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The Knights Templar: their London headquarters today

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Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon

The "Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon" order, better known as "The Knights Templar", was founded in 1119 AD, and dissolved by the Pope in 1312.

In just under 200 years, they became an immensely powerful and important order of fighting monks. They were far from the only military order, but they became (and remain) the best known. They were the wealthiest, and most prestigious order.

Other monastic fighting orders included the "Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta" more usually known as the "Knights Hospitaller", the "Hospitallers of St Thomas of Canterbury at Acre" or the "Knights of St. Thomas" and "The Order of the Teutonic Knights of St. Mary's Hospital in Jerusalem" better known as the "Teutonic Order.

The Knights Templar remain fascinating to this day. And in London, you can still visit the Templars' New Temple, and see the Temple Church they built. It's still a fully-functioning parish church, and open to visitors.

I am a member of Middle Temple, and therefore a parishioner of Temple Church. It's an absolutely fascinating place.

The seal of the Knights Templar, showing two knights on one horse, intended as an image of monastic humility.

The seal of the Knights Templar, showing two knights on one horse, intended as an image of monastic humility.

The Knights Hospitaller defending Acre, a painting by Dominique-Louis Papéty.

The Knights Hospitaller defending Acre, a painting by Dominique-Louis Papéty.

A (very) brief history of the Knights Templar

In 1099 AD, the First Crusade re-captured the Holy Land in general, and the city of Jerusalem in particular, following the Muslim invasions which had conquered the area some 300 years earlier.

Lots of Christian pilgrims wanted to travel to the area, but it was a very dangerous journey.

Two ex-crusaders therefore established a monastic order to protect travellers to and from the Holy Land.

The first members were all related, by blood or as in-laws, to each other, and there were 9 founding members.

The order was approved by the King of Jerusalem, Baldwin II, and one of those crusaders, Hugh de Payens, became the first Grand Master of the order.

Baldwin gave the Temple Mount, the site of the Temple of Solomon, and now the site of the Dome of the Rock, to the Knights. They thus acquired both a headquarters, and a name for the new order.

It swiftly gained status as a favoured and important order, and was endorsed by the Papacy in 1129, and became even more powerful in 1139 when it became answerable only to the Pope, and therefore exempt from local laws, and Kings, Dukes, and Bishops.

But by the early 14th century, its sheer power and wealth attracted the envious attention of the greedy and power-hungry French King, Philip IV.

He owed the Templars rather a lot of money, and turned his full attention to the destruction of the order.

Many Templars were accused of heresy, burned alive, imprisoned in terrible conditions, or sent away to other, obscure orders of monks.

The Pope completed the task by dissolving the Knights Templar altogether in 1312.

The property from the order went mostly to the Knights Hospitaller, another military order of monks.

In some countries, the Knights re-formed into new orders, with the same property, same people, and a new name. Some was grabbed by the rulers of the areas in question.

Plan of the Temple Church, London.

Plan of the Temple Church, London.

The outside of Temple Church in London, showing the view from the south, and the statute of the Knights Templar in the foreground

The outside of Temple Church in London, showing the view from the south, and the statute of the Knights Templar in the foreground

Effigies in stone of Knights Templar inside the Temple Church

Effigies in stone of Knights Templar inside the Temple Church

The Knights Templar in England

Hugh de Payens, the first Grand Master of the Knights Templar, visited England to set up a branch of the Order.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle recorded his visit, saying:

This same year, (A.D. 1128,) Hugh of the Temple came from Jerusalem to the king in Normandy, and the king received him with much honour, and gave him much treasure in gold and silver, and afterwards he sent him into England, and there he was well received by all good men, and all gave him treasure, and in Scotland also, and they sent in all a great sum in gold and silver by him to Jerusalem, and there went with him and after him so great a number as never before since the days of Pope Urban.

When the Knights first set up shop in London, they occupied a site on what it now High Holborn.

Holborn is an area of London between the two traditional cities of London and Westminster, and it was therefore between the commercial centre (still the commercial centre of London, called "the City" or "the Square Mile") and the home of government and religion in Westminster.

The Knights Templar also built a round church near Castle Baynard, in the City of London, near where the River Fleet flowed into the Thames.

The High Holborn site became crowded. The Knights acquired a site to the south of High Holborn, called the New Temple, and built a large complex of buildings there.

There were dormitories, eating houses, a treasury, training grounds, stables, cook-houses, and a multitude of the other buildings needed to sustain a group of fighting monks.

The Temple Church was also built there, and was consecrated in 1185 in the presence of King Henry II, and Heraclius, Patriarch of Jerusalem.


The Knights Templar being burned at the stake. An anonymous picture dated to 1384.

The Knights Templar being burned at the stake. An anonymous picture dated to 1384.

The New Temple

The New Temple became an important place in English affairs.

Kings kept their valuables there, used the Templars as bankers, and held meetings there.

Henry II attended the consecration of the Temple Church, and donated large sums and land to the order.

Henry III buried one of his sons there, and planned to be buried there himself (although he later changed his mind and was buried in Westminster Abbey instead).

King John was staying at the New Temple when the Barons and he agreed on the Magna Carta, later signed at Runnymede.

Gargoyle of a damned soul being eaten by a wild beast.

Gargoyle of a damned soul being eaten by a wild beast.

The Building of Temple Church

The Knights Templar were founded in, and passionate about, Jerusalem.

Most Christian Churches, in the early Medieval period, were built as they still are today, in a cross or square shape.

The Knights, however, tended to build their churchs and temples after the fashion of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. They did not build all their churches in this way, and some other orders, such as the Knights Hospitallers, also build the odd round church.

The Temple Church was a round church from the beginning.

The Church has two main parts; the round church to the east, and the later rectangular addition to the west.

Until it was broken during renovation work in the late 17th century, an inscription above the door of the round church read:

On the 10th of February, in the year from the incarnation of our Lord 1185, this church was consecrated in honour of the blessed Mary by our lord Heraclius, by the grace of God patriarch of the church of the Resurrection, who hath granted an indulgence of fifty days to those yearly seeking it.

After Henry III stated he intended to be buried in Temple Church, the rectangular part was added. The chonicoler monk, Matthew Paris, wrote of the occasion:

About the same time (A.D. 1240) was consecrated the noble church of the New Temple at London, an edifice worthy to be seen, in the presence of the king and much of the nobility of the kingdom, who, on the same day, that is to say, the day of the Ascension, after the solemnities of the consecration had been completed, royally feasted at a most magnificent banquet, prepared at the expense of the Hospitallers.

The styles of the two parts are quite different. The Round Church was built in the later Norman style, and is 55 feet in diameter. The arches and windows are a mixture of the round Norman style, and the early gothic pointed arches.

The rectangular part is pure Medieval gothic, with slender, pointed arches, and narrow columns.

The combined coats of arms of the four Inns of Court, Gray's Inn, Lincoln's Inn, Middle Temple, and Inner Temple.

The combined coats of arms of the four Inns of Court, Gray's Inn, Lincoln's Inn, Middle Temple, and Inner Temple.

Column on the west side of Temple Church, London.

Column on the west side of Temple Church, London.

After the Knight Templars' suppression

After the order was dissolved, the New Temple was handed over to the Knights Hospitallers.

They had centres of their own, and therefore decided to rent the New Temple site to two colleges of lawyers, who liked the site between London and Westminster.

The two organisations, set up in a similar fashion to the colleges at Oxford and Cambridge, shared the Temple Church between them as their private chapel.

Henry VIII did not exempt the Knights Hospitallers from the dissolution of the monastaries during the Reformation, and their property passed to the Crown in the late 1530s.

The two Inns of Court, Middle Temple and Inner Temple, continued to rent their premises from the Crown.

On 13th August 1608, King James I granted the Middle and Inner Temple a Royal Charter giving them use of the Temple site in perpetuity, provided that they maintained and cared for the Temple Church between them, a charter which remains valid today.

The Temple Church's altar, designed by Sir Christopher Wren.

The Temple Church's altar, designed by Sir Christopher Wren.

Middle Temple

Middle Temple is "my" Inn – I am a member of the Honourable Society of the Middle Temple.

All barristers must, to this day, belong to one of the four Inns of Court; see this article for more details of barristers in England and Wales.

Middle Temple is based around the long, cobbled street known as "Middle Temple Lane".

This runs south from Fleet Street downhill to the Thames. Most of the Inn’s buildings are either on Middle Temple Lane, or in the pedestrianised courts off it, such as Brick Court, Elm Court, Essex Court, Fountain Court and Pump Court.

The Courts are wonderful to wander through. They are small, intimate, and lined with brick and stone buildings which were built from the 16th century onwards.

There are several foot entrances to Middle Temple, through which pedestians may enter, but the two main ways through the wall that surrounds the Inn are at either end of the Lane – on Fleet Street and the Victoria Embankment .

After 8pm during the working week, and at weekends, the only way in and out of the Temple is through Tudor Street.

  • Middle Temple
    The site of the Honourable Society of Middle Temple.
  • Inner Temple
    The site of the Honourable Society of the Inner Temple.

The architecture of Temple Church

The entrance to the Temple Church is on the south side of the building. It is a beautiful door, in a classically Norman style, deeply recessed into the wall. Columns on either side of the doorway are carved with roses, leaves, and abstract patterns.

At the top end of the columns are carved statues of saints, monks, and a King and Queen.

The round part of the church is held up by 5 columns in the inner circle, and the outer circle, or cloister, leans up towards the roof above. High up are many carvings of beast, the souls of the damned in hell or purgatory, and other absolutely beautiful and astonishing stone carvings.

The rectangular part of the church consists of a central nave, and two aisles either side.  The pointed gothic arches and columns of Purbeck Marble and Caen Stone allow light to flood into the building.

The Knights Templar also built a cell, for punishment. This was 4 feet 6 inches long, and 2 feet 6 inches wide, so an adult could not lie down in it. A window allowed the prisoner to watch the Mass in the main church.



Close up image of one of the stone Knights Templar

Close up image of one of the stone Knights Templar

  • The Temple Church, London
    The website of the Church, including current events, services, history, and photographs. Also includes opening hours.
  • Temple Church Music
    The Temple Church's musical tradition is rich and well-known. This website sets out details of their work, and up-coming events.

Visiting Temple Church today

Inside the church are life-size effigies of nine Templar knights, showing their swords, armour, and hero-status.

Some of the tombs were slightly damaged during the Blitz, but all are still visible.

The Blitz, or the bombing raids by the Luftwaffe, caused much damage in London. For more information, see this article about the horrors of the Second World War bombs which fell on the whole country.

Taking after the Jerusalem Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the nave is rounded, 55 feet in diameter, with the windows placed high up in the walls, letting the light flow down to the person inside.

The wonderful stained-glass window at the eastern end of the Temple Church dates back only 50 years. It was installed after the Second World War and shows Christ at the Temple in Jerusalem.

In one scene shown in the window Christ is driving the money-changers out of the Temple, in another he is talking to the disciples, and in a third scene he is progressing towards the Temple on his donkey on Palm Sunday.

The church is beautiful, with a unique history and a current, unusual, collegiate use. I work only a few minutes' walk away from the Temple Church, and I pass it every day. I am still overcome with admiration every time I see it.

It is open during the day from Wednesday to Saturday. (See the Temple Church's website in the link to the right of this text for current opening hours and services)

The church can be a little difficult to find if you don’t know the area, as the Temple is walled away from the hustle and bustle of central London. If you are coming from Fleet Street, the pedestrian-only entrance is sign-posted towards the Temple Church.

From Temple underground station, one must walk up Middle Temple Lane, turn second right into Elm Court, and then walk through the court to get to the Temple Church.

The closest tube stations are Temple and Blackfriars (which are on the District and Circle lines), and Chancery Lane (Central Line). Temple and Chancery Lane stations are both closed on Sundays. Holborn tube is also fairly close (on the Piccadilly and Central lines).

Comments

Ikox on January 10, 2015:

Thanks! Ernesto, that's a pretty good point. To make the deanlide I had to chop this thing up, so when I revisit this one, i can remedy the problem, by either pushing it in a more decorative way, or by getting some more vs. situations in there.

Romerillo on December 28, 2014:

According to the time stamp on this post, I believe you fhiesnid up at least an hour and a half before your first class, so a hefty and enthusiastic round of applause goes to you, sir. And you know this already, but I love this piece. LOVE. You did a really nice job on the portraits too...

adorababy from Syracuse, NY on June 21, 2010:

The Knights of Templar were always an intriguing part of history. They were the most skilled fighting units of the religiously sanctioned military campaigns. To this day, almost all of the movies made that were about them or that they were a part of never ceased to interest audiences worldwide.

mike1242 from London on June 20, 2010:

great hubpage very interesting history, the Templars where deceived by the French King and a Pope who where both cursed by the templar leader as he was being burned to death...Both died within a year...

the day of the arrests through out France was a Friday and the day was Friday 13th (hence the phrase friday 13th)

LondonGirl (author) from London on September 03, 2009:

Hi Katacham - I'm not studying, I'm a barrister already, called to the Bar in 2001. I do mostly immigration, and some public law and immigration-related crime.

Things and Kephira - glad you found the hub interesting!

kephrira from Birmingham on September 03, 2009:

very interesting.

Things Considered from North Georgia Foothills on August 14, 2009:

Nice Hub. Very interesting and informative.

katacham from United Kingdom on August 13, 2009:

:O It's so cool that you are a member of Middle Temple! I was doing work experience with a Q.C in Family Law in London about a month ago - after one of the cases he took me to see the temple but unfortunately it was "terribly shut". What aspect of law are you studying, if you don't mind me asking?

LondonGirl (author) from London on June 21, 2009:

Glad you found it interesting!

syras mamun on June 20, 2009:

Very informative article with lots of insights into the history.thanks for this ariticle.

LondonGirl (author) from London on May 27, 2009:

Cashmere, the Da Vince Code isn't strong on history, sorry (-:

No name - sorry, you can't. About 700 years too late.

no name on May 25, 2009:

How do i join the knights templar now in this era?

cashmere from India on May 13, 2009:

This was very interesting. I didn't know half of this stuff. To be honest my only knowledge about the Knights Templar came from what I read and saw in the DaVinci Code.

LondonGirl (author) from London on May 09, 2009:

Elena, I'm shocked. Well, not really, to be honest. Just don't take the "history" there as gospel!

Teresa - my other half's luckier, his chambers is within spitting distance of Temple Church!

tdarby on May 08, 2009:

What a great, concise history of a very interesting group of people. Fascinating stuff. Thanks for the work you did to bring this to me.

GeneriqueMedia from Earth on April 29, 2009:

LG,

Again--cool stuff. =)

I can't romance about them, because I've an overall larger history--but the devil's always in the details. And you've filled in some good gaps for me. =)

Sincerely,

G|M

Tony on April 18, 2009:

Great hub. I always wondered why "Temple" was called so in central London, now I know. I lived in London for 15 years too, worked down by St. Pauls and yet knew nothing. This made fascinating reading.

RKHenry from Neighborhood museum in Somewhere, USA on April 18, 2009:

Very intriguing!

Sheila from The Other Bangor on April 18, 2009:

You lucky sod -- you get to spend time (however briefly, on your way to work) in this beautiful part of London.

Elena. from Madrid on April 16, 2009:

I did, LG -- and I'll admit as to why, if you hadn't guessed already: Da Vinci Code! Whoops! :-)

LondonGirl (author) from London on April 16, 2009:

Hi Elena - glad you enjoyed it. Did you visit the Temple itself?

Sybille - glad you enjoyed it, and thanks for the thumbs up! I'm not particularly in to myths (-:

Enelle, it's a fascinating place and story altogether, glad to share it with you.

Kari Poulsen from Ohio on April 16, 2009:

LondonGirl, I really enjoyed this hub! I have read many stories about the "Knights of the Rose", and wanted to make sure I had some good uninterrupted time to read this. I am very jealous that you are a "member of Middle Temple, and therefore a parishioner of Temple Church." What a wonder :D

Coming from America where "old" buildings are about 200 years old, I am amazed with buildings that are 1000+ years old! I just cannot imagine that. Oh well, the kids are back and keep interrupting my thoughts! Loved the information...Thanks so much!

Christine Mulberry on April 16, 2009:

Thanks for the brief history lesson. I had wondered about this but wasn't dedicated enough to research it.

terrowhite on April 16, 2009:

Well written..........

Great stuffs are found here. I enjoyed reading the history and watching the videos. Thnx for sharing the informative hub.

Enelle Lamb from Canada's 'California' on April 15, 2009:

Very enjoyable, well written and interesting hub. Thanks so much for the history...loved it!

Sybille Yates on April 14, 2009:

It is great to read an article about the templars that is based on facts and not on myths, well done, thumbs up and digg ;-) SY

Elena. from Madrid on April 14, 2009:

LG, fascinating as always, you really have a knack for history! I visited about one year ago, and you make me want to visit again!!

LondonGirl (author) from London on April 14, 2009:

BDazzler, let me know when you are coming, and I'll show you round!

Univited Writer - I fear Dan Brown takes some factual liberties, but what the hell (-:

Raven King, glad you enjoyed it!

LondonGirl (author) from London on April 14, 2009:

Tonymac, glad you enjoyed the hub. The next part has been published this evening....

Christa - I've always been interested in the Templars, glad I could share that with you.

LondonGirl (author) from London on April 14, 2009:

Shamelabboush, glad you enjoyed it! I think I'd struggle to live somewhere that was all new.

Brian, glad you enjoyed it. The Templars were very active in France, but the suppression also started there, at the instigation of the French King, and was particularly brutal. My secret is that I write about subjects I am already familiar with, and because I write so much for work, I can do it quite quickly.

Patricias - next time you are passing the Temple, it's really worth a look!

LondonGirl (author) from London on April 14, 2009:

Roastedpinebark - glad you enjoyed it! The wonderful thing about the Temple is that it's both an amazingly ancient and significant place, and part of so many people's everyday lives.

Shalini - glad you enjoyed it! They are a fascinating group, to rise so fast and fall so far.

Thanks Chris! The secret of my writing is that I write about things I already know of, so not so much research is required (-:

Raven King from Cabin Fever on April 14, 2009:

Truly intriguing. Great photos.

Susan Keeping from Kitchener, Ontario on April 14, 2009:

Great hub. It's really taken off on DIGG. I've always been interested in this topic, the best part of the Davinci Code had to do with this :)

BDazzler from Gulf Coast, USA on April 14, 2009:

London Girl, this is an AWESOME hub! I did some research on the Knights Templar when I was doing my shroud hub, and have found them to be a source of endless facination.

If I ever find myself in London, you can count on me visiting the chruch.

Christa Dovel from The Rocky Mountains, North America on April 14, 2009:

I really enjoyed this. I had never heard of The Knights Templar before, but that seems to be the case with most history. This is a page I will be reading again. Thank you.

Tony McGregor from South Africa on April 14, 2009:

Super Hub, LG - I'm looking forward to the next in the series!

Love and peace

Tony

2patricias from Sussex by the Sea on April 14, 2009:

Thanks for such an interesting Hub. We have both walked past the Temple, but I certainly never knew the history.

I can see that you have put a lot of time and effort into this Hub - well done.

Brian Stephens from Laroque des Alberes, France on April 14, 2009:

Really fascinating, I was aware of the presence of the templar knights here in the South of France and the village I live in is supposed to have played host to a templar knight during 12th century, I think. Not really done any research on it yet but you may have inspired me to at least have a look see what I can find out.

Great hub by the way, you really put some effort into pulling all the information together, how do you find the time.

shamelabboush on April 13, 2009:

Amazing study of History with great illustrations. Old places, buildings, and history always fascinated me. I came from a place where it goes back hundreds of years. It's full of old cathedrals and museums... I read every word here and I liked your research very much.

Cris A from Manila, Philippines on April 13, 2009:

I also enjoyed this, too. But now I envy your patience for research and writing skill! LOL Great hub, thanks for sharing :D

Shalini Kagal from India on April 13, 2009:

Fascinating history LondonGirl - to be a member of Middle Inn with its background must be great! I guess the Knights Templar will always arouse the imagination of people, what with their connection with the Shroud, the Holy Grail, etc!

roastedpinebark from Iowa on April 13, 2009:

Thank you for helping me to learn the history of the Kinghts Templar. I was curious as to what it was all about after watching National Treasue 2. I liked the way you wrote this, we could imagine actually being there and walking the streets with the directions you gave and all!

LondonGirl (author) from London on April 13, 2009:

Glad you enjoyed it! There is a supposed connection with Friday 13th, but it's a myth, sorry!

Roberta Kyle from Central New Jersey on April 13, 2009:

This was wonderful, LG. I especially loved the videos and your architectural descriptions. I felt like I was wallking through all that history by your side. Do I remember something about Friday the 13rh being connected to the Knights Templar? They were all hunted down and killed on that day or something and that is why we consider it unlucky??? or am I mixing it up with something else?? oh well whatever. This was a wonderful romp through ecclesiastical and English history. Thanks so much once again:-)

LondonGirl (author) from London on April 13, 2009:

Malta had a very strong connection indeed to the Knights Hospitallers, I know that. They relocated there after being thrown out of Rhodes.

Champ9022 on April 13, 2009:

Very interesting

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mandybeau on April 13, 2009:

Anither fabulous Hub,I just love the medieval history and the Gargoyles, but the story was one, that I only partially new.

I was also told by someone once that in Malta, their were many Orphans, descended from some of the most powerful families in Europe, The carried the surname given to them by the Monks that looked after them, I knew that they were connected, but have never known the full story.

Mandy

LondonGirl (author) from London on April 13, 2009:

William, you should certainly come! London is unmissable (-:

LondonGirl (author) from London on April 13, 2009:

Jama, it's in my to-do hublist. Must try harder! Glad you enjoyed this hub.

LondonGirl (author) from London on April 13, 2009:

Hi Cindy - I walk past the Temple Church a good 10 times a week, it's a lovely place to work!

JD, I'm glad you found it interesting. I am enthusiastic, you can feel the heartbeat of history in the Temple.

William F Torpey from South Valley Stream, N.Y. on April 13, 2009:

Interesting history, LondonGirl. I'd love to visit London to see all this, but it's not likely I'll ever get there. Thanks for the virtual trip.

Joanna McKenna from Central Oklahoma on April 13, 2009:

Another informative and well-written piece. Can't wait for that future hub on the Templars and Freemasonry.

J D Murrah from Refugee from Shoreacres, Texas on April 13, 2009:

LondonGirl,

A fascinating hub. I also enjoyed the photos and videos that you included with it. Your enthusiasm for the subject shines through. Your hub filled some empty areas in my knowledge of England.

J D Murrah from Refugee from Shoreacres, Texas on April 13, 2009:

LondonGirl,

A fascinating hub. I also enjoyed the photos and videos that you included with it. Your enthusiasm for the subject shines through. Your hub filled some empty areas in my knowledge of England.

Cindy Vine from Cape Town on April 13, 2009:

Hey LG am looking forward to reading it as have always been fascinated with that part of history. That's why I loved my visit to London, all those old buildings....you just get swallowed up in the history.

LondonGirl (author) from London on April 13, 2009:

bg - glad you liked it!

Cindy - the long answer is, read a future hub from me on this. The short answer - no, not really!

Cindy Vine from Cape Town on April 13, 2009:

Fascinating LG. Da Vinci Code brought all the Templar stuff to the fore. Are they really connected with Freemasonry?

bgpappa from Sacramento, California on April 13, 2009:

Another informative and interesting article. Great Job.