Last updated on February 13th, 2021
Chapter Thirteen London
The Temple Church
As Dan Brown tells us in The Da Vinci Code, the Temple Church dates back to 1185. However, although the ground plan of the original structure remains unchanged, the restorers, and particularly those of the nineteenth century, have ensured that, as the architect Walter Godfrey said, “every ancient surface was removed or renewed.” It is thought that the church, which was built by the Knights Templar at the same time as their great house, was modeled not on the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, as Brown claims, but on the circular design of the Dome of the Rock.
The church is built in what is known as the Transitional style. Purbeck marble, from Dorset in southern England, has been used liberally. The consecration of the church was carried out by Heraclius, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, in the presence of King Henry II and it was dedicated to the Blessed Mary. A small chapel was built which was dedicated to St. Anne. All that remains of it now is its crypt in which secret initiation ceremonies were performed. In 1950 another basement chapel was found which is thought to be the Knights Templars’ treasury. The church also has a penitential cell where Walter-le-Bachelor, the Grand Preceptor of Ireland, was left to starve to death for having disobeyed the Master of the Order.
Following the decline of the Templars in the fourteenth century, their property was handed over to the Knights Hospitallers who leased the Temple to lawyers until Henry VIII took the property over. King James I gave the freehold of the church to lawyers on condition that they maintained it and its services forever. To this day, the appointment of the chaplain or Master is the prerogative of the Monarch and not the Bishop of London.
Sir Christopher Wren, to whom Dan Brown refers as “the Temple Church’s most famous benefactor,” was called upon to “beautify” the church in 1682 and this is when the battlements and buttresses were added. At this time the church was being used by lawyers and a clerk ofthe Temple, John Playford, set up a music shop in the West Porch where Samuel Pepys, the famous diarist, bought sheet music of the latest songs.
Much of the refurbishment that took place in the nineteenth century was destroyed in the Blitz, and therefore, contrary to what Brown writes, the church did not come through the Second World War unscathed. Several of the figures of the Crusader knights which had lain in the church were also damaged, but they have been well restored. The east windows were also destroyed in the bombing.
There are four “Inns of Court” in London -Lincoln’s Inn (founded in 1422), Middle Temple (1501), Inner Temple (1505), and Gray’s Inn (1569). They have the exclusive right of admitting people to the English bar and each is referred to as an “Honourable Society.” King James I gave the freehold of the church to the lawyers -the southern half to those of the Inner Temple and the northern half to those of the Middle Temple. The condition was that they maintain the church and its services in perpetuity. To this day it is the custom for the barristers of the Inner Temple and the Middle Temple to occupy their respective halves of the church.
A church has stood on the present site of Westminster Abbey in London since the seventh century, when King Sebert of the East Saxons founded it. At that time it would have been built on Thorney Island. Now the island does not exist as the Thames has narrowed, absorbing the island into the mainland. The church was apparently founded on the instructions of St. Peter, who appeared at the consecration of the Church by Melitus, its first bishop. The church is shown in the Bayeaux Tapestry to have a central tower, transepts and a lead roof.
The Abbey was built by Edward the Confessor and consecrated in 1065. To honor Edward, Henry III vowed to build a more impressive Abbey in the Gothic style, leaving only a few parts of the original structure. From the thirteenth to the sixteenth centuries, English kings contributed to the design with the result that it has become a hodgepodge of styles. In this way it rather resembles the present British royal family, which also originates from a large number of sources and which has long used the Abbey as a “parish church” for weddings, coronations, and funerals. However, as Dan Brown tel.ls us in The Da Vinci Code, the Abbey’s identity is that of neither a cathedral nor a parish church, but is what is known as a “royal peculiar” under the jurisdiction of a Dean and Chapter, subject only to the Sovereign. The entrance is at the side of the church, in the North Transept, although on the abbey’s floor plan, it appears to be on the left-hand side.
King Edward the Confessor dedicated the church to St. Peter at the request of Pope Leo IX. William I ( the Conqueror) of Normandy, France was the first King to be crowned in the abbey. He defeated the English King Harold at the Battle of Hastings. The coronation took place on Christmas Day 1066 and the native English gathered around the door shouting their praises. The jumpy Normans misinterpreted this and William was quaking in fear for his life throughout the ceremony. After the coronation, the Normans attacked the crowds and set fire to some buildings. This did nothing to improve Anglo-French relations, which have always been on the shaky side.
Since this time, all British monarchs have had their coronations at Westminster Abbey, with the exceptions of Edward V and Edward VIII. Many are also buried there. The new building of the church was influenced greatly by churches that King Henry III had seen in France, such as those at Amiens, of which it is particularly reminiscent, and Saint-Chapelle in Paris. It was, in fact, described by Antoine Pevsner, the Russian-born French painter and sculptor, as the “most French of all English Gothic churches.”
Much of the church, including the Chapter House, was completed by 1254. In 1413 Henry IV had a fit in the Abbey while he was praying, and was carried into the Jerusalem Chapel where he died. In Henry IV, Part II, Shakespeare mentions this and, for added effect, shows Prince Henry trying on the crown while his father lay dying.
In 1540 the monastery was dissolved and the funding that the Abbey would have received was transferred to St. Paul’s Cathedral; hence the expression “robbing Peter to pay Paul.” At this point, the Abbey became a cathedral. The soldiers of Oliver Cromwell, who had Charles I executed and ruled England as Lord Protector from 1653-8, later occupied the Abbey. There they “broke down the rails before the Table and burnt them in the very place in the heat of July but wretchedly profaned the very Table itself by setting about it with their tobacco and all before them.” Cromwell was also buried in the Abbey, but during the Restoration his body was dug up, beheaded and buried at the foot of the gallows at the traditional hanging venue of Tyburn, near what is now Marble Arch in London.
In the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, Sir Christopher Wren, who designed so many of London’s churches following the Great Fire of 1666, restored parts of the Abbey. From the eighteenth century onwards, so many monuments and statues were erected in the Abbey that the actual architectural form of the Abbey has become obscured.
The tomb of Sir Isaac Newton
As we know from The Da Vinci Code, Sir Isaac Newton is buried at Westminster Abbey. He is in good and illustrious company. The English dramatist and lawyer, Francis Beaumont (1584
1616), who is also buried in the Abbey wrote:
Think how many royal bones
Sleep within these heaps of stones
Here they lie, had realms and lands
Who now want strength to stir their hands.
At the time that he wrote this, most of those who were buried at the Abbey were of royal blood. The earliest are said to be of King Sebert and his wife. It was King Richard II who started the practice of burying distinguished commoners in the Abbey and since that time many high-ranking warriors, scientists, musicians, poets, clergy, politicians and reformers have found their final resting place here. Geoffrey Chaucer was the fh-st poet to be buried in the Abbey in 1400. Ben Johnson, the contemporary of William Shakespeare and fellow poet, is also buried here. It is said that Johnson asked for a grave in the Abbey, but was impoverished and did not want to give the impression that he was asking for too much. Therefore he said, “Six feet by two feet wide is too much for me; two feet and two feet do for all I want.” So he was buried standing up.
In the part of the Abbey known as Poets’ Corner, most of the poets who are commemorated here are not buried in the Abbey. In fact many of them were considered to lead wasteful and decadent lives and in such cases it was not until several years after their deaths that they were deemed worthy of commemoration at all.
The monument to Sir Isaac Newton is in the area known as Scientists’ Corner. It was designed by William Kent (1685 1748) and sculpted by Michael Rysbrack (1694 -1770). It is made of white and grey marble. The sarcophagus has apanel showing boys using Newton’s mathematical instruments. Above the sarcophagus there is a reclining figure representing Newton with his right elbow leaning on several of his better known works. With his left hand he points to a scroll depicting a mathematical design which is held by two boys. In the background there is a globe which shows the astrological signs of the zodiac and the constellations and it traces the path of the comet which appeared in 1680.
The Latin inscription on the monument translates as follows:
Here is buried Isaac Newton, Knight, who by a strength of mind
almost divine and mathematical principles peculiarly his own
explored the course and figures of the planets, the paths of the
comets, the tides of the seas, the dissimilarities in rays of light, and,
what no other scholar has previously imagined, the properties of the
colours thus produced. Diligent, sagacious and faithful in his expo-
sitions of nature, antiquity and the holy Scriptures, he vindicated
by his philosophy the majesty of God mighty and good, and
expressed the simplicity of the Gospel in his manners. Mortals
rejoice that there has existed such and so great an ornament of the
human race! He was born on 25th December 1642 and died on
20th March 1726/7.
(Translation from G.L. Smyth The Monuments and Genii
of St. Paul’s Cathedral, and of Westminster Abbey (182 6),
Newton was buried at the Abbey on March 28, 1727 and had an honored funeral. He lay in state in the Jerusalem Chapel and most of the Fellows of the Royal Society attended the funeral. His pall bearers were the Lord Chancellor, two dukes and three earls.
The Chapter House
The Chapter House is .situated in the East Cloister. It was built from 124 5 -1255 and was the location of the Great Council of King Henry III on March 26, 1257. It was also used from the
middle of the fourteenth century until 1547 between the reigns of Edward I and Henry VIII, as the House of Commons. For that reason the Chapter House is not under the control of the Dean and Chapter, but belongs to the Crown. After that it was used to store documents until 1866. It is an octagonal building housing some beautiful but worn sculptures. It has a reputation for having one of the finest tile floors in England.
Before the Reformation, the Cloisters were a center of great activity in the monastic Abbey. They were used for meditation and exercise, as well as for access to other parts of the monastery. In those days, the East Cloister was used as the place where the Abbot used to hold what was called “the Maundy.” It occurred on the Thursday before Easter Sunday and the ceremony involved the Abbot washing the feet of thirteen elderly monks. The day is still known as Maundy Thursday. It is the day when the Sovereign gives Maundy Money (in pounds and pence) to old soldiers known as the Chelsea Pensioners, who live in Chelsea Royal Hospital on King’s Road. In pre-Reformation days the Abbot gave each man three pence, seven red herrings, some ale and three loaves of bread. At the same time, in the South Walk in a similar demonstration of humility, monks washed the feet of children where you can still see their Maundy seat, “a faire, long bench of stone.”
St. Faith’s Chapel
This building was named after a third century virgin who was martyred for being a Christian by being roasted over a gridiron. She was a cult figure in England and France in the thirteenth century and the Chapel was built in the 1250s. There is a thirteenth century wall painting here of St. Faith wearing a crown and holding the implement of her martyrdom, the gridiron.
The Pyx Chamber
The Chamber was built between 1065 and 1090, and was probably made into a treasury in the thirteenth century. It was probably also used as a sacristy during the time of Henry III during the rebuilding of the main Abbey. The tiled floor depicts mainly heraldic subjects. During the time of Edward I, the Pyx Chamber formed part of the Royal Wardrobe, but it was burgled in 1303 while the King was in Scotland and money and silver plate were stolen. Because of this, the present double-oak security doors at the Chamber entrance were built, and provided enough security for the storage of valuables which belonged to the Exchequer. The two large rectangular chests in the Chamber, dating from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, must have been constructed inside the room.
The main purpose of the Pyx Chamber came to be housing wooden boxes where samples of the coinage were kept, awaiting what was known as the “Trial of the Pyx.” This was a public demonstration of the purity of the metal used in the coinage, in which sample coins were melted down and the silver content measured. The Trial itself was held in the Palace of Westminster and is still carried out to this day at Goldsmiths’ Hall in the City of London.