WHETHER OR NOT YOU’VE READ The Da Vinci Code and subsequent thrillers, you may have heard of the Knights Templar. A few facts can be confirmed about the Knights. A group of pilgrims traveled to Jerusalem in 1119, and some of them were armed and followed a strict, religiously inspired code. Here’s where the facts get muddy. According to the story, nine among them took vows to become monks and were trapped in the Temple of Solomon. Or so the story goes…
Named Knights Templar because of the Temple of Solomon (“templar” meaning of the temple) their group quickly blossomed as more pilgrims began traveling to Jerusalem from Europe. Muslim–Christian tensions in Jerusalem rose, and it became very expensive to protect the Christian pilgrims. Funds were raised from Europe as the Knights grew in number and prestige.
Back in London, the Knights began to influence politics. With wealthy friends and their Church in central London, the Templars became intertwined in the financial and domestic concerns of the burgeoning English nation. The Master of the Church was an ex officio member of Parliament: separation of Church and State was more than five hundred years away.
With a distinct round nave, the Temple Church was consecrated in 1185. The round church is modeled on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. (In a twist of fate, that church may originally have been a temple to Aphrodite in the second century.)
But by the late 1200s, the Crusades weren’t going so well, and, with other troubles in France, the clout of the Knights waned. When they eventually fell in 1307, their land was seized by the Crown. King Edward II used the land and buildings for law colleges that developed into the present-day Inns of Court.
During World War II, German firebombs damaged the roof of the Temple Church, but it has since been restored. Visit the website for details about when the sanctuary is open for services and musical performances.
Side note: the library at Middle Temple owns valuable antique maps. These maps depict land we now know not to exist, but they are fascinating, nonetheless. A 1570 edition Abraham Ortelius’ Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (Theater of the World). Check the Middle Temple Library website for times.