Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Temple of War

Midlothian, like Lanarkshire, is a county of two halves. The northern coalbelt skirts Edinburgh, post-industrial towns congealing into one solid mass of commuter suburb. The southern half is different: discreet, attractive villages set in rolling, well-wooded farmland, rising gradually to uplands and the steep escarpment of the Moorfoot Hills.

South Midlothian countryside:

Guess in which half of Midlothian the sleepy village of Temple lies?

Temple consists of a single street rising steeply above the banks of the River South Esk. But this is new Temple, built in the 18th century. The interesting part of the village sits in the bottom of a gorge at the bridge, clustered round a ruined mediaeval chapel.

This was the Scottish headquarters of the Knights Templar. It is a beautiful, tranquil spot in spring sunshine, if unimpressive compared to Templar sites in the Mediterranean. But the order was formed to keep the pilgrimage and crusading routes open between France and the Holy Land. For the Templars, Scotland was a backwater.

The Templars' last battle in the Med was at Acre in 1291. Palestine and Syria became Islamic lands, and the Templars lost their purpose. They fell foul of powerful interests, and after a series of outrageous show trials begun in 1307 were disbanded by the Pope in 1312, under pressure from Phillipe IV of France, who was deep in debt to the order.

Gravestone in Old Temple graveyard:

An aura of age and legend clings to this sleepy village. In 1312 Christendom had two excommunicated kings - in Portugal and in Scotland. Only one knight, Peter de Boulogne, is known to have fled to Scotland, yet a story persists that the Knights Templar exchanged sanctuary for crucial help to Robert the Bruce. Although there is no evidence, it is not impossible that a small amount of assistance might have been given, but the idea of a whole order of excommunicated knights fighting alongside Bruce at Bannockburn is false. (Ironically, there is solid evidence that the Templars in Scotland fought against William Wallace at Falkirk in 1298.)

But people love a good Templar mystery, and the Wars of Independence came at just the right time to be woven into the legends of the Templars. And if whilst poking around the primroses and old gravestones you find insufficient evidence of the Holy Grail at Temple, you might have more luck a few miles down the road at Rosslyn Chapel, scene of the climax to Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code...

Temple from above:


blueskyscotland said...

I've went right off Rosslyn Chapel
due to its popularity and scaffolding works.Temple and nearby Crichton Castle in its gorge are less well known but stunning places to visit or cycle through.

Robert Craig said...

The scaffolding has gone now - visit Rosslyn after the summer, not too many tourists about then. Crichton is nice, a lot of nice villages abnd hamlets in south Midlothian.