Nestling amongst the angular shapes of 20th century architecture is a haven of peace brought about by war.
“The City of Churches had in one night become the city of ruins.”
Lord Mayor, Alderman Thomas Underwood
During World War II Bristol become a target for the Luftwaffe. As one of the main ports with rail connections and an important industrial centre it was the victim of six major bombing raids between the 24th November 1940 and 11th April 1941. 89,080 buildings were damaged or destroyed, 1,299 people were killed and 1,303 were seriously injured.
On Sunday 24th November 1940, 148 aircraft of the Luftwaffe left Northern France en route for the city docks and the aeroplane factory. 135 aircraft reached Bristol dropping 156,250 kg of high explosive bombs, 4,750 kg oil bombs and 12,500 incendiaries. The Mediaeval centre was the victim of this six hour raid, four ancient churches were reduced to ruins, including the Temple Church.
View from Temple Gardens
In the 1130s the Order of the Knights Templar, a monastic order founded for the protection of pilgrims while on route to Jerusalem, built a monastery in Bristol on land donated by Robert, Earl of Gloucester. The Templars built their churches round in homage to the church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is located in the Old City of Jerusalem. Though round church architecture was not unique to Templars. The Round Church in Bristol was known as the Holy Cross and the capital for the Order in the South West.
Excavated foundation location of the original 12th century Rotunda
During the Crusades the Templars travelled from Bristol to Europe and the Mediterranean as financiers, entrepreneurs and military. The church was enlarged and the area was an important business centre for the woollen trade. By the early 14th century the Knights Templar had lost their reputation and fallen out of favour. In 1313 the Holy Cross Church was transferred to the Knights Hospitaller, another military order. They carried out new building work on the church, transforming it into a rectangular church and adding two rectangular chapels. St Nicholas on the South side and St Catherine on the North side. It was Edward I who granted the Bristol Company of Weavers their own chapel in the Temple Church, St Catherine is the patron saint of weavers. St Catherine was also a saint venerated by the Templars.
The first three stages of the bell tower were built in the late 1390s but unfortunately it began to lean westwards, due to the alluvial clay subsoil, as a result work stopped. In 1460 the stone masons strengthened the foundations and completed the final stage, allowing for the lean so that it would appear vertical. Their work has proved to be unsuccessful and the tower leans 1.6 meters from the vertical.
View the of the leaning tower and the Portland stone Gothic Revival archway located on Temple Street off of Victoria Street
Rear view of the Portland stone Gothic Revival archway
The porch of the church can be found via a grade II listed Portland Stone Gothic Revival archway, with a pair of wrought iron gates in the wider central arch. Above the centre arch is a carving of the Agnus Dei, the Lamb of God, on a shield hanging from a ring. This visual imagery denotes a past connection to both military orders.
An octagonal stair turret on the left between the north aisle and the nave, extending up behind the round-arched doorway
Mid-Georgian porch to the nave with Corinthian pilasters. Round-arched doorway with an acanthus key
Above the Corinthian pilasters is a segmental pediments with a cartouche inside and an urn on the top
Decorated traceried windows in the long Chancel with the St Catherine’s chapel to right and St Nicholas to the left
The embattled south aisle with large early perpendicular windows
The church was built of Pennant rubble, a native stone of the Bristol area. The exterior walls are dressed with Bath stone ashlar and is now preserved as an open shell; the roof and the glass perished in the Blitz. The only relics savaged from the ruins were a medieval candelabrum, one of only fifteen surviving from this period. It now resides in the Berkeley Chapel Bristol Cathedral. The font and a 15th century bell are located at the Holy Cross Church (21st C) Filwood Park Bristol. The 18th century Sword-Rest and the wrought-iron parclose screens from the side chapels can be found in the Lord Mayor’s chapel of St Mark’s Hospital Church Bristol. These items were made by William Edney the renowned Bristol blacksmith, his work can also be seen in St Mary Redcliffe.
The Temple Church was the first parish church to be owned by the Ministry of Works as an Ancient Monument and listed as Grade II*. The management of the church was transferred to English Heritage in 1984. The churchyard was given to the City of Bristol as a public park in 1955. It contains the remnants of a lime tree avenue, which was planted in the 18th century when the church was refurbished. The Temple Gardens with its roses and trees is an oasis of calm to escape the busy city.
The photos and artwork are from the author’s own collection.