At the Templar church in London, there’s the tomb of a knight called Geoffrey de Mandeville – but something isn’t right about it. Like many medieval knights, he lies there in stone with his legs crossed and in full armour. But his face is chipped away and his shield a bit broken. So – who did this and why?
Well, Sir Geoffrey was a bit of a controversial figure while alive in the 12th century but his tomb wasn’t smashed up anytime soon after he died. In fact, it was in good condition from the 12th to the 20th century. Tht was until – along came the German Luftwaffe in the Second World War.
Nazi bombs destroyed a fifth of London. The loss of life was horrific and many landmarks were reduced to rubble. One bomb fell on the Templar church in London and badly damaged some Templar tombs. You’ll have seen some of those tombs in a scene in The Da Vinci Code movie. Strange to think a 1940s bomb could ruin what had been a pristine 12th century grave of a Templar knight.
Templar church in London suffers a Nazi attack
In July, I visited the Templar church in London – it still retains its characteristic round building based (very loosely) on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The original round church is connected to a nave that also dates back to the Middle Ages. But unfortunately, the whole building has suffered over the years. Not least at the hands of the Nazis as they blitzed London with bombs in the Second World War.
You’ll recognise the church because it featured in The Da Vinci Code and other great movies and TV programmes. At the centre of the round church, on the ground, are the stone figures of several knights. Miraculously, these had survived in good condition until modern times. One of the knights was Sir Geoffrey de Mandeville. He was the first Earl of Essex who made the unwise decision to rebel against King Stephen in the early 12th century. On the run from the king’s forces and branded a bandit, he was shot through with arrows.
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His rather messed up corpse was brought to the Templar preceptory in London but the knights were not allowed to bury him. De Mandeville had rebelled against God’s king – he’d also despoiled an abbey during this rebellion to raise funds. That didn’t play well with the church. So De Mandeville’s body, in a lead coffin, was left above ground. Various stories say it hung in an apple tree in the Templar orchard or was chucked in a ditch. Eventually he was buried and his stone image remained in good condition with some other knights until the 1940s.
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Nazi Luftwaffe bomb lands on the Templar church
The along came the Luftwaffe. In a horrendous night of bombing in 1941, the church took a direct hit and down came the roof on top of the tombs. The damage is still very clear. Some people might think it’s wear due to age, but it’s not. The poor knights lost limbs and noses as the heavy stones and wood from the roof caved in. Here’s some images of Geoffrey de Mandeville before and after the Nazis struck.