How the Templar church in London changed over the centuries

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I work close by to the Templar church in London – as featured in the Da Vinci Code.  The church is not the original preceptory founded by the Templars in London, which originally stood further back from the river Thames – close by to Chancery Lane tube.  Don’t bother looking for its ruins because they’re long gone and sitting under an office called Southampton Buildings.

What you see today is more or less the original ‘new’ Templar church built at the end of the twelfth century but with some significant ‘improvements’.

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It escaped the Great Fire of London in 1666 but did not escape the attention of Christopher Wren who seems to have believed there wasn’t a church in London that wouldn’t benefit from his architectural nous.  So he modified the Temple to reflect the tastes of the late seventeenth century including an organ, which your average Templar would never have played.

But that was as nothing compared to the Victorians who confidently believed that they knew more about building medieval churches than any master mason in the Middle Ages.  It’s a curious irony that the Gothic Revival of the nineteenth century resulted in a wave of cultural vandalism against medieval buildings that even William Morris, a huge fan of the Gothic, was forced to eventually condemn.

The Temple church was not left unscathed as it underwent changes in the 1840s and 1860s to ‘restore’ its original appearance (ie, what the Victorians thought a medieval church should look like).

You almost have to feel sorry for Wren and the Victorians because all their wooden excrescences went up in flames courtesy of the Luftwaffe one night in 1941.  Unfortunately, damage was done to the original structure and much of what you see is a well intentioned rebuilding in the 1950s.  Without that, you’d be standing in a charred shell staring up at the sky.  I’m afraid this was the fate of so many London churches.

So please visit the Temple church in London – it’s in lovely little corner of the city off Fleet Street, but be aware that not every stone you see was lovingly placed in position by the Knights Templar.  History, as it does, has brutally intervened.

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