Friday, August 8, 2008
Visiting temples, cathedrals or churches is part of my not-so-top-secret equation for an awesome vacation: house of worship+historical cemetery+local pub+botanical garden+local oddity+art and natural history museum=a trip where I do not let anyone sleep because there is SO MUCH TO SEE!
I admit I'm a whipcracker on vacation.
When my husband and I spent 3 1/2 weeks in London, Temple Church was high on our list of visiting priorities. We knew about this place long before The Davinci Code came out and though I am not personally a huge fan of the book, it was cool to see this church in the film later. In the U.S., anything over 100 years old is considered ancient. When standing in Temple Church, it blew my mind that it was built in 1185. It is one of only a handful of round Normal churches in England. The history is long and complicated and I will not attempt to go into it here, but this church was built by the Knights Templar in the time of the crusades. Later, the round part of the temple was constructed and this is where initiation rites took place. The stone knights in the floor are not graves (though this is a common misconception); they are simply effigies with mysterious positioning of the figures, the symbology of which has never quite been figured out.
Other interesting symbols can be found in the older part of the church where the effigies are. Typically, gargoyles are on the outside of buildings and sometimes serve as water spouts. In the case of Temple Church, however, the gargoyle faces appear inside the church and symbolize the evils of hell that await unrepentant sinners. Here, some sort of demon gnaws on an unfortunate soul's ear.
I think one of the most exciting things about this church is that it was somewhat difficult to locate. It is down an alley off Fleet Street in the financial district. There is a sharp contrast once you head down the alley away from the business suits and delicatessens. Nuns brushed past us as we traveled down the cobbled walk and suddenly the whole area opens up and there it is. It was actually quite shocking to see this huge open courtyard behind modern London buildings.