Christopher Wren at the Temple Church

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Wren's classicising Restoration

In 1682 Christopher Wren was commissioned by the Inns to refurbish the Church. He transformed it, as best he could, into a classical building. He mounted a screen to divide the Round from the Chancel, and on the Chancel’s side of the screen he installed an organ. The Round was now isolated from the main body of the Church. It had long been used – and still was – for lawyers’ professional conversations with each other and with clients. St Anne’s Chapel on its south side still blocked much of the light from the sun; the screen now blocked out the light from the chancel. The effigies were still (until 1702) laid out in a single row across the Round, blocking any processional route from the west door. The Round, then, will have been an extension to the cloisters with the added charm of being, in antiquarian eyes, a mausoleum or shrine to the knights of old. The ‘real’ entrance to the church will have been at the organ-screen, the Round’s dark, medieval air giving way to the light, classical splendour of the chancel.

At the east end Wren created a characteristic altarpiece. To understand it, as to understand all such constructions in his City churches, we need to remind ourselves once more of Jerusalem. Our concern is with the Jerusalem Temple itself, which had stood on the Temple Mount and was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. At its highest levels, to which only Jews were admitted, one came first, from the east, to the Court of the Israelite People. Inwards and to the west from this was the Court of the Priests, open to the sky, which held the great altar of sacrifice. And westwards beyond this in turn, behind a vast curtain, was the Temple’s roofed building itself, divided into two areas: the outer was the Holy Place entered daily by priests (and only by priests) in which the seven-branched candlestick stood and the incense was burnt; the inner, westwards again and beyond another veil, was the Holy of Holies, a pure cube, into which only the High Priest ever entered and only on the Day of Atonement. Here (in Solomon’s Temple) sat the Ark of the Covenant which held the tablets of the Law, was topped by the mercy-seat and was flanked by cherubim.

In the Temple Church, as elsewhere, Wren recreated such a sanctuary. The two tablets of the Law, given to Moses, had been placed in the Ark of the Covenant within the Holy of Holies; the two panels of Wren’s reredos contained the Ten Commandments, which were protected by the overhanging pediment. The Ark had functioned as the ‘mercy-seat’, covering the Tablets and sprinkled with blood on the Day of Atonement; the altar in front of Wren’s reredos was the mercy-seat of the new covenant and its bloodless sacrifice of thanksgiving. On each side of the mercy-seat had stood a cherub with outstretched wings; above the Decalogue Wren placed two cherubim. The hall and the Holy of Holies had been lined with wood and decorated with carvings in wood of cherubim, palm-trees, knops and open flowers; swags of wheat, fruit and flowers adorned the Temple Church’s wooden reredos.

Until 1695 a Latin inscription over the Round’s door into the cloisters recorded the consecration of the church by Heraclius in 1185. But two traditions, apparently independent of each other, evoke a quite different – and legal – history. First, John Weever wrote of the foundation of the Temple Church.  Dunwallo Malmutius, King of Britain,

called the Temples which hee built, the Temples of peace and concord: one of which was in London, where now Blackwell Hall is, another in Fleete-Street, as yet called the Temple Church, wherein (or in some of them) himselfe, Gorbomannus, and other of the British kings, were interred, as by supposition it is delivered. ….The first Founder hereof [of the Church] is not certainly recorded, some hold that it was built by Dunwallo Malmutius, about the year of the world’s creation 4748 the precincts whereof he made a sanctuary …. Besides these priviledges unto Temples, hee constituted divers good lawes. Of which he writ two books, the one called Statuta municipalia, the other Leges iudiciariae. …He reigned forty years, died the year of the world’s creation 4768, and was buried in this place, with other of the British Kings.

J. Weever, Ancient Funerall Monuments (London, 1631), pp 181, 441.

These links between Dunwallo and the Temple Church could still be deployed in the eighteenth century. Edward Hatton acknowledged them in his New View of London, London 1708, and Boydell’s print of the chancel, c. 1750 draws for its text on Hatton: ‘There is a tradition that the church was founded by Dunwallo Malmutius, a British King Anno mundi 4748.’

The second tradition surfaces on an advertisement for a stationer’s shop in the church’s west porch. At the top is the porch, with the motto ‘Legibus Serviens, Deo Servit’ (Who serves the Laws, serves God’.  Under it are the Round’s effigies and tomb-stone in two groups of five, between which is inscribed, ‘Troes fuimus.’ The allusion is to Parthus, lamenting the fall of Troy: ‘Fuimus Troes, fuit Ilium’ / Gloria Teucrorum’ (Vergil, Aeneid 2. 325-6). Thus the advertisement recalls the story of Brute, who escaped from the sack of Troy and made his way to England. And Brute was a figure as important as Dunwallo for those researching – with clear political and constitutional agenda – the history of England’s laws. The effigies and the space in which they lay, already linked with Dunwallo and his laws, could be re-imagined to evoke the origins, far more ancient still, of English nationhood and English law.

We are in the realm of ‘the British History’, popularised (and perhaps in good measure invented) by Geoffrey of Monmouth.  A summary of a few of its claims may be useful. The Trojan Brute escaped from Troy’s destruction (when Eli was priest in Israel, c. 1170 BC), made his way to England and founded the city that would become London; after a division of his kingdom between his three sons (into England, Scotland and Wales), his eldest son re-united the kingdom into one. Later kings included Lear. The dynasty changed with the usurping king Dunwallo Malmutius. Julius Caesar invaded after some fifty kings of the Molmutine dynasty had reigned.

The lawyers of Inner and Middle Temple had taken formal possession of the Church in 1608. Within decades a story of the Church’s role in England’s law is gaining ground. At issue was not mere antiquarianism. As the century’s constitutional crises came to a head, it was clear that the British History could be deployed to great advantage by those who traced the origins of Common Law – and the source of its current authority – back beyond the Norman Conquest to an immemorial past.  Such law countered and outweighed all Stuart absolutism. Edward Coke of Inner Temple, in the seventeenth century the most authoritative voice in English law, argued in the preface to his Third Reports (1602) that the common law had been the law of England ‘time out of mind of man’; the common law and its officers preceded the Norman Conquest, and such law ‘was not altered or changed by the conqueror.’ Coke was suspicious of the ancient history being claimed by chroniclers, but not of the principle:

If you will give any faith to them [annalium scriptoribus], let it be in those things they have published concerning the honour and antiquity of the common laws: first, they say that Brutus, the first King of this land, as soon as he had settled himself in his kingdom, for the safe and peaceable government of his people, wrote a book in the Greek tongue, calling it the Laws of Britain, and he collected the same out of the laws of the Trojans. The laws of England are of much greater antiquity than they are reported to be, and than any the constitutions or laws imperial of Roman Emperors. Now, to return to our chronologers, they farther say that 441 years before the incarnation of Christ, Mulumucius of some called Dunvallo M. of some Dovebant, did write two books of the laws of the Britons, the one called Stat. Municipalia, and the other Leges Judiciariae, for so the same do signify in the British tongue…the statute law and the common law. 

-       Edward Coke

Preface to the Third Reports, Reports (as n. 41), II, xiv, xviii-xix (cited by Weever, Monuments, 441, on Dunwallo’s laws).

The laws of Brute and Dunwallo embodied the immemorial common law which took historical and so legal precedence over any claims of royal prerogative which had been introduced by William the Conqueror or his Stuart heirs.

What mattered in the crises of the 1620s would matter again as resistance grew to James II, and in the new dynasty would come to a resolution. The Temple Church as a shrine to Dunwallo was in the 1620s a shrine to England’s ancient laws; and in the 1680s and 1690s the Inns incorporated these laws and this church into their own narrative of the long-lasting constitutional crisis.

Passage through the Round evoked the passage from King Brute and Dunwallo into the splendour of the present Inns. The kings of venerable, primordial law were acknowledged, absorbed into the development of English law and so left behind. The shadows of primordial law and its heroes were dispelled, as the viewer walked eastwards through the church towards its Holy of Holies, inspired by Solomon, wisest of judges and greatest of kings. When we celebrate the law’s history here, we are following where our forebears trod.

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Battle of the organs

Soul of the world! – so Purcell addresses music in his Ode to St Cecilia 

Thou tun’st this World below, the Spheres above,
Who in the Heavenly Round to their own Music move.

With that sublime Celestial Lay
Can any Earthly Sounds compare?
If any Earthly Music dare,
The noble Organ may.

Wondrous machine!

The Temple Church only narrowly escaped destruction in the Great Fire of 1666. The Round was scorched, the buildings immediately to the East and South were burnt down. In the 1680s the Inns refurbished their Church in classical style under the direction of the greatest architect of the day: Christopher Wren, whose first marriage had in 1669 been celebrated in the Church. The Inns agreed on the installation of a new organ, but not which organ-builder to use. In February 1683 the Treasurers commissioned an organ from each of the two leading organ builders of the time: Bernhard Smith (1630-1708) was Middle’s candidate and Renatus Harris (1652-1708) was Inner’s. The organs were to be installed in the halls of the Middle and Inner Temple where they were to be played and judged. However, Smith successfully petitioned the Treasurers to install his organ in the Church instead, on a screen dividing the Round from the Chancel. The advantage was short-lived. Harris obtained approval to place his organ at the opposite end of the Church, on the south side of the communion table.

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Father Smith’s organ was installed at the west end of the Chancel, 1687-8, on the screen and wall built by Christopher Wren to separate the Chancel and the Round.

The finest organists were engaged to show off the instruments. The candidates were put to great expense as the competition intensified and the instruments became more elaborate. The Honourable Roger North, Treasurer of Middle Temple in 1684, was apparently told ‘that the partisans for each candidate, in the fury of their zeal, proceeded to the most mischievous and unwarrantable acts of hostilities; and that, in the night preceding the last trial of the reed stops, the friends of Harris cut the bellows of Smith’s organ in such a manner that when the time came for playing upon it no wind could be conveyed into the windchest.’

The contest was brought to a close in 1688 when Judge Jeffreys, formerly of Inner Temple, judiciously decided in favour of Middle’s candidate, Smith. The price, for not the largest of instruments, was the considerable sum of £1,000. (It did include, however, ‘the curtaine rods and curtaines’.) In spite of defeat, Harris’s reputation was greatly enhanced; he used the materials from his Temple organ in instruments made for St Andrew’s, Holborn and Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.

Smith’s instrument at the Temple was the first three manual organ in England and incorporated the newest trends in organ building, such as the ‘quarter notes’ which enabled the organ to play in keys which – due to the tuning system – had previously been undesirable.

The Inns and their organ attracted some of the most famous players in England. Francis Pigott remained in post as Organist here when he was appointed Organist of the Chapel Royal in 1697. In 1734 the blind prodigy John Stanley was appointed Organist to Inner Temple when he was only 21; he remained in post for 52 years, for the last few of which he was also Master of the King’s Band. It was not uncommon for forty or fifty organists – including Handel – to be gathered in the Church to hear him play.

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Father Smith’s agreement, 25 May 1688, to maintain for the next seven years the organ he had built for the Church, for a salary of £20 per annum. On the same day Francis Pigott was retained as Organist for seven years.

But let my due feet never fail,
To walk the studious cloysters pale,
And love the high embowed roof,
With antick pillars massy proof,
And storied windows richly dight,
Casting a dimm religious light.
There let the pealing organ blow,
To the full voiced quire below,
In service high, and anthems cleer,
As may with sweetnes, through mine ear,
Dissolve me into extasies,
And bring all Heav’n before mine eyes.

John Milton (1608-1674), Il Penseroso, 155-66, set to music by Gabriel Jackson for the rededication of the Temple Church Organ, 7 May 2013. was commissioned by the Temple Music Trust.

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John Stanley, Organist to Inner Temple, 1734-86. Stanley, blinded at the age of two, became a child prodigy. He was a friend of Handel. In the 1770s he revived Handel’s practice of annual performances of Messiah for the benefit of the Foundling Hospital.

Temple Church Organists

Among the most striking names – if not now the most famous – on the board celebrating our Organists is that of Emily Dowding, Organist to Inner Temple, 1796-1814.