Temple Church, Bristol

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Coordinates: 51°27′07″N 2°35′13″W / 51.452°N 2.587°W / 51.452; -2.587

Temple Church
Temple Church Bristol Jan10.jpg
Temple Church, Bristol
Temple Church, Bristol is located in Bristol
Temple Church, Bristol
Location within Bristol
General information
Town or city Bristol
Country England
Coordinates 51°27′07″N 2°35′13″W / 51.452°N 2.587°W / 51.452; -2.587
Construction started 12th century

Temple Church, also known as Holy Cross Church, (grid reference ST5972) is a ruined church in Redcliffe, Bristol, England. It is on the site of a previous, round church of the Knights Templar, which they built on land granted to them in the second quarter of the 12th century by Robert of Gloucester. In 1313 the Knights Hospitaller acquired the church, following the suppression of the Templars, only to lose it in 1540 at the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries. By the early 14th century, the church served as the parish church for the area known as Temple Fee. From around the same time, the rebuilding of the church on a rectangular plan started. This was completed by 1460, with the construction of a leaning west tower.

The church was the scene of the exorcism of George Lukins conducted by Methodist and Anglican clergy in 1788.[1]

The church was bombed and largely destroyed in the Bristol Blitz. It is a Grade II* listed building,[2] owned by the Diocese of Bristol. In 1958, English Heritage agreed to undertake a guardianship role. A 1960 excavation by the Ministry of Works discovered the plan of the 12th-century church, enabling it to be marked out on the ground in stone.[3]

Early history[edit]

The 12th-century church was a Templar preceptory, built on land granted to the Templars by Robert, Earl of Gloucester, sometime in the two decades before his death in 1147.[3]

The Knights Hospitaller acquired the church in 1313, following the suppression of the Templars. The Hospitallers lost their English properties to the Crown in 1540, and in 1544 the church was acquired by Bristol Corporation.[3]

The parish of Temple Fee had come into being by 1308, the first year in which the church was recorded as having a vicar.[3] Temple Fee and Redcliffe Fee were distinct parishes, physically separated by a "Law Ditch".[4] Both were absorbed into Bristol by the city charter of 1373, ending a dispute between Bristol and Somerset over jurisdiction.[5] Temple parish merged into St Mary Redcliffe parish in 1956.[6]

World War II bombing[edit]

The church was bombed on 24/25 November 1940 in the Bristol Blitz, leaving it an empty shell. The damage was severe and although the arcades still stood they were very unsafe and have since been removed. The wrought-iron parclose screens to the side chapels did survive and are today in the Lord Mayor's Chapel. The sword rest by William Edney is now preserved but broken up into sections and re-erected in other churches.[7] The 15th century candelabrum, with its central statue of the Virgin Mary also survived, albeit a little dented, and now hangs in the Berkeley Chapel of Bristol Cathedral.[8]

The bombing destroyed the stores of records kept in the cellars.[9]

Listed status[edit]


It was the first English parish church to be taken into ownership by the then Ministry of Works, and is today in the care of English Heritage. It is a Grade II* listed building.[10] The archway and gates, which date from the mid 19th century and made from Portland stone and wrought iron in a Gothic Revival style, are themselves Grade II listed.[11]

The church is a scheduled monument.[12]


Pre-World War II view of the leaning tower, from the south

The 12th-century church had a round nave, with an aisle arcade, and a chancel with a semicircular apse. This chancel was replaced with a rectangular one, with a chapel added to its north side in Decorated style, in the late 13th or early 14th century. A second chapel was built later in the 14th century, on the south side, to which Perpendicular windows were added in the 15th century. These chapels have been identified respectively as St Katherine's Chapel, granted to the Bristol company of weavers by Edward I in 1299, and a chantry licensed to John Frauceys the younger by Edward III in 1331.[3] Cloth weaving was the staple industry of Bristol in the late Middle Ages, and its centre was in Temple parish.

The round nave was replaced with a rectangular, aisled nave, in early Perpendicular style, completed around the last decade of the 14th century. The nave arcade was extended into the choir of the chancel.[3]

A free-standing bell tower seems to have existed until the early 15th century, further to the west. The present, leaning west tower was built in stages, and completed between 1441 and 1460. The highest stage is at a different angle to the vertical to the lower stages, as the masons attempted to correct for the subsidence of the lower stages. The top of the tower leans 1.64 metres (5 ft 5 in) from the vertical.[3] It is 114 feet (35 m) high. The lean is popularly attributed to the foundations of the tower being built on top of wool-sacks but is most likely due to the soft alluvial clay underneath being compressed.[8]

2015 performance event[edit]

The temporary sound performance space devised by Theaster Gates.

From 29 October to 21 November 2015,[13] the church hosted Sanctum, a performance event created by the American installation artist Theaster Gates together with the art group Situations, as part of Bristol 2015 European Green Capital.[14] A temporary, steepled auditorium was built inside the church, using salvaged historic materials from elsewhere in Bristol, designed to amplify the sounds of musical and other performances taking place 24 hours a day for 24 days.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hannah More: the first Victorian. E. and H. Hosford, Printers. Retrieved 31 December 2007. Mrs. Easterbrook was probably the recently widowed mother of the Revd Joseph Easterbrook, vicar of the Temple church in Bristol and on of the most prominent clergymen in the city. In June 1788 he had been controversially involved in an incident which a tailor named George Lukins, from the Mendip village of Yatton, had claimed to be possessed by demons. He and six 'Wesleyan' ministers performed an exorcism in front of a great crowd in the Temple church, after which Lukins was described as calm, happy, and thankful for his deliverance. 
  2. ^ Historic England. "Temple Church, Remains (1291644)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 1 November 2015. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Brown, Stewart (2008). "Excavations at Temple Church, Bristol: a report on the excavations by Andrew Saunders, 1960". Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society 126: 113–29. 
  4. ^ Davenport, Roger; Leech, Roger; Rowe, Mike. "55–60 St Thomas St, Redcliffe, Bristol: Excavations in 2006". In Watts, Martin. Medieval and Post-Medieval Development within Bristol's Inner Suburbs. Cotswold Archaeology. pp. 1–5. ISBN 978-0-9553534-4-4. 
  5. ^ Ross, C. D. (1955). "Bristol in the Middle Ages". In MacInnes, C. M.; Whittard, W. F. Bristol and its Adjoining Counties. Bristol: British Association for the Advancement of Science. p. 187. 
  6. ^ Gray, Irvine; Ralph, Elizabeth, eds. (1963). Guide to the Parish Records of the City of Bristol and the County of Gloucester. Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society. p. 37. 
  7. ^ Burrough, THB (1970). Bristol. London: Studio Vista. ISBN 0-289-79804-3. 
  8. ^ a b "Holy Cross (Temple Church)". Church Crawler. Archived from the original on 17 May 2005. Retrieved 28 July 2006. 
  9. ^ Price, Roger. "Marriages at Temple Church, Bristol" (PDF). Bristol and Avon Family History Society. Retrieved 21 October 2015. 
  10. ^ "Temple Church". Images of England. English Heritage. Retrieved 28 July 2006. 
  11. ^ "Archway and gates to Temple Church". Images of England. English Heritage. Retrieved 28 July 2006. 
  12. ^ "Scheduled Ancient Monuments in Bristol" (PDF). Bristol City Council. Retrieved 7 May 2007. 
  13. ^ a b Judah, Hettie (20 October 2015). "Theaster Gates: 'If the city is ill, then I have a subject, a patient'". The Independent. Retrieved 30 October 2015. 
  14. ^ Brown, Mark (20 July 2015). "US artist Theaster Gates to help Bristol hear itself in first UK public project". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 October 2015. 

Further reading[edit]

  • The cathedral church of Bristol, Henri Jean Louis; Joseph Massé

External links[edit]