paris and their main headquarters in Jerusalem. It was the administrative centre for London, which in turn made it the headquarters for of the knight’s estates in England and would be where all their wealth was stored.

Temple Church is circular in shape. It is designed in such a way as it was modelled on the Holy Sculpture in Jerusalem, the sight of where Jesus is beloved to be buried. The church itself is transitional in style (a mixture of Romanesque and gothic design) with prubeck marble and carved grotesque stone heads. It is 55 feet in diameter and is classed as peculiars, which means it is exempt from eposciapls jurisdiction (but it is not to be confused with a royal peculiar like Westminster abbey). The rectangle nave was added in 1204 along with a small chapel, which would have sat along the south side. The crypt, which is all that remains of this 11th century chapel addition, would be where all the initiation ceremonies of the Knights would have been carried out.

However, what of its beginnings? Why is Temple Church hidden and who were the knight’s templar, a group that are surrounded by myth and legend today?

The Temple church was originally part of a larger complex situated on the banks of the Thames for the Knights Templar. They had relocated from … to their new location in 1185 after their previous site had become too small. In addition to the church, there were also buildings, which provided living quarters, military training facilities and recreational grounds for the military brethren and novices who were not allowed to go into the City without the permission of the Master of the Temple. Heraclius, a Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, consecrated the round church itself on 10th February 1186.

Photo by Laura Adkins

Therefore, who were the Knights Templar and how did they manage to gain such power across Europe?

The Knights Templar was created in 1118 to protect pilgrims who were in the Holy Land. They originated from France and were founded in Jerusalem by Hugues de Payens. Their full designation was ‘the Order of Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon. In effect, they can be described as fighting monks. The can be identified by wearing white tunic with a red cross. They had such power that they were immune from all jurisdiction bar that of the Pope.

A sketch of the Knights uniform

Those who originated from England were brought back by Henry I. Their first church in London was originally located at High Holborn (on the site of the Roman Temple in Londinium) in 1162. This was eventually moved due to their rapid growth of the order and stayed at the site where Temple Church sits today.

The Master of the Temple would sit in parliament as Primus Baron (the fist baron in precedent of the realm). All of the Knights Templar, when being initiated would take vows of piety, chastity poverty and obedience. The more precise details of the initiation were a close guarded secret which has since added to the rumours and legends which have surrounded the knights ever since.

The Knights reputation as fighting monks in the crusades gave them a reputation as being a formidable fighting force. It is this reputation, which left many leaders across all of Europe to ask for their help in times of trouble. (Mainly to assist them in ridding these counties of the heathen – Muslim – race. And why not, the knights had the fighting skills and they were fighters for Christianity and to protect Christian beliefs!  Over the next century, the knights would be tasked many a time to assist various European rules; you could even say that they were the first organised mercenaries.

With this power, the knights also ended up holding another role – the role of bankers to the rich and powerful.  Over their many years, the order had acquired vast wealth from their services and gifts from the powerful along with many assets of land. All in the order had taken a vow of poverty and so all their income was re invested, some being lent to the rich and powerful in their times of need, in effect a loan. This new banking system had never been seen before in Europe, one could place their money in England to collect it from Cyprus. It was an early form of the banking system we have today.

However, with all this power, the knights soon became feared and concern arose from those that the knights were actually assisting. They began to fear the knights and their wealth and power. Such was the knight’s power that they could and did actually refuse those powerful figures, which did not go down well. One of these powerful figures was King Philip IV of France. He was extremely unhappy with the kings and had decided to do something about the situation. He did not just want to take the knights down a peg or two, we wanted them destroyed. To do this he enlisted the help of Pope Clement V, between 1307-12, the two began to suppress the order, and eventually it was disbanded.

The fall of the Knights has given us the legend of the unlucky Friday 13th today. It was at dawn on Friday 13th October 1307 that scores of French templar has were arrested and tortured. They were made to

Falsely confess to crimes that they had not committed, such as blasphemy, the re writing of the bible and sodomy. Many would be burnt at the stake!

An illustration showing the burning of the Knights as Heretics

In England at first king, Edward II refused to believe the crimes that they were accused off by King Philip. He only began to seize their property after the involvement of Pope Clement B. The Knights in England were seized on 8th January 1308 but unlike in France only a handful were arrested and placed on trial, most accepting that by following orders from their master was heretical. During this time many templar’s across Europe would flee to England to escape persecution. Eventually the order itself in England was finally disbanded in 1312 when further pressure was placed on Edward.  Many of the knights would enter more appropriate monastic orders, many joining the knights Hospitallers.

Back to the Templar Church itself and its involvement with historic events in England.

Those who were responsible for the murder of Thomas Becket were ordered to join the Knights Templers and to give them their land as penance for what they had done. A sword, which was used to do the deed, was for a time displayed in the church.

During 1215, during the reign of King John, a meeting was set up between King John and the barons. The location of this meeting was at Temple. William Marshal, who is buried in the temple, would be a negotiator during the meeting. He was a great knight and person of importance in England and had served under all the monarchs since the reign of King Henry II.

William Marshalls tomb at the Temple

The Barons wanted the king to uphold the rights in the coronation charter from the reign of King Henry I, which was issue on his accession to the throne in 1100. It bound the king to certain laws of the land with specific regards to the treatment of his subjects. It has pretty much been ignored until 1213. Marshall promised on the kings behalf to the barons that the king would address their grievances in the summer. This led to the signing of Magna Carta in June the same year.

Magna Carta

After the death of King John in 1216, his young son Henry came to the throne. As he was still just a boy England as ruled by a regent, that regent was Marshall. When older Henry King Henry III, expressed his desire to be buried in the round church the chancel was pulled down to make way for a larger one in its stead to accommodate the burial of a king. This is what can be seen today. This new chancel was 36 feet 3 inches in height. King Henry was never buried there changing his mind later but one of his young sons is buried in the chancel.

With the destruction of the Knights Templar in 1307, the church became a possession of the crown under King Edward III. He would give it to the Knights Hospitaller, a similar order who are still around today (if in a slightly different format). They in turn would lease the temple to two collages of lawyers, which would become the Inner Temple and Middle Temple and be two of the four of London Inns of Court.

The Knights Hospitaller would be abolished by the orders of King Henry VIII in 1540. The temple Church would again fall back into the hands of the crown. However, during the reign of King James I the two Inns were given the temple this time on a permanent basis providing they support and maintain it. Which they do to this day. Temple church is actually their ceremonial chapel.

The church we see today is not the same one that was originally built. As with all buildings, which have survived through the years Temple church, has been developed, redesigned and even damaged over the years. I have already mentioned the re building of the chancel. Temple would survive the great fire in 1666 but was redesigned by Christopher wren after. In addition, the Victorians also made their mark. In 1841, Smirke and Burton would decorate the church in a high Victorian style in an attempt to return the church back to its supposedly original appearance.

In 1939 war would break our across Europe, World war two. There would lead to the blitz, a constant air assault on Britain especially London by the Germans. Many of London’s landmarks would forever be changed. Temple church would also be marked by the German bombs. On 10th May 1941, some incendiary bombs were dropped over temple church. The rook of the round church caught fire and spread rapidly. All the wooden parts of the church were destroyed along with the organ and all the Victorian renovations, the purbeck marble columns would crack from the heat. They were later replaced by nearly identical ones. Renovation work soon followed and in 1959, the church would be rededicated and is what we see it today.

The entrance to the Temple (Photo by Laura Adkins)

Temple church is also known today for its organ and choral music performances. There has been a choir established since 1842 in temple church under the direction f Dr E J Hopkins. The choir would become world famous in 1927 when under George thalben-ball they recorded Mendelssohn Hear my Prayer. It became one of the most popular recordings of all time by a church choir and had sold over 1 million copies by 1962.

More recently, Hans Zimmer used the church to film parts of his film score for Interstellar. The organ would be played by the churches organise Roger Sayer with the rest of the orchestra being located through the church itself. Zimmer said, “Setting foot into Temple Church is like stepping into profound history…Temple Church houses one of the most magnificent organs in the world.”

Some interior carvings in the Temple (photo by Laura Adkins)

Today the Temple Church is jointly owned by the Inner Temple and Middle Temple who own the buildings surrounding the church. It was given to them by … they are both Inns of Court and provide the bases of the English legal profession today.

The round church itself is also a grade I listed building. It is open to the public and there is a £5 admission fee for adults. Visitors are welcome to sit in on the services. Please visit the website for more details – http://www.templechurch.com/

One final note on the Temple Church. Shakespeare was very familiar with the sire and garden. It features in his play Henry VI, part I. More famously he used the garden as the setting for the plucking of the roses which would be identified in the Wars of the Roses as badges for the house of Lancaster and York. Of course, this did not happy but is another park of myth and legend, which sticks with us to this day like those legends, which will always surround the Knights Templar.


Barber, E and  Blue Guides (2014) Blue guide London

Brighton, S (2006) In search of the knight’s templar Weiden and Nicolson:London

Lord, E (2004) Knights templar in Britain. Pearson Education: London

Weinred, B and Hibbert, C (1987)The London Encyclopaedia papermac: London

Lord, E (2004) Knights templar in Britain. Pearson Education: London


Unknown. (UNKNOWN). Temple Church. Available: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Temple_Church. Last accessed 27th April 2018. This page was last edited on 7 April 2018, at 16:08.

Unknown. (UNKNOWN). Temle Church History. Available: http://www.templechurch.com/history-2/. Last accessed 26th April 2018.

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