Lying next to a main road in Dover, a stone’s throw from a residential street, is an interesting set of medieval ruins.
Known as the Knights Templar Church – by English Heritage and Google and pretty much everyone – they comprise flint and mortar remains in the shape of a rectangular chancel around 10 metres long.
It is believed to date back to the 12th century. But it’s not quite as it seems.
Despite its popular name, most experts seem dubious about its specific Knights Templar origins.
English Heritage describes the links to the famous order as “tenuous”.
The Knights Templar were a military and religious group founded in the 12th century during the Crusades, to protect pilgrims travelling to the Holy Land and to defend the holy places there.
Dover then would be a good location to do it from.
They became rich and powerful but increasingly unpopular, and were eventually suppressed in 1312.
Apparently, the form of the Western Heights ruins mirrors that of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, accounting for the link with the Templars.
But as English Heritage experts point out: “The port of Dover, the chief departure point for pilgrimages to the Holy Land, was an obvious place for the Templars to have held property.
“But they are believed to have left the town before 1185 and their links to this particular site are tenuous.
“An alternative interpretation suggests that the building was a wayside shrine on the Dover to Folkestone road.”
Experts also point to the site not being listed as belonging to the Order in surviving records.
The Dover area does have other strong links to the Knights Templar however.
They are believed to have established a church at Temple Ewell in 1170.
While only below ground ruins remain from their Preceptory, they are said to have founded St Peter and St Paul Church that stills stands in the village today.
Apparently evidence of the original Norman work can be seen in the north doorway and the high narrow window in the north wall of the nave.
Some suggest the Knights Templar may have used the Western Heights building before moving to Temple Ewell, but again an expert says it’s “more likely to have been a simple road-side shrine”.
Others say the shape, a smaller scale form of both the Jersualem church and the New Temple Church in London, indicate it may have had links to the Order’s supporters, even if it wasn’t a part of their formal estate.
Either way, it’s an intriguing thing to look at in a prominent location in Dover.
And with the Western Heights fortifications and nature reserve trail nearby, there is plenty of history – not to mention spectacular views – to take in too.