Orchestrated by a secret brotherhood, the Priory of Scion and protected by a military arm called the Knights Templar, Tom Hanks – I mean Robert Langdon – found himself flown to London, and held at gunpoint by a rogue monk demanding he solve one of the longest running religious secrets in history.
2,000 years of history, Hollywood film crews and a rounded honey-stoned church still bring visitors through the beautiful, religious heart of the medieval Inner and Middle Temple, two of England’s four ancient societies of lawyers the Inns of Court.
Yes, yes, The Da Vinci Code is a mystery novel by Dan Brown, but with 80 million copies sold worldwide, it’s also how I found myself clutching a modern paperback and admiring a 12th century Church in the centre of London. Cause that’s how I roll…
Nicknamed ‘the round church’ for the circular nave modelled as an homage to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, where Jesus is said to be buried, Temple Church is an oasis of tranquility and peace just minutes from the busy chaos of Fleet Street. Except when the Da Vinci Code fans invade with their excitement and clicking cameras hoping to catch sight of the historical building.
I visited many moons ago on a grey, foggy day and still had my breath caught by the stunning simplicity of the stone structure. Originally the walls would have been a riot of colour with scenes from the bible, but after surviving the Great Fire of London and the Blitz (during which one of the stone effigies lying on the floor had it’s face melted ala Hans Solo in Star Wars) they are no longer apparent, and the bare beautiful stone shows off the stunning simplicity of design of Temple Church, one of only five surviving round churches in England.
Built by the Knights Templar, the order of crusading monks and pious noblemen founded to protect pilgrims on their way to and from Jerusalem in the 12th century, the Templars founded an international banking system to fund their enterprises. Fast-forward a few years and cash-strapped Royalty allegedly found themselves unhappily dependent on the finance schemes.
Even though the Templar Knights became known for their wealth and power, their beginnings were actually just the opposite. The design on their seal showing two knights on horseback reflected that in the beginning they often rode two knights to a horse, because they were too poor to afford a horse for each knight. A unique order of monks, the Templar Knights were soldier-monks who took vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.
But, one of my favourite stories related to the Inns and by proxy their church is of Lord Stowell, an eighteenth-century barrister who, according to Robin Griffith-Jones – Master of the Temple and head clergyman at the Temple Church, was ‘fantastically good at organising parties. Every year the Christmas party got wildly out of hand and he was disbarred as a punishment, but come October they needed somebody to organise the party so he was invited back again. It took him
15 years to qualify.’
I do still wonder at how the gargoyles feel at being famous on the silver screen?
There was a quietly steady stream of visitors the day that I crossed the threshold, but as I have a well-documented Church obsession it’s nice sometimes to know that I’m not the only crazy.
Unfortunately, some of London’s best kept secrets are week day only and this includes Temple Church – it is definitely worth a visit though (and then perhaps following Langdon’s footsteps to Westminster Abbey to solve the search for the Holy Grail.)