Vic Keegan’s Lost London 44: the hauntingly beautiful Temple Church

by Victor Keegan

On March 15, 1927, the choir of Temple Church recorded O For The Wings Of A Dove by Felix Mendelssohn with a 15-year-old boy called Ernest Lough as the soloist. Young Ernest is believed to have had to stand on a couple of books in order to reach the microphone. The recording became a global hit, one of the first to reach a million sales – incredible for classical record in those days. It eventually sold nearly seven million copies. For many years afterwards, visitors from around the world flocked to the site of the original recording. Lough was one of the church’s loyal parishioners, and is buried in its yard. 

More recently, Temple Church has achieved notoriety by being featured in Dan Brown’s bestselling thriller The Da Vinci Code and its movie adaptation, thereby attracting yet more hordes of visitors, albeit for fictional reasons. This is all for the good, otherwise tourists would be unlikely to stumble across this marvellous building hidden in the time warp of the Inns of Court, whose outside walls date back to its consecration in 1185.

The church served the Knights Templar, who were military monks pledged to protect pilgrims making their to the Holy Land. The order was founded on the site of King Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem, the model for other circular churches the Templars built in the big cities of Europe. At first, the knights were backed by popes and kings, but eventually the huge wealth they accumulated – which effectively meant they were the world’s first international bankers – attracted enemies. Edward II confiscated the London Temple and later Henry VIII did the same. James I granted the Temple Church in perpetuity to the emerging Inns, as long as they maintained the edifice – which they do to this day.

Among the dignitaries buried in this hauntingly beautiful church – as a horizontally laid statue – is William Marshal (c 1147-1219), a legendary warrior who helped the hapless King John govern England for a time after he took the throne in 1199. Marshal was a comparatively poor knight who ended up as the first Earl of Pembroke and Regent of England, serving under no less than five Angevin kings altogether. He was largely responsible for saving the dynasty of the Plantagenets, which would survive for 250 years.

Previous instalments of Vic Keegan’s Lost London can be found here, and Vic’s book of London poems can be bought here

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