The British newspaper, The Guardian, reported this month on the sleepy south west town of Templecombe – all the way down in cider and cricket loving Somerset. Like many English towns and villages with the word ‘Temple’ in it, there was indeed a verifiable and very historic link to the Knights Templar. They had preceptories all over the country and even though most of those buildings were reduced to rubble, the word Temple has continued. Like Temple Meads in nearby Bristol.
Anyway, the newspaper confirmed that as in so many similar places, Templecombe has lost its Templar church and associated buildings. All traces of the Order’s presence have been eradicated by persecution and time. Except, that is, for one dusty painting found by a local woman called Molly Drew.
In 1945, as the second world war was ending, she found a painted panel covered in cobwebs and took it back to her garden shed. As she removed the webs, a picture of Christ emerged. The object was later carbon dated to about the year 1280 which is well within the Templar era. Given that the village was very much a Templar holding, it’s perfectly reasonable to suppose that a high status religious item like this belonged to them. Of course, as ever, there is room for doubt – it could have belonged to some pious noble. But a church seems more likely.
What intrigued people then was the resemblance of the face to that on the Turin Shroud. Now, as we all now from previous blogs, the Turin Shroud has been claimed to be a former Templar possession and even that the face on the cloth is that of Jacques De Molay, last Grand Master of the Order.
Was this painting a copy of the shroud? If so, were there other such paintings in Templar properties? The 1945 find was written about in a local history published in 1986. The painting is now on display and is a very odd and quite ghostly representation of Jesus. I’m not convinced it looks like the Turin Shroud but it’s very striking. Jesus has ashen features and large, lifeless eyes.
A manor house built after Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries (the preceptory had fallen in to the hands of the Hospitallers by then) has swallowed up the remaining walls of the Templar house. There are other buildings in the village including the local pub which are believed to contain bits of the original Templar estate including a guest house. As with so much of Somerset, it’s very picturesque and well worth a visit.
As a postscript, Channel Four’s Time Team archaeology programme tried to discover more of the Templar preceptory in a three day dig with limited success.