Temple Church

From Academic Kids

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The Temple Church.

The Temple Church is a 12th century church in London located between Fleet Street and the River Thames. Originally constructed as the headquarters in England of the Knights Templar, it was the scene of important negotiatons leading to the signing of Magna Carta in 1215. After the destruction of the Templar order in the 14th century, it became Crown property and for the last seven centuries has been the headquarters for two colleges of lawyers. Famous today for its effigy tombs, the church was heavily damaged during the Second World War but has been largely restored.


Design and Construction

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The Temple Church today.

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 Hughes de Payens. Because of the growth of the order, by the 1160s the site had become too confined, and the order purchased the property of the current site for establishment of a larger compound. 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 permission of the Master of the Temple.

The church building comprises two separate sections. The original nave section, called the Round Church, and an adjoining rectangular section, built approximately half a century later, called the Chancel.

The Round Church

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Marble effigies of medieval knights in the Temple Church.

In keeping with the traditions of the order, the nave of the church was constructed on a round design based on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The nave is 55 feet in diameter is surrounded by the first-ever free-standing dark Purbeck marble columns. It is probable that the walls and grotesque heads were originally painted in colors.

It was consecrated on February 10, 1185 in a ceremony by Heraclius, the Patriarch of Jerusalem. It is believed that Henry II was probably present at the consecration.

The Round Church contains the marble effigies of nine Medieval knights, the most famous of whom is William Marshal, who is enshrined next to his sons. In January 1215 William served as a negotiator during a meeting in the Temple between King John and the barons, who demanded that John uphold the rights enshrined the Coronation Charter of his predecessor Richard I. William swore on behalf of the king that the grievances of the barons would be addressed in the summer, leading to John's signing of Magna Carta in June. William later became regent during the reign of John's son, Henry III, who later expressed a desire to be buried in the church.

The Chancel

In response to Henry III's desire to be buried in the church, in the early 13th century, the choir of the original church was pulled down and a new larger structure, now called the Chancel, was built. It was consecrated on Ascension Day 1240. Although Henry later altered his will with instructions to be interred in Westminster Abbey, one of his sons, who died in infancy, is buried in the Chancel.

The chancel comprises a central aisle and two side aisles of identical width. The height of the vault is 36 feet 3 inches. During the bombing raid in World War II (see below), the dark Purbeck marble columns of the Chancel cracked from the intense heat Although they still supported the vault, they were deemed unsound and replaced by replicas. The original columns had a light outward lean, an architectural quirk which was duplicated in the replacement columns.

Early Use by the Templars

The order was very powerful in England during its existence. The Master of the Temple sat in parliament as primus baro (the first baron of the realm). The compound was regularly used as a residence by kings and by legates of the Pope. The temple also served as an early depository bank, sometimes in defiance of the Crown's wishes to seize the funds of nobles who had entrusted their wealth there. The independence and wealth of the order throughout Europe is considered by most historians to have been the primary cause of its eventual downfall .

Later History

After the destruction and abolition of the Knights Templar in 1307, Edward II took control of the church as a Crown possession. It was later given to the Knights Hospitaller, who rented the Temple to two colleges of lawyers who were looking for a home in London in order to attend the royal courts in Westminster. The two colleges, collectively called the Inns of the Court, and individually known as the Inner and Middle Temples, shared the use of the church. Following a later agreement in 1608 by James I, the Inns of the Court were granted the use of the church in perpetuity and continue to use the Temple as their chapel to the present day.

In 1540, the church became the property of the Crown once again when Henry VIII abolished the Knights Hospitaller in England and confiscated their property. Henry provided a priest for the church under the former title "Master of the Temple". In the 1580s, the church was the scene of the Battle of the Pulpits, a theological conflict between Calvinists and supporters of the Church of England.

The church went undamaged in the Great Fire of London in 1666. Nevertheless, it was refurbished by Christopher Wren, who made extensive modifications to the interior, including the introduction of an organ to the church for the first time. The church was restored again in 1841 by Smirke and Burton, who decorated the walls and ceiling in the high Victorian Gothic style, in an attempt to bring the church back to its original appearance.

On May 10, 1941, during the height of the Battle of Britain, a German air raid of incendiary bombs set the roof of the Round Church on fire, and the fire quickly spread by wind to the nave and chapel. The organ and all the wood of the church, including the Victorian renovations, were destroyed. During the renovation, it was discovered that the renovations made by Wren in the 17th century were in storage and were replaced in their original position. The church was rededicated in November 1958.

Music at the Temple Church

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The organ in the Temple Church.

The church has had a number of famous organists, including the blind organist and composer John Stanley (appointed by the Inner Temple in 1734). A choir in the English cathedral tradition was established at the Temple Church in 1842 under the direction of Dr E J Hopkins, and it soon earned a high reputation. Hopkins was succeeded as organist and Director of the Choir in 1897 by Sir Henry Walford Davies. Walford Davies was in turn succeeded by Sir George Thalben-Ball who held the post from 1923 to 1982. For just three musicians of such distinction to have served between them for a total of 140 years at the church is remarkable.

In 1927, the Temple Choir under Thalben-Ball became world famous with its recording of Mendelssohn's Hear my Prayer, including the solo "O for the Wings of a Dove" sung by Ernest Lough. This became one of the most popular recordings by a church choir of all time, and it sold strongly throughout the twentieth century, reaching gold disc status (a million copies) in 1962 and achieving an estimated 6 million sales to date.

The choir continues to record, broadcast and perform, in addition to its regular services at the Temple Church. The present Director of Music is Stephen Layton. He was chosen by the composer to give the world premiere of Sir John Tavener's epic "The Veil of the Temple", which took place over seven hours during an overnight vigil in the Temple Church at Easter 2003.

The Temple Church's excellent acoustic has also attracted non church musicians: Paul Tortelier made his recording of the complete Bach Cello Suites there in 1983.

Shakespeare and the Wars of the Roses

In the 16th century play Henry VI, part 1 by William Shakespeare, the church is depicted the scene of the start of the 15th century Wars of the Roses, which in the play began with the plucking of two roses in the Temple garden. In 2002, the Shakespearian tradition was commemorated with the planting of new white and red roses in the modern gardens.

Current Use

The Temple continues to offer regular church services, including Holy Communion on Sunday morning. It also offers regular choral music performances and organ recitals.

External links

See also


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