On 25th and 26th June a group of about 20 scholars, all working on images and ideas of the medieval Jerusalem, gathered in London for the first of two AHRC-funded workshops as part of the Remembered Places project.
As part of our activities, we took a stroll down to one of the older Western European copies of Jerusalem, the Temple Church, which has stood near the River Thames since 1185. If the building looks surprisingly spry for something so old, that may be because it was pretty much destroyed in 1941 during the Blitz.
The Temple Church aims to recall Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre through its distinctive round nave. The ’roundness’ of the anastasis rotunda in Jerusalem (the domed site of the Resurrection) is one of its most frequently-invoked mnemonic facets. The Temple is one of several similar ’round’ churches built by the military orders, the Knights Templar and the Knights Hospitaller. The Knights Templar built their London church just outside the medieval city walls, on a site which would have then overlooked the river and would have been part of a large monastic complex. The Temple church was consecrated in 1185, by the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Heraclius (d. c. 1190), a French-born crusader bishop about whom we know little apart from gossip and hearsay – he was said to have lived openly with a young woman from Nablus, and fathered at least one child. He is also said to have offered the kingdom of Jerusalem to Henry II of England, who was possibly present at the consecration of the Temple Church, and who turned the offer down.
The Temple Church was actually one of two round churches in medieval London, as the Hospitallers had a similar building, now vanished, at their site to the north (in the Lincoln’s Inn/High Holborn area). Very similar churches exist in Cambridge, Garway near Hereford and Northampton (about which I’ll post in due course) and all over Europe – but not all are connected to the Templars. In fact, the ’round nave’, so often thought about as a piece of distinctly crusader iconography, was a much more widespread mnemonic cue – not only suggested the Jerusalem rotunda, but also the roundness of the earth, the all-encompassing nature of Christ’s Life and Passion, and the perfection embodied in the circle: in medieval thought, the circle represented divine infinity, wholeness and the unbroken compass of sacred space.
Inside the Church, the similarity to the Jerusalem rotunda is striking, with a breath-taking sense of height and space. Whilst it cannot be compared to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in terms of size and scale, or the gloomy darkness of that building, the ‘copy’ strives for a image based on eye-witness much more than other representations gathered on this blog.
Later on, the Templars were repressed, as the relevance of the Crusade faded and the Order amassed power and wealth. They were accused of sodomy, and worshipping cats. The Church was seized around 1307 and became used, as it remains today, as part of a college of lawyers.