Village within a city
One of the joys of living in London is stumbling across a part or aspect of the city which you hitherto had no idea existed.
I recently joined a group to be given a guided tour of Temple Church in the heart of the city – the medieval Knight Templars’ headquarters in Britain.
Despite its central location, the church is not easy to find, lying off street betwixt Fleet Street and the river, amidst an oasis of ancient buildings, courtyards and gardens that make up the legal epicentre of London – a village within a city.
Here we were surrounded by 800 years of history. Temple Church is truly one of the most historic, atmospheric, and beautiful buildings in London.
The Knights Templar order was very powerful, with the Master of the Temple sitting in Parliament as primus baro (the first baron of the realm).
In the mid 12th century, before the construction of the church, the Knights Templar in London had met at a site in High Holborn in a structure originally established by Hugues de Payens (the site had been historically the location of a Roman temple).
Because of the rapid growth of the Order, by the 1160s the site had become too confined, and the Order purchased the current site for the establishment of a larger monastic complex as their headquarters in England.
In addition to the church, the new 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 was used for Templar initiation ceremonies. The ceremony, which was a closely guarded secret, involved new recruits entering the Temple via the western door at dawn. The initiates would enter the circular nave, and then take monastic vows of piety, chastity, poverty and obedience.
It is easy to feel the masonic connections of Temple Church, so well enunciated by the Dan Brown novel and film The Da Vinci Code (part of which was filmed here).
This is a numinous space and enjoys, we were told, a wonderful acoustic for singing.
A terrific way to spend a summer Saturday morning.