Shared Space: Templars, Hospitallers, and the English Parish Church

Catherine E. Hundley

exterior church view, View from the south, St. John the Baptist, Little Maplestead (Essex) i Fig. 2 View from the south, St. John the Baptist, Little Maplestead (Essex). Photo: Author

Shared spaces are often difficult to identify in the medieval English church due to the loss of building fabric, devotional objects, and textual evidence. As a result, many churches are associated with the long history of one worshipping community when in fact, two or more types of audiences used the building at various points in its history. Pilgrims may have visited a shrine within a parish or monastic church; members of the public may have conducted regular business in a private chapel; or a resident monastic community may have shared its church with a lay congregation.1 In the latter instance, monks or nuns could have gained the advowson or appropriation of a local church and shared their worship space with a long-established parish. In other cases, a monastic community may have built a chapel for its own use but eventually welcomed a growing population of local laity. It is well known that orders such as the Benedictines and Augustinians sometimes shared their worship space with a parish or extra-parochial congregation.2 However, churches shared by the laity and the Knights Templar and Hospitaller have received comparatively little study.3

While evidence for a shared space can sometimes be found in the textual record, the building fabric itself can also reveal the presence of multiple worshipping communities. Close analysis of standing structures, phased building plans, and iconographic clues can confirm documentary assertions or reveal the presence of communities who do not appear in the surviving textual record. The following case studies examine churches whose shared status is not described clearly in the documentary record, though the local presence of laity and military monks—and the absence of a second church to serve an exclusively lay or monastic community—strongly suggests that both groups shared one church or chapel. Though focused upon structures shared by the Templars or Hospitallers and local laity, the following analysis offers a method for confirming or discovering forgotten communities of worshippers throughout medieval England.


Identifying spaces shared by military monks and the laity

Although the uneven survival rates of textual and architectural evidence pose a challenge to the study of many monastic churches in England, assumptions about an order’s standard operating procedures can also cause modern scholars to overlook the presence of laity in a presumably-closed space. The Knights Templar (and, by extension, the Knights Hospitaller) have a reputation for secrecy that dates as far back as the dissolution of the Templar order: the Templar trials emphasised their allegedly ‘secret rituals’.4 Moreover, Templar chapels were built explicitly to provide a separate place for the military monks to worship. In an 1145 bull regarding Templar chapels and clergy, Pope Eugenius III argued: ‘It is not fitting and indeed is almost fatal to the souls of religious brothers to mingle with crowds of men and to meet women on the occasion of going to church’.5 And yet, some communities of English Templars did just that.

Though the Knights Templar and Knights Hospitaller typically worshipped in chapels built specifically for their resident communities, some English Templars and Hospitallers shared a worship space with local laity.6 And while Pope Eugenius III expressly advised the Knights Templar against sharing worship space with those outside the Order, his predecessor authorised the Knights Hospitaller to build parish churches as early as 1137.7 Despite papal decree, the Knights Templar also shared space with parishioners or extra-parochial laity when practicality demanded it. These shared spaces took one of two forms. In some cases, the parish church hosted a combined congregation of parishioners and military monks. When a military order appropriated a local parish church but did not construct its own chapel, the established parish and the resident community of Templars or Hospitallers would need to share the same church. Sometimes the parish church was built anew; at other times, the church was expanded or renovated to serve the dual congregation.

In other cases, the monks received a grant of land in a largely uninhabited area and built a chapel for their own use. As the military order settlement grew, it attracted lay residents in search of economic opportunities. These non-monastic residents needed a place to worship, and the military order chapel was the most logical place for them to do so. The preceptory at Temple Bruer (Lincolnshire), for example, was built in a sparsely-settled area but quickly drew a community of laborers to its robust farming enterprise.8 Without a local parish church, Temple Bruer’s lay residents must have worshipped in the Templar chapel’s large, round nave.9 A Templar priest-brother was in residence at Temple Bruer in 1308; under Hospitaller management in 1338, the community included two secular chaplains.10 Though the limited textual evidence does not confirm that the Templar priest celebrated Mass for both monastic and lay members of the community, the appointment of two chaplains thirty years later suggests that religious duties may have been divided between the two groups at Temple Bruer.

Similarly, the Templars built a preceptory and chapel in a sparsely-populated area across the River Avon from Bristol.11 As the lay population in the neighbourhood grew, so did the lay congregation of Temple Church, Bristol, until the original round-naved church was replaced by a larger, rectilinear church later in the Hospitaller era.12 In this way, the chapels of the Knights Templar and Knights Hospitaller sometimes served as extra-parochial or pre-parochial spaces. By studying their shared churches, it is possible to understand the ways in which the Knights Templar and Knights Hospitaller influenced the architecture and community life of selected English parishes.

In order to compile a list of potentially shared churches, it is helpful to begin with the 1338 Inventory of Hospitaller properties.13 This document contains information about parish churches and military order chapels held by the Knights Hospitaller as well as properties acquired from the recently disbanded Templar order.14 Entries for former Templar properties vary in their level of detail, though a number of entries do offer information on the continued use of worship spaces during the time of the Hospitaller transition. Detailed entries in the Inventory list assets, such as appropriated parish churches, and expenses, such as oil, wine, and wax for a chapel or maintenance of one or more chaplains. Some settlements have both a parish church and expenses for a chapel; other sites have one but not the other. When only a church or chapel is mentioned, further investigation is required to determine if the worship space was shared by the laity and the military monks. In one very helpful instance, the 1338 Inventory listing for Maltby (Lincolnshire) notes that ‘the chapel there is a small parish church’.15 This entry confirms that the military orders did share a worship space with non-members when it was necessary. The former Templar chapel at Temple Bruer is described in the Hospitaller Inventory as a ‘free chapel’, or extra-parochial space appropriated to the Hospitallers (formerly Templars), supporting the presence of a lay congregation in the chapel.16 The Inventory describes the former Temple Church at Bristol as ‘a small appropriated church’ even though the structure began its life as a military order chapel.17 These examples reveal a complex understanding of the purposes a parish church or monastic chapel could serve.

But what if the Inventory entry for a particular location mentions chapel expenses without an appropriated church? First, it is necessary to determine if a contemporary parish church nearby was held by another monastic order or individual. In this case, local parishioners must have worshipped in their own church while the military monks worshipped in their own chapel. If evidence for a nearby parish church cannot be found—in standing fabric, excavated building remains, or the textual record—then it is probable that laity were welcomed into the military order chapel by necessity. In this case, the military order chapel was an extra-parochial space that served as a de facto parish church. Conversely, if the Inventory lists an appropriated parish church without expenses for a chapel, then the parish church was probably shared by both communities, as long as architectural, archaeological, and additional textual evidence cannot corroborate the existence of a separate chapel.

The military orders also acquired parish churches that simply served as revenue streams; without a documented military order house in the neighbourhood, there is no reason to believe that the Templars or Hospitallers were regular worshippers in their advowsons or appropriated churches. But when the parish church was located near a Templar or Hospitaller settlement, sometimes the lay and monastic communities worshipped in one church. The substantial loss of monastic building fabric makes it difficult to determine whether a Templar or Hospitaller house contained a separate chapel space, but parish churches can reveal valuable traces of past worshipping communities.18

While the probability of a shared worship space can be partially assessed through the textual record, it is sometimes possible to establish the presence of multiple worshipping communities through analysis of the fabric of the building itself. Multiple communities can be revealed in the existing plan of the building, the phasing of the building, or in the decorative programme of the church. When analysing an existing plan, church-spotters are accustomed to noting the length of a parish church chancel in order to determine the likelihood that a residential monastic community once shared the worship space, but Templars and Hospitallers are often left out of these analyses unless their presence has remained an important part of the parish history. Nave aisles or chapels can also provide evidence of new worshippers. While countless congregations added aisles to their parish churches in the later Middle Ages, their reasons for doing so differ: from the chance to beautify the church with newly available funds, to the desire to create a new space for a distinctive use or worshipping community. Similarly, a chapel can offer evidence of a specific devotional community whose presence might otherwise be forgotten. Of course, the size or addition of a chancel, aisle, or chapel might simply reflect a patron’s wealth and conspicuous piety rather than serve as evidence of an additional worshipping community. However, when the presence of a Templar or Hospitaller community is confirmed in a parish, it is important to take a closer look at the surviving, excavated, and documented fabric of the parish church in order to determine the likelihood that the military monks shared the worship space. Due to the widespread demolition of Templar and Hospitaller preceptories, the local parish church may provide the only surviving evidence for shared worship life.

The notion that some parish churches were shared with the Knights Templar or Knights Hospitaller is not new, though recent work by Helen Nicholson has done much to illuminate the religious life of the military monks in England. Nicholson notes that most English houses of the Knights Templar or Hospitaller were fairly small: in the early-fourteenth century, a rural house could have as few as two professed brothers managing a large roster of farm workers and other staff.19 These small communities of military monks were often forced to look beyond their order for priestly assistance, and priests employed by Templars could also serve the laity: a priest serving Garway church during the Templar era received a corrody from the Order for his services.20

Although the Templars and Hospitallers in England spent much of their time managing income-generating estates, they did observe the monastic hours throughout the day.21 Recent studies have shown that the Templars and Hospitallers in the Holy Land hewed closely to the liturgy of the Augustinian Canons of the Holy Sepulchre, but the liturgies of Templars in Western Europe often conformed to local use.22 Whether following the customs of Jerusalem or the local diocese, Templar or Hospitaller services could be held in the choir, as at Temple Bruer, Bristol, Little Maplestead, Ansty, or Burham; or they could be held in a separate chapel within the church, as in the south chapel at Garway or perhaps in one of the flanking east end chapels at Burham (discussed below). The presence of an architecturally-distinct east end in a shared church would therefore allow the Templars to maintain the letter (if not the spirit) of Eugenius III’s commandment. The Hospitallers would have assumed the same practice, even though they were not forbidden from attending church with the laity. This arrangement sufficed for shared services, including daily or weekly Mass, feast days, and other dual-community services.


Evidence of shared space in standing building fabric

The presence of an architecturally-distinct choir enabled the Knights Hospitaller to participate in monastic or shared services in the parish churches of Ansty (Wiltshire) (Fig. 1) and Little Maplestead (Essex) (Fig. 2). These well-known examples of shared space bring the terse verbiage of the 1338 Inventory to life. The listing for Ansty (Anesty) notes the presence of a small, appropriated church and a parochial chaplain but does not list expenses for a separate chapel on site.23 In contrast, the Hospitallers at Little Maplestead (Mapeltrestede) held one tenth of the church there but, like their brethren at Ansty, they listed expenses for a chaplain but not for a separate chapel.24 While the Inventory entries for both sites strongly suggest that the Hospitallers worshipped in the local parish church, evidence for such sharing can also be found in the building fabric of the churches themselves.

exterior church view, View from the north, St. James, Ansty (Wiltshire)
Fig. 1 View from the north, St. James, Ansty (Wiltshire). Photo: Author
exterior church view, View from the south, St. John the Baptist, Little Maplestead (Essex)
Fig. 2 View from the south, St. John the Baptist, Little Maplestead (Essex). Photo: Author

The small churches of St James, Ansty and St John the Baptist, Little Maplestead both feature proportionally large chancels which could have accommodated a resident Hospitaller community (Figs. 3 and 4).25 In both cases, an existing parish church was given to the Knights Hospitaller and later rebuilt; the nature of the rebuilding argues that the structure was designed specifically to serve the needs of a dual congregation.26 However, the loss of the Hospitaller residential complex in both villages makes it impossible to verify that the military monks did not have a separate chapel reserved for their own use.27 Both houses were located just steps from their respective parish churches, but proximity of the monastic house to the parish church was not necessarily a deciding factor in sharing a church. For example, the Templar preceptory at Aslackby (Lincolnshire) featured a round-naved chapel directly across the street from the parish church. Could the monks at Little Maplestead or Ansty have constructed their own chapel near the existing parish? The textual and archaeological record are silent. But the extended chancels in the rebuilt parish churches indicate that the new worshipping community found a way to share worship space with an established congregation.28 By rebuilding the parish churches at Ansty and Little Maplestead, the Hospitallers worshipped with members of their own Order while fulfilling their responsibilities to the parish. Like their Benedictine and Augustinian peers, the Hospitallers and Templars could share a parish church by the simple addition of an architecturally-distinct choir.29

interior church view looking east, St James, Antsty (Wiltshire)
Fig. 3 View looking east, St. James, Antsty (Wiltshire). Photo: Author
View looking east, St. John the Baptist, Little Maplestead (Essex)
Fig. 4 View looking east, St. John the Baptist, Little Maplestead (Essex). Photo: Author

Evidence of shared space in a phased plan

Similarly, the growth or shrinkage of a building can proclaim the arrival or departure of an additional worshipping community. While a building’s renovation history could simply correspond to rising or falling financial resources—or societal cataclysms such as the Black Death—changes in building fabric can also reflect changes in the types of local worshippers. By analysing a phased building plan, it is possible to determine if and when more than one community shared one church. When the textual record affirms the involvement of the Knights Templar or Knights Hospitaller in a parish, a close investigation of the building fabric can reveal the approximate date range of their presence in the congregation.

The church of St Mary the Virgin, Burham (Kent) is now redundant but its history is evident in the surviving building fabric (Fig. 5). In the nave, high, round-headed windows (now blocked) confirm an initial construction phase in the late-eleventh or early-twelfth century, while blocked pointed arcades and inserted windows tell the story of an expanded and contracted church (Fig. 6). The advowson of the parish church at Burham and nearby lands were granted to the Hospitallers in 1205; this advowson was upgraded to an appropriation in 1300.30 In 1302, Thomas, Bishop of Rochester, confirmed the responsibilities of the military monks: ‘repairs to the body of the chancel, whether in foundations, walls, windows, glass or iron, and the roofing of the same, shall be done, whenever necessary, by the Hospitallers; and, if any of it falls down, they shall build it up and maintain it forever’.31 The 1338 Inventory does not note the extent of the Hospitallers’ lands at Burham, but it does count the church as an asset and it lists expenses for three brother chaplains and multiple secular chaplains on site; no mention is made of a separate Hospitaller chapel.32 The Hospitallers provided a priest for the church and maintained control of the vicarage lands until the Dissolution, though the remainder of their property at Burham was ‘let to farm’ by 1509.33

View from the south, St. Mary the Virgin, Burham (Kent). The current porch is on the approximate site of the south aisle.
Fig. 5 View from the south, St. Mary the Virgin, Burham (Kent). The current porch is on the approximate site of the south aisle. Photo: Author
North nave wall featuring blocked Norman window, blocked pointed arcades, and inserted windows, St. Mary the Virgin, Burham (Kent)
Fig. 6 North nave wall featuring blocked Norman window, blocked pointed arcades, and inserted windows, St. Mary the Virgin, Burham (Kent). Photo: Author

While the textual record offers glimpses of Hospitaller gains and losses at Burham, the changing levels of military order involvement can also be traced through the building fabric of the church. The simple, pointed arcades on the north and south sides of the Norman nave probably postdate the 1205 acquisition of the church by the Hospitallers, perhaps reflecting Burham’s increased status as a military order church.34 Alternatively, the arcades could provide evidence for the growth of a third community at the church. Local tradition remembers that pilgrims and travellers stopped frequently at Burham and in neighbouring churches on their way to Canterbury or London.35 If this tradition is accurate, then the aisles at Burham may have been constructed in the thirteenth century to accommodate growing numbers of Becket pilgrims. The presence of three brother chaplains and an unspecified number of secular chaplains in 1338 could indicate a proliferation of altars in the chancel aisles, nave aisles, or both.36

Although the nave aisles could have served parishioners and / or pilgrims, the chancel at Burham certainly represents a Hospitaller building campaign (Fig. 7). The present chancel features blocked, pointed arcades on the north and south walls; moulded column capitals and bases are partially exposed in the walls, and the well-preserved north capital would fit within a late-thirteenth-century or early-fourteenth-century date (Fig. 8).37 The chancel addition initially extended further east, reinforcing the presence of distinctive worshipping communities in the nave and east end.38 The western tower reflects a certain degree of financial stability in the parish, though it does not serve as evidence for the arrival or departure of a particular group. However, the large-scale demolition at Burham indicates significant changes to the building’s use, and the events of the sixteenth century offer clear motivation for a reduction in the church’s size.39 The small community of Hospitallers had vacated the property by 1509; the dissolution of the Hospitaller order in 1540 ended their involvement in the site altogether.40 The departure of the military monks would eliminate the need for a large chancel, and their inability to ‘maintain it forever’ may have pushed the new church holder to cut the building fabric down to a more economical size. Similarly, the loss of nave aisles suggests a Reformation-era change. If the church at Burham did host a significant population of regional travellers, their numbers would have dropped sharply with the cessation of English pilgrimage in 1538.41 The church of St. Mary the Virgin reveals the changing worship needs of two and possibly three communities along the banks of the River Medway.

View looking east, St. Mary the Virgin, Burham (Kent). Blocked nave arcades and blocked chancel arcades are visible to the north and south; the chancel has been shortened from its maximum length.
Fig. 7 View looking east, St. Mary the Virgin, Burham (Kent). Blocked nave arcades and blocked chancel arcades are visible to the north and south; the chancel has been shortened from its maximum length. Photo: Author
North chancel wall featuring blocked arcades with surviving column capital, St. Mary the Virgin, Burham (Kent)
Fig. 8 North chancel wall featuring blocked arcades with surviving column capital, St. Mary the Virgin, Burham (Kent). Photo: Author

Iconographic evidence of shared space

While the analysis of a surviving or phased building plan can offer important clues for the arrival and departure of particular worshipping groups, iconographic evidence can provide more direct confirmation of a group’s presence. The loss of wall paintings, stone carvings, woodwork, and portable objects in the English Reformation make it difficult to conduct detailed iconographic analysis in many churches. Unusually, the church of St. Michael in Garway (Herefordshire) contains iconographic references to three distinct communities (Fig. 9).42

View from the north, St. Michael, Garway (Herefordshire)
Fig. 9 View from the north, St. Michael, Garway (Herefordshire). Photo: Author

Surviving relief sculpture and incised carvings at the church of St. Michael speak to the presence of parishioners, Knights Templar, and Knights Hospitaller. A lay congregation in the Garway area may date to as early as the sixth century.43 The Knights Templar gained land at Garway and built a preceptory and parish church in the late-twelfth century and they replaced their original, round-naved church with the current rectangular nave, south chapel, and tower by the late-thirteenth century.44 After the dissolution of the Templar order, the Knights Hospitaller assumed control of the property by at least 1316.45

While the Templar records for Garway are skeletal, Hospitaller records are more illuminating, though they do not answer the question of shared worship space.46 The Templar (later, Hospitaller) residential complex was located immediately downhill from the parish church, and it would have been convenient for the military monks to share space with their lay neighbours. But like Ansty and Little Maplestead, the presence or absence of a chapel within the residential block cannot be verified: the medieval dovecote survives but the residential buildings have been replaced by later structures.47

Despite an incomplete documentary record and a largely demolished residential precinct, iconographic evidence supports the presence of parishioners and military monks at St. Michael’s. Relief carvings at Garway include a dragon, a Manus Dei, an Agnus Dei, and a Maltese cross, while incised carvings include a variety of cross forms and other designs.48

The dragon, depicted above the west window, is the most prominent of the relief carvings (Figs. 10a and 10b). The presence of a dragon is perhaps unsurprising on a church dedicated to St. Michael, and he provides a distinctive symbol of the parish’s identity, apart from any military order iconography. The dragon’s placement emphasises the primacy of the longstanding parish community, even though their church was under the management of the Templars and later, the Hospitallers.

The dragon relief carving above the west nave window and the Agnus Dei relief carving above the west window of the south chapel are highlighted, St. Michael, Garway (Herefordshire)
Fig. 10a The dragon relief carving above the west nave window and the Agnus Dei relief carving above the west window of the south chapel are highlighted, St. Michael, Garway (Herefordshire). Photo: Author
Dragon above the west entrance, St. Michael, Garway (Herefordshire)
Fig. 10b Dragon above the west entrance, St. Michael, Garway (Herefordshire). Photo: Author
View from the north, St. Michael, Garway (Herefordshire). The angel relief carving on the lower west side of the middle north chancel window and the Manus Dei relief carving above the blocked north door are highlighted.
Fig. 11a View from the north, St. Michael, Garway (Herefordshire). The angel relief carving on the lower west side of the middle north chancel window and the Manus Dei relief carving above the blocked north door are highlighted. Photo: Author
Weathered angel on the lower right side of the middle north chancel window, St. Michael, Garway (Herefordshire)
Fig. 11b Weathered angel on the lower west side of the middle north chancel window, St Michael, Garway (Herefordshire). Photo: Author

A church dedicated to St. Michael could be expected to portray the dragon alongside his vanquisher, though this dragon stands alone. However, St. Michael himself may be depicted on a very weathered stone to the lower right of the middle north chancel window (Figs. 11a and 11b).49 The damaged carving depicts a figure facing left with one striated wing pointed up and to the right and one wing pointed down. Very faint facial features, including two eye sockets and the bridge of a nose, are visible on the head.

Manus Dei above the blocked north nave door, St. Michael, Garway
Fig. 12 Manus Dei above the blocked north nave door, St. Michael, Garway (Herefordshire). Photo: Author
Agnus Dei above the west entrance to the south chapel, St. Michael, Garway (Herefordshire)
Fig. 13 Agnus Dei above the west entrance to the south chapel, St. Michael, Garway (Herefordshire). Photo: Author

The Manus Dei, or Hand of God, can also be found on the north side of the church, high above the blocked north door (Figs. 11a and 12). Like St. Michael (with or without the dragon), the Manus Dei was used by artists across Christian communities. The symbol is not linked with the Templars or Hospitallers, and it could represent God’s dominion over the dual community of parishioners and military monks.

East wall of south chapel and chancel, from the southeast, St. Michael, Garway (Herefordshire). The Maltese cross carving on the lower wall near the drainpipe has been highlighted.
Fig. 14a East wall of south chapel and chancel, from the southeast, St. Michael, Garway (Herefordshire). The Maltese cross carving on the lower wall near the drainpipe has been highlighted. Photo: Author
Maltese cross on the lower east wall of the chancel, St Michael, Garway (Herefordshire)
Fig. 14b Maltese cross on the lower east wall of the chancel, St. Michael, Garway (Herefordshire). Photo: Author

The Agnus Dei, or Lamb of God, is perched atop a later square-headed window on the west side of the south chapel (Figs. 10a and 13). Although often associated with the Templars, the Agnus Dei was popular with a wide range of Christian communities, including the parishioners of the nearby church at Kilpeck.50 Jaroslav Folda has noted that both the Templars and Hospitallers employed the Agnus Dei symbol, but it was particularly popular with the Templars in England.51 Though the original purpose of the south chapel is unconfirmed, it is colloquially known as the Templar chapel today.52 The chapel’s location on the side of the church closest to the preceptory buildings, coupled with the Agnus Dei symbol over a separate entrance, indicate that the chapel was built as a dedicated worship space for the Templars. The small community of Templars could have observed the monastic hours in this chapel but used the chancel during shared services with the laity.

In its late-thirteenth-century form, the church of St. Michael made iconographic provision for the Knights Templar and the parish community. But a final relief carving of a Maltese cross—a well-known symbol of the Knights Hospitaller—reminds viewers that a second community of military monks lived at Garway (Figs. 14a and 14b). While the other relief panels at Garway are placed high above ground level, the stone with the Maltese cross is very close to the ground, providing easy access for a Hospitaller-era carver.53 Although it is impossible to confirm the carving date of the Maltese cross, it appears to be a belated addition to the building fabric and may have served as a Hospitaller stamp on a newly acquired architectural asset.

The relief panels work together to reveal the presence of three worshipping communities at Garway over at least two different eras: Templars and parishioners from the late-twelfth to early-fourteenth centuries, followed by Hospitallers and parishioners from the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries. While the Knights Hospitaller inherited the rectangular-naved church with its remodelled chancel, south chapel, and freestanding tower, they did not hesitate to literally make their mark on the building in the form of a Maltese cross.


Shared space revealed: Templars, Hospitallers, and the laity

Although the Knights Templar and Hospitaller usually worshipped in chapels reserved for their own use, practical considerations could require them to share worship space with local laity. Sometimes, this sharing is explicitly stated in the documentary record; at other times, it is suggested. These suggestions can be verified by close investigation of the surviving plan, phased plan, or decorative programme. Analysis of standing and phased plans, as well as surviving iconography, can help to determine the date range of specific elements in a church’s building fabric. But chronological assessment is only the first step in writing the art history of the parish church. After asking ‘when?’ it is vital to ask, ‘who?’ Monks, parishioners, pilgrims, and others left their traces in the architectural fabric, even in churches where they were not members of the primary worshipping community.

By analysing often fragmentary evidence, it is possible to understand the complex and sometimes transitory nature of shared worship spaces in churches held by the Knights Templar and Hospitaller. Rather than being aloof from their lay neighbours, military monks sometimes became important participants in the worship life of the medieval English parish. Within the larger context of the English church, this research offers a model for investigating shared parish churches affiliated with a variety of worshipping communities. By confirming this method in churches with a recognised Templar or Hospitaller history, it is possible to identify forgotten alliances through architectural analysis, even if supporting documentation no longer exists. This approach provides a new perspective on the medieval English parish, and it emphasises the interconnectedness of small monastic and lay congregations throughout England in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.


[1] For example: pilgrims in the parish church of Madley (Herefordshire); royal business conducted in the private chapel of the bishop of Lincoln at the Old Temple in London; and countless churches shared by monastic and lay congregations, from cathedrals to small, rural churches.
[2] Francis Bond, An Introduction to English Church Architecture from the Eleventh to the Sixteenth Century (London: Oxford University Press, 1913), pp. 45–58; Anthea Jones, A Thousand Years of the English Parish: Medieval Patterns and Modern Interpretations (Moreton-in-Marsh: Windrush, 2000), pp. 115–19; Norman J. G. Pounds, A History of the English Parish: The Culture of Religion from Augustine to Queen Victoria (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), pp. 48–57.
[3] Recent research by Helen Nicholson has shown that Templars welcomed non-members into their precincts at least some of the time, and Roberta Gilchrist has identified a few military order churches or chapels which were specifically shared with laity. Helen J. Nicholson, ‘Relations Between Houses of the Order of the Temple in Britain and their Local Communities, as Indicated During the Trial of the Templars, 1307-12’, in Norman Housley (ed.), Knighthoods of Christ: Essays on the History of the Crusades and the Knights Templar Presented to Malcolm Barber (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007), pp. 195–207; Helen J. Nicholson, The Everyday Life of the Templars: The Knights Templar at Home (Fonthill: 2017), pp. 65, 76–7; Roberta Gilchrist, Contemplation and Action: The Other Monasticism (London: Leicester University Press, 1995), pp. 77, 96, 103. For more detailed analysis of selected English Templar and Hospitaller worship spaces, including churches at Little Maplestead, Temple Bruer, Bristol, Aslackby, and Garway (mentioned below) see Catherine E. Hundley, The Round Church Movement in Twelfth-Century England: Crusaders, Pilgrims, and the Holy Sepulchre (Ph.D. diss, University of Virginia, 2017).
[4] Thomas William Parker, The Knights Templars in England (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1963), p. 106; Malcolm Barber, The Trial of the Templars (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978); John Walker, ‘Sources for the Templar Myth’, in Karl Borchardt, Karoline Döring, Philippe Josserand, and Helen J. Nicholson (eds.), The Templars and their Sources(Abingdon: Routledge, 2017), pp. 361–2.
[5] Eugenius III, Militia Dei, in Malcolm Barber and Keith Bate (eds.), The Templars: Selected Sources (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002), pp. 65–6.
[6] Gilchrist argues that Templars or Hospitallers in ‘larger’ preceptories either shared their chapels with local laity or worshipped in the local parish church, while those in ‘smaller’ preceptories worshipped in dedicated chapels (which may have been part of a hall). However, the picture was more complex. Shared worship space was more a matter of necessity and opportunity than preceptory size. Gilchrist, Contemplation and Action, pp. 77, 87.
[7] Helen J. Nicholson, The Knights Hospitaller (Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer, 2001), pp. 6–7, citing Innocent II’s bull Christianae fidei religio.
[8] Beatrice A. Lees (ed.), Records of the Templars in England in the Twelfth Century: The Inquest of 1185 with Illustrative Charters and Documents (London: British Academy, 1935), pp. clxxxvii–clxxxviii; Gary James Taylor, Temple Farm, Temple Bruer, Lincolnshire: A Study of the Archaeological Landscape of a Knights Templar Preceptory (MSc. diss., University of Oxford, 2008), p. 47; Marjorie Chibnall, Anglo-Norman England, 1066–1166 (New York: Basil Blackwell, 1986), p. 145. Lees follows the traditional assumption that the heathland around Temple Bruer was previously  uninhabited, but Taylor found some evidence of site occupation over time.
[9] Mills comes to a similar conclusion. Note that today, only one tower of the church survives. Dennis Mills, The Knights Templar in Kesteven, revised edition, Penny Ward (ed.) (Lincolnshire County Council, 2009), p. 13; William St. John Hope, ‘The Round Church of the Knights Templars at Temple Bruer, Lincolnshire’, Archaeologia 61 (1908): pp. 177–98.
[10] Helen J. Nicholson (ed.), The Proceedings Against the Templars in the British Isles (London: Routledge, 2016),volume one, p. 250 and volume two, p. 254; Larking, Knights Hospitallers in England, pp. 155–6.
[11] Archaeological investigations at the site have not uncovered evidence of pre-Templar residents. B. Williams, ‘The Excavation of Medieval and Post-medieval Tenements at 94–102 Temple Street, Bristol, 1975’, Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society 106 (1988): p. 108.
[12] For more on parishioners in Temple Church, Bristol see Catherine E. Hundley, ‘The English Round Church Movement’, in Robin Griffith-Jones and Eric Fernie (eds.), Tomb and Temple: Re-imagining the Sacred Buildings of Jerusalem (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2018), pp. 363–5.
[13] The 1338 Inventory is fairly comprehensive but not exhaustive. Lambert B. Larking (ed.), The Knights Hospitallers in England: Being the Report of Prior Philip de Thame to the Grand Master Elyan de Villanova for A.D. 1338 (London: Camden Society, 1857).
[14] The Knights Templar were arrested in France in late 1307 and in England in early 1308; their trial ran from 1308–12. In the immediate aftermath of the order’s dissolution, many properties in England were claimed by close associates of the crown before they eventually passed to the Knights Hospitaller. This transition was not swift. Even as late 1338, the Hospitallers did not possess all of the former Templar properties in England that they had been promised. However, the contemporary inventory provides an important snapshot of Hospitaller and recent Templar worship spaces in the early-fourteenth century. Barber, Trial of the Templars, p. 237; Parker, Knights Templar in England, p. 104.
[15] Larking, Knights Hospitallers in England, p. 57.
[16] Larking, Knights Hospitallers in England, p. 154.
[17] Larking, Knights Hospitallers in England, p. 184.
[18] The true number of private military order chapels remains unclear due to the limited number of archaeological investigations that have been carried out in former Templar or Hospitaller settlements. Gilchrist, Contemplation and Action, pp. 1, 62.
[19] Nicholson, Everyday Life of the Templars, pp. 50–1; Nicholson, Knights Hospitaller, p. 84; Larking, Knights Hospitallers in England. Nicholson’s analysis of the Templars is based upon unpublished inventories drawn up during their trial, 1308–12; Larking’s publication of the 1338 Inquest reveals similarly small communities of Hospitallers. Records of English Templar and Hospitaller houses in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries do not survive in sufficient numbers to allow a broad analysis of changes in community size over time.
[20] Nicholson, Everyday Life of the Templars, pp. 52 (citing National Archives E 358/18 rot 2) and pp. 76–7.
[21] Nicholson, Everyday Life of the Templars, p. 40; Nicholson, Knights Hospitaller, p. 92.
[22] Nicholson, Everyday Life of the Templars, pp. 40, 71–2; Jochen Schenk, ‘The Documentary Evidence for Templar Religion’, in Borchardt et al (eds.), The Templars and their Sources, p. 200; Sebastián Salvadó, ‘Commemorating the Rotunda in the Round: The Medieval Latin Liturgy of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and its Performance in the West’, in Griffith-Jones and Fernie (eds.), Tomb and Temple, pp. 414–15.
[23] Larking, Knights Hospitallers in England, pp. 7–8.
[24] Larking, Knights Hospitallers in England, pp. 87–8.
[25] At Ansty, W. Goodchild suggested that the chancel’s proportions indicated a shared use; Patricia Fletcher assumes at similar use at Little Maplestead. ‘Wiltshire Books, Pamphlets, and Articles’, The Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine42 (1922–4): p. 128; Patricia Fletcher, Little Maplestead: A Millennium History (Little Maplestead: The Little Maplestead Millennium History Project, 2000), p. 33.
[26] In the twelfth year of King John’s reign (1210–11), Walter de Turbeville gave the manor of Ansty and its appurtenances to the Hospitallers. The presence of a church is not enumerated in the grant, though it was probably included among the ‘appurtenances’. A priest is documented at Ansty shortly before 1210; in 1338, the community included one chaplain and three clerics. Though heavily renovated, the surviving church is consistent with an early-thirteenth-century construction date. Evidence for an earlier church may have been seen in the original south chapel arch, which was described in 1829 as ‘an ancient Norman arch’. The church underwent a series of renovations in the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, and the south chapel was replaced by a south transept and new arch in the nineteenth century. The church and manor at Maplestead were given to the Hospitallers by Juliana, daughter of Robert Doisnel, in 1185–86. The present round-naved church of St. John the Baptist at Little Maplestead has been erroneously dated to the 1340s, perhaps based upon its mid-fourteenth century replacement windows. Michael Gervers has argued that documentary evidence points to a probable construction date in the 1240s. Close analysis of the building fabric and pre-restoration engravings confirm that the present church would fit comfortably with a c.1240s construction date. John Stillingflete, ‘De Nominibus Fundatorum Hosp. S. Johannis Jerusalem in Anglia’, in William Dugdale, Monasticon Anglicanum, revised edition, John Caley, Henry Ellis, and the Rev. Bulkeley Bandinel (eds.) (London: Bohn, 1846), VI:ii:835; D. A. Crowley (ed.), A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 13, South-West Wiltshire: Chalke and Dunworth Hundreds, Victoria County History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), p. 98; Larking, Knights Hostpiallers in England, p. 8; Richard Colt Hoare and James Everard, Modern Wilts: Hundred of Dunworth and Vale of Noddre (London: John Bower Nichols & Son, 1829), p. 64; Michael Gervers (ed.), The Cartulary of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem in England: Pt. 1 Secunda Camera, Essex (Oxford: Published for the British Academy by the Oxford University Press, 1982), pp. xliv, 90–4.
[27] Later structures have been built on the site of the monastic houses at Ansty and Little Maplestead, though it is possible that some original building fabric has been incorporated into the current structures. ‘Ansty Hospitallers Preceptory’, Historic England Research Records, Heritage Gateway, accessed 1 July 2021,; ‘Little Maplestead Hall (Preceptory)’, Essex Historic Environment Record, Heritage Gateway, accessed 1 July, 2021,
[28] The chancel at St. James, Ansty measures 7.3 metres from the east face of the chancel arch to the eastern wall, while the nave and crossing together measure 11.5 metres from the west face of the chancel arch to the western wall of the rectangular nave. The chancel at St. John the Baptist, Little Maplestead measures 10.7 metres in length; the round nave measures just under 9 metres in diameter. (The measurements are my own.)
[29] In contrast, Gilchrist argues that Templars and Hospitallers who shared space with a lay congregation initially sat in the nave rather than in an extended chancel. She cites Garway as an example of this practice. Nicholson argues that Templar chapels were ‘not necessarily’ divided into exclusively Templar and non-Templar spaces. Gilchrist, Contemplation in Action, p. 71; Nicholson, Everyday Life of the Templars, p. 65.
[30] Pedes Finium (Feet of Fines) 6 October 1205 (7 John), Archaeologia Cantiana 4 (1861): p. 290; Charles Cotton (ed.), A Kentish Cartulary of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem (Ashford: Kent Archaeological Society, 1930), pp. 5, 134.
[31] Cotton, Kentish Cartulary, p. 135.
[32] Larking, Knights Hospitallers in England, p. 124.
[33] Cotton, Kentish Cartulary, p. 5.
[34] Livett is vague in his dating estimate, describing first an ‘early Norman church’ with a north aisle and then a south aisle added ‘a century later’. Historic England suggests that the ‘early C12th church’ received a north aisle in the ‘late C12th or early C13th’, with the south aisle following shortly thereafter. Writing in the official church guide, Vigar notes an early-thirteenth-century date for the north aisle and mid-thirteenth-century date for the south aisle. Vigar points out that the reset windows in the blocked arcades have been moved from the former aisle walls. The small lancets in the two westernmost arches on the north side could fall on either side of c.1200. On the south side, only the easternmost nave window looks like it could have come from a mid-thirteenth century aisle. The westernmost arch on the south side surrounds the current door, and the middle arch contains a mid-fourteenth-century window like those in the chancel (also reset). Window evidence should be treated with caution when assigning construction dates for the lost aisles. Greville Livett, ‘Early-Norman Churches in and Near the Medway Valley’, Archaeologia Cantiana 20 (1893): p. 154; ‘Church of St. Mary the Virgin’, Historic England Research Records, Heritage Gateway, accessed 1 July, 2021,; John E. Vigar, Church of St Mary the Virgin Burham, Kent (Churches Conservation Trust, 2009), p. 7.
[35] Though he does not mention the Hospitallers, Vigar points out the presence of pilgrims and travellers in this part of Kent and the likelihood that the nave aisles contained altars to serve them. Vigar, Church of St Mary the Virgin, pp. 1, 7.
[36] Larking, Knights Hospitallers in England, p. 124.
[37] Kent Historic Environment Record, ‘St Mary the Virgin, Burham’, Exploring Kent’s Past, accessed 1 July, 2021,; Vigar, Church of St Mary the Virgin, p. 7.
[38] Livett, ‘Early-Norman Churches’, p. 154; Kent Historic Environment Record, ‘St Mary the Virgin, Burham’.
[39] The exact demolition date of the nave and chancel aisles and extended chancel are controversial. Livett suggests that the demolition occurred in the late-fourteenth or early-fifteenth century, at the same time as the construction of the tower. Vigar dates the loss of the aisles to the early-fifteenth century, perhaps as a result of structural instability or loss of population due to the Black Death. Historic England and Kent Historic Environment Record both date the demolition of the aisles to the sixteenth century, and I concur. Livett, ‘Early-Norman Churches’, p. 154; Vigar, Church of St Mary the Virgin, p. 7; Historic England, ‘Church of St Mary the Virgin’; Kent Historic Environment Record, ‘St Mary the Virgin, Burham’.
[40] Cotton, Kentish Cartulary, p. 5.
[41] Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars, second edition (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005), p. 407, citing Cromwell’s 1538 Injunctions.
[42] Thanks to Audrey Tapper and Janet Pullen for providing access to St. Michael’s, Garway and for discussing this fascinating building with me. Thanks, too, to Esther Moir for wide-ranging conversations about Herefordshire churches, including those at Garway and Kilpeck.
[43]  Local historians have often identified Garway with Llangarwei in the Book of Llandaff, though a better link may be found with the church of Lann Mihacgel supra Mingui. W. J. Rees (ed. & trans.), Liber Landavensis (Llandovery: The Welsh Mss. Society, 1840), pp. 263, 454, 502–4, 547; John Hobson Matthews, Collections Towards the History and Antiquities of the County of Hereford in Continuation of Duncumb’s History: Hundred of Wormelow (Lower Division, Part 1), (Hereford: Jakeman & Carver, 1913), p. 38-41; George Marshall, ‘The Church of the Knights Templars at Garway, Herefordshire’, Transactions of the Woolhope Naturalists Field Club 1927–29, part one (December 1929): pp. 91–2; William Rees, A History of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem in Wales and on the Welsh Border (Cardiff: Western Mail and Echo Ltd., 1947), p. 51.
[44] The original land grant to the Templars does not survive, but a confirmatory grant of c.1189 does. For the most comprehensive building chronology, see the Royal Commission. P.R.O. Cartae Antiquae, R.R. 41, no. 12 in Lees, Records of the Templars in England, p. 141; RCHME, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Herefordshire, Volume 1: South West(London: HMSO, 1931), pp. 69–72.
[45] Matthews, Collections … Wormelow (Upper Division), p. 15.
[46]  As with Ansty and Little Maplestead, local historians have assumed that the church at Garway was shared by military monks and parishioners. Audrey Tapper, Knights Templar and Hospitaller in Herefordshire (Little Logaston: Logaston Press, 2005), pp. 57–8; Larking, Knights Hospitallers in England, pp. 196–7.
[47]  RCHME, Herefordshire I: p. 72.
[48] Alfred Watkins, ‘Garway Church’, Woolhope Naturalists’ Field Club 1918–20 (December 1921): pp. 206–8; Marshall, ‘The Church of the Knights Templars at Garway’, pp. 100–1; RCHME Herefordshire I: p. 70; Tapper, Knights Templar and Hospitaller in Herefordshire, pp. 68–9. Watkins, Marshall, and the RCHME all misidentified the dragon as either an eagle or a phoenix, though its flicked tongue and ribbed wings are unmistakably those of a dragon. Tapper identifies the figure as a dragon or wyvern.
[49] Earlier writers have not identified the angel.
[50]  Kilpeck has no known association with the military orders, though it boasts two corbels carved with the Lamb of God.
[51] Jaroslav Folda, Crusader Art in the Holy Land, From the Third Crusade to the Fall of Acre (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), p. 316. Folda traces the symbol to sixth-century Ravenna, often in relation to John the Baptist. He notes that the symbol was used in crusader coins as well as seals of both the Templars and Hospitallers, though ‘the imagery of the Agnus Dei is the most prevalent’ symbol of surviving Templar seals: nineteen are known.
[52] Joan Fleming-Yates, The Church of St Michael, Garway: A Short Account (not dated, unpaginated); Kathleen A. Whittaker, A Short Account of St Michael, Garway (not dated, unpaginated).
[53] There is no indication that the stone with the Maltese cross has been reset; the Manus Dei has probably also remained in its original location, above the north door. Though the dragon and Agnus Dei could have been moved slightly to accommodate replacement windows, their consistent placement above entrances suggests that they have not moved far. The angel is in an unusual position, and its poor state of preservation could indicate that it came from an earlier building.