The Temple at the gate of the City [of London] lies in the historic Square Mile but is not of it. As the City belongs to itself, like a kingdom within a kingdom, so it is with the Temple, the sanctuary of the legal world. It owns the land it stands on, it governs itself, it gives the police no trouble, and it allows us all to enjoy its beautiful domain.
It was the home of the Templars who formed themselves into an Order of Chivalry 800 years ago to guard the Holy Tomb and protect the pilgrims. It was granted to the knights of St John in 1324, and in turn they left it to the lawyers, who hold it in perpetuity. It is now the home of two Inns, Inner and Middle Temple, the rough dividing line being Middle Temple Lane, which runs from Fleet Street to the Thames Embankment. The Inner Temple Gateway stands close by and leads us to the famous church.
Except for St. Bartholomew’s and St John’s in the Tower, Temple Church is the oldest in London, the finest of the five round churches left in England from the days of the Crusaders, who built them in the style of the church they loved in Jerusalem, the Holy Sepulchre. Only a few steps from Fleet Street, this little round church has looked much as it is since the day it was consecrated by Heraclius, Patriarch of Jerusalem [in 1185]. Half a century more and the choir [Chancel] was added to the nave (the Oblong to the Round), and through all the changing centuries these walls have stood while all around has changed.
The porch has been refashioned and has one round and two pointed arches, but the doorway within it is a gem of Norman building, with a fine array of recessed shafts and mouldings and the flower of Norman ornament is in its lovely decoration… In it hangs a massive door about 400 years old, covered with scrolled hinges and ironwork ornament; it swings to our touch yet weighs two tons and a half, and is opened by a key which weighs five pounds.
It opens on to a forest of clustered columns and an arcade of pointed arches circling round us in the nave……. The mosaic of red and blue glass shining in the triple east window is a delightful vista from the west doorway.
A small Norman doorway leads to a stairway at the top of which is a tiny cell in the thickness of the wall, four feet long and under three feet wide, lit by two slits in the stone. It is said to have been a place for solitary confinement in the days when the Templars were extremely strict. Here refractory brothers were confined in chains and fetters, and it is said that Brother Walter le Batcheler, who bore the standard for King Richard into Jerusalem, was here starved to death for disobedience to the Master of the Temple. [The crime was embezzlement and the year was 1301].
But it is on the floor of the Round that the eye of every visitor falls. Here lies an impressive array of Templars [in stone], perhaps the best preserved collection anywhere. Most of them wear chain mail and coats, with shields and swords, as on their crusades.
Under the floor are the remains of a 13th century chapel.
‘London’, Arthur Mee. Hodder & Stoughton, 1937.
London’s Temple Church was badly damaged by fire during World War II and its restoration lasted until 1958. The conical roof seen in the first postcard above was a Victorian addition and was not replaced.