The Temple Church was consecrated in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary on 10 February 1185 by Heraclius, Patriarch of Jerusalem.
The whole Temple community had moved from an earlier site in High Holborn, considered by the 1160s to be too confined. The church was the chapel serving the London headquarters of the Knights Templar, and from them it took its name. The Templars – as the knights were popularly known – were soldier monks.
After the success of the First Crusade, the order was founded in Jerusalem in a building on the site of King Solomon’s temple. Their mission was to protect pilgrims travelling to and from the Holy Land, but in order to do this they needed men and money. For more details of the Templars and this early history of the Church, see The Round Church, 1185.
The London Temple was the Templars’ headquarters in Great Britain. The Templars’ churches were always built to a circular design to remind them of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem, a round, domed building raised over the site of the sepulchre where Jesus was buried. At first, the Templars were liked and respected. St Bernard of Clairvaux became their patron and they gained many privileges from popes and much support from kings.
In England, King Henry II was probably present at the consecration of the church; King Henry III favoured them so much that he wished to be buried in their church. As a consequence of this wish, the choir of the church was pulled down and a far larger one built in its place, the choir which we now see. This was consecrated on Ascension Day 1240 in the presence of the king. However, after Henry died it was discovered that he had altered his will, and he was buried in Westminster Abbey.