For 800 years the Temple and its Church have been at the centre of England’s constitutional and legal life. If you walk down Inner Temple Lane or across Church Court, you will see the Round Church, built by the Knights Templar in 1160. It is one of the earliest Gothic buildings in England. It was modelled on the circular Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, built in the 4th century over the empty tomb acknowledged by Constantine to be the tomb of Christ. To be in the Round Church was, to the medieval imagination, to be in Jerusalem, the holiest place in the world.
The Temple was King John’s headquarters from 1214-15. It was here that the King, advised by William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke (who held the balance of power in England) and Brother Aymeric, Master of the Temple, began negotiations with the Barons that led to John putting his seal to Magna Carta at Runnymede in 1215. William Marshal and Aymeric were later buried in the Temple, next to each other. William’s effigy still lies in the Temple in the Round together with his son, and younger brother Gilbert. The Temple Church was as much a representation of Jerusalem as a shrine to the Marshals and their royal connections.
The present Master of the Temple, The Reverend and Valiant Robin Griffith-Jones, has co-edited with Eric Fernie, formerly Director of the Courtauld, a magnificent collection of essays which explore how Jerusalem’s numinous buildings have been distinctively re-imagined and represented in the design, topography, decorations and dedications of some striking churches in Western Europe, Russia, the Caucasus and Ethiopia, as well as at the Temple Church in the heart of legal London.
The essays in this richly illustrated book combine to do justice to these evocative buildings’ architecture, roles and history. As Griffith-Jones concludes somewhat wistfully in the epilogue as these buildings have survived, and perhaps with them ‘even in a time of dry disenchantment’, there is some recoverable sense of awe they were built to inspire and of the ages they were built to inform.
Reviewer The Revd Mark Hatcher is Reader of the Temple at the Temple Church in London and Special Adviser to the Chair of the Bar.
The Temple Church is generally open for visiting Monday to Friday 10am to 4pm. Choral matins (BCP) Sunday 11.15am; choral evensong (BCP) Wednesday 5.30pm (www.templechurch.com).