Temple Church – London Attractions

Temple Church

Updated On: May 07, 2024 by   Ciaran ConnollyCiaran Connolly

Some of the churches in London attract tourists and visitors because of the history they carry and the stories they might be able to tell. Temple Church in London is one of these old churches that attracts many visitors.

The Temple Church is one of London’s most historic and beautiful churches. It has 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 London’s most famous church music. Music that invites you to come and hear when you are next within striking distance of the Temple.

History and Origins Of Temple Church

The Temple Church in London dates back to the late 12th century and is between Fleet Street and the River Thames. The Inner Temple and the Middle Temple Inns of Court own the church. The Temple Church might be famous for its history and lots of other things, but one of the things that has made it very popular since it was built is its round shape, which is a standard feature for the Knights Templar churches, as well as for its 13th and 14th-century effigies—more on that in a second.

The entrance to the alley leading to the church is through a stone archway that occupies half of the ground floor of a four-storey building. On leaving the archway and entering the open alley, you might find yourself in a place very different from the noise and traffic of Fleet Street.

The Goldsmith buildings protect the church and its adjoining graveyard. Speaking of Goldsmith, Goldsmith himself is buried in the cemetery, and his gravestone bears a quote from his friend Samuel Johnson, who lived just up the road in Gough Square: “…who left scarcely any style of writing untouched, and touched nothing that he did not adorn.”

The area, known as Temple, remains far less known to tourists than nearby attractions like St Paul’s Cathedral or Trafalgar Square. Most who find their way here don’t realise the Temple’s biggest secret: this whole area was once the stronghold of the Knights Templar.

The medieval order, known for its role in the Crusades and as one of the Middle Ages’ most powerful and wealthy religious orders, lived, prayed, and worked at the church from about 1185 until its dissolution in 1312. It built monastic dormitories, chambers, two dining halls—known as Middle Temple Hall and Inner Temple Hall, though they’ve been rebuilt many times over the years—and, most famously, Temple Church.

Its round nave, modelled on the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, is extraordinarily ambitious, combining lavish Romanesque sculpture with some of the earliest Gothic architectural features in any English building of its period. Significant developments in the post-medieval period include Sir Christopher Wren reordering the church in the 1680s. More repairs were carried out in 1737 to the north and eastern sides of the church, and in 1811, more general repairs were made. A substantial restoration programme took place in the early 1840s as well.

Walking through the door reveals a very different, bright and colourful church and shows the incredible amount of effort that went into restoring the church from the wartime shell. One of the few parts of the Temple Church that appear to be part of the early build of the church is the magnificent western doorway to the round tower. The difference in colour shows the difference between original and Victorian restoration — the lighter-coloured three outer pillars on each side are Victorian, and the inner columns are original.

Temple Church - London Attractions
The view from the altar looking west towards the round. (Source: Diliff/Wikimedia Commons)

Additionally, by heading inside the church by the western door, you are immediately greeted by the effigies of the Knights Templar on the floor of the round church. There are nine effigies, including those of William Marshall, 1st Earl of Pembroke, and his sons dressed in full knightly attire. William began his career earning a living by winning tournaments: he was an accomplished jouster and swordsman and tutored the young Henry I in chivalry.

The current Magna Carta exhibition in the round is very fitting since this building served as King John’s headquarters from 1214 to 1215, and it was here that the barons first confronted him about a charter. Two men who mediated when John eventually signed the Magna Carta — including William the Marshal, Earl of Pembroke, who was an adviser to King John and regent to Henry III — were also buried here.

Temple Church - London Attractions
The altar and stained glass of Temple Church. (Source: Diliff/Wikimedia Commons)

Restoration and Preservation

Over the centuries, Temple Church has undergone periods of decline and restoration, with efforts to preserve its historic fabric and ensure its longevity for future generations. In the 19th century, extensive restoration work was carried out under the direction of renowned architect Sir Christopher Wren, who sought to repair damage caused by neglect and the passage of time.

More recently, Temple Church has benefitted from ongoing conservation efforts to safeguard its architectural integrity and enhance the visitor experience. These efforts have included repairing the church’s stonework, conserving its priceless artefacts, and improving accessibility and interpretation for visitors.

Visiting the Temple Church

Guided tours are available throughout the year for those eager to explore the wonders of the Temple Church. These tours, led by knowledgeable guides, allow visitors to delve into the church’s rich history and learn about its fascinating architectural features. Highlights of the tour include the chance to admire the medieval effigies, explore the crypt beneath the church, and discover the hidden treasures within its walls.

In addition to guided tours, the Temple Church hosts various events and performances, including concerts, lectures, and exhibitions. These events provide visitors with a unique opportunity to experience the church’s timeless beauty in a new light and to engage with its rich cultural heritage.

Temple Church Today

Today, Temple Church doesn’t seem that grand. The surrounding buildings dwarf it, making its dome invisible from a short distance. The west’s circular nave, built first, is just 17m in diameter. The Inner Temple still has a section of its medieval hall, complete with a 15th-century fireplace. With its hammer-beam ceiling and rich oil paintings, the Middle Temple’s hall is essentially what it would have looked like when it was built under Queen Elizabeth in 1562.

One Monday morning in 2003, a queue of young Americans stood outside the door. The verger opened up, and they asked him, “Have you read the book?” Of course, the verger thought they were talking about the Bible. Instead, they were talking about Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code. It would turn out to be one of the most popular novels of the 21st Century, and one of its main scenes was set at Temple Church.

The church was used for Templar initiation ceremonies at the journey’s beginning. Today, Temple Church holds regular church services that include Holy Communion and Mattins on Sunday morning. It also holds some weddings, but only for the members of the Inner and Middle Temples since it serves both temples as private chapels. Moreover, it has a formidable acoustic and has maintained a choir of men and boys since the days of the Temple Knights.

Preserving the Past for Future Generations

As custodians of Temple Church, the Temple Church Foundation is dedicated to preserving this historic landmark for future generations. Through ongoing conservation efforts and educational initiatives, the foundation works tirelessly to ensure Temple Church remains a vibrant and accessible part of London’s cultural landscape.

By visiting Temple Church and supporting its preservation efforts, visitors can play a vital role in safeguarding this critical piece of history for years to come. Whether you’re a history enthusiast, an architecture buff, or simply someone looking to immerse yourself in London’s rich cultural tapestry, Temple Church is a must-see destination that offers a glimpse into the past while inspiring awe and wonder in the present.

Exploring the Surroundings

Located in the heart of London’s legal district, Temple Church has many attractions and landmarks that enrich the visitor experience. Just steps away, visitors can explore the historic Inns of Court, where barristers and judges have trained and practised law for centuries. Nearby, the iconic Royal Courts of Justice and the imposing Tower of London offer glimpses into the city’s judicial and royal heritage, while the vibrant streets of Covent Garden and the West End beckon with their theatres, shops, and eateries.

Conclusion

In the heart of London’s bustling metropolis, Temple Church is a timeless testament to the city’s rich history and cultural heritage. From its medieval origins as the spiritual home of the Knights Templar to its enduring allure as a symbol of mystery and intrigue, Temple Church continues to captivate the imagination of visitors worldwide.

Whether you’re drawn to its stunning architecture, fascinating history, or connections to popular culture, a visit to Temple Church is sure to leave a lasting impression. Step through its ancient doors and immerse yourself in the beauty and mystery of this historic treasure hidden amidst the modern chaos of London.

Visitors are always welcomed into the church for whatever reason. They could be there to discover this old church and the surrounding area, find some peace, or, of course, pray.

To sum up, Temple Church is back to feeling like a hidden world in the heart of London, one that’s serene and rich with secrets. And that, in many ways, feels how it should be.

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