Mystery Worshipper: Sinterklaas
Church: The Temple Church
Location: Temple, London
Date of visit: Monday, 29 March 2010, 5:45pm
A late 12th century church built by the Knights Templar as their headquarters. The nave is round and was based on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Undamaged by the Great Fire of London in 1666, the church was nevertheless extensively renovated by Christopher Wren in the 17th century and again in the 19th century. It was heavily damaged during World War II but was restored, with many of Wren's alterations that had been placed in storage brought out again. The church is simply stunning! There is a long quire with round gathering space at the west end, where today's service took place, and lots of medieval style glass. There are several grotesques – unusual to see them inside – featuring silly human faces and a goat in an academic cap. There are also 10 effigies of Knights Templar lying on their backs in a variety of poses. It was once thought that these were tombs, but no bodies were ever discovered.
Shakespeare knew this church and included it in a scene in Henry VI, Part One. The church also figures prominently in Dan Brown's controversial novel The Da Vinci Code. In 1608, two of the four Inns of Court were granted use of the church in perpetuity. To this day it is still the main chapel for those who work in the Temple area. It also functions as an Anglican parish church, with regular worship services and choir performances. Very law community, very establishment.
The Temple Church is located between Fleet Street and the River Thames, within the area known as the Temple. Barristers' chambers and solicitors' offices can be found everywhere, as well as some notable legal institutions.
The Revd Robin Griffin-Jones, Master of the Temple.
What was the name of the service?Choral Evensong.
How full was the building?
Some 75 people, many tourists and mostly elderly.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A verger smiled as he handed me the books.
Was your pew comfortable?
Most of us sat on the stone ledges in the round, but there were folding chairs available in the centre as well. It was surprisingly comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet, serene. The organist played a quiet Brahms piece and the choir did a rendering of Victoria's O vos omnes.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
We sang hymn 300, "Be Thou My Guardian," from Hymns Ancient and Modern, Revised.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
1662 Book of Common Prayer.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ and portativ.
Did anything distract you?
There was one tourist with a very noisy camera who wasn't embarrassed about using it!
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Very middle Anglican, not high, no Signs of the Cross or bowing, but very formal. Much chanting. There were lots of collects: for the Queen, for lawyers, etc.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The men's voices sang Tallis' Trisagion with a warm, pure sound and acoustic.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The language of the prayers was so arcane that it made me smile and then feel sad that this is what visitors think Anglican worship is like.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
A friendly lady passed out Holy Week service notices. Some of us loitered about the quire but no one tried to herd us out. It was all very relaxed.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The Master of the Temple took time to shake hands with each person at the door.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – I think I would appreciate the music if today's offering were indicative of their regular fare. Also, I understand that the Master is a preacher of note.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, I felt glad to be in a long line of tradition. I do wish, though, that the prayers were more direct in addressing the needs of the world and those gathered, rather than just law people. Yet this is, after all, the chapel of the Temple community.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The vivid stained glass.