Temple Church leaped into fame with The Da Vinci Code, especially with the film. Here, the terrifying albino monk persecuted Professor Langdon. I don’t mean to brag but I knew about this church way before it entered the realm of popular culture.
You already know that I’m not the most detailed of planners and that I like to navigate places by the seat of my pants. So my first attempt at visiting the Temple Church ended in abject failure. I had a few hours to kill before my flight and I spent them traipsing around London without a map, as is my wont. The church is hidden in the bowels of the Inns of Court and I couldn’t find it. I went to the British Museum instead.
Contrary to what the proverb says, the second time was the charm. I met a friend and her husband, who were in London for a few days. He is a history buff so I leaped at the chance to steer them towards the Temple Church. Success!
I had high expectations of what a Templar church should look like. The Templars are shrouded in myth and fantasies. Much of this propaganda was spread eight centuries or so ago by the king of France, who not only was greedy but short of funds. He coveted the treasures entrusted to the Knights Templars. The Order was the proto bankers of the Middle Ages: merchants and pilgrims on their way to and from Jerusalem entrusted their money to them. The French King’s ghastly PR operation worked; he got the Templars treasures and they were burnt at the stake.
The Temple Church was consecrated in 1185 and became the Templar’s headquarters in England. The churches’ round shape was inspired by that of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, where this order of soldier monks was founded. The Temple Church sustained extensive damage during the Blitz. Besides causing structural damage, the bombs also damaged the effigies inside. The section with eh altar and organ was an addition designed by Sir Christopher Wren, he of St. Paul’s fame, in 1666. The stained glass windows are beautiful and let in tons of natural light but detract from the medieval atmosphere I expected to find.
Recently, I was strolling around the City of London and my feet took me to the Temple Church again. A fool-proof way of finding it is as follows: walk along the Strand with your back to Trafalgar Square. Walk past the Royal Courts of Justice. Peer inside, the main hall is magnificent. Keep going. Walk past the Temple Bar Memorial (with Queen Victoria and a dragon on top). When the Strand becomes Fleet Street, look for a passage on your right hand between two shops and a sign that reads “This way to temple Church” and voilà!
Tea lovers may want to make a pit stop at the original Twining shop (216 Strand), founded over 300 years ago. You can buy tea and sample new and exotic varieties at the tea bar in the rear of the shop free of charge.
5 pounds grant you access to the Temple Church. If you’re impatient, you can see it in five minutes. However, amateur historians and curious visitors will stay a lot longer. This time round, the triforium (an upper gallery) was open to the public. So I climbed the narrow stone stairs and was rewarded with great views of the church.