Essential Architecture-  Architecture in the Da Vinci Code

The Temple Church


refurbished by Christopher Wren


between Fleet Street and the River Thames








Relevance to the Da Vinci Code:

Collet arrives at the castle, but Sophie, Langdon, the bound Silas, Teabing, and his servant, Rémy, escape and board Teabing’s private plane to England. Sophie realizes that the writing on the cryptex is decipherable if viewed in a mirror. They come to understand the poem, which refers to “a headstone praised by Templars” and the “Atbash cipher,” which will help them arrive at the password. Langdon remembers that the Knights Templar supposedly worshipped the god Baphomet, who is sometimes represented by a large stone head. The word, unscrambled by the Atbash Cipher, is Sofia. When they open the cryptex, however, they find only another cryptex, this one with a clue about a tomb where a knight was buried by a pope. They must find the orb that should have been on the knight’s tomb. 

Fache realizes that Teabing and the rest of them are in the jet. He calls the British police and asks them to surround the airfield, but Teabing tricks the police into believing that there is nobody inside the plane but himself. Then he goes with Sophie, Langdon, Rémy, and Silas to the Temple Church in London, the burial site of knights that the Pope had killed. 

The Temple Church is a late 12th century church in London located between Fleet Street and the River Thames. It was originally constructed as the church of a monastic complex known as the Temple, the headquarters in England of the Knights Templar. The Temple was the scene of important negotiations leading to the signing of Magna Carta in 1215. After the destruction of the Templar order in the early 14th century, the Temple became Crown property and was let to two groups of lawyers that evolved into the Inner Temple and Middle Temple, which are two of the four Inns of Court. The two Inns both use the church, which is famous for its effigy tombs. It was heavily damaged during the Second World War but has been largely restored. The area around the Temple Church is known as "Temple" and nearby is Temple tube station. It was also featured in the controversial "alternative history" novel the Da Vinci Code by American author Dan Brown.

Design and Construction

The Temple Church today.

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 Hughes de Payens. Because of the growth of the order, by the 1160s the site had become too confined, and the order purchased the property of the current site for establishment of a larger compound. 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.

The church building comprises two separate sections. The original nave section, called the Round Church, and an adjoining rectangular section, built approximately half a century later, called the Chancel.

The Round Church

In keeping with the traditions of the order, the nave of the church was constructed on a round design based on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The nave is 55 feet in diameter is surrounded by the first-ever free-standing dark Purbeck marble columns. It is probable that the walls and grotesque heads were originally painted in colours.

It was consecrated on February 10, 1185 in a ceremony by Heraclius, Patriarch of Jerusalem. It is believed that Henry II was present at the consecration.

Marble effigies of medieval knights in the Temple Church.

The Round Church contains the marble effigies of nine medieval knights, the most famous of whom is William Marshal, who is enshrined next to his sons. In January 1215 William served as a negotiator during a meeting in the Temple between King John and the barons, who demanded that John uphold the rights enshrined the Coronation Charter of his predecessor Richard I. William swore on behalf of the king that the grievances of the barons would be addressed in the summer, leading to John's signing of Magna Carta in June. William later became regent during the reign of John's son, Henry III, who later expressed a desire to be buried in the church.

The Chancel

In response to Henry III's desire to be buried in the church, in the early 13th century, the choir of the original church was pulled down and a new larger structure, now called the Chancel, was built. It was consecrated on Ascension Day 1240. Although Henry later altered his will with instructions to be interred in Westminster Abbey, one of his sons, who died in infancy, is buried in the Chancel.

The chancel comprises a central aisle and two side aisles of identical width. The height of the vault is 36 feet 3 inches. During the bombing raid in World War II (see below), the dark Purbeck marble columns of the Chancel cracked from the intense heat. Although they still supported the vault, they were deemed unsound and replaced by replicas. The original columns had a light outward lean, an architectural quirk which was duplicated in the replacement columns.

Early Use by the Templars

The order was very powerful in England during its existence. The Master of the Temple sat in parliament as primus baro (the first baron 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 depository bank, sometimes in defiance of the Crown's wishes to seize the funds of nobles who had entrusted their wealth there. The independence and wealth of the order throughout Europe is considered by most historians to have been the primary cause of its eventual downfall .

Later History

The interior of the Round Church in the early 19th century.

After the destruction and abolition of the Knights Templar in 1307, Edward II took control of the church as a Crown possession. It was later given to the Knights Hospitaller, who rented the Temple to two colleges of lawyers. One college moved into the part of the Temple previously used by the Temple's knights, and the other into the part previously used by its priests, and they shared the use of the church. The colleges evolved into the Inner and Middle Temples, two of the four Inns of Court.

In 1540, the church became the property of The Crown once again when Henry VIII abolished the Knights Hospitaller in England and confiscated their property. Henry provided a priest for the church under the former title "Master of the Temple". In the 1580s, the church was the scene of the Battle of the Pulpits, a theological conflict between Calvinists and supporters of the Church of England.

Following a later agreement in 1608 by James I, the two Inns were granted the use of the church in perpetuity and continue to use the Temple as their chapel to the present day.

The church went undamaged in the Great Fire of London in 1666. Nevertheless, it was refurbished by Christopher Wren, who made extensive modifications to the interior, including an altar screen and the introduction of an organ to the church for the first time. The church was restored again in 1841 by Smirke and Burton, who decorated the walls and ceiling in the high Victorian Gothic style, in an attempt to bring the church back to its original appearance.

On May 10, 1941, during the height of the Battle of Britain, a German air raid of incendiary bombs set the roof of the Round Church on fire, and the fire quickly spread by wind to the nave and chapel. The organ and all the wood of the church, including the Victorian renovations, were destroyed. During the renovation, it was discovered that the renovations made by Wren in the 17th century were in storage and were replaced in their original position. The church was rededicated in November 1958.

Music at the Temple Church

The organ in the Temple Church.

The organ in the Temple Church.

The church has had a number of famous organists, including the blind organist and composer John Stanley (appointed by the Inner Temple in 1734). A choir in the English cathedral tradition was established at the Temple Church in 1842 under the direction of Dr E J Hopkins, and it soon earned a high reputation. Hopkins was succeeded as organist and Director of the Choir in 1897 by Sir Henry Walford Davies. Walford Davies was in turn succeeded by Sir George Thalben-Ball who held the post from 1923 to 1982. For just three musicians of such distinction to have served between them for a total of 140 years at the church is remarkable.

In 1927, the Temple Choir under Thalben-Ball became world famous with its recording of Mendelssohn's Hear my Prayer, including the solo "O for the Wings of a Dove" sung by Ernest Lough. This became one of the most popular recordings by a church choir of all time, and it sold strongly throughout the twentieth century, reaching gold disc status (a million copies) in 1962 and achieving an estimated 6 million sales to date.

The choir continues to record, broadcast and perform, in addition to its regular services at the Temple Church. The present Director of Music is Stephen Layton. He was chosen by the composer to give the world premiere of Sir John Tavener's epic "The Veil of the Temple", which took place over seven hours during an overnight vigil in the Temple Church at Easter 2003.

The Temple Church's excellent acoustic has also attracted non-church musicians: Paul Tortelier made his recording of the complete Bach Cello Suites there in 1983.

Shakespeare and the Wars of the Roses
In the 16th century play Henry VI, part 1 by William Shakespeare, the church is depicted the scene of the start of the 15th century Wars of the Roses, which in the play began with the plucking of two roses in the Temple garden. In 2002, the Shakespearian tradition was commemorated with the planting of new white and red roses in the modern gardens.

Current Use
The Temple continues to offer regular church services, including Holy Communion on Sunday morning. It also offers regular choral music performances and organ recitals.

The church always has two clergy, called the Master and the Reader respectively. The title of the Master of the Temple recalls the title of the head of the former order of the Knights Templar. The present Master of the Temple is the Reverend Robin Griffith-Jones, appointed in 1999. The Master gives regular lunchtime talks open to the public - recently some of which have been on the subject of the church's role in the controversial novel Da Vinci Code.

The official title of Reverend Robin Griffith-Jones is the "Reverent and Valiant Master of the Temple." He will be releasing a book on the facts of the 'Da Vinci Code,' debunking certain elements of the novel. He will be starting a book tour in New York in April 2006. His book will be available on

The Temple Church choir is an all-male choir, consisting of 18 young boys and 12 professional men. They perform weekly at Sunday services, 11:15-12:15 PM, including special services, such as the monthly communion service, held the last Sunday of every month.

The Temple Church holds weddings, but only for members of the Inner and Middle Temple Inns of Court (two of the four London Inns of Court, the other two being Lincoln's Inn and Gray's Inn). The Temple Church is a member of both the Inner and Middle Temple and enjoys access to the Inner Temple Gardens, which overlook the Thames River.

List of recent Masters of the Temple
Rev'd Robin Griffith-Jones 1999- 
Rev'd Canon Joseph Robinson, BD MTh FKC 1980-1999 
Very Rev'd Robert Milburn, MVO 1968-1980 
Rev'd Canon Theodore Milford, MA 1958-1968 
Rev'd Canon Harold Anson c.38 

Temple Church exterior.


Close-up of knight effigy.

Detail of ten knights.

Thanks to 

Plan view.