The Round was in use by 1163, and was consecrated in 1185. It is probably the earliest Gothic building in England. It is modelled on the round Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, the site of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. To the medieval mind Jerusalem was the centre of the world. To be here in our Round Church was to be ‘in’ Jerusalem, at the Sepulchre itself, at the centre of centre of the world.
The Round, then, was designed to be London’s Easter Garden, the place above all others of new life and new hope. The Round represented, during the crusades, the divisions betweenthe Abrahamic faiths. The Inns and Church are now working hard to bridge those divisions, to promote genuine and generous encounters of respect and understanding.Events with these aims have become part of the Church’s fabric: an exhibition and accompanying events, Lawyers without Rights: German-Jewish Lawyers under the Third Reich; a commemoration of The Liberation of the Camps, at the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Belsen; a series of seven evenings dedicated to Islam and English Law, launched by Archbishop Rowan Williams’ famous lecture on sharia in the UK. Add public discussions of indefinite detention, legal aid and courts funding; and lectures by successive Chairs of the Bar. An introduction to Magna Carta and its legacy is still provided to visitors and jurists almost every month. And all of this is woven into and around our services, gloriously enhanced by the choir and set in one of the most historic, numinous and uplifting buildings in London.
The Church is a vital part of the Inns’ imaginative vision of public outreach. To live in harmony, diverse and divergent communities – nowhere more widely disparate than in London – need to share an acknowledged foundation to their common life. The Church is a living testament to the values which have for centuries inspired justice and fairness, and can inspire such values today.
The Church still exists to represent and realise the new life of Easter within the framework of laws that work equally for the protection of all. ‘Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other’ (Psalm 85: 10)
George Sandys (1578-1644) of Middle Temple, Treasurer of the Virginia Colony, and brother of Edwin Sandys, visited Jerusalem. He was so touched by the Holy Sepulchre that he composed this hymn then and there.
Saviour of mankind, Man, Emmanuel:
Who sinless died for Sin, who vanquished hell.
The first fruits of the grave. Whose life did give Light to our darkness:
in whose death we live.
O strengthen thou my faith; correct my will,
That mine may thine obey: protect me still,
So that the latter death may not devour
My soul sealed with thy seale. So in the hour
When thou whose Body sanctified this tombe, Unjustly judged,
a glorious judge shalt come
To judge the world with justice; by that sign
I may be known, and entertained for thine.
For a fuller account of the Round Church and it's links to Jerusalem, please click here.