Cyclists sweated. Black cabs swerved. Just east of the where the Strand turns into Fleet Street, beyond the 19th-century legal bookshop of Wildy and Sons , stood a small stone archway. Compared to the imposing structure above it — a timber-framed, Jacobean townhouse — it was almost unnoticeable. I turned in. Here, on tiny Inner Temple Lane, was a hidden world, one that was lovely, leafy and serene, overlooked by graceful Gothic and Victorian buildings and patchworked with gardens and miniature courtyards. In a sign of how historic and traditional this area is, his official title is Reverend and Valiant Master of the Temple.
In , Christian knights had just captured Jerusalem in the First Crusade. But even while the holy city was safe, the pilgrimage routes to get there were not. Travellers were routinely attacked, robbed and even killed. A handful of knights took monastic vows and devoted themselves to protecting the pilgrims and their routes.
In return, the king of Jerusalem gave them headquarters on the Temple Mount. The Knights Templar was born and they were soon world-renowned for their courage. If there was a disaster in battle, they were decimated. They also became extraordinarily rich. They were also the first to issue what today we would call cheques.
By , they were so wealthy they were able to buy the island of Cyprus. Little surprise then that by the midth Century they needed a grander headquarters for their London chapter. By , they had built Temple Church. The surrounding buildings dwarf it, making its dome invisible from just a short distance.
The circular nave in the west, which was built first, is just 17m in diameter. There is no elaborate gold gilding, no side chapels, no mosaic or paintings. But as a round church modelled after the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem there are only three others in Britain , Temple Church had one of the grandest claims of them all: to those in the Middle Ages, walking through it was the closest you could get to Jerusalem without actually undertaking the dangerous pilgrimage to get there. Inside, the round nave has the fortress-like walls, small windows and heavy, pointed arches of the early Gothic.
In the time of the Knights Templar, the painted walls and metal-plated ceiling would have shimmered in the candlelight. The floor was tiled. There were probably banners down the columns. And the windows, now mostly plain, may have been made of stained glass. It was in that lovely, light-filled environment that the English order of the Knights Templar would meet and worship. It was also here that they would be initiated into the order. The church is free to look inside, while guardians of the cathedral also offer guided tours of the magnificent building. People file past in their thousands to visit the nearby National Gallery and the Portrait Gallery without ever venturing in.
The 18th century church opens at 8. The grand east window, designed by Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris, is one of the best examples of stained glass you can hope to find in the capital too.
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Serves take place here daily from 8. The building itself is charming and deeply peaceful, but its the grounds that help make St Dunstan and All Saints really special. It's one of the very oldest churches in the city, sure to fascinate history buffs. It was rebuilt by master architect Christopher Wren after the great fire of London and it also suffered incredible damage during the blitz. It remains one of the original icons of the London skyline and still functions as a working church too.
Morning prayer begins at 7. Like so many landmarks, the church was severely damaged during the blitz. Thankfully though, the bombing damage was repaired in thanks to the donations of newspaper magnate Viscount Camrose. Visitors wishing to see inside the church today can enter for free, although the church do request a donation. Westminster Abbey is steeped in history. It's been the coronation church since , where William the Conqueror was crowned King of England. Oh, and because there's no Bishop, it's technically what's known as a 'Royal Peculiar'.
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