Victorian London - Buildings, Monuments and Museums - Temple Chapel

    I am somewhat of an antiquity hunter, and am fond of exploring London in quest of the relics of old times. These are principally to be found in the depths of the city, swallowed up and almost lost in a wilderness of brick and mortar; but deriving poetical and romantic interest from the commonplace prosaic world around them. I was struck with an instance of the kind in the course of a recent summer ramble into the city; for the city is only to be explored to advantage in summer time, when free from the smoke and fog, and rain and mud of winter. I had been buffeting for some time against the current of population setting through Fleet-street. The warm weather had unstrung my nerves, and made me sensitive to every jar and jostle and discordant sound. The flesh was weary, the spirit faint, and I was getting out of humor with the bustling busy throng through which I had to struggle, when in a fit of desperation I tore my way through the crowd, plunged into a by lane, and after passing through several obscure nooks and angles, emerged into a quaint and quiet court with a grassplot in the centre, overhung by elms, and kept perpetually fresh and green by a fountain with its sparkling jet of water. A student with book in hand was seated on a stone bench, partly reading, partly meditating on the movements of two or three trim nursery maids with their infant charges.
    I was like an Arab, who had suddenly come upon an oasis amid the panting sterility of the desert. By degrees the quiet and coolness of the place soothed my nerves and refreshed my spirit. I pursued my walk, and came, hard by to a very ancient chapel, with a low-browed Saxon portal of massive and rich architecture. The interior was circular and lofty, and lighted from above. Around were monumental tombs of ancient date, on which were extended the marble effigies of warriors in armor. Some had the hands devoutly crossed upon the breast; others grasped the pommel of the sword, menacing hostility even in the tomb! - while the crossed legs of several indicated soldiers of the Faith who had been on crusades to the Holy Land.
    I was, in fact, in the chapel of the Knights Templars, strangely situated in the very centre of sordid traffic; and I do not know a more impressive lesson for the man of the world than thus suddenly to turn aside from the highway of busy money-seeking life, and sit down among these shadowy sepulchres, where all is twilight, dust, and forgetfulness.

source: Washington Irving, The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, 1825


The old church of the Knights Templars - St. Mary's - is built after the fashion of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem. The view given above is taken from the Norman rotunda, where are the Templars' monuments, and shows the handsome Early English choir, 58 feet by 82 feet, which was added some fifty five years after the rotunda, in 1240. The choir (which is owned by the legal corporations known as the Inner and Middle Temple) is not open to the general public during the services. These services are very popular, for the clergy associated with the Temple are generally distinguished men, and the music is invariably fine. The Church stands in the Inner Temple, which is within the precincts of the City. It was restored 1837-42 at a cost of some £70,000.

source: The Queen's London, 1896


The Rotunda of the Temple Church is a Norman building that dates from 1185. It is 58 feet in diameter and is entered through an an extremely fine Norman archway. The public are admitted to the Round Church during divine service, but the adjoining choir (see page 30.) is reserved for the barristers of the Inner and Middle Temples and their friends. In the Rotunda the lawyers used to receive their clients. The nine dark marble monuments on the floor in full armour are those of Templars of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries: and one of the four to the left of our picture represents the Earl of Pembroke, King John's brother-in-law and Regent during the minority of Henry III. These fine effigies were restored, like the rest of the Temple Church, in 1837-42.

source: The Queen's London, 1896