The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

Jun 22, 2008

In the Temple

Last weekend, the sun dragged us out of the apartment all the way to the Inns of Court. After having pottered around Gray's Inn and Lincoln's Inn a few years ago, all that remained of the Temple hidden from our tramping feet were the Inner and Middle Inns. In particular, we wanted to check out the exhibition of effigies of old Templars at the lovely Round Church of St Mary.

It's a lovely, quiet part of London, particularly during the weekends. There are residences, law offices, judges' rooms, and large halls rented out to sundry parties for weddings and things. Graceful desi women in fancy saris glided by us towards one such marriage shindig, followed by portly desi men - doctors, evidently - with their blonde (nurses, I daresay) wives and blonde kids, all smiling at us politely. We didn't stick around to crash the celebrations. Instead, we headed to the round Church and allowed the boy to rampage around.

The first thing he noticed was the pillar outside the 12th century edifice with two knights on a horse. This, it turns out, is one of the traditional insignias of the Knights Templar, demonstrating both the fierceness of their fighting prowess and their vow of poverty.

Behind it was the English representation of Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Built by the Templars after the success of the First Crusade, it was consecrated in 1185. The area, owned by the Templars, became their headquarters in England.

An interesting question is how the hangout of a bunch of warrior monks became associated with the Law in the city. The full story is given here. Suffice it to say that under the Normans, only priests were allowed to handle legal matters - originally Church Law, but as their adjudications became precedents for Common Law, so did their jurisdictions expand to cover secular matters. Later, they were replaced by a lay order of lawyers, all of whom, for some reason congregated in the Temple area, establishing their halls of residence and practice.

The first mention of the law in the Temple dates from Wat Tyler's Peasant Rebellion of the 14th century, when the area was sacked and legal documents destroyed. In Terry Jones's excellent Medieval Lives, he points out that Tyler's people, contrary to the popular perception of the indigent and uneducated rabble that constituted medieval peasantry, were clearly well-read and conversant with matters of the law. They are said to have targeted the legal archives of the Temple with one purpose - to destroy title deeds and land registry records, so that they could be freed from the tyranny of the nobility which (after the Black Death) was trying to suppress their freedoms of movement and undermine their wages.

Inside the Church were 005effigies of famed Templars and other worthies. Sieur Geoffrey de Mandeville, one of the first earls of Essex, is one worthy. All around the walls are grotesque physiognomies of men. While their purpose is not entirely clear to me, they did provide a brief moment of levity for the boy. "Funny!" he said.

Hordes of Japanese tourists abounded in the edifice, clicking away, posing and speaking rapidly in hushed tones. We nipped out in orderly fashion, and pottered around a bit more. Doctor Johnson's Buildings were behind the church, famous for,well, Doctor Johnson. Rather nondescript buildings, I must hasten to say, but behind them is a much prettier quadrangle surrounded by taller red-brick halls. Here I saw an unexplained sculpture of two hands. If anyone knows what these are about, I'd love to be advised.


Post a Comment