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Templar Sites

of England and Wales

Temple Church, Cornwall

(TEMPLE mag 2, 1996)

By Dame Stella Bernardi D.G.O.T.
Chancellor of the Grand Priory of England and Wales

It was at the beginning of July last, whilst staying with a friend near Plymouth that we decided to visit Temple in the quest for knowledge of Templar sites. But first, our friend suggested a visit to Blisland which he knew had been highly recommended by John Betjeman. This was certainly an unusual place and true to John Betjeman's words "As a restoration - even improvement - of a medieval church, this can hardly be bettered." It was here that we found a card giving information about Temple church, part of the same united benefice; united that is, also with St. Breward's which we did not visit on this occasion. The card, which I copied out, gave the following information:

"Our sister church of Temple was built c1120. The Knights Templar (they protected pilgrims on the road between Jaffa and Jerusalem) possessed the land on which Temple church stands. The Order was suppressed in 1314 and the Knights Hospitaller took over the property. In 1340 the Community at Temple consisted of the Preceptor, one brother and two men servants. They provided hospitality for pilgrims crossing Bodmin Moor on to their way to places of pilgrimage abroad. Temple has always been sparcely populated, but its large churchyard is the site of the Community's property. At the reformation, Temple became adonative but in 1744 it was given glebe from Queen Anne's Bounty and it became a parish. Before then it was a sort of Gretna Green. The church was in ruins until 1883 when it was rebuilt by S. Trevail. The base of the tower, the tower arch, and the bowl of the font and pieces of masonry (set into the wall of the adjacent outhouse) are all that remain of the original church. There are stained glass windows to St. Catherine, St. Luke and St. Francis, and the east window depicts the shield of the Order. It is a most peaceful place where prayer should be made for all pilgrims and for the poor."

So we progressed towards Temple with much enlightenment. It proved to be in a very rural setting, hardly any village to speak of, only a few scattered farm cottages. The grass in the churchyard was long and as it had been raining did not do much good to our shoes and lower clothing! The church was unlocked and we entered in great anticipation, only to have our moment of elation shattered. It was dirty, damp, not quite derelict but obviously disused and sadly neglected. Remains of Christmas candles and flowers long past their sell by date were still in evidence. Perhaps they hold one service a year - at Christmastime! We were disillusioned. I wrote in the visitors' book, "It was sad to see a part of our Templar heritage so sadly neglected. It could be a beautiful gem." I added my full name and address and my connection with A.S.M.O.T.J. I hoped that someone might notice! Previous comments in the book were of similar ilk and others commented on there being no information available. They had obviously not been to Blisland first!

A week later I received a letter from a Mr. Smith from St. Austell who had visited after us, sending no less that 15 photos and saying "I visited Temple church soon after you and I noted well your most apt comments with which I am in total agreement. I'd like to write something about our mutual sadness for a local paper and perhaps someone will `pick it up' and do something to remedy this pathetic sight." He also asked for information about our Order which I was pleased to supply.

I wrote to the Rector of Blisland with Temple and St. Breward sending a donation to help with any restoration work which might be carried out. I also provided him with a card bearing the information gleaned from Blisland, to display in Temple church, where it is more needed, together with some smaller leaflets for people to take away. Presumptuous perhaps, but I felt it to be much needed. I sent a copy of our new TEMPLE magazine and told him that I intended to write an article about Temple church in the next edition, and was there any further information he could provide me with?

A week or two later I received another letter from Mr. Smith. He wrote "I mentioned our disappointment over Temple church to a friend a week or two ago and she told my wife that she visited Temple some 16 years ago and thought she had a little pamphlet about the church. This morning she arrived with it so I got it photocopied and enclose a copy for you. . . . . I am glad to know that the history is extant if out of print." This leaflet gives a fuller history than the card at Blisland. He also said he had written his article for the Western Morning News and awaited results.

In the middle of August I received a phone call from the Churchwarden of Blisland and Temple explaining that the Vicar had left and all mail had been forwarded to him. He had just returned my letter for the Churchwarden to deal with. He thanked me for my letter and my interest. Of the already sparse population the one family which cared for the church had moved away and a lady who had been most involved had died. It is not a redundant church. He told me that one service a month is held in the summer, St. Catherine's day is honoured (she is the patron saint) and there is a service at Christmas time, but none is very well attended. As there is no lighting or heating it would not be very inviting in the winter. The Churchwarden told me that the walls had been painted two years ago but the damp had taken its toll. He promised to send me a copy of a leaflet which should have been available at Temple. This he subsequently did, as well as a postcard of the church.

In September I received a copy of the Western Morning News which contained Mr. Smith's article. He got his publicity - including a little for us as he mentioned my visit there. I hope it bears fruit.

It must be extremely difficult to maintain a building of this nature even though it is quite small. It is nevertheless an important part of our heritage. Funding will need to be found from further afield than the local community if it is to be restored. Who better to help than the present Templars? Anyone wishing to make a donation please send a cheque for A.S.M.O.T.J. to the Castellan, `Templars' Lodge', 37 Priestly Way, Middleton-on-Sea, West Sussex PO22 6RR marking the envelope "Temple Church Restoration".

P.S. Since writing this article I have realised that it was not until after the Council of Troyes in 1128 when St. Bernard of Clairvaux drew up the formal Rule of the Knights Templar, obtained the Church's full backing for the Order resulting in rapid expansion throughout Europe and donations of land and money were received from wealthy patrons. It seems unlikely that the land in Cornwall where Temple church stands could have belonged to the Templars prior to 1128 and probably not for some time afterwards. However there is no reason to otherwise doubt its authenticity.

Below is the adaptation of the information found in Blisland Church which I did to be displayed in Temple Church.

TEMPLE CHURCH

"Temple church was built c1120. The Knights Templar (they protected pilgrims on the road between Jaffa and Jerusalem) possessed the land on which Temple church stands. The Order was suppressed in 1314 and the Knights Hospitaller took over the property. In 1340 the Community at Temple consisted of the Preceptor, one brother and two men servants. They provided hospitality for pilgrims crossing Bodmin Moor on to their way to places of pilgrimage abroad. Temple has always been sparcely populated, but its large churchyard is the site of the Community's property. At the reformation, Temple became adonative but in 1744 it was given glebe from Queen Anne's Bounty and it became a parish. Before then it was a sort of Gretna Green. The church was in ruins until 1883 when it was rebuilt by S. Trevail. The base of the tower, the tower arch, and the bowl of the font and pieces of masonry (set into the wall of the adjacent outhouse) are all that remain of the original church. There are stained glass windows to St. Catherine, St. Luke and St. Francis, and the east window depicts the shield of the Order. It is a most peaceful place where prayer should be made for all pilgrims and for the poor."

 

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