Temple Church

Note: New for this version

In late April, I went to Temple Church with my Magna Carta class.

It’s a late-12th century church built by the Knights Templar as their English headquarters in 1185. Its round structure is believed to be based on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

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With the recapture of Jerusalem by Crusaders in 1099, people throughout Europe began taking pilgrimages there. The Knights Templar was created in 1119 to protect the people who undertook this journey. King Baldwin II of Jerusalem granted the group a wing of the royal palace on the Temple Mount in a mosque they had overtaken. This mosque was believed to have been built on the ruins of the Temple of Solomon, which had been the instigator for Christians to take it.

At the beginning, the Templars relied on donations to survive, but soon they were officially approved and endorsed by the Roman Catholic Church. They became a favoured charity throughout Christendom receiving business, land, money and the sons of nobles. What had once been an order of nine knights, quickly became an order of between 15,000 to 20,000 men. In 1139, Pope Innocent II granted the Knights Templar a papal bull that exempted them from local laws. This meant they weren’t required to pay taxes, could cross borders and the only authority they had to submit to was the pope.

Though their order was based in the military, most of the Knights Templar weren’t combatants and controlled the finances and assisted the Templars from a base.

In about 1150, the Templars started generating letters of credit. It was dangerous to ride through the Holy Land with cash or valuables, so Templars came up with a way around it. The pilgrim would go to their local Templar headquarters, hand them their valuables and receive a document with the value. When the pilgrim arrived in the Holy Land they would go to the Templars, give them the document and receive valuables equal to the amount. It also had the benefit of making pilgrims less of a target for thieves.

The Templars established networks across Christendom, stretching throughout Europe and into the Middle East. They were involved in manufacturing, exports and imports, bought and managed vineyards and farms, owned a fleet of ships, built castles and cathedrals, such as Temple Church in London, and even owned the entire island of Cyprus.

It was consider an honour to be buried in one the temple churches. To some, it was like being buried in Jerusalem.

In the mid-12th century, the Muslim world, under Saladin and other leaders, became more united and the Christians in the Holy Land began to fall apart. The Templars were at odds with the Knights Hospitaller and the Teutonic Knights and these arguments weakened the Christian side militarily and politically. Jerusalem was recaptured by Saladin in 1187. The Christians, under the Holy Roman Emperor took it back in 1229. It returned to Muslim hands in 1244, and didn’t return to Western control until 1917. The Templars were forced to relocate to Acre, which was lost in 1291, followed by Tortosa and Atlit in present-day Syria and Israel respectively. They moved to Cyprus. In the early 1300s, Cyprus was taken from them and the Templars lost their foothold in the Holy Land.

In 1305, Pope Clement V proposed combining the Knights Templar and the Knights Hospitaller. Neither side was keen on the idea. In 1306, Clement V invited the Grand Masters to to Avignon, France to discuss the matter. Jacques de Molay, the Templar Grand Master arrived first in early 1307, but Fulk de Villaret, his counterpart, was delayed for several months. De Molay and Clement started talking about criminal charges that had been made two years earlier. It was agreed the charges were false, but Clement sent a letter to King Philip IV of France, asking for assistance. According to some, King Philip was in debt to the Templars for his wars against the England. Whether it’s true or not is up for debate. Either way, King Philip began pressuring Clement to take action against them.

On 13 October 1307, King Philip ordered de Molay and hundreds of other French Templars to be arrested. They were charged with denying Christ, engaging in homosexual acts, spitting on the Cross, worshipping idols, fraud, secrecy and corruption. Many confessed only under torture, causing uproar in Paris. Later, many Templars recanted their confessions.

In 1312, Pope Clement V officially dissolved the Order of the Knights Templar. Most Templar assets were given to the Hospitallers.

Jacques de Molay was burned at the stake in Paris on 18 March 1314. According to legend, as the flames burned around him, he said that Pope Clement and King Philip would soon meet him before God. Pope Clement died a month late and King Philip died of wounds gotten in hunting accident in November 1314.

With the leaders gone, the remaining Templars were arrested and tried or brought into the Hospitallers.

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When I was there the Globe Theatre was performing a production of King John there. We were walking among their sets and their lighting. I went back a couple days later and saw the production. It was fantastic.

I was not only looking at Temple Church for its historical value, but because of how the Globe had transformed it into a theatre space. I was working on a production prospectus for my theatre class, and I was trying to figure out how to put a version of Henry IV: Part 1 in a warehouse. I was looking it at in terms of ideas for a space because I had images from the Internet to pull from, but I was also hoping I could learn something that would help. It definitely gave me some more stuff to pull from while I was writing it.

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William Marshal, one of the best knights of the 12th century is buried here, as well as three of his sons.

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