Temple Bruer

Tunnel System Excavations Part 1.

Part 1. Excavations at other Templar sites.

The Round Church of the Knights Templar at Temple Bruer, Lincolnshire.

By W.H St.John Hope Esq.M.A.

21ST MAY 1908.

One is sorely tempted in writing upon matters connected with the Knights Templars to say something monstrous about the persecution and terrible sufferings which the unhappy brethren of the order endured, during the opening years of the fourteenth century, at the hands of the infamous King of France, a more wicked pope, and even a king of England, as an excuse for bringing about their suppression.

When the order first came to England is uncertain, but probably shortly after 1130, the first house being settled on the south side of Holborn on a site between the present chancery lane and staple inn.

Seeing that there were between thirty and forty preceptories (as they were called) of the Templars in this country at the time of the suppression of the order in 1312, it is curious to that so few of their buildings should be left, and it is not as if the suppression had been followed by the destruction of the preceptories; on the contrary, with but few exceptions, they were passed on intact with the grant of the landed possessions to the kindred Order of the Knights of the hospital of St John of Jerusalem, which used and enjoyed them until it in turn was suppressed in the sixteenth century. A few churches have indeed survived, with here and there an odd building or so, but of the nature and arrangement of a preceptory of the Knights Templar we are still in the dark.

The account rolls of the processions of the order, now in the public record office, while they were in the receivers hands before their grant to the hospitallers, contain numerous inventories of the contents of the preceptories, which show that the buildings included a church or chapel, off times a set of lodgings ,and always a kitchen and a hall, with usual adjuncts such as a larder, bakehouse, brewhouse, cellar etc. But these are only the average components of an ordinary manor house of the period, and there is no evidence of a chapter house, though such seems to have been the usual, or of a common dorter.

At the London temple however, the buildings included a dortorium, a name affording interesting transition from latin dormitorium to the usual English form ‘dorter’.

Since the Templars did not use nor live in a cloister, like monks and regular canons, there is no mention of such, even in the statutes of the order, but we may assume that ample use was made of that favourite medieval structure the pentise, to pass under cover from building to building.

Whatever was the model from which they were imitated, and on this there is some difference of opinion, there can be no doubt that the earliest churches of the order, in this country and elsewhere, were circular in plan, with an aisleless presbytery eastward. The smallness of the presbyteries may perhaps be explained by the fact that as the brethren were unlettered they did not keep the quire offices like monks or canons who could read, but were dependent upon a chaplain or chaplains for the performance of divine service. Since, too, they were uncloistered, the number of knights who were at home was constantly changing.

That the old temple in Holborn had a round church we know in the first place from a statement by John Stow.

Stows statement was fully confirmend in 1875,during excavations for the building of the London and County Bank. A plan made by Mr.Zephaniah King, kindly lent to me by Mr. Walter Spiers, shows that there was then discovered the concrete foundation, 5 and a half feet broad, of a circular wall of 20 feet internal diameter, and upon it the bases of six round pillars, each 2 feet 9 inches across and resting on a square plinth. These evidently belonged to the nave of the old Temple, and give it an approximate length of about 22 and half feet, and a probable diameter of 45 feet for the round part of the church. Unfortunately no note seems to have been made of any possible remains of the outer wall or of the preceptory.

The circular nave of the church of the New Temple, or so much of it as has escaped the restorers is well known. Its total internal diameter is 57 feet, and of the arcade 29 feet. Like the Old Temple church it has only six arches. Opening out of the nave by three arches on the east is a later quire with north and south aisles ,which was hallowed in 1240; but the side arches are insertions of the same date as the new quire, and the church originally had a aisleless presbytery entered by the existing middle arch. The foundations of it were discovered during the restoration of 1841 serving as sleeper walls beneath the three western bays of the later work, but no transverse wall was met with eastwards. It may therefore be assumed that the first presbytery was three bay long and terminated in an apse. The church in its original form was hallowed by Heraclius, the patriarch of Jerusalem, 10th Feb.1185-6.

The remains of another church of the Templars were uncovered on the western heights of Dover about a century ago, and are engraved in the 11th volume of Archaeologia Cantiana. As there figured they consist of a circular nave, 35 feet in diameter, with a square ended presbytery with side walls slightly converging towards the east, where they are 13ft apart. I do not know whether search was made for an internal arcade, but such must have existed.

The foundations were still in existence when I visited them some twenty five years ago.

Besides Temple Bruer, in Goughs edition (1789) of Camden’s Britannia is the following note of the preceptory at Aslackby, Lincs :

‘Here was a round church,now rebuilt as a farmhouse, and still called the temple. The embattled square tower remains at the south end, of two stories, the upper open to the roof till lately enclosed and fitted up as a chamber by Mr. Douglas, the owner; the lower a cellar vaulted with groined arches, on whose centre were eight shields.’

Mr. Fane and I paid a visit to Aslackby in Easter week, but found no other trace of the Temple than the large keystone with the shields of arms, and a number of architectural fragments built into a modern house. The tower mentioned by Gough was standing so lately as 1891, when it fell down on the eve of its being repaired. A lot more architectural fragments were then removed to the garden of Mr Smith at Horbling where they are piled up rockwork wise.

How many other round churches the Templars built in England is at present impossible to say , but it would certainly be worth while making a systematic examination of every available site, at any rate of those of early foundations. Later on the round plan seems to have been abandoned, and the early thirteenth century chapel of Swingfield Preceptory, not far from Dover, is rectangular. So to is the chapel at Temple Balsall, in Warwickshire.

Besides the Templars, the Hospitallers or Knights of the Order of St John of Jerusalem also built round naves to their churches, and part of the foundations of that of their great church at Clerkenwell was uncovered in 1900 and may still be seen. The original presbytery, as the existing crypt of it shows, was narrow and aisleless, and of three bays with an apsidal end.

The church of the Hospitallers preceptory at little Maplestead, founded about 1185, still retains its round nave and apsidal chancel, but the original arcade was rebuilt early in the fourteenth century, probably to carry a belfry.

In addition to the circular naved chapel in Ludlow castle which I described to the society a few weeks ago there are two more churches in this country which have round naves, at Cambridge and Northampton respectively. Both these are parish churches, and both are dedicated in honour of the Holy Sepulchre, which no doubt accounts for their plan. The Northampton church which is the older, was built before 1116, in which year it was given to St Andrew’s Priory. The Cambridge church has been so hopelessly restored that it is difficult to say much about it, but it is apparently of a date circa 1130. Neither church had any connexion with either of the orders that built round naves, and the same may be said of the Ludlow Castle chapel.



Dare you wear awearness?



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