In the mid 12th century, before the construction of the church, the Knights Templar in London had met at a site in
High Holborn in a structure originally established by
Hugues de Payens (the site had been historically the location of a
Roman temple in
Londinium, now known as London). Because of the rapid growth of the
order, by the 1160s the site had become too confined, and the Order purchased the current site for the establishment of a larger
monastic complex as their headquarters in England. In addition to the church, the new compound originally contained residences, military training facilities, and recreational grounds for the military
brethren and novices, who were not permitted to go into the City without the permission of the Master of the Temple.
Floor plan of the Temple Church
The church building comprises two separate sections. The original circular church building, called the Round Church and now acting as a
nave, and a later rectangular section adjoining on the east side, built approximately half a century later, forming the
After the capture of Jerusalem in 1099 by the Crusaders, the
Dome of the Rock was given to the Augustinians, who turned it into
a church (while the
Al-Aqsa Mosque became a royal palace). Because the Dome of the Rock was the site of the Temple of Solomon, the Knights Templar set up their headquarters in the Al-Aqsa Mosque adjacent to the Dome for much of the 12th century. The "
Templum Domini", as they called the Dome of the Rock, featured on the official seals of the Order's Grand Masters (such as
Everard des Barres and
Renaud de Vichiers), and soon became the architectural model for Round Templar churches across Europe.
The round church is 55 feet in
diameter, and contains within it a circle of the earliest known surviving free-standing
Purbeck Marble columns. It is probable that the walls and grotesque heads were originally painted in colours.
It was consecrated on 10 February 10, 1185
Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem. It is believed that King
Henry II (1154–1189) was present at the
View of (and from) the circular
in the round church of the Temple Church in London. Built by the
and consecrated in 1185.
The Knights Templar order was very powerful in England, with the Master of the Temple sitting in
parliament as primus baro (the first
in precedence of the realm). The compound was regularly used as a residence by kings and by
legates of the
Pope. The Temple also served as an early safety-deposit bank, sometimes in defiance of the Crown's attempts to seize the funds of nobles who had entrusted their wealth there. The quasi-supra-national independent network and great wealth of the Order throughout Europe, and the jealousy this caused in secular kingdoms, is considered by most commentators to have been the primary cause of its eventual downfall.
In January 1215
William Marshall (who is buried in the nave next to his sons, and is represented by one of the nine stone
 served as a negotiator during a meeting in the Temple between King
John and the
barons, who demanded that the king should uphold the rights enshrined in the
Coronation Charter of his predecessor and elder brother King
Richard I. Marshall swore on behalf of the king that the grievances of the barons would be addressed in the summer, which led to the signing by the king of
Magna Carta in June.
Marshall later became
regent during the reign of John's infant son, King
Henry III (1216–1272). Henry later expressed a desire to be buried in the church and to accommodate this, in the early 13th century the
chancel of the original church was pulled down and a new larger chancel was built, the basic form of which survives today. It was consecrated on
Ascension Day 1240 and comprises a central aisle and two side
aisles, north and south, of identical width. The height of the vault is 36 feet 3 inches. Although one of Henry's infant sons was buried in the chancel, Henry himself later altered his will to reflect his new wish to be buried in
After the destruction and abolition of the Knights Templar in 1307, King
Edward II took control of the church as a Crown possession. It was later given to the
Knights Hospitaller, who leased the Temple to two colleges of lawyers. One college moved into the part of the Temple previously used by the Knights, and the other into the part previously used by its clergy, and both shared the use of the church. The colleges evolved into the
Inner Temple and the
Middle Temple, two of the four London
Inns of Court.