Temple Church, London – St Mary

On Friday 21 April I had a day in London with Jess. We met at Euston and walked down past Persephone Books – website. They are a lovely publisher who have kept my wife happy for many years – a reminder you can read Julie’s blog here. We crossed Fleet Street and entered the Temple. I was settling down to write up this blog while watching Diarmaid MacCulloch’s A History of Christianity dvd – and he starts talking about this church. His books are excellent, and this dvd well worth watching. I don’t know why I haven’t visited this church before. I have enjoyed Elizabeth Chadwick’s series of books about William Marshall (one of them is called The Greatest Knight) and read Thomas Asbridge’s biography with the same title – and William is buried here.

The church has a full programme of services and events, see their excellent website, with a good history section – here. There is also a music website. There is a charge of £5 to enter the church, well worth it – and it would be lovely to go to services as well, some time I would like to spend a year in the vicinity of London and do a lot of these things.

The church was built by the Knights Templar, an order of knights who took monastic vows. They were founded in 1118 to protect pilgrims to the Holy Land, and became one of the most powerful orders in Christendom. The Round Church was consecrated in 1185. It was modelled on the circular Church of the Holy Sepulchre, on the site where Christ was buried. The chancel was buried when, in the 1230s, King Henry III and his Queen said they would buried here – in the end they went to Westminster Abbey. The West Door is quite splendid. It is C12.

In through the south door, a quick photo facing east, then we started on the original circular church. The guidebook reminds us that the Round Church recalls Christ’s death, burial and resurrection, and also recalls our baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection. Let’s start by looking up. This window is lovely, but I failed to make a note who it is by.

There are some very good displays round the wall, and the figures are fun (though most of them are Victorian).

The effigies in the Round include the figures of William Marshall, 1st Earl of Pembroke (died 1219) – he won the favour of Richard (later Lionheart), mediator between John and the barons, and Regent for the child King Henry III) – there are also copies of Magna Cartas on display. One story says that knights with crossed legs went on crusade, another that it simply makes them look as if they are moving. MacCulloch notes they are all in their mid-30s, the age at which Christ died. They are not in their original positions, though you can understand why they would want to be buried at the centre of the sepulchre, and were damaged in 1941 when the roof collapsed in the Blitz.

We went up and enjoyed the view down. The tiles were rather lovely too.

There was an exhibition “A Year in the Life of a London priest” which had some interesting photos – you can read an article about it here. Nice window too.

On Friday 13 October 1307 every Templar in France was arrested on the orders of King Philip the Fair and accused of blasphemy and heresy. He was probably after their money. The other kings of Europe acted more slowly, but the Order was in decline. In the C14 the Temple Church passed to the Knights Hospitaller, at the Reformation it reverted to the Crown. Richard Hooker became Master in 1585 – I like this quote. “It were dangerous for the feeble brain of man to wade far into the doings of the Most High. Although to know him be life, and joy to make mention of his name, yet our soundest knowledge is to know that we do not know him as indeed he is, either can know him; and our safest eloquence concerning him is our silence, when we confess without confession that his glory is inexplicable, his greatness above our capacity and reach. He is above, and we upon earth; therefore it behoves our words to be wary and few.”

There are some lovely medieval monuments too. Richard Mason (left) died 1608. He was “a very handsome man, a graceful speaker, facetious and well-loved,” arranged riotous parties in the Middle Temple, and took 15 years to qualify as a barrister. He became Recorder of London. Sir Edward Plowden (right) died 1584, was Treasurer of Middle Temple. He was a Roman Catholic when Catholics were under deep suspicion, but was buried (at his own request) in the Temple (Anglican) church. His epitaph was “I have lived in a dangerous channel. I die in harbour.”

In 1608 James I granted all the Templars’ former land to the societies of the Inner and Middle Temple. Richard Hooker again – “Law’s seat is the bosom of God, her voice the harmony of the world: all things in heaven and earth do her homage, the very least as feeling her care, and the greatest as not exempted from her power. Both angels and men and creatures of whatever condition, though each in different sort and manner, yet all with uniform consent, admiring her as the mother of their peace and joy.”

In the Chancel was an excellent exhibition about the First World War. One panel told the story of the War, the next the stories of members of the Temple. Very moving. They had produced a little book about it, which I managed to leave on a train later in the day.

In the Second World War incendiary bombs landed on the church roof on 10 May 1941. The river was at low ebb, and water pressure was weak. The fire burned all night. It was 17 years before the church was fully repaired. The East Window, designed and made by Carl Edwards, was a gift from the Glaziers Company. It shows St Paul’s and the Temple Church with the pepper-pot roof on the Round which was destroyed in the raid. The altarpiece was designed by Sir Christopher Wren, sold in the 1840s and bought back after WW2.

This organ was installed after WW2, and made by Harrison and Harrison.

In 1927 the Temple chorister Ernest Lough recorded Mendelssohn’s “Hear my Prayer”, “O for the wings of a dove”. More than 5 million copies of this have been sold, and you can listen here. We are currently practising this with the Derventio Choir – website – for concerts in the summer. I am not the soloist and we will never sell 5 million copies of our rendition! The director of music was George Thalben-Ball. I love his “Elegy”, which you can listen to here. When I make my final journey, I hope the organist will play me out with this.

Wednesday 3 May, and I am reading a book about Darley Abbey (one of my parishes in Derby). It tells me that Alfred Ainger is buried near the graves of the Evans family, and that Ainger was Reader of the Temple Church 1866-92 and Master of the Temple in 1894. He was a friend of Walter Evans II and preached many a sermon from St Matthew’s pulpit. At his funeral a special train was run from London, and Henry Walford Davies (Temple organist) played the organ. This is his portrait

by Sir Leslie Ward, chromolithograph, published in Vanity Fair 13 February 1892

I thought he was the Ainger who wrote the hymn “God is working his purpose out”, but having proclaimed that in church I was told that the hymn is by Arthur Campbell Ainger (1841 – 1919) who was at Trinity, and then a housemaster at Eton. My apologies for mis-information!

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One Response to Temple Church, London – St Mary

  1. Nancy Padgett says:

    Lovely post and great photos as usual. I did not know MacCulloch had a DVD . I am currently reading his “Christianity, the First Three Thousand Years,” and the DVD will make a great companion. –Nancy P, San Francisco, CA

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